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Shallow Waters

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Chapter 1:

"Of all the- GIBBS!" The sound of Tony's bellowing echoed across the alley and McGee flinched in answer. Mouth agape, he watched on as Tony proceeded to stalked toward the older man, anger so plainly visible in his stance that McGee was surprised there wasn't a black cloud following him around.

Cautiously, he inched his way closer, hoping he wouldn't have to jump in to save the team's Senior Field Agent.

He might have toughened up a lot in the last years, but getting in between an angry Gibbs and his prey was never a good idea. McGee discarded Tony's anger as pure foolishness, even though the other man was right to be angry. Warranted or not, yelling at Gibbs would only see Tony receiving the mother of all smack down, and now wasn't the time for it.

"You don't walk into a robbery in process naked Gibbs. You don't go in alone, and you sure as hell don't go in without at least a vest on." Tony growled, getting into Gibbs' space, closer than was probably safer. "This is not the time to play He-Man you stubborn bastard."

Despite his previous assessment of Tony's innate dangerousness, McGee was taken aback by the pure fury emanating from the agent. Tony very rarely lost control, and he was usually the most even tempered of the team. The rare times he'd seen Tony react to something, his temper had run cold, never this hot and angry, the smoke all but coming out of his nose.

"You've pulled a lot of stupid stunts, but this? This one has to ranked in the top ten of most idiotic ideas you ever had." Tony snorted, and somehow, there was nothing funny about the glint in his eyes. "And that's saying something."

McGee could see a Gibbs grinding his teeth as he was all but trapped between the wall behind him and the bulk of Tony's body, the younger man caging him in, hands fisted in his jacket's lapels.

"You never go somewhere where none of us can guard your six Gibbs, not again. You want to be a fucking idiot? You want to walk into an armed robbery that's turning into a hostage situation? Fine, be my guest, but you take one of us with you, and you wear a damn vest, capisce?"

"Can't do that Tony." Gibbs voice was low and even, and it carried none of the anger McGee had been expecting. To his surprise, he could see Gibbs relaxing into Tony's grip, his head coming to rest easily on the wall he was leaning on. "That guy in there, he's way too volatile to bring too many people in, we've got no clue when he'll start shooting people. There's kids in there, Tony, I can't take that risk, you know I can't."

Gibbs looked up at Tony, meeting his eyes easily, and McGee saw a whole discussion taking place in a matter of seconds.

Tony breathed deeply before he let the older agent go, a small grin on his lips as he smoothed the rumpled fabric of Gibbs' jacket, all his anger gone.

"Alright." Tony nodded and moved away towards the van, shrugging his windbreaker off at the same time.

McGee looked at him go, knowing that he was doing his best impression of a fish, his mouth wide open as he took in Tony's easy stride and Gibbs raised eyebrow.

"Something wrong McGee?" Gibbs asked and McGee swallowed hard.

"What's Tony doing?" He stuttered out, focusing on the now rather than asking questions he wouldn't get answers too. There would be time later to talk to Abby or maybe Ducky about why Gibbs hadn't ripped Tony a new one, or about why the hell had Tony decided it was okay to yell at the boss. This was something he'd never seen the ex cop do before, and if he hadn't seen it, he wouldn't have believe Tony had that kind of guts.

Make that stupidity, McGee thought, before he corrected himself. Gibbs hadn't lashed out, in fact, there was something in the other man's stance that screamed satisfaction and a pleased kind of gruffness McGee had rarely, if ever, seen before.

"He's getting himself wired. Go help him McGee." That said, he turned around, leaving a speechless McGee behind. "Now McGee!"

McGee hurried off in the direction of the van, getting there just in time to see Tony strapping on a bulletproof vest, his badge clearly visible to everyone from its place around Tony's neck.

 

"Tony?"

Tony threw him a quick look as he searched around the truck. "Yeah?"

"Huh- What are you doing?" McGee asked hesitantly. Tony's raging anger was still fresh on his mind, and he wasn't eager to be on the receiving end of it.

"I'm going in to talk that guy down."

"What?" Given the discussion he'd just seen, McGee wasn't expecting to get that answer.

"Someone needs to get in there, and I'm less likely than Gibbs to do something stupid. From what we know about the guy, I don't think he'd react well to Gibbs' special brand of 'negotiating'." Tony smirked and McGee grinned in answer. Tony had a point, Gibbs' kind of negotiation wasn't always the way to go.

"Why you?" He asked.

Tony shrugged, and grabbed the elusive earwig he'd been looking for. "Because people like me." There was no artifice to his declaration, no crowing, not even an hint of bragging. It was nothing more than the truth, a partial one, granted, but a truth nonetheless.

Tony had a way with people, he was charming, funny, laid back, and could usually worm his way into difficult situations. He was a quick thinker who could react to most situations in a snap, and McGee cursed himself for forgetting that he'd been more than once surprised by his fellow agent. There was more to Tony than met the eye, and he wasn't always the goofy womanizer he acted like.

"Alone?" He squeaked, and McGee could feel himself blush.

"Yeah, Gibbs had a point, we can't send too many people in, the guy might go ballistic at any time. Better to send in only one guy who can talk fast."

"Tony, you just yelled at Gibbs not to go in alone, and you're going to do exactly that?" McGee couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Tony jumped down from the truck. "Hey, I'm going in wired, and I'm wearing a vest. Besides, I'm more expendable than he is." There was nothing McGee could say to that. It was true that between Gibbs and Tony, Gibbs was the more important, but Tony was just as irreplaceable to the team as the Marine was, in more ways, even more so.

"Be careful Tony." Was all he could offer.

Tony grinned blindingly. "Oh Probie, when am I not careful?" McGee followed him to the MP's vehicles that stood at the mouth of the alley, standing a few steps away when Tony stopped besides Gibbs.

The older man turned toward his Senior Agent, eyes searching for something. He raised his hands and cupped Tony's head between them, making eye contact with the younger man. From his position, McGee heard Gibbs's "Don't do anything stupid Tony. Listen to him, and talk him down. You don't need to play the hero, and try to make sure you give us a clear shot if we need it."

Tony smiled and nodded. "I know the drill Boss." There was no underlying chastisement in the words, nothing but quiet reassurance and McGee once more marvelled in the way the other man could switch gears.

Gibbs held Tony's eyes a few seconds longer, until he obviously found what he'd been searching for. With a nod, he let his hands fall down. "Go."

McGee watched as Tony crossed the street to the electronics store where the bad guy was holding a dozen people at gunpoint so he could get the latest toys.

"Check the comms McGee."

McGee nodded. "Tony? Do you copy?"

"Loud and clear McProbie. I'm going in."

Tony knocked on the glass door of the store, holding his badge and hands up in the air, in plain sight of the people inside. He'd barely crossed the threshold when a shot rang out, and McGee saw Tony plunging to the floor. By his side, Gibbs' growl was left unanswered as McGee called out.

"Tony!"

The downed agent didn't answer him directly, but his voice came clear through the open comms. "Hey! That was a stupid move Petty Officer. Me? I'm a good guy, real easy to get along with, but those guys outside? Won't take kindly to you shooting a federal agent, even if you were only spooked by a damn Chihuahua. Do you have any idea how long I'm going to hear about this one?" McGee smiled in relief.

"Now, I'm just here to know how I can help you so you can let all those nice people go."

The voice they heard in reply came from far away, but it didn't hide the manic quality of it. Gibbs cursed, and McGee echoed the feeling wholeheartedly. From the sound of it, the Petty Officer was stoned out of his mind, and stoned bad guys were not exactly easy to deal with. They were unpredictable and able to switch moods in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, the situation was a whole lot more dangerous than it had been, and Tony was inside, unarmed, trying to protect over a dozen people.

"Shit." McGee mumbled.

"What?" Ziva's voice from behind him surprised him and McGee jumped.

"Ziva!"

Ziva sneered in answer. "What is happening?" She asked. She'd been working on finishing up the last of another case, wrapping up the interviews and she hadn't been able to get to the scene at the same time as the rest of the team.

"Tony's gone inside to try and talk the guy down. Petty Officer drugged out of his mind, holding over a dozen people hostage at gunpoint." McGee answered, ignoring the Mossad's officer attitude out of long habit.

Most times, Ziva was great to work with, but there were times were the differences in attitude and training could be really grating on her teammates. They'd all grown used to it, mostly because she'd proven herself more than once.

"Tony?"

McGee winced. The doubts in Ziva's voice were unmistakable, and with what he'd just seen between Gibbs and Tony, he doubted her opinion on Tony's abilities would go well with Gibbs. "Yes Ziva, Tony." He knew his answer was a bit more abrupt than should have been warranted, but hopefully, she'd understand that this wasn't a good time to make fun of DiNozzo.

"Was he really the best choice?" She asked.

McGee listened to what the comms were transmitting. "Seems to be working. He's going for the good ol' boy approach." He ignored everything else in favor of settling in to listen as his teammate fast talk is way to saving lives.

---

"Abby?" McGee called out as he walked into the lab. He was stopped short by the sight of the Goth, leaning against the wall, feet in the air, and standing on her head, lab coat falling over her face.

"Hu- Abby? What are you doing?" He couldn't help asking.

"I'm trying to find out how long I can stay like that before I get lightheaded."

McGee sighed. He knew better than to get into her crazy ideas, and he'd be better if he just asked the question that had been bugging him for the last day, rather than get her started on why she wanted to know how long she could stand with her head down.

"Right."

"What's up Timmy? You have your frowny face on." Abby asked, still looking at him upside down.

"I just- There was-" McGee stuttered.

"Spit it out McGee!" She barked out, a gleam in her eyes. On second thought, maybe it wasn't a gleam so much as the blood rushing down to her head.

"I just saw something, and I'm not sure what to think about it."

Abby gestured him to keep going, no small feat considering her position.

"We were on that hostage situation earlier this morning, and Tony yelled at Gibbs. He just slammed him into a wall, and got in his face, and he looked very very angry."

"And?"

McGee gaped. "Abby! Tony never yells at Gibbs, he just jokes, and make allusions, and goes quiet whenever Gibbs looks at him, but he doesn't yell!"

Abby pushed back against the wall, flexing her arms, until she could land, feet firmly planted on the floor. "Sure he does." She whirled around, before moving towards her office, McGee hot on her heels.

"You should have seen them the first six months they worked together, they used to have screaming matches in the bullpen. They'd get into each other's faces, and they got really creative with the insults." She smirked over her shoulder. "Pacci used to call me up so I could bring the popcorn."

"Tony and Gibbs?" McGee said.

Abby sat down in her chair, looking through her desk drawers, obviously searching for something. "Sparks were flying everywhere. I swear, we had a pool going on." She frowned. "Where did I put it?"

"A pool?"

"Yeah, about who would snap first and duck the other. I think we had about a dozen options there at one point."

Mind boggling under the information, McGee just looked at Abby. "Options?"

Hands flying in every directions, she answered. "If I remember correctly, we had variations of Tony punching Gibbs, Gibbs firing Tony, and the both of them jumping each other in the elevator."

"What?"

"You're repeating yourself Timmy."

"Wait, you mean that you were taking bets about whether or not Tony and Gibbs would end up in bed?"

"Actually, Pacci was, but I made sure to grab the book he kept track of the bets in after he died." She brandished a black notebook. "Ah ha!" She looked through it quickly. "maybe it's time to update this thing, if Tony's back to screaming at Gibbs in public, you never know what might happen next." She mused quietly.

"You don't really think-"

Abby raised her head so fast McGee had an instant to wonder if she got whiplash. "Since when are you homophobic?" She set her face in her serious face, forehead crinkling even as she scrunched her nose.

"I'm not."

"Then what's your problem?"

McGee backed away from the pissed off forensics expert slowly. "Just- It's Tony and Gibbs."

"And?"

"The thrice divorced marine sniper and the ultimate fratboy?"

Abby growled. "They are so much more than that." For an instant, McGee was afraid she was about to hit him. "Why don't you prove that you're an investigator and observe them instead of seeing them in black and white Mr. Gemcity?" With that, she turned back to her machine and McGee slipped away before he angered her further.

Maybe he had some thinking to do.

 

---

Gibbs pushed the door opened and walked into the Director's office. "You wanted to see me Leon?"

"Gibbs! Close the door will you?" Vance asked and Gibbs silently moved to comply with the request. "Have a seat."

Gibbs stayed on his feet, not out of disrespect for Vance, but because his inner Marine preferred to be standing when talking to a superior officer.

Vance shook his head, amused as he always was by the action.

"I heard about what happened at the crime scene today. Do you want to add a reprimand to DiNozzo's file?" he asked.

Gibbs stared at Vance. "A reprimand? Why the hell would I want to do that?"

Vance raised a brow. "He directly refused an order and he did so in front of the MPs."

Gibbs smiled. "Ah, I see. You've never read DiNozzo's file, have you Director?" There was amusement mixed in with the words, and Gibbs finally moved to a chair. This wasn't a dressing down, and it wasn't Vance playing at Director. This was a guy who didn't know what he was talking about, and although Gibbs wasn't usually a fan of explaining himself, this particular subject needed to be addressed. Vance had more than once made no secret of his opinion of Tony, and maybe it was time to clear a few things up.

"I've read enough."

"Let me guess, you read the last page of it, the few comments Director Sheppard may have made and thought you knew everything there was to know about DiNozzo." Gibbs shook his head. "Things make a lot more sense."

Vance leaned back into his chair. He'd never understood Gibbs' blind faith in the man, and nothing he'd seen so far had changed his mind. DiNozzo was an okay agent, but he had no abilities whatsoever with technology, he was unruly, and he clearly disliked authority. "And what should I know?"

"That Tony is the best agent I've ever worked with. He's the only cop I ever recruited and the only one I've ever called partner."

"Partner?" Vance asked, cutting Gibbs off.

Gibbs looked at him, surprised. "Yeah."

"He's your Senior Field Agent, Gibbs, and you have two other agents on your team."

"Tony's more than my Senior Field Agent, Leon, he's my full fledged partner. Take a look at his file, you'll see what I mean. In fact, you should read the whole thing from cover to cover before you judge him." Gibbs got to his feet. "Don't go for the cliff's notes version, and then I'll answer any question you have."

Vance nodded. Maybe Gibbs had a point, maybe it was time to learn more about the man who tended to be a thorn in his side.

Once Gibbs was gone, Vance called his assistant, requesting DiNozzo's full personnel's file, not the one that contained nothing more than highlights, which he'd already skimmed before he'd assigned the man as Agent Afloat.

The file he received was far thicker than he'd imagined, in fact, the only one thicker he'd seen was Gibbs' own.

It made for interesting reading.

To Vance's surprise, he learned that DiNozzo had more than a Phys Ed major to his name, having double majored in psychology before making his way to the Police Academy. There, he'd ranked off the charts in most things, and had had his pick of assignments when he'd graduated top of his class. The only discordant note from any of his ex employers was the time he'd punched his partner, but even that was offset by the circumstances. The man had hit a woman in front of DiNozzo and the then-cop had taken offense, punching his partner right back. He had a pile of commendations far more impressive than his attitude let on, and apart from some comments on his rather unusual methods, everything was nothing but glowing recommendations. He was often noted to be one of the brightest officer those departments had seen, and exceptionally brilliant at undercover work.

Vance read on, moving to DiNozzo's time at NCIS. To say that Vance was surprised to find that Gibbs had been right, was an understatement. He hadn't realized that DiNozzo had been hired as Gibbs' partner, in the rather short stretch of time during which the brass had decided that their Major Case Respond Team didn't need more than two members. Vance made a note to check in Gibbs's file, wanting to double check the older agent's claims that Tony was the only partner he'd ever had. From all accounts, the partnership had been a successful one, the team's solve rate going through the roof after DiNozzo's arrival.

He had to bit back a smile when he read Director Morrow's personal notes, about screaming matches between the two man before they'd found their stride and things had quieted down. The notes went on to add how the new partners had seem to have a deep understanding of the other's methods and moods, and that it wasn't long before Tony's official status and pay scale had been adjusted in consequence.

 

His predecessor's notes on the other hand, surprised him by their very duality; going from flattering of DiNozzo's prowess while acting as Team Leader and during his deep undercover mission to biting when the man had obviously lost some faith in his superior.

Vance hadn't known Tony had been offered a promotion and his own team, but given what he now knew of the other man, he wasn't surprised by the refusal Jenny had received. The man was loyal if nothing else, and his unshakable desire to return to the D.C. office was a proof of that.

For a man who Vance had thought to be nothing more than a mildly gifted investigator and all around pain in the ass, the knowledge that he'd refused not one but at least two promotions came as a surprise.

The picture he was getting wasn't one he was comfortable with. It somehow clashed with everything he'd thought he'd known about DiNozzo and Vance found himself floundering, unsure of how to deal with everything he'd just read. With a thoughtful frown on his face, Vance put down the file and called his assistant, requesting Gibbs' presence as soon as possible.

Ten minutes later, the man walked into his office, a small smile on his lips. "Made for interesting reading, didn't it Leon?"

Vance leaned back, grabbing a toothpick from the small jar that never left his side.

"Why is he still here?" The question was asked calmly, and Gibbs took a seat, relaxed.

"Because Tony doesn't leave a partner behind. I don't know how far back you read, but he went to a military academy. He's not only one hell of a good cop, but he's got the military mentality down pat."

"Did you know that he got offered his own team a few years ago?"

Vance saw the flash in Gibbs' eyes and he put it aside for further consideration.

"I didn't know, but I'm not surprised."

"He turned it down."

"Yeah, Leon, that I got. I do know he's been offered a job at the FBI more than once and that Metro came sniffing around a couple times." Gibbs settled more comfortably into his chair. "He probably got the offer around the time I came back from retirement. There was no way Tony would leave then."

"Why?"

"Because no matter what I might have thought at the time, I wasn't one hundred percent. Tony wouldn't have left when he thought I might crack." Gibbs shook his head ruefully. "Told you, man doesn't leave his partner."

"He's not." Vance said.

"What?"

"The way things stand now, he's nothing more than your Senior Field Agent. He hasn't been your partner on paper since you came back from Mexico. He took a pay cut, and a demotion when you stepped back in."

Vance was looking for it so he saw Gibbs grind his teeth.

"Of all the stupid-" The other man muttered.

Vance raised a hand, cutting off what could easily turn into a rant. "However, from what I just read, and with some conditions, I'm willing to reinstate him to his former title." He leaned on his desk, elbows firmly planted on the hard surface. "Can you swear to me that it won't affect his attitude? How certain are you that he deserves it?"

"Leon, the guy's had my back silently for over six years, and if I know Tony, he probably did more than his share of paperwork, without complaining once. He never said a word to me about the pay cut, and as far as I know, no one on the team is aware that he's been my partner for close to ten years. Do you really think it's going to change?"

Vance considered it. It was true, from every account, Tony had never let on of his status or demotion. He'd done the Senior Field Agent's work without complaining, even when the work should have gone to McGee.

"He never passed the admin work to anyone else, even when he was already pulling double duty."

"Tony might bitch about being a glorified secretary, and he may not be McGee as far as computers go, but he's not as clueless as he appears." Gibbs smiled, clearly amused.

There was something niggling at Vance, something far too far fetched to be true. But Gibbs was in a good mood, and this had a chance of being the only chance he'd get at asking the question. "The DiNozzo on paper and the one I've known for close to four years are worlds apart."

"I know."

"Why?" Vance asked, deeply curious.

"About a year after Tony joined NCIS, the brass decided that two people wasn't enough on the team. It didn't take long for us to figure that there couldn't be two Team Leaders without confusing any new addition. The solution we came up with was that I'd take the lead, and he'd downplay his skills. Kind of good cop bad cop. He's the one the probies can compare and compete with. He's the one easier to approach, while I'm the one who takes no slacking off. It worked. You never met Kate, but as soon as she started working with us, she went head to head with Tony, and it made her better. Same thing with McGee, though it took longer in his case. The Tony you've been seeing is the one we devised years ago. The real Tony is a highly intelligent cop, with better instincts than mine, undercover skills that any Hollywood actor would kill for, and far less hyperactive than what you might think. He doesn't date nearly as much as he might appear either."

His suspicions didn't sound as far fetched as they had half an hour ago. "Just how close are you to DiNozzo?"

Gibbs' smile morphed to a grin. "Curious Leon?"

Vance scowled.

"Are you asking if I'm sleeping with him?" Gibbs asked, with none of the outrage Vance had been expecting.

"If I were asking, would you answer?" He was growing defensive, and Vance cursed himself for it. Gibbs had a way of throwing him for a loop he truly hated.

"I'm not, but that might change." Gibbs cocked his head to the side as he answered, no shame visible in his stance. The move was eerily reminiscent of DiNozzo, and Vance had to shake himself.

"What do you mean?"

Gibbs grew serious. "The only reason I have of saying this is to save everyone a whole lot of trouble. What's between Tony and me is our business Leon, and I won't accept any shit for it. Tony's been on my team longer than anyone else by a very far stretch. Things may change between us, but nothing at work will be affected. Do you understand that?"

Vance found himself searching for words. He took a deep breath, and bit hard into his toothpick. "It's again the regs Gibbs."

There was something hard and cold in Gibbs' eyes and Vance fought the urge to squirm. "On paper, I'm not Tony's boss. Or rather, I shouldn't be, he's been my equal since he started here. If anything happened, I can assure you it would be fully consensual, and it would have no bearing on how we work together. I wouldn't be coercing him, and he wouldn't be trying to sleep his way to the top. What happens in our personal life, is just that, personal."

Swallowing hard, Vance nodded his assent. If things ever changed, he'd have to see how it affected the team. There'd be time to act. The undercurrent of controlled anger he sensed from the other man had him keeping silent on his thoughts, or on the questions on Gibbs' sexuality. For some reason, the ex-Marine had never registered as being even remotely bisexual.

It was all those ex-wives, Vance thought.

"Alright, we'll see what happens Gibbs. I need to see DiNozzo, talk to him about the pay raise."

Gibbs got to his feet. "Tony's getting stitched by Ducky as we speak; unless he gets sent home, I'll send him up once he's done."

"He was injured?" Vance hadn't known.

"Just a graze, but the idiot didn't say a word until we realized he was bleeding." Gibbs said as he walked out of the office.

"Gibbs!" Vance called out before the door could close.

Gibbs stopped to look back at him. "Pass along the message and tell him to see me tomorrow. The discussion can wait until then." A nod was his answer.

Sitting back, he sighed. This was proving to be a very enlightening day.

 


Chapter 2:

 

"You should have told me."

He'd followed Tony to his apartment, a six pack of beer and containers of Mexican food in tow. The former cop had only waved him in with a smile, well used to the way either of them would drop by the other for drinks and food, especially if one of them had been injured.

Tony stood at the kitchen counter, and was grabbing plates and cutlery. He tensed for a moment, his back to Gibbs, before the tension flowed out of him again. He turned his head just enough to meet Gibbs' eyes. "And what should I have told you exactly?"

Gibbs had the feeling that his Senior Agent was fishing for information, trying to pinpoint which omission Gibbs had in mind. He bit back a smile and leaned against the wall, arms crossed against his chest.

"That you're not my partner anymore? That you were demoted years ago, that you took a pay cut? Any of that ring a bell Tony?"

Green eyes bore into him, before they dropped. Only long experience allowed Gibbs to see the moment Tony seemed to brace himself. "And when exactly should I have told you? When you came back from suntanning on the beach?" He snorted. "You might have been able to fool the others, Gibbs, but not me. It took you over a year before most of the pieces were back where they belonged, and even now, there are still a few holes in your memory." Tony turned to face him fully. "Or maybe when you were looking at me as though I'd committed a crime after that whole Frog cluster fuck. Or how about when you never even thanked me for saving your miserable ass from drowning despite the risks to my own health?" Green eyes hardened. "When it took you four months to get me back on land? How about Domino; remember that one? When you proved that I'm not your partner, but basically a grunt you can use however and whenever you want?"

Tony took a few steps forward, not quite crowding Gibbs, but still well into his personal space. "So tell me, partner, when should I have told you that on paper I am nothing more than your Senior Field Agent, your second-in-command, but nowhere near a partnership? You haven't acted like my partner in close to six years, hell, some days, I think you buy into the whole fratboy personality, when we came up with that act together."

Gibbs reeled back at the barely contained resentment pouring from the younger man. Before he could say a word in his own defense, Tony was off again.

"It's been almost ten years Gibbs, ten years of being treated like shit, of barely a word of acknowledgement, of head slaps and put downs. Over nine years since you hired me, asked me to be your partner, to watch your six, nine of those since we came up with a way to balance our act for the probies. Nine fucking years of playing the womanizing eternal kid, of downplaying my own strengths, of playing second fiddle to a man who should trust me not only as his back up, but as his friend." The chuckle held no humor. "I've had a dozen job offers since then, did you know that? But I'm still here, because what else can I do? I don't turn my back on my partner, even if that partner has turned his on me a long time ago."

"Tony." Gibbs got caught off again.

"But you know what? I've had just about enough of this. I don't give a shit about the money, we both know I've got more than enough to last me a lifetime. I don't care about the rank, I never did or I'd have left at two years in. But I do want more than spending the next ten years feeling like I'm undercover. I want be able to stop making stories about fictional conquests, I want to stop playing the class clown, and for fuck's sake, I want to be able to show that I am a competent cop, not just a guy who's lucky enough to get it right from time to time. Hell, right now, if I was to show up at the office with something a little more involved than a skin mag, I'd get accused of trying to impress some chick somewhere. I've had enough Gibbs."

Gibbs swallowed. Was it that bad? "I'm sorry." The words slipped out easily enough.

Tony stared at him, before letting out a chuckle. "Isn't that a sign of weakness Boss?"

Shaking his head in denial, Gibbs answered. "Not between partners. The only weakness here is that I should have said it earlier."

Tony cocked his head to the side, considering him. Bearing the full intent of those eyes was never an easy thing to do. "You mean that."

"I had a talk with Vance while you were getting stitched up. You're back to being a full partner on the books. I know it doesn't change anything in the day to day deal, but it's a start." A start that meant next to nothing in the face of all his mistakes. "You're right, I haven't been acting as a good boss, let alone a good partner."

"So what now?" The question was guarded, just as Tony's eyes were.

"We tell the others. Make them understand that you're not what they've been believing you are. Give them a choice if it comes to that. They accept the team as it should be or they request a transfer."

The unblinking stare he received in answer to his little declaration was amusing. Unfortunately, the fact that the speech had been necessary at all cut down the amusement factor to shreds.

"You don't mean that."

Gibbs narrowed his eyes. "Yes I do. The clown cover wasn't supposed to last. It was supposed to be there until you could slowly let it slip, just as soon as we managed to get a stable team. It's been there about eight years too long. It's time you showed them what you can do, why I hired you. You're the best I've ever worked with, and the only one I'll gladly call partner. It's not right that your teammates think you're an okay investigator. You were at the top of every class at the academy, and at FLETC."

"Boss-"

Something inside boiled in frustration at what used to amuse him. "I think it's time that word disappears from your vocabulary, don't you think? I'm not your boss Tony, I haven't been your boss since about three months after I hired you."

 

Tony sighed. "I've been calling you that for close to nine years, I don't know if I can go back to calling you anything else."

 

Gibbs swallowed. He had a few suggestions as to what he'd like the other man to call him, but before they talked about that issue, they had this one to settle. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to put all his cards on the table, get everything aired out. But first- "The good cop/bad cop routine was supposed to last a few months into Kate's presence on the team, but then, there was McGee-"

"Who lacked any kind of spine and needed to have someone to rely on, and to compete with." Tony put in with a blank face.

"And then, Ziva. Whom we both didn't trust, and figured it was a good thing if she underestimated one of us."

"I know all that Gibbs. I made the decision with you, remember? In fact, I think I was the one who made the suggestion that playing the fool could work to our advantage. And it did work. Until you quit on me."

Gibbs couldn't quite hide the wince.

"You quit, and left me behind with a 'you'll do', and I had to play another role. I couldn't be myself, couldn't prove that I was competent at my job, because they didn't want me, they wanted you. Hell, can't blame them, I wanted you too. Anytime I tried to make a change, I'd hear 'that's not how Gibbs did it', and every time I tried to act like you, I got ridiculed for trying to be you too hard." Tony shook his head. "I don't think being myself is an option anymore. Not one of them is going to believe that I'm anything more than what I've been so far. It doesn't matter how good a cop I might be."

Gibbs took a step forward, until he stood as close as he dared to. He cupped the younger man's face between his hands, and met the pain filled green gaze. "Listen to me. I like the people we have right now. I think they're good, and we've got a nice rhythm. But you're my partner. You're who I want on my six when the shit starts flying. You're the one I depend on to have a strike of genius, and you, not them, is the only one who always know what I'm thinking on and off the job. It's you and me, no matter what. Understood?" He said, voice carefully controlled, hoping to keep certain truths concealed a little while longer.

But Tony wasn't his partner for nothing, and it took less than a fraction of a second for Gibbs to see the flash of understanding go across the mobile face. The atmosphere of the room charged in an instant.

"I thought we weren't doing this." Tony all but whispered and Gibbs had to close his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, they showed a resolve that had carried him through a war, and through almost twenty years of law enforcement.

"It made sense ten years ago not to act on it, but it's long past time we did something with this. I'm tired of being alone Tony. I'm not ready to retire yet, and I'm not letting you leave NCIS while I'm still here. In the last ten years, neither of us has had a real relationship, and we both know why. Hell, I think we both knew pretty much from the start." Tony quirked a smile at that.

"We've had relationships."

Gibbs shook his head at the other man. "In the ten years before you came to work with me, how many times was I married?"

"Three." He could see the truth dawning in those green eyes.

"And how many people have I dated since then?"

"As far as I know, three."

Gibbs smiled. "One, Tony, only one."

"But-"

"I think you're counting Mary, the redhead with the convertible who's nothing more than the wife of a buddy. She gets lonely and worried when he's out of the country on deployment, so I try to keep her company, nothing more. I don't know who you consider the third one but I know the only one that belongs in the category should be Hollis."

"Bitch lawyer." Tony said, his voice so carefully contained that Gibbs had to bit back a smile.

"Never have and never would date her." Even the thought made him shudder.

"So, Lieutenant Colonel Mann."

"And when was I seeing her?"

"After you came back from Mexico." Came the answer.

"I did the same thing after Shannon died. I was screwed up, things still weren't clear, and I felt lonely. Hollis was there and she made it clear she was interested. She was basically a rebound Tony, nothing more. I broke things off as soon as she started sniffing around my girls. It didn't hurt that at the same time, the whole truth about why you'd been dating Jeanne came out." He chuckled. "I learned my lesson. You've outlasted all three ex-wives put together. For Christ's sake Tony, we know each other better than most married couples do. We not only work together, but we spend a lot of our off time together too. You read me better than anyone else ever has, and that's including Shannon."

"I know Boss." There was a slight emphasis on the last word that Gibbs didn't like. He lifted Tony's head enough so that he could meet his eyes straight on.

"If it's not- if I'm not what you want, tell me, but from the very start, over that dead body in Baltimore, it's felt like it was you. The last ten years, they've been good, and some days I can forget the fact that I've been attracted to you from the first moment. But the rest of the time-" Gibbs swallowed. Expressing his feelings wasn't his forte, but if there was anyone he could be truthful with, it was this man. "By almost any definition, we're already in a relationship Tony, the only things missing are living together and the sex."

Green eyes closed for a moment before Tony all but slumped down into Gibbs. "I know." He whispered, turning his head enough to brush his lips against the palm of Gibbs' left hand.

"Tony?"

"It's a lot to take in Jethro." Gibbs almost collapsed with relief. He hadn't heard Tony call him by his first name in more years than he was willing to admit too and he'd missed it like he would miss a limb. The word had always felt too sensual as it fell from Tony's lips, and this time was no exception. "In the last half hour, you've told me that I'm back to being your partner on the job, that I should drop an act I've lived by for too long, and now you're telling me that what I've been ignoring and pushing away for close to a decade is mine for the taking. It's a little overwhelming. Every instinct I have is telling me this is too good to be true."

"It's not a fairytale, we're still Federal Agents, very likely to die on the job. Either one of us can get injured tomorrow."

"It can happen even if we're nothing more than what we are now. Hell, I can go for my run tomorrow morning, as a civilian and get hit by a car. I know it's not a fairytale, and that nothing is going to be easy, but it's still a bit- unreal."

Gibbs slid one hand across the back of Tony's head, and he gently squeezed the strong column, fingers sinking into the short hair at the nape. With an exhale, he brought his forehead to rest against Tony's. "Ten years is too long to deny ourselves something we both want, something we both know has always been inevitable."

"What about work?" Tony answered softly, fingers coming up to bunch the fabric that covered Gibbs' left shoulder.

"Won't be a problem."

"Jethro?"

"We're not flaunting it, but we're not hiding it either."

"What about Vance?"

"He won't say anything, I made sure of it."

Tony's head snapped up. "What?"

"Vance won't be a problem."

"You told the director of a federal agency closely associated with the NAVY that you were fucking your Senior Agent, a Senior Agent he would like nothing more than to fire? Are you insane?" Tony spluttered.

Gibbs smiled. "Relax, will you? I told a long time colleague who wondered just how close I was to my partner that although I wasn't sleeping with said partner, any changes in the situation weren't any of his business, as it would be completely consensual and wouldn't interfere with the quality of our work."

Tony stepped back and blindly reached for a bottle of beer. Gibbs looked on, amused as the younger man drained what looked like half of the contents in one go, ignoring the way his trousers suddenly seemed to shrink. All those years of not acting on the attraction had trained him to ignore the desire that flared up his back.

When Tony met his eyes again, it was with amused resignation. "You really decided to out us, didn't you?"

Gibbs shrugged. "I've had enough of the masks. We're both getting too old to keep playing a part."

Good natured humor slowly coming back, Tony grinned and shook his head. "I'm not even sure if I can remember how to be myself."

"Easy." He offered the younger agent a grin. "Cut down the movies references by a third, stop flirting with everything that has breasts, don't hold in the insights on a case, and the rest will just follow."

"Does that mean you'll mellow down?" Tony smirked, and Gibbs privately admitted that he had a point. Back when they'd made the decision to play parts, they'd both taken certain sides of their personalities to extremes. In truth, Tony wasn't quite the joker he'd portrayed, and Gibbs hadn't been quite as much of a bastard.

Suddenly, he understood why Tony wasn't sure how to go back to the way he used to be.

"I think you'll have to tell me when I go too far."

"As long as you tell me to calm the fuck down when I go hyperactive."

"How do you suggest I do that?" Gibbs asked.

Something in Tony's stance changed, going predatory. Gibbs swallowed, his body going taunt and goosebumps racing across his skin. He watched as Tony closed the distance between them, a hand lifting to cup the back of the silky brunette head.

"I have a few ideas." Tony's voice had gone low and raspy, his eyes darkened with hunger.

He barely had to lift his head to meet Tony's mouth, and the first touch of those lips sent a shock through his body. There was none of the awkwardness of first kisses, their bodies already so attuned to each other that it felt more like coming home than anything else.

He'd almost forgotten how much he loved the hard planes of a male body against his own, how much he enjoyed the play of muscles under his hands as he clasp one hand over narrow hips, the other clutching short strands of hair. He didn't think the novelty of not needing to bend down into his partner would ever wear off.

Too soon the need to breathe had Tony backing off a bit but Gibbs chased him back, tongue following the curve of those luscious lips he'd more than once dreamed of feeling on his skin. Eagerly, Tony opened up to to him just as the younger man moved his hips the fraction of an inch necessary to fit them like two puzzle pieces.

He hadn't even realized he'd grown instantly hard from one single kiss but the erection pressed against his own told him that he wasn't the only one who enjoyed the contact.

Gibbs stamped down on his own need, the desire to explore Tony stronger than the lust that boiled through his body. Teeth nibbled at wet lips and he was rewarded by a low moan that resonated through his body. He surged forward as he licked his way across Tony's mouth, requesting an access that was easily granted. The touch of Tony's tongue against his own weakened his knees and he locked them even as he held onto the other man. Tongues battled eagerly before he had to let go, air rushing into his lungs as he gasped.

Foreheads resting against each other, Tony softly chuckled. "Think it's better for ten years of waiting for this?" he asked, breathing still short.

"I don't know if it's better for it, but I'm not about to wait another ten years for more of this." Gibbs answered, his lips ghosting over Tony's.

The soft hiss brought him back to reality. "Tony?"

"Just forgot." He said, moving his arm carefully, and Gibbs suddenly remembered the bullet graze Tony had received that same day.

"Ah shit." He said. He let reluctantly, and took a couple of steps backward. "Pain pill?" Gibbs asked.

A shake of a head answered him. "No need for it. It doesn't really hurt, it's more uncomfortable than anything else. It only needed a couple of stitches."

"Still."

Tony frowned. "You're not using this as an excuse to back off."

Gibbs smiled. "Nothing is going to make me change my mind. I just want to make sure that you can enjoy it when this happens."

He was graced with a leer. "Believe me, I'll enjoy it." A grumbling stomach cut him off. "But maybe some food is a good idea."

 

Chapter 3:

Tony had barely set a foot into the office when his cell phone rang. He reached for it absentmindedly, his mind still focused in the previous evening. Gibbs had held firm in his decision to wait until his injury was healed before taking things any further, but the whole thing still felt like a blur to Tony.

From the very first time he'd met the former Marine over a dead body in Baltimore, he'd been attracted to him. It had been clear from the start that the attraction went both ways, but Gibbs had been in the last of his divorce proceedings, and there'd been a case to take care of. After that had come the job offer, and although they'd never outright discussed it, it had been understood by both of them that nothing would happen until one of them left NCIS.

It hadn't stopped the desire, but Tony had long since learned to act a part. He'd already been an accomplished undercover expert, able to slip in and out of a personality at the drop of a hat. Hiding and somewhat suppressing his feelings had felt like slipping on a mask, and the dynamic between the two of them on the job had cemented his decision to wait.

There had been a few moments of doubts, Jeanne being one, just as Hollis Mann had been. For a while, Tony had slipped so completely into Tony DiNardo's skin that he'd believed himself in love with the beautiful doctor, belief that had been compounded by Gibbs' affair with the Army Lieutenant Colonel. Believing Gibbs was involved with Allison Hart had hurt all the more because of his own single status, something he wasn't proud of. He'd been jealous, and it wasn't something that rested well with him. Oh, Tony knew he could be fiercely possessive, but the violence of his feelings for the dark haired woman had surprised him.

But now, everything had changed. Not only did the older man want them to air the truth about their professional relationship, he'd also decided to forget the unspoken agreement to ignore the attraction.

"Wait, what?" He asked, his mind finally catching up to what he was hearing. Everything else was pushed aside as his mind switched into cop mode.

---

He was only vaguely aware of the others coming into the bullpen an hour later, until a balled up sheet of paper hit him in the forehead. With a snarl, Tony looked up at the thrower to find a smirk on Ziva's face.

"What?"

"Watching porn Tony?" She asked.

He was about to snap at her when Gibbs swung by his desk. Instantly forgetting his anger, he looked at the other man.

"We've got a case."

He met Gibbs eyes, even as he reached for a file. "What is it?"

"Remember Baltimore?" Tony asked, and he saw Gibbs's eyes darken in answer. "We've got another one."

"Where?"

"L.A."

An eyebrow went up.

"I know. He's changed his M.O. As far as we know, he was never active on the west coast, and it's been ten years since the last one."

He didn't wait for Gibbs to ask any question, he just kept rolling. "Everything else is identical, including the stuff that was never publicized, so no copycat."

"Shit." Gibbs swore, rubbing a hand through short silver hair.

Tony allowed himself a moment to sweep his eyes over the man, and was pleased to see that despite the bad news, Gibbs looked relaxed and well rested, and that he held himself as though something, some weight was gone from his shoulders. Blue eyes met his and the glimmer of amusement in them told him Gibbs knew exactly what he was doing.

"I got us on a commercial flight that leaves in three hours."

Gibbs nodded. "Alright." He turned back to Ziva and McGee. "We'll be gone at least a week. Be back here in an hour and a half." He dismissed them, his eyes locking with Tony's again. "Did you-"

Tony tapped a finger on a file. "Got the files, and I'll pick up my notes while I'm packing. I need to talk to Abby, because we're going to need her to take a look again, and I've already requested the autopsy file from the LAPD. Copied to Ducky."

"Ah Boss-"

"What McGee?" Gibbs barked out.

"What's going on?" McGee stammered out.

"A case Probie. In L.A." Tony deadpanned before growing serious again. He glanced at Gibbs to find the other man smirking at him. "A serial we've worked on before. We'll brief you on the way. Now, GO!" He shooed him away with a wave of a hand. Tony pushed away from the desk, and said, "Going to go see Abby, then home to pack."

Tony wasn't even surprised when Gibbs fell into step with him, nor was he surprised when the elevator got stopped almost as soon as the door had closed behind them.

He glanced to the side, and offered a smile. "Hey. Slept well?"

"Bed was a little empty, but yeah, I did."

"Good, because this is not going to be fun." Tony said with a grimace. "Better use any and every downtime we can get while we can."

"The case won't be fun, but it's probably the best one to show your true colors Tony."

Tony shook his head. "I know. Kinda hard to play dumb when this one is mine just as much as it's yours." He scrunched his nose. "Plus, L.A."

Gibbs frowned. "What's wrong with L.A?"

"Last time I was there, Jenny died."

"Tony." That single word carried more than enough feelings that it carried everything Gibbs might have wanted to say. Without the need to actually talk.

"I know, I know, not my fault." With a shrug, that line of thought was pushed aside. A lot of people would be surprised during this trip, but he had to make sure Gibbs wasn't one of them. "You've met the OSP team out there."

"I've worked with Callen before, and I've met most of the current team last time."

"Well one of the agents is a very close childhood friend. Even if we hadn't decided to change my image, my rep would have been destroyed as soon as she opens her mouth."

An eyebrow rose in question.

"I met Ken when I was at the Military Academy. Her father was one of the D.Is, and she would show up a few times a week to watch. She was a tiny thing back then, but already fierce. We bonded over a love of hot chocolate and movies. We've kept in touch when I left for college and after her father died. She's like a bratty little sister."

"Ken?" Gibbs asked, obviously trying to place the unfamiliar name.

"Kensi Blye. Kick ass chick if there is one. No way I'll be able to keep a low profile with her around."

"Don't hide who you are Tony. Not on this one. McGee and Ziva will either deal or they won't. Hopefully the drama'll wait until we're back here. We need to be at our best so we can finally end this, and that includes you more than anyone else."

Tony sighed. "I know." He rubbed at his face. "Fuck. I want to get the bastard even more than I did ten years ago." He felt a warm hand cup the back of his neck and he lifted his head up, meeting warm blue eyes.

"We're better than we were then. We've had all this time to work as a team, and we'll get him."

"It feels like karma Jethro." The name never passed his lips without sending a shiver down Tony's spine. "The case that brought you to Baltimore that first time, and the first one I worked for NCIS."

"We've gone full circle. Back to being partners, and not only one half of a team of four. We're more in sync than we ever could have been in Baltimore. "

That brought a full smile to Tony's face. "Who knew the great Jethro Gibbs could be sappy?" He teased, before leaning to place a kiss to the corner of the other man's mouth.

"Yeah, well, it better not make it's way around the Yard." Came the smiling answer, even as Gibbs reached to flip the elevator back on.

The thrum of heavy bass welcomed them as the doors opened, and as one, they stepped out and towards the lab door.

Abby was dancing her way across the room, pigtails bouncing around her face. Tony smiled, filled with affection for the bright Goth. He leaned against the doorjamb, and motioned for Gibbs to go in. The other man shook his head in amusement as he silently prowled into the room until he stood mere inches behind Abby.

Despite his better than average hearing, Tony didn't hear the words spoken, but he got to see the reactive jerk and whirl, quickly followed by the hug.

"Gibbs!" She said, before catching a glimpse of Tony. "Tony!"

Tony grinned and slowly signed to her. 'Lower the volume, would you?' He wasn't anywhere near fluent in ASL, but he knew more than the basics, having figured out a long time ago the many uses the sign language could have.

Abby whirled around again, lab coat flaring around her body, her hand grabbing the slim remote.

Tony bit back the sigh of relief when the sound lowered down to tolerable levels.

He enfolded her in his arms when she flew to him, hugging her tight the way she liked. He kept an arm around her shoulder as he said. "We're heading out to L.A for a week."

Abby frowned. "Why?"

"Remember the Pendleton murder?"

"Your first case here?" She asked.

Tony nodded. "It looks like the killer's back, and in Los Angeles. We're flying out to take over the case. I was wondering-"

"If I could take a look at the old cases and see if there's anything we missed the first time?" She cut in.

Sheepishly, he gave her his best little boy smile. "It's not that I think you did, it's just-"

"That I've gotten some new babies since then and maybe they can find something the old ones couldn't." She kissed his cheek, and Tony rolled his eyes, already knowing he'd have lipstick on his face. "I know you weren't trying to insult me Tony."

"So you'll look again?" He prompted.

Abby nodded. "Of course I will."

"Thanks." Tony pulled on one pigtail gently, and Abby giggled. "I'd have loved to have you with us, but for now, you can help us better from here."

She took a step back, her eyes going from Gibbs to Tony and back again. A tiny frown appeared on her face. "You'll call? And you'll be careful, right? Oh! And kiss Eric for me, will you?"

"I don't know if he'll appreciate being kissed by me, but sure, I will."

"And you'll call? Both of you? And have the others call too?"

Gibbs stepped closer, laying a finger across her lips. "Breathe Abby. We'll call, and we'll be as careful as we can. I swear."

She nodded her head emphatically in answer, and Tony couldn't resist kissing her cheek. "I've bribed Palmer to bring you regular offerings of caffeine. If there's any way you can help us from there, I'll email you a plane ticket."

---

Tony settled down into the front passenger seat of the sedan, a short pile of files on his knees and a cup of tea in his hand. They were on their way to the airport, with Gibbs driving and McGee and Ziva sharing the backseat, Tony having called dibs on shotgun before they'd even left the building.

"Will you finally tell us about this case?" Ziva asked, no small amount of aggravation in her voice.

Tony threw a look over his shoulder before sharing a quick glance at Gibbs. It was time.

"Ten years ago, back when I was still Det. DiNozzo and barely knew anything about NCIS, I got called out on a murder case in Baltimore. I'd just been transferred to Homicide from Vice, and I figured the change in scenery would do me good. I got to the scene to find a naked dead body, face down in the middle of a warehouse, dog tags around his neck just below a strangulation mark. The body was pretty banged up from what looked like torture. Less than two hours later, I hear the uniforms start grumbling about 'a damn bastard Fed playing in our sandbox.'"

That brought a chuckle from Gibbs.

"What, you were a damn bastard Fed Gibbs." Tony smirked. "Anyway, since I'd been used as a liaison to every Federal Agency before by pretty much every precinct I worked at, I figured I'd better take care of this one before a turf war exploded all over my crime scene."

"You? A liaison?" Ziva asked and Tony glanced at the rear view mirror at the comment to find McGee wincing.

"Yes Ziva, liaison. I was a lot more diplomatic than most cops tend to be, and I could usually charm my way into keeping things as calm as possible."

"Was good about it too. Didn't make me want to rip his head off." Gibbs put in.

"Took a few more days for that to happen." Tony winked at Gibbs, earning himself a smile. "Turned out this wasn't the first like murder. It was the third one, and if things ran to script, there would be another one in a matter of days. Victims were all in their mid thirties, all good looking Marines and every one of them was raped and tortured before being strangled to death. Killer even left a calling card, the silhouette of a shark carved into the victim's hip." Tony took a breathe, before gulping down some tea to wash out some of the memories. "We worked the case for eight days before the second body turned up. There was not enough evidence to find the killer, and the bastard Fed went back to D.C."

"After making some noise about being in need of a good partner who could talk fast, charm people and knew his way around an investigation." Gibbs interjected.

Tony chocked on a snicker. "Some noise? You all but drew me a picture Gibbs. Hell, I got an email with the time and place for an interview less than twelve hours after you'd left."

"Worked, didn't it?"

Tony absentmindedly wondered what the others were thinking of the discussion, of the easy banter between the two of them.

"So, thinking what the hell, I showed up at the interview and got hired pretty much on the spot." He gave a pointed glance in Gibbs' direction. "Always figured the interview was more for show than anything else and that the decision had already been made."

Only someone who knew the ex Marine well could have caught the smirk of satisfaction on his face.

"My very first day at NCIS, another naked Marine was found with a very familiar carving. There was another murder ten days later, and then the killer went quiet."

"You never caught him?" McGee asked.

"Not for the lack of trying, believe me."

"It's one of those cold cases every cop has. The one you dust off every so often, hoping for a stroke of genius." Tony added, before shaking his head. "I got a call this morning, a contact of mine down at LAPD, telling me they had something that looked a lot like a case he'd heard me talk about. I did some digging, and here we are."

"Are we sure it's the same killer?" Ziva asked calmly.

"As sure as we can be. I saw the autopsy report and I even compared the carvings. They could be mirror images."

"Why not leave the case for the L.A team?" McGee wondered.

Tony looked at Gibbs.

"Because we're as close to being experts in this guy as anyone can come."

"And this is our guy to catch." There was a barely restrained growl in Gibbs' voice that Tony agreed with whole heartedly. He grabbed the pile of files from his lap and handed them over his shoulder. "The old case files. You might want to read them, so you know what's waiting for us down there."

---

The flight had been as uneventful as possible, the only highlight being Gibbs managing to maneuver them into seating next to each other, thighs brushing often in the limited space. As a result, Tony found himself with mixed feelings about finally getting off the plane, his hard on battling against the desperate need to stretch out. Damn airplane seats just weren't made for a 6'2" guy.

Not surprisingly, Gibbs was up before the seatbelt light was off, reaching for the overhead compartment before the alley got too crowded. Tony shuffled to his feet, using the jumbled action around them to hide the light brush of his hand against a cloth covered erection. Gibbs glared at him at the light touch. Tony offered him his sweetest smile, to be rewarded by a slight shake of a silver head.

Getting out of the plane always made Tony feel like cattle being led to slaughter, baggage claim was the usual insanity, and Tony sighed in relief when the team finally could exit the terminal.

"Yo! DiNozzo!" The sharp bark had him raising his head, an excited grin on his face at the familiar tone.

"Ken!" He dropped his bag just in time to find his arms full of gorgeous girl, and Tony buried his head in the dark mess of hair. He breathed in the mixture of engine oil and strawberry scented shampoo, a combination that would be strange on anyone other than this woman. "Hey Pixie." He whispered.

He didn't even try to dodge the punch to the shoulder, though he did hiss as Kensi managed to land it directly on his injury.

Kensi reared back. "What's wrong?"

"Got grazed by a bullet yesterday." He simply said, knowing better than to hide it from her, especially given that he insisted on her being honest about her own injuries.

"Stitches?"

He shrugged it off. "Just a couple. It's not serious, but you've always had good aim." He tweaked her nose even as she scrunched it.

"DiNozzo." Gibbs's voice brought him back to the moment and he turned, tugging Kensi with him, one arm wrapped around her shoulder even as hers loped around his hips. He knew they made a stunning couple, something they'd both used more than once when trying to get rid of amorous suitors.

"Ah, yes. Ken, you've met Gibbs and McGee already, right?" He asked.

"Yup." She offered her free hand to the two agents, the other hand still grasping his hip. "Nice to see you again, despite the reasons for it."

"And this is our newest probie, Ziva David." He said, before stage whispering "Careful, she used to be Mossad." Tony winked at Ziva when she glared at him. "Ziva, this is NCIS Special Agent Kensi Blye."

"You two- know each other?" Ziva asked, her phrasing carefully precise, as it always was but still carrying her curiosity and the lightest hint of animosity.

Kensi snorted. "Let me guess, Casanova over here never mentioned me."

"Hey!" Tony hurried to correct her. "I've talked about you plenty."

"No you haven't." McGee cut in.

"Yes I did. I may have been calling you Ken at the time though." He said sheepishly.

"One of these days Tony, I'll get you to stop calling me that."

Tony chuckled. "Not my fault you've always said that Ken was more fun than Barbie." He yelped when he felt the retaliation pinch to the side.

"Quit telling lies, and let's get you to the office." Kensi said, rolling her eyes when she got the puppy dog look in answer.

 

Chapter 4:

 

It hadn't taken long for him to realize that he needed to observe things. The changes had already started, even without Tony being completely aware of them. Maybe the mask had been worn thin by too long exposure, maybe it was the very nature of this case that brought back to light the real man underneath, but whatever the reasons, the results were the same. He'd seen, as soon as he'd stepped into the bullpen, something different about his partner, an edge that had been missing for far too long.

 

One mention of Baltimore, and Gibbs understood. No case, no matter how horrific could bring out the best of Tony as this one would. The core of steel that made him a brilliant cop was already showing, beneath the thin veneer of who he'd pretended to be for the last nine years.

 

So while Tony took charge of things in a way he never had before, Gibbs watched. He watched McGee and Ziva as they listened to the order to go home and pack, he watched the glint appear in Abby's eyes and knew, immediately, that he wasn't the only one who recognized this Tony. The brilliant smile he'd gotten behind Tony's back was all the proof he needed to confirm the forensics expert approved the change.

 

The easy banter in the car ride to the airport hadn't been planned, but it had been automatic, a habit born of eighteen months spent mostly alone with this man. He knew the rhythm of it, the ups and downs, the easy give and take that came as naturally as breathing, and Gibbs relished it, relished in the newly reclaimed freedom. He'd spared a few glances at the rearview mirror, just enough to catch the shifting emotions in the face of the other two members of the team. Ziva had looked a little lost, faced with a dynamic she didn't understand, while McGee- Well McGee hadn't been quite as surprised as he had expected, but he'd still looked like a guppy fish.

 

None of it was completely unexpected, up until the moment Tony had been jumped by the girl. Oh, he remembered her. Most of his own interactions the last time had been with either Macy or Callen, but he remembered her. Bright, with just a hint of a smirk on her lips when she'd first met them, and with all those comments about boat building. If she knew Tony as well as he was beginning to think she did, well, it meant that all of it had been done with prior knowledge of them. He was happy to see his partner with connections outside of the NAVY yard, but he did wished he'd known a little more beforehand.

 

At least, none of the others had even known to expect something like that.

 

He'd seen the suspicions on Ziva's face when Kensi had all but flown to Tony. Gibbs had the feeling that Ziva would prove to be the most problematic in all of this. McGee would have less problems with the news of the partnership if the looks he kept sending the two of them were any sign, but Ziva, well Ziva was territorial. She considered Tony to be hers, in the field, and probably outside of it too. She might bitch and moan at the other agent, and God, did she, but she wouldn't take well the notion that Tony had chosen someone else.

 

Especially a man.

 

In fact, Gibbs sometimes thought that Ziva would have a problem with any of her three teammates hooking up seriously. She'd been the lone female on the team for too long, discounting Abby as the daughter/sister figure, and not real competition. Miss David liked to be top dog. Or should that be top bitch? Gibbs wondered.

Any concerns he might have felt were held in check as he saw his partner relax almost as soon as he'd had Agent Blye in his arms. Ziva's reactions, as well as McGee would wait until the complete truth could come out, and in the meantime, he would back Tony all the way.

He should have been doing it more than he'd had the last few years, and he had no intention of backing away this time. Not from the professional partnership, and not about the more personal one. Deciding to wait until he didn't have to worry about Tony aggravating his injury hadn't been an easy decision, his much ignored libido complaining rather loudly at the idea, but he didn't want anything to disturb the first time he'd finally get the younger man between the sheets.

Granted, he hadn't counted on a case taking them all the way across the country for an undetermined length of time. His earlier plans and decisions had already been thrown through the window, to be replaced with the need to not waste any time.

He took the shotgun seat out of habit, regretting it as soon as he saw Tony slide into the seat directly behind his friend. It brought back the fact that making all the changes in team interaction he intended to make wouldn't be easy. Over nine years of playing a part had made things so ingrained that he would undoubtedly need to remind himself continuously. He listened to the good natured banter and ribbing that took place during the ride, his mind tuned to the man he called partner.

The OSP's offices had moved since Gibbs' last visit, and he was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the new location.

Seeing the familiar figure crossing to him, Gibbs smiled.

"Hey."

In answer, he got enfolded in a warm but still very manly hug that he gave back easily. He'd always liked Callen. Granted, being in life or death situations as they'd been had a tendency to create links, but the younger man, despite his murky past was warm hearted and had a wicked sense of humor.

He was also one of the most talented undercover agent he'd worked with, second only to Tony himself. Their styles were completely different, Callen slipping into someone else's skin while Tony tended to tweak his own personality to fit the part.

This time, he was the one who made the introductions.

"Callen, this is Special Agent Ziva David." He said, tilting his head towards her, "and this is Tony DiNozzo."

Oh yes, his friend was as sharp as ever. From the barest hint of a smirk, he'd caught the difference in tone and content. The Russian that came next wasn't exactly unexpected.

"Anything I should know my friend?" Callen teased him.

Gibbs shook his head. "Get your mind out of the gutter will you? That's my partner you're talking about."

"Why not say so then?"

"Because the others don't know. They think he's merely my number two."

"Is that all he's supposed to be?" Callen wondered.

Gibbs heard Tony snicker behind him. He'd almost forgotten that he'd taught the younger man some Russian when they'd first started working together. As a way to pass the time on stakeouts, it was a good method to keep focused, and Tony had a gift with languages. It probably was the product of being a third generation American on his father's side, and a first generation on his mother's side though his mother had been from Britain. Raised with, and by, the help who'd been mostly of Mexican descent with a few French Canadians and other assorted nationalities, it had given Tony a passing understanding in a lot of languages, and Russian had come pretty naturally.

His partner had obviously kept it up in the intervening years.

Gibbs made a note of it, because Russian was the one language he was fluent in that he knew for sure neither Ziva nor McGee spoke. It could come in useful one day. Even ASL wasn't safe, McGee having picked up some of it back when he was trying to impress Abby.

"And where's your other half?" Gibbs asked.

"It's not polite to talk in a language not everyone understands." Came the voice from up the balcony.

Gibbs looked up to find Callen's partner looking down at them, one eyebrow raised in amusement. Looked like Tony wasn't the only partner who had at least a basic understanding of Russian. In acknowledgement, he tilted his head. "Sam."

"Gibbs, McGee." The former NAVY SEAL sauntered his way down the stairs, until he stood just half a step behind Callen. "David." He turned to look at Tony. "Did I hear someone call you DiNozzo?"

Gibbs looked over his shoulder to see Tony stare suspiciously at Sam. "You're not going to frame me for murder if I say yes, right?" Gibbs rolled his eyes. He heard the snicker coming from the other half of his team but decided on ignoring it for the moment.

Sam smiled. "Why, does it happen often?"

"Often enough that I'm starting to get used to it." Tony answered. "But yeah, I'm DiNozzo."

"Forward for Ohio State? You that DiNozzo?"

No need to look back to know Tony was smiling. Gibbs could hear the delight in his partner's voice. "You like College ball?"

"Had a buddy in the SEALs who was hooked on it. It didn't take long before the whole team was checking scores religiously." Sam shook his head. "Man, you were something else on a court."

Gibbs moved enough so he could see both man comfortably.

"You what, about 6'2"?" Tony asked, looking the other man up and down, a gleam in his eyes. "Do you play?"

A boyish grin formed on the tall black man. "Against you?"

"Mr. Hanna, is this a social event, or an investigation?"

Gibbs looked down. "Hetty."

"Mr. Gibbs, Mr. DiNozzo, Mr. McGee, Ms David, welcome to Los Angeles. I trust the flight went well?"

Tony took a step forward, and grabbed Hetty's hand, raising it to his lips. "Hetty, always a pleasure to see you." He grinned, when he got a light slap on the chest in answer. "No need to use your charm on me Anthony. I know you far too well to fall for it."

Tony fluttered his lashes. "A man can hope."

Gibbs had to admire the man's gumption. Hetty wasn't known as someone who could be easily charmed, but from what he was seeing, Tony had managed to do it sometime in the past. Which brought to question, when had DiNozzo met the woman?

"You said something about the case?" Gone was the rakish charmer, and gone was the little boy looking for a friend to play with. In his place stood a rock solid cop. Gibbs caught the surprise on Callen's face at the change and he raised an eyebrow in challenge.

"Indeed."

"Mind filling us in Hetty?"

"Let's go upstairs then." They all followed behind the diminutive woman, McGee and Ziva strangely silent.

The room they walked into looked like a sci-fi version of their own MTAC, and Gibbs didn't even bother looking at McGee, he already knew what he'd find. No doubt the younger man was all but drooling at the technology available here.

"Eric." Hetty addressed a young blond Gibbs vaguely remembered. "What can you tell us about the case?"

"Hi guys!" Eric waved at them, but before he could say anything more, Tony cut in.

"If we keep doing the introductions, we'll never catch this guy." There was plenty of impatience in his voice, and Gibbs bit back a smile.

"Ah- sure." Eric turned back to the giant screen. "Yesterday morning at 0930, jogger found the body of Sergeant Riley Todd lying naked on the beach. They called 911, and Todd was declared dead on scene. It took a while before the info made it's way to us, in fact, it might have taken even longer if someone from the MCRT in Washington hadn't caught it."

"I was the one who had the case transferred to us." Tony slid in the discussion. "A contact in the LAPD called me up this morning to tell me this looked like one of mine, I did a little digging, and it didn't take me long to know we had to come."

"Why?" Callen asked curiously. Gibbs was relieved to note no resentment in the question.

Tony glanced at him, and Gibbs held his gaze. "Ten years ago, Gibbs and I investigated the murder of four Marines, killed over a period of about a month. In every case, the victim was in his late twenties or early thirties, a white Marine around six feet and in good shape, either closeted gays or bisexuals. All four were presumed to have been targeted in gay clubs before they were abducted. Evidence suggested that they were then tortured before being raped and strangled. The bodies were left abandoned somewhere, with the silhouette of a shark caved into their hip."

It took a lot for Gibbs not to step forward and touch the younger man. This case hit a nerve not only because it had been their first, or because it was a heinous hate crime, but because they both were bisexuals. Tony had gone undercover between the last two murders, hoping to flush out the killer, but nothing had come out of it. By the time Tony went in, the killer had already nabbed his next victim. It hadn't stopped Gibbs, or Tony for that matter, from imagining Tony naked on the floor with a shark on his side, dead.

They both knew that it was likely Tony would have to go back into the clubs, and Gibbs was working really hard to suppress the images from crime scenes ten years old. It didn't help that they would probably be looking at identical fresh pictures in a matter of minutes.

Tony finally looked away, his eyes settling on Callen. "Pattern was that a second victim was snatched within five or six days of the first body being found, and within ten days, we had the second one in the morgue."

"So we need to work fast." Callen said, apparently accepting that this was Tony and Gibbs' case, and that he himself was merely backup.

"Someone needs to contact the LAPD to have a talk about this." Gibbs said.

"That'd be me." And here was the last member of the L.A. team, the liaison between NCIS and the LAPD. From what Gibbs had read, Marty Deeks was a good investigator, experienced at undercover work, but with a bit of an attitude. He'd been partnered with Blye, and Gibbs just knew Tony would have a talk with this guy about his friend.

"That's Deeks." Kensi said with a tilt of her head.

"LAPD liaison."

Tony waved the introduction away, no doubt filing the information away. "So?"

Deeks raised a sarcastic brow. "And you are?"

"Anthony DiNozzo. NCIS Washington. This is my case."

"I guess it is. I had a talk with the assigned detective and he's an overworked jerk who doesn't mind getting rid of a case."

Tony smiled viciously. "Good. This is ours, the less cops on this one who can muck things up, the better."

"Got something against cops?" Deeks asked.

Tony chuckled. "No. I was one for six years before this gig. I do however, have a problem with turf wars."

Hands raised in a peace offering, Deeks said, "Can anyone play with you?"

Tony stared him down. "We'll see." He looked away. "Gibbs?"

"You ready to do this Tony?" He asked.

Once again, he held his partner's gaze. His answer came swift and unmistakable. "Yes."

"What are you talking about?" Ziva interjected.

Gibbs had almost forgotten she was there. She and McGee had all but faded in the background during the last minutes, and Gibbs cursed himself. This wasn't the time to be distracted.

"Assuming his M.O hasn't changed, we have only a few days before this guy finds his next victim. We need to get Tony undercover as soon as possible."

"Tony? As a gay Marine?" McGee blurted it out.

"Think I can't do it McSuspicious?"

McGee blushed and stammered. "Well, the hair," A hand raised up to indicate the full head of hair Tony currently sported. "and you don't fit the Marine image."

Tony smiled slowly. "We'll see."

"I'll go in too." Callen added, and Gibbs glanced at the man who seemed locked in a blinking war with his own partner.

Tony turned around, and looked the man up and down consideringly. Callen looked away from Sam, only to raise a brow at the consideration.

"You've got the right body type, haircut is passable, and from what I know, you're good undercover." He nodded. "Alright."

Ziva gaped at Tony. "You are not going to bitch that you can do it yourself?"

Hard eyes met hers and Gibbs shook his head as the inevitable confrontation loomed ever closer.

"No, I'm not. We need to cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as we can. Gibbs trusts Callen. Makes sense to send in two men."

"Why you? Why not McGee? He at least has some experience with the military."

Tony cocked his head to the side.

"No offense meant Probie, but no Ziva, Tim can't go in. He has almost no experience undercover, and there's no way in hell he'll be comfortable in a gay bar. He'll stand out like Whoopi Goldberg in a convent."

A small smirk lifted the corner of Ziva's lips. "And you think you won't?"

Tony relaxed his stand, and glanced at Gibbs quickly. The older man knew what was coming, and he braced himself even as he gave the tiniest nod. Tony then stalked to Callen, a predatory smirk on his lips.

Callen stood his ground, body posture changing minutely, giving Tony the go ahead.

"What about you G.? Think you can pass for a gay soldier?" Tony's voice was teasing, a dark glint in those green cat eyes.

Pale blue eyes blinked lazily as Callen looked up at the taller man. "About as well as you can."

Tony smiled, crowding in closer to Callen, his head coming down as the other man lifted his up. Their lips met hotly, the men all but devouring each other. At the sight, Gibbs had to swallow a protest. He'd known Tony was about to do it, and he knew Callen was as bisexual as he himself was. He also knew that there was more between him and Sam than a mere partnership. With that in mind, Gibbs teared his eyes away from where his own lover was busily kissing someone else, and looked at Sam.

He was relieved to see a smile on the other man's face. Sam was obviously secure in his relationship, and amused by the display in front of him.

Tony and Callen finally separated, lips shiny and slightly puffy. "So Ziva? Still doubting me?" Tony all but purred out, his arms still wrapped loosely around Callen's waist.

Ziva and McGee were staring at their team member, strucked speechless by what they'd just seen.

"I think that was hot. Does anyone have some water?" Kensi's voice broke the silence and Gibbs saw a flicker of amusement flash through his partner's face.

"Jealous Pixie?"

Kensi frowned. "Don't call me Pixie."

"Do you prefer Ken?"

Callen used the discussion to glance quickly at Sam, before he turned his head enough so that his lips lay a fraction of a inch away from Tony's ear. Whatever he said made Tony laugh in amusement, and Gibbs felt his own lips twitch in answer.

 

Chapter 5:

While Tony turned to Sam and Callen to start planning the undercover gig, Gibbs looked to his two other agents. Ziva and McGee were obviously still trying to process what they'd just seen, and Gibbs decided to use the shock to his own advantage.

"David, McGee, with me." He barked out.

Tony looked back at that, and Gibbs shook his head at him, silently telling him to stay put. With an easy shrug of acceptance, Tony focused back on the two L.A agents.

Gibbs stalked out of the room, and opened the first door he found, which just happened to be a deserted gym. It would do.

He turned around and stared down the other two. Seeing them squirm never quite lost its appeal and this time was no exception. He wanted them unsettled and unbalanced for this. "Either one of you still has any doubts about DiNozzo's ability to do this?" He asked blankly.

The two junior agents exchanged a glance.

"Boss-"

Gibbs raised an expectant eyebrow at McGee, waiting the agent down when he kept silent a little too long.

"It's just- It's Tony. Skirt chaser extraordinaire, eternal bachelor and all around fratboy. He's pretty good undercover, but I don't know if he's good enough. If Callen's going in anyway, does Tony really need to as well? I mean this is what they do here. Undercover ops. They're pros."

A moment of silence held before Gibbs turned his eyes to Ziva.

"I agree with McGee. Tony is a good agent, but I do not think he is good enough for this."

Gibbs had to smile at that. "I think it's time we have a little talk about DiNozzo."

"Ah-" McGee shuffled his feet awkwardly.

"Do you really think that he'd still be on this team if he was merely a competent investigator?" Gibbs shifted his weight off his bad knee. This could take a while. Those two had bought Tony's charade for so long, and the other man wasn't wrong in thinking it would take nothing short of a miracle to make them change their mind. "Answer me this. Who's the best cop you've ever worked with?"

Silence. Then, clear and strong came an answer from the two. "You."

He shook his head, amused at the idea of him being a cop. "I'm not a cop. I'm a Marine sniper, who just happened to spend the last twenty years in law enforcement. Try again."

A quick glance back and forth. "Fornell?"

Gibbs snorted at that. "Don't tell him you said that, he'll never let me live it down." He sobered. "Fornell is a very good Federal Agent. He can quote the rulebook chapter and verse, and he's got pretty good instincts. But he's not a cop either. He's a fed all the way through; he'll toe the line except when he absolutely has to. I'm talking about someone who's not only a good investigator, but also someone who'll sacrifice himself for anyone who needs it. Someone who knows the streets and what happens out there. Someone who sees the worst of humankind and still fights." He waited a beat. "No one?" A quick shake of his head followed that.

"Let's try this again. At the core, I'm a marine, and a sniper, and no amount of training will ever change that. McGee, what are you?"

"An NCIS agent." The hesitancy in the tone told Gibbs everything he needed to know. Even McGee wasn't sure of the answer to that one. Either that or he wasn't sure which answer Gibbs had been looking for.

"No. You're a computer guy. Someone who understands machines better than you do criminals, but that's okay because we need skills like yours these days. Ziva, you're an assassin and a spy. You'll always see the worst in someone, always suspect people motivations. But Tony. Tony is a born cop. He understands people and what makes them tick. He's worked three PDs plus NCIS. He's been a traffic cop, worked Vice, and Homicide. He's the best undercover agent I've ever worked with."

Denial spread over the two faces looking at him.

"Still don't believe me? I've been an agent for nineteen years and I've only ever worked with the NAVY and the Marine corps. Even NCIS is still attached to the military. Tony's been a cop for sixteen years. More if you count the time he spent at the Academy, and his college years-"

"How does Phys. Ed. help him be a cop?" McGee sneered.

Gibbs let a smirk curl his lips. "Tony double majored. One degree in Phys. Ed., and the other in Criminal Psychology. Even if he'd gone pro, his plan was always to move to law enforcement after a few years. My point is that Tony has as much, if not more relevant experience than I do. You owe him your respect, and I should have demanded it years ago."

"I'll take 'Meddling old bastards for six hundreds Alex.'" Tony's voice cut him off before he could say more. The younger man was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest, face set in carefully blank lines. "Am I interrupting something?"

Gibbs held his partner's eyes. "A kick in the ass I should have taken care of long ago."

"You can't force respect Boss. It has to be earned, and it looks like I haven't managed it."

Gibbs flinched at the emphasis Tony put on his title. He understood the message, understood that this should have been a decision they made together, not one he himself decided to act on without Tony being even present.

"We can't afford to waste time Tony. What if one of them doubts one of your orders? What if it takes them a fraction longer to obey something because they don't know who you really are?"

Tony looked down and breathed in and out slowly, deeply. After several long minutes, he finally waved him ahead, his eyes still on the floor.

"DiNozzo was never hired to be my Senior Agent, he was hired to be my partner. He's been acting at the Senior Field Agent since we had to add people to the team, but he's still my partner, and he will remain my partner until someone finally ends up convincing him to accept a promotion. The only reason I'm Lead Agent is seniority within NCIS itself."

He looked back at their junior agents to find shock written plainly on their faces.

"But-" McGee stumbled on the word.

"The way we do things has to change. The two of you will be assigned to each other officially. We're still a team, made up of two pairs. We'll still switch things up in the field. Sometimes, one of you will come with me or go with Tony. We both are going to still be listed as Lead Agent and Senior Field Agent. But you need to stop thinking I'm the boss. We, Tony and me, as a team, are."

Tony spoke when Gibbs paused for a moment. "We've been working as partners for a long time. We know what we're doing, and we trust the other's gut." His voice was low and intent. "You don't know me, not the real me anyway. I understand that this isn't easy for you. Until you can believe I'm not a screw up, just trust in Gibbs when he says I'm good."

"But-" McGee, again. The guy deserved points for at least trying to say something, Ziva keeping far too silent for Gibbs' peace of mind.

Gibbs took over again. "Tony's not as much of a flake as he's been acting like. I'm not quite that much of a bastard. Think of it as us playing good cop/bad cop for close to eight years."

"Why?" Ziva asked, her eyes travelling from one to the other, her face so carefully controlled it almost looked like a mask.

"Because Vivian and Kate couldn't believe that a cop might be as good as them. Because Tim flinched everytime Gibbs walked into the room when he joined us. Because we weren't sure if we could trust you when Jenny assigned you to our team. Because competition is a good motivational tool. Because after a couple of years, it got to be a habit. Pick one." Tony said.

"It was all a cover?" McGee wondered, and Gibbs could see him trying to make sense of the information he'd just been given.

"Not quite. I really do love movies, but not quite that much. I really was a fratboy. Yes I can be a little hyper from time to time." Tony stopped, looking like he was searching for the right words.

Gibbs found them first. "Think of it as dialling up certain personality traits, and dialling some others down."

"I'm not perfect McGee, but I'm not only an overgrown kid. I'm human, not 2D. I'm an obnoxious bastard. I know that. I flirt too much, I'm a neat freak, I'm anal about some things. I can have a bit of a temper, I'll blow up for stupid reasons." Gibbs didn't agree completely with that. Of almost anyone he knew, Tony's anger could be one of the coldest he'd seen. He could, and had blown up when angry, and he did have a tendency to go head to head with people. Namely, him. Their rows in the bullpen had entertained more than one agent when Tony had first joined up with NCIS. However, Tony was at his most dangerous when he didn't say a thing. "But I'm a little less of an idiot than I've let on." Tony finished. It took effort not to snort at that. It was an understatement if he'd ever heard one.

McGee considered Tony. "How did you manage a double major?"

Tony smiled. "Work. A hell of a lot of it. I got in college on a sports scholarship, but I couldn't spend all my time playing sports. Not that Phys Ed is all about playtime, but still. I needed more or I'd have gone crazy. Every off moment was spent studying. My frat brothers used to quiz me everyday. The people from my study groups would help me revised while I was training." He shrugged. "Breaking my leg during my senior year helped a bit. I had more time to study psych while I was doing rehab. It kept me focused on something other than the fact that I would never go pro, and I forgot that it was hurting like shit."

"But-" McGee repeated.

"I don't look like I can focus on a job, so how the hell did I manage it? Easy. Four years of Military Academy'll do that to you. I learned to shoot, learned to fight, learned to follow orders and to shut up."

Ziva winced and Gibbs wondered what story was behind it.

"Ah yes. I remember that little talk we had Ziva. I do have military training, and I do know how to listen to an order." Green eyes narrowed. "But being the rookie in three different precincts will teach you that there is such a thing as an order you shouldn't follow. Try dealing with power hungry cops who think that because you're new you should walk blindly into a bad situation, and even military training will get pushed aside after a while."

Gibbs looked over his team. There was a banked disappointment simmering in Tony's face, and shocked disbelief on the other two's faces. Time to give them the chance to think things over. But before he could do that-

"One last thing before we go back to work. Just after McGee and I were here two years ago, when Agent Macy left, DiNozzo got offered the Team Leader position here. Do you really believe that someone who's merely good at undercover work would get that kind of offer?" That said, Gibbs crossed the room until he could tug Tony further into the room.

Once McGee and Ziva had left, Tony seemed to relax somewhat. "I didn't think you knew about that offer."

"I knew. Hell, I think I knew before the offer was even made. I'm just glad you said no."

Tony shrugged it off. "I said no to every other offer, why would I have said yes to that one?"

"Kensi maybe?"

"She'd have been my partner. We're good together, and it would have been fun. But I don't know how I would have dealt with seeing her in danger over and over again. I've known her since she was in kindergarden Jethro."

"Does she know?"

Tony nodded. "We talked it over before I refused. She was disappointed, because we don't get many chances to see each other, but she understood. In a way, I think she was also relieved. It's not easy to make a place for yourself when your boss is the closest thing you have to family."

"Why didn't I know about her?" Gibbs asked before he had a chance to censure himself.

A wry smile curved full lips. "Like I knew about Shannon and Kelly? Gibbs, we both knew the other had secrets, and we respected each other enough not to go snooping. No one knew about Kensi. There's a reason no one ever got invited back to my apartment in Baltimore you know."

Gibbs frowned.

"She'd just graduated from High School, and she didn't quite know what she wanted to do yet. I offered her a place to crash. She lived with me until I moved to D.C."

"Why do I get the feeling that you taking the job was conditional to what she said about it?"

Tony smirked and shrugged. "Because it was. She might not have been dependant on me for money or a place to live, but she's at the top of my priorities. If she hadn't wanted to move on, we'd have stayed in Baltimore. As it was, she was getting itchy feet, and was tired of working as a grease monkey. She got into college and moved away."

"You love her." Gibbs said.

"Yeah, I do." Tony's smile went sweet. "You have to understand Gibbs. My mom died, and within six months, my dad remarried, wrote me out of the will, and I got shipped out to boarding school, and not any school, but a goddamn military one. I was sixteen when Ken and her dad moved to the school. She was six and the sweetest little girl ever. It was pretty much love at first sight. Her father's the one who taught me to shoot, who taught me to fight. He's the reason why I love old muscle cars. Kensi was half princess and half tomboy back then. Still is for that matter. Leaving that school was one of the hardest things I've ever done."

Tony sighed and Gibbs took a step closer to him.

"I kept in touch after I left. When her father died, it came out that I'd been named her guardian. My father argued about it, because he was afraid she'd get my trust fund. Trust fund I didn't have access to yet, because my mother made sure I couldn't get it until I turned thirty. He argued that I was too young to take care of her, and that the age difference was too short. He might have won but the moment she finished school, she was on my doorstep. Hell, I'm part big brother, father figure, best friend."

"Tony." It felt like he'd somehow missed such a big part of who the younger man was that he felt at a loss.

"Jethro. It's not that I didn't trust you. By the time I met you, I'd come into the money, and I'd already made plenty of enemies who would have loved to get back at me through her. Keeping her secret was already a habit, and then, well. She's only a few years older than Kelly would have been."

Gibbs swallowed at the comment.

"Did you keep quiet so as not to hurt my feelings? Or was it petty revenge for not telling you about the girls?" He asked.

Tony grimaced at the question. "A bit of both I think. I didn't want to rub it in that I had a sister/daughter, but part of it might have been some petty anger at you keeping a wife and kid from me. I don't know. I'm sorry." He rubbed at his face.

Gibbs looked down for a moment. When he spoke, it was quietly, but he had no doubts that Tony could hear him.

"I should have told you about them. I know that. Hell, I knew back then too. You had a right to know, especially when-" He looked up to meet sober green eyes. He waved a hand between the two of them. "It got pretty clear that you and me-."

 

"I get it Jethro. I'm not angry anymore. It's not like I can throw a tantrum, I've got my own share of secrets." Long, elegant fingers combed through perfectly styled brown strands. "Just- No more, alright? I'm tired of the lying and the hiding, and the backstabbing. I'm not ready to tell the others everything, but you and me-" Tony dropped his hands, clearly agitated. "I can't do it, not anymore. We've been playing for too long. If we keep on keeping secrets, I might as well just get a transfer to another city right now."

Gibbs took a step until he could close the distance between Tony and himself. One hand raised up, grasping at the strong shoulder he'd been depending on for so long. "I told you Tony, no more games."

Tony leaned on him for a moment, letting the older man carry his weight. Gibbs let him, more than happy to support his partner.

"Enough." Tony stepped back, and smiled sheepishly. "I was just coming to tell you that I'm heading out with Ken. Need to do some shopping for the undercover gig."

Gibbs frowned. "Doesn't Hetty-"

"Nothing she has is in my size. She could get something that fits me easily enough, but better if I just do it myself. Ken will bring me back later. I'll meet you guys back at wherever the hell it is we're staying."

"You're not staying with Kensi?"

Tony snorted and rolled his eyes. "Are you crazy? Ten bucks says her guest room is full of crap. Nah, I'm staying with the rest of my team." The serious glint in the green gaze told Gibbs everything he wanted to know. Tony was staying with his partner.

"Don't go crazy on the shopping, will ya? Remember we've got a budget."

A quick shake of the head carried Tony's amusement as the younger man moved away, towards the door.

"Like I'm going to ask to be paid back. You don't put a price on really comfortable leather pants Gibbs!"

It took a few seconds for Gibbs to understand the meaning behind the statement. When he did, he called out to Tony. "Wait! Leather pants?"

He was answered by laughter.

 

Chapter 6:

 

"What happened."

Tony swallowed a snort with difficulty. He could have timed his watch on the comment. He settled deeper into his seat, blessing the fact that Kensi was driving an SUV instead of something smaller.

"Come on, you know you wanna talk to me."

He didn't react to that comment either, curious as to what else she'd try to make him talk.

"You'll talk Tony DiNozzo, you always do." She smiled at him, her eyes still on the road. "You know you can't resist me."

He shook his head, amused as he often was with her.

"I've missed you Pixie." He said, offering her a small smile.

In answer, Kensi reached across the car, and threaded her fingers with his. "Missed you too." She kept silent for another few blocks before she spoke again. "But you will still talk."

Tony laughed. "Alright baby girl, what do you want to know?"

She glanced at him sideways. "Everything."

"Well, you see, I was born-"

Kensi squeezed his fingers in retaliation. "Tony."

"Gibbs discovered I'd been demoted after he came back from Mexico. I don't know how but he convinced Vance to reinstate me, and that it was time we dropped the act. The probies are having a few problems with catching up."

"Why?"

"Because all they've seen of me is what I've wanted them to see. McGee can't get over the fact that I'm more than a pretty boy and Ziva- well Ziva probably hates the fact that she didn't know everything about me."

"And Gibbs?"

Tony shook his head. "Gibbs is Gibbs. He seems determined not to back down, and he knows he's screwed up a few times."

Kensi snorted at that. She was well aware of just how much the former Marine had screwed up.

"But he's trying to make up for it. Problem is, I'm not the only one who's been playing a part for ten years. He's a bastard, and it'll take a while before he's comfortable with being who he was when I met him."

"There's more." She said simply, not questioning, but just affirming a truth she didn't doubt.

Tony rubbed his face with his free hand. "Christ Ken, give me a break, will you?" He dropped his hand. "Sorry. It's just my whole life has been turned upside down in the last forty eight hours and I have problems catching up. I about took Gibbs' head off when I walked in on him explaining to the others that not only am I one of the best cop he knows, but that I also happen to be more than a dumb jock."

"I never understood why you kept it up for so long." The vehicle was stuck at a red light, and Kensi used the opportunity to meet his eyes. "You don't deserve it. You're a good man Tony. I don't know where I'd have been if you hadn't been there when Dad died."

Tony smiled, and raised her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly. "You'd have been just fine Pixie. You're a fighter, all the way through."

"I just wish everyone knew the Tony I know. The one who held me when I was sad, who offered me a room when I just showed up at his apartment, no questions asked. The guy who cleaned up after me when I got so drunk I got sick all over the bathroom, who told me to call collect anytime I needed to talk, even though he was as broke as I was."

"Should I be blushing?" Tony wondered out loud. Doing any of those things had never been a hardship to him. Kensi and her father had been better family to him than his own had ever been. They'd made him the man he was, and he would forever be grateful for it. Then, he whispered. "Ken-" He needed to take a deep breath before he could get it out. "You know I- I play for both teams, right?" He finally settled for asking.

She glanced at him. "If I hadn't already known, I would have been in for one hell of a shock when you decided that smoooching Callen was a good idea."

He quirked a smile at that.

"I've known for a long time, and I never had a problem with it. You know that."

"I'm- Gibbs- we're-"

"Together?" She asked, stopping his attempt at explaining.

"I guess."

"Tony?"

He sighed out. "When I met him in Baltimore, it was evident pretty quickly that there was attraction there and that it went both ways. But there was a case, and he was waiting for his divorce to be final. And before we could talk it out, I got hired to be his partner. We never discussed it exactly, but we've had an unspoken agreement since then. No mention of it, until one of us left NCIS."

"And now?"

"Gibbs came to me last night. Told me there'd been enough waiting, and that it was time. Time to be partners in every sense of the word."

He wasn't even surprised when she swung into the first available parking spot she found even though they weren't close to their destination.

She slammed the car into park, and swivelled in her seat so she could look at him fully. "What's wrong big brother?" She asked, her voice at once both serious and worried.

"I want it Ken. I want it so bad I can taste it. I've spent the last ten years trying to convince myself it was okay, that I could wait for this." he whispered.

"You're scared." She searched his eyes and he let her see everything. The desperate need to believe it was true, the bone deep exhaustion of the last years on the job, the belief that it was too good to be true, the confusion that it was happening at all. She saw the disappointment in his teammates' treatment, and the hope that for once, things would go his way.

She was reaching for him before he could raise his walls back, before he could slip the confident mask back on. He buried his face in her hair, breathing her, and the scent that meant home just as much as sawdust and coffee did, in, and tried to relax as he rarely could. This girl, who he'd watched grow up for the last twenty years and more, could get to him like no one except a gruff former marine sniper and the happiest Goth ever born.

"I don't care who he is. If he hurts you, I'll show him just how much Dad taught me."

The answer teased a chuckle out of him, and he tightened his hold on her, before trying to move back. She allowed him to, but stopped him before he could let his arms fall away. "I'm serious Tony. If he messes this up, I'm going to hunt him down like a rabid dog. And then, I'll find a way to get you reassigned to L.A. so I can keep an eye on you."

He gave her a smile when she settled back into her seat. Tony took a few deep breaths, willing his mind to settle down for a while. With that goal in mind, he decided to skip over to his own interrogation.

"So, how come you never told me that Deeks has the hots for you?"

With that opening jab in, he let himself concentrate on the banter, pushing everything away for a moment.

---

Shopping had always been an experience for Tony. He loved it, probably because he'd been born and raised into money, only to find himself cut off from any monetary support right at the time where he'd needed it the most. He knew he'd gone a bit overboard when he'd finally been able to touch the money his mother had left him, but even the spree he'd gone on had barely left a dent into it. These days, he enjoyed the knowledge that he had enough money to be able to be comfortable even if something really bad happened, but he'd gotten around to realizing that money didn't equal happiness years ago. Having to survive on peanut butter and Ramen noodles for a few years had changed his perspective a lot.

But shopping with Kensi was something else. Contrary to many women, she wasn't all that much of a fan of the activity. She did, however, enjoyed shopping with, and for him.

For some reason, those expeditions always ended up with him owning a lot of leather, and clothes that fit him a little bit tighter than what he chose for himself. Never too tight, and always tasteful, but it tended to show off his body in a way Ziva and McGee would never believe he didn't enjoy.

For this op however, this was exactly the look he wanted to go for. Clothes that fit like a second skin, of good quality that didn't look like they cost an arm and a leg.

Which was how he found himself modeling leather pants after leather pants to Ken.

The pair he was currently trying on were by far his favorite, the black leather so soft and supple he had the fleeting urge to rub himself against it.

"So?"

Kensi smiled at him, the slow, wicked kind of smile he knew very well meant trouble. "I think Gibbs is going to swallow his tongue when he sees you in that."

Curious, Tony looked back at the mirror, slowly turning around so he could see the most of it. He cocked his head to the side, then went into a crouch.

His smile, when it came, was just as slow, and just as evil as Kensi's had been. "Oh yeah." He breathed out.

Kensi laughed. "You want to go black and black? Add some color? Or maybe a nice dramatic white shirt, with the sleeves rolled up?"

He considered it, head tilted. The white shirt would be a nice touch, contrasting with his tan, and with the black lights in a club- on the other hand, a green top would go nicely with his eyes, and black was always a good choice.

"Let's take a look. I'm probably going to spend more than one evening in a bar before anything happens."

---

It was an exhausted Tony that tapped twice on the roof of Kensi's car hours later, but also an extremely satisfied one. He was laden down with bags bulging with everything he might need to play the closeted gay marine on leave.

Now, all he had to do was convince Gibbs to give him a hand shaving his head.

Tony hauled up his loot, ignoring the twinge in his injured arm as he climbed up the metal stairwell leading to the second floor apartment that worked as a safe house. Home sweet home for the next week.

He kicked on the door, and smiled winningly at the peephole.

A second later, he heard the sound of a chain and bolts being slid open, before the door opened wide on a scowling McGee.

"Couldn't knock Tony?" He said, and Tony had to bite back the urge to snap at the other agent. Instead, he lifted his numerous bags and pushed past McGee.

"Went shopping. Where's Gibbs?" He knew he was a little more short than he usually was, but it was better than the alternative.

"Last bedroom on the left."

Tony didn't acknowledge the comment, other than to cross the living room to the short hallway that stood opposite the entryway. Trained eyes sweeped over the generic furniture of the opened plan living space, the kitchen and living room all but tumbling into each other over a narrow counter. A single large window lighted the room, or would have had the shades hadn't already been drawned down. Four doors flanked the corridor, two on each side. Tony glimpsed into the rooms quickly, taking note of the small bathroom he would undoubtedly cursed in the morning when came the time to shower.

The door to the left side bedroom was cracked open, and Tony pushed it with his shoulder, to find Gibbs, sitting on what had to be a bed. It had to be one, but it wasn't clearly evident at that very moment, case notes and crime scenes picture piled all over the coverlet. Tony walked in with a grin, dropping his bags on the other bed. This was a very familiar scene. They both had a habit of living with the hard cases, and it hadn't been unknown to them to all but plaster motel room walls while on an out of town investigation.

Gibbs looked up at his entrance, and raised a brow at the result of his little shopping trip.

"Had fun dear?" Sarcasm all but dripped from the words.

Tony snorted. "You've never shopped with Ken if you ask that. How someone who hates shopping as much as she does can be such a demon when it comes to dressing me is beyond me." He cleared a space on the bed, only to collapse on it. "But I can safely say, mission accomplished." He couldn't have stopped himself from humming the theme to Mission Impossible even if he'd tried. He turned his head to look at his partner.

"Sleeping arrangements?"

The glint of humor that sparked in the blue eyes he knew so well intrigued him until Gibbs spoke. "Three bedrooms. Two singles, and this one, with two uncomfortable single beds. I think the original plan was that Ziva and I would get the singles and you and McGee would share." Pure amusement shone on his face. "But for some reason, Tim looked like he would piss himself at the thought of confronting you. I generously volunteered to share with you."

Appreciating the irony of the situation, Tony burst out laughing. "What a sacrifice you're making, Boss!" When he calmed down, he couldn't resist waggling his eyebrows at Gibbs. "Think we can lock the door tonight?" He teased.

Gibbs swallowed, hard, and Tony couldn't help but admire the motion.

A sound out in the living room cut through the moment, and Tony sighed.

"I need you to shave my head." He said, instead of the half dozen suggestive comments he could have made.

Gibbs' grimace was completely unexpected. "I wish you didn't have to do that."

"Going undercover to catch a serial bastard, or shave my head?" Tony asked.

"Both, either."

Tony offered him a smile, soft and warm at that. "It'll grow back. Within a couple of weeks, it'll be back to this."

"I know." Still, Gibbs hesitated before pushing himself off his perch on the bed.

"Once we're done, do you need help with decorating?" Tony asked, following Gibbs into the tiny bathroom, a black leather bag in hand.

"Wouldn't say no." They stopped in the doorway and Tony tried to figure out how they'd both fit in the cramped space.

Finally, he laughed. "Christ. I love bathroom games as much as any other guy, but there's no way we both fit in there."

He suspected the light slap to the head he received in answer was more due to Gibbs' wish to play with his hair before he had to shave it all off.

"Kitchen then."

McGee was sitting at the kitchen table, a laptop open in front of him, seemingly engrossed in what he was looking at. He was a little too involved in it, and Tony rolled his eyes at Gibbs. Seemed like Timmy was trying to eavesdrop on his coworkers.

Tony sat down in front of him, handing Gibbs the black case. "Here."

Gibbs raised a questioning brow at him. "Where did you get clippers?"

"Forgot them at Ken's. We dropped by to pick them up."

"And why did you have clippers at her place?"

Tony blushed. "It might have to do with a dare that involved a lot of alcohol, a mohawk and blue dye." He shrugged, and ignored McGee's choked snicker.

"Come on Gibbs, make me look like a Marine."

Gibbs hesitated, fingers of one hand buried in the silky brown strands. "You sure about this?"

Tony nodded. "Need to do this tonight so I can get some sun tomorrow. Can't have a Marine looking like the haircut is too recent."

"Won't you get sunburn?" McGee blurted out, blowing his cover.

Tony shook his head. "Takes a hell of a lot of sun to give me sunburn. A few hours playing basketball outside isn't enough to give me more than a tan."

"Basketball?" McGee asked, just as the sound of the clippers sliced through the room.

"Sam and I are going to go play a couple of games tomorrow."

"You're going to go play basketball in the middle of a case?" It was said with such incredulity that Tony couldn't muster up any anger.

"McGee, tomorrow night, I'm going undercover with the hope of catching the attention of a serial killer I've been chasing after for ten years. I know the case inside and out. I need to get some sun so it looks credible. I need to get rid of excess energy. What better way to do that than spending some time on a court?"

"But-" Tony caught the look McGee threw in Gibbs' direction.

"Listen McGee, I'm not going to make a habit of explaining every little thing I do. I know this isn't easy for you, and I'm willing to give you some slack while you adjust. But I know what I'm doing." He ticked it off his fingers, even as he felt Gibbs' agile ones comb through his hair. "I get rid of energy, I get to know a guy who will likely have my back later on, and I'm cementing my cover. I'll take some time to look at the latest murder, and then, I'll go dance a few hours away in a gay club, doing my damn best to look like a marine on leave."

McGee didn't answer, choosing instead to watch in silence as Gibbs finished his job. When the clippers turned off, Gibbs rubbed a hand over the short fuzz, and only Tony's iron control stopped him from purring into the caress.

"You look good." Said McGee, surprised.

Tony gave him his best superior look. "Of course I do Probie." He lifted a hand to rub at his own head, grimacing slightly at not feeling more than the barest hint of hair. "Then again, I looked good with a blue mohawk too."

"Any pictures we can see?" McGee asked, and Tony wanted to shout with joy. The remark was so- so McGee, so normal that he knew they'd be okay. Oh, they weren't out of the woods yet. No doubt would the guy corner him as soon as possible to have a little chat, but the fact that he could joke, that he could tease Tony was a sign that they'd get over this.

From the way Gibbs squeezed the back of his neck, he wasn't the only one who'd caught it.

"I think Ken has some, but I swear McGoo, if Abby sees them, I'll know who to blame." He looked around curiously. "Where's Ziva?"

"Out picking up some grub."

Tony nodded and got to his feet, while Gibbs quickly sweeped the shorn hair. "Hey Probie!" He said, rummaging through what looked like a bag of office supplies.

"What?"

"Want to help us do some wallpapering?" He asked.

"Huh?" McGee said very eloquently, but he followed Tony into the bedroom.

Tony sighed, looking at the bed Gibbs had occupied a little earlier. "Christ." He looked at the wall before raising his voice. "By case or by material?"

"Groupings per city, then by case?" Gibbs asked, and Tony turned his head to look at the other man.

"Okay. McGee, you take Philly, I'll take Baltimore and Gibbs, you take D.C.?"

"What are we doing?" McGee asked.

With a nod towards the piles of paper, Tony answered. "Take the Simpson file. See that wall over there? When you're done, I want it all but wallpapered with the case notes, the crime scene pictures, anything that can give us some insight into the case. Philly's the one we have the less material about, so it shouldn't take you too long."

That said, Tony grabbed his own piles and turned to the stretch of wall he'd already labelled Baltimore.

"Why are we doing this?" McGee asked, but he moved to take the folders anyway.

"We don't have a big flat screen Probie. This way, we might be able to see something we've missed the first thousand times we did this." He rolled his eyes when he caught sight of Gibbs' grin.

"Now go, shoo!"

 

Chapter 7:

The dark was almost absolute in the small room as Tony lay awake in his bed. Arms pillowing his head, ankles crossed and dressed in nothing but boxer briefs he'd kept only for decency's sake, he willed sleep to come. He always had trouble falling asleep right before an op, but this particular bout of insomnia had more to do with the man who slept no more than an arm's length away.

Not that Gibbs slept. Tony had long ago mastered the way to tell when the former marine was really asleep and his current breathing pattern was all wrong.

With a sigh, he gave in to the inevitable, and rolled out of his narrow bed. The space between the two mattress was barely wide enough to stand, but Tony simply lowered himself into the occupied one, whispering, "Shove over."

 

"Tony?" Came the answer.

 

"Who else could it be? Tell me you weren't expecting McGee or Ziva. Please." Tony murmured, his voice carrying no further than Gibbs ears.

 

"Don't you have your own bed?"

 

It took some maneuvering to fit two grown men into the small space, but Tony somehow managed to do it. The fact that it meant being face to face, all but entwined with Gibbs just made it better.

 

"Yeah, but this one has something mine doesn't."

 

He could hear the smile in Gibbs' voice, more than he could see it. "Oh yeah? And what's that DiNozzo?"

 

That lazy drawl never failed to get his juices running, which had been bad for the last ten years but had real potential now. "You." Tony anchored his hand over Gibbs' hip more firmly, lining their bodies completely.

 

"I guess I could pretend that you in bed hasn't been one of my favorite jerking off dream, but we'd both know I was lying."

 

"Is that so?" The amusement was still present, but along with it was something a little darker, that made Tony want to shiver.

 

"Better believe it Boss."

 

"Tony."

 

"Sorry, Jethro." Tony corrected himself. "But the point is, do you have any idea of the number of times I've thought about this?" He let his fingers slipped under the t-shirt Gibbs had worn to bed, softly, barely ghosting over the soft skin he found. "The things I wanna do to you?" He leaned the fraction on an inch necessary to close the distance to Gibbs's mouth, going for a chaste close mouthed kiss. "God. I've been dreaming of touching you." The kiss was a little deeper this time, and Tony raked his nails softly across the other man's back, smiling into the kiss when he felt goosebumps erupt under his touch. "Of kissing you." When he claimed Gibbs' mouth, it was in a deep and dirty kiss, lips and teeth and tongue exploring, savoring, demanding. He had to swallow a moan when Gibbs gave back as good as he received, the heat of the kiss racing across his back in a wave of heat purer than anything he'd ever felt before.

 

Tony was very far from being a virgin. He'd lost track of the number of lovers he'd had, of both genders, as a pitcher and as a receiver. For him, sex was a natural part of life, as necessary as eating. As a stress release, it worked better than a lot of things and it was also a good way to counteract the ugliness he saw at work everyday.

 

But despite his experience, nothing had ever made him harder than this, a single kiss shared with his former marine of a partner, a man twelve years his elder, four times married, three times divorced, and probably the only guy he knew who had worst luck than him in the relationship department.

 

Of course, was it bad luck, when all along you'd known what you were waiting for, and everything else had been a bad substitute?

 

He gasped when he felt Gibbs' touch move down from his lower back to the top of his ass, calloused fingers rubbing against his skin. "God, your hands Jethro." He panted, between kisses.

 

"My hands?" Gibbs' breathing wasn't any steadier than his own was.

 

"They've been driving me crazy for years."

 

"How?"

 

"All that woodworking, and the gun calluses." It took some effort to get those words out.

 

"So if I do this." A hand sneaked it's way between them, pushing boxers down on the way. "How are you going to react?" A rough hand wrapped around his cock and Tony arched into the touch.

 

"Fuck." He breathed out. Hoping to give back some of the torture he was getting, he pushed Gibbs' boxers out of the way, and skimmed his fingers over the very nicely shaped erection he found. "So good." Tony moaned.

 

"Gotta be quiet Tony." Gibbs murmured, just before he let out a groan of his own when Tony squeezed his hand around his cock, thumb bushing at the sensitive head.

 

"Look who's talking." It was torture, but such a blissful one, to feel that strong hand pumping him slowly. He couldn't resist moving in to another kiss, and this one was scorching hot. Gibbs' tongue in his mouth was perfection, as was the way the other man would nibble his lip just as he gave a slight twist of the wrist.

 

"Wish I could fuck you." Tony panted, his hips moving into the motion of Gibbs' hand, even as his own hand caressed the older man's cock. "Or you could fuck me." He finished.

 

"Have a preference Tony?" Hearing the catch in Gibbs' voice felt like a victory. Getting a response from his partner had always been something Tony had enjoyed, and even more so in the more recent years, after Gibbs had seemingly forgotten that Tony was more than his public persona.

 

This kind of response however, was the best kind. He could feel Gibbs' heartbeat, the quick tattoo of it an echo to his own.

 

"With you? I don't care." He arched even more when Gibbs brought their hips closer, lining their cocks together, his hand wrapping them both in his grip. Tony slid his hand over Gibbs, matching the rhythm the other man was setting. "Fuck, I can't wait to suck you off." He was past the point of caring that his kisses were getting sloppy. "I wanna know if you taste as good as I think you do."

 

"Tony."

 

Tony smiled breathlessly. "Got a kink Jethro? Like to hear me talk?"

 

Gibbs swallowed, his grip tightening almost painfully around them. "Thinking of you on your knees."

 

The image was the little push Tony needed to go over the edge. When he felt his orgasm racing through him like a tidal wave, he surged up, muffling a moan in Gibbs' mouth. The echoing groan was barely acknowledged as Tony slumped forward as much as the small space could allow.

It took a few minutes before he was breathing normally but when he finally could, Tony chuckled and rolled over enough to grab his discarded t-shirt. With quick motions, he cleaned them both up before throwing the soiled piece of clothing into a corner of the room.

"You realize we just got each other off in a room that would make any psychopath drool?"

A snort answered him. "Only you DiNozzo."

Tony shrugged. "Hey, I'm not complaining."

This time, it was Gibbs who maneuvered them until Tony could sprawl over him.

Tony had the fleeting thought that it was a good thing he was a stomach sleeper and Gibbs always slept on his back. As a mattress, the older man rated at the top of his favorite's list. He smiled when he felt lips brush against the top of his head.

"I wish you hadn't shaved it all off."

"Come on Gibbs, admit it. All these years of head slaps? They were really a cover so you could play with my hair."

The quiet rumble of laughter beneath him had Tony closing his eyes and snuggling in closer.

So, sue him, he was a closet cuddler.

"You nervous about tomorrow?" Gibbs whispered against the short fuzz that was all that was left of his hair.

"Yeah." Tony murmured on a sigh, knowing the conversation had just taken a turn.

"Why? You know you're good at undercover ops."

"I'm not worried about that. I know I can play the part, and I trust Callen will do too. I know you and Ken's team will have my back."

"Then what's wrong?"

"Our team." He grimaced even as he said it.

"Tony?"

He gave a small shake of his head. "They're not taking this so great."

"McGee's coming around."

"Given some time, I think Tim and I will be fine, but this is seriously screwing with the world as he knows it. You're a bastard, he's the brain and I'm the brawn. Now, he's seen you as not quite as much of a bastard, and he's discovered that I'm not as dumb as he thought."

A hand stroked along Tony's spine and he fought the urge to purr.

"He should have realized. You wouldn't have made it to Senior Field Agent if you didn't have a degree hidden somewhere."

"Yeah, well, looks like it never crossed his mind."

"And Ziva?"

He shrugged a little. "I don't know. She's not happy with it, that's pretty clear." Once she'd been back from getting the food, she'd given him the mother of all cold shoulders. He couldn't remember anyone ever looking at him with their nose that high in the air, except maybe stepmother number two.

"She's territorial. She just realized that you're not hers, and she doesn't know what to do with it."

"Just hope it's not going to bite me in the ass." Tony answered.

"She comes anywhere near your ass, you tell me." Gibbs said, his hand slipping down to cup said ass, and Tony grinned. "Jealous Jethro?"

 

---

Waking up had never been something Tony liked to do. Oh, he'd learned to be awake instantly, military school and fraternity hazing pretty much guaranteed that. Over fifteen years as a cop had closed the nail on that coffin, and he didn't have any problem with setting up an inner alarm that never failed him.

Being able to do it, didn't mean he had to like it.

So it was a slightly grumpy Tony who levered himself away from an amused Gibbs the next morning. By some stroke of luck, they hadn't rolled out of bed during the night.

"God." He all but moaned. "Coffee."

Gibbs outright laughed at that. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

Tony glared. "I didn't drink the damn stuff before NCIS, and you know it."

"Never understood how you could get by on tea and hot chocolate."

"Survived college, the Academy, and six years on the force, didn't I?"

"And yet, it took you less than six months working with me before you were hooked."

Tony rubbed at his face, trying to shake the last remnants of sleep off. It seemed like the only thing that could screw with over twenty years of training himself to go from asleep to awake in sixty seconds or less was waking up with Gibbs.

"Doesn't mean I don't still hate it. Tastes like crap." He peered at the older man. "Except now, it's going to give me a permanent hard on."

Gibbs raised a curious brow as he tugged pants on.

"For some reason, I've just become quite fond of the taste of coffee." Tony leaned in for a kiss that quickly grew heated. He bucked his hips into the other man's. "See?" He gasped.

In answer, he got one of Gibbs' rarely seen little boy's grin. "Better switch back to tea then."

Tony shook his head in amusement, his brain finally clearing up from the fog. He looked down at his boxers, then back at his neglected bed.

"You look freshly fucked out."

"Sadly, all I got was a handjob and some cuddles." Tony answered, and winked when Gibbs laughed at the answer. With a sigh, he checked that he was more or less decent, which in this case meant checking to make sure his boxers weren't showing anything he didn't want Ziva to get a peek of.

He yanked the door opened, and strolled out into the kitchen after a short pit stop into the bathroom.

Only to find himself face to face with a room full of people.

Tony blinked. It seemed that the entirety of both the MCRT and the L.A team minus Deeks were lounging around the place.

"Hey Tony." Kensi said, and Tony shrugged, crossing the room to kiss the top of her head in an absent gesture.

"What are you doing here?" He asked, turning around to rummage through the spare food supplies.

"Basketball, remember?" Sam answered with a grin in his voice.

Tony looked over his shoulder. "That explains you." With a thumb, he pointed at the other two visitors. "Doesn't explain them."

"Team bonding day." Callen said.

Tony frowned at him. "What?"

"You and I are going to be spending a lot of time together undercover, and I like to know who I'm working with. And, you're a friend of Kensi."

"So this is you wanting to check up on me, make sure I'm not going to hurt Ken." He shook his head, and looked at his friend. "Let me guess, they'd never heard of me, and they want to gossip like a bunch of little girls?"

Kensi offered him a smile. "That's pretty much it."

He rolled his eyes. "What's your excuse then?"

She fluttered her eyes at him teasingly. "Maybe I just can't pass over a chance to see you half naked and sweaty?"

"Christ Ken, they're going to think something I don't even want to imagine." He slapped his hands on the counter top. "You're telling me we've got about twelve cans of coffee, but no bread, or cereal, or anything that could pass as breakfast?"

"Tony."

He turned around the find Kensi waving a paper cup at him. "Is that?"

"Strong enough to melt something?"

Tony bounced back to her, grabbing the cup and drinking deep from it. This was how he'd managed to survive without coffee for so long. Hot, strong bitter tea slid down his throat, not quite scalding, but hot enough that he could feel the heat of it spread through him. Drinking coffee was usually easier while on a case than drinking tea, and coffee worked better with the cover story he'd been living for the last years. But tea, fragrant, and heart warming and more flavorful then any coffee could be, somehow always made him happier. He thought it was probably a result of having a British mother who'd held true to her heritage, at least until she'd switched from tea to alcohol as her beverage of choice.

He moaned in happiness.

Kensi chuckled. "Drink your tea like a good little boy while I take a look at your arm."

He held her gaze for a moment over the cup. "It's only a graze Ken."

"Still. You're not playing ball until I've checked it." He knew that glint in her eyes, and knew better than to argue against it. He shook his head and levered himself to sit on the counter.

While she quickly, and competently, looked the wound over, Tony met Gibbs' amused eyes. His partner was leaning against the wall, quietly observing the dynamics in the room. When Tony saw Gibbs' eyes focus on something, he followed the line of sight to find Ziva and McGee apparently spellbound by the sight of Kensi mothering him, or maybe it was him letting her mother him that was so fascinating.

With a shake of his head, he looked back down to see Kensi smoothing a new bandage over the wound. "Is that really necessary?"

"You'll be able to take it off later, but you're keeping this protected until you're done running around a court with Sam."

"Yes Mother." He said, jumping down from his perch and getting a light slap on the ass as an answer.

---

She'd tagged along with the goal of keeping him from any major interrogations by her teammates, but the real reason was that she missed him. They might talk to each other several times a week, and email even more often, but nothing beat seeing him with her own eyes, checking that he was still in one piece, both physically and emotionally.

He'd been her rock when her father had died, and the only person she trusted completely. She knew she'd probably clung to him closer than she should have, but Tony had never seemed to mind. He'd once joked that they were two little orphans and that has such, they should stick together. The fact that he wasn't technically an orphan had been ignored by both of them.

Kensi watched as Sam and Tony warmed up, ribbing each other in the process. She was sprawled on the sideline, Callen besides her with a small smile on his lips.

"You love him."

She looked up at Callen. "What?"

"Tony." With a jerk of the head, he pointed to the subject of discussion.

Kensi rolled her eyes behind her sunglasses. "Why don't you just ask what you want to know?"

"How do you know him?"

She thought it over for a moment. Did she want to go for a partial truth? Or could she tell the whole story? She trusted Callen, as much as she trusted anyone else, other than Tony. Sam and G. were good partners, to each other and to her. They'd never had a problem with the fact that she was a woman, had always made sure she felt welcomed to the team.

She turned her gaze back to the game. "I must have been five or six when my dad got posted to a military academy as a D.I. I was pretty young, but I remember the only reason why he didn't complain about it was that it allowed him to be home every night with me. He wasn't exactly happy, until he started coming home with more of a smile. I wanted to know what was happening, so I begged until he took me with him one day. That's where I met Tony. He'd been at the academy for two years already, but you could see something underneath the uniform and discipline. We took to each other pretty much from the first moment. For me, it was heaven. I had my father around more, and now, suddenly, there was this bigger kid, ten years older than me, and he didn't mind playing with me."

Kensi swallowed at the memories. "Turned out, Tony was the reason Dad was coming home with a smile. He was a good kid who'd been farmed out to boarding schools for a while, who had potential enough to make Dad feel like he wasn't wasting his time. After that, Tony became part of the family." She smiled a little, remembering Tony's surprise at being so easily accepted. "Dad managed to be posted there until Tony left for college. We kept in touch even then, and took road trips out to see him play when he had a big game."

And looking at him on a court had always been something Kensi enjoyed. Even now, when it was more a way to goof off, a one on one game with little rules. Tony was at home on a basketball court, and she could always see the years falling away from him, and see the teenaged version of him, lighting up the first time he'd realized they'd come for the express reason to see him play.

"When Dad died-" The pain of it had faded, mostly thanks to Tony, but it was still there, ever present. "When Dad died, Tony became my legal guardian. I moved in with him the day I graduated from high school."

If anyone could understand the importance of a self chosen family, it was Callen. "He's your big brother."

Kensi chuckled. "Big brother, best friend." She smiled, knowing it was full of affection. "He's always been there."

"You never mentioned him."

She shook her head. "He doesn't usually mention me either."

"Why?"

She looked at him over the top of her sunglasses, wondering how much she should tell him. Finally, she answered. "Tony was already a cop when dad died, and he was a cop with a gift for pissing off people, especially bad guys. His father-" She scowled. She knew Tony was trying to somewhat patch things up with Senior, but she wasn't about to forgive the man. Not for the way he'd treated Tony after his mom had died, and not for the way he'd managed to stop Tony from gaining full custody of her. "Senior had a lot of money, and his mother's family had even more. When she died, she left Tony a very sizable trust fund. Mix money with being a cop with enemies, and we decided to keep things quiet."

"Two years ago, you knew we were trying to lure him here to replace Macy."

She nodded. "Tony and I talked it over, and decided not to say anything."

"It didn't really made a difference in my decision." Tony cut in.

Kensi looked up. Tony was drenched in sweat, and busily guzzling a bottle of water, mirrored by Sam.

After emptying the rest of the bottle over his head, Tony shook himself, and settled on the ground by Kensi's side. Kensi smiled when she felt the small tug of Tony pulling her hair lightly.

"I would have loved working with Ken, but I'm not done with D.C. yet." He said to Callen.

The way Callen was staring at Tony amused her greatly. She had to bit back a smile when her teammate finally shrugged, his eyes still holding Tony's. "If you ever decide you are, offer's still opened."

Chapter 8:

He'd seen a variation of this dozens of times before, and yet, McGee felt like he was looking at something new, something strange.

The last forty eight hours had shaken him, and he wasn't too proud to admit it. It had started on that hostage situation, and seeing Tony rip Gibbs a new one. Now that he thought of it, he almost wished he hadn't taken his questions to Abby.

Ideas and images had been running across his mind ever since she'd told him how the two senior agents used to interact. He'd wondered after that, if he'd get the chance to see some of it, believing that this was merely a one time thing, that Tony would never dare go head to head with the Team Leader.

How wrong he'd been.

From the moment where Tony had looked like he was going to bite Ziva's head off the next morning, things had gone pear shaped. The quiet way the other man had taken charge in the bullpen had surprised him, but it had surprised him even more when Gibbs had simply let it happen. The easy banter in the car ride to the airport had felt like a revelation; Gibbs was so rarely open, and yet, there he was, joking, and cutting into Tony's speech. Both men had been relaxed, as though it was something they'd done a million times before, and not something that should make McGee doubt his talents as an investigator.

After seven years of working closely side by side with these men, shouldn't he have known? Shouldn't he have seen that they were friends, that Gibbs could laugh like that, and that Tony could have a strangely commanding presence?

The shocks hadn't stopped there. Agent Blye had been the next surprise. She'd looked so happy to see Tony, and yet, McGee had felt none of the expected sexual undertones in their embrace. In fact, it had looked more like the way he'd have reacted to seeing Sarah after a long time away, and even that wasn't quite as intense as this reunion had been.

That had been the turning point for him, where he'd decided he needed to have an open mind. He'd observe, until he could understand.

But shit, it was hard to think when the hits just kept on coming.

Tony, the team's goofball with the attention span of a fruit fly, had double majored. He was Gibbs' partner. He was intelligent and seemingly far more competent than he'd shown. How could someone hide so much of himself, for such a long period of time, and not lose sense of himself? Oh, thinking back on it, there had been a few slip ups, instances when Tony had impressed him in the field and forcefully reminded McGee that he'd been a cop while he himself was still in college, but they hadn't been frequent enough to ring a bell.

The phone call he'd made to Abby yesterday had cleared some things up, but it certainly hadn't made him feel any better.

He'd been a blind idiot.

She'd read him the riot act, forcing him to see that Gibbs might have been the one who'd taught him how to be an NCIS agent, but Tony had been the one to show him how to be one.

All the nicknames, the ribbing, and the pushing had made him stronger, more confident, in and out of the field. It made him reevaluate every interaction, and realize that the signs had all been there, right in front of him from the very beginning. The way Tony could seemingly read Gibbs' mind and the older man's endless trust in him. The steel core they'd seen from time to time but rarely as clearly as he had in a Somalian cell. The instincts that had kept Tony alive when everything else pointed to him dying a dozen times in the past.

It made the decision to trust Tony an easy one, and the decision to keep an eye on Ziva a difficult one. He wasn't sure quite yet how his brand new partner was reacting to all of this, but faced with the combined force of Gibbs and Tony, his own choice wasn't much of one.

Which all brought him back to the here and now, and watching Tony prepare to go undercover.

The traditional wiring was happening, but the calm being displayed by the other agent was unknown. There was none of the nearly manic bouncing around, none of the endless jokes, nothing but cool focus and professionalism.

 

No, Tony simply stood still, his chest bared and dressed in leather trousers that seemed to mold to him like a second skin, while Kensi fitted him with a mike. The stark white bandage that covered his recent injury had been freshly changed, enlarged so it could look like something other than a bullet graze. In front of him stood Callen, being fitted by Sam, and the four agents were quietly discussing approaches. Gibbs leaned against a wall, his eyes intent on his partner, something McGee couldn't read on his face.

Ziva was looking on, with that blank Mossad stare he hadn't seen in a while.

The atmosphere was somber, without the humor that came with Abby using the fitting as an excuse to grope Tony, and McGee wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to be doing.

Not for the first time since they'd arrived in Los Angeles, McGee wondered what they were doing there. He knew the case was Gibbs and Tony's, and after looking over all the amassed evidence, he understood why both men seemed so intent on being a part of this, on catching this bad guy; but it felt like he wasn't doing anything himself. This whole thing rested more on Tony and Callen, with backup from the rest of the OSP team, along with Gibbs. Ziva and him were only standing around, unused backup singers to the main act. He'd tried to help Eric, but the surfer already had someone working with him, and McGee had merely been in the way.

It scared him. What if he wasn't needed, now that Tony had dropped the act? He knew, or at least, he thought he did, that his own tech skills were superior to those of the rest of the members of his team, but was it enough to keep him on when it seemed that Gibbs and Tony could do the job by themselves?

"Listen up people." Tony called out, and McGee shook himself out of his thoughts. "We're heading out in a few. Backup teams are Sam, Ziva and Deeks on Callen. Ken, McGee and Gibbs are shadowing me. Plan is that Callen and I go in different clubs, spend a few hours playing closeted Marines, then move on to the two other targets unless our radars go ping."

"Do you know what you're looking for?" Deeks questioned.

Callen nodded. "We've got a general description of possible suspects that were seen talking with the victims. Those descriptions are almost ten years old for the most part, but still similar enough to gave us a general idea." He looked at the assembled agents. "This is mostly recon. Goal isn't to catch the guy yet, but to grab his attention so he'll make a pass in a few days."

"From the past victims, we know it's too soon for him to want to pick up the next one. However, it's been ten years, so who knows what's going on in the guy's mind? Be alert, keep your eyes and ears open, and anything that strikes you as funny, mention it. The surveillance teams will be in contact, but Callen and I won't be able to talk to each other. Keep us in the loop. We've got a limited time to make a impression in four different locations."

McGee had to smile when Tony offered his closed fist to Callen. The L.A. agent cocked his head to the side, before bumping Tony's fist with his own. "Game on."

---

Surveillance was one of the most endlessly boring tasks involved in law enforcement. Spending hours on end in close quarters, listening and watching on monitors while someone else was in action had a tendency to give McGee a case of cabin fever. But today, something was different, and that was sharing the duty with Gibbs and Kensi. One was Tony's partner, and the other looked like she was some strange combination of close friend and family.

It was proving to be very enlightening.

"God, I'd forgotten how good Tony is at flirting." Kensi said from where she was slumped in front of a monitor.

The thought that anyone could forget that made McGee want to snicker. The first hour of surveillance had gone by in a quiet focus, spent listening to Tony flirt with any guy who got close to him. They'd already heard a large number of bad pickup lines, and an even greater number of requests for dancing. The big majority hadn't come from Tony, but from what felt like over half of the bar population.

"Kinda hard to forget when he does it every day."

He sneaked a glance to Gibbs at that comment.

Kensi snorted. "You know as well as I do that the flirting is a front, and always was one. Tony might like to flirt, and he might like sex, but that's not really what he wants."

To McGee's surprise, Gibbs gave a quirk of the head that conveyed acceptance.

"You guys do remember that I can hear you, right?" Came Tony's voice over the comms.

"Hey, what better time to bitch at you then when you don't have a choice to hear it without any possibility to do anything about it?" Kensi answered. "You know, this is the perfect opportunity for me to ask what you've been up to in D.C."

"Ken-" Tony warned, but Kensi simply laughed in answer.

"You're not too old for punishment you know?" He added again.

"Kinky. Gibbs, did you know that your partner's a kinky bastard?"

McGee had to cough at that.

"It's DiNozzo, of course he's kinky." Came the wry answer.

"Ha ha. Very funny you two." Tony said. His voice didn't change, but the next words changed the atmosphere in a blink. "Got a possibility."

McGee straightened at that, and from the corner of his eye, he saw Kensi do the same.

"Tony?"

"Dark blond, just under six feet, white tshirt with dark jeans."

McGee heard Kensi relating the information to the other team but his focus was on the monitor in front of him. Tony was wearing a button camera, and McGee hurried to identify the guy who'd caught Tony's attention.

The man was staring at Tony intently, as he made his way across the crowded dance floor.

"Hey."

"Hey back." McGee heard the come hitter smile in Tony's voice. He shook his head ruefully. How was he supposed to know when Tony was playing a part and when he was genuine; when there was no difference in how the other man acted?

 

---

 

A few hours later, back at the office, Kensi watched as Tony and Callen debriefed each other. She'd been looking for an opening, and it looked like she'd just found it. Her target was standing a little apart from the others, face blank but body posture screaming aloofness.

 

With a girly sashay designed to piss Ziva off, Kensi crossed the room until she stood in front of the other woman. "Time for a little girl talk?" She saw the denial flashing through Ziva's eyes, and she hurried before the agent could slip away. She grabbed Ziva's arm, and from the corner of her eye, she saw the look Tony and Gibbs sent her. She raised a brow in their direction, and received a small grin from Tony.

 

Tugging Ziva behind her, she made her way to the gym, and after making sure they were alone, she turned back to face her.

 

"You know, Agent David, you're a tough one to read."

 

"I do not understand what you are talking about." There was more than a trace of arrogance in the statement, and Kensi gritted her teeth.

 

"Oh, I think you do know what I'm talking about, but I can't decide if you're more pissed that they acknowledge each other as partners instead of you, or if it's the fact that you didn't realize that Tony is actually intelligent." She cocked her head to the side.

 

"I do not have a problem with them being partners."

 

Kensi smiled. "I think you do. You have a problem with being stuck with McGee."

 

"McGee is a good agent."

 

"Yeah, but we both know that Tony and Gibbs are better. Either alone or with each other."

 

Ziva scowled. "I will not deny that they are good."

"Gibbs is the ultimate alpha cop, right?" She didn't wait for an answer. "And Tony, well, Tony is the guy you want on your six when shit starts flying. He's at his best under pressure, and you know that. McGee is more a desk jockey kinda guy. He's good in a pinch, but he doesn't have the street instincts of the other two."

 

"What is your point?"

 

"My point is that you're used to being the center of the attention. You've been the girl prodigy since you were a child, always partnered with the best. You want to be one of the boys, but you're proud of being a woman. How am I doing so far?"

 

Ziva considered her, and Kensi let her look all she wanted.

 

"But I have a problem with you thinking you should be my brother's partner."

 

"Your brother?" A sardonic brow went up.

 

"Not a big enough age difference for Tony to be a father figure, so brother's as close as we can get. You should know about having a family of your own choosing. Blood isn't everything Agent David, and love is more powerful than blood could ever be. Tony's my big brother, and there is nothing I wouldn't do to see him happy. You" She pointed at the older woman "hurt him. I wouldn't trust you as his only backup."

 

Kensi saw the comment hit home, and she used her advantage while she had it.

 

"This team, the MCRT, is as much Tony's as it's Gibbs'. He chose the agents under his command, he trained you, and he'd go to the wall for any of you. Hell, he already did."

 

"Tony didn't choose us."

 

"You? Maybe not at the beginning, but he sure chose McGee, and Kate too for that matter."

 

"Gibbs chose them."

 

Kensi chuckled. "You really think they didn't talk it over before offering Kate a place on their team? And as for McGee, Gibbs may have been the one who made the final move, but Tony's the one who brought McGee to Gibbs' attention and kept going back to him for tech advice. Tony's the one who pushed to rescue you from that camp a year and a half ago. Tony's the one who kept the team in one piece when your precious Gibbs went on a suntanning vacation."

 

Ziva's scowl deepened. "You know nothing of us."

 

Kensi sighed. She was already getting tired of this discussion. "Wrong. Who do you think Tony talked to when you tried to force Gibbs to kick him out of his own team? Who was there after you kicked him down while he was already injured? Who listened to him when he was doubting his own decision to confront Rivkin?"

 

She saw the truth dawned in Ziva's eyes.

 

"You've doubted him too often for me to trust you. You shunned him when he needed you after that whole frog business, and when he tried to look after you a few years later? You thanked him by doubting him again. Well, I've got news for you sister, Tony might have forgiven you for all of that, but it doesn't mean I have to forget it. I don't have to forgive how you all treated him when he was Team Leader, I don't have to forgive how you all forgot him while he was exiled on a boat after what he saw as one of the worst failures of his career. And I sure as hell don't intend to forget that none of you have his back when it really counts."

 

"I-"

"There's no one I know who's more loyal. He'll go to the ends of the world if he thinks it can help, and if anyone should know that, it's you. For Christ's sake, he volunteered to get tortured so he could get you out of that camp, and that's despite the fact that you'd made sure he knew what you thought of him."

Kensi took a step forward, then another until she was standing just a little too close to the shorter woman. "That wonderful man back there's my brother. There's nothing I wouldn't do, or give to make him happy. If I get the slightest hint that one of you is making him miserable, I'll come after you myself, ex-Mossad or not." She held Ziva's stricken eyes.

After a long moment, she stepped back, and turned away. Just before she reached the door, Ziva asked.

"Why did he refuse the L.A. posting?"

Kensi shook her head. "You really don't understand him, do you? The biggest reason was loyalty. To his partner, and to his team."

"And the other reason?"

Kensi looked back over her shoulder, a big grin on her face. "We'd have killed each other the first op out."

"Do you not trust him?"

"I love him and I trust him more than any partner I've ever had, but I'd have gone crazy the first time he got injured on the job, and Tony would have gone postal the moment I got threatened." She shrugged. "That's what family's all about."

 

Chapter 9:

 

Three days later, three long, frustrating days later, they had their serial killer in custody, with enough evidence to make any defense lawyer cry for mercy. It had been almost too easy catching him, and Tony was secretly disappointed to have been refused the chance to shoot the guy.

Ryan Sinclair was a thirty eight years old basket case, who'd spent his ten inactive years married to what seemed like a perfectly sane woman. When the marriage shattered, he'd gone back to his old tricks, rusty, and too impatient. He'd fallen for the bait like mice to cheese, going after Tony with more desperation than finesse.

A deeper look into his background proved without the shadow of a doubt that he'd been the one responsible for the seven murders and a ten years chase was finally over, leaving Tony feeling a little lost.

Shouldn't it have been harder? Over nine and a half years to the day he was called on the crime scene, he found himself going back over the evidence, wondering if he could have seen it earlier, saving four lives in the process.

The frustration wasn't helped by three nights of silent, hurried mutual handjobs in the dark, no where near satisfying after years of waiting for the time to be right. The need to keep quiet, along with the exhaustion and too small bed had restrained any ideas he could have had, and he could tell Gibbs' temper was getting shorter and shorter as the days wore on.

But now that everything was done, his report written and every piece of evidence sent back to Abby for analysis, they could go home. Tony only had one last thing to do before he could happily jump into an uncomfortable C130.

With that in mind, he hunted down his best friend's partner, stubbornly ignoring how two of his own teammates were barely talking to him.

"Deeks."

The man was sprawled in his chair, head thrown back as he bounced a rubber ball up and down. Deeks looked up, and met Tony's eyes, one wry eyebrow raised in amusement. "Yes?"

Tony smiled. He had to admit the guy was growing on him. It wasn't always easy dealing with Kensi, but from what he could see, Deeks seemed to be doing all right so far.

"Mind having a talk?" he said, his own grin self deprecating, knowing that Deeks had likely been waiting for this to happen.

"I am shocked, and I certainly wasn't waiting for you to come 'talk' to me." Deeks quipped, getting to his feet. "Any preference on where you want to threaten me?" He added.

Oh yes, the guy had potential.

"How about the gym? From the number of discussions it's seen this week, I figure it's about as private as we'll get."

Deeks nodded, but kept quiet as they fell into step.

The gym was empty, and Tony had a fond thought for the NCIS elevators. This would do in a pinch for a discussion, but there was something about being in a darkened elevator in between two floors that he had to admit to liking. Perhaps it was the result of Gibbs using them as his private office, or perhaps it was the possibilities of it, but the gym just wasn't cutting it. Anyone could come in at any time, and only the knowledge that the room had already been used for any number of talks since he'd been in town had him choosing the spot.

Deeks spoke first. "So, how do you want to do this? Go with the bodily harm threat? The 'I'll have your badge', or the always nice 'I've got contacts'?"

Tony laughed. Maybe the talk hadn't been necessary after all, but he had more in mind than threats.

"I think we can skip that part. You've got a pretty good idea of what I'll do if something happens to Ken that you could have prevented."

"Not going to hold me responsible for anything that happens to her?"

Tony shook his head no. "Ken's a big girl. She can take care of herself, and I know what the job's like. You do your best, but you can't stop everything." He could still feel Kate's blood spraying his face.

Deeks cocked his head to the side. "Speaking from experience?"

"Lost a teammate almost six years ago. She was standing right besides me, and she took a bullet to the forehead. No matter how much I might have wanted to stop it, there's nothing I could have done about it. I've been a cop over fifteen years, I know what can happen."

"Then why the talk?"

"I just have some advice, and a couple of requests for you."

"Alright, shoot." Deeks relaxed minutely and Tony bit back a smirk. The younger man hadn't been quite as confident as he'd been trying to convince Tony he was.

"I know Ken's not always easy to deal with. She's good at undercover work, but that also means she's good at hiding things. Don't let her freeze you out. Get in her face if it looks like she's shutting you out. Make her laugh, she could use it." Tony smiled, sadness tinting the motion. "She doesn't trust easily, and most days, I think the only reason she hasn't tried to shut me out was because she knew me before her father died. She knew she could depend on me before her world went crazy, and her dad made sure she wouldn't be able to get rid of me."

"How did he do that?" Deeks asked.

"Was her legal guardian after his death." He brushed it off with a wave of a hand. "The important thing here is that I never gave her a chance to push me away. You and the other guys don't have that advantage, but I can already tell that all three of you are good for her. You know she's good, and you don't seem to have a problem with letting her carry some of the load."

"She's good." Deeks shrugged.

"Yeah, she is. She also has a tendency to focus on work too much. Make her laugh, try to get her to do something other than this." He waved a hand to encompass the whole of the office. "I know you haven't been partners for very long, and that you splitting your time with the LAPD won't always be easy, but a good partnership? It's better than a marriage."

He got a raised brow at that.

"I'm not saying to sleep with her you idiot." He rolled his eyes. "Just- Be her friend, trust her to have your back, and force her to trust you. That's all."

"I can do that."

"And if you ever need to vent, call me." Tony pushed one of his card into the other man's hand. He'd taken the time to make sure all of his contact numbers and personal email address were written on it. "Anytime. Don't hesitate. You being her partner, makes you family in my book."

Surprise bloomed on Deeks' face. "Really?"

Tony shrugged. "Yeah. Family doesn't have to be blood." He gave the cop a shrew look. "Doesn't have to be about Ken either. I was a cop for six years before NCIS. I know how different the two can be. If you're lost, call. I'd give Callen and Sam the same speech, but I've got the feeling they wouldn't listen." He paused, hesitating. "Your team-" He breathed out slowly. "None of you look like you have a whole lot of people outside the job. I get that, and I know that a team can be its own family. I also know it can be very confining."

Deeks considered him, eyes more serious than Tony had seen them before. "You're a good guy DiNozzo."

That called for Tony's most brilliant smile. "Call me Tony."

Deeks chuckled, before offering his hand. "I'm Marty."

Tony grimaced, shaking the hand. "Really? Marty? Can I call you McFly?"

---

Sunshine was beating on the tarmac as the team waited to climb aboard the C130 that would take them home. Kensi and Tony stood apart from the others, arms wrapped around each other.

"I wish you could stay." Kensi said, her eyes studiously avoiding Tony, who smiled and leaned his cheek on the top of her head.

"I really missed you Pixie." The simple words carried more than he could say. A part of him wished he could stay, spend some time with her without work weighting both of them down, but he also couldn't wait to be back home, to get more than a narrow mattress with Gibbs. He longed for the familiarity of Washington, for the space of his own apartment instead of the cramped quarters his team had been sharing. He knew the coming days and weeks wouldn't be easy, but home was calling to him.

"Can you swing the next long weekend in D.C.?" He asked, tightening his hold on her.

"I'll try." Kensi answered, burying her face into his neck. They stayed silent for a little while, just basking in being together for a little longer as they watched the plane being loaded.

"I talked with Deeks." He felt Kensi stiffen in his arms.

"Tony."

"I just told him not to let you push him away." He continued before she could protest. "He's a good guy, and I think he'll be a good partner." He smiled. "Gave him my card and told him to call if he needed to talk."

"Adopting strays?"

He pinched her arm. "I could use a little brother."

"Are you trying to tell me I should sleep with him?" Kensi mumbled.

Tony laughed. "No, in fact, I don't recommend it. Sleeping with your partner is a bad idea."

Kensi snorted. "You're one to talk."

Sobering for a moment, Tony chose his words carefully. "I know the cost of doing this with Gibbs. If it doesn't work, I'll lose my partner, my lover and probably my team. But we've been working together for a long time now, and I think we can separate work and home enough to make it work."

"Just be careful." Kensi said, her hold growing almost painful.

Tony combed his fingers through her hair. "I will."

"Good, and if it doesn't work, I'm making Eric hack into the system to you get a transfer to L.A."

He could hear the pout in her voice, and it made him smile. "So no, don't sleep with Marty, unless you're really sure it won't screw things up." He got back to the subject. "But lover or not, if the guy's your partner, it makes him family."

"Up until the moment he screws up."

"Up until the moment he hurts you knowingly." Tony corrected as he saw Gibbs motion him that they were clear to board. "Screwing up is a given. I gotta go Pixie."

"I know." She said, holding on for a moment longer. She finally loosened her hold, until she could meet his gaze. "You be careful big brother, you hear me? And don't let David and McGee get to you."

"As long as you give your partner a chance." Tony countered before leaning to kiss her on the forehead. He let his arms fall down, reaching for his duffle.

Just before he was out of earshot, he called out. "Easter! D.C.!"