Tony is 8 years old when Mom dies. 'Tello takes the form of a brown bear cub and insists on being carried in Tony's arms, letting out quiet whimpers. Senior's hand is heavy on Tony's shoulder at Mom's funeral, grasping too tight and hurting him, but Tony doesn't say a word - there is a bigger hurt in his heart.
That night, while Tony and 'Tello are sniffling in their bed, trying and failing to fall asleep, Senior and his dæmon, Loki, a large bull, enter Tony's bedroom, stinking of alcohol. They close the door and don't leave until the morning.
Tony is 12 years old by the time he realises that Senior just isn't going to stop.
He's been making excuses for his father, but Mom died four years ago tonight and Senior hasn't even mentioned her in at least two years but still he and Loki turn up at Tony and Donatello's bedroom door every night. Tony's hands shake and his knees feel weak, but enough is enough. When he hears his father's familiar footsteps followed by Loki's hooves approaching his room, Tony crouches down, takes off his glasses to look Donatello in the eye, and whispers, "No more, Donatello. We stop him or die trying."
The doorknob turns, Tony clenches his fists and stands to face it and Donatello shifts into a young hippopotamus, charging as the door opens. 'Tello slams Senior up against the doorframe and unhinges his jaw right up in Senior's face, opening his maw so wide that he could truthfully bite off the man's head in one chomp.
Stuck behind them, Loki huffs and paws at the ground threateningly, but doesn't dare move with his human's life endangered (and if the human dies, so does the dæmon - and vice versa).
"You're going to enrol me in a boarding school. I don't care where or what one," says Tony, adrenaline and defiance pumping through his veins. "And you and Loki are never going to touch me or Donatello again, or we will kill you."
Donatello refuses to Settle. Tony jokes to his RIMA peers that it's because he's flighty and he'll end up as a bird, and later he jokes to his frat brothers that it's because he's a 'late bloomer', but deep inside Tony and 'Tello worry that they're broken by the abuse they've suffered.
But on the way to a basketball match, he and Donatello run into a burning building and save two little kids, the boy in Tony's arms and the girl riding Donatello's horse form (and each child carrying their own dæmon). Tony and 'Tello have never been so happy and proud of themselves (it's the proof they've been looking for, saving these little lives is the evidence that they are good).
Then, on the basketball court, an opposing team player breaks Tony's leg and Donatello shifts from the stallion (an animal that is put down if it breaks even a single leg) to a Bengal Tiger and roars his fury. And Tony, through the pain, just knows. Donatello has Settled.
Somehow, Tony's not surprised. A big cat suits his athleticism and playfulness, its dangerous nature fits his urge to protect -himself and others-, and his soul needed an expression that is big enough to fit Tony's personality. No, Tony can't say he's surprised - a tiger doesn't go down as easily as a horse, and Tony's gonna have to fight to make it through this latest injury to graduation and freedom.
Tony and Donatello fight and heal and succeed. They graduate college, and the police academy after. He fails, he makes mistakes, he falls in love, and he breaks his heart, and he lives, starting all over, again and again, looking for something he can't find.
Peoria, Philly, Baltimore.
Tony leans in to kiss Wendy and she backs away, eyes wide. "Tony, what are you doing?"
"I- I-" He shuts up, ashamed. He had thought that she liked him back, but now he's wondering if all her friendly flirting had been just that: friendly.
Wendy softens, seeing him struggle. "Tony, you don't have to pretend, it's okay."
Tony blinks at her. What the hell? He glances at Donatello to see him giving Wendy the same confusion.
"Pretend what exactly?" says Tony, taking her hand. "I like you, Wendy, a lot. Don't you-"
She cuts him off, "Tony, you're gay. Everyone knows that having a same-sex dæmon only occurs in people who like the same sex."
His mouth falls open in shock. He sure as hell hadn't known that.
Wendy squeezes his hand. "It's okay, Tony, I don't mind. You don't have to pretend with me."
Tony yanks his hand back. "I don't think you know me very well. I'm going to go now."
He and Donatello stagger away in a daze. What does his soul's gender have anything to do with who he's attracted to?
Of course, not too long later, while Donatello's off patrolling their territory, Tony chases a potential drug dealer half a city block, tackles him to the ground, and feels like he's struck by lightning when amused and blazing blue eyes meet his. Then the guy - flat on his back - checks him out and Tony's dick twitches in his pants - and Tony has to reconsider just how well he knows himself as he gets a half-hearted punch to the face.
He maybe owes Wendy half an apology. He's not about to make a move or anything on a criminal, but when they get back to Baltimore PD, he orders some flowers for her and a note saying, Thanks for the heads up, and then he gets back to work, questioning the guy.
(A month later Wendy sends back a note that says, I expect an invite to the wedding. Tony laughs and Donatello laughs and they laugh until they're gasping for air, and Gibbs and Mara look at them like they're crazy and Tony's crush is never going to like him back, like that, but at least Tony's never been divorced, let alone three times.
Wendy and her otter dæmon, Pan, and Tony and 'Tello, go for coffee once a month, exchanging work stories and bad jokes and laugh over their poor taste in men.)
They meet Kate Todd on Air-force One, steal the plane, steal the victim's corpse out from under the FBI's nose, and steal Kate from the Secret Service too.
Kate becomes a team mate. And a friend, not long after, even if Tony resents himself for Gibbs liking her better than him (he can't bring himself to resent Gibbs or Kate, the first of which is reasonable given that he's slowly falling in love with the bastard, but the second is just frustrating because Kate rubs it in his nose that Gibbs likes her better).
And Darius. Her handsome and argumentative falcon dæmon.
Timothy McGeek and Champ. Tony takes one look at them, the nervous young computer nerd, barely more than a college boy, and his fearsome, brutal-looking female Gorilla dæmon, and a grin spreads across his face at the ridiculous juxtaposition. Tim hesitantly smiles back.
Later Tony and 'Tello corner Gibbs and Mara in Gibbs's basement and beg until the Boss gives in from sheer annoyance and agrees to take on McGee as their probie.
Darius fades to dust.
And everything hurts all over again.
... Tony and Donatello pick themselves up and keep on working, and try not to let anyone else die on their watch.
"Actually," Ducky interrupts Tim, "The quirk of dæmons the same sex as their humans is simply that: a quirk of genetics. And not one that has any correlation to human sexuality."
Tony freezes mid step and mid bite into his pastrami sandwich and seriously considers just walking backwards before he's seen walking over to their table (nobody at NCIS has ever said anything to his face about Donatello being male like Tony, but that doesn't mean Tony hasn't had to beat a few agents in the ring to prove he's not some pushover gay like they rumoured him to be).
But then Gibbs steps up close behind him and says hotly, right into his ear, "Everything okay, Tony?"
A shiver zings down his spine and his cock twitches and Tony could actually just die, right now. He glances up hopefully toward the ceiling and the heavens unseen above and -well, he would bite back a sigh but he's still got a mouthful of pastrami, so he swallows that instead. "I'm all good, boss," he says cheerfully, wishing he felt it.
"Good," rumbles Gibbs, hot breath tickling Tony's throat, and steps away, but not before a hand presses against Tony's lower back, encouraging him forward.
Internally grumbling petulantly, Tony goes and re-takes his seat, Gibbs sitting down beside him. Gibbs has been awfully handsy lately and it's really not fair of him to tease Tony for being attracted to him.
Tony doesn't know how Gibbs final-fucking-ly figured it out, considering the man has spent years in complete obliviousness, but Tony's got a dozen different agonizing pranks to play on the fucker who clued Gibbs in to Tony's affections. Mostly because Tony's had to throw out the window all of his tricks and tactics for dealing with his feelings, because they don't work with Gibbs actively rubbing in nose in it.
And this conversation regarding same-sex human and dæmon soul halves could not happen at a more painfully ironic time.
"Well I've never met a straight man with a male dæmon or a straight woman with a female dæmon," argues Tim, not even looking up as Tony and Gibbs join the table.
Tony rolls his eyes. The only one more oblivious with people than Gibbs is Tim.
"And has every person you've ever met disclosed their sexuality to you, Timothy, or are you making assumptions as to their inclinations?" says Ducky archly.
Tony raises an eyebrow, impressed, intrigued and amused, all at once, and he takes a sip from his tall glass of chilled juice. It's been a long time since Tony attributed his attraction to men as to from having a male dæmon, and even Wendy has changed her stance on it.
Tim frowns and scrunches his face up in that way he does when he's thinking really, really hard.
"What about people who are bisexual, Tim?" asks Gibbs innocently.
Tony looks at Gibbs sharply, the guy sounded too innocent to be anything but sly.
"Meaning?" says Tim, confused but open to discussion.
"Meaning what about those people who are attracted to both men and women?" interjects Ziva smoothly, before stabbing her salad with a knife and eating a mouthful of chicken right off the blade.
Tony turns his nose up at her display. He's gonna laugh if she ever stabs herself in the cheek.
"There's like 2% of dæmons that are hermaphroditic, right? That's your bisexual group," says Tim, wincing at Ziva's knife twirling in her fingers as she chews.
Ducky shakes his head, but he looks thoughtful. "To my knowledge, there is no correlation between dæmon intersex gender and human bisexuality, but the strongest counter-argument to your case is simply that the numbers do not match up. There are far more people defining themselves as bisexual than there are intersex dæmons."
"Well then maybe it's the labelling system that's at fault," points out Tim.
"How so?" asks Gibbs lazily, as if he couldn't care less about the topic of conversation but feels obliged to take part.
Again, Tony eyes him curiously. He's sounds too studiously un-invested for it to be true. Tony should know, he perfected that art-form.
"Maybe the people defining themselves as bisexual aren't," Tim winces, and Tony winces with him at his sheer tactlessness. Tim hurries to add on, "I mean, not that they're lying or not bisexual, but that they have a preference for either men or women and that decides their dæmon's gender."
"So what," says Ziva, looking incredibly amused and putting down her knife. "You think that a bisexual man with a preference for men would still have a male dæmon?"
Tim nods vigorously, "Exactly."
Tony eyes him sceptically. He's had his fair share of flings with guys now, but with the exception of his feelings for Gibbs, Tony still prefers to date or bed women instead of men.
"Nah," says Gibbs nonchalantly, "Mara's a girl and hasn't changed last I checked."
The last bit of Tony's sandwich makes it to just an inch away from his mouth before the implication hits Tony and he freezes again.
Slowly Tony turns to look at Gibbs, everyone else turning with him to stare as well.
Gibbs shrugs with a crooked grin at everyone's surprised faces. "What? Like it's a secret?" He puts his arm over the back of the booth they're sitting on, conveniently behind Tony's shoulders, and glances quickly at Tony, giving him a wink.
Tony blinks back at him and turns to face forward again to stare blankly into space. How many years has he had now to make a move on Gibbs, and this whole time there's been a slim chance that he might not get shot down straight out of the barrel?
Five. Whole. Fucking. Years.
Okay, now Tony wants to die.
Ziva is with them for over an entire year and change before she reveals her dæmon to them. Lieber is a 3.5 inch, black, Arabian fat-tailed scorpion.
Tony had had his suspicions but having them confirmed is genuinely, literally, terrifying.
Right up until the time Lieber comes loose from Ziva's clothing in a fight and falls to the floor and some scared perp freaks out, pointing a gun at the dæmon. Some deranged, suicidal, protective instinct takes over Tony and he takes a bullet to the thigh as he skids to a stop on his side, covering the little scorpion.
Tony wakes up some time after surgery to find Gibbs awkwardly curled up in a chair beside his bed, completely comatose, still in his work clothes, uncomfortable Kevlar vest included, holding his hand. Tony cautiously hopes Gibbs doesn't come to his senses when he wakes up.
Mara is coiled up fast asleep around his shoulders, carefully with her bulk not on him so that he doesn't get squished, but she's a reassuring, protective presence.
Donatello, lying on the floor, rises up and gently nuzzles Tony's face, not saying a word.
"Yeah, yeah, I know big guy, I love you too," says Tony, patting 'Tello's cheek with his free hand, and amusedly eyeing the little scorpion dæmon clutching his own dæmon's furry ear. "You can stay for a little while too, I suppose," he tells it.
(After this, Tony and Ziva get along much better, and Lieber takes to hiding in Donatello's fur and catching a ride on his back occasionally.)
A few hours later, his room is a goddamn circus of humans and dæmons as what feels like the entire damn NCIS family shows up with Abby and her giraffe dæmon, Dracula, leading the way.
(But Gibbs has woken up by then and plans are made for Tony and Donatello to stay with him and Mara while Tony recovers, so he's not too worried about everyone intruding on this little thing he and Gibbs have blooming. He's waited five years, he can wait a little longer.)