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********

"So... he's back."

"Technically, Agent DiNozzo, he never retired. He had accumulated leave."

"That was information I could‛ve used." Tony had swung between so many emotions the past few days that he felt dizzy.

Director Shepard‛s face didn‛t give him any clues as to what she was thinking. "You did an excellent job, Tony, and I needed you working, not waiting for Gibbs to come over the hill and save you."

Tony was sure he‛d planned on saying something else.

"You have a choice: your own team in Rota, Spain, or you can stay on Gibbs‛ team. You have two days to make up your mind." She opened the door, gone before he could do more than frown at his choices. He stuck his hands in his pockets and went downstairs to stand in front of the huge mess on his desk. He‛d had a few fantasies where Gibbs came back, but somehow this hadn‛t been one of them.

"Looks like you‛ve been kicked to the curb, Tony," McGee said with glee in his voice.

Ziva smiled. "I am sure he is used to it."

"You guys always laugh when someone gets fired?" Tony turned away, refusing to deal with the mess and feeling no guilt for leading them astray. Their silence was sharp, and he went to get coffee. He wasn‛t surprised to see Gibbs ahead of him in line.

Gibbs noticed him, of course, but Tony wasn‛t going to fall all over himself to make nice. Tony got his coffee and found a table in the corner, relieved that Gibbs had left without a word. The director was offering him the chance of his career, so why did he feel used, like he‛d been an idiot? He took a drink, burning his tongue, and wondered if he was being a baby.

From team leader to team schmuck in one day: that was the truth of it. Everyone in the building was laughing their asses off at him. He should go to Spain to escape the laughter. No, he wasn‛t being a baby. No one would respect him after Gibbs had unceremoniously tossed him out. Tony snapped open his phone, determined to call the director and tell her that Spain would be just fine.

"Are you working at all today?" Gibbs growled, putting his boot on the chair opposite.

Tony shut his phone and met that blue gaze firmly. "I haven‛t decided. Some jackass left a disaster on my desk."

Blue eyes narrowed. "They were always my team."

"I‛m keenly aware of that." Tony wasn‛t going to ramble on about how he‛d made them his when clearly they would always prefer Gibbs. "You had me fired. I get it. It wouldn‛t have killed you to put my stuff in boxes."

"I‛m not sure I want to know what the hell you‛re talking about." Gibbs slid his foot down. "Work. Now."

Taking his coffee, Tony went with him, noticing the stares and listening carefully to the words of his co-workers.

"Good to have you back, Gibbs."

"Hey, Gibbs! Heard you put Tony in his place! Welcome back!"

"Gibbs, nice to see you. Tony‛s been getting cocky without you to keep him in line!"

Laughter, so much laughter, and it didn‛t matter that Gibbs wasn‛t joining in the fun. Tony felt like the entire NCIS was having a go at his nuts today. He put his coffee down on his desk carefully, so he didn‛t throw it, and scooped up some files to drop on the floor. Four big piles and he was done.

"McGee, can I have that box?"

McGee hesitated. "Julie likes me to return the paper boxes."

"McGee," Gibbs growled.

Tony took the box and used his arm to sweep the rest of his things in it. He set the box on the files. That had been remarkably easy. It had even felt good.

"Tony, did the director fire you?" McGee eyed the box.

"Of course not, Probie." Tony smiled falsely at him. "I just meant that before you gloat, you should investigate."

"No one is being fired, not today, unless you three keep annoying me."

Nudging the files with his foot, Tony watched a pile slide. Two days to choose. He should just go - it wasn‛t like they were going to give him a going away party or even care. Rubbing his face hard, he realized that he couldn‛t do this today. Getting up, he went to Gibbs‛ desk.

"What?"

"Since my status at NCIS is undecided, I‛m going home." Tony saw the flash of something in Gibbs‛ eyes. It could‛ve been anything from guilt to satisfaction, but it made anger curl in Tony‛s belly. "Welcome back, you bastard."

*********

Jethro stared up at him. "Thanks, DiNozzo. I already miss the tequila." He wasn‛t surprised when Tony walked away, grabbing his backpack and leaving by the stairs. Looking up, Jethro saw Jenny in her usual position, and he went to join her, ignoring McGee‛s gaping mouth and Ziva‛s speculative eyes.

"His status is undecided?"

"Tony did a superlative job while you were gone. He just needs a couple of days to make up his mind about his future." Jenny smiled. "He was right about the bastard thing."

"Well, yeah, but I didn‛t fire him." Jethro sipped his coffee. "Did you?"

"Jethro, you might‛ve spoken to him. I know diplomacy isn‛t your thing, but that." She pointed at Tony‛s desk. "Was harsh. Even for you."

Words - never Jethro‛s strong suit - failed him, and he left her there, going to Abby‛s lab. She hugged him, and he returned it. "Play the security feed from the bullpen. Right after I went for coffee." He knew he‛d missed something.

"On it, Bossman."

They watched, and Abby cringed. "That was mean. I am so gonna smack McGee!"

"Tony‛s Italian pride is taking a beating." Jethro finished his coffee and threw the cup in the trash. "I should‛ve let him punch me."

"He was good, Gibbs. Not you, of course, but he knew how to get the job done right."

"Of course he did. I trained him, and I trusted him with my team." Jethro didn‛t need anyone to tell him that Tony was good at his job. That was a given, or he‛d have been fired years ago. Memories of Tony flashed through him, and he smiled. "Tony always had my six."

Abby nodded vigorously. "He loves you."

Jethro scowled at her. "Abby."

"Oh, come on. You knew, right? It‛s not like it was any big secret. You two were practically dating before you ... ran off to Mexico." She flushed. "Wait. You don‛t remember. Well. Then. Never mind. I‛m sure it was just me being a silly girl." Her giggle didn‛t persuade him. He sat on the nearest stool and tried to remember anything in particular.

"He had started coming over more often." He was sure about that, but there weren‛t enough memories to know if she were right. "Abby, you‛re wrong."

"Tony hasn‛t had a date since you left, but don‛t you dare tell him I told you." Abby patted him on the shoulder. "Seriously, Gibbs, after you did that?" She pointed at the screen, frozen on an image of Tony‛s piled-high desk. "I‛m sure he‛s over it."

Now, he had way too much information. "Abby, I should‛ve stayed in Mexico."

********

Getting drunk seemed like the perfect solution, but he was afraid he‛d cry so he skipped it in favor of driving mindlessly until it was dark. The choice was dead easy: go to Spain and have some respect, or stay on Gibbs‛ team and be the laughingstock of the Naval Yard. The choice was going to be the hardest one he‛d ever made.

"Damn it," Tony muttered, turning the radio up louder, trying to drown out his thoughts. His phone rang through the noise, and he didn‛t have to look to know it was Gibbs. The ringtone was the Marine‛s Hymn. He nearly threw his phone out the window, but he reluctantly opened it instead.

"Turn down the music, DiNozzo!"

Tony said nothing, and he didn‛t touch the volume.

"I got pizza!"

Slamming on the brakes, Tony pulled his Mustang around and started back the other direction. "I‛ll be there in thirty."

Gibbs hung up on him, and he drove faster. He made up his mind in a flash. He‛d punch Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the mouth, and then he‛d go to Spain. Paella and pretty girls would make up for a lot.

It only took twenty minutes to get there, and he was mad as hell by the time he stormed the basement. He couldn‛t ever remember being this mad, not even at his father. Gibbs put down the box he had in his arms and met him near the stairs.

"I‛m taking the damn job! You know why?" Tony used his extra two inches to his advantage, practically slamming into him.

"Yes!" Gibbs was like a stump, not moving an inch. "Only thing left to do is punch me in the face and go pack!"

Those answers pulled him up short, and he took a quick glance around the basement, spotting the boxes and remembering the For Sale sign in the yard. "You‛re moving?"

"No." Gibbs didn‛t move back or look away. "Screwed that up too, but Franks was sick of me."

That name sent Tony right over the edge, and his punch was graceless in his fury. Gibbs didn‛t even fall down, but he leaned over, and Tony took that as a victory. Expecting a return blow, he twisted, stumbled over a box, and did a facer into the stairs. He went ahead and groaned since he had no pride left to lose.

Gibbs helped him stand, and they were eye-to-eye. "You done beating us up?"

"Yeah." Tony sank down on a step, feeling stupid. The anger bled away, leaving nothing but exhaustion behind. "Would it have killed you to call me - give me the news - not throw it all in my face?"

"I thought Jenny would. She‛s the director." Gibbs sat down next to him. "But." He looked away and then back. "I‛m sorry."

Tony saw stars, and it might‛ve been the swelling on his forehead, but he was pretty sure it was the apology. "The moustache has weakened your super powers, hasn‛t it?"

Gibbs got a sturdy hold on Tony‛s expensive shirt and pulled him up the stairs to the kitchen. They each got an ice pack and a chair.

"Ye-ow!" Tony glared and pointed at Gibbs‛ face. "That better hurt!"

Putting the ice pack on his cheekbone, Gibbs winced. "Ow."

"Oh, I feel so much better." Tony hadn‛t thought he could feel more stupid, but he did. "Why‛d you come back, Boss?"

Gibbs shrugged. "I thought I could quit. Turned out I was wrong." He stood and adjusted Tony‛s ice pack to make it hurt worse. "The director told me you did a superlative job. Not sure what that means, but it could be good."

"She didn‛t tell me about the leave. I thought you‛d retired." Tony lowered his head and put the ice pack on his neck. He felt like he‛d been beat up.

"Me too."

Tony laughed, but it was bitter tasting. He changed the subject, knowing that he would go to Spain because Gibbs didn‛t remember him - didn‛t remember what mattered to him. "Pizza?"

Getting up, Gibbs slapped the box on the table. "I guess we‛re done talking."

"Guess so." Tony flipped it open and shoved some in his mouth. "Hey, you remembered my favorite!"

"I remember lots of things." Gibbs grabbed his own piece. "But some stuff, I got nothing. I was sorta hoping you‛d clue me in along the way."

Swallowing before pizza dropped out, Tony watched his plan made in anger, hurt, and disappointment go down in flames. "Boss, everyone down to the janitor is laughing his ass off at me."

"I‛m not." Jethro got up and opened the fridge. He handed Tony a beer before sitting down again. "I can‛t make you stay."

"Sure as hell can‛t." Tony drained about half his beer without coming up for air. It must‛ve sparked his brain into working. "Are you telling me you want me to stay?"

"You‛re leaving?" Gibbs looked grim.

Tony‛s brain ground to a halt, and he put most of a piece of pizza in his mouth to cover the fact that he had no idea what to say. He was glad when Gibbs started eating again. It was a damn shame they ran out of pizza and beer.

"I‛m going to the basement. You coming?"

And just like that, Tony knew there was no paella in his future. "I left a huge mess on my desk," he said with a groan.

"Help me unload a few boxes, and then we‛ll go fix it." Gibbs extended his hand. "I made the mess. I‛ll help clean it up."

Latching on to him was so easy, and Tony never wanted to let go. Getting to his feet, he kept hold of him. "You sure, Boss?"

For an answer, Gibbs dragged him to the basement.

*********

Coffee was a necessity on nights he didn‛t sleep, and he wouldn‛t tonight. He got two, ignoring Tony‛s laughter, and they went through security together.

"Late night, huh?"

"Trying to catch up." Jethro hustled upstairs, before some security guard said something to piss Tony off.

Tony hesitated once they were in the bullpen. "You don‛t have to help."

"Yeah. I know." Jethro picked up the box and thumped it on Tony‛s desk. "But you‛ll call me a bastard to my face every day for another week, and I‛d rather skip it."

"Okay, so I was mad!" Tony dug in the box, producing a bottle of Tylenol. "Two or four?"

"Two." Jethro swallowed quickly and chased them with coffee. "What the hell is all this stuff?"

"Case files."

"File them somewhere besides your desk!" Jethro laughed softly. He weathered the glare. "Well, you can‛t put them with my case files."

"Yeah, they might breed or something when we shut the drawer." Tony sighed loudly at his lame joke. "I only keep cold cases in those filing cabinets."

Jethro went to get McGee‛s chair, sitting down to drink his coffee. "I know. Admit it, you were going to box them up and forgot."

Tony sat down in his own chair. "You see, if I‛d had a me, the job would be done, because I always did it for you."

"And you never resented it." Jethro tapped a pile to watch it fall. "I‛ll get the boxes."

"I‛ll start putting them in alphabetical order." Tony rubbed his forehead. "From now on-"

"You make Ziva do it. She‛s low man on the totem pole." Jethro would make sure of it. "I‛ll be right back." He knew where they kept the case boxes, and he thought two would be enough. He hadn‛t been gone that long.

They sat across from each other at Tony‛s desk, two boxes meant the alphabet was cut in half, and Jethro took all the letters after L. He couldn‛t resist reading a few of them and making comments. Tony didn‛t seem to mind, recounting stories and problems the team had faced.

"You were shot?"

"Just nicked me in the arm." Tony pointed to his forearm. "Hurt like hell, but of course Ziva said I was a wimp."

"Compared to her, we all are."

They laughed together, and Jethro filed one away. "Can I say ‛Franks‛ without getting punched?"

"If you gotta." Tony wouldn‛t look at him.

"He‛s pissed I didn‛t build him a hot tub." Jethro wasn‛t sure why he wanted to talk about it. "I had to rebuild the entire house, if you could call it that, more of a shack."

Tony gave him a cautious look. "Sounds like paradise."

"The beer was good." Jethro leaned back in McGee‛s chair. "McGee gave you trouble?"

"Nope," Tony lied, and he did it well. "If I were you, I‛d be worried about Ducky. He had issues with you leaving."

Jethro rubbed his cheek to make it hurt. "I did notice a Scottish chill in the air." He‛d deal with it. Ducky wasn‛t the kind of man to hold a grudge forever. Jethro heartily regretted being blown up, both times. "It was like yesterday. Them dying. I nearly went crazy. Again."

"Grief sucks." Tony had a way with words. He handed him three files, keeping his face turned away, and Jethro realized that Tony was giving him room to grieve without any shame attached. Jethro drank the last of his coffee and put the files away correctly. He had grieved for so many years that he didn‛t know how to do anything else. Shannon was somewhere rolling her eyes and telling him to get on with his life, but he‛d always been shit for listening.

"Tell me about Agent Lee? She any good?" He filed and listened to what Tony didn‛t say about her more than what he said. "And Director Shepard? Is she still after The Frog?"

Tony glanced at the security camera. "Hell hath no fury ..."

"Got it." Jethro would find out where that stood sooner rather than later. He grabbed the last pile and handed Tony half. "Who are you dating?"

"All this talk is freaking me out." Tony leaned away from him. "Did Franks ignore you all those months?"

"He talks a lot when he‛s drunk." Jethro would never admit that he‛d missed his team, his friends, but he had. "Did you and Ziva?" He made a rude gesture.

"Boss!" Tony jerked up very straight. "No!"

"Good. I‛d hate to fire her." Jethro would enforce rule twelve in their case. He tossed Tony a file and went back to sorting. Checking his watch, he said, "More coffee soon."

"Maybe an IV full of it."

Jethro stretched his back, hated McGee‛s chair, and got up to shove it back under McGee‛s desk. Returning to his box, he moved behind Tony‛s desk, sat on the floor, and leaned against the filing cabinet. For a minute, he shut his eyes. When he opened them, Tony was staring at him.

"What?"

"I missed you," Tony whispered. He clearly didn‛t want to say it.

There was no way that Jethro was going to lie to him. "Sorry about that." And he was. Tony dropped some files in Jethro‛s lap and mumbled something about slackers. Jethro went back to sorting. "Abby thinks we‛re dating."

Tony flashed to his feet and promptly fell over some files. He didn‛t get up right away, and Jethro patted him on the ass.

"You didn‛t use to be this clumsy, DiNozzo."

"You didn‛t use to talk to me!" Tony struggled up but didn‛t return to his chair. He pulled all the files to the floor and sat cross-legged, close enough to touch. "She does not!"

Laughing was easy. "Were we?"

"No!" Tony sounded sincere. "We watched a couple of movies, ate some food, and I slept in the guest room a few times, but-" His eyes grew wild. "Oh God, we were dating."

"Sounds that way." Jethro tossed a file at him. "It‛s hazy for me. I remember us in the basement. You were bitching about the Weather Channel, and I was drinking bourbon."

After a long moment of silence, Tony met Jethro‛s eyes. "I knew you didn‛t remember."

"I was blown up." Jethro wasn‛t going to apologize for it, and he wasn‛t going to beg Tony to stick around. Tony would or wouldn‛t. His choice. Jethro was willing to say, "We could watch them again."

"We could." Tony smiled, and it was the big, honest one. "I‛ll go get coffee."

"I‛ll keep working. No wonder McGee grumbled all the time." Jethro laughed in the face of the glare that Tony gave him before leaving. His gut told him that Tony wasn‛t going anywhere, no matter what job the director offered him.

********

Food was required if they were going to pull an all-nighter, and Tony loaded up. He still felt a bit shell-shocked by all the talking Gibbs was doing, but it was possible the moustache was affecting him, making him chatty. Or it might‛ve been the bomb. Whatever, Tony intended to enjoy it, and he sprawled back on the floor, near him.

"Tell me about this case where Ziva shot someone in the eye."

"That was gross." Tony handed him coffee. "In her defense, she did warn the guy like four times that she was going to shoot him."

Gibbs leaned enough to grab a sandwich. "You didn‛t fire your weapon?"

"I didn‛t have a shot from my angle. McGee fired twice, missed the guy clean." Tony started eating, talking around his food. "Agent Lee lost her lunch on his shoes. I have pictures somewhere."

"Probies." Gibbs chuckled softly. "Remember when McGee lost his breakfast on Ducky‛s shoes?"

Tony laughed, wishing he‛d gotten pictures of that. "I threw up after my first homicide, but I‛m proud to say I made it to the toilet. No shoes were harmed."

"That does get you bonus points." Gibbs took the offered chips. "I puked during basic training when one of my fellow Marines was killed on the firing range. Gun misfired, exploded like a bomb, blew a hole in his chest big enough to stick your fist in."

"NCIS investigated?"

Gibbs nodded. "Ruled it accidental, but the sergeant in charge was transferred out. I learned a hard lesson about the proper care of weapons."

Tony drank some soda, fascinated by a talkative Gibbs. "Remember the meat puzzle? I about barfed that time. It was the smell."

"That woman was crazy. Did you know she died in prison?"

"No kidding?" Tony wasn‛t surprised that Gibbs had followed her case. "Somebody shank her?"

"She just couldn‛t keep her opinions to herself." Gibbs tucked a file away. "Five holes in her chest."

"Ouch." Tony put another file away after finishing his sandwich. They were nearly done, and he was almost sad about it. "Maybe Ducky hired it done."

Gibbs grinned. "More my style." His grin turned into a dangerous smirk, and Tony decided it was time to change the subject.

"New employee handbook came out while you were gone. McGee read it twice. Ziva used hers for knife practice." Tony had put his in the bottom drawer of what was now Gibbs‛ desk. It was presumably still there. "No more shutting down the elevator."

"You have got to be kidding me." Gibbs glared over his coffee cup.

"Nope." Tony had laughed about it. "You‛re always making trouble."

Gibbs snorted. "Too many damn security cameras."

Tony put his last file away, hesitating to get up. He checked the time - groaned at five a.m. - and started putting more coffee in his system. "Gonna build another boat?"

"I usually do." Gibbs had one more file, and he opened it. With his attention on that, Tony took the time to really look at him. Gibbs was ... Tony tilted his head and couldn‛t quite figure it out. There was a difference, more than the hair on Gibbs‛ lip. Gibbs looked up, eyes sharp. "What?"

"You‛re different, not sure how." To hide his embarrassment, Tony reached up high, grabbed a magic marker and wrote on the boxes in big letters. DiNozzo‛s Cases. He added a date and a smiley face.

"My brain is swiss cheese?" Gibbs pointed down at the file. "You should‛ve blown this guy away."

Scooting close, Tony leaned to see which guy he should‛ve blown away. "Oh." He sat back, their shoulders rubbing. "Ziva was pissed about that, but the guy had lost his wife. He wasn‛t thinking straight. Turned out his gun wasn‛t loaded. He wanted us to kill him."

"Your gut tell you not to shoot him?"

"That, and I could see there wasn‛t a clip. Good eyes, remember?" Tony took it from him and filed it away. Slapping the lids on the boxes, he shoved them away. "I‛ll take them down to storage later."

"Let‛s do it now." Gibbs got up by bracing his hand on Tony‛s shoulder. "Damn knee," he muttered. Picking up a box, he waited. "Today, DiNozzo."

"Sorry, Boss." Tony could still feel where Gibbs‛ hand had rested. The elevator seemed smaller than usual, and he practically gasped when Gibbs turned it off. Tony blurted, "Not only is that against regulations, but you‛ve never done it before and I‛m scared."

Gibbs gave him the patented eye roll. It was a thing of beauty, and Tony had practiced his in the mirror but never achieved such success. Gibbs put his boot on the box. "I trusted you with my team. Thanks for taking care of them."

Tony clicked his jaw shut after his brain processed the fact that he looked like an idiot. Dropping his box, he managed to ask, "Should we hug now?"

"If you want." Gibbs yanked him close and hugged him hard; his hand carded up into Tony‛s hair, holding him. A tiny sob - it was small - broke out of Tony‛s throat, and he might‛ve clutched him harder than was necessary. Gibbs muttered, "You did good, Tony."

"Thanks." Tony held on until he felt the subtle shift in muscles. Then he pulled back, looking everywhere but Jethro‛s blue eyes. Then it struck him that he‛d actually thought the name ‛Jethro‛ instead of ‛Gibbs.' It was probably the power of the moustache.

Jethro - Jethro? - snapped on the elevator, and Tony vainly searched for something to babble about that would make him feel less awkward. He was still thinking when they got down to record-keeping.

"Hey, Tony! Gibbs!"

Pretty sure, he was cringing, Tony put the box up on the counter. "Hi, Steve."

"Heard you got canned, Tony." Steve handed him the usual paperwork. "This must be the last of it."

"Steve, you shouldn‛t listen to gossip," Jethro said with a hint of steel in his voice. "I‛m going for coffee."

"Sure, Boss." Tony filled out the sheets in record time.

"He punch you?"

"No."

"You punch him?"

"No."

Steve laughed in obvious disbelief, and Tony couldn‛t wait for the next wave of rumors that were going to hit NCIS in approximately two hours. Signing it fast, he headed straight for the nearest restroom to assess the damage. He stared, winced, and then touched the lump on his forehead.

"Damn. I look like someone hit me with a board." Now that he was looking at it, it hurt. He groaned and went to closest first aid kit to find an ice pack. Popping it, he went to his desk to sit with his head back. He‛d also pray that the swelling was gone within the hour. He fell asleep like that.

*********

A shower, a shave, some clean clothes, the strongest coffee known to man, and Jethro headed back to work. It wasn‛t that he was tired, but he could feel his insides churning from too much emotion. Holding Tony had felt right, felt good, and he could believe that he‛d wanted it before he‛d been blown up. He wasn‛t sure how he‛d forgotten it, but he knew it now. If he were lucky, Tony would cut him some slack.

There was no way Jethro would ask for it. His first clue that he was going to hate the day came in the elevator. It was the looks they were giving him, expecting something, almost staring. Every floor, someone got off, got on, and it was the same.

He was feeling surly by the time he got off at his floor, and his first sight was of Tony, fast asleep at his desk with an ice pack on his head. Ziva and McGee were giggling like preschoolers, until they saw him. They scrambled to look busy, and he peeled the ice pack of Tony‛s forehead. The lump was impressive, and he tossed the warm ice pack at McGee.

"Get him another one."

"Will do, Boss."

"I‛m awake. I swear," Tony mumbled.

"Come on. Let‛s get you to Ducky." Jethro helped him up, taking the cold ice pack from McGee at the back elevator. "Put that on."

Tony did, grumbled about ow, and went with him. "It‛s barely noticeable, right?"

"Right." Jethro kept his hand under Tony‛s arm until he was sure Tony was steady on his feet. Ducky was already in, and he met them at the door.

"I heard rumors before I got off the elevator that you two had been in a fight. I can see they‛re not far off!"

"It wasn‛t like that." Jethro helped Tony sit on a table. "Lie back."

"Anyone ever tell you these tables are cold?" Tony asked.

"My patients rarely complain." Ducky took the ice pack. "Whatever did you hit him with? A part of your boat?"

"No!" Jethro wasn‛t going to stick around for the examination.

"And you, Agent Gibbs, take a seat! I‛ll make sure your cheekbone isn‛t cracked!" Ducky pointed at the other table.

"It‛s not," Jethro said and left them there. He had to stop this train wreck, and he wasn‛t sure how. Going back to the bullpen, he stopped to listen.

"If the director had offered Tony his own team, we would have heard about it. Tony would‛ve shouted it from the rooftop." That was McGee.

"If Tony was fired, why is he here?" Ziva asked.

"Tony‛s been demoted. He‛s not good enough for his own team, and if he calls me Probie one more time, he‛s going to have another knot on his head."

Jethro leaned over McGee‛s partition, making them both jump. Ziva bolted to her desk, but McGee was trapped.

"McGee, you‛re a smart guy, but you‛re acting stupid."

McGee turned red and that lower lip pushed out.

"And you know what my first partner still calls me?" Jethro hoped his scorn was coming through loud and clear. His phone picked that moment to ring, and he said, "Yeah, Gibbs."

********

"I recommend you go home and rest," Ducky said. "And learn to duck."

"Ducky." Tony took by the arm, trying to look honest. "I fell. I really did."

"And Jethro‛s cheek?"

"Oh, that was me, and he didn‛t even fall down so I think he‛s okay." Tony flushed. "It was stupid."

"It certainly was." Ducky handed him the ice pack. "Tylenol as needed. Be grateful your head isn‛t cracked."

Tony‛s phone rang. "DiNozzo."

"Get Ducky and Palmer. We have a case."

"Where?"

"McGee is sending it. Are you going home?"

Tony hesitated, not sure what he was doing. "I‛ll ride with Ducky. Maybe they won‛t get lost for a change."

"Good enough." Jethro hung up.

Ducky was already changing, and Palmer had the keys in his hand. Tony hurried upstairs to get his backpack, put on his jacket quickly, and caught up with them. He drove, and they were only about ten minutes behind the team.

Unsure, wondering what the hell he was doing, he jogged over to Jethro and took up a position at his right shoulder.

"DiNozzo, shoot and sketch. "

"On it, Boss." Tony had to push aside his urge to take control, to lead, but if he were honest, it was Jethro, and stepping aside for him was second nature. McGee and Ziva kept looking at him, but they weren‛t talking, and for once, Tony didn‛t know what to say, and jokes weren‛t going to fly. He worked, and he bit off questions or orders that wanted out, and if he slipped up a few times, well, it wasn‛t entirely his fault.

Jethro didn‛t smack him, and Tony was grateful because his head hurt. Jethro‛s cheek had been swollen and red, but it faded to a bruise, and Tony refused to feel guilty about it. Not much. Okay, some, but he‛d been provoked. That got him to thinking, and the idea that the director had intentionally left him out of the loop was an ugly one. Had she wanted him humiliated?

"Tony!"

Tony turned. "What?" He caught the tossed keys, stared down at them for a second, and then shrugged. It was his team, and paella couldn‛t compare. Jethro left in his car, but Tony took one more look around the crime scene to make sure they hadn‛t missed anything before getting in the van.

"Purely from professional interest, did he use his fist or elbow?" Ziva asked.

McGee shook his head. "Knee is my bet. Abby has money on Gibbs‛s head."

"I‛m starting to hate you people." Tony looked in the review mirror and winced. He threw it into gear and drove much faster than usual, pulling a Gibbs more than once and ignoring McGee‛s complaints. After parking in the garage, he said, "Check in the evidence, McGee."

"I don‛t have to follow your orders anymore!" McGee huffed out a breath. "You don‛t have a team, and rumor is you won‛t ever have a team."

Ziva was the one who looked Tony in the eye. She shrugged. "You owe us the truth."

"I don‛t owe you two anything, but this?" Tony pointed at his forehead. "Was me being clumsy and banging my head on Gibbs‛ stairs. Then we had pizza. Now, I‛m going to go do my job. I suggest you morons do the same." He slammed the door in their stunned faces and headed for the elevator.

When it opened, Jethro stepped out. "Is McGee checking in the evidence?" he asked as he walked by.

"Ask him," Tony growled and fled to his desk to process the pictures and finish his sketches. He hunkered down, but it didn‛t last. The phone on his desk rang, and he knew what that meant. He pushed the speaker button. "DiNozzo."

"The director would like to see you now."

"On my way." Tony kept his hat on in what he knew was a futile attempt to cover the lump on his forehead. He was waved right inside, and he tried to look as if he didn‛t have a care in the world. "Director?"

She smiled, and it worried him. "How are you, Tony?"

"Pretty good." He wasn‛t sure whether to sit or stand. "You?" It was lame to ask.

"Better than you." She pointed at his head. "Do I need to press charges against Special Agent Gibbs?"

Tony took off his hat and brushed his hair back. "I wish people would believe I fell down, because I did. He would never hit a man in the forehead. The jaw, the face, yes, but the forehead? I tripped and fell. It happens."

Her eyes were wide. "So he should press charges against you?"

"If he wants." He didn‛t look away from that truth. "Anything else?"

"Sit down."

He sat. "Thanks."

"Spain?" She cut right to the heart of his problem.

"I thought I could, but, Director, he‛s not a hundred percent. He needs help, and that‛s me." He hoped he wasn‛t saying too much.

"You‛re aware that a chance like this might not come again for years?"

"I am." Tony couldn‛t go. He couldn‛t walk away. "I‛m willing to wait, do it right."

"Sometimes I wish I‛d taken the slower path. You may get farther." Her smile wasn‛t reassuring, but Tony wasn‛t worried about going anywhere. What he wanted was to stay on Jethro‛s six. She leaned forward now, pulling a file from her desk drawer, and he got a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"The surveillance team has made their final report. I think we‛re ready for the next step."

He took the offered file, flipping through the pictures quickly. "She‛s beautiful."

"She‛s his daughter, and I want you to get close to her." The director‛s intent was clear. "Date her. Find out what she knows about her father. I have a feeling that she‛s the way to him."

Tony was sure he could do it. It was the next logical step in the op they‛d begun a month ago. "I‛m not in charge of the team any longer."

"This op is need to know, and Special Agent Gibbs doesn‛t need to know." Her eyes were sharp. "You‛ll report to me, only me."

McGee‛s insults rang in Tony‛s ears and he nearly agreed just to prove that he was the better agent. Taking a deep breath, he saw from the last picture that she was a doctor. "Is she dating anyone?"

"They just broke up. She‛s ... vulnerable."

The word made Tony think of Jethro, and he stared at her. "You didn‛t tell me about Gibbs‛ being made team leader again. Why?"

"I was sure he‛d call you." Her eye twitched, not much, but enough, and he saw the lie. She‛d done it to drive a wedge between them. To make sure that Tony would take this op. He shut the file and considered it all again. Slowly, he handed it to her.

"I can‛t." He couldn‛t miss her swift anger. "I‛m involved with someone, and I‛m afraid I couldn‛t pull it off. If she‛s a doctor, she‛s smart, and I‛m, well, not. Find an agent with a degree in something besides Phys. Ed."

Her eyes practically shot lasers at him. "You can do this. We‛ll set up a cover so deep that no one can penetrate it."

The obsession in the set of her jaw honestly frightened him. "I‛ll do it on one condition. Tell Gibbs. Get him to handle it. He‛s the best agent we have at undercover."

"No!" She yanked open a drawer and shoved the file in it, slamming it shut. "You haven‛t done yourself any favors today, Agent DiNozzo."

"I‛m sorry, Director. It could be the head injury." He gave her a very false smile. "Ducky said I should go home."

"Do that!"

"Yes, ma‛am." Tony put on his hat and tried to leave with some dignity, but he was sure he failed when everyone in the bullpen had to pretend they weren‛t watching him come down the stairs. He stopped in front of Jethro‛s desk.

"Well, DiNozzo?"

"The director wants to know if you‛re going to file assault charges against me, and she sent me home." Tony had never once walked out in the middle of a case, and he didn‛t want to start today. "Can I disobey her?"

"No. Go home. Ducky said you were a road hazard. You can annoy McGee tomorrow." Jethro didn‛t look at him, and Tony wanted it, wanted some reassurance that he hadn‛t just thrown his career away. Jethro looked up, eyes wide. "What are you waiting for? Go!"

"Yes, Boss." Tony made sure that McGee had the pics and sketches, tucked a few things in his desk, grabbed his backpack, and left the building. They‛d come over in Jethro‛s car, so he caught a cab to his car and then went home. His apartment was the same as he‛d left, but he was a far different man than the one who had lived here previously. He shucked his clothes, took a shower, and went to bed with an ice pack, secure in the knowledge that he was screwed.

********

They worked the case, and it was barely possible that he rode McGee‛s ass hard. They didn‛t catch a break before quitting time, and he made a point to go see Abby. She hugged him hard and then slugged him.

"Everyone says you‛re pressing charges against Tony!"

"Do you have any idea how much I hate gossip?" Jethro glared at her. "Anything else?"

"Only that the director fired him."

"Oh? Is that all?" Jethro rubbed his face, testing the pain. It still hurt. "Neither are true. I hope." He wasn‛t sure about the last one. "I‛m going to go check on him."

She wiggled her eyebrows at him. "Can I tell everyone?"

"No!" He gave her the Caf-Pow anyway. "Go home. We‛ll hit it hard tomorrow."

"We‛ll see." She smirked, and he made it as far as the elevator before Jenny ambushed him. He waited for her to say something, and it didn‛t take long.

"Special Agent DiNozzo punched you."

"That he did." He wasn‛t going to bother lying. "You blame him?"

"No. You definitely earned it, but I can‛t look the other way when my agents brawl." She puffed up into her director‛s face. "I‛ll have to put a reprimand in his jacket."

He stopped the elevator. "And mine too."

"He claims he fell, after punching you. I believe him." She frowned. "That is what happened?"

"Is it?" Jethro was going to kick Tony‛s ass for telling the truth. "I thought he punched me, I tripped him, and he hit his head. At least, it looked that way from where I was standing."

Her eyes narrowed. "You want one too?"

"I want you to cut the crap. We were both off-duty, and what happened is no one‛s business. And for the record, do not send one of my agents home in the middle of a case again!"

She reached and snapped the elevator back on. "That‛s against policy now. Maybe too much tequila made you forget who‛s the head of this agency!"

"Oh, I remember that." Jethro exited as soon as the doors opened. He told McGee and Ziva to go home, gathered his things, and went to his car. It didn‛t take long to get to Tony‛s place, glad he remembered the way. Picking the lock, he let himself inside, relieved to see Tony stretched out on his bed.

"Would it kill you to wear boxers?" Jethro asked.

"They get all twisted," Tony mumbled. "It‛s kinda sad that I knew it was you from the sound of the lock pick."

Jethro laughed softly, believing it. "You sure got the director‛s panties in a bunch. Mind telling me what happened?"

Tony stayed on his stomach but he opened his eyes. "She wanted me to help her run an op. I said no. I probably flushed my career down the toilet."

Shrugging off his coat, Jethro took the time to think it all through. "The Frog."

"Yeah." Tony yawned. "I‛ve been lying here for hours, trying to sleep, failing, and wishing I were more of a toadie." He pushed up to one elbow. "She after you?"

"Threatened us with a reprimand." Jethro wasn‛t worried about one more added to his stack. "She‛ll get over it eventually."

"The case?" Tony sounded worried, and that made Jethro proud of him again. Jethro made sure all the locks were thrown, not just the one he‛d picked, pushed off his shoes, and went to sit on the bed. He leaned against the headboard and shut his eyes until Tony nudged him.

"We‛ll get him." Jethro didn‛t hide his yawn. He woke up hours later, wrapped around the backside of Tony, who was under the covers. Jethro was on top of the covers, but it was obvious that he‛d done the curling. Tony snored, and sneaking away was probably the right thing to do. Edging even closer and smelling the back of Tony‛s neck was definitely a bad idea. Tony had showered, and Jethro had to take a minute to think.

If he did this, there would be no going back to Mexico. If he gave in to these feelings, he‛d have to admit to himself that there was one person in this world who he loved like he loved Shannon. It was a lot to swallow before coffee.

"Boss?"

"Thinking." Jethro couldn‛t decide whether to let go or snake his hand underneath. "You scared?"

"Yes. No. Maybe?" Tony got an arm out from the covers and reached back to grip him by the thigh. "We‛ve come this far, and it feels like all the way, even if you‛re still dressed."

Jethro wasn‛t the kind of man to complain about the truth. He rolled to the edge of the bed and stripped off his clothes, sure that Tony watched. Getting under the covers took more courage than facing an automatic weapon fire. It was a good thing that Tony made a soft sigh, or Jethro might‛ve sat there waiting forever.

Their eyes met, both swallowed hard, and Jethro quit trying to talk himself out of it.

********

It felt as if his heart was going to pound its way out of his chest, and breathing deep wasn‛t an option because as soon as Jethro touched him; his lungs stopped working. Other parts, down lower, were doing fine, but his head felt like it might spin right off.

"Are you breathing?"

"I don‛t think so," Tony wheezed. He gulped, sucked some skin on Jethro‛s neck until he got smacked on the head, and that helped him stop twirling. There were so many things he wanted to do, but their bodies were pressed together, and Jethro was moving, and it all felt so good. Tony groaned, pushing up into him and trying to touch all of him at once before he was told to stop.

Jethro leaned back a little, grasped both their cocks in his hand and pumped. The sight was enough to send Tony over the edge, and he would‛ve blushed but there was no blood left for his face and Jethro came three seconds later. Tony counted. Jethro sank down on him, sliding to the side, and they rested together, breathing hard. Tony wanted to say something profound or intelligent.

"Wow."

Laughing, Jethro slapped him lightly on the thigh but said nothing. Tony tried again, "Shower?"

"Yeah." Jethro tugged Tony‛s ear and scooted off the bed. "Coffee. Work."

"When do you start forming complete sentences?" Tony didn‛t have a coffee pot, but he was afraid to tell him. Jethro came back, grasped him firmly by the arm, and took him to the shower. Tony laughed - nervously - and found some extra towels. "Not sure I want to go to work."

Now Jethro glared at him. Tony backpedaled fast. "Everyone-"

"Is wrong," Jethro interrupted him. "Do your job. I‛ll handle the rest."

"Can I make fun of McGee?"

"No. Don‛t talk to him. At all." Jethro pushed him under the water. "I mean that."

"Okay." Tony used lots of soap and shared his bubbles. Jethro only smacked him on the ass once, and he sorta liked it. Once they were out, and Jethro was dressed again; he demanded coffee. Tony spread his hands helplessly. "I don‛t own a coffee pot!"

"How the hell is that possible?" Jethro looked at his watch and then prowled over to him. Tony ducked on reflex, but Jethro only ran his hand along Tony‛s forehead. It still hurt, but it was better.

"I‛ll see you at work. Don‛t be late."

"I won‛t, Boss." Tony skimmed his fingers across Jethro‛s cheekbone. "Sorry about that."

"My fault." Jethro spun on his heel, out the door within seconds, and Tony locked it. He‛d buy a coffee pot after work. He pushed aside his usual suits and dressed more casually. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal and toast, and then he headed for his car. There was a note under the windshield wiper.

Buy a damn coffee maker!

Tony smiled, putting the note in his pocket to help him through the day. Everyone was either laughing at him or actively hating him, and that‛s why he went to see Abby first. She hugged him hard, and he tried not to sigh into her hair.

"Don‛t worry, Tony. Everything will be fine."

"Right." Tony couldn‛t see that happening soon. "Who‛s running the betting pool on the moustache?"

"Palmer." Abby‛s eyes twinkled. "I have two weeks."

"I‛ll go there next." Tony got down to business. "Catch me up on the case."

She did, in elaborate detail, and he let her ramble. He was behind on this one, but he trusted Jethro to keep him in the loop. Abby finally put her hands on her hips. "I‛m going to need caffeine."

He grinned. "I‛m sure some will come your way soon. I gotta run." He beat it up to his desk, getting there right before the time clock ticked over into dangerous territory.

"How is your head, Tony?"

"Fine." Tony smiled at Ziva. "What‛s your take on the case?"

Her eyes widened, but she willingly talked until he was ready for her to quit. She didn‛t, but he made a few notes to keep her happy. His email box was full, and he was starting to wish that he had coffee when the elevator dinged.

Jethro had coffee for everyone, and Tony could sense the amazement. He couldn‛t help but wonder if they‛d thank him if they knew the coffee was a result of Jethro getting laid. With a silly smirk on his face, he happened to glance over at McGee.

The glare was incredible.

"Okay, where are we?"

McGee rushed to answer, tripping over his own words, expounding on nothing at all, and finally Jethro shut him up by saying, "Ziva?"

"I have nothing."

Tony admired her honesty.

"Tony?"

"He doesn‛t know the case, Boss," McGee growled.

"McGee, shut it," Jethro snapped.

Wincing, Tony managed two words. "Speed dating?" From there, he sat back and let them tear him apart until they were convinced he was stupid beyond belief. At that point, Jethro glared them all into silence.

"Let‛s set it up."

They did, and Ziva wore the ugliest glasses ever seen, and the moustache was damn annoying. They also caught the guy, saved the girl, and Tony hadn‛t spoken one word to McGee in two days. It was making Tony crazy, but Jethro had made it clear not to and reinforced his point at least twice in a stolen moment of privacy.

It was late when Tony sat down to do his report, but he was too wired to consider going home. Everyone had scattered, and he was glad for the time to catch his breath. He‛d made it through the first case without too much trouble. There was some small measure of hope for his future.

"Tony, I want you to reconsider my offer."

"Director." Tony flinched in surprise. He felt like a deer caught in headlights, blinking up at her. "I can‛t, and I don‛t think she‛d fall for me. No one ever does. Oh, I‛m good for a one nighter, but no one, and I mean no one, sticks around. This kind of op is going to need a time investment, and I have yet to meet the person who wants to invest in me."

"You mean woman. You said ‛person,' but you meant woman."

"Right." Tony felt a small amount of sweat break out on his forehead. He‛d almost screwed up even bigger. "Women don‛t fall in love with me."

"Are you throwing a pity party?" Her smirk was clear to see.

"No, ma‛am. I don‛t want to ruin this opportunity for you. Is there any indication that she has regular contact with her father?"

"No, but there‛s no way she‛s oblivious to his operation. She could be our way inside!"

Tony leaned back in his chair, trying for words that wouldn‛t sound rude. "The Frog is smart. I doubt he‛d let his own daughter bring him down. She‛s either under his watchful eye, or she knows nothing, or both."

"Tony--"

"Am I interrupting something?" Jethro‛s voice cut across the bullpen, sharp and clear.

Her spine stiffened, and Tony shrugged. "Thank you, ma‛am."

"You‛re welcome, Agent DiNozzo." She marched away, without a word to Jethro, and Tony took a shallow breath. He wasn‛t doing it, and he didn‛t think she‛d fire him over it.

Jethro was suddenly there, looming over him. "I invested in you."

Tony flashed his big smile. "Thanks for saying that."

"I‛m going to work on my boat." Jethro made a show of checking the time.

"You don‛t have a boat, Boss," Tony said.

"Not yet. Don‛t be too long here, DiNozzo."

"I promise, Boss." Tony watched him leave, hoping the director wouldn‛t come back. She didn‛t, and he fiddled with his report, knowing that he‛d finish it on Monday. His decision to leave was pushed up a couple of hours when McGee got off the elevator. Tony quickly shut down his computer and gathered his things. He didn‛t make it because McGee moved to stand in his way.

"Abby says I‛m acting like an ass."

"I‛d listen to her, Tim." Tony would call him Probie later. "She‛s usually right."

"You were so damn arrogant!"

"You knew I was - am. You could‛ve transferred off my team any time you wanted. We‛ve been partners a long time, but I‛m starting to wonder if you have my back." Tony hefted his backpack. "I‛ll catch you later." He went to the elevator, and McGee didn‛t stop him or say anything. Tony drove to Jethro‛s house, going right inside and down the stairs. He handed Jethro a fresh coffee and slid up to sit on the workbench. Jethro took a long drink before gently swatting him on the leg.

"Thanks."

"McGee got in my face before I left." Tony had to tell him. "Called me arrogant, which is pretty accurate. I told him that I‛m not sure he has my back, and Boss, I‛m not sure McGee has my back. Maybe I should move to another team."

The smack to the back of his head came fast. "Hey!"

"I told you not to talk to him." Jethro drank more coffee. "He needed to work it out."

"In the meantime, I hope I don‛t need him to back me up!" Tony picked up a tool to play with, but Jethro took it away from him. Jethro reached, and Tony ducked, but the hand stroked gently down Tony‛s neck.

"I promise you that McGee has your back." Jethro turned and leaned against the bench. After another drink, he said, "I need a boat."

"Argh, matey." Tony rubbed his hand down Jethro‛s back, hoping it wouldn‛t get him killed. "Hey, let‛s buy one."

"What fun is that?" Jethro gripped Tony‛s knee. "I gotta go buy wood."

"Oh, talk sexy to me." Tony moved his arm to drape it around Jethro‛s shoulders. "I‛m not sleeping on the boat with you."

Jethro chuckled, still working on his coffee. "We‛ll see. First, I‛ll get some plans."

"I‛m strangely aroused by all this." Tony was aroused by everything Jethro did, but that was a secret. Jethro moved to stand between Tony‛s legs. Tony dipped his head, and they kissed. The moustache felt weird, and for a first kiss, it was clumsy, lacking finesse or grace. He nearly messed his pants. "I didn‛t think you‛d kiss me."

"Most the time, you don‛t think." Jethro smirked and kissed him again. Tony knew he‛d lost the battle. He‛d sleep on the boat, anywhere, as long as Jethro was there. Jethro left him groaning, going for the stairs, and Tony chased after him, all the way to the bed.

********

The tension between McGee and Tony was beginning to annoy the hell out of him. It‛d been a week, and they still weren‛t talking. Tony kept his head down, working and avoiding any of his usual hi-jinks. He should probably get a medal for restraint. McGee talked non-stop, trying to impress. And Ziva was one huge smirk, enjoying the show. There was not enough coffee to make it better, and he couldn‛t hide in Abby‛s lab forever.

"Bossman, you‛re freaking me out. Go away. Please."

He stopped pacing. "I need coffee."

"Why are you here then?" She turned and pointed at him. "You‛re avoiding your team!"

"Lots of coffee." He had to escape Abby now before she started asking questions. Swinging through the bullpen, he had no trouble seeing the glare McGee was giving Tony. Tony, for his part, was leaned back in his chair, totally quiet, pencil balanced on his nose. He wasn‛t asleep.

"Meditating again, DiNozzo?"

"More like sleeping," McGee growled.

"Okay. I‛m done here. McGee, DiNozzo, go to the gym. Ziva, you can‛t come."

"What?"

"Really?" The pencil flipped in the air.

"That is so unfair!"

He had to shove McGee to get him moving. Tony dragged his feet, but he stayed out of range of head slaps. When they were in their gym clothes, Jethro forced them into the ring.

"Work it out. Right now. Or one of you is off the team." Jethro made sure Tony saw him wink. Tony blinked several times and then a slow smile broke over his face. He began to dance around the ring, and McGee moved to the middle to glare at him.

"Come on, Probie. Show me what you got."

"This is stupid."

Tony made a few feints. "You know you want to hit me. So come on!"

McGee was like a lumbering bear, arms flailing, and Tony bobbed and weaved around him.

Jethro leaned against the nearest wall and drank his coffee. McGee was angry that Tony hadn‛t been given his own team. Angry because McGee wanted to be Jethro‛s senior agent. Tony wasn‛t the only one that had been demoted, or that was the way McGee saw it.

A big swipe and Tony took it. He bounced off the ropes, answered with two quick jabs, and moved across the ring.

"You fight like a girl, Probie!"

"Stop calling me that! I‛m a senior agent!" McGee stopped boxing and started fighting. Jethro gave Tony credit. He dragged it out until McGee was exhausted, and then put him down hard.

"Yes, you are," Tony growled right in McGee‛s face. "No one is forgetting that."

McGee gasped for air, not fighting any longer. "I don‛t want to be a probie again."

"It‛s a nickname, not a job. Get over it, McGee." Tony got to his feet and stretched out his hand. "If you want, I‛ll leave the team."

Jethro found himself holding his breath. That was not what he wanted, or why he‛d done this, but leave it to Tony to always pull a fast one.

"You would do that?" McGee took the offered hand - a step in the right direction - and Tony pulled him to his feet.

"I would. I don‛t want to, but I don‛t want to die out in the field because you hate my guts." Tony‛s voice was harsh, bitter, and Jethro winced from the raw pain. McGee openly flinched, stepping back and nearly falling over. Tony steadied him.

"Tony - I -." McGee took several deep breaths, and Jethro breathed with him. "I always have your back. I was just mad."

"No, really? Everyone in the building laughing at me didn‛t make you feel better?" Tony stripped off one glove with his teeth. "All the insults I‛ve taken for the last week didn‛t warm your heart? Or how about the way the director glares at me?"

McGee‛s eyes were wide. "They don‛t count." He glanced over at Jethro. "He does."

"Good point." Tony spread the ropes, and McGee managed to get out without falling down. Jethro wandered back to them, avoiding their eyes.

"I‛m telling Ziva about that girl comment," Jethro said, flashing a grin.

"Boss!" Tony whined. "She‛ll kill me!"

McGee straightened to his full height and suddenly laughed. "I‛ll sell tickets."

"I get half." Jethro clapped them both on the shoulder. "And I get half of the moustache pool."

"What pool?"

"I have no idea what you‛re talking about," Tony said in a deadpan voice. "I need a shower."

"Me too."

Jethro chuckled as they rushed away. This had better be the end of it, or they‛d face him in the ring.

********

His bed felt so good. He wallowed in it, shutting his eyes and rooting under his pillow to hide from the world. Without coming out, he slowly stripped off his clothes and tossed them over the side. Sighing happily, he forced one muscle at a time to relax.

"Weren‛t you worried I was Ziva?"

"She‛d run screaming," Tony mumbled, listening to him throw all three locks.

"Maybe."

Tony snuggled his way under the covers when Jethro tossed them back. "You‛re sleeping?"

"In a minute." Jethro slid his hand around and got a firm grip. Tony groaned from both excitement and fatigue. He knew which one would win. Jethro whispered in Tony‛s ear, "Good job today."

Three little words that made him swell. He reached back, pulling him even closer and twisting his neck so they could kiss. "Have I mentioned I‛m glad you‛re home?"

"No." Jethro bit the skin on Tony‛s neck. "Did I tell you I‛m glad you stayed on my team?"

"No." Tony arched back harder. "Enough mushy stuff. Let‛s-" He shut up because Jethro slid two fingers in Tony‛s mouth. Tony liked the way Jethro got right down to business. Screw foreplay. Jethro drove him crazy, drove him wild, and then held him close while they moved together. Tony waited until they were both finished, exhausted, and covered in sweat before putting his mouth to Jethro‛s ear.

"Welcome home, Jethro."

********
end