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Tony had been on the USS Ronald Reagan for barely 24 hours when he was called to the Captain's quarters. Reporting as ordered, he was shocked to find two Air Force officers — a Major and a Captain (Not to be confused with the much higher ranked Naval Captain) sitting in the stateroom. "Sir?"

"Come in, Agent DiNozzo," Captain Andrews beckoned him in.

"Yesir," Falling back on his RIMA training, Tony fell in at ease — in his limited experience on Naval ships, it helped to reduce his civilian-ness as much as possible.

"NCIS Agent Tony DiNozzo, these are Major Paul Davis and Captain Alice Farmer." Andrews introduced them. "Farmer is Air Force OSI," he added.

"Ah, air cops," Tony nodded with a smile. "Here to inspect the Reagan's airplanes?" He knew that the Air Force didn't have anything to do with Naval aviation, but he honestly couldn't think of why else they would be there.

"Agent, we have a problem, and you have been recommended as the person to solve it," Major Davis said seriously. "As far as NCIS knows, you will remain here on the USS Ronald Reagan, but we would like to request that you undertake this special, classified, assignment."

"If NCIS doesn't know I'm leaving, then—" Tony chuckled. "You're replacing me with OSI."

"Very good, Agent DiNozzo," Captain Andrews said. "As far as my people know, you are participating in a liaison swap for training purposes. The presence of aviators on the aircraft carrier makes this the logical place to introduce OSI in this exchange; the cases won't be entirely foreign."

Tony nodded: for a cover story, it wasn't half bad. But this wasn't his first rodeo, nor his first offer of a job he wasn't allowed to know anything about beforehand. "I guess it doesn't hurt to ask: is there anything you can tell me before I sign up?"

Major Davis smiled slightly, but Tony didn't have a good enough read on him yet to interpret it. "There is an infiltration problem in a highly classified project. You were recommended by Assistant Director Tom Morrow of Homeland."

"Huh. That's honestly more than I thought you'd tell me," Tony admitted. "I'm in."

Captain Andrews chuckled and clapped him on the back. "Excellent! I regret you're not sticking around, Agent DiNozzo. I like you."

"Thank you, Sir," Tony replied easily.

"You've got two hours to catch up Agent Farmer here on the basics of NCIS protocols and to pack your gear," Captain Andrews continued. "Agent Farmer, I was told that it was alright if my people refer to you as Agent, rather than by rank. Or you were given the option to wear Naval insignia for the duration, which would make you a Lieutenant. I realize in the Air Force that's a step backwards…"

"Naval insignia would be fine, Captain," Farmer said smartly. "I was only recently promoted and am still used to answering to Lieutenant. I'm also fine being called Agent for the duration."

"Good; you'll fit in just fine," Captain Andrews decided. "Ensign Hollis, our public relations officer, will escort Major Davis to the NCIS office in one hour. Dismissed."

"Yesir," Tony said firmly, then did a crisp about face and left the Captain's stateroom with the two Air Force officers trailing behind him. "Either of you ever been on a Naval ship before?" he asked as he pointed out the knee knocker before stepping over it.

"No, Agent DiNozzo," Farmer said quickly.

As they rounded the corner, Ensign Hollis, who had done Tony's introduction to the ship yesterday, popped up. "Hello, Sir. I'm here to escort Major Davis to COMs."

Tony scooted out of the way and allowed the Major and Ensign to pass, then he continued leading Farmer to the NCIS office/bunk. "With the Carriers, you're basically looking at a small floating city," he continued his introduction. "The best advice I can give you is to spend your down time memorizing the ship's layout. The numbering system isn't the most intuitive, and there are plenty of places where you can't go straight through, but have to go up or down a few decks to bypass. The faster you learn how to navigate it, the easier your job will be."

"Thank you for the advice, Agent DiNozzo," Farmer replied sincerely.

"Please, call me Tony. Back when I first started at NCIS, I didn't take the time to memorize the ships, wrongly assuming that I'd be focusing on crimes on land, rather than at sea," he explained. "After my first few trips, I started memorizing the layouts, from smallest to biggest. I still had trouble my first time on a Carrier — it's one of those things you need to practice, and I've always been better at learning by doing than reading. After that, I took leave down to South Carolina and did a civilian tour of the USS Yorktown museum ship. Helped me get my bearings. You'll have to just jump in feet first, I'm afraid." Tony stopped at the stairs to smile at Farmer, who smiled back.

"So, I've always wondered, do you start in OSI and get commissioned, or the other way around?"

"The other way around, Agen— Tony," Farmer said.

"And is OSI what you wanted to do when you joined? Or did you dream of being a pilot?"

Farmer chuckled. "Actually, I'm probably one of the few who didn't join the Air Force to fly. I'm a fourth generation Air Force brat, though it was still a part of the Army in my Great-grandfather's time. I never liked going so fast, though, so I always knew I'd do something other than fly. I actually looked at JAG for a while, but after my first law class… woo! Not happening."

"I know that feeling," Tony laughed. "That was the worst part of the academy."

"You went to—"

"Not military academy," Tony hurried to explain. "Although, I did actually go to one of those for high school. But I was talking about the police academy."

Before Farmer could reply, Tony slid down a stair railing and ducked beneath it. "We're here!" he declared, stepping over a knee knocker and then proudly gesturing at the NCIS logo on the door. "Home sweet home!"

Tony hadn't done much unpacking, so it only took him about ten minutes to get everything shoved back in his duffel. Of course, since he had only been here a day, he also hadn't done much work, either. It only took another twenty minutes to show Farmer everything that the outgoing Agent — Max Tynan — had shown him yesterday.

"It's up to you how much of a hardass — if you're excuse my language — you want to be about things like poker games and off-duty drinking," he concluded. "Most Agents I know who've gone afloat tend to let the little things like that go with a warning the first couple times. When it's you versus five thousand people, you don't usually want to be known as an uptight killjoy, or you'll be very lonely. One Agent I know has been Afloat for the last seven years. When I asked him for advice, he said, 'if you've got time to worry about poker games, you're missing something bigger.' And now I pass his sage wisdom on to you, young grasshopper," Tony finished formally, giving a little half bow.

Farmer giggled. "That sounds like great advice, thank you."

They sat chatting for a few more minutes, until finally Ensign Hollis and Major Davis arrived. While Hollis took Farmer out for an official tour, Davis opened his briefcase and pulled out a three inch thick folder.

"Wow," Tony gaped at it. "I thought I'd seen some NDAs in my time. The only secret that needs an NDA that big is aliens, mutants, or faking the moon landing."

"Actually, the NDA for faking the moon landing is smaller, Agent DiNozzo," Davis said, credibly deadpan. "You're thinking of the one for seeing what's on the back of the Declaration of Independence."

"A fan of National Treasure? You're a Major after my own heart," Tony fluttered his lashes. "We're gonna get along wonderfully."

"As you say, Sir," Davis agreed, then handed him a pen and slid the giant folder across the table.

Tony accepted both and got to reading. Almost fifty minutes later, he finished, and rocked back in his seat. "I knew it!" he crowed. "So your mole issue; is that on Earth? Or am I going to be heading further Afloat than I imagined?"

oOo

Tony flipped closed the last folder and leaned back in his chair. General O'Neill's people were going to be breaking down a lot of doors in the near future — in fact, he'd recommended that they read in several Navy SEAL and Marine Recon teams for that — but that wasn't Tony's problem. He had just been brought in to investigate, to follow the breadcrumbs, not to make any arrests. This kind of thing couldn't go to trial, though there were enough Brass read in to hold a court martial for any military personnel, if they wanted to do so and then redact the hell out of the files. But unlike his usual work, he wasn't preparing paperwork for JAG for the aftermath this time. With his last file completed, the job Tony had been brought in to do was officially done.

He'd cleared every person involved directly with the Stargate Program, from Cheyenne Mountain, to Area 51, to Antarctica, to the freakin Lost City of Atlantis! He'd even seen a few familiar names here and there; remnants of his time at NCIS or RIMA, for the most part. He'd even discovered that John Sheppard was in the program, — decidedly not from his RIMA days — and Tony indulged in a few afternoon fantasies about the gawky teen he'd known, who'd grown into a very fine man, if the information and photos in his jacket were any indication.

Anyone that Tony hadn't cleared was in a large file on Tony's desk, along with his evidence for why he suspected them. All of the paper trails and suspicious events and mysterious disappearances and oddly wealthy dead relatives were gathered and organized for O'Neill's perusal.

Though, from his experiences with both men, Tony suspected that "O'Neill's perusal" really translated to "dumping on Paul Davis's desk." Davis was the consummate yeoman (ignoring that the Air Force didn't have those), and Tony was well aware of who was the real power behind the throne. But not in a brain snake alien kind of way. Just in a standard 'Assistants actually get the work done' kind of way.

With the last i dotted and t crossed, and the last file closed neatly on his desk, Tony was officially done with this assignment. Now… now he was headed back for NCIS, probably. Or the USS Ronald Reagan, worst case scenario. After spending so many weeks in a cramped office beneath a mountain, — with only occasional field trips to Area 51 and DC to follow leads — Tony thought he wouldn't mind stretching his legs a little on a Carrier.

Tony sighed and patted the last folder. He might not miss the accommodations, and he hadn't really gotten to see any aliens (save for photos and x-rays of said brain snakes), but Tony was going to miss the Stargate program. And not just because he'd had an AFOSI flunky to fetch records and explain quirks of the Program to him. Though he would miss having Master Sergeant Lansing at his beck and call; she had a wicked sense of humor once he got past her initial formality.

No, Tony regretted that he wouldn't have a chance to do more with the program, but they already had AFOSI read in, and they didn't need a lone NCIS agent hanging around awkwardly. And none of his degrees counted for much in the Program — he'd never seen so many PhDs in one place! And so many people with more than one! There was definitely a brain drain to the Stargate Program.

So as much as Tony wanted to finish his reports, to give General O'Neill the chance to finally take out the bad guys, and to see the Program free of espionage, finishing that last report was a little bittersweet. Tony patted it one last time and then picked it up and placed it in his outbox. Then he tapped the com in his ear (Set to the AFOSI channel).

"Staff Sergeant Lansing?" he called.

"Yes, Agent DiNozzo?" she replied promptly.

"I'm ready to schedule that meeting we discussed." He didn't want to say more over a relatively open frequency, but he'd already warned her in private that he should be finishing up his investigation this week, barring and earth-shattering revelations or dangers.

"Yesir!" she said crisply. Tony had no doubts that she had already passed on his hint to Major Davis, and that the meeting would be scheduled sooner rather than later. He'd probably be reporting on his findings as early as tomorrow, and done by the end of the week. With that in mind, Tony figured he might as well get a snack and then do a little packing. Not that he could take much with him except what he'd brought. The Stargate Program wasn't the kind of job you took souvenirs from, after all.

oOo

Tony was back at his desk, and was finally getting used to being in DC again.

Once he'd finished briefing Major Davis and General O'Neill, he was informed that he was being transferred to the USS Seahawk, with NCIS's full knowledge. In a bit of subterfuge he wasn't sure was entirely necessary, he'd flown on the afternoon COD to the Reagan to meet up with Captain Farmer, and allow her to brief him on what he had supposedly been doing for the last three months. The next morning's COD brought his replacement, and Tony passed along the information. Then he and Farmer caught the afternoon COD back out, splitting up at the base for the night before Tony was taken to the Seahawk the next morning.

Then, a month later, he'd finally been allowed back to DC, and had done his best to slot himself back into his old life. For a while, Tony found himself wondering how the clean up efforts were progressing, and on especially busy (headslap-y) days, he found himself yearning for the quiet of his little claustrophobic office under Cheyenne Mountain. Tony had almost taken himself down to see Ducky, the first time that thought crossed his mind, but the nostalgia finally faded.

Six months had now passed, which was beyond the outside time limit Tony had estimated for the Trust problem to be eliminated, and he found himself getting antsy again. He had never gotten a promise that he'd be told the outcome, but he couldn't help but wonder if it had all gone to plan. Well, he knew enough to know that no operation of that size would ever go wholly to plan, but he wondered if it had been minimally FUBARed. Another month passed, and despite himself, Tony began to worry.

He started skimming through foreign reports, looking for unexplained incidents, or black ops casualties with names that he recognized. He was careful to keep his searches discrete, and hid his footprints as well as he could, but Tony couldn't keep himself from looking. Finally, he found a single report. A classified mission, the only thing not redacted was the status of the target (eliminated), and the name of a wounded Recon Marine. Tony knew the name — all four Appleton boys were armed services, chock full of ATA gene, and part of the Stargate Program. Tony couldn't remember any of their first names, but the last name was distinctive enough to stick. The exact nature of the wound wasn't even specified — just, 'severe' — and Tony found himself wondering if it was the kind of thing that could be healed by the very impressive tech he'd gleaned from the records, or if it was a career-ender, even in the Stargate Program.

Tony had enough restraint not to dig any further — he didn't want anyone at NCIS to wonder why he was looking up the file of a Marine with such a blacked out jacket — but he couldn't turn off his curiosity. So Tony sat at his desk and did his job. And wondered.

Eight months after he completed his investigation, Tony glanced up as the elevators opened, and was shocked by the wall of Air Force blue he saw. Extending his gaze up further, Tony's heart leaped into his throat. Major Davis, General O'Neill, Cap— no, Major Farmer, and John Sheppard — also promoted, to Lieutenant Colonel — were arrayed before him. Davis immediately caught Tony's eye and gave a subtle nod, then nudged the general and discretely pointed in Tony's direction.

Since they were clearly going to acknowledge him, Tony rose to his feet and stood at parade rest.

"General, Lieutenant Colonel, Majors," Tony greeted them politely.

"Agent DiNozzo, I see you're back on dry land," O'Neill said blandly.

"Yesir," Tony replied.

"Congrats for that."

Tony had a sneaking suspicion he was being congratulated for something completely different, so he smiled as he replied, "Thank you sir."

John was next, and he held out his hand, then used it to pull Tony into a quick hug. "I'm in town for a few days; we should catch up," he offered.

"Looking forward to it," Tony promised. They had a lot to catch up on, and that was before the Stargate Program! Then he nodded at the others. "Majors, it's a pleasure to see you both again."

Before either one could reply, Director Vance appeared at the top of the stairs. "General? To what does NCIS owe the honor of a visit from the Air Force?"

"Here to poach one of your people, Director," O'Neill announced, silencing the bullpen.

Tony knew his eyes had widened, and Major Davis caught his gaze again. He gave the tiniest of nods, then tilted his head at John. Tony easily read the implied message. They wanted him, and it looked like he might be going to Atlantis. He gave the tiniest of nods back, and dialed his existing smile up a notch. Davis nodded back: message received.

Their communication passed in just a few seconds, and Vance was still making his way down the stairs when they finished. "Allow me to introduce my Major Case Response Team," Vance said a bit pompously. "Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs…"

"Gunny," O'Neill nodded.

"General," Gibbs nodded back. Tony resisted the urge to rock back on his heels. Who'd have thunk that O'Neill and Gibbs would know each other?

"You've met?" Vance asked, inadvertently voicing Tony's thoughts.

"Not according to our files," Gibbs smirked. Ahhh, black ops. Tony figured he really should have known.

Vance managed to gather himself and gestured towards McGee, "Special Agent McGee; one of our computer experts and also a field agent," he boasted. Tony bit back a scowl: protocol dictated that Vance introduce them by rank, which put him ahead of McGee. The man just hated to acknowledge him!

Then, Tony reconsidered. O'Neill and Davis both had read his file, and both knew that he was the senior agent, both by rank and by tenure. They both knew that Vance was making an ass out of himself in the way he ordered the introductions, and Vance had no idea! That thought carried him through McGee and Ziva's introductions until Vance finally got to him.

"And lastly Agent Tony DiNozzo—"

"Very Special Agent," Tony corrected. He'd even left off the word special, further degrading his rank! "I'm the Senior Field Agent," he added smugly.

"Yes, well," Vance said quickly. "I'm sure Agent McGee can help you with whatever you need—"

"Perhaps we should take this somewhere private?" Davis suggested.

"Of course," Vance agreed. "Should I have Agent McGee accompany us?"

"That won't be necessary," Davis assured him.

"Well, lead the way, DiNozzo," O'Neill said, and Tony loved him a little more for the instant looks of shock on the faces of Vance, McGee, and Ziva. He would treasure those looks for months! Though the General tended to play at obliviousness, Tony had read his full file when clearing him, and knew that O'Neill knew exactly what he was doing.

"Of course, General; right this way," Tony slid out from behind his desk. "I see you've added another star, Sir," Tony said conversationally as he rounded the bullpen wall. Out of the corner of his eye he saw McGee's and Vance's jaws drop even further. Yes!

"They keep pinning the damned things on me!" O'Neill griped.

"Well, you could stop doing heroic things to earn them, General, but somehow I don't think you actually want to do that," Tony smirked. He knew that his subtle message would be understood — stop saving the planet if you don't want promotions!

"You know, why didn't I think of that?" O'Neill kibitzed as they hit the hall to the conference room.

"You could do something really insane and try to get yourself demoted, Sir," John suggested.

"Nah, after a certain rank, insanity just becomes eccentricity," Tony snarked. "With his luck they'd promote him even higher for it."

Davis and Farmer both sniggered and hurried to muffle it before their superiors.

O'Neill just sighed. "You know, I think that's exactly what Henry would do," he groused.

Tony laughed out loud as he ushered them into the conference room. "Well then I guess you're stuck, Sir," he joked. He saw amusement on the faces of the four officers as they entered, but Vance glared at him as he passed. Ah, well, Tony had long since stopped caring about Vance's opinion of him. Right about the time he was banished afloat, actually.

They took their seats, and Tony was pleased when John and Farmer left a spot for him between them at the foot of the table. "How do you feel about being partners?" she whispered to him as he seated himself.

"At his base?" Tony asked, subtly jerking a thumb at John, hiding his action from Vance behind the table's lip.

"Yup," John replied quietly.

"I'm in!" Tony whispered with a grin. He'd be thrilled just to get anywhere close to the Stargate Program, and Atlantis — despite the high danger — sounded amazing in the reports. Tony wasn't sure if he had the ATA gene — he wasn't even sure if the doctors at Cheyenne Mountain had bothered to check it when they'd done his intake, since he was just there to sit in the corner and read files.

Even if he didn't, he still thought Atlantis sounded amazing. And there were more Marines than Air Force stationed there, so it would make sense to have a joint NCIS/AFOSI office. If Tony was recalling correctly, the support staff on Atlantis were all Naval, as well. Tony hadn't actually had a chance to work with Farmer, but he'd gone through her reports from the Regan and found no issues, not to mention she'd handled the whole switcheroo with aplomb. They'd also had a good time in their brief interactions — their personalities meshed well, so far.

"Well, let's get this party started," O'Neill said.

Tony noticed Farmer catch Davis's eye, and he glanced at Tony questioningly. Tony nodded, not bothering to suppress his smile. Davis gave him a small smile back, and then handed one of the files in his stack to the General. "Here you are, Sir," he said.

O'Neill opened the folder and glanced at the first paper. "To cut right to the chase, Director Vance, I've got a highly classified joint base at a location I can't divulge to someone of your clearance level. What I can divulge is that we've recently increased our Marine and Naval complement, to the point that it seemed prudent to create a joint AFOSI/NCIS office, rather than just sticking with OSI. So, as I said before, I've come here to commandeer your agent."

From O'Neill's phrasing, it sounded like the unit would fall under the purview of NCIS instead of AFOSI, since he was actually talking to Vance about creating a new Resident Unit instead of just stealing Tony and shoving him into an OSI one. Tony wondered if that would make him the senior agent, or if he would be following Farmer's lead. He didn't mind either way, but he was curious.
O'Neill slid the folder across the table to Vance, and Tony assumed it contained the forms for the creation of the joint Resident Unit and his transfer orders. What little Tony could see from his end of the table showed that the document was already heavily redacted, at least.

Vance glanced at the first page, did the smallest double take, and then perused it more closely. His frown deepened as he flipped through the rest of the folder. "Almost all of this is illegible," he complained once he reached the end.

"As I said, your clearance level isn't high enough to know more," O'Neill explained casually. "If you'll look at the bottom of the orders, you'll see that this has already been approved by SecDef. You aren't being asked to sign something you can't read; this is just to inform you of what has already been decided."

Tony could see Vance's teeth grinding, and wondered how he didn't chomp right through his toothpick. "I see," he said after a moment. "Without more information, I am unable to provide equipment, supplies, or lab assistance."

"That's all being taken care of," O'Neill waved off his concern. "I've already arranged for all of the supplies, and the team will be in charge of hiring any support staff that they need."

Tony glanced at Davis, who gave him a subtle nod. Tony quickly masked his surprise; it seemed that he and Farmer would have carte blanche to hire whoever they wanted. He knew from vetting her that one of the Doctors on Atlantis — Biro — had ME training, and he assumed she would act as their coroner. Since she was also one of the staff doctors, Tony thought they'd get approval to hire an ME's assistant for her to take care of some of the load. They'd need at least one forensic tech — two if they couldn't get one who had every specialty they'd need. They might be able to combine those with the duties of an evidence clerk to keep their numbers down. And they'd definitely need at least one secretary or Yeoman to handle the administrative paperwork and serve as a records clerk.

Tony assumed that the AFOSI team at the Mountain had been in charge of the supply list, since they already had experience adapting a standard RU to suit the Stargate Program. Tony would want to run over it, just to double check, but he was fairly confident that they would have gotten everything he could possibly want for his people, as well as some things he'd probably never think of, but that had become necessary because of the unusual situation at Cheyenne Mountain. Tony would trust their expertise when it came to alien crime fighting.

"Very well," Vance's voice brought Tony out of his musing. "I'll pull together a list of recommendations for you. Agent McGee has very impressive computer skills, and Ziva David is very sk—"

"Hang on," O'Neill held up a hand to cut Vance off. Tony himself was a little shocked that Vance hadn't read the room and was still trying to push McGee at them. And Ziva wasn't even an American citizen! Did Vance really want to squash Tony's chances so badly that he'd suggest someone who wasn't even an agent? "I believe there's been a miscommunication here," O'Neill continued firmly. "You did give me the version that was filled in, didn't you?" he asked Davis in an aside.

Davis very deliberately opened the topmost of his remaining folders and glanced at it. "I did, Sir."

"I thought so," O'Neill turned back to Vance and smiled patronizingly. "I'm sure you just missed it, but that form already states who I'll be taking. Well, assuming he still wants to go — the position is voluntary, after all."

"I still accept the offer," Tony said quickly, earning himself a scowl from Vance, which he blithely ignored. "My mind hasn't changed."

"Well, there you have it!" O'Neill said as though it should be so simple.

"Yes, I see DiNozzo's name now," Vance said. "But there are better agents at NCIS. Surely you want the best—"

"I do!" O'Neill said quickly. The faintest hint of a smirk on his face told Tony that O'Neill knew exactly what Vance was doing, and was setting him up to keep putting his foot in his mouth.

"— which is why I offered to prepare a list of the best agents for you," Vance finished obliviously.

"Oh, we've already done that," O'Neill explained with restrained glee. "We had all of your agents vetted last year. That's when we picked DiNozzo. Unless you've gotten another genius with more PhDs in the last few months, and somehow slipped them under the SecDef's radar, we'll stick with our first choice."

Tony really shouldn't be enjoying himself this much, but the way that Vance's inner politician fought to maintain a stiff upper lip against his natural urge to gape in confused shock was such sweet payback for months of slights! Inner politician won — just barely — and Vance managed to close his mouth before his toothpick fell out. His eyes still bugged slightly, but he finally gritted out, "Outside of the behavioral unit, none of the agents in DC have a doctorate. I believe there are a few spread throughout our other units…"

O'Neill made a show of looking confused as he turned to Davis. "I did say that we had already vetted all of NCIS's employees, didn't I?"

"You did, Sir," Davis quickly assured him.

"That's what I heard," John chimed in lazilly.

"That's what I thought," O'Neill nodded. "I also said that we were taking Dr. DiNozzo, didn't I?"

"You did, Sir," Davis repeated.

"And I'm still all yours, General," Tony piped up cheekily. He loved O'Neill a little more for the way he just casually dropped his title into the mix. Vance clearly still hadn't read his entire file if he didn't realize that Tony had completed his PhD in Criminal Justice during his first few years at NCIS.

"Good, that's settled then," O'Neill said, utterly dismissing Vance. Turning to Tony, he said, "I know the standard practice at NCIS is to give you two weeks' notice before shipping out, but given the distance involved, you've got three…"

It was petty, but this was also Tony's best chance for a little revenge, and he was fairly certain that O'Neill was setting him up for exactly that. "Oh, three weeks is plenty, General. If my last deployment is any indication, at NCIS the two week notice is more of a guideline, or an outside limit, than a minimum rule." Vance had known damn well that giving Tony less than 48 hours to catch his COD flight to the Reagan was against the rules, and Tony would have been well within his rights to miss the flight and take the two weeks. However there was a difference between being in the right, and giving the man who clearly hates you an excuse to wrongfully terminate you. Now, he was going to be in a whole other galaxy, and Vance wouldn't be able to touch him, so he couldn't resist the jab.

"I see," O'Neill frowned. "Well, if you want to report in earlier, that's fine too. Now, since we're all in DC for the day, why don't you take an early lunch and show us the best place to get a steak."

"It would be my pleasure, General," Tony agreed.

"Excellent!" O'Neill stood up and then smirked evilly. "Director Vance, I expect DiNozzo to be excused from his regular duties within the week: we'll have several briefings for him to attend while certain parties are in Washington. Since you sent him out to the USS Ronald Reagan with only two day's notice, I'm sure you can replace him on that time frame again. Tony, I'm sure Paul will have a schedule for you soon—"

Tony couldn't help but laugh as Paul immediately whipped the bottom folder from his stack and handed it to Tony. The Major was the most efficient person Tony had ever met!

O'Neill chuckled. "Perfect. Now, let's eat!"

"Of course, Sir," Tony said, grabbing his folder and leading the way to the door. He held it open for the others to pass, then slipped out behind them, ignoring Vance where he still sat, fuming. As the group returned to the bullpen, Tony quickly grabbed his bag, gun, and badge from his desk. Gibbs looked at him questioningly, and Tony shrugged. "I'm assisting the General until further notice," he offered as explanation.

He'd have to swing by Gibbs's house tonight to talk to him in person and give him the rest of the news, Tony knew, but for now, he was taking O'Neill's joking command as gospel. He didn't want to be within a mile of the yard when Vance finally caught up with the situation. After a moment's thought, he quickly signed a 'V' and then 'watch your six' at Gibbs. It was one of the few ASL phrases he knew, and it would clue Gibbs in that Vance would soon be on the warpath. Gibbs nodded — message received — and Tony offered him a quick smile before ushering his Air Force guests towards the elevator.

"Oh, I almost forgot!" O'Neill said, just as the elevator arrived. "We're supposed to bring a Doctor named Ducky with us — Carson wants to catch up with him."

Tony smiled widely. Back when he'd been vetting the Atlantis team, he had wondered if Beckett might know Ducky, since they shared a home country, profession, and Alma Mater. "We'll make a small detour to pick him up," he promised, hitting the button for Autopsy instead of the ground floor. He was also grateful for O'Neill's timing — Gibbs would rest easier knowing that Ducky was alongside Tony, especially once Vance came through on a tear. Ducky might also help Tony break the news of his new assignment to Gibbs and Abby.

Jimmy and Ducky would miss him too, Tony was sure, but they'd already proved themselves capable of dealing with a long distance friendship much better than Abby or Gibbs had. Even the thought of Gibbs's coming wrath couldn't dent Tony's smile, though. He was going to Atlantis!

oOo

Tony easily kept pace with John and the Marines as they started the last lap of the route marked along the South pier. He felt a comfortable ache in his chest, but none of the burning shortness of breath that had marked his yearly fitness quals ever since the plague. That those quals were a single mile, and this lap would mark his tenth of the morning was just one more reason to be grateful to General O'Neill for plucking him off of the Reagan a year ago!

The medical healing devices that the Stargate Program was trying to introduce were nothing short short of miraculous! As long as you didn't use them more than a handful of times, you could avoid the addictive side effects easily. Tony would have gladly given most anything to have his lungs healed, and the Doctors in Cheyenne Mountain introduced him to the machine that could do it as an afterthought! Well, not entirely an afterthought, since Ducky had regaled Carson and the rest with the saga of Tony catching the plague at lunch that first day. Tony found it somewhat reassuring that, even among people who had become completely blase about aliens, a good old fashioned Earth plague could still shock them. Though after going through their rapid healing program, he thought that might have less to do with the actual plague and more the part where he had survived it without any of their fancy machines.

John admitted later that he was more freaked out that he'd almost missed his chance to reconnect with Tony, but Carson was definitely only interested in Tony for his unique blood. He'd actually accompanied them back to NCIS that afternoon so that Ducky could hand over Tony's records in person, "to keep him from leaving things out," apparently. Tony had no idea how he would explain his improvements to Ducky if he ever returned to NCIS.

Being able to chase down a suspect without pain again was just one positive side effect — being able to get rid of his inhalers, getting his fitness levels back to what they had been, and just being able to be more active were all gifts Tony was doing his best not to take for granted.

Atlantis had more than just amazing medical technology, though. The Expedition was constantly finding new secrets in the City, and Tony and Alice were making their own discoveries as well. Tony and Alice Farmer were both ATA carriers — she had been given some kind of gene therapy at Cheyenne Mountain to activate hers, but Tony's was natural and apparently quite strong, just like John's. In addition to making their jobs easier, as they could get Atlantis to open any door they wanted, they had accidentally discovered a security system far more pervasive than the cameras the Expedition had installed. With it, they were able to close several open cases, and protect key areas from sabotage by setting the system to alert them if movement was detected. Atlantis's genetic locking system also allowed them far more security in their record and evidence handling areas, since they could ban all but the members of the Unit from entry.

But the best thing about Atlantis, in Tony's mind, was John. Their timing before had been wrong in so many ways — John wanted to join the military, Tony's dad had already disowned him for being gay, they were going off to different areas of the country for college — but being on Atlantis together was completely different. With DADT repealed, John no longer had to hide his orientation, and Tony was far out from under his father's thumb. It had almost been an accident, them falling into bed together, but it had been official for two months now, and Tony couldn't be happier.

He was also surprised to find himself simply enjoying life on Atlantis. Sure, the gate teams were always at risk, the scientists nearly blew them all up every other week, and the Wraith were a constant threat, but in the City, that rarely bothered Tony. He enjoyed his morning runs with John and the Marines — who seemed to have taken in Tony as an honorary squad-mate — and he enjoyed the work he did with Alice and their team.

They had a friendly partnership, full of teasing banter that didn't aim to wound, the way Ziva's did. Each of them had their strong suits, and they complemented each other well, without the jealousy and defensiveness of McGee. And though Tony was the senior partner, with almost twice as many years of experience as Alice, he felt none of the drive to impose his rules on her that Gibbs had displayed, or that Tony had mimicked during his Mexican hiatus. Sure, no one ever liked being investigated, but he and Alice were both skilled at putting people at ease, and just like each of their stints afloat, they easily walked the line between being the law and being approachable.

And while — as a member of the Air Force — Alice was expected to be a decent shot, Tony had shocked everyone but John when he put Gibbs' training to good use on his first day at the range. Seeing John collect his winnings from Dr. Zelenka — who ran the books on Atlantis — and then count out half to Tony while Alice smirked beside them, had instantly set the tone for how they intended to approach law and order on Atlantis. They weren't there to harp on the little things, like Zelenka's bookmaking, as long as everyone stayed on the right side of fun and consensual. Tony was well aware that there had been a running book on when he would fall into bed with John, and he'd enjoyed the subtle attempts of the Marines and SEALs to question him about when it happened.

After his showing on the range, Tony had offered to set up targets on one of the piers and go head to head with the best snipers in the SEAL and Recon teams. That afternoon, his unofficial adoption into their ranks was on its way. Learning that he had trained under a Marine, and passed for one while undercover more than once also smoothed the way. Unlike normal Afloat positions, where the agent was set in opposition to the service members onboard, on Atlantis, the civilians were already treated with great respect, on account of the numerous times they'd saved everyone's bacon. Instead, the divisions tended to be drawn between Air Force and Marine/Naval, and Tony's NCIS experience was enough to have him easily claimed for their 'team'. That he could keep up with them on their 10 mile morning 'jogs' added to his acceptance.

The movies, game consoles, and various sporting equipment he'd smuggled in his personal gear hadn't hurt either. After John's description of a very boring first year, — when not running for his life, of course — Tony had made it his personal mission to bring as many movies, games, and sports as possible. John and Alice had helped, of course, and officially no one knew who had brought them. Tony had intended for them to just magically appear in the common relaxation areas, but somehow he'd been caught, and he soon found himself being thanked repeatedly. The furor had died down — especially since he'd also pushed the credit at the others — but it was just one more thing that kept Atlantis feeling like a home, and not an Afloat position where he constantly had to fight for respect in his job.

Honestly, the fantastic sex with John was just one of a dozen reasons for Tony to love being on Atlantis. The number one reason, of course, but Tony knew that if he had only come here for John, he wouldn't have been happy. Having his own place, where he was accepted for who he was, and able to do a job he loved, was something that had been lacking in Tony's life for too long. There had always been something missing, or someone making him feel bad about himself. Now, though, as the jokingly dubbed Sheriff of Atlantis, Tony had finally found the place where he belonged, and his life felt perfect.

As long as McKay or the Wraith didn't kill them all next week, of course.