It's simple psychology, Gibbs tells himself at first. Tony DiNozzo is one of the few people not scared of Mara, Gibbs's death snake dæmon (she's actually a green anaconda but they both like how impressive 'death snake' sounds, and it helps that she can back it up with killer strength). It makes sense that Gibbs would hold some respect and admiration and possibly a little bit of gratitude towards Tony and Donatello for accepting her so easily.
Things get a little more complicated when Tony finishes his courses at FLETC (and finishes his masters in Criminal Justice - Gibbs isn't stupid, if he doesn't insist on Tony being his SFA and getting him qualified ASAP, then Morrow will assign yet another second rate agent to them) and moves into the bullpen desk diagonally across from Gibbs's.
It's just, once Tony's there, he's there. He manifests at Gibbs's side whenever they catch a hot case, he bounds across the distance between their desks to share information instead of simply talking across the room, he stretches in ways that get Gibbs hot under his collar right smack bang in the middle of all that space.
Tony's personality seeps out of him and fills up all the available breathing room, in the room.
Gibbs can't turn around without seeing Tony bend over to pick up some file he's knocked off his desk, can't jerk off in the mornings before work enough to stop his dick from hardening up whenever Tony flashes that warm grin his way, can't inhale without smelling Tony's sweet cologne and sexier sweat and whatever the fuck hair product or soap it is that makes Tony smell divinely edible, like vanilla and cinnamon.
And Mara, Gibbs's traitorous little soul gone slink-abouts, is just as problematic: half the time she's the one knocking stuff off of Tony's desk just so they can watch Tony's butt as he bends over to pick it up.
Two years in and Gibbs still has no idea how Tony hasn't clued in to the fact that Gibbs wants eat his ass out, suck his dick down like those stupid damn popsicles Tony all but deep-throats all hot summer long, and fuck him senseless.
Tony, it hits Gibbs like lightning, is so goddamned straight as an arrow that Gibbs's bisexual hard-on for him just never fucking registers.
The night he figures this out he gets shitfaced drunk, Mara binge-eats them out of house and home, and Gibbs gives in and calls up G. Callen and invites him round for "A beer, c'mon, Cal, come fuck around in DC with me for a weekend."
Gibbs regrets the call come morning when he's hung over and she's vomiting up god knows what and they're both regretting their entire life, but when Callen and Grace, his German shepherd dæmon, show up the next Friday evening (and Callen's wearing ripped jeans and a rugged leather jacket and a rueful smile that says he knows better but getting nailed to the mattress by Leroy Jethro Gibbs is worth getting called someone else's name), well, Gibbs grins ruefully back at Callen (knowing better but hoping that a good hard fuck might just get Anthony DiNozzo out of his damned fool brain).
(Newsflash: It doesn't.)
But Callen and Grace walk away with limps that would be noticeable if it weren't for the beaming grins that steal any bystanders' attention and Gibbs gets one hell of a work-out that his dick is so exhausted when he finally staggers into work Monday morning that it doesn't do more than twitch once when Tony gives a sexy, teasing smirk at his dishevelled appearance.
And one twitch instead of a full on salute is, as it happens, improvement.
(He and Callen make it a monthly little thing, and Gibbs ignores the building feeling that tells him he's cheating on Tony, because Tony is still as blind as ever to Gibbs's feelings for him, and for god's sake, Mara, we're not even in a relationship with him!)
Still, it's not until Tony gets the fucking Black Death plague that Gibbs realises that his heart has got away from him and now resides in the oblivious hands of a complete idiot with - not a lack of self preservation - but a goddamned death wish.
Mara flicks him with her tail, her equivalent to the head-slap, 'You're being unfair to him. It's not like he knew the envelope contained pneumonic plague.'
Gibbs scowls at his soul made physical and goes on to threaten people with his gun and yell a lot.
(He has a complete mental breakdown because he's only just realised that his heart's as invested in Tony and Donatello as his dick, because sure Tony's sexy, but he's also funny and Donatello goes out of his way just to cheer Mara up on Kelly and Morgan's birthday, and clever is definitely the new hot, the way Tony's mind works solving cases, and he's kind enough to buy Gibbs that extra shot of coffee he needs at sixteen hundred hours, and also Tony's surprisingly good at listening when he takes the time to shut up, and most of the time Tony just gets Gibbs, and, and-
And this just isn't even fair, on any level, that Gibbs should have to lose any more loved ones. Hasn't he lost enough? Shannon and Wolfgang, Kelly and Morgan - god he misses them all, so badly.)
Yet after all that, Gibbs finds out there is nothing that he can do.
Whether Tony and 'Tello live or die is up to fate.
And that's unacceptable.
He storms in there, past Kate crying, with Mara slithering fast to keep pace with him, and they command the boys they love to not die, handing over a phone and babbling who knows what, and then he storms out, furious that he can't stay because (he'd hand over the case to Balboa in an instant, but) Tony and Donatello are still in the dark as to Gibbs and Mara's feelings for them.
He and Mara aren't their lovers and have no right to hold his hand and comfort him when there's probably some girl who Tony wishes was there (Gibbs isn't blind, he knows Tony has a standing date with a certain Wendy Miller every month, never mind that Tony walks in after every weekend talking about some long-legged, big-boobed one-night-stand).
Ziva David kills her own brother.
Gibbs sits on his couch and tells Callen over the phone that he needs a break.
Gibbs just can't handle any more people getting close to him only to die.
He pushes Tony away, ignoring the hurt in his eyes at every too harsh word and unexplained shut-down, and he tells himself, again and again, that he just got confused, that he's not in love, that he doesn't do love anymore.
Gibbs tells it to himself until he believes it. Because if he doesn't believe it 100%, then neither will his enemies.
(Gibbs is not going to lose another loved one. He and Mara will die before they lose Tony and 'Tello.
'God, what if Ari had chosen differently?' he asks himself.
'We would hunt Ari to the ends of the earth and extract revenge and then I would crush us both to death,' Mara reassures him.
They're a little fucked up.
Okay, they're a lot fucked up.)
But Gibbs survives, and life goes on.
His feelings are no easier to ignore than Tony himself, but now Gibbs buries them down deep, deep in his mind, beneath his buried memories and love for his first family, and tries to treat Tony like any other second in command.
With mixed results.
But it's enough mixed messages that no-one else ever figures out how he feels for Tony and Donatello, so Gibbs and Mara call it a win (as depressing a victory as there has ever been).
(Eventually he calls Callen up again and apologises, first with words and second with a bottle of good bourbon and third with a blowjob. Four orgasms later Callen confesses that he hadn't been offended by their 'break', only concerned for Gibbs, and that there had been nothing to forgive. He laughs as Gibbs smacks him repeatedly with a pillow, Gibbs's jaw aching like hell from cock-sucking.)
Except, a couple or so years later, one day, after Ziva and Gibbs have had a little heart to heart talk about her maybe introducing her scorpion dæmon, Lieber, to the rest of the team, she asks him, biting her lip nervously but point blank, "Are you ever going to put Tony out of his misery? He's never going to get over you if you never actually turn him down, and it breaks my heart to see my team mate in such pain from watching you and yearning for you from afar."
Gibbs chokes on his bourbon.
He doesn't believe Ziva right off the mark.
Not because he doesn't trust her, but because he's spent five years in love with an oblivious idiot with a death wish and a 600 pound Bengal Tiger for a dæmon, and Gibbs would just like to verify the fact that apparently they are a pair of oblivious idiots (a quartet of idiots, really - which just makes this whole thing even more humiliating) before he goes and makes an even bigger fool out of himself (because apparently he's not as unreadable as he'd like to be to everyone else around him, and oh shit, who else knows he's in love with Tony?)
Mara ties herself into a knot, she's so stressed, and Gibbs has to spend a literal hour, sitting down, figuring out how to untangle his 16.6 ft long snake dæmon.
Sixteen point six feet long.
Tied in a big ball of a knot.
(But Gibbs smiles a tiny smile as he works out Mara's kinks and soothes her. One day he hopes this story will make Tony laugh.)
They watch Tony, trying to be surreptitious about it, and sooner rather than later they find Tony and 'Tello shooting wistful glances their way when the boys think he and Mara are paying attention elsewhere. It's not the concrete evidence that they'd like, but the little glances come often enough, and often with a sad yet fond smile, that Gibbs is willing to bet that Ziva's actually right.
He tries to catch Tony's eye when he catches the man sneaking a glance but Tony plays it off, asking if there's something Gibbs needs done; and Gibbs tries to deliberately get caught staring at Tony, but soon discovers that he can stare straight at Tony for 30 minutes and Tony will just babble through some explanation he made up in his head about why Gibbs is mad at him, so long as Gibbs says nothing.
Yeah. Gibbs is in love with a complete idiot.
But considering that Gibbs had five years to notice that the oblivious idiot was in love with him, and he didn't notice, Gibbs reckons that one idiot probably deserves another.
Gibbs and Mara stay up Saturday night, talking through possibilities, trying to find the best way to clue in Tony and Donatello, and trying to think of how to keep the boys safe once more people find out that Gibbs and Mara love them.
Finally, they decide on using their anti-blackmail method: blackmail is useless for shaming you if everyone knows what it is, providing it won't put you in jail (Gibbs really hopes some of the skeletons in his closet never fall out, because this approach would absolutely fail with some of those).
If everyone, all of their friends, all of their co-workers, all of NCIS and Gibbs's dad and Tony's frat brothers, if absolutely everyone knows that Gibbs and Mara love Tony and 'Tello, then any enemy who comes hunting for Gibbs's loved ones are going to have a veritable army to go through, an army that is well aware of who the main target in need of protection is.
Gibbs treats it like a mission:
Step 1, seduce Tony.
Step 2, request Tony and Donatello's permission to shout how he feels for them from the rooftops.
Step 3, all four of them live happily ever after.
Mara sniggers at him, but Gibbs flicks her with his finger. It's a good plan. It'll work. It's too simple for anything to go wrong with it.
... Except it turns out that Tony and Donatello wouldn't recognise a seduction if it bit them on the ass.
Mara considers actually biting Donatello's tail, but Gibbs shakes his head and sighs. It probably wouldn't help the situation - then they would have to contend with a pissy Tony and a sulking Donatello while to trying to seduce them.
He's tried being more physical with his affection. Standing closely, letting their fingers touch as they exchange the occasional item, a squeeze of Tony's arm, a hand on Tony's lower back. Staring into his beautiful green eyes longer. Somehow, none of it seems to mean anything to Tony.
Until finally, Gibbs has the perfect chance to come out as bisexual during a lunch with most of their team (he's pretty sure Ziva's helping him out), even winking at Tony in a way he hopes is both inviting and flirtatious, and all Tony does is blink dumbly at him and proceed to ignore him.
Close to tears, when he gets home that evening Gibbs gives up and calls Callen for advice.
After a long, long moment, Callen says, in an even, kind tone, "Have you tried actually telling him how you feel?"
He looks at Mara.
She stares back at him, then dives face first into her coiled body, burying her head in embarrassment.
His phone buzzes with another incoming call.
"I gotta go, Cal, I'll call you back later," says Gibbs automatically, still pondering Callen's question.
It's dispatch. They've got another case.
Gibbs scowls, he could just about murder someone right now.
Lieber nearly gets shot, but Tony takes the bullet.
Gibbs spares the perpetrator's life, but only because Tony is still alive, even if he is bleeding badly. He leaves the arrest in Tim and Ziva's hands, applying first aid to Tony's thigh until the paramedics arrive.
"If you die from this, I'm going to fucking kill you, DiNozzo," he mutters to Tony as the paramedics load Tony up into the ambulance. Gibbs wants to go with him, but Donatello's back at HQ and Tony needs his dæmon right now more than he does Gibbs and his feelings.
Gibbs can wait.
"You kill me, boss, and who will annoy the shit out of you the way you love?" says Tony, with a twisted, pained grin, his face pale and sweaty.
Gibbs stares at him, the nail hit right on the head. "You better fucking be alright, Tony," he begs, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Tony's forehead.
But when he pulls back, Tony's eyes are shut and his head falls to the side.
"He's unconscious," says one of the paramedics, "He's lost a lot of blood. We need to go, are you coming with us?"
Gibbs shakes his head reluctantly. "I'll get his dæmon and meet you at the hospital."
"Fuck," growls the other paramedic. "How far away is his dæmon? Do we need to worry about separation withdrawal?"
"Donatello's a Tiger, and he and Tony have a greater separation range due to the size of 'Tello's territory. Go, I'll get him and we'll meet you all there," promises Gibbs, then he bolts for his car. Enough time's already been wasted. The sooner that human and dæmon are reunited, the greater the chance of recovery.
Gibbs curls up in the too small chair beside Tony's bed, Donatello conked out at his feet, and he resolves to tell Tony how crazy in fucking love he and Mara are with him and Donatello as soon as the boys are awake and doing well enough to hear such big news.
In the meantime, exhausted and in need of comfort, Gibbs steals Tony's hand, grasping it firmly in his own, consoling himself with the thought that Tony surely won't mind too terribly to find out that Gibbs was holding his hand while he sleeps.
Mara hisses her agreement that it's only a small breach of boundaries, surely a forgivable one, and she curls up around Tony's shoulders.
Gibbs opens his mouth to tell her off for so thoroughly invading Tony's space whilst he's not conscious to tell her to piss off, but a yawn comes out instead.
Mara quietly laughs at him in his mind and Gibbs rolls his eyes, settling in for a sleep. He doesn't even know how long he's been awake.
A familiar voice, whispering quietly, slowly wakes Gibbs up. He blinks hard and rubs the sleep-sand out of his eyes.
Tony's sitting up, having a soft conversation with something small and black cupped in his hands. Gibbs blinks again and little Lieber comes into focus and his and Tony's words finally click into place in his head.
"Lieber, are you teaching him how to curse in Hebrew?" says Gibbs incredulously as he stands up and stretches all the kinks out of his back.
Tony's head jerks up and he stares up at Gibbs wide-eyed. "Boss! I asked him to teach me," says Tony guiltily.
Gibbs huffs, he should have known. He sits back down and undoes the straps of his Kevlar vest, taking it off and tossing it to the side. He moves on, "You alright, Tony?"
Tony nods enthusiastically. "Ready to get the hell out of dodge!"
Gibbs glares at him. "You are not signing out AMA, you're keeping your butt right where it is 'til the doctors say you can move it."
"No buts and no moving your butt," says Gibbs firmly, cutting Tony off before he can start whinging about how much he hates hospitals.
Scowling at him, Tony badly mispronounces something in Hebrew.
Gibbs holds back a laugh and says evenly, "Lieber is a bad influence on you."
Lieber clicks his pincers threateningly in Gibbs's direction, beady eyes glittering as he bad-mouths Gibbs.
Gibbs eyes him with amusement, not scared in the slightest (Mara is still camped out protectively around Tony's shoulders, silently watching the proceedings and scenting the air with her tongue, and she could gobble up Lieber in one quick bite, and Donatello is licking his own asshole in the corner, as cats do, but Gibbs doesn't doubt that the Bengal Tiger is listening intently, his ears flicked forward).
"Don't think that I don't know you're being rude just because I'm not fluent in the language," warns Gibbs. "Run along back to Ziver, won't you? Tony and I need to have a little talk."
Lieber tilts his prosoma up to look at Tony.
Tony holds his hand down to the bed sheets. "Well go on," he says, smirking. "Do as you're told, Mr Bad Influence."
Lieber clicks his outrage and scrambles off Tony's palm, skittering across the blankets, leaping to the floor and scurrying through the little gap between the closed door and floor. His stinger clanks into the door, then twists and disappears.
"He snuck in earlier on Donatello," says Tony, looking after Lieber with a grin. "I think he and Ziva were worried about me, maybe feeling guilty that I got shot."
Gibbs shrugs and says nothing. It's good for team cohesion that Tony and Donatello get along better with Ziva and Lieber, but Gibbs doesn't want them to get too close. He had fallen asleep with Tony's hand in his, and Gibbs can't say he's happy to wake up to find Tony's hand wrapped around someone else's dæmon.
Touching another person's dæmon isn't just an act of friendliness, it's a touch to someone's bare, naked soul; an act of intimacy.
Hot jealousy writhes in Gibbs's gut. If Tony is gonna be touching anyone else's soul, Gibbs wants it to be his. Mara sneaks in close and nuzzles along Tony's cheek affectionately.
Tony flicks his eyes to her with a slight smile before eyeing Gibbs curiously. "What did you want to talk about?"
Gibbs hesitates. "You're welcome to stay at my place while you recover," he settles on.
"You want to play nurse for me?" asks Tony, chuckling at his own joke.
But Gibbs seizes the opportunity. "Yes," he says bluntly, leaving no room to misinterpret his meaning.
Tony blinks at him and his mouth falls open.
Gibbs leans forward and takes Tony's hand again, twining Tony's long elegant fingers with his own and rubbing his thumb along Tony's in a caress. "Tony, I want you safe at my house where I can keep an eye on you and give you all the support that you need to make a full recovery."
"Huh," says Tony, staring gobsmacked at their intertwined hands. "Well, alright then," he agrees with breathless bewilderment.
"Well, good," says Gibbs, grinning happily at him and squeezing his hand, which seems to shock Tony even more.
Tony's bewilderment turns to speculation in an instant. "You know," says Tony, and Gibbs can practically hear Tony's mind churning and putting the pieces together. "When I woke up a little while ago, you were holding my hand then too."
"Yeah," admits Gibbs, and his gaze drops to their hands. "I was. I'd like to keep holding on if that's okay with you."
Tony's fingertips rub against Gibbs's knuckles minutely. "I'd like that," murmurs Tony, and he squeezes Gibbs's hand.
Gibbs decides to ride the wave of Tony's agreeableness and see how far it goes. "I'd also like to kiss you again," he says softly.
Tony's gaze snaps up, his bright green eyes widening in shock as they lock onto Gibbs's. "What do you mean kiss me again?"
Gibbs frowns at him. "Oh right, you fainted."
"DiNozzos don't faint!" snaps Tony.
"Would 'collapsed from blood loss' sound nicer to you then?" demands Gibbs. "Because let me tell you, it sounds fucking scary to me. Almost as scary as actually having to watch it happen to you."
Tony swallows hard, and his hand flexes in Gibbs's hand but he doesn't pull away. "Sorry," he mutters, looking away.
Gibbs sighs. He hadn't meant to upset Tony. He opens his mouth to tell Tony there's nothing to apologise for-
"Wait," says Tony, turning back around, mouth downturned. "So you kissed me while I was unconscious?"
Wincing, Gibbs nods reluctantly. It doesn't sound too good when phrased like that. "It was just on the forehead," he tries to assure Tony. It's not like he'd known Tony was gonna faint on him.
Tony stares at him. "And you'd like to kiss me again?"
Gibbs hesitates again faced with Tony's lack of expression. "If you might like that too," he ventures to mumble, looking down at their intertwined hands again, trying to draw strength from the fact Tony hasn't pulled away.
"Just on my forehead?" asks Tony.
"Well," says Gibbs anxiously, because how the hell can Tony still NOT be on the same page? He risks a look up- and narrows his eyes.
There's a smirk tugging at Tony's lips.
"You annoying little shit," breathes Gibbs, realising he's being teased, and he smiles weakly in relief.
Tony grins widely. "I mean, if you really want to kiss just my forehead that badly..."
Gibbs huffs a laugh, and makes to get up, but there's stampede of footsteps followed by a pounding knock on the door. "Later, sweetheart," he murmurs to Tony, sitting back down and squeezing Tony's hand one last time before letting go.
Tony nods to him and bites his lip shyly. "I'll hold you to that," he whispers solemnly, before looking to the door. "Come in," Tony calls out, sounding perfectly normal.
Gibbs sits there, letting his feelings rise and wash over him. Yes, he and Tony are actually in love. And together.
And Abby and Dracula, Ziva and Lieber, Tim and Champ, and the whole damn troupe crash through the door and somehow squeeze themselves into Tony's hospital room.
But amidst all the chaos that is their team and friends, Tony catches Gibbs's eye and grins a little grin just for him.
Gibbs grins happily back, looking forward to later.