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If the King had run off with Prince Charming...

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“No can do Abbs. Got a hot date tonight. It’s a fourth date, we’re at a critical stage here, and I’ve been trying to catch this one too long to postpone.”

“That’s what Gibbs sa- If you’re playing games with him Anthony Michael DiNozzo I will kill you and I’ll get away with it.”

“What?! Abby, what just happened?”

“You know Gibbs is like a father to me Tony. And I know when you date it’s about having a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that but it just… isn’t who he is.”

“I promise I know what I‘m doing here Abby. He wouldn‘t risk his career- or mine- for a fling, I know that. And neither would I. And I meant what I just said, I‘ve been after him a long time. Years. I wouldn‘t put that sort of effort into a few weeks of fun.”

“Don’t let him hurt you either.” Abby warns softly, as if in penance for her earlier outburst.

“I have no illusions about who I’m involved with. Yes he’s a grumpy bastard- that’s why making him smile is so much damn fun. Now can we please change the subject before he walks in here and head slaps me for telling you?”

“I shouldn’t have said I had a hot date. Besides I gave it another week at most before Abby knew.” He switches to signing with a contrived neutral expression, “Stop meddling young lady.”

“But I like Tony so much better than either of the wicked stepmothers and I worry about you,” Abby signs back.–

“Couldn’t you at least wait until I leave the room to talk about me?”

“What makes you think we were talking about you?” Abby asks wondering if Tony’s learned to sign.

“I know my own name when I see it Abbs,” He makes the signs for t and smile, their idiomatic sign for Tony. “And isn’t,” He demonstrates another sign, “stepmother?”

“Abby was just saying she thinks you’re more fun than my exes. Of course she only really knew one of them.”

“I met number two more than a few times. She called me Tabby and insulted my tattoos.”

“I’m sorry Diane was rude to you Abbs, she thought I was not so discreetly seeing you on the side. She never really bought the ‘one of my co-workers’ introduction. Something about government agencies having dress codes,” Gibbs explains with a hint of a smile. “If you happened to meet her again I wouldn‘t be surprised if she offered you an apology.”

“Little did she know,” Abby teases eyeing Tony. “Okay but that doesn’t explain why number three was rude to me every time you left the room. She knew I wasn‘t your mistress or anything.”

“Later Abby,” Gibbs tone is a warning. “Make sure you copy the director on the tox report for Sanderson, you know how they get all touchy about us determining a PFC on active duty was a drug addict. Always have to give ‘em proof.”

“Already taken care of bossman. I‘m out of here as soon as I sign this report.”

Gibbs kisses her cheek, “Sorry we’re missing your dinner party, Abbs.”

“Go forth, have fun, do all sorts of things you won‘t tell me about later. Just remember what I said.”

“Anything on your desk DiNozzo?” Gibbs asks firmly rooted in his ‘boss’ persona.

“Nope boss. Was checking in with Abby to see if the trace on the boots gave us anything- it didn’t.”

“Head on out then. I’m going to send McGee and Ziva home. Pick you up in an hour?”

“Sure thing boss. Should I dress for the range or for dinner?”

“Dinner.” He leans in and drops his voice, “And pack a bag, just in case.”

The promise of that makes Tony shiver visibly. He takes the stairs up to the bullpen to get his things just to burn off a little of the energy it gives him.

Abby chuckles and Gibbs just makes his way to the elevator with a wry grin. “This one’s a keeper Pop,” Abby whispers after the retreating back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After showering and shaving Tony finds himself wavering uncertainly over his bag. He’s thrown a set of work clothes, including a turtleneck, and extra underwear in it but he can’t seem to decide what to take with the idea of spending tomorrow at Gibbs’ house in mind. In the end he settles on jeans and two shirts, a nice one he could wear out to dinner or a movie, and a comfortable one he could say, help sand the boat in. After adding his shaving kit and sneakers he gives the whole thing one more once over before hauling ass down to the street to wait. He doesn’t have to wait long.

Tony casually tosses his bag in the back seat and is surprised to receive a quick but warm kiss on the lips as he takes his seat. Right there, out in the open, parked on a fairly busy public street.

Gibbs laughs at his expression, “Careful Tony, not paranoid.” He glances toward Tony’s building and finds an older woman glaring at them, “Unless she’s what you’re afraid of.”

“Not afraid of anything, least of all Mrs. Jacobs,” Tony assures him with a cheeky grin. “Just surprised at how easy this is. It seemed impossible for so long, for so many reasons… I guess I’m just floored by the notion of you leaning over and kissing me right out in the open where anyone at all could be passing by and see us.”

“Because the world implodes if Tony DiNozzo knowingly kisses a guy in public?”

“Nope. The world imploding is saved for the day Jethro Gibbs gets a decent haircut.” Which earns him a swat that is more of a caress than a slap. He settles contentedly as Gibbs merges into traffic. “So what advice did Abbs have for you before she knew I was your ‘hot date’ for the evening?”

“To lighten up and have a little fun. She said, and this is a quote, ‘serious doesn’t have to mean boring and uptight.’ Then she suggested I start a game of footsie for starters.”

“Funny, once she knew it was me she threatened to kill me if I was just having fun with you.”

“The key word there being ‘just’ Tony. She’s wanted me to settle down with somebody who makes me laugh for about a year now. I think you’re exactly who she had in mind.”

“Who’d you have in mind?” Tony asks seriously.

“You’re definitely who I’d pick Tony, don’t doubt that. I’m just…” He sighs.

“You’re a marrying man. You like waking up next to someone and knowing when it comes time to fall back into bed they’ll be there. Sharing a comfortable silence. Arguing over the chores.” Tony smiles, “You like taking care of someone and maybe- just maybe- letting them take care of you. What part of that exactly is supposed to prevent you and I being together?”

“You flirt like you breathe Tony. You… chatter. You get so damn mad when I try to protect you…”

“What happens when I flirt Jethro?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, “Either I get rebuffed pretty damn hard or I get information useful to an investigation. Have I even once flirted with someone else during our personal time?”

Gibbs thinks about it- really thinks about it- and smiles, “No, you haven’t.”

“Like the chatter, as you put it, the flirting is a sort of slight of hand. It keeps people looking where I want them to look. As for being upset when you protect me, only when it’s at your own expense. Keeping me safe isn’t good enough if you aren’t safe too. After all Boss I’ve got your six. Hopefully in all senses. You want to investigate strange noises at night? Fine, so long as you take your weapon.” His tone stays light but his expression becomes serious, “What we’re talking about here Jethro is the honest prospect of a long term relationship between us. You know, months, years, maybe forever. I’ve really thought about it and I want it. The question is do you?”

“So much Tony. Or we wouldn’t be here at all.”

Tony glances at where exactly they are, not that he thinks for a second that it’s what Gibbs means. Still, now that they’ve established what this relationship is and that they both want it there’s no need for this date to be quite so intense. “You must want to protect me. I didn’t have to grab the 'oh shit' handle once.”

Gibbs laughs, “You’re just used to my driving.” He kisses Tony again, “Thank you.”

“For what Jethro?”

“For knowing when to lighten the mood.”

“I’m good for you because I’m fun, remember?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About halfway through dinner a lull settles in the conversation and Tony weighs each of the two… impertinent questions on his mind before posing the safer one. “So who is the redhead in the gold convertible anyway?”

“Been saving that one a while haven’t you?” Gibbs asks with a chuckle. “Right after I joined NIS I bumped into an old friend from my first unit. We had a drink, talked about old times and what our buddies were doing. It became kind of a regular thing. Thursday nights at Bernhart’s. Anyway, after a while his girlfriend, a pretty little senator’s aide, started making noises about wanting to set me up with her sister, and in the age old tradition of men trying to keep a woman he started pushing me to do it. So after a month of that I caved. I went on the damn date. And Elizabeth, the sister, was just exactly my type as my unit knew it. Tall, redheaded, feisty, and down to earth. She took one look at me and said ‘thank god.’ Turned out she was just as in the closet as I was and we made great friends. She‘s out now and I‘m… comfortable with who I am but we‘re still good friends.”

“Will I ever get to meet her?” Tony prods with humor in his eyes.

“Eventually. We don’t exactly see each other often.” Gibbs gives Tony’s hand a quick squeeze, “You’ll like Liz. She’s got a wicked sense of humor. As evidenced by the fact that she was deliberately teasing the lot of you right around the time when McGee joined the team. She’d purposely bring over coffee just so she could drop me at a scene.”

“I knew she wasn’t a girlfriend right from the start you know.”

“Is that so?”

“You kissed her cheek like you do Abby‘s. It‘s your trademark sign of nonsexual affection for a female. Saw you drop one on Madame Director once. She looked ready to spit nails. She knows what it means.”

“Jenny is certainly… persistent.” He smiles just the slightest little bit, “And I knew what I was doing that night.  I wanted her to feel like her cousin just escorted her to the senior prom and everybody knew it. She practically blackmailed me into going.”

“And I appreciated being gang pressed into escorting Ziva.”

“Kept you from bringing a date I’d have to pretend to be nice to.”

“She almost broke my ankle for trying to lead and then she had the gall to grope my ass Jethro. Which goes to show actually staking a claim works better than setting me up on a date with a woman who thinks I‘m a sex fiend and wants to take a no strings bite.”

“She hasn’t touched you since that night.”

“I told her you’d fire me and then Abbs and I would have to exact revenge. I think Abby scares her.”

“One more thing I have to thank Abby for then. At this rate I‘ll have to think of something better than caf-pow!”

“I’ll pick her out some new boots if you want.”

“Now that I might have to see. Especially the expression on the clerk‘s face when you ask to see them in a size seven.”

Tony grins, “Last time she just asked me if they were for my wife or girlfriend. Blushed like a schoolgirl when I told her ‘best friend’ instead, but then maybe she assumed a guy’s best friend must be male.”

“Abby’s your best friend?” Gibbs asks with genuine surprise.

“Not exactly. It’s just easier than trying to explain what Abby is. She’s the little sister I never had. The shoulder to cry on I always needed. The defender of virtue that I don’t really need. The partner in crime all of us need. You know how Abby is, how do you define that?”

“She’s indefinable. That’s for sure.” Gibbs doesn’t bother to hide his pride in that statement.

“Were you ever going to tell me you’re her father?” Tony asks without censure.

“Caught that did you?”

“You knew I was learning to sign Jethro. And I’d always sort of wondered. You do treat her like Daddy’s little girl sometimes. Particularly when she’s in danger.”

“She’s the one that decided no one at work should know- outside of human resources. She doesn’t want other people to treat her differently because she’s my daughter. As you might have noticed I hadn‘t told her about us yet.”

“I can respect that. Except she seemed pretty intent on telling me earlier.”

“As I said, she likes the idea of you and I together. A lot. As in she’s been hounding me to take you out for that year I mentioned earlier. Personally I wanted you a whole other kind of distracted tonight.”

“Not right away. I mean clearly, this is a nice place and you made reservations. You did plan to finish wining and dining me first, didn‘t you?” His tone is teasing.

“Wining and dining sure. Answering a whole slew of mood killing questions about my relationship with my grown child? Not so much. If I promise to answer any questions you have some other time can we drop the subject?”

“Sure thing Jethro. I just wanted you to know I figured it out. And that it’s not nearly enough to run me off. So what do you think of the Skins' chances against the Cowboys this week?”

“Pretty damn good, seeing as Dallas sucks this season. Having fun?”

“Kind of a lot yeah. Do you honestly think there is a single topic that could come up that would put me off after five years of waiting? If you‘re trying to seduce me there‘s no need. And if you‘re trying to woo me… Well all things considered dinner was a good effort. But frankly Jethro I know you well enough that if you still had to win me I can assure you that you never would.”

“So you’re mine DiNozzo?”

“So long as you’re mine too, sure am. Now what do you say we go have dessert at your place?”

“I was thinking more… breakfast but I suppose we could fit a little dessert in between now and then.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Upon waking Tony decides the first thing he’ll have to do to ensure his own long term happiness is get Gibbs to replace this mattress. He stretches and is glad to discover that the sheets are still warm beside him, Gibbs hasn’t been out of bed long. When he goes to pull some clothes out of his bag he finds a pair of grey sweat pants on top of it and smiles. They’re a bit too short but soft enough to make up for it. After donning the loaned pants he makes his way down to the kitchen and grins stupidly. Gibbs is cooking breakfast.

“You could have stayed in bed,” Gibbs calls over his shoulder.

“I rate breakfast in bed? Forget what I said last night Jethro, woo away.”

“Thought I was. Have a seat.” Within five minutes he sets a plate of French toast, hash browns and bacon in front of Tony and another across the table before retrieving two cups of coffee and taking his seat.

“Hazelnut creamer? In a cup of your beloved Jamaican Blue Mountain? You do love me.”

Gibbs laughs, “Because I know how you like your coffee? I would have thought the clue was not letting you move more than an inch during the night.”

Tony shakes his head, “You could just say it you know.”

“And have you strut around like a satisfied tomcat all day? Not likely.”

“You don’t want me satisfied?” Tony asks with a wounded expression.

“Don’t want you strutting,” Gibbs corrects with a little half smile.

“Better keep me occupied then.”

“What’d you have in mind?”

“We could work on the boat… Go for a run… Head back to bed…”

“You really want to spend the whole weekend in bed?” Gibbs isn’t disapproving, just skeptical.

“Maybe not all weekend, but a few more hours sounds good to me. If it makes you feel better I promise I’ll drag you to the movies later and then when I reference it at work you can act all clueless like usual. Besides are you really surprised that I am highly in favor of sex?”

“Just so long as you know that we don’t have to get to everything this weekend. It’s not like when Monday comes this is over.”

“I know. Long term relationship, remember? But you can’t even promise me a whole weekend. One phone call and we’re back to stolen kisses and head slaps for the duration. And as I keep saying I waited a long time with my overactive imagination. Now if the issue is that you’re not in favor of sex you really do need to tell me here Jethro.”

“Oh I’m in favor of sex. Also cuddling and making out like there’s no other purpose in the world. And if anyone, even Abby, ever hears those last two about me you’ll be going without sex for as long as I can stand it. I just… There has to be more to us than that Tony.”

“I thought we’d already been down that road. There is. I love you. We’re just on a little sex break at the moment. I meant it about helping with the boat or going for a run. Or drinking with your old Marine buddies. Or whatever it is you want to share with me. Unless you secretly knit or something. Just… Not until at least lunch time, ok?”

“Lunch time?”

“I like a nap after fantastic sex.”

Gibbs laughs as he puts the dishes in the sink and they head back upstairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Around midday Tony awakens when a delicious smell rises from the kitchen and he’s momentarily confused to find Gibbs still holding him close. Last night’s dinner conversation combined with the fact that the smell is that of Abby’s jambalaya suggests it’s her in the kitchen. Gibbs huffs a soft sigh, “Let me talk to her alone for a few minutes, okay?”

“Sure, I’ll just get cleaned up a little before I come down.”

“Can’t let you be seen with bed head,” Gibbs agrees with a little kiss to the back of Tony’s neck before pulling his sweats back on and heading down. As expected it’s Abby he finds at his stove.

“What are you doing here Abbs?”

“We always have lunch together on Saturdays Pop,” Abby reminds him easily.

“Unless I’m having company that doesn’t know about my daughter. You knew Tony was spending the weekend with me.”

“No, I knew you two had a date last night. Didn‘t know he‘d still be here.”

“You heard me telling him to pack a bag.”

She gives in. “And I saw his coat and shoes so I made enough for all three of us. He should know Pop.”

“He does. Asked me outright last night.”

“Then why?” Abby waves a hand, indicating the whole display up to this point.

“I’m not as ready to share this as I should be,” He admits quietly. He pulls Abby into a hug, “Scared to loose him, baby.”

“You won’t,” Abby assures just as softly. “He loves you. It’s why I was pushing you so hard to tell him how you feel.”

“And here I was thinking you just wanted to regale him with wicked step mother jokes and make me blush in public.”

“Never. Ever consider that I just want you both to be happy?” She shakes her head, “How much did you tell him last night?”

“Almost nothing. He was afraid it’d jeopardize his chances of having his wicked way with me,” Tony teases from the doorway.

“No fair ganging up on me,” Gibbs protests. He kisses Abby on the cheek. “You can tell the story. I know you love to.”

“You’ve gotta tell the beginning, it’s weird when I do.”

Gibbs motions for Tony to take a seat. “Senior year of high school Jolene Lerner and I dated for six months. I took her to the prom and things progressed as they normally do with teenagers. And then I started actually paying attention to her attitudes and plans for the future. She was something of an idealist with an eye on college and changing the world. I had already signed up for my first hitch in the Marines. We both decided it was best if when I left for Paris Island and she left for Tulane we just let it go. What I didn’t know, but she must have, was that when she left she was almost three months pregnant. If Abbs hadn’t knocked on my door one day I never would have known.”

Abby smiles at them as she brings lunch to the table and takes over the storytelling. “First off let me make it very clear I had a great childhood. I love my dad and my little brother to bits. I never would have known that he’s actually my step dad if his mother hadn’t resented me.

“Mom and Dad met a year after I was born. It was love at first sight. They were married before my third birthday came around. Dad always treated me as his own. But Grandma Scuito was always just a little bit cold to me. When she asked to see me after they told her there was nothing else they could do for her emphysema I admit I sort of expected an apology. What I got was a copy of my birth certificate. Which lists Leroy Jethro Gibbs, not Victor Scuito, as my father.

“It took almost six months for me to ask my mother about it. She said they were too different to make it work and that Gibbs was too old fashioned to have let her walk away if he’d known. I thought about it awhile and when spring semester ended I set out in search of my real father.”

“I thought you were a process server that first time you rang my doorbell you know,” Gibbs adds contemplatively.

“The shout of ‘I signed the damn things already!’ through the door was a clue,” Abby offers with a chuckle. “Over the next three years we saw each other a dozen times. It was… nice. It didn’t really change anything about my life as I’d lived it. That is until somebody casually mentioned there might be a job opening in my field here in DC.”

“You got Abbs her job?” Tony asks Gibbs surprised.

“No. Just told her there was an opening.”

“And I didn’t tell anyone we were related until after I got the job. And then only personnel. Didn’t want people treating me like I was made of glass just because Gibbs is my father.”

“I was glad to find her settled in when Diane and I got back from Moscow. Of course Diane wasn’t happy to find me with an armful of twenty-something lab tech…”

“She was cheating on you, of course she was paranoid.”

“You are kinda… affectionate Abbs,” Tony offers a little shrug. “I was sort of jealous before I figured out it was more of a family thing. Which happened about the time you started hugging me.”

“Good, cause you are family Tony.” She grins at the glare her father levels on her, “We’re all family. Us, Ducky, Tim, Jimmy, Kate. Haven’t decided about Ziva yet. And I still say Madame Director counts as a wicked stepmother even if you never married her.”

“Jen would probably be alright if I hadn’t started a pissing contest over Ari right out of the starting gate. You really want to mess with her Abbs? Let it slip that you’re my baby girl. She’ll implode.”

Abby grins evilly at that, “She wanted to have your babies didn’t she?”

With a look that promises retribution if necessary Gibbs offers a quiet, “She mentioned it several times while we were… together in Paris. It seemed to upset her that I was firmly against having children.”

Tony makes an inquisitive noise, “But you love kids.”

“I do love kids. And finding out I was Abby’s father was one of the best days of my life. But after Kelly… I failed her Tony. I didn’t protect her. And I couldn’t go through that again. And the thought of trying to somehow replace her… No. I can be a friend, a mentor, but the only one to ever call me daddy again will be Abby and that’s the way it should be. My girls mean the world to me, and I’ll never let them go.”

“I’d never want you to. If you could see your face when you talk about Kelly and Shannon, Jethro… I can see the man you used to be in that expression. Before the world fell on your shoulders… I just want you to know you’re not Atlas, you don’t have to carry that burden alone,” Tony’s fingers trail down his lover’s cheek before he remembers Abby’s presence and blushes.

When the silence stretches a beat too long Abby purposely bounces and asks, “So, your turn. Spill. Who caved first?”

“I did, Abbs,” Gibbs admits, glad of the topic change. “Ziva asked him about the appeal of clubbing. And just as he gets to the phrase ‘You’re not gonna meet your soul mate there’ he looks up and meets my eyes. I figured you were right, only so much of that kind of thing can go on before you have to label it hinting.”

“Hinting? I thought I was clearly stating my position. Even I’m not dumb enough to just outright ask ‘Hey boss what do you say we buy a house in the suburbs and make like rabbits for the next twenty or thirty years?’ Especially considering rule twelve.”

Abby beams, “You said this was a fourth date?”

“It’s been about six weeks. And yes dinner last night was the fourth time we went out,” Gibbs confirms.

“Are you going to tell anybody?”

“Maybe Ducky. Probably Mrs. Macalister from across the hall in my building. She’s always telling me I need to settle down. You Jethro?”

“As Abby said my family is at NCIS and I don’t think it’s a good idea. Not right away. At least not McGee and Ziva. I’m fine with telling Ducky. And I’ll tell your mother if that’s what you were hinting at baby. Not that I think she’ll care.”

“She worries about you. Especially because you’re taking care of me.”

“And she’d approve of me?” Tony asks with a little huff of a laugh.

“As long as Pop is really happy this time, sure.”

“Having second thoughts about signing up to join the most bizarre family in the world there Tony?” Gibbs asks, humor clearly masking honest concern.

“Do we really need to get into my family history here? My own damn father forgot me at a hotel like a disposable razor. You don’t have anything near cornering the market on family issues.” Tony offers a genuine smile, “Besides it’s too late now. It’s a done deal, remember?”

Gibbs’ cell phone begins to ring up stairs. With an annoyed sigh and a wary glance he goes to answer it.

“So you two clearly had fun last night.”

Tony blushes, “I don’t know what you’re getting at here Abby. You know I don’t really kiss and tell and even if I did I wouldn’t.”

Abby makes a face, “I wouldn’t want to know Tony, he’s my father. You just have one hell of a hickey there.”

“Got a mirror?” Tony asks unwilling to leave the table before he knows whether or not the call Gibbs has just received is summoning them to the office.

Abby produces a compact from her bag and grins as Tony lightly probes at the bruise on his neck, “Guess I’ll be wearing that turtleneck to work on Monday then.” He tilts his head and the mirror to get a clearer look.

“You could just lie about how you got it,” Abby teases.

“I’m doubting anyone would believe a ‘Melinda’ or a ‘Hannah’ gave me this one Abbs. Just a bit too far back.” He hands back her mirror with a lopsided grin, “I might as well wear a sign that says ‘My boyfriend’s more than a little possessive’ if I were to walk in with this showing. Hell I won’t have to tell Mrs. Macalister anything she’ll take one look and know.

“What’s the verdict Jethro?” Tony asks as Gibbs reenters the kitchen.

“Just Jenny using the excuse of us deciding that PFC Sanderson did in fact die of an overdose of drugs but that he bought it in port to check up and see if she could ferret out who I’m seeing and how serious it is.” He turns to Abby, “I’m beginning to think you were right, I should have told her Liz and I were getting married. Maybe started talking about having kids.”

“Just so you know I’m nobody’s mistress Jethro,” Tony warns playfully.

“Good thing I’d never go through with it then.”

“Madame Director knows you’re seeing someone?” Tony asks more seriously.

“She asked me to dinner last Saturday. I told her the truth, that I had a date. Just not who with.”

Tony groans theatrically, “She’s going to gut me when she finds out.”

“We’ll protect you Tony,” Abby promises hugging him. She moves to Gibbs’ side and hugs him, holding her cheek out expectantly for a kiss, “Have fun Pop, Tony. See you Monday at work.”

Granting the kiss Gibbs smiles at her, “Make sure you call me when you know what day you need my help for Habit, baby.”

“Will do, only so many damn good plumbers out there after all.”

Gibbs sees her out and returns hugging Tony as the younger man washes the dishes, “She threaten you again?”

“What makes you say that?”

“The look on your face when I came back in here.”

“No, she was teasing me about the fact that my boyfriend mauled me like a tiger loose at the zoo.”

“You seemed to like it just fine while I was doing it.”

“I like it now Jethro. It’s just going to affect my work wardrobe for a week. Ziva is going to notice.”

“You could tell her you’re really competitive and I’m an absolute master at gay chicken.”

“I can just see her asking McGee what that means now. But seriously Jethro if one of them sees it they’ll add two and two and get at least one half. There’s just no plausible way a woman left that mark. So what do I tell them? Do I make up a boyfriend? Jean Paul the beautiful and mysterious French Canadian steward… Do we let slip about us on pain of death? Or do I just tell Ziva to take a flying leap?”

“What do you want to do Tony? Not what do you think is best or what do you think I want, what do you want?”

“I’m a little conflicted. On one hand I want to tell Jenny Sheppard to keep her damn hands off you and Ziva that flirt and lecher are not synonyms. On the other hand we’ve got a great team that I love working with. I don’t want to break that up, not if we don’t have to. Forced to make the decision I’d choose this over the job but that’s a choice I don’t want to have to make.”

Pulling Tony back against his chest a bit more firmly he makes an understanding noise before speaking. “Okay, here’s my plan: When the bruise starts to fade you let Abby cover it with make-up. She’s good at it, can have you fixed up and on your way inside three minutes. And you start to let your at work persona mature a little. Let them get curious. Eventually they’ll guess you’re in a serious relationship. You won’t even have to confirm or deny, they’ll assume they know. Then you can start casually dropping subtle hints that your special someone might not be female. If they take it well we tell them the truth. Then I pull them aside individually and impress upon them the vital importance of discretion.”

“You’ve been thinking about this for a while now haven’t you Jethro? That was too well thought out and long term to be off the cuff.”

“Since about the time you called us soul mates and I backed you into a wall and took inventory of your tonsils. I couldn’t have had a fling with you Tony. I knew from the moment I touched you we only had so much time before we were going to have to get you your own team or find a way to protect our team. And I’m a selfish bastard Tony, I don’t want to let you go even though it’d be a better move for you, career wise.”

“I don’t give a damn about my career. It’s not about becoming director someday. It’s about what I can bring to an investigation. I did the job, headed the team, was even pretty good at it, but I don’t want it long term. I’m… of more use when I don’t have to concentrate on what five other people are doing. It’s nice to know you see me like that though, on equal footing I mean Jethro.”

“If you were still in need of training or hands on supervision I would transfer you Tony. Otherwise what we have would be taking advantage and I couldn’t do that to you. Hell if Tom Morrow was still director instead of Jenny I’d have made a request for you to technically report directly to him and we wouldn’t have a problem. But Jenny’d make waves. Big ones.”

“Okay then, now that we’ve settled that and Abby’s had her fun it’s time to get dressed. If we leave in the next twenty minutes we can make the 2:40 show.”

“And what cinematic masterpiece are you dragging me to?” Gibbs asks as they make their way upstairs.

“Flyboys. It’s a World War I movie with a pretty enough cast to cover any plot holes and if that isn’t enough I figure we can just make out like a couple of over eager teenagers.” He grins, “And when Abbs sees it she and I can play ‘inadvertently suggestive moments bingo’ which is a hell of a lot of fun.”

“Inadvertently suggestive moments?”

“Moments where the writers or actors just didn‘t think about the implications or double meanings of a scene or piece of dialog. Like two guys trash talking about how they‘re gonna take each other down. The writers and actors want to express that they really want to fight. But sometimes, if there‘s some latent chemistry between the two, it seems like they‘re offering to do some else entirely,” Tony leers and leaves no question as to what he means. Gibbs just shakes his head.