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It's like a bad joke: Gibbs and Fornell walk into an elevator. When they walk out, Gibbs says, "Pack your bags, DiNozzo -- you're going on a trip."

Tony trades a what-the-fuck glance with Ziva, because Gibbs had been ready to spit nails approximately five seconds after Fornell showed up at his desk. So Tony says, "Boss, I thought you said I couldn't go to Acapulco."

Gibbs looks supremely unconcerned. "You're not going to Acapulco. You're going to California."

He's going to California in the dog days of February? "Boss, I always knew you loved me," he says sincerely.

Gibbs hits him for that, but not hard, and his hand grips the nape of Tony's neck afterward in a way that makes him want to shiver and hunch his shoulders. "You listen to me, DiNozzo -- you do anything stupid, being across the country won't save you. Fornell," he says, still looking in Tony's eyes, "You have thirty days, and he'd better come back in the exact same condition."

"I'm not a library book," Tony protests, but subsides when Gibbs' grip tightens.

"I'll bring him back in one piece," Fornell says mildly.

"Boss!" Tony whines, because this all sounds like one big mess already, and he hasn't even left yet.

Gibbs pulls Tony closer, close enough to put his lips next to Tony's ear. "Keep your eyes open," he whispers. "Sit reps every day." Then he pulls back, and says, "He's all yours, Fornell."

"Come on, DiNozzo," Fornell says. "We'll talk on the plane."

Tony darts one last pleading glance back at Gibbs before Fornell hustles him into the elevator.


The FBI does not spring for business class, which means Tony's long frame is crammed into coach. Not that NCIS has ever flown Tony in style, but at least he always gets to sit next to Gibbs, who sometimes gives Tony his mid-flight snack when his nose is buried in files.

They have a connecting flight out of Chicago, which just figures -- Tony nurses no greater airport-related hatred than that of O'Hare, except for maybe Newark. But his first confirmation that the bad feeling in his gut is going to be borne out is when they don't go to the gate for their flight to California, and Fornell instead picks up the keys for a rental car under a different name.

Tony knows enough to keep his head down and shut the fuck up until they're in the car and on the road before he says, "So I'm thinking that there's not actually a beach in my near future."

"Not on the ocean, no," Fornell says. "You hungry?"

Tony slouches in his seat. "I could eat," he says, morose.


Fornell drives them to a safe house in Wisconsin. Tony loathes it already, with its hideously outdated cabinetry in the kitchen and different wallpaper in every room. Also, he is in Wisconsin.

"Can I have my cell phone back?" Tony asks.

Fornell pulls a phone out of his pocket, but it isn't Tony's. "Here," he says. "You'll use this one while you're here."

Tony frowns. "What happened to my phone?"

Fornell gives him an almost-smile. "It's off to California."

"Uh-huh," Tony says, his brain whirring. He flips the phone open and looks in the address book -- there are only two numbers in there, with Fornell in slot one and Gibbs in slot two.

"Don't call him," Fornell says, closing his fingers over the cell phone when Tony goes to dial Gibbs' number. "Email him if you have to, but we have to keep a low profile for this case."

"This isn't a low profile -- we're hiding," Tony snaps. "I thought you were going to tell me what's going on."

"I'll run this investigation how I see fit, DiNozzo," Fornell says, his tongue navigating the affricative consonant of Tony's surname with ease. "Gibbs gave you to me, and you'll know what I want you to know."

Tony wants to take issue with that last bit -- Gibbs didn't give him away, he was at most loaned -- but instead, he switches the speed dial on his cell phone so that Gibbs is number one.


"We'll start going through files after dinner," Fornell tells him, and then takes a box of lasagna noodles out of the cupboard and puts it on the counter in front of Tony.

"I can't cook," Tony says flatly.


"Is this a thing? I'm Italian, so I must know how to make lasagna?"

Fornell shrugs. "My mistake," he says, and pulls out a container of powdered garlic.

Tony squawks and says, "Okay, okay, just -- god, tell me there is actual garlic in this kitchen."

He sends his first email to Gibbs later that night. It reads:

Subject: sit rep


Fornell is making me cook for him. You know, when you pimped me out to the FBI, I didn't know I was supposed to be performing the "real girlfriend" special.


The response comes only a few minutes later:

Subject: Re: sit rep

DiNozzo, if that's your idea of a sit rep, you'd better hope the FBI leaves more than twenty bucks on the nightstand.

Tony frowns at the computer, because that's just typical -- not the implication that he's a cheap NCIS hooker who will be out of a job if he doesn't give Gibbs what he wants, since Gibbs has implied that Tony's virtue is easily negotiable before, but the one-line response. Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks, but Gibbs has never shown any inclination to write more in a email than is absolutely necessary, and is rather notorious for ignoring large swaths of his inbox altogether.

Subject: Re: Re: sit rep

My lasagna isn't the only thing worth more than twenty dollars.

Seriously, I'm not trying to be a pain in the ass -- I just don't have much to tell you. To be honest, I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to tell you. Suffice it to say, I won't be working on my tan.

Tony slouches deeper into the couch, feeling a little uneasy about even saying that much -- it's clear from both their switcheroo at the airport and Fornell's insistence that Tony not call Gibbs and only email Gibbs from a secure connection that Fornell doesn't want them to be found.

He almost expects Gibbs to demand to know exactly where he is, but he's actually taken aback by Gibbs' reply.

Subject: Re: Re: Re: sit rep

Tell me what you can, and keep a sharp lookout. In the meantime, I expect to hear from you at least once a day, whether you have something worthwhile to say or not. Knowing you, DiNozzo...

"Ha ha," Tony says, a little piqued. This means war.


Tony wanders out to the kitchen in the morning, yawning and scratching his belly. He roots around in the cupboard, pushing canned food aside and finally pulling a canister down.

Fornell comes out of his bedroom a few minutes later, and they silently contemplate the can of Folgers sitting on the counter with all due solemnity.

Unsurprisingly, the most caffeine-addicted is the one to break first. "I can't deal with this," Fornell says. "Two blocks over, there's--"

"A bakery," Tony finishes. "You want me to go bring some stuff back?"

Fornell is still looking at the Folgers like he's been done grave injustice by even having it in his presence. "No, we'll go together. Go put a shirt on, DiNozzo."

Tony flutters his eyelashes just to be a dick, and almost laughs when Fornell actually rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Tony rarely gets that much reaction out of Gibbs for so little effort, so it's almost refreshing.

Still, Tony can't recall having a sanctioned opportunity to attempt to goad Gibbs, and he's determined to make the most of it. After they bring breakfast back at the house, while lingering over a cup of heavily sugared hazelnut coffee, he gets Fornell's permission to text Gibbs, and then takes a picture with his phone and sends it with a text: F is now buying me pastries. Entire bakery believes I am his really hot boytoy.

Tony grins at his phone like a lunatic after the text is successfully sent.

Fornell looks up from his newspaper briefly, and appears disturbed. "DiNozzo, did you seriously just send Gibbs a picture of your food?"

"We have a very special relationship," Tony says, not totally insincere.


Tony adds the file he just read to the others and leans back in his chair, closing his eyes. Four cold cases from six years ago in Delaware and Maryland, and the only link between them is breaking and entering, and a strange residue on the floor that yielded partial shoeprints that matched. Frankly, he can't see why these cases have come to the attention of the FBI, much less what Fornell wants with them, much much less how he thinks Tony can help.

He's still thinking it over when Fornell's cell phone chirps, and he hears Fornell get up and take the call in the kitchen. Still, it's not like Tony can't hear him perfectly well -- a house with walls this thin makes for only the illusion of privacy.

Fornell's murmuring becomes more distinct when he says, "Sweetheart, your birthday isn't for another four months, remember?" A remarkably gentle laugh follows it, and Tony is now shamelessly eavesdropping. "I thought you wanted to see the movie with the turtles," Fornell says a few moments later.

He'd known that Fornell was divorced from Gibbs' second wife -- known, distantly, that he had a young daughter. It is different to hear him on the phone, to realize that Fornell sounds like a good father. That's a train of thought that can go places that still leave Tony feeling a little bitter inside, so it's just as well that a new email pops up in his inbox.

Subject: cell phone

DiNozzo, why is Fornell buying you anything? I distinctly remember handing you a wad of cash.

Subject: Re: cell phone

And don't think I'm not grateful, but maybe I should have been paying more attention to the part where cash can't be traced, unlike the company card. Seriously, did I piss you off in some strange, unusual way? Fornell gets to talk to God and everyone at the FBI, not to mention his kid, but I'm stuck under radio silence.

Subject: Re: Re: cell phone

If Fornell wants you to not do something, he's got a good reason for it -- and what's more, you know it. Quit bitching and get back to work, DiNozzo. I'll call you on Friday.

Tony frowns at the computer screen. Gibbs hadn't actually answered his question, which suggested he might not know what was going on. Then again, this is Gibbs -- and since when would Gibbs let Tony go haring off into the wilds of Wisconsin without knowing the situation?

In any case, Friday is two days away, and Tony will get more answers out of talking to Gibbs than he ever will via email. What Gibbs says is never as important as how he says it.


Fornell dumps another two case files on Tony the next day, and he dutifully reads them, takes notes, and wracks his brain for some connection between them. This set is a bit more grisly than the previous -- these are blackmail gone violently wrong. Tony sits at the kitchen table, eating a sandwich and poring over crime scene pictures -- he's long since past the point in his career where they bothered him enough to interfere with food -- but nothing jumps out at him. Fornell alternates between his laptop and his phone, muttering dark, precise threats against underlings and speaking in succinct, respectful tones to the people who presumably sign his paycheck.

Tony opens up the laptop Fornell gave him and starts a new email, typing slowly but with his hands in the correct position. He really has been working hard on not hunting-and-pecking, although he would rather die than admit that McGee found him a good learning program that might have actually been designed for fifth graders.

Subject: arghhh

Boss, I'm going crazy here -- these cold cases are cold for a reason, and even if I had something to go on, I can't make any calls.

Whatever case you're working on has to be more interesting than this. I should be there helping, not sitting here shuffling through crap the FBI hasn't cared about in years.

Subject: Re: arghhh

I'll decide where you should be -- and at the moment, I want you there with Fornell. And just because the FBI let those cases go cold doesn't mean there's nowhere to go with them, and I expect better from an NCIS agent.


P.S. Tony, this is Abby, you totally missed fried-stuff-on-a-stick day and I had to go by myself because McGee is secretly watching his cholesterol or something. I can't believe you're stuck away from us for a month, that's really sad and we miss you already -- it's not the same without you, even Bossman is extra cranky and I have to hit send before he reali

Tony grins at the cut-off message -- he's willing to bet that Gibbs gave Abby leave to add a few lines to his email and probably turned his head for all of a minute before Abby went gossip-queen on him. Considering that the email is still in Gibbs' sent box and that he can read it at leisure, Tony has to admire Abby's metaphorical balls -- but then again, Gibbs has always loved her best and would probably give her a pony if she really, really wanted one.

He reads the email again, still smiling, and then turns back to his cases.


The unfamiliar ring of not-his-cellphone wakes Tony up.

He gropes for it in the dark, snagging it off the nightstand. "Hi," he mumbles into the phone, then clears his throat. "Boss?" he says, rubbing his eyes. "It's one in the morning."

"Don't you mean 11 p.m., DiNozzo?"

Tony's brain tries to process that. Right, if he were actually in California, it would be eleven, not one. "Sure, boss," Tony says. "My mistake." He stifles a yawn and turns on to his back. "Don't tell me you're still at work?"

"What do you think?"

Tony smiles. "I'd hear you drinking coffee if you were." He rubs his eyes, not quite able to shake the fog of sleep. "Are you in the middle of a case?"

"You think I'd be listening to you yap if I were?" Gibbs asks, but his voice is low and soft enough to take any sting out of the comment.

"You should be asleep, boss," Tony says. "If it's -- eleven, here, then it's two in the morning where you are."

"You're the one who wanted to talk," Gibbs says.

"Yeah, but not necessarily while I'm naked," Tony says, his brain only catching up with him after it's out of his mouth.

There's heartsickening silence from Gibbs for a moment, and then he says, "Well, that's a change from my ex-wives."

Tony doesn't even know what to do with that, so of course he just keeps talking. "I mean, not that I haven't talked to you without any clothes on before -- I mean, you know me, boss, I like to sleep in the -- I mean, when you call and wake me up sometimes, of course I'm. You know."

"I get the idea, Tony," Gibbs says, mercifully putting him out of his misery but making him squirm at the same time, because Gibbs rarely calls him anything but "DiNozzo" -- and when he does, it's when things are very, very bad, or very very good. Tony's not entirely sure which extreme this situation is.

He wants to ask Gibbs again what he's doing here, but considering how Gibbs has dodged the question so far, he doesn't want to force Gibbs to lie to him. "Boss, I was thinking about something today. I was reading a file, and it kind of twigged something in my memory. There's a paper trail I've been working on between cases -- I was looking into the death of Theodore Marshall, which was ruled a suicide, but boss -- I think there's something majorly hinky about the whole thing. I mean, there's no way for me to prove it, at least not from here, but there's something about the FBI cases that just kind of pinged."

"Pinged?" Gibbs asks dryly.

"Pinged," Tony says in a low, lazy drawl. He lets one hand rest on his stomach. "A feeling in my gut, you might say." He rattles off the case names for Gibbs, knowing that Fornell will make sure Gibbs gets access. "So tell me, am I really going to be stuck for thirty days in cold case hell?"

There's a pause from Gibbs where there shouldn't be -- Tony was asking a question to which he knew the answer, or at least he thought he knew.

"For as long as you need to be -- could be less," Gibbs says, but Tony also hears the unspoken, could be more.

"Boss," Tony says, and then swallows once, pressing the phone even tighter to his ear. "Boss, what aren't you telling me?"

"Maybe that's what I should be asking you. I need the name and address of the last person you dated."

Tony blinks. "Uh. Sarah. Sarah Tien. I don't remember her exact address, just the street -- I think I still have her phone number somewhere, if that would help--"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs interrupts sharply. "The last person you dated. And don't lie, this time."

That feeling of heartsick anxiety from earlier comes back with a vengeance, and Tony closes his eyes, because this is it -- Gibbs isn't screwing around, he knows. "Oh god," he says dully. "I'd ask how you know, but I'm guessing you can't tell me. Or won't tell me. I -- his name is Kyle Martins. I don't know his address, we never went to his place. I have his phone number on my cell -- the FBI has it."

He hears the sound of pen on paper, and he knows, then, that Gibbs woke him up on purpose. "Am I in trouble?" Tony asks after a moment, because he can't not ask.

"Not for the reasons you think," Gibbs says, and then the edge his voice softens when he adds, "Not over this. You understand me, Tony?"

"Boss," Tony says, and then stops, swallowing against the feelings of helplessness.

"Understand?" Gibbs repeats, and his voice is so gentle -- it's the one he uses with Abby when she's upset, or with kids, and it makes Tony want to break into pieces.

"Got it," Tony says finally.

"Go back to sleep," Gibbs says.

Tony lets out a humorless laugh. "You think I can sleep after all this?"

"You will," Gibbs promises. "Tell yourself to stop thinking about this, and you will."

"Like not thinking about a pink elephant," Tony mutters darkly. "What am I supposed to think about instead?"

"What you should be thinking about."


"Exactly," Gibbs says, and hangs up.

Tony stares at his cell phone in disbelief. Gibbs is a lunatic, because there's no way in hell that Tony can sleep now.


"You look like hell," Fornell says the next morning.

"Thanks," Tony says, and goes straight for the box of cereal that he'd insisted on putting in the grocery cart. Fornell gives him the same look of mild amusement masquerading as distaste that he's given him every morning, even though he's already let slip that Fruity Pebbles is his daughter's favorite cereal, too.

"You didn't tell me you'd found a connection between those cases," Fornell says, studiously nonchalant as he leafs through the paper.

Tony leans against the counter, eating while standing up. "Yesterday I would have said I was jumping at shadows."

"And today?"

Tony thinks about the low, intimate sound of Gibbs' voice from last night's call. "I think you're doing Gibbs a favor."

Fornell looks at him, his gaze steady. "Shouldn't that be the other way around?"

Tony snorts. "If you'd wanted me to look at cold cases, you could have locked me in the basement of the Hoover building. Or taken me out to lunch."

Fornell's gaze flicks to the bowl of cereal Tony's holding.

"Gibbs buys me steak sometimes," Tony tries.

"Really," Fornell says dryly.

"Well, no, not really," Tony confesses. "We go dutch when he hauls me out after Ducky gives him the latest 'less red meat' lecture."

"Frankly, DiNozzo, I've already done more hauling you around than I want."

"Which brings me back to my point," Tony says, leaning over the kitchen counter to look at Fornell. "What the hell are we doing in Wisconsin?"

Fornell doesn't answer him, and instead pulls a file out of his briefcase. He opens it and removes three glossy pictures and spreads them out on the table.

Tony sucks in a breath, deep and sharp, because it only takes him a second to recognize his apartment. His very trashed apartment. He meets Fornell's eyes. "I didn't think I'd pissed off my last ex-girlfriend that much," he says, aiming for breezy but grounded by fear.

"Were you bringing home case files to work on?" Fornell asks.

Tony frowns. "No, I try to leave that at the office -- I go back at night if there's something I want to work on. I don't bring it home."

Fornell doesn't say anything, but he looks like a man who has had his suspicions confirmed.

"Why am I here?" Tony asks. "Okay, so someone ransacked my apartment -- I should be helping Gibbs find out who did it and why, not sitting out in cow country."

"Because I am doing Gibbs a favor," Fornell says sharply. "He can't protect you, DiNozzo, and he sure as hell doesn't want you to end up like Theodore Marshall."

"Can't protect me?" Tony repeats, incredulous. "Let me guess -- all my 'cold cases' and Theodore Marshall are part of an ongoing FBI investigation."

Fornell smiles thinly. "Always knew there was more to you than a pretty face, DiNozzo." His phone rings while Tony is still staring at him in frustration, and he gets up to take the call in his bedroom.

Tony looks at the pictures on the table again -- none of the furniture looks broken, which he supposes is a plus. Still, he snags his laptop off the couch and opens it.

Subject: breakage

Well, I'm glad I bought renter's insurance -- did they break my plasma? If they did, I'm going to cry.

Subject: Re: breakage

Never mind your plasma -- you're lucky they didn't break you.

Subject: Re: Re: breakage

Which is what I assume was behind you sending me on my all-expenses-covertly-paid vacation. Come on, boss, it's not like people haven't wanted to kill or maim me before. Just ask Ziva. Why don't you let me come back to Washington and stay at the office? I'll be a good boy and sleep under Abby's desk and not leave the building, I promise.

Subject: Re: Re: Re: breakage

You'll be a good boy and stay right the hell where you are, DiNozzo.

Fornell storms out of his bedroom at that point, and the tight smile on his face is one that Tony has seen before -- predatory and confident. "Good news, DiNozzo -- the case is coming to us."

Tony looks at him suspiciously. "Uh, wasn't the point to keep me out of this?"

Fornell rolls his eyes. "The point was to make sure you didn't get offed before you drew the suspect out."

"You couldn't at least have told me I was bait?" Tony demands, feeling like maybe he should be more outraged than he actually is.

"DiNozzo, what part of 'You weren't safe at NCIS' didn't you understand?" Fornell says impatiently.

"It's somebody inside," Tony says, slotting things together in his mind. "Somebody inside -- a blackmailer who's escalating? The cases you showed me -- breaking and entering for blackmail material, and the later two where the victims were murdered...and Theodore Marshall didn't kill himself after all, did he."

"The evidence was tampered with," Fornell confirms. "It wasn't suicide."

"Anyone in NCIS could have seen that I was checking on the Marshall files," Tony says. "They were watching me -- they must have searched my desk and computer to see if I'd put anything together. They went to my apartment after we left town to make sure I hadn't left anything there."

"He'd been to your apartment before, DiNozzo," Fornell says. He pulls out two more pictures out of his briefcase, and Tony winces when he sees himself entwined with Kyle Martins. Actually, both of the pictures are pretty hot, if Tony did say so himself -- especially if one is partial to ex-Marines with stupid haircuts, which Tony apparently is.

"Insurance," Tony says thoughtfully. "Tell me Gibbs told Kyle to lay low until we catch this bastard." He turns the pictures over. "You've suspected whoever this is for a while. What, you hacked his computer to get this? Are you sure he's not suspicious that this whole thing is a set-up?"

"DiNozzo, I don't know if you've heard of it, but I work for this institution called the FBI," Fornell says, voice dripping with sarcasm. "I think I can manage to conveniently leak information without it being obvious."

"Well, if you're sure," Tony says, giving Fornell what he's been assured is a very obnoxious smile. "So, what, we're just going to wait with our guns pointed at the door for the bad guy to break in?"

Fornell sighs. "This is why NCIS never gets credit for anything."


"Remember, you're a complete idiot who just got lucky," Fornell tells Tony.

"According to some people, that's actually the story of my life," Tony mutters, pulling on the skankiest shirt he'd bothered to pack. "Closeted, complete idiot, lucky, got it. Do these jeans make me look fat?"

Fornell looks heavenward, as if praying for strength, and says, "I'm going to get a call in half an hour, and then I'm going to leave. Mueller will in all likelihood come in the front door. We'll be listening -- the minute he says something incriminating, we'll take him down."

"Great," Tony says. "Let's just hope he doesn't shoot me in the head."

"He's not going to shoot you, DiNozzo," Fornell says, exasperated. "He needs you. He thinks you've got something on him -- he won't risk killing you until he has it."

If Tony had thought the endless waiting of the past week was indeterminable, it is nothing compared to the molasses drip of minutes until Fornell's phone rings. Tony checks the hiding place of his gun under a sofa cushion only once, and stares at a newspaper page without reading until he hears the knock at the door.

Dan Mueller didn't look like any sort of Hollywood idea of an extortionist turned murderer -- he looked like the same guy Tony had run into in the breakroom, the same one who'd told Tony some great old stories at NCIS Fourth of July barbecues. And to be honest, when Tony first began looking into Theodore Marshall's death, the only thing he'd thought Mueller guilty of was ham-handedness.

"Hey, Danny," Tony says, aiming for pleasant surprise. "Don't tell me you scored FBI bitchwork, too. Man, who did you piss off?"

"Probably the same people you did," Mueller says, and he still looks so normal and good-natured that Tony's teeth itch.

"Hey, the suit's gone out for coffee, but come on in," Tony says, and lets Mueller into the house. He stands in front of the couch and waves Mueller into a chair. "How long are you here for?"

"Not long," Mueller says with that bland smile of his. "You know, I've been meaning to ask you something."

"Sure," Tony says affably. Cute, dumb, lucky, he repeats to himself.

"You've been looking at a case from a couple of months ago -- victim's name was Marshall."

"Oh yeah, off and on," Tony says. "I thought Marshall was connected to another case."

"Was he?" Mueller says, still genial, but there's a sharpness to his eyes that makes Tony want to close his fingers around the gun under the pillow.

"Not to NCIS cases, not that I could find. But I think it's linked to some FBI ones," Tony says, and stops smiling.

Mueller knows, then, and his smile hardens. "Tony, let me make this easy for you. Give me those files, and there's no reason anyone has to know about you and your friend Kyle."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony says flatly. "Why the threats, Danny? What's it to you, anyway?"

"Just tying up loose ends. The files, Tony," Mueller says, voice still pleasant. "Give me what I want, and we can forget this whole thing."

"That's a problem for me, Danny," Tony says, hoping that was enough threat of extortion for everyone listening. "Because, generally speaking, the only person I give what he wants is my boss, and you can see where he might disapprove."

Then the doors mercifully crash open with a minor tsunami of FBI agents, with Gibbs leading the way and barking at Mueller to get his hands in the air. Fornell is right behind him, cuffing Mueller and reading him his rights before letting the rest of the agents escort Mueller out the door.

"Hey, boss," Tony says, feeling his heart flip a little with post-arrest adrenaline and the way Gibbs' eyes take in Tony's admittedly kind of revealing clothes.

"DiNozzo, what did I tell you about doing stupid things?" Gibbs growls.

Tony points in Fornell's direction. "It was all his idea -- all of it, even --" he plucks at the collar of his shirt and Gibbs' eyes narrow dangerously.

"Tobias, when I said I wanted DiNozzo back in one piece, I didn't mean 'Use him as bait for a rogue NCIS agent,' and -- Jesus Christ, DiNozzo, why the hell aren't you even wearing a vest?"

"Mueller wasn't going to shoot him," Fornell says calmly.

"He wasn't going to shoot me," Tony says, trying for reassuring.

"I might," Gibbs snaps. "Tobias, are you going to go interrogate that dirtbag or what?"

"Nice of you to remember that this is my investigation," Fornell says, and then stalks outside in the direction the agents had taken Mueller.

It takes Tony a moment to realize it, but then he is acutely aware that he and Gibbs are alone in the house. "So," Tony says, resisting the urge to gulp nervously but still sounding more awkward than he'd like. "Does this mean I can go to Acapulco after all, boss? I mean, Wisconsin is not my idea of a vacation, and anyway, I was working, so really not a vacation at all--"

"DiNozzo," Gibbs interrupts sharply, and crowds Tony against the door. "You'll be damn lucky if I let you out of my sight long enough to to go the men's room, never mind Mexico."

"Yes, boss," Tony says, perfectly obedient, because if Gibbs wants to get all up in his business and look at him like -- well, like that -- he's on board. He hadn't been lying to Mueller when he said that he was in the habit of giving Gibbs what he wants.

Gibbs slides his fingers through the hair at Tony's nape, and Tony instinctively braces for the head slap that doesn't come. Instead, Gibbs just taps Tony's ear, which reminds Tony that he's still wired.

"Pack your gear," Gibbs says, deceptively casual. "We're going home."


Tony calls ahead and gets them a flight out of Chicago, but they still have two hours to kill at O'Hare. Tony knows the drill, and so goes off to buy coffee and a newspaper (for Gibbs) and trashy magazines (for himself). But catching up on his celebrity gossip only does so much to distract him from the fact that Gibbs hasn't actually said anything about about Tony's near-brush with blackmail.

"You said--" Tony starts, and then bites his lip for a moment, trying to think how to say this, because he thinks he needs to say something about it or he's going to make himself crazy with worry. "You said I wasn't in trouble over this. Did you mean that?"

Gibbs doesn't raise his eyes from his paper, and he doesn't pretend he doesn't know what Tony's talking about. "DiNozzo, am I in the habit of saying things I don't mean?"

"No," Tony says slowly. "But those pictures -- it's not how I would have chosen to tell you."

Gibbs looks at him then. "Tony, you weren't going to tell me at all."

He tries not to feel defensive then, tries not to feel exposed, but fails. Gibbs, damn him, is right as usual. "If Mueller had threatened me, I would have told you," Tony says instead. "I wouldn't have chosen to protect myself over NCIS."

"I know," Gibbs says mildly.

"Anyway," Tony continues, looking straight ahead, "I wasn't going to tell you because it didn't mean anything."

Gibbs squints across the waiting area, and takes a thoughtful sip of his coffee. "Six-foot, grey-haired, ex-Marine -- you really gonna sit there, Tony, and tell me it doesn't mean something?"

Tony freezes up at that. "It doesn't have to mean anything," he says, and he intends for it to be a calm statement of fact, but it comes out more like pleading.

Gibbs clucks his tongue then, like Tony just made a rookie mistake. "Tony," he says, and there's that gentle voice again, the one that he doesn't know how to handle when it's directed toward him.

"It doesn't have to," Tony insists, feeling even more desperate. "Honest, boss, I was dealing with it fine--"

Gibbs hits him upside the head then, and it says something probably objectively terrible about their relationship that Tony finds that reassuring. And he's just about to protest for form's sake when Gibbs leans over and kisses him in front of God and everybody in Concourse C. It's firm, and over before he knows it, and leaves him more shaken than it really has any right to.

"You'll deal with it, DiNozzo, and it won't be with anybody but me," Gibbs says. "Got it?"

Tony gapes at him for a moment, and then says faintly, "Got it."

Gibbs goes back to his paper, then, like nothing had really happened, but when he stretches one arm along the back of Tony's seat, Tony figures there's nothing for it but to lean back into it a little and read about red carpet disasters.


He nods off in Gibbs' car on the way home from the airport, and only wakes up when they're pulling into Gibbs' driveway. "What?" he says, feeling sluggish and slow with just enough sleep to remind him of how much he's missed.

"Your apartment's a crime scene," Gibbs says by way of explanation.

"Really?" Tony says, waking up enough to be skeptical. "That's what you're going to go with?"

Gibbs turns off the engine. "Come on," he says, and doesn't wait for a response before getting out of the car.

Tony sighs and grabs his suitcase from the back before following Gibbs into the house. Coming home to Gibbs' place is comforting in how normal it seems, and after Tony hangs up his coat on the usual hook -- and realizes that it says something that he even has a usual coathook -- he joins Gibbs in the kitchen.

Gibbs pulls two beers out of the fridge and hands Tony one. "Thai?" he suggests. It's an actual invitation for Tony's input. Gibbs is draconian on a lot of issues, but he's never really tried to railroad Tony on takeout.

"Yeah, okay," Tony says, and just as he's patting his pocket for his phone, Gibbs wordlessly hands his over. That's right: his phone is probably still in California. Tony calls and puts in their order, opens his beer, and then decides to stop procrastinating. "So," he says. "You kind of kissed me back there, boss. In public. In front of a lot of strangers. Also, you kissed me."

Gibbs looks mostly impatient. "I know, DiNozzo, I was there."

"And you always mean what you say," Tony says, fiddling with the label on his bottle. He summons up a ridiculously cheeky smile. "You gonna make an honest man out of me, boss?"

He expects Gibbs to snort derisively, and say something about how basically no one on the planet could make that happen, but he does none of that. He just says, "You got a problem with that, Tony?"

Maybe Tony should be more frightened by the idea, because it's not like his track record is great -- a sea of impermanence followed by the disaster of Jeanne, and then, well, carrying a torch for Gibbs -- so obviously, not really a basis for accepting a casual-sounding proposal from a man who is anything but casual about his promises. "Well, honestly, I've only got a problem if you're always going to kiss me closed-mouth. I mean, I don't exactly want a tonsil inspection every time, but a little tongue is good."

He expects at least an epic glare for being a smartass, but Gibbs just grabs him by the back of his neck and reels him in for a kiss that's soft and slow. Gibbs always means what he says, but Tony knows that there's plenty of things that Gibbs will never put into words. A kiss like this, devastatingly intimate with plenty of tongue -- from Gibbs, it's worth more than the promises of a dozen other men.

Things are starting to get really heated when the doorbell rings.

"Do we have to get that?" Tony asks, breathing hard.

Gibbs is already reaching for his wallet. "You'll keep."

"You sure about that?" Tony grouses.

"You will if I say you will," Gibbs says, and the look in his eyes is more than enough incentive.


Tony does keep, until the second Gibbs shuts the bedroom door -- and then it's a flurry of clothes being pulled off and thrown god knows where, and Tony's happy to let Gibbs take the lead, but he's not shy about what he wants, and it's not long before he's slicked up and riding Gibbs into the mattress.

Gibbs keeps his eyes locked on Tony's, and his hands wrapped around Tony's hips urge him to sink down on Gibbs' cock harder and faster. Tony can angle it just right, grind down and give himself exactly what he wants. But maybe it's not exactly what he wants, because he doesn't fight Gibbs when he rolls Tony over, just wraps his legs around Gibbs' waist, grabs hold of the solid headboard, and holds the hell on.

It doesn't last long -- how could it, when all Tony can do is take it and gasp and moan, high and breaking, "Oh--"

Gibbs groans in Tony's ear, and he doesn't know who comes first. He just holds on tight and shakes apart in Gibbs' arms.


Subject: vacay

Seriously, boss, come on.

Subject: re: vacay

You're still not going to Acapulco.

Subject: re: re: vacay

Work with me, here. Someplace warm with a beach. Also, I didn't mean just me.

Subject: re: re: re: vacay

You think, DiNozzo? I already put in for time off.

Subject: re: re: re: re: vacay

I'd ask who you are and what you've done with my boss, but I think I already know.

Subject: re: re: re: re: re: vacay

DiNozzo, you want to screw around later, you'd better stop screwing around now. Get your work done, and you can plan a trip to California.

The relative quiet of the bullpen is broken then, when Gibbs bellows at Tony for not having that background check done yet. Both Ziva and McGee look at Tony like he's an alien or maybe crazy or maybe a crazy alien, because Tony is grinning while he finishes up and gives Gibbs the information he wants.

"DiNozzo, with me," Gibbs snaps, stalking off to the elevator

"Yes, boss," Tony says. Once inside, he hits the emergency stop button and coos, "Ooh, boss, California!" and gives Gibbs a dirty, dirty kiss.

Gibbs is obviously a bastard, because he puts one knee between Tony's and rocks his thigh against him, returning the kiss with interest, before he leans back and says, "For chrissakes, Tony, do not call me 'boss' when you put your tongue down my throat." He steps away, and turns the elevator back on.

Gibbs may be a bastard, but Tony still lives to be an annoyance, so he just says, "Yes, boss," right as he's stepping out of the elevator, and they head off to Abby's lab together.