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Holding his beer loosely, Tony leaned his back against the bar and surveyed the sunlit, beachfront patio. Galveston was a nice change from their usual Florida spring break haunts, and even though it was early May and all the coeds were probably doing finals and definitely weren’t here, there was a nice mix of singles still present. He and his frat brothers were forced to delay their planned vacation because of a court case of Steve’s that was still on trial back in April, but Tony didn’t mind. He was in the mood for a more relaxing vacation. He was kind of over beer-bonging, even as a reclaiming youth kind of thing.

Plus, he wanted to use this vacation to rethink some things about NCIS, and he’d have to be at least reasonably sober to do that. Although now that he thought about it, he might be better off making decisions when bombed. Being sober hadn’t helped him in the past. He was just so tired of being on his guard at work. Ziva had not turned out to be a good addition to the team, and he was feeling more and more isolated in his feelings.

Next to him, Steve and Cam were arguing about what club to hit that night, while Dan and Pete were off chatting up some women to the right. Tony was idly listening to the argument, trying to decide what to do about work while enjoying the view of dunes and lapping waves, when movement out by the tables on the deck caught his eye. A man was sitting down, and waving the waitress over. He had short, swept-back black hair and was wearing rectangular sunglasses that made him look gorgeous as hell. He wore fitted jeans and a tight, white t-shirt, and given the lack of skin showing, Tony didn’t know why he was so captivated by the man, but he definitely was.

The man’s smile at the waitress was friendly and inviting as he ordered, and Tony was thankful for his own sunglasses because he couldn’t stop staring. Once the waitress left, the man leaned back in his chair and then turned his head in Tony’s direction. It was hard to tell if he was looking back at Tony or not, but Tony decided to take it as a positive sign.

As they stared at each other, the sound around him seemed to fade away. When Cam nudged him and asked, “Hey, Tony, Bliss Lounge or S.I.N Lounge?” it felt as if it was being asked from underwater.

Distracted by his staring contest and work forgotten, Tony replied, “I couldn’t care less.”

Tony pushed off from the bar, and headed towards the guy’s table. Steve, obviously catching on, laughingly told Tony’s back, “Go get him, Sex Machine.”

Tony felt free to roll his eyes since he was wearing sunglasses, but most of his attention was on the man now obviously watching Tony approach his table. Tony slid into the free chair next to the man and leaned back to display as much of his body as possible, before finally offering his biggest, sunniest smile.

Wrinkles appeared at the corners of the guy’s eyes viewable outside of the sunglasses, and his lips quirked to one side. He asked, “Sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

Pretending to preen, Tony playfully replied, “Is there any reason I shouldn’t be?”

The man tilted his head to the side, as if considering Tony, and then he offered a breathtaking smile of his own and replied, “There really isn’t.”

Tony could feel heat flood his cheeks as an uncontrolled smile bloomed on his face. He probably looked like a doofus, but he hadn’t been so attracted to anyone since Wendy, and even that paled in comparison to what he was feeling after mere seconds of conversation. He was getting half hard from a smile, for hell’s sake. Tony would feel embarrassed by his reaction, but it felt too damn good.

He ducked his head coyly for a second, and then looked up again, smiling more gently. “So I’m Tony. I like movies, college ball, and my Ford Mustang.”

The guy chuckled. “Okay, let’s do this. I’m Ian. I like movies too, as well as camping and reading.” The waitress dropped off Ian’s beer, and he thanked her with a smile.

They discussed that summer’s blockbuster releases, and what they had seen or were looking forward to. The conversation was relaxed and easygoing, but there was a constant current of chemistry thrumming between them that made it seem more invigorating than banal. After they leisurely finished their beers, Ian paid his bill, and asked, “So is it too soon to invite you back to my hotel room?”

“Considering I’ve been waiting for you to ask, definitely not,” Tony said with a wink over his sunglasses.

They stood and began walking to Ian’s hotel. Tony didn’t see his frat brothers in the bar any longer, but he checked his phone and saw there were a couple texts letting him know their plans. He sent back a text with the name of Ian’s hotel, just in case. Ian led him to a third floor room with water views that was pretty fancy, and briefly Tony wondered what Ian did, but then Ian was crowding him against the closing door, and Tony was too busy trading electric kisses to think about anything but getting naked.

Hands roamed over backs and chests, and both t-shirts were lost on the way to the bed. Ian’s skin was smooth and contoured, and Tony couldn’t get enough of it. It felt like Ian was in his head, egging his exploration on. He found some bruises low on Ian’s ribs, but he didn’t ask.

Ian twisted them so he could push Tony down onto the bed, and immediately pulled Tony’s shorts and underwear off. Tony spread his limbs, luxuriating in his nakedness, and the heat he could see in Ian’s eyes. He felt desired and sexy, and not at all self-conscious like he sometimes would with a new pick-up.

Ian’s gaze roamed over him as he thumbed open the buttons on his jeans. He said, “You look so damned good like that.” Ian was apparently going commando because his jeans slid easily off his hips, revealing his hard cock with a thatch of pubic hair. Tony’s arousal upped another notch, and his mouth watered looking at it.

Once naked, Ian crawled over Tony, kissing and sucking bruises into Tony’s calf and knee and bellybutton and one pec. As their skin-to-skin contact increased, Tony would swear he could feel the heat sizzle between them and ratchet up over and over again. He was consumed by it. Then they were exchanging open-mouthed kisses, and Tony wrapped one leg around Ian's hip to gain better leverage to thrust up. Into Ian’s ear, he whispered, “We need to be fucking now. I seriously need you inside me.”

“Fuck, yeah,” Ian replied as he shuddered against Tony, kissing him hard.

Then with a groan, Ian levered himself over to the side of the bed and pulled lube and a condom out of the small bag on the bedside table. Ian prepped Tony quickly as Tony was too impatient to let him linger, always encouraging him to move faster.

Then Ian was sliding home, and Tony saw starbursts behind his eyelids and felt emotions rise like a cresting wave. “God. It feels like I can hear your thoughts.”

Ian’s hips stilled, although he was still panting. He asked, “Wait, are you a guide?”

Thrown by the question, Tony tried to lift his hips against Ian’s weight to get him moving again. Distracted, he replied, “Well, yeah, not that it ever amounted to anything.” Guides were a dime a dozen, and it didn’t really mean anything special unless you bonded with a sentinel, which pretty much only happened in your twenties.

Ian moaned as Tony twisted his hips in apparently just the right way, and he began thrusting again. Breathlessly he said, “I’m a sentinel.”


“I’m a sentinel.”

Now Tony was the one who stilled, causing Ian to groan in frustration, and to drop his head onto Tony’s shoulder. Tony asked, “Wait, then why are you here with me?” As far as Tony had heard, every single sentinel was bonded by the time they were twenty-five. Ian was at least thirty-five. It was unheard of for a sentinel of Ian’s age to be unbonded.

Ian lifted his head and stared down at Tony, confused. “What?”

“Why aren’t you with your guide?”

“I don’t have one. That’s what I’m saying.”

But you’re as old as me.”

Ian gave him an unimpressed look, but Tony could feel that Ian was still aroused and hard just like Tony despite their aborted fucking and this bizarre conversation.

Tony again felt waves of emotion that were foreign—besides the desire, there was burgeoning bewilderment and hope. Suddenly he twigged onto what the fuck was going on. Almost involuntarily his legs wrapped around Ian, and pulled him tighter into Tony. He couldn’t bear to be parted from him in this instant of understanding. “Holy fuck, you think I’m you’re guide. I might be your guide.”

They stared into each other’s eyes for long moments, Tony feeling his own emotions and Ian’s wrap around him like a cocoon of warmth with bonus ecstasy and wonder. Back in high school health class, he had heard about skin-to-skin contact creating a pre-bonded connection between a guide and sentinel in rare cases, but he had long since given up expecting to experience it. Then Ian was kissing him, and all the banked arousal flooded into Tony as Ian started fucking into him with ferocious power. Add that to the emotional overload, and it was only a short minute or two later that Tony orgasmed. It spread like wildfire through his core, and he came with a shout.

He was barely conscious as Ian came inside him mere seconds later, and was definitely conked out before Ian could pull out.

Tony woke slowly. He was held in Ian’s arms, and felt contented and cozy. Ian had somehow gotten them cleaned up and under the covers, and Tony almost purred his pleasure at the care taken. Ian’s arms tightened briefly, and then he said, “Hey, gorgeous.”

Tony smiled into Ian’s shoulder. “Did you really fuck me into unconsciousness?”

Ian chuckled warmly. “Apparently.”

Tony’s awareness of Ian intensified, and he suddenly remembered their mid-coital conversation. He lifted his head to stare down at Ian in shock. “Holy shit. You’re a sentinel.”

Touching the side of Tony’s face lightly, Ian replied, “And you’re a guide.”

Tony laughed incredulously. “I don’t know what to do with this. I’m thirty-three. I gave up on this happening years ago.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Forgive me for asking, but how on earth have you managed all these years?”

Ian’s grip around his shoulder tightened again, and his gaze shifted away. Tony felt bad since this was obviously a sore topic, and really how could it be anything but that, but at the same time he was curious. Then Ian sighed, and Tony felt the tone of the emotions he was feeling shift to something more open, but he didn’t know quite what to call it. Ian’s gaze moved back to Tony. “You just get used to it, in a way. Once I gave up on bonding, I learned to minimize how I used my senses. It felt like losing a limb, but I coped.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-eight. I came online at eighteen.”

“Jesus. You’ve been unbonded for twenty years?”

Ian gave a half-hearted shrug, but then he touched Tony’s face again, and a look of wonder crossed his face. “I’m beginning to think the wait was worth it.”

Tony replied, “Fucking sap,” as heat suffused his cheeks. He couldn’t believe Ian had made him blush again. He had thought he was long past that. Ian smiled at him, and not wanting to resist, Tony gave in and kissed him.

Kissing turned to fucking again, and it was just as explosive as the first time, although they both lasted longer this time, which made Tony happy. Fast, rough sex was great, but he preferred it when it lasted more than a minute for heaven’s sake.

They made it into the shower this time, and then redressed to get some dinner and to move Tony’s luggage to Ian’s hotel. Tony saw no reason not to spend the next week with Ian, since his frat brothers would understand. Back in college, Tony used to go to all the sentinel-guide mixers, and talked longingly of bonding, so they would know how important this opportunity was for Tony.

They hadn’t discussed too much about their actual lives yet. By tacit agreement they both wanted to wait until the end of their mutual vacation week. If their connection continued to be strong then they’d deal with the fallout of bonding. Luckily, it was rare to accidentally bond, since it involved a sufficient transfer of blood. It actually usually involved a ceremony officiated by a Sentinel & Guide Center official where the couple joined palms where cuts had been made deep enough for enough blood flow to complete the bond.

Even with a rational plan in place, Tony already couldn’t imagine doing without Ian’s presence, so he knew how he hoped this would go, but he was scared at the same time. Bonding would herald many changes he wasn’t sure he was ready for this late in life, although it might be just the impetus he needed to address his concerns about continuing to work at NCIS.

They walked a couple blocks inland to Tony’s hotel, and ran into Pete and Cam when they went up to Tony’s shared room with Cam. Cam was smirking at Tony, while Pete was laughing outright. Tony said, “Yuk it up, chuckleheads. I’d like you to meet Ian. He’s a sentinel.”

Pete choked on his laughter. “An unbonded sentinel? Are you two--?”

Tony couldn’t stop from smiling again. “We’re seeing where it goes.”

Cam’s face shifted to astonishment. He said, “Holy shit! Congrats, guys. Seriously.”

“Don’t go buying the bonding gifts yet. Ian and I are taking it slow right now,” Tony replied despite his goofy smile. He looked at Ian, who was already looking fondly at him. He beamed back, and Ian smiled wide.

Pete snorted as he looked between them. “Slow, right.”

Tony gave him the finger, but Cam was giving him a hug, and then they were all laughing, and Tony felt the good vibes pouring off everyone. His ability to get a read on people came and went, even with Ian, but it provided a fascinating additional check of the emotional tone around him. He could feel Cam’s good will, and Pete’s surprise and wistfulness, as well as Ian’s banked happiness.

He packed his bag, and asked Pete and Cam to let the others know where he was staying. After some furious texting with the others, they all agreed to get lunch together on the last night of their vacations. Then Pete and Cam wished Ian and Tony well, and Ian and Tony continued back to Ian’s hotel.

As they walked, Tony asked, “So what made you decide on Galveston for your vacation?”

Ian shrugged and his hand brushed against Tony’s where they swung between them. Tony could tell Ian had done it deliberately, but Ian didn’t turn his head to return Tony’s look. He just said, “I’ve spent some time working in Texas recently, although more westerly, and decided to use up some of my ridiculous vacation time and take a break. It was a rough couple of weeks leading up to this. So proximity and timing, I guess. How about you?”

Tony wanted to delve into what kind of work Ian did that he got bruised ribs, but he knew it wasn’t the time for that yet. So instead he just answered Ian’s question. “Kind of the same. We usually go to Panama City in Florida for Spring Break, but Steve was in the middle of a trial that week, and we had to push it out. And then someone mentioned going someplace new, and Cam mentioned vacationing here as a kid, and the rest is history.”

“So these are your college friends?”

“Yeah. Frat brothers, really. We’ve been vacationing together for years, although more and more people drop out as the years go by and they settle down.”

“But not you?”

“I almost did about three years ago. Got left at the altar.” Tony had finally come to grips with Wendy’s actions in the last year or so, really since Kate’s death made it all pale in comparison, but he didn’t mention that.

“Shit, sorry.”

“I’m not. It’s over, plus it led me here.” He wondered if things worked out with Ian, whether it would be better than his unrealistic fantasies about living with Wendy and 2.5 kids. He was eager to find out, but cautioned himself to take it slow. Though, with every burst of emotion from Ian, it was getting harder and harder to remember that.

Ian reached across and grabbed Tony’s hand to squeeze it, but when he moved to let go, Tony didn’t let him. They were back at Ian’s hotel, and Tony figured it was safe enough in the empty hallway to indulge in all the affection he craved. Ian squeezed his hand lightly again, and didn’t move to let go until he had to unlock the door.

The next five days were idyllic for Tony, full of laughter and sex. Some days they didn’t bother leaving the room, while others were spent on the beach taking in the waves and sunny weather. Tony had never been happier, and in brief bursts he could feel the same ebullient emotion coming from Ian.

They talked about their childhoods and compared their philosophies on life. They discovered that although they came from vastly different places and social levels, they both had a deep abiding desire to be of service and be needed. Tony talked about being disowned at twelve and how freeing it had been in letting him forge his own path, while Ian talked about growing up poor, and how providing for his aging mother and younger sister propelled him out into the wider world.

Tony then talked about college and his almost-pro career, while Ian talked about Afghanistan, and being a sniper on the move and never connecting with anyone. Despite not touching on their current circumstances yet, Tony had never felt closer to anyone. What was most important was that he truly came to respect and admire Ian, besides being attracted to him. He was humbled that Ian might feel even a smidge of what he felt in return.

He got the feeling that Ian was talking more than he usually would, and Tony appreciated the effort he was making. Tony tended to be gregarious in social situations, so even though he was talking about more intimate things than usual, he at least found it easy to find the words, while he got the inkling Ian didn’t.

All the same, Tony was amazed that being around Ian all the time was so comfortable. In reality, he spent most of his leisure time watching his favorite movies and playing piano alone. Ian may spend his matching alone time camping and reading, but the result was the same unease being around people constantly. However, Ian didn’t feel like ‘people.’ He felt like coming home.

That night they had room service dinner at the table in Ian’s room. The food was delivered promptly and they made inroads into the steak dinners, exchanging idle conversation. Once their initial hunger was slated, Ian eyed Tony and said, “So I guess it’s time to make some decisions.”

Tony toyed with his potatoes, peeking a look out at Ian, who looked inscrutable. Knowing that Ian was more committed than he was, at least by biology, since sentinels were genetically disposed to need a guide, while guides could get along fine with never bonding with a sentinel, Tony straightened up and manned up. “I want to make this work. I don’t want to let you go.”

Ian pushed his plate to the side, and clasped his hands on the table. “Are you sure? We haven’t talked about our lives yet. I don’t want you to feel trapped.”

Tony mirrored his actions. “I know we have a lot to talk about still, and it might be tough meshing our lives. I know I have a lot to change in my own life to make room for another person, for a sentinel, but damned do I want it. God, Ian, I’ve never been happier with anyone the way I’ve been with you this past week.”

Ian blinked rapidly, and then turned his head to the side for a second, before turning back. “Ditto.”

Incredulous, Tony asked, “Did you just Patrick Swayze Ghost me?” Tony was giggling by the end of his question, and Ian joined his laughter.

Once he regained his composure, Tony stood up and held out a hand to Ian. “Come to bed so we can do our reveals.” Ian grinned at him and took his hand, letting Tony lead him back to bed. They cuddled under the covers, and Tony couldn’t begin to explain how happy it made him that Ian cuddled with him. It was another thing that Tony was sure was foreign to him.

Ian asked, “You want to go first?”

Tony smiled at him. “Well first off, I live in D.C. and I am Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo of NCIS.”

Ian’s return smile was pleased. “Small world. I’m based in D.C., or rather Quantico, where I teach at the FBI’s sniper school. Most of the time I’m traveling, though, doing fugitive recovery. FBI Special Agent Ian Edgerton, at your service.”

Tony pecked a kiss to Ian’s lips. Against them, he whispered, “Nice to meet you, Agent Edgerton.”

“And you, Agent DiNozzo,” Ian whispered back, before deepening the kiss briefly.

Once their kisses tailed off, Tony said, “Although I can’t believe FBI is on the table. My boss will never let me live it down if I go to the dark side.”

“Only at the end do you realize the power of the dark side.”

Tony laughed. “Are you quoting Star Wars at me now?”

“And if I am?”

“Quoting from movies during our touching moment? I’d think you were made for me.”

Ian curved one hand over Tony’s cheek, then brushed his fingers through Tony’s hair around his ear. “In some ways, I feel like I was. I’m just sorry it took us so long to meet.”

“Nah, I’m not sure it would have been so perfect earlier. I like to think we met at exactly the right time.”

Smirking, Ian replied, “Now who’s the sap?”

“Well, we can trade off.”


Tony kissed Ian briefly, and then rolled to his back. Ian followed and rested on his elbow so he was leaning next to Tony. Tony said, “I don’t know what to do about our jobs yet. I expect that will involve more than just you and me, but to be honest, I’m leaning towards leaving NCIS. There have been… changes in the last year or so that have made things contentious, for lack of a better word.”

“What does that mean?” Ian was frowning, and Tony let him grab hold of his hand that was resting on top of his chest.

Tony sighed, but decided to bare all his cards. “About a year ago my partner Kate was killed in the line of duty by a rogue Mossad officer. In some weird twist of politics and fate, the sister of Kate’s killer was moved onto our team as a Liaison Officer.” At Ian’s incredulous look, Tony shrugged. “Yeah, I never got it either. We’ve managed for the past year, but it still strikes me at odd times, and I’ve never gelled with Ziva the way I did with Kate for obvious reasons, as well as personal reasons.”

“It does sound like a dicey situation.” Tony squeezed Ian’s hand, and after a pause, Ian continued, “Anyway, as for me, I mostly work by myself on cases I get to handpick, so my situation is entirely different. I’m happy with it.”

“I don’t know how I’d do with the constant travelling inherent in fugitive recovery, but having it just be the two of us sounds like heaven.”

Ian smiled and nodded his agreement. “That’s good to hear. I must admit my apartment in Quantico is a hole, though. Where do you live?”

“I’m over in D.C. I like my apartment, but it’s probably too small for the both of us, plus quite a commute to Quantico. Maybe we can get a place in-between, or a real place in Quantico?” Inside, Tony was thrilled they were already discussing living together. It made it feel more real and more intimate than the work talk, even.

“I’m good with whatever. I don’t have much stuff.”

Tony winked at him, and said, “More room for my movies then,” making Ian laugh. Tony figured Ian might not be laughing when he got a look at Tony’s entire collection, but he figured it was best to leave that reveal for later.

They finalized a couple other miscellaneous details, and traded phone numbers and addresses. Then after exchanging one heated look, they were back to making out. Tony knew it would lead to more and he was looking forward to it. Seriously, Tony had never been so sexually satisfied in his life. It was fantastic.

Tony flew home the day before Ian, and they said a reluctant good-bye at the airport. He was sharing a flight with Steve, who tried to press for details, but Tony put him off by saying, “We’re taking it slow.” They spent the rest of the flight talking about Steve’s conquests and what was going on at Steve’s work. Steve was always good at talking about himself.

Once in D.C., Tony checked into work, and decided to go back early to go to the harbor that night to back up Gibbs and U.S. Customs as Gibbs made contact with an undercover agent. He didn’t feel right leaving it to Ziva and McGee since they didn’t have Tony’s experience. Of course then Gibbs got blown up, and Tony was extra glad he was there to lead the team. The next couple of days were frantic. He barely had time to text Ian, let alone see him when he arrived, and his plan to pick Ian up at the airport and spend the night fucking was gone.

When Gibbs said, “You’ll do,” and walked out, Tony was conflicted. He was torn up about Gibbs’ messed up memory as well as his tragic past, but his leaving with barely a word for Tony left him feeling even more bereft at work. On the other hand, he didn’t feel like he could quit when Gibbs was leaving, even though that had been his and Ian’s plan in the end. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to share his news about finding a sentinel with anyone before this whole mess started. Once he had made sure everyone else headed home, he dragged his ass to his empty apartment and called Ian.

Ian had barely gotten out a greeting before Tony was saying, “There’s a problem.”

Sounding cautious now, Ian asked, “Okay?”

So Tony explained the whole situation ending with, “I don’t think I can leave under these circumstances. I know Gibbs will be back, and I don’t want the team breaking up before that happens. Also, McGee isn’t ready to be senior field agent yet, but if he’s promoted now, I’d get to train him up.”

“It’s a big assumption that he’s coming back, Tony.”

“Not as big as you think, I know him and Gibbs will definitely be back, but even if I just give it some time to settle down again, it’s a wait. I know it’s asking a lot.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. I’m here, whether we happen in five days or five months, I’m here.” Tony was so relieved to hear those words, he had to drop his head between his legs to deal with the lightheadedness. Ian was still talking though, so he paid attention again. “But you’ve already expressed your discontent with the people you work with, and it’s not going to be easier being their team leader than it was being their senior field agent.”

“I know. But I don’t want to leave everyone and everything more broken than when I started.” Tony fiddled with a belt loop on his pants.

“This situation might be beyond any one person’s ability to fix.”

Owning up to his feelings, Tony said, “I still feel like I have to try.”

Without hesitation Ian replied, “Then I’m here for you, I promise.”

While a large part of Tony was happy to hear that, the majority of him was wracked with guilt. “God, I’m just so sorry. I don’t mean to make you wait even longer for bonding.”

“Hey, it’s no problem. I’m used to it.”

“That’s the problem.”

“That’s my problem, and I say it isn’t one, so let it go, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Alright. I’ll try.”

In an obvious bid to change the subject, Ian said, “So I mentioned that I had a potential guide to the Deputy Director, and that we were planning on staying with the Bureau.”

“Oh, yeah? How’d that go?”

“Good. Hell, he was almost dancing for joy.”

Tony laughed, although it was weak since he was still sifting through all his emotions and was beginning to crash. He blamed his weakened defenses for the next question. “You’ll really wait for me?”

“Forever, Tony, forever.”

“Fucking sap.”

“I guess it’s my turn,” Ian replied playfully.

Too punchy not to be honest, Tony said, ‘I’m glad. I kind of need it tonight.”

“I’m sorry I’m not there with you. Do you want me to come over?” Ian sounded like he was ready to jump in his car now, even though it was past eleven and he started teaching the next morning.

Tony rushed to say, “No! Although I do appreciate the thought. I’ll be sleeping the sleep of the dead the second we’re off the phone.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Honestly.”

“Alright. Then I’ll let you sleep now, but call anytime. I mean it, and we’ll make plans for this weekend.”

“Sounds great. Thanks, Ian. For everything.”

“Sleep tight,” Ian said and hung up the phone.

Tony sighed, and got moving to get ready for bed. He was settled in his twin bed, missing Ian’s warmth, ten minutes later. He promised himself that even if Gibbs didn’t come back, he wouldn’t stay at NCIS beyond the summer. Ian was too important to put off indefinitely. With that vow, he drifted off to sleep.

When they were next on rotation, Tony was back at the office bright and early to wrap up the case report and take stock of the status of Gibbs’ paperwork. He already did most of it, but there were some that Gibbs had to do himself, and Tony had a sneaking suspicion that Gibbs had been letting it slide before getting blown up. Henderson was also in early and was happy to spare an hour making sure Tony understood it all, and Tony promised him a drink in thanks when they were both free.

As the morning progressed, Tony checked his watch repeatedly. Both McGee and Ziva were late. He was cutting them some slack because of the last week, but they knew the team could get a case since that could happen at any time they were on call, so they had better show up soon or else.

When McGee showed up just shy of nine, Tony said, “Come on, Probie, I’ll show you how to do your paperwork,” and he got the strangest emotion off of McGee when he called him ‘Probie.’ Sharp, sullen resentment filled his mind. He was so thrown, he would have floundered in his speech, except he had been rehearsing it for the last hour. Partly it was because he hadn’t felt anyone else’s emotions since he left Ian, but the other part was he wasn’t expecting McGee to feel that way. Roll his eyes annoyed, but not this seething resentment. Being called Probie was all part of being a cop, as far as Tony was concerned. He meant it affectionately.

He looked at McGee in shock, who was scowling at him. McGee said, “I’m not doing your paperwork,” and walked off in a snit. Tony was still so surprised by McGee’s harsh emotions, he let McGee get away with that dismissal.

Thankfully Ziva showed up twenty minutes later, since they got an embezzlement case.

However by the end of the second week, Tony was frustrated and exhausted, instead of thankful. He had known things were off with the team, but he hadn’t realized things were this bad. McGee and Ziva argued with every decision he made, and although they were doing their investigative jobs, it felt like it was by the skin of their teeth. Plus, he kept getting emotional flashes from everyone, and they were all more negative than he had thought they would be or should be, and very often aimed at him.

They had taken Renny Grant into custody as the culprit in the embezzlement case, but Tony wasn’t thrilled with the circumstantial evidence, although he suspected they could win in court. McGee kept pushing back about finding the money, and Tony was particularly frustrated about that, as well as McGee’s other petty rebellions. He still refused to do the senior agent paperwork or step up and lead Ziva and the TAD agent, and Tony didn’t get it. McGee should be puffing up and stepping up to prove he was better than Tony, not slacking off and being an obstructionist to his own career development. What happened to being the Director of the Agency?

But it was late on Friday, and given all the difficulties of the last week, Tony had some hard thinking to do over the weekend; about signing off on the case, what to do with McGee, and what to do with Ziva to a lesser degree. He had expected her defiance, but still thought she would be a professional regardless, not come in late and take long lunches and barely pull her weight. He was sad to see his low expectations weren’t low enough.

He was meeting Ian in Quantico at eight for a late dinner, and since it was coming up on seven, he had to get moving. He locked his desk, turned off his computer, and headed out. He pulled into the parking lot of the Italian restaurant they had agreed on and saw Ian standing outside checking his phone. Tony was a couple minutes late, but he had texted when he left, so Ian should be expecting it. Ian looked up, and smiled when he saw Tony’s distinctive Mustang, and Tony beamed as he got out. Ian was heading towards him, and when he got close enough, he said, “That is one beauty of a car.”

Smirking, Tony pulled him into a brief, tingling kiss and said, “You obviously know flattery is the way to a man’s heart.”

“Well if the flattery didn’t work, I was hoping the best lasagna in the state would.”

Tony laughed, and let Ian tug him into the restaurant. Ian had a reservation, so they were seated right away. They each ordered a glass of wine and the lasagna, and since Tony didn’t want their date to become a bitchfest about his job, although he did hope to discuss his troubles with Ian at some point during the weekend, he asked, “So how was your first week’s class?”

Ian rolled his eyes. “The usual mix of hotshots and hardheads. Most of the time it feels like I have to break down their old habits before I can begin teaching them what they need to know to succeed.”

Thinking of McGee, Tony just said, “I get that.” Then he smiled slyly and asked, “So which were you in your training, a hotshot or a hardhead?”

Ian laughed, and said, “Oh, I was definitely a hardhead. My way or the highway, always.”

“Should I be worried about that when we work together?”

Apparently taking the question more seriously than Tony had meant it, Ian paused before replying. “Cautioned maybe, but I think you’re strong enough to keep even me in line.”

A bit speechless at Ian’s faith and belief, Tony just nodded, and thankfully their meals were delivered and the conversation turned to food. They kept it light during the meal, and it wasn’t until their tiramisu was delivered that Ian said, “So I have a question. Actually two.”

Tony had just taken a bite, so he twirled his fork in the sign for ‘ask away,’ and the tiramisu was so good, he grabbed another bite as Ian talked.

Ian asked, “Are we spending the weekend together?”

Finishing his second bite with a gulp of water, Tony replied, “We’re not on call, so I hope so,” with an outrageous, salacious wink.

Ian smirked. “My place or yours?”

“Is that your second question? Because yours is closer, so I vote for that among other reasons.”

Laughing self-consciously, Ian said, “Actually, no that wasn’t my second question. So I guess I have a third. And I want to know your other reasons, since that sounds ominous.”

“No, nothing like that, really. Just a… lingering reminder of an unhappy time.”

Ian frowned and reached a hand across the small table to lightly grasp Tony’s. “What unhappy time?”

“Remember when I talked about my ex-fiancé?”

“Right.” It was clipped, and Tony got a whiff of jealousy, so he squeezed Ian’s fingers gently to reassure him.

“Well, this is embarrassing, but I impulsively bought a twin bed for my new place since it happened right before I moved to NCIS. I never changed it. There really isn’t room for both of us at my place.”

“I’m willing to make it work if you ever want us to stay at your place, although it’s a good lead-in to my third question.”

“So lay it on me.”

“What would you say to looking at apartments together this weekend? It’s already close to the middle of the month, and I’d rather be living with you sooner rather than later. I know we’re waiting to bond, but there’s no reason we can’t live together in the meantime. I want to see you more than just the random weekend.”

Tony could hear the frustration in Ian’s voice, and he understood it all too well. Not being able to see Ian and barely having the time to talk with him on the phone had made the weeks since Galveston seem extra-long on top of all his work frustrations. Wholeheartedly in agreement, he answered, “I would love that.”

Ian beamed at him, and Tony’s breath caught. Ian was beautiful when he smiled like that. Most of the time he had a Mona Lisa, inscrutable thing going on, but when happiness shone out of his face? It was amazing. Tony curled their fingers tighter together, and smiled helplessly in return.

Saturday they spent the day with a realtor looking at places between Springfield and Woodbridge to be somewhat equidistant between their jobs. They lucked into a brownstone that had just gone on the market in Springfield, and the second he walked into the place, Tony knew it was the one. He caught Ian’s eye, who was looking at him indulgently, so Tony figured his excitement showed on his face.

They put in their application, and one for their runner-up just to be safe, and called it a day. They got Chinese take-out, and headed back to Ian’s place, which was a dump like he said. Barely more than a studio, it was in a rundown apartment complex with stained hallway carpets and broken lights. Tony would be happy to only be there for a weekend or two.

As Tony’s nose wrinkled at the mildewed smell as Ian opened the door, Ian laughed. “I told you it was a hole, but it was just me and I was barely here. It never seemed worth changing.”

Tony started unpacking the food and replied, “I can handle it for a couple weekends until we get a place,” as Ian got them silverware and plates.

After they ate, they settled on the couch with a couple beers. Ian said, “So, I’ve noticed you’ve avoided talking about work.”

Tony sighed and leaned his head on the back to stare up at the ceiling. “I do want your advice, but I’m also frustrated and talking about it will piss me off, and I don’t want to ruin our time together.”

“Well, fuck that. Let’s just get it over with, so you can put it out of mind until Monday.”

“You sure you don’t mind me bitching?”

Ian kissed him. “Never.”

So Tony explained about McGee and the case, and how unhelpful everyone was being. He ended with, “I know people are upset and grieving because Gibbs is gone, but I don’t find that a valid excuse to do a half-assed job and possibly send an innocent man to jail or not provide the prosecutor with the best possible case if he is guilty. We have a duty. And I know I am the king of goofing off and letting off steam, but never at the expense of the case.”

Tony could feel his ire rising, and he wasn’t surprised when Ian pulled him into his arms, and started petting the back of his head. He relaxed the muscles that had become tense, and it wasn’t until that happened that Ian said, “Okay, first off, your coworkers are assholes, and I don’t know why you stay, but given that it is important to you, you have to fight to get the evidence, even if everything else slides. You’re right, if you have doubts and all the evidence is circumstantial, it’s a possibility, and you don’t want that on your conscious.”

“No advice on what to do about McGee?”

“I would say let him fall flat on his face, so I’m keeping my mouth shut on that.”

Tony laughed. “Appreciated.” They discussed the pros and cons of various actions a bit longer, Tony getting some ways to also deal with Ziva, and by the end he was feeling better about his game plan for Monday. Being a hardass might not be his first inclination, but it was obvious being their friend and being nice weren’t working.

Slowly their conversation devolved into kissing and groping, and finally Ian whispered, “Come to bed with me.”

Tony bit his earlobe, and whispered back, “Always.”

Ian moaned, and then said, “Sap.”

“I guess it’s my turn.”

Ian hugged him for that, and then pulled him off the couch, and led him to the bedroom. Over his shoulder he winked and said, “How about I blow you to show my appreciation of it?”

“If it’s followed by fucking me through the mattress, it sounds like a plan I can get behind.”

“I love the way you think.”

They undressed between kisses and touches, until Tony was sitting naked on the edge of the bed, and Ian was in just his unbuttoned jeans on his knees between Tony’s thighs. He was pumping Tony’s cock into hardness, while Tony watched avidly. Once Tony was fully erect, Ian leaned forward and licked a lewd stripe up his cock, and Tony moaned loudly at the sensation and the picture Ian presented. Besides his hot tongue peeking out of his mouth, Ian’s ass was half on display as his unbuttoned jeans slipped down, and the tease was enticing.

Ian began sucking then, and Tony lost all coherent thought. Although Ian’s ass was a tease, his sucking was not. He went down and dirty fast, and Tony was panting and cursing him out in short order since it felt so good. Tony remembered from their vacation that Ian was fantastic at sucking cock, but this was so much better than before. It felt like Ian was sucking the tension and frustration right out of him.

As wild desire built higher and higher inside him, Tony got a light grip on Ian’s hair just to hang on. He was going to come embarrassingly quickly, but he hoped Ian would be up for a long fuck afterwards to make up for it, and the thought of that pushed him over the edge. Once done coming down Ian’s throat, Tony flopped backwards onto the bed with a groan, his hand loosening in Ian’s hair.

Ian used Tony’s knees to push up to standing, and huskily said, “Come on, let’s get you in bed.”

Tony nonsensically answered, “You are so good at that,” as Ian helped him scoot backwards onto the bed fully.

Ian huffed out a laugh as his arms flexed pushing Tony up. “And you are sex-stupid at the moment.”

“But still looking forward to getting fucked, so consider it a win.” Tony rolled onto his stomach in the middle of the bed, and spread his legs, hoping to entice Ian further. He looked coyly over his shoulder, just in time to watch Ian lick his bottom lip with a brief flash of tongue.

Ian pushed down his barely hanging on jeans, and said, “Oh, I do, don’t you worry about that.” He crawled onto the bed between Tony’s legs, and bit him gently on the ass. Tony hissed at the feeling, and moaned lowly when Ian soothed the bite with his tongue. Because of the blowjob, or for whatever reason, tonight was all about Ian’s tongue and mouth for Tony. That bite alone made Tony’s dick twitch vainly.

Getting the lube, Ian started prepping him, and Tony breathed through it, relaxing further and further. Ian obviously wasn’t in a hurry, which Tony appreciated, since he was more relaxed now, and ready to play as opposed to tense due to work stress. There was a method to Ian’s madness. Once Tony was loose and languid, Ian was tapping him gently on the hip, and Tony pulled up onto his knees, ready to be fucked into tomorrow.

Ian didn’t hold back. He slid in ruthlessly until he was bottoming out, and Tony was already breathless from the full feeling. His shoulders dropped to the mattress and the comforter bunched up as his hands curled into fists as Ian built up power in his thrusts. Ian’s speed remained steady and just this side of too slow to get Tony off again, but just right to amp up his arousal inch by inch.

The fucking seemed to go on forever to Tony. His world reduced to just Ian’s relentless thrusts and his lust and Tony’s own desire building again. Time was meaningless, and he loved it when their pre-bond gave him Ian’s emotions too. After forever, Ian began moving faster and faster until his hips were snapping into Tony’s ass, and Tony realized he was moaning obscenely and was hard again.

He could tell Ian was losing control slowly but surely, and he loved the wild feel to Ian’s emotions at that moment. They were sky high and filled with so much want and even love that Tony was left in awe, and on the verge of coming again just from the added emotional stimulus, let alone the relentless cock reaming his ass. And then Ian tipped over, and Tony felt Ian’s emotions white out, and it was glorious and so charged, Ton’s arousal was tipped even higher.

Ian crumbled onto his back for long seconds, and then rolled to the side with a satisfied groan. While Ian took care of the condom, Tony was rolling over onto his back next to him, stripping his own cock furiously. Now he was eager to come again, and all his earlier relaxation was replaced with feverish desire. Once Ian was done with the condom, he reached over and joined his hand with Tony’s, and they stroked Tony to completion a minute or so later.

Ian got up, and Tony starfished on the bed, he felt so replete. Ian laughed gently when he came back into the room with a wet washcloth, but he simply wiped Tony’s stomach down, and encouraged him to curl under the comforter. After disposing of the washcloth, Ian joined Tony under the covers, and let Tony snuggle close, maneuvering Tony into being the little spoon. Tony was already drifting off, but he still felt Ian press a kiss into his neck, and he smiled softly, pulling Ian’s arm closer around his middle. As sleep took hold, he had to wonder what he would have done without Ian’s support. He knew he would have felt desperately alone, which made him extra thankful for the here and now.

Monday morning, Tony began enacting his game plan. This was the end of nice-guy-Tony. If they weren’t going to take their jobs seriously, he would do it for them. First off, was a call to Henry Kowalski in the White Collar Crimes Division, who he had played basketball against in an NCIS league a few years ago. When Henry answered, for which Tony was glad since it was only around seven, Tony explained the issue they had tracing the money.

Henry said, “Oh, yeah, we have software that does that. It runs in the background. It takes a while though.”

“How long is a while? We have a guy in lock-up, but if he isn’t our guy, I both don’t want to keep him and I want to catch the right guys.”

“For the number of transactions you’re talking about, usually roughly eighteen hours? If I start now, you could know by tomorrow.”

“Perfect, yeah. Think you can do that for me?”

“Sure, just send me the details. But I thought McGee was handling computer work for you guys now?”

Hedging, Tony just said, “McGee’s working on another aspect of the case. We need a second pair of eyes who know what they’re doing.”

“Gotcha. Yeah, I’ll look for your email.”

“Thanks, Henry. I owe you a game of basketball.”

“I play down at the Y on 16th Street every Saturday. So come by any Saturday morning.”

“Sounds good. I‘ll take you up on that, and treat you to a beer afterwards.”

Henry replied, “Sounds like a plan. I gotta go. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Henry,” Tony said, and sent the email he had already written to Henry with the details.

Next was catching up on the paperwork that McGee should be doing, or at least learning. He had been holding off in the hopes that McGee would step up, but he wasn’t going to let the team paperwork slide anymore. McGee could catch up next cycle if he changed his tune.

When McGee showed up about fifteen minutes before nine, Tony stood up and said, “With me, McGee.” Time to play hardball.

“For what?”

“You’ll find out in the conference room; come on.” Tony waved his arm for McGee to go first, which he finally did, although with a scowl on his face.

Once they were seated, Tony point-blank asked, “Do you not want to be senior field agent?”

Looking defensive already, McGee scowled harder. “What does that mean?”

“It’s a simple enough question.”

“Of course I do.”

“You do know that there is a ninety day probationary period? And if you fail to master the duties of a senior field agent, you will be demoted?”

McGee waved his hand dismissively, and started to rise. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be demoted when Gibbs comes back, anyway.”

Tony glared at him until he sat back down. “Is that what you want?”

“Of course not.”

“What if I die in the line of duty? Do you want Gibbs to have to bring in someone who can do the job, or do you want to remain promoted?”

“You’re not going to die, Tony.” McGee rolled his eyes.

Tony was getting frustrated, and he snapped at McGee, “Are you deliberately missing the point, or just being obtuse? You’re failing as a senior field agent, McGee, and at the end of your ninety day probationary period, you’re going to be demoted.”

“Gibbs will be back by then, anyway.” McGee looked disgruntled about it, but resigned.

Deciding to try a different tack and go on the attack, Tony snidely asked, “Are you a field agent here to investigate crimes affecting personnel in the Navy and Marines, or are you here as part of Gibbs’ cult of personality?”

Now McGee looked angry, “What kind of question is that?”

“I mean, by the way she’s decorated the lab downstairs, it’s obvious which group Abby is part of, but I thought you wanted to be Director of NCIS, not Gibbs’ lackey for your whole career.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“I never wanted to be anything other than a field agent, McGee. Being a part of Gibbs’ team afforded me everything I wanted. Can you say the same? Do you want to wait for Gibbs to retire or die before you move up the chain? You do realize he has another sixteen years before the mandatory retirement age for a field agent, right? And I’m in line after him for MCRT team leader? Are you going to wait for my retirement too?”

“Stop being ridiculous!”

Tony slapped the table, making McGee jump. “Then start listening! You’re a senior field agent now. Your ninety day probationary period has started. If you fail, and at the rate you’re going, I will fail you, then you will be demoted and there is no guarantee you will get another promotion any time soon.”

“You can’t fail me!”

“I’m you’re team leader. I am required to fail you if you don’t do the work. I’m certainly not going to pass you when you are insubordinate, won’t do the paperwork, and can’t even be bothered to come in on time!”

“Is this about the stupid paperwork? Fine! I’ll do it! Are we done here?”

McGee stood up, and Tony slapped the table again and also stood up. He got in McGee’s face, and said, “Sit down. We are not even close to being done, McGee.”

McGee sat down slowly, and finally seemed to be taking Tony seriously. He looked shocked instead of defensive.

Tony said, “The workday starts at eight. This is your first verbal warning for tardiness, and for not working the required forty hours last week. You get one more verbal warning, both of which will be recorded with HR, then you get a written warning, and if the problem is still not corrected, there will be consequences including possibly being fired. Are we clear?”

“Are you being serious? Come on, Tony! You can’t do that!”

“This is non-negotiable, McGee. We are here to help the Navy and Marine victims of crime. It isn’t a social club where you can come and go as you please.”

“Ziva does!”

“I’ll be giving Ziva the same warnings.”

McGee snorted, and mumbled, “Good luck with that.”

“Finally, I want the money in the embezzlement case found. You have one day.”

“What? We have the guy!”

“And the evidence is all circumstantial and very pat. I’m not sending someone to prison for embezzlement without recovering the money.”

McGee looked mulish again, but Tony was done. He said a final, “Find the money,” and walked out the door. He knew he had Henry’s work as a back-up if McGee balked, so he was covered either way, but he wanted McGee to do it and prove his worth.

Next up was Ziva. Joy. Dreading it, Tony sighed and headed out for coffee first. When Tony got back, Ziva was just arriving. He said, “David, with me.”

Just like McGee, she couldn’t just follow, she had to question him. “Why?”

“Because I said so.”

Ziva huffed, and said, “This had better be important,” but she followed him to the conference room.

He sat down while she stood, tapping her foot. She asked, “What is this regarding?”

“This is your first verbal warning for tardiness and for not working forty hours last week. You will get another verbal warning if the behavior is not corrected, then a written warning that will all be logged into your record by HR. After that usually HR decides the outcome if the behavior is not corrected, up to and including being fired. As a liaison, I don’t know whether that is true, but the director will be made aware. Are there any questions?”

She sneered at him. “What do you think gives you the right?”

“I’m your team leader. It is not only my right, but my responsibility.”

“Bah! Gibbs is my team leader.”

“Gibbs is gone, and if you don’t want your position to be in jeopardy, I would listen up, Ziva.”

“Jenny should never have promoted you!”

“Your feelings about that are neither here nor there. Do you have any questions regarding this?”

Ziva walked out without a backward glance. Tony wasn’t surprised, and sighed in frustration.

He also went back to his desk, only to find an angry Abby waiting for him. McGee must have bitched to her already. He would rather not air the team’s difficulties in the open bullpen, but knowing Abby, it was already too late. McGee looked guilty, and Ziva was already smirking.

Abby slapped his arm, and said, “How dare you say I’m in a cult!”

Tony barely acknowledged her as he sat down in his chair, and just mildly asked, “You have over thirty pictures of Gibbs plastered around the forensics lab. What would you call it?”

“Missing him! Which you are obviously on too much of a power trip to do.”

“It’s not a power trip if you actually have the responsibility to ensure all victims get a fair shot at justice whether Gibbs is here or not.”

“Are you saying I’m not? Or that Timmy and Ziva aren’t?”

“I hope you are, but you’re not my responsibility. McGee and David are.”

“That’s no answer!”

Tony finally looked at her with a bland expression. She looked furious, and Tony got a blast of her emotion just then. It was nasty and boiling, and he hated to see someone who he had considered a good friend once upon a time, being consumed by this kind of obsession. He said, “While McGee or David can complain to you all they want, as a team leader I will not be discussing internal team affairs with you that way. I’m also not sure they appreciate you airing their dirty laundry by yelling it in the bullpen, but that isn’t my problem either.”

“I’m telling Ducky,” Abby said as her parting shot, and stomped to the elevator. Tony barely refrained from rolling his eyes, and instead logged McGee’s and David’s first verbal warning with HR.

The next morning, Tony had a report from Henry, and he crosschecked the dates discovering their suspect Renny Grant was at sea during the time of the transactions. He whispered, “Son of a bitch. He didn’t do it.”

That promoted the eyewitness who swore he saw Grant make the transactions into suspect, and Tony began doing a deeper background check on that guy. He also called down to have Grant brought up to interrogation. He might be able to get information from him before releasing him, assuming he wasn’t so pissed at being held falsely that he just told them to fuck off.

Just as he got the call that Renny Grant was in interrogation, McGee came rushing in with a glare for Tony. Tony checked the clock, and it was just past eight, but only barely, so he let the lateness and glare slide. As McGee booted up his computer, Tony asked, “Did you find the money yet?”

“Jesus, Tony, I just sat down.”

“I gave you until today, and here it is… today.”

“No, alright! I’m still tracing the transactions. It doesn’t happen instantaneously.”

“No, but you had a day, which should be long enough, if you hadn’t spent yesterday gossiping with Ziva and Abby.”

“Well, it isn’t long enough, no matter what you think.”

“Actually it is.”

“Whatever, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Since Grant was waiting in interrogation Tony didn’t have time to string McGee along. He said, “While you may be more experienced with computers than me, in this case, I do know it is long enough since White Collar Crimes told me that they have software that will run this kind of trace in eighteen hours. So you had plenty of time, and I want to know why it isn’t done.”

Looking incensed, McGee asked, “You went to White Collar Crimes?”

Tony very calmly replied, “I do know how to use the resources at my disposal.”

Disparagingly McGee asked, “Then why didn’t you have them run it?”

Giving up on McGee for the moment, since he really did want to interview Grant again, Tony stood and said, “I did. I just wanted to give you the chance to redeem yourself. My mistake. Anyway, as it turns out, Renny Grant was at sea at the time of the transactions. He’s innocent.”

Leaving McGee sputtering behind him, Tony headed to interrogation with the transaction files printed in a folder. He made sure the technician was recording, and then interviewed Grant, who was so relieved at having his innocence proven that he was more than happy to help Tony out and answered all questions as best he could. He even thanked Tony, which made Tony feel like crap. He’d almost put the guy in prison, and he was thanking Tony for finally doing his job? Anyway, he agreed to lay low for a day or so while they captured the new suspect and looked for co-conspirators.

By the time he reentered the bullpen, Ziva was there, and McGee was furiously typing. The three of them worked the new angle, Tony reminding Ziva that only an hour was allowed for lunch for which she glared at him, but still came back after one hour to the minute. They solved the case by the end of the week, capturing the real culprits.

Things had been tense in the office all week, but the work was getting done, and McGee and Ziva were working harder than they had the first two weeks, although it wasn’t like that would be hard to do. Abby wasn’t talking to him after he had brushed Ducky off, but he wasn’t going to worry about that. He felt like he had lost her friendship long ago and was just now noticing.

At the end of Friday, the Director sent a meeting invite for Tony to meet her right before work ended. Tony figured someone had gossiped, or the tardiness warnings he had logged into HR for McGee and Ziva had made their way to the Director, and since he wasn’t sure which way she was going to go on his reprimands, he tried to brace himself for anything as he headed up to her office.

Cynthia waved him in, and he entered the Director’s office and closed the door after she asked him to do so. He then sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk, trying to look relaxed and confident although he was nervous. “Good afternoon, Director, you wanted to see me?”

“Call me Jenny, Tony, you’re one of my team leaders now, and I hope we’ll be working closely going forward.”

Although his expression didn’t change, internally Tony was raising both eyebrows. He said, “Okay, Jenny.”

“I hear you solved the embezzlement case finally.”

He could hear the judgment in her tone about how long it took. “Yes. We were led astray by a false eyewitness statement given by one of the perpetrators, but we have the right culprits in custody now. We’re just finishing up our reports.”

“You also logged tardiness warnings with HR for both McGee and Ziva earlier this week.”

“Yes, I did.”

Wryly she asked, “Care to expand on that?”

Tony did raise one eyebrow at her tone then. He mildly replied, “The first two weeks after Gibbs left, neither McGee nor David worked a full week, and were beginning troublesome patterns of coming in later and later, well past NCIS start time of eight. I decided to nip the problem in the bud.”

“You don’t feel your actions were premature?”

“Not at all. If I don’t have a team starting on time, I can’t respond to a call from dispatch. It was a severe problem that I dealt with according to the handbook.”

“It might have just been the aftershock of Gibbs leaving; it was a tough time for all of us.”

“With all due respect, ma’am, while the explosion and Gibbs’ injuries were traumatic, Gibbs went to Mexico, he didn’t die. There was no cause for that much slacking, unless they felt they could get away with it now because I wasn’t Gibbs. That is intolerable and unprofessional.”

Jenny said, “Very well, but try not to have the situation escalate further. I would hate for the premier team to have systemic problems like this,” and while her tone was mild, her emotions were full of frustration. He didn’t understand the dichotomy, and was even more on guard because of it.

Eager to get out, he asked, “Is that all?”

Jenny tapped her fingers on a file on her desk. “No, I actually have a sensitive operation I hope you can help me out with.” She smiled genially at him, but again her emotions, now full of rage, were at odds with her expression.

Tony got the feeling this meeting wasn’t going at all how she wanted it to, and he wondered at her motives, although he just as genially said, “Of course, let me call the team in, and we can set something up.”

Jenny’s frustration shot through the roof, and Tony barely contained his reaction. Something was definitely going on. She said, “No, you misunderstand. This is for your eyes only.” She then handed him the slim file, and began outlining her desire to gather information on an arms dealer named René Benoit. Tony paid attention until he got to the “seduce the daughter” part in the second paragraph. Then he closed the file, and waited for Jenny to stop explaining in bland tones the operation, all the while seething with rage that was blasting off her like a furnace.

Even if he wasn’t involved with Ian, he wouldn’t accept the assignment if he knew the extreme difference between her tone and emotions, because with that he knew something was fishy.

Finally she asked, “Any questions?”

“No questions, but I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t help you with this.”

“Why is that?”

Feeling her rage reach white hot intensity, Tony knew he was walking a fine line. He’d never felt such murderous rage before, and he was glad she wasn’t armed. Wanting to get out of there, he said, “Besides some personal reasons, with my new team leader duties and a team prone to insubordination, I don’t feel I’m in the right place to take on this added responsibility. Will that be all?”

After a pregnant pause in which Jenny raged, and Tony tried not to react, she said, “Yes, that will be all. Thank you, agent.”

Tony replied, “You’re welcome, Director,” and hightailed it out of there. That was the strangest meeting, and he was very disturbed by Jenny’s emotional tone. There was something going on with her, and he just hoped he could stay out of it until he got to leave.

And with that, his thoughts turned to the team. He had told Ian he wanted to leave the team less broken than when he started, but he was beginning to see Ian’s point. He wasn’t sure he was in a place to fix it, even being team leader. McGee and Ziva were both still sullen and obstinate, which he knew would happen, but he had stupidly hoped that they would see the light and behave better. Hell, at this point he would settle for icy professionalism, but he wasn’t even getting that. It was a conundrum that he wasn’t sure he was up for fixing in the time he had.

Sighing, he packed up his stuff, and seeing that McGee and Ziva had already left, were probably out the door right at five, he also left work for the day. Hopefully he would get to see Ian this weekend, even though they were on call. At least they had gotten word that the townhouse could be theirs on the first of the month, so some good news had come this week.

Saturday morning Ian came over to Tony’s apartment to discuss the move, and help him pack. Ian admitted that his place came furnished so besides a suitcase and a handful of boxes, he was ready to move at any time. When he said that, Tony laughed, and invited him over to help Tony, and Ian jumped at the chance. When he walked in the door, Ian twirled in a circle saying, “Damn, your place is fancy. Is that wainscoting? I see why you liked the townhouse so much.”

“I like my creature comforts, I fully admit this.”

Looking a bit pensive, Ian said, “Hopefully doing fugitive recovery isn’t too much of a drag for you. Most of the time it’s third-rate motels and sleazy diners.”

Tony pulled him into a kiss. Still holding Ian, he replied, “Hey, I promise to give it my best shot for half a year, and then we reevaluate together. I’m not giving you up because of a cockroach or two.”

Huffing out a laugh, Ian held him tighter, and initiated his own kiss. He whispered against Tony’s lips, “So show me your bedroom. I want the nickel tour.”

Tony grimaced. “You are going to be so disappointed in what you are hoping to happen. My bed really isn’t big enough for the two of us.”

“Show me anyway. Maybe we can make it work.”

With a sigh, Tony led the way to his bedroom, and stood awkwardly in front of his twin-sized bed. He refused to look at Ian’s expression. He didn’t want to see disbelief, or worse pity, there.

Ian’s arms came around him from behind, and he rested his chin on Tony’s shoulder. “Okay, so maybe I have to fuck you over your kitchen table. I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

“You’re such a goober,” Tony said, but he was smiling now, and he went willing when Ian dragged him into the kitchen, and did fuck him over the table.

Afterwards, they were collapsed on the floor trading kisses, when Ian rolled to his back and groaned. He said, “Okay, I may be too old to be on the floor, but fucking in the kitchen is a definite success.”

Tony rested his head on Ian’s stomach, letting his legs uncurl into the living room, and nodded his agreement. After a few minutes of contented silence, Tony finally asked, “So pizza first or packing first?”

“If we don’t start packing now, we’ll never get started. I also have another thing to run by you.”

“Shoot,” Tony said, as he reluctantly got up, and put out a hand to help Ian up. After stretching out their kinks, and redoing their pants, they then began taping the boxes into cubes as they talked.

“Remember how I said the Bureau was overjoyed?”

“Has that changed?”

“No, just, they were just so overjoyed they let it slip to the local S&G Center, who’d like to see us. Apparently pre-bonding counseling is a thing nowadays.”

“I guess shrinks will use any excuse to get you on their couches, eh?”

“My thought exactly, but I figured there was no harm in playing along since we have the time anyway. I don’t want them hassling us and causing delays when we’re free to bond.”

“Good point. Okay, when do they want to see us?”

Ian rolled his eyes. “As soon as possible, of course. I was thinking we could make an appointment today, they said they had weekend availability, and then maybe we could start next weekend? If we move on Sunday, we have the time on Saturday for this.” Ian looked around Tony’s apartment with calculation, and followed up with, “And we can probably fit in some furniture delivery that day as well. A new bed, and a second couch for starters. Your place is nice, but you’re right, it’s small, and you don’t have much furniture really, since the piano takes up so much space.”

“That’s fine with me. How about you call the S&G Center, I’ll call for pizza, and then we pack until pizza comes? And then tomorrow we can go furniture shopping?”

Ian said, “Works for me,” and they both proceeded to make their phone calls. They spent the rest of the day packing, with Ian telling Tony which movies he had seen and which he hadn’t as he packed them. This prompted Tony to do impressions and tell Ian about his favorite parts, and both were entertained despite the tedious task. The making out also helped with this.

Luckily Tony didn’t get called into work, so no worries when they went to Ian’s place for the night and then went furniture shopping Sunday after brunch. It was a great, mostly stress-free weekend, and one Tony felt like he sorely needed after the workweek.

It wasn’t until Sunday night as they were winding down and getting ready to part, since Tony was going back to his place to be closer to the Navy Yard, that Tony remembered the crazy meeting with the Director. He shared his impressions with Ian, who said, “I’m beginning to get more and more concerned about your coworkers. Are any of them professional?”

Tony sighed, and admitted, “Apparently only the ones who didn’t work with Gibbs in any real capacity. The Director is an old partner of his.”

‘I’m beginning to like this guy less and less. How on earth did you work with him for so long?”

“It’s weird, but it didn’t feel toxic when Morrow was director, and it was just the two of us. As more and more people got added to the mix, the dysfunction just seemed to expand exponentially. I don’t even know how I ended up here and now with everyone being dicks, and me itching to leave, but feeling bad about it at the same time.”

“You definitely shouldn’t feel bad about wanting a healthy situation for yourself. And now you have me talking like a shrink,” Ian finished on a little embarrassed laugh.

Tony kissed him. “Hey, someone’s gotta have clear perspective here, and it certainly isn’t going to be me. I’m glad for your presence, with or without the psychoanalysis. You’re keeping me sane and from thinking something stupid like I have to put up with it.”

“Then I’m glad to be here for you. And this is definitely not your fault, and you definitely don’t have to put up with it. Make it as right as you can until Gibbs comes back, and then hightail it out of there. Trust me.”

Tony looked into Ian’s eyes, and admitted, “I do.”

Ian kissed him fiercely. “I do too. So remember we’re in this together now, okay?”

“Okay.” Tony returned his kisses, letting them become heated again, until he finally broke away with a combined laugh and groan. “I have to go or I’ll never go. And I have to be early at work tomorrow to keep the underlings in line.”

Ian pressed one final quick kiss to Tony’s lips, and stepped away. Tony could see how reluctant Ian was, and he appreciated the respect inherent in his actions. He smiled and did his own stepping back, until he left with a wave and an, “I’ll miss you.”

The next week actually ended up going by quickly. They had a murder case to solve, which seemed to inspire McGee and Ziva to try a little harder, which eased some of the tension between them and Tony. Tony also found a work confidante in Jimmy Palmer, which was a surprising development, but one he was glad for. On the spur of the moment, he even asked Jimmy to help him and Ian move that weekend with the reward of Chinese food, which was an invitation Jimmy seemed happy to accept.

So before he knew it, it was Saturday, and it was time for their S&G counseling sessions. They had arranged things so that they would go to the S&G Center in the early morning, and would accept furniture deliveries in the afternoon.

Tony had spent the night at his place finishing up his packing, so he was meeting Ian at the D.C. Center, although he had packed a suitcase with some clothes and toiletries so he could spend the night at the new place with Ian, since their bed should be delivered by then. He pulled up just shy of eight, and played on his phone the five minutes he had to wait for Ian to roll up so they could go in together.

Their pre-bond counseling went about as well as expected. Tony talked circles around the therapist, with Ian helping every now and then with asides and interjections. They worked like a well-oiled machine; not revealing much of anything, but getting some information out of the therapist as to what the Center expected them to gain from pre-counseling, and what they had found were the pitfalls of newly bonded pairs.

Mostly it revolved around military and law enforcement sentinels bonding with civilian guides, so it really didn’t apply to them. The other cautions were about taking it slow and not moving too fast, which they were already doing if not for the same reasons, except for the whole moving in together already part. They didn’t mention that, although they were committed to six sessions, so it would probably come up at some point.

Afterwards the Center split them up for one-on-one sessions with a bonded sentinel for Ian and bonded guide for Tony so they had some idea of what to expect when they bonded, and could ask questions of someone who had been through it.

The guide was an ATF agent named Sheila who did this on the side. She started with what she even admitted was a canned spiel, but Tony was clueless enough about bonded guides and their abilities to pay close attention anyway. Back in the nineties when he had gone to the mixers, sentinel and guide abilities were still being discovered, and the information was more romantic notion than fact.

She started with, “So its common knowledge that bonded pairs stabilize each other’s enhanced gifts. For the sentinel, having a compatible, bonded guide means they can extend their senses further and easier than they can when unbonded. For guides, this means they have some shielding for their empathy gifts as well as have a tie to the physical plane so they don’t get lost on the spiritual plane.”

Tony couldn’t help interjecting there with, “Spiritual plane, really? Are you telling me I can get sucked into some mystical other plane of existence like an even more fucked-up version of The Matrix?”

She chuckled. “I was getting to that, but yes. I’ve never heard it described in quite that way, but some guides are at risk of getting lost on the spirit plane, which is a somewhat mystical place connecting all sentinels and guides and their gifts.

“I will caution here that most sentinels are resistant to the spirit plane, even though their spirit animals are manifestations from there. We speculate that this is to balance the guides who are drawn to it and can become lost inside their minds as they explore it, as I mentioned.”

“I am definitely in the sentinel camp. Another plane of existence, hell. I don’t think I’m ready for that. Give me the blue pill.”

Sheila snorted. “Sorry, Tony, you’ve already taken the red pill. You’re committed now, unless you don’t want to bond.”

Tony shook his head ruefully, but accepted his fate. “Okay, yeah, there’s no way I am backing out of bonding with Ian. Red pill, it is. So what else is there besides the spirit plane?”

“Well, as I mentioned every bonded guide and sentinel have a spirit animal, which is unique to every individual. Sometimes they are fleeting glimpses and sometimes they are near constant companions, but with meditation every bonded sentinel and guide has always connected with one. We don’t know if unbonded ones have them and they just don’t have a strong enough connection to the spirit plane for the animals to manifest, but there is speculation about that.

“If you want to further explore those topics, there are meditation classes and spaces here at the Center, and the more shamanic, bonded guides can help you. Like you mentioned for yourself, I don’t have much interest in it, but if you change your mind, I’ll give you some pamphlets to take home.”

“Okay, that’s fine.” Tony knew he wouldn’t be following up, but recycling a pamphlet was fine.

She said, “Next will probably be of more concern to you as a law enforcement agent. Because of your increased empathetic gifts, you will be registering emotions from people around you; getting them from Ian will be the easiest, next will be emotions directed at you, but also general emotions of the people in your vicinity too. This can be especially traumatic around victims and suspects.”

Tony interrupted her to say, “I’m already getting some of that, the strong ones directed at me at least. That’s how I knew I was compatible with Ian.”

“Okay, we need to get your one-on-one training started ASAP. I didn’t know that. While even bonded guides find it hard to filter out their sentinels’ emotions and those directed at them, there are skills you can learn to filter out the general emotions around you, and lessen the impact of the other emotions. This is key to your mental health since untrained guides reported higher anxiety, agitation, and moodiness which can lead to serious problems down the road including depression and even suicide.”

Tony was skeptical, but still said, “Okay, if you say so. It’s just flashes right now, so it’s not really a problem. It’s actually being kind of helpful.”

Sheila shook her head, and made a note in the notebook she had off to the side. “Trust me, Tony, if you are already experiencing that much just by being around your compatible sentinel, it will be much worse when you bond.”

Tony shrugged, and said, “Sure.” He hoped they could fit them in with the counselling, so that everything could be done once a week.

“Besides that, since you plan to bond by the end of the summer, we’ll also want to start some classes about how to bring sentinels out of sensory zones and how to best help them manage and use their senses. There are tricks that can help them achieve their highest potential that all guides should know. However, those classes usually last only three weeks or so, so they can be done closer to when you bond.”

Joking, he said, “There are a lot more classes involved with bonding than I expected.”

Sheila smiled, and offered, “It’s a modern world.”

Thinking about the changes in his life in the last month, Tony simply said, “Tell me about it.”

Sheila only had a couple more points she wanted to bring up, mostly about how people would find him more approachable and likable, which made Tony want to snort in disbelief, although he reined it in. If his coworkers were anything to go b, that was patently false, but he was beginning to accept Ian’s point of view that his coworkers were assholes, so probably not the best comparison. He still accepted Sheila’s points with a grain of salt, but he didn’t mock them.

They wrapped up the discussion shortly thereafter. Tony had actually found the whole discussion helpful, so he said a sincere thanks to Sheila and headed outside. He met back up with Ian, and they hightailed it to the townhouse in Springfield so they could accept their furniture deliveries.

That night their fucking was slow and intense in their new bed. Tony was left gasping out Ian’s name over and over again, and Ian just pressed his face into Tony’s neck and panted as his body shook.

Tony was woken up bright and early with a blowjob from Ian, which made the sunlight seem much friendlier than usual for that early in the morning. After he had returned the favor, they went out for coffee, and then rented a truck and headed out to Tony’s apartment to pack it up. The piano movers would be coming the following weekend, so Tony, Ian, and Jimmy would just be handling the rest of the furniture and Tony’s possessions.

They picked up more coffee and pastries, including stuff for Jimmy, who had texted that he was on his way. They all arrived at the same time, and started packing up the truck. Tony’s lease wouldn’t be up for another three months, and it was two months’ rent to break the lease, so he had just decided to keep the place for those three months as a place to crash when he worked late at the Navy Yard. Since Tony had decided to leave his bed at the apartment, this meant that the couch ended up being the bulkiest and trickiest piece of furniture to move for the three guys, so they wrangled that down to the truck first. Then Tony and Ian tackled the table and chairs, while Jimmy started moving boxes.

They made good time, and the whole place was packed up by eleven. Tony wandered his empty apartment, the only things left behind being the piano and bed as well as some toiletries and changes of clothes, and he felt a bit of loss for the phase of his life that was ending. He had been so focused on the work changes, he hadn’t thought through the personal ones as well. Luckily he felt like a snake shedding a skin that was now too small. His life was fuller and happier than it had been before Ian, and he felt good about leaving this all behind, if slightly nostalgic.

He felt Ian come up behind him, and then Ian’s arms wrapped around him. After kissing the back of his nexk, Ian asked, “Are you done saying goodbye?”

“You know what? I am.” Tony then twisted in Ian’s arms and hugged him hard. “It’s actually pretty easy to say goodbye since I have so much to look forward to.”

With a grin, Ian replied, “Sap.”

“Well, even if it isn’t my turn, I’m stealing yours.”

Ian huffed out a laugh and kissed him gently. He said, “Jimmy’s going to follow us in his car.”

“Then let’s get this caravan on the road.” Tony locked up his apartment, and followed Ian down to the truck. They drove to Virginia with Jimmy following, and parked in front of their townhouse.

Unpacking happened just as quickly as packing the truck had, so by three, everything was in the house and organized by room. Jimmy was helping them by unpacking the kitchen with Ian, while Tony tackled his movies in the den. They had gotten bookshelves delivered and put together the day before, so Tony just had to fill them up as he organized his collection.

They worked until five and then picked up the promised Chinese, and the three men settled around the kitchen table.

As they ate, Tony said, “Thanks for helping out, Jimmy. It made everything easier having another set of hands.”

With a beaming smile, Jimmy replied, “My pleasure.”

Ian asked, “So I never got what you do at NCIS, Jimmy?”

Before Jimmy could answer, Tony jumped in to say, “I never mentioned my Autopsy Gremlin?”

Ian replied with a wry expression, “You did, but I wasn’t sure whether it was a real person or just an in-joke.”

Jimmy laughed and added, “Tony’s called me that since my first year.”

Tony wrapped an arm around Jimmy’s shoulders and winked at him. “It is said with the deepest respect, I promise.”

Jimmy just laughed, and smiled back at Tony, and Tony got a touch of Jimmy’s good-humor from his empathy. “I know. I actually like have a nickname. Makes me feel like part of the group.”

“And you’ll always be part of my group, Autopsy Gremlin, I promise,” Tony said. “Isn’t that right, Ian?”

“Hey, any sane friend of Tony’s from NCIS is a friend of mine.”

Jimmy frowned, looking thoughtful. “I hadn’t put it together. You’re going to leave NCIS then?”

Tony squeezed Jimmy’s shoulder one last time, and then dropped his arm, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, sorry to spring it on you when no one else knows and I’d prefer to keep it that way, but when Gibbs comes back or by the end of the summer, whichever comes first, I’m moving to the FBI to work with Ian.”

“How is that going to work with you two in a relationship?”

Tony looked over at Ian, since he wasn’t sure that sharing the news that Ian was a sentinel was his to do. Ian just nodded at him, so Tony explained, “Ian’s a sentinel and we’re compatible. We’re waiting to bond until I leave NCIS, but yeah, that’s what’s going on.”

“Holy shit, really? I’ve never heard of a pair finding each other this late in life!” Tony kicked Jimmy’s foot under the table, and he watched the dawning realization on Jimmy’s face that he was being insensitive. Jimmy rushed to add, “Not that it isn’t great!”

Ian just rolled his eyes at the both of them and said, “Yeah, trust me, I know. But that’s why we’re planning on working together, and why the Bureau will not only allow it, but encourage it.”

“But that’s amazing news, why haven’t you told everyone?”

Tony sighed. “Because it isn’t the cause of my change in demeanor at work, and I don’t want people to think it is. Also, after McGee’s and Abby’s bitching, I’m not sure I want to share this with them or my new address, so if you could keep quiet about that too that would be appreciated.”

“Hey, no problem. I’m honored you shared the news with me.” And Jimmy beamed at him, and Tony felt both pleased and embarrassed. He had invited Jimmy on the spur of the moment, but now he was glad he did. It felt good to have one relationship from work that he wanted to keep, and having Jimmy’s good vibes filling his mind made the rest of dinner a convivial affair. Even Ian loosened up enough to joke around with them, which Tony was glad to see.

The next month flew by for Tony. Between work, pre-bonding counseling sessions, and his guide classes it felt like all his time was earmarked. McGee was slowly and sullenly learning the duties of a senior field agent, and when Michelle joined them as their new probie, Tony made sure McGee took lead in training her up, although McGee bitched endlessly about that as well. Tony didn’t get it because it wasn’t like Gibbs had trained McGee, that was all Tony, so he had no idea where McGee had gotten the idea it was a team leader’s job to train up the probationary agents. He mostly seemed to think everything was Tony’s job, whether Tony was senior field agent or team lead.

McGee was also weirdly puffed up at other times, particularly when the Director was nearby. Tony had a sneaking suspicion that the Director had shifted her undercover operation from Tony to McGee, but the few times he had tried to obliquely bring it up, McGee shut him down rudely. He hoped McGee wasn’t in over his head, but he finally had to admit that McGee was an adult and he had to make his own mistakes. Tony had done all he could for him.

Ziva was still being difficult, but when she got a written warning, and was pulled up to Jenny’s office, she became excruciatingly punctual, sneering the whole time. Tony didn’t spend much time worrying about her. He didn’t think anything he could do would help her, so he focused on McGee, who he could bring up to speed, if reluctantly.

The forensics lab was another difficult place. Abby was still mad at him, and taking him to task every time he made McGee do something. He also still got the raw, obsessed emotions from her, which made him uncomfortable around her. He refused to avoid her lab when he needed results, but he had to gear himself up every time he went there.

Autopsy was better because Jimmy was there to joke around with, and Ducky, although consumed by his own feelings, was always professional. He actually seemed oblivious to what was going on, which in some ways made Tony happy, but in others made him sad that Ducky was so removed from daily life by his grief.

It felt fantastic to come home to Ian every night, although that had changed this week, as Ian’s sniper school was over for the summer and he was back to fugitive recovery. Tony knew he would cope, but he was finding it hard to go home without Ian there, so was working long hours every day. Tony had even politely declined attending a two week security conference in Dusseldorf because he didn’t want to miss being with Ian for his last two weeks at home.

Since Tony was so distracted by the changes in his own life, he was caught totally off guard by Ziva’s frame-up, her running from the authorities, and Gibbs’ return. Still, she was a team member, so he organized the others into a task force to uncover the truth and clear Ziva’s name, with sporadic help from Ziva and Gibbs.

Once Gibbs joined forces with them, after five minutes in his company, Tony knew he had definitely outgrown being Gibbs’ senior field agent, and had no desire to stunt his growth and fit himself back into that mold. He didn’t necessarily have to be a team leader when he moved over to the FBI, but he realized he was done taking on someone else’s rules and ways of doing things as his own. He had his own methods now, and he was sticking with them. They worked for him.

Once they solved the case, he almost quit suspecting that while Gibbs’ talked about going back to Mexico, it was unlikely to stick, but Ian was still out of town, and actually out of reach as he tracked some fugitive through the desert, so he hesitated, waiting to see how things shook out and what Ian had to say. Tony never did well being idle, so having to twiddle his thumbs while unemployed didn’t sound like a fun idea to him.

Even with his hesitation, he planned ahead. He spoke with Delores Bromstead in HR, who still smiled at him after his Christmas Secret Santa gift, and she agreed to hold his completed resignation paperwork without filing it. One phone call to her, and the process would start immediately. She would file all of it, including the HR ones to use his vacation time in lieu of his last two weeks, once he sent the message that it was official. He had told her in confidence that he had found a sentinel, and she had kept his secret, just like Jimmy. He liked the idea that he could walk out the door in a moment and never come back.

When he arrived at the office, his three agents were clustered around McGee’s desk. They quickly dispersed when he rounded the corner, and McGee ducked his head. Before becoming team leader, he would have pestered McGee to find out what was going on, but he knew their new relationship didn’t allow for that, so he just raised an eyebrow and continued to his desk.

Almost as soon as he sat down, Gibbs blew past the bullpen on his way to the Director’s office.

McGee asked, “I wonder what’s going on?” and Tony got a look at his teeth for the first time and did a double take.

Talking about blinding McWhiteness, holy shit. McGee looked like a deer caught in headlights now, and Tony really wished he could still rib McGee because that was just too funny, but instead he simply said, “I have no idea.”

When Gibbs came down hot and bothered about an old case that he and Fornell had worked, Tony briefly looked at his phone wondering if the time was right to resign. It was obvious that Gibbs was now back in the game, so even if he wasn’t team leader yet, it was probably just a matter of time. He paused only because Ian was still out of reach, and he would still be bored sitting at home.

So when Gibbs then rushed down to Abby’s lab, he ordered the group to start working the case with the first step being getting the security feed from forensics.

They investigated for the next two days with Tony and Gibbs stepping on each other’s toes the whole time. Thankfully, with a well-timed Antiques Roadshow spiel by McGee, they solved the case and caught the right guy.

That night Ian finally called. Ecstatic, Tony answered with, “Wow, so glad you’re back in civilization.”

Ian laughed. “Tell me about it. I smelled horrible, but not as bad as the guy I caught. We were a ripe pair.”

“I hope you ate and showered before calling me.”

“It was a close call since I missed you, but I took care of that stuff as well as got the fugitive squared away in the local jail before calling. I didn’t want us to be cut short.”

“I missed you too, you have no idea.”

“So tell me all about it. Are you still at NCIS? Is Gibbs sticking around?”

“It was a close call a couple of times, and I am set with HR to make my departure, but I haven’t officially quit yet. I was waiting to see if you were coming home soon. I kind of didn’t want to be at loose ends.”

“So Gibbs is back at NCIS officially?”

“Kind of? Not as team lead yet, but he’s officially an agent again, or may not have been officially retired at all. I’m a bit unclear on that point.”

“Okay, I don’t know how that works, but make sure you are actually resigned when you do it.”

“That’s why I talked to Delores. She likes me and will make sure my resignation is handled correctly.”

“Good. I have a manhunt over in Tempe, but it’s a local guy, and that type of fugitive tends to stick close to what they know, so I’m thinking I’ll be home in about a week. I should be in phone range the whole time.”

Tony replied, “Nice! That’s a relief. Gibbs and I do not work well together anymore, so it’s been a drag this last week. How about I make sure I quit by then and am ready to start at the FBI? Then we can bond and see what plays out for our sentinel and guide training as FBI agents and whatever else needs doing to get me transferred over there.”

“That sounds like heaven to me, to be honest. I wasn’t kidding about missing you. “

“Yeah, I hear you. The piano and I have been missing you too.” During the time they got to live together, most nights would find Tony playing the piano while Ian listened and read. He’d even make requests. Tony had found he was too restless for his movies because of the work stress, but the piano got him out of his head. Plus, being able to watch Ian while he played was its own joy.


Jokingly, Tony replied, “I’m just taking all the turns lately, huh?”

“Then I definitely owe you one or two. I’ll pay up when I get home.”

Tony grinned and said, “Deal.”

They talked about nothing and everything for another hour until Ian’s cell battery started dying. They said goodbye, and Tony hung up feeling happier than he had felt in a while. He actually did feel like he had set the team up to succeed when he left. He had given McGee the senior field agent skills needed, and even if neither the team nor Gibbs appreciated it, he felt good about what he had accomplished this summer, especially considering it had been at some cost to his own personal happiness.

He was ready to resign.

Which made it all the more serendipitous that when he walked into the bullpen the next morning with McGee and Ziva, he found Gibbs back at Tony’s desk, Michelle standing with her files like a lost little lamb, and his stuff put into a box on the senior field agent’s desk.

He smiled wide at Gibbs, actually seeming to shock him, and Tony was the first to speak. He loved it when life gave him the perfect opening for some grandstanding. “Welcome back, Gibbs! Thanks for boxing up my stuff, it makes my life so much easier, since I resign effective immediately. HR has my paperwork and are willing to use some of my unused vacation time in lieu of two weeks’ notice.”

Gibbs stood up so rapidly, his chair rolled back into the partition wall. “No one quits until I say so.”

Tony walked over putting his badge and firearm on Gibbs desk. He said, “You keep telling yourself that. I’ll let you inform the Director.”

He gave one last look around the bullpen, not minding leaving the orange wall behind if he was honest, looked at a stunned McGee and Ziva, and went to pick up his box.

McGee, with somewhat of a snide tone, said, “Can’t handle not being team leader anymore?”

Tony shook his head, and looked McGee in the eye as he turned with his box. “That’s it exactly, McGee, of course it is.” He took the box with Gibbs’ medals out of the cardboard box, and handed it to McGee. Everything else was his.

With McGee looking flummoxed again, Ziva calculating, and Gibbs stony, Tony walked out. He almost wanted to whistle or do a little dance, but he restrained himself. When he reached the stairwell, he balanced the box on the railing, and dialed nine in his frequent contacts. “Delores, my dear! I need you to activate my paperwork.”

She said, “I’m sorry to see you go, but I’m glad you found a sentinel, and finally get to be with him. And it’s done and in the system. No takebacks now.”

“Never! Thank you again for your help. It’s been invaluable. I’ll invite you to dinner so you can meet Ian one of these days.”

“You do that. Now get out of here. You don’t work here anymore.”

Tony laughed and said thank you again and hung up, making his way out of the building and into the underground parking, now whistling for real.

After resigning from NCIS, Tony turned off his phone and napped and puttered for three days. Since Ian was out of town, no one cared except Jimmy, who came to check on him the third day. Still in his pajamas, Tony let Jimmy in while yawning. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Just wanted to make sure you were okay. You haven’t been answering your phone.”

“I turned it off. It was ringing constantly, and I didn’t want to deal with it. Ian knows to call the house phone, but I didn’t think you might worry. Sorry.”

Jimmy was running a critical eye over Tony, and Tony felt a little self-conscious. He knew the weight he had lost this summer was more apparent in his thin pajamas. So he wasn’t surprised when Jimmy said, “No problem. If you get dressed, I’ll take you out to lunch?”

Tony huffed out a laugh about how predictable Jimmy was. “Give me time for a shower and you’re on.”

Jimmy beamed. “Deal.”

After his shower, Tony got dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and they headed to the nearest deli with outside seating. They each ordered a stacked sandwich and chips, and then settled at one of the wrought iron patio tables to eat.

After devouring his sandwich, Tony admitted he had been hungry. Jimmy was eating at a more sedate pace, so Tony turned on his phone to check his messages. He had a ridiculous number, and once he started playback he realized, besides a couple job offers from people who had heard he had left NCIS and one apologetic message from Ducky, the rest were angry or passive-aggressive messages from the rest of his former coworkers. Rolling his eyes, he deleted most of them in the first second. He didn’t care.

Once his phone was clear, he turned it off again. Contemplating, he said, “You know, maybe I should get a new phone. I don’t want any of them to come knocking at the new place.”

“You think they would trace it?”

Tony gave Jimmy a look, who grimaced. Jimmy said, “There’s a place down the street if you want to do it now.”

Tony nodded, and Jimmy finished his sandwich and they went to get Tony a new phone. After talking about options and transferring his contacts, Tony left with a new phone, and had turned in his old phone to be recycled. He felt lighter, especially once he texted his new number to Ian and Jimmy.

After admonishments to eat better and take care of himself, Jimmy left. Tony played with his new phone, cleaning out the contacts of people he didn’t want to talk to anymore and texting Ian.

As the afternoon waned Tony cleaned the brownstone for a bit and threw in a load of laundry. Finally feeling like things were back under control, Tony took a break and called Ducky. He had been happy that Ducky offered an olive branch, and had opened up about his hurt feelings and blindness the past summer. Ducky answered on the second ring with a cautious, “Dr. Mallard.”

Tony said, “Hi Ducky, it’s Tony. I wanted to make sure you had my new number, although I’d appreciate it if you didn’t share it around.”

“Of course, of course. My dear fellow, how are you?”

“Feeling good, Duck. Just had lunch with Jimmy, and got some much needed sleep.”

“That’s so good to hear. Mr. Palmer has brought me up to speed, and I must offer my deepest apologies again, my boy. You were quite right. I was consumed by my own hurt feelings since Jethro’s accident, and totally missed what was going on this summer.”

“I appreciate the apology. And of course, I accept it.”

“Thank you sincerely. So what will you do next, if you don’t mind me asking? Although out of the blue for us, it was apparent that you had been planning this for quite some time.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a tale.”

Ducky chuckled. “You know I am not adverse to a bit of storytelling.”

Tony laughed too. “Remember I was on vacation just before Gibbs got blown up?”

“That’s right. To the Gulf Coast, as I seem to recall?”

“That’s right. Well, I met my sentinel there.”

Tony could here Ducky’s astonishment over the phone. It sounded like he choked on some tea. “How is that possible?”

“He’s apparently one of the oldest unbonded sentinels recorded, and we connected immediately. We put off bonding while I handled things at NCIS, which got complicated by Gibbs’ departure, but that’s why I left. I’m moving to the FBI to be with him.”

“Of course you are, my dear boy. Oh my goodness, I must admit to being quite speechless.”

Tony laughed again. “Not often that happens!”

“Quite. So tell me about your sentinel and everything else I was too blind to notice.”

Tony told an edited version of how they met, and how supportive Ian had been during the summer as well as their plans for the future. It was nice to feel connected to Ducky again, and have him be interested in Tony’s life. As the conversation continued, Ducky even began telling his own stories again, while Tony listened fondly.

As they winded down, Ducky said, “Well, I am very happy for you, Anthony. I hope you plan to invite me and Mr. Palmer to your bonding ceremony when it happens?”

“It might be short notice.”

“I’ll make it happen. I would dearly love to support you going forward.”

“Well then, of course. I’ll let you guys know.”

“Thank you again, Anthony. I for one appreciate your forgiving nature.”

Tony demurred, and they said good-bye. Tony felt better about his friendship with Ducky than he had in a while. It was still hard to let go of the rest, but he was learning to do it, and only count on the people who would be there for him, instead of those who would throw him over at the first chance.

Ian called that night, and Tony answered with, “Hey you.”

“You sound much better, gorgeous.”

“Well, three days of sleep will do that.”

“I’m so glad you’re out of there. I don’t honestly understand why you stuck around so long, although I know it was important to you, but I can’t explain how happy I am to see the backside of those people. They weren’t good for you.”

“It’s funny, but it was so great in the beginning when it was just Gibbs and I. And then we added Kate and Tim, which was okay, even though I realize now I kind of lost Abby’s friendship to them then, and then it all went to hell once Kate was killed.”

“If you say so.”

Tony could tell Ian didn’t really believe it had ever been good for him, but considering he had come along when everyone was at their worst, Tony wasn’t surprised by this and he appreciated the caring that was behind it. He said, “Ducky apologized.”

Ian said, “Alright, so I no longer hate him,” which made Tony laugh. Jimmy and then Delores had been the only ones who had Ian’s approval. Ian liked that Jimmy made sure Tony ate and slept when Ian was out of town. He could also tell Ian was smiling over the phone at making him laugh. Ian was so firmly in Tony’s camp that it was comical to Tony, but at the same time it always made a deep, warm feeling expand in his chest. He had never had anyone who supported him absolutely until Ian.

He just hoped he offered Ian the same.

Tony said, “Jimmy and Ducky want to come to our bonding ceremony.”

“I guess that’s a thing, huh? Think I should invite my sister?”

“I would think so. Even if she can’t get a flight or the time off, she’d probably want to know you want her there.”

Ian hummed his agreement and then asked, “So, are we doing it when I get back? I know we discussed not making a big deal out of it, but I can probably finagle a couple days off if we want to get away. Is a honeymoon for a bonding ceremony a thing?”

“You’re asking me?”

“Blind leading the blind, huh?”

Tony said, “You know it. Anyway, I would love to get away for a couple days. The weather is still gorgeous. We could go to Ocean City?”

“You want to make the plans? The Center knows to expect your call about the bonding ceremony.”

“You talked to them already?”

Ian huffed out a laugh, but apparently it was at himself, since he just said, “The second you quit.”

Tony smiled. “Sap.”

“It’s been my turn for a while. Just finally taking advantage of it.”

“Apparently. Anyway, yeah, I’ll make the plans. You want any input?”

“Nah, I trust you.” Warmth again filled Tony, and a bit embarrassed about how he reacted to Ian saying things like that, he changed the topic to the manhunt Ian was on, and they talked about that for the remainder of the call, with Ian confirming he would be home by Wednesday.

Since it wasn’t quite five, he called the Sentinel & Guide Center, and made an appointment to have their bonding ceremony the coming Friday, giving Ian an extra day to get home. Since they weren’t having a fancy event and were doing it at the Center, it didn’t matter that it was only a week away. He texted the information to Ian, as well as Ducky and Jimmy. After thinking about it for a bit, he also decided to invite Steve, but would do that in email later.

After moving the laundry to the dryer and making himself some dinner, Tony opened his laptop. Besides emailing Steve and cc’ing his frat brothers, he began researching places to stay in Ocean City and other things to do on the Maryland Coast. He finally rented a condo right on the beach for four days starting Saturday. Even though it was past the peak season it was still expensive, but he figured it was worth it. They were only celebrating bonding once. Plus, it had a full kitchen, so he could cook for them. He really missed doing that since Ian had been out of town.

The next morning Ducky called and conveyed a message from Gibbs saying that Gibbs would be at a coffee shop near his house around eight, and he would appreciate it if Tony stopped by to talk. Tony took this to mean Gibbs had gone to Tony’s old apartment and discovered that it was empty except for his twin bed and had decided that meant he should meet Tony on neutral ground.

He debated with himself for about an hour, but in the end he was in the car heading towards Gibbs’ neighborhood. He didn’t mind trying to leave things with Gibbs on a better note. He ordered a hazelnut coffee and found Gibbs sitting at a table in the back reading the paper.

Tony slid into the other seat and simply asked, “Hey Gibbs, what can I do for you?” He wasn’t getting any emotional read off Gibbs.

“I want to know why you quit.”

“That’s really none of your business, except that it was past time, really, as you should know.” He knew their bonding would be common knowledge once he joined the FBI, but he felt like what he and Ian had was still private until then. And for all that Gibbs had been a friend at one time that had died with Kate and was rocky even before that.

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee and scrutinized Tony. Since Tony was used to Gibbs’ interrogation techniques, he just waited out the silence. Finally Gibbs asked, “How bad was it?”

Tony snorted. “Oh it was bad, but despite whatever conspiracy theories or sour grapes everyone has been feeding you, getting the truth won’t change anything. To be perfectly honest, I was going to leave in May, but then you ran off on your siesta and I wanted there to be something for you to come back to, so I stayed. But I was always going to leave.”

Gibbs eyes narrowed as he again looked closely at Tony. Still relaxed, Tony drank his coffee. Gibbs said, “You found something better.”

Nodding, Tony confirmed, “I found something much better.”

“And you’re not going to tell me.”

“Still none of your business.”

Gibbs hummed in response and silence again descended between them, until Gibbs asked, “Ducky knows?”

“Ducky is a friend.”

“But I’m not.” Gibbs picked up his coffee again, hiding his expression.

Tony sighed. “You tell me Gibbs. When was the last time you felt like my friend? Or that I was your friend?”

Putting down his cup with a slight sound, Gibbs asked, “When did things change?”

“Long before your siesta, so don’t worry if you can’t put the pieces together. It took me awhile to realize it too, and I don’t have the excuse of amnesia.”

“This has to do with Kate, doesn’t it?”

“Everything goes back to Kate, yes.” He knew Gibbs meant Kate’s death, while Tony meant when she joined the team, but considering her death was the final straw, he guessed it didn’t make a difference. He wasn’t going to explain any of that though.

“Tell me what went wrong with the team.”

Tony looked Gibbs in the eye. Seeing a seriousness there and an acceptance, Tony decided it was worth it to tell his side. Uninterrupted, he told Gibbs about the team’s overall behavioral issues and insubordination in the beginning, McGee’s lack of initiative, Ziva’s lack of caring, Abby’s obsessiveness, and the Director’s hovering. He also obliquely mentioned that McGee was possibly doing something for the Director, but he didn’t add any details, just hoping that was enough to give McGee a parachute if it went to hell.

By the end Gibbs was stone-faced. After a beat of silence, ready to end the discussion, Tony asked, “Was there anything else you wanted to know?”

Gibbs shook himself out of his upset, and snarked back with, “Got somewhere else to be, DiNozzo?” but he looked like he regretted it the second it was out of his mouth. Tony got the feeling Gibbs didn’t want their coffee meeting to end on a bad note, which he appreciated.

He said, “Piles of laundry to do and groceries to get, you know how it is.”

“That’s funny because your apartment was empty.”

Tony knew Gibbs was fishing, and Tony was feeling generous after Gibbs actually listened to him without getting defensive about even Abby, so he offered, “I just stayed there for convenience to the Navy Yard. I’ve moved in the meantime.”

“Because of something better.”

Tony smiled. “Oh, yeah.”

Gibbs nodded and looked away for a second. He then finally said, “You ever need anything, you give me a call, okay?”

Treating it like the olive branch it was, Tony offered, “And if you ever need anything from me, tell Ducky. I’ll be there if I can.”

Gibbs grunted, which Tony knew was the ‘thank you’ Gibbs couldn’t bring himself to say, and then Gibbs walked out the door without a backward glance. Tony sighed, and then shrugged. It had gone better than he could have hoped, so there was that at least. He ordered another coffee to go, and headed to the grocery store and dry cleaners.

When talking to the S&G Center, Tony also arranged to have accelerated sessions about ‘how to help your sentinel’ in the next week, instead of the usual three weeks. Even though Tony still missed sleeping next to Ian every night, between the classes and catching up on sleep and chores, the rest of the time flew by until Ian came home Wednesday. Ian’s sister was flying in on Thursday, so there was only one night before they had company, so they made the most of it, Tony riding Ian’s cock slow and easy until they were both sweaty and aching for release.

Tony hadn’t met Ian’s sister since she lived near their mother in New Mexico, but they had exchanged hellos on the phone once or twice. She was five years younger than Ian and a psychologist with two kids, who had married her high school sweetheart. Her husband couldn’t get off work for their ceremony, but Marietta apparently moved heaven and hell to come, even with the short notice. Ian said she was adamant about being there, which Tony could tell touched him, since their mom was now too old to travel this far. Marietta was staying through Saturday morning, and they’d drop her off at the airport on the way to the beach.

Using Ian’s SUV they moved Tony’s twin bed from his apartment to the townhouse so Marietta had a place to sleep in the guestroom. Tony wouldn’t need the apartment anymore since he had resigned from NCIS, so he arranged for cleaners to come, and they dropped the keys off at the maintenance office.

They set up the bed and had time to eat lunch before heading to the airport to pick up Marietta. Unfortunately her flight was delayed, so they parked and then cooled their heels for a while in the arrivals lounge.

Finally, Ian was jumping to his feet, and a slight woman was rushing into his arms. Their hug lasted a good minute, and Ian rocked her in his arms as she started to cry. Tony waited patiently off to the side until the hug ended, and Marietta stepped back swiping her eyes. She said, “So introduce me to this gorgeous man you snagged, Ian.”

Ian smiled his gorgeous, beaming smile making Tony’s heart clench, and Tony felt his own smile bloom uncontrolled on his face. Ian just made him so happy. Ian waved a hand inviting Tony closer to where he still had an arm around Marietta. He said, “Marietta, I’d like to introduce Tony DiNozzo. Tony, this is Snoop.”

Marietta elbowed Ian in the stomach and said, “Don’t call me that. You know I hate that nickname.”

Tony chuckled. “Hi Marietta, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I hope you brought plenty of pictures and stories.”

She linked her free arm with Tony’s and led them to the baggage claim carousal that was for her flight. “Don’t you worry about that. I am loaded down for bear as far as that goes.”

Tony laughed as Ian groaned. “You’re my kind of woman, Marietta.”

Ian interjected with an affronted, “Hey!” as Tony and Marietta giggled together.

They picked up Marietta’s checked bag, and walked her back to Ian’s SUV for the trip back to the townhouse. Because of the delayed flight, it was now rush hour, so traffic was crawling. Tony was sitting in the back so Marietta could have the front passenger seat, and he leaned forward to ask questions and participate in the conversation as they inched forward. Finally, about two hours later, they arrived home with takeout pizza. It was quicker than cooking, and they were all starving.

After devouring the pizza, they relaxed in the den with glasses of wine, and Marietta brought out the photo albums she brought with her. Tony and Marietta dragged Ian to one of the couches so the three of them could huddle close as Marietta showed Tony cute baby and surly teenage pictures of Ian as well as family shots.

Tony loved every minute of finding out about Ian’s history. How he was a colicky baby according to their mom, and a quiet and serious teenager. As he had guessed when they first met, Ian wasn’t a talkative sort, so while he didn’t mind sharing information with Tony, it didn’t come naturally to him, and often had to be dragged out leading question by leading question. Marietta was more like Tony and the conversation between them flowed fast and easy as stories were exchanged.

As Marietta switched photo albums, Tony asked, “So why do you call her Snoop?”

“Because she was always in my stuff. She was a pest,” Ian replied as Marietta settled down again.

Marietta huffed in fake annoyance. “I was not! I was exercising my younger sister prerogative!”

Ian snorted. “In other words, snooping.” Then he saw the first picture as she opened the new photo album, and he put his hands over the photo. “Oh, no! Not that one!”

Marietta started cackling. “Oh yes! Tony needs to see you in all your glory.”

“Oh my god, is this from his time in the army?” Tony asked. Marietta nodded, and he started pushing Ian’s hands out of the way. “Yes, give it here!”

They got into a mild tussle over the book, until Marietta entered the fray, and slid the book into Tony’s lap allowing him to win to Ian’s loud disagreement. Tony was finally able to see the picture of a painfully thin, buzzed-cut Ian in uniform from 1986 and laughed in delight. “You are so adorable! Look at your fierce scowl and lack of hair!”

“I was not adorable. I have never been adorable. Take that back.”

In a fake whisper, Marietta said, “He was so proud of that uniform. He was all puffed up and polishing his shoes every night.”

With a salacious wink, Tony whispered back, “Tell me more,” and she did while Ian denied all of it with laughter in his voice as Marietta’s stories got more and more outrageous, and she showed Tony the pictures from when Ian was in his twenties.

It was a fun evening, and Tony was sorry when they had to break it up to go to bed. It made the bonding ceremony suddenly real, and Tony found himself sitting at the end of their bed with his shoes in hand to polish but too busy freaking out to actually do it.

Ian came in and asked, “Hey, you okay?”

Tony shook his head to clear his thoughts. He offered a weak smile to Ian. “Yeah, it’s just… we’re bonding tomorrow. The weight of it suddenly hit me.”

Ian put down the laundry basket he was holding, and sat next to Tony. “We can wait longer if you’re unsure.”

All Tony could see was concern in his eyes, and he felt such a rush of warmth for what a good person Ian was, he had to kiss him. He rested his forehead on Ian’s when the kiss ended. “I don’t want to wait. It just hit that this is the first real commitment we’re making. Sure we moved in together, but I always still had my place before. Now it’s permanent, and I want it desperately, but I’m also afraid that someone or something will be yanking the rug out from under me. It’s too perfect to happen to me.”

“Hey, first of all, nothing is too perfect for you. Second, we’ve worked hard for this. We waited while you settled your job, we got blood tests, and we took classes. Hell, we went to counselling. This has been anything but easy. But it’s worth it. At least for me.”

“I’ve just never been happier. And you’re here to stay. I’m suddenly scared to lose you.” Tony gave a self-conscious laugh. “And listen to me being emo. I’m channeling McGee. Kiss me out of it!”

Ian huffed out a laugh, and kissed the hell out of Tony, and Tony began to settle as he felt Ian’s emotions rush to the surface. There was lust and desire, but predominantly there was fondness and love. They had never said those three words to each other, but Tony was reassured every time they kissed and he felt Ian’s emotions. Ian was all in, and Tony needed to get his head in the game.

Ian pushed him back down on the bed, and Tony let the shoes fall to the floor. He gasped as Ian bit his earlobe, and said, “I have to polish our shoes. We can’t look scruffy for our ceremony.”

“Do it tomorrow.” Ian started undressing him, and Tony gave up his ideas of a restful morning, and began returning the favor. They tried to have sex quietly, but they giggled and shushed each other throughout it, and were probably louder than normal because of it. Tony found he didn’t care. Marietta would smirk at them in the morning, but she’d be happy for her brother. It already shone out of her, and that was what family should be about he was discovering.

The next morning was a rush for the three of them. Besides the normal getting ready parts, Tony still had to polish their shoes, Marietta had to iron her dress, so Ian had to find the ironing board, and Ian was also trying to get some food in everyone.

They made it out the door with a minute to spare for traffic, and raced down the highway to the D.C. S&G Center. Because of an accident, they were a couple minutes behind schedule by the time they arrived, so Marietta pushed them to go and meet their officiant, while she parked Ian’s SUV.

Ian took Tony’s hand and pulled him into the building where they found Sheila sitting at the reception desk. Tony said, “Hey, Sheila. We’re here for our bonding ceremony?”

She pointed to the left, and said, “We hold them in the garden gazebo. I saw Ben already headed that way. He’ll be your officiant today. I’ll send your guests that way too.”

Tony beamed at her and said a rushed, “Thank you,” as Ian tugged him out into the Center garden. Tony knew how Ian hated being late, so he didn’t worry about Ian’s rushing. He just squeezed Ian’s hand, and said, “Breathe.”

Out in the gazebo they found Ben, who was apparently Sheila’s sentinel and who Ian had talked to in his own one-on-one session. He walked them through the ceremony and mentioned that there would be a medic on call in case of problems with the blood loss, but that they hadn’t ever been needed in Ben’s experience.

Marietta joined them, and was introduced to Ben as one of the witnesses along with Jimmy, and then Ducky and Jimmy were there too, and the ceremony could get started. Steve was in court so had to send his congratulations, as did the rest of Tony’s out-of-town frat brothers.

Tony and Ian stood facing each other in front of Ben like in a wedding ceremony, but there was a small, ceremonial table next to Ben holding the sterilized knife in an autoclave bag for the actual bond cuts. They joined hands and stood facing each other as Ben began the ceremony, but Tony barely listened to him. He was too busy looking into Ian’s eyes and feeling the positive emotions rise around them.

When Ben asked for Tony’s right hand and Ian’s left, Tony snapped back into the ceremony and again noticed the birdsong and the faint traffic noises from over the garden wall. He held out his hand palm up, just like Ian did, and silently, Ben cut their palms hard enough for a stream of blood to flow into each of their palms. He then said, “Please join hands, palms together.”

Tony lifted his hand, blood trickling down into his shirt cuff, but then Ian’s palm was resting against his, and he gasped and swayed as a wave of emotions overwhelmed him. Not letting go of his hand, Ian took a step closer and wrapped his other arm around Tony’s waist. “Hey, you alright there?”

Tony blinked his confusion and lightheadedness away from his eyes, and focused on Ian who was looking at him with concern and worry. He also felt that rush of concern, along with fondness and love from Ian, but it was intense and solid this time, not just a flash. In the background he could feel Ben’s concern, although he got the feeling his reaction wasn’t completely uncommon since Ben’s worry was mild, as well as the emotions from the other three nearby. Again there was care and concern only, which made Tony feel warm and loved like he had never believed he could ever be certain of before.

He said, “Whoa.”

Ian asked, “Tony, are you okay? Do you need the medic?”

“No, no, I’m okay. Just a head-rush.” Tony suddenly smiled wide. He said, “Kiss me. You feel amazing already, but I bet that is even better.”

Ian rolled his eyes, but his smile was crooked and fond, and then he was pressing a hard, emotional kiss to Tony’s lips. With that press, suddenly Tony got an even better feel for Ian’s emotional tone. He used his free hand to hold Ian’s face pressed to his as he chased down the deeper emotions. He felt Ian’s wonder and lingering loneliness as well as all the affection Ian usually showed him, but rarely mentioned outright. There was a reason Tony was taking all Ian’s sappiness turns. Ian felt it, but rarely said it.

It was humbling, and if the loneliness wasn’t there to temper it, practically orgasmic. Tony was half-hard and trying to wrestle his own emotions down so that he could let Ian’s mouth go so they could both breathe. It was a struggle, but finally he turned his head to the side and gasped in a breath, leaving his forehead resting on Ian’s.

Ian murmured, “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah. Just. Damn. I know we don’t say it, but I do love you.”

Ian pulled him closer, and then with a smirk said, “I know,” making Tony laugh so hard that he bent double. He looked up to see Ian’s smirk morph into a proud grin, and laughed harder. Ben was looking at them like they were crazy now, which made Tony laugh even harder, and try to explain. “Only Ian would Han Solo me at our ceremony. He Ghost-ed me when we got together.”

Now most everyone but Jimmy was looking at him like he was talking nonsense, but Jimmy saved him by saying, “Only you would appreciate classic movie scene reenactments during serious talks and ceremonies.”

“Hey! I found Ian, didn’t I? He definitely appreciates them too.” Tony straightened up, and reined in his laughter, until he was just chuckling.

Ducky smiled fondly, and said, “That reminds me of the other sentinel and guide ceremony I attended back in 1968. Unlike our dear Tony and his sentinel, the couple were uniquely unsuited for each other.” As Ducky gathered steam for his tale, Tony stared at Ian, who was staring back smiling gently. Tony smiled back and leaned into Ian’s side. Their palms were still joined.

As Ducky winded down his story about the couple’s mutual love of cricket, and a zinger about batting for the wrong team, Ben began opening sterilized cloths and water. He said, “Let’s clean your hands. The bonding scars should have formed by now.” Bonding cuts weren’t like normal ones, and healed ridiculously fast. There were both medical and spiritual reasons, but Tony hadn’t cared except that it wouldn’t mess up his shooting hand for any length of time.

Tony realized the pain he had felt at the initial cut was gone, and there was just a tingling sensation in his palm. Reluctantly, he let Ian pull his hand back, and looked as his palm when his hand was free just like Ian did. In amongst the dried blood, he saw the white line of the bonding scar on both their palms.

Ben stepped forward to pour water over Ian’s hand and then Tony’s, then offering each of them a cloth afterwards to wipe their hands. He was beaming at them again, and as they dried their hands, he said, “Perfect scars. It’s a sign of a good match having such obvious scars. This has definitely been one of the most enjoyable ceremonies I have officiated. So happy to see such a well-matched pair. Just one last check of Tony’s equilibrium, then we can sign the certificate, and the Center will official register you as a bonded pair.”

Tony said, “I feel fine now. I just wasn’t expecting the empathic link to be so consuming. I loved it, but wow, seriously mind-blowing.”

Ben smirked. “That’s what Sheila said. Okay, since you’re standing on your own and are coherent, I’m comfortable with your emotional equilibrium. Will Tony and Ian step forward to the table on my right to sign the certificate?”

Ian and Tony signed, then Marietta, who had tear streaks down her cheeks, and Jimmy, who was beaming widely. Ben added his signature and the seal, and it was official, although Tony knew it was final once their palms connected. As seen by his stagger, he had felt the empathy connect like lightening. Their bond was ‘til death do us part, and he was finally settled in what that meant, since having access to Ian’s affection for him with an emphatic tug on their link was like a salve to his insecure heart.

Ben finished with, “There is a temporary certificate you can take with you now for official government registry, and you will receive the rest of the final paperwork in seven to ten days in the mail. Let me be the first to congratulate you.”

They smiled at him, Ian resting against Tony’s side. Tony said, “Thank you so much. We really appreciate your services, and thank you for the congratulations.”

Then Marietta was sobbing her happiness in Ian’s arms, and Ducky was clapping Tony on the shoulder, and everyone was talking at once. As everyone congregated around them, Tony curled his hand into a fist to keep the tingling sensation there and keep his scar private. He knew it was probably superstitious and unneeded, but he valued his bond with Ian too much to tempt fate and let anyone else touch the scar.

They trooped out of the garden and back into the Center, Sheila giving Tony a hug when they reached reception, and handing over the temporary certificate. After a short discussion, Tony and Ian and their guests caravanned to the restaurant nearby where Ian had made luncheon reservations in a private room. Luckily neither Ducky nor Jimmy had to go back to work right away since there were no dead bodies from earlier in the week, and they hadn’t been called for a new one.

Lunch was a lively and joyous affair, and Tony, although used to being the center of attention with his gregariousness, actually let the conversation flow around him this time. Ducky and Marietta were more than capable of carrying the load. This way he could hold Ian’s hand and just bask in the positive vibe of the room, since he was finding it more draining emotionally than he thought it would be to moderate the empathetic input he got from the people around him. Even though it was just the five of them and the waiter with the private room, it was still more input that Tony was used to. He knew he would be spending some time practicing the techniques he had learned at the Center in the coming weeks.

Lunch wrapped up around two when Ducky said they had to get back to the office. Everyone hugged Jimmy and Ducky, and then Ian drove Tony and Marietta home again. They settled in the living room with champagne that Tony had brought for the occasion, and Tony played the piano for Marietta and Ian.

Marietta was giggly when tipsy, and Tony taught her a rollicking version of chopsticks that they all laughed through. They called Ian’s mom and Marietta’s family, Tony deferring when asked about his own father. Somehow the evening passed rapidly for all of them until Tony was yawning over his dinner. Ian said, “Time to get you to bed, I think.” Tony leered at him, making Ian snort. “I’m thinking you won’t stay awake long enough to follow through on that thought.”

Tony yawned again. He mumbled, “Maybe not tonight, but just you wait.”

Laughing, Marietta said, “I’m so glad for you guys. And now I’m going to cry again.” She laughed again, but it was watery, and she had to swipe at her eyes.

Tony pulled her to his side. “You helped make today special. If it was left to Ian and me, we would have done the equivalent of eloping. So thank you.”

“I’m just glad I got pictures. Mom’s going to be so happy to see them.”

Ian asked, “Will you make us an album?”

Both Marietta and Tony stared at him in shock. He said, “What? I can be sentimental too.”

They all laughed as Marietta promised him the fanciest bonding album ever. She mentioned lace and pink stripes and further detailed the gaudiest ideas she could, with Ian protesting the whole time they were doing the dinner dishes while Tony looked on from the table. It was a good end to a good day.

Tony went to bed soon thereafter since he was exhausted. Plus, this way the siblings could enjoy the evening and catch up without him. He fell asleep with a smile feeling Ian’s happy emotions and Marietta’s muted, but no less joyful ones.

Luckily, Ian had set an alarm for the next morning with Marietta’s early morning flight because Tony forgot. Tony felt a lot less weary though, and like he had better control of his empathy, although he would continue to practice his exercises. Although they were rushed, this wasn’t a stressful situation, and he knew he would need to have better control by the time they started working and he had to confront suspects and interview victims.

They made it to the airport with time to spare, and as Ian unloaded Marietta’s luggage from the back, Tony hugged her goodbye. As they hugged, she whispered, “Take care of my brother.”

Tony hugged her tighter. “Always.”

She dropped a kiss on his cheek, and then she was hugging Ian before heading into departures.

Tony wrapped an arm around Ian’s shoulder. “I’m glad she could make it. It helped make the day special.”

Ian just said, “Yeah,” but he leaned his head against Tony’s for a second. When she disappeared from view, they split up to get back in the SUV and head to the ocean.

They stopped for coffee and egg sandwiches on the way out of the metro area, and then cruised down the highway. As they drove they were talking idly about the bonding ceremony, and since he was curious, Tony asked, “So could you feel a difference when our palms met?”

“Oh, yeah. I obviously don’t get the empathy that you do, but my sensory input of you suddenly snapped into place even though I still had my senses dialed down. I could hear you heartbeat and smell your sweat. Feel the hairs on the back of your hand where our fingers curled together. Feel your blood pumping sluggishly between our palms. I could get a better read off you because of it. I knew the second before you staggered that you were overwhelmed.

“Ah, that’s why you could catch me like a damsel in distress.”

Ian smirked. “You said it, not me.”

“Ass,” Tony replied as he pouted. Ian just laughed. Thinking about what it meant to be a sentinel in a way he never had before, at least outside of the classes on sentinel care he had taken, Tony asked, “So are your senses still dialed down, or have you let them go?”

“They’re only dialed down to what I hope to be my new baseline. I’m practicing holding them there despite all the new shiny input I’m getting.”

“Ah. You got homework and exercises too, huh?”

Ian jokingly replied, “You know it.”

“Let me know when you want to practice together.”

“I’d like to get started during our honeymoon, but I’m willing to save most of it for the Bureau’s training facility. They have a whole course we have to complete to be certified as a sentinel-guide pair cleared for the field.”

“Yeah, I read about that in the paperwork they sent over.”

Nodding, Ian said, “Yeah, I looked that over too. Anyway, I’m hoping we pass after the initial two-week course, so we can get to your crash course in fugitive recovery.”

“That’s when the fun begins, right?” Tony asked in a leering voice.

Ian laughed. “I think so.”

They talked through a couple scenarios, but avoided testing Ian’s senses since he was driving and neither of them wanted to crash. They reached Ocean City around lunchtime, so stopped for a meal at a seafood restaurant by the water. Then they went to a grocery store for food and coffee for the condo, and followed GPS to the building. After picking up the key from the realty office, they carried everything up, and put away the perishables.

The second Tony closed the refrigerator for the last time, Ian was right behind him crowding him into the door. Tony arched one eyebrow, and settled his hands on Ian’s hips as he leaned back against the fridge. Smirking he asked, “Feeling frisky?” He could feel Ian’s desire rising like a tidal wave, but he couldn’t resist teasing for a moment.

“Considering we’ve been bonded since yesterday and have only kissed, damn straight, I am. I can’t wait to get my hands on you and sense everything.”

Ian was nosing around Tony’s jaw as he talked, but Ian’s words and emotions inflamed Tony too, and he took a rough handful of Ian’s hair and pulled his face up into a fierce kiss. Ian gave as good as he got and one hand took hold of Tony’s own hair, tilting his head to deepen the kiss, while his other hand slammed into the fridge door next to Tony’s head.

They began stumbling towards the bedroom, never breaking their lip-lock. While he was still coherent enough for it, Tony kicked off his shoes, but was too consumed by the kissing to stop and do something like remove his shirt or Ian’s.

As they bumped into walls and doorjambs, Tony moaned. Ian was obviously totally immersed in Tony now, his emotions were all desire and desperate want, and Tony was feeding off it like a succubus or an incubus, whichever the hell it was. He couldn’t get close enough to Ian, which finally broke their kissing apart, as he tugged at Ian’s clothes, too excited to get anywhere. Finally they hit the bedroom, and they broke apart reluctantly, Ian whimpering, although Tony knew he would deny it forever. Tony squirmed out of his shirt and jeans, while Ian also rapidly removed his clothes, his eyes burning into Tony’s.

Ian took condoms and lube out of his pocket before dropping his jeans and underwear, and said, “I want you to fuck me.”

Already climbing onto the bed, Tony paused with a startled look at Ian. He could feel Ian’s determination and desire, but they had never fucked that way. Pausing with one knee on the bed, Tony said, “I didn’t think you liked being fucked.”

Ian’s gaze dropped before he met Tony’s eyes again, but then fully naked, he came up to Tony to wrap an arm around him. Dropping the lube and condoms on the bed, he replied, “I generally don’t, but I need to feel you everywhere.” He shrugged, and an inscrutable look crossed his face and his emotions were too muddied to discern what he was thinking. There was continued desire, but also a large amount of trepidation.

Tony decided to fish some more. “Is this dictated by the Center? Something that came up in your one-on-one sessions?”

“Lord no! This is all me, I swear.”

Setting onto the bed with his head on the pillow, Tony pulled Ian down on top of him. Trying not to get too distracted by their skin-to-skin contact and the emotional sizzle he got from that, he ran one hand through Ian's hair and looked into his eyes. “So what gives? You don’t feel certain.”

Ian sighed and began licking and kissing his way around Tony’s head and neck. Understanding that it was hard to admit things when staring eye to eye, Tony didn’t fight it, and just continued to pet Ian’s hair as Ian licked Tony’s collarbone, and kissed his throat. “I’ve hardly ever done it, I can count the number of times on one hand and have fingers to spare since it felt uncomfortable and weird, but even though it isn’t a Center mandate, I can feel that the sentinel in me wants it desperately. I assumed it was some spiritual plane nonsense, but didn’t feel comfortable asking the other sentinels I knew.”

And, boy did Tony get that. He wouldn’t want to discuss that level of detail of their sex lives with strangers either, even if they had to proceed blind. Still, since male sentinels tended to be more muscular and burly than their guides, male or female, it was the stereotype that the guides would bottom. So when Ian had never pushed to bottom, he had assumed that was true and didn’t push it.

He liked fucking as much as the next guy, but he liked getting fucked just as much, and neither was critical to his sex life. He didn’t need to prove anything, he just needed to get off with the guy he loved.

Tony had encouraged Ian to continue worshiping his body with touches and kisses as he pondered, so when he finally spoke up, Ian was nosing around his pubic hair and Tony’s cock was stiffening at the playful little licks Ian was giving it. Tony tugged lightly on Ian’s hair to get his attention, and offered, “Sure. I’m game if you need it, but if it gets to be too much you let me know. We’re in this together, always.”

Ian’s hand was now pumping Tony’s cock slowly, and with a deprecating smile, he replied, “With the empathic link I’m pretty sure you’ll know before me.”

Letting out a soft laugh, Tony nodded. “Yeah, I’ve taken the emotional lead of this relationship, haven’t I? Which is weird. I generally hate emotional crap.”

Ian pulled himself up to give Tony a quick kiss. “Someone had to, and it for damn sure wasn’t going to be me. You might hate it, but I just can’t do it.”

Rolling his eyes, Tony pushed Ian over onto his back, and settled slowly on top of him, watching Ian’s face for discomfort and analyzing the emotions he was getting. It was all good in his eyes, and love and fondness poured out, so Tony began his own exploration of Ian as he worked his way down to Ian’s cock. The bed had wrought iron rails which Ian grabbed hold of as he squirmed under Tony’s attention.

Breathlessly, Ian said, “Since we’re past the three months mark, once we get tested again and can go without condoms, that’s when I want to fuck you. Filling your ass with my come, having your body welcome it, that’s what I fantasize about.”

Tony was sucking Ian’s balls, one by one, and his hips humped the bed as Ian talked. He reached for the lube and pulled off with a pop. “Keep talking like that and nobody is coming inside anybody.”

His questing hand finally landed on the lube, and he shifted to his knees between Ian’s legs. With a flirtatious smile, he asked, “How would you be most comfortable?”

Visibly relaxing, his hands loosening on the bedframe, Ian met Tony’s gaze. There was still some hesitation in his emotional tone, but it was mostly desire now. He said, “I want you to prep me face to face, but then I should probably get on my hands and knees. I’m not as flexible as you.”

Stroking Ian’s cock to keep him excited, Tony replied, “Sounds good to me. Spread a little wider, yeah?” Ian did as directed, handing down a pillow that Tony used to lift his ass up, and bending both knees to give Tony as much room as possible. With a wink, Tony settled down and began an easy and slow rhythm of sucking Ian off as he opened the lube and circled his slick fingers around Ian’s hole.

He felt a spike of doubt, so just did that until Ian was all desire again. Then slowly pushing one finger in, he had the spare thought that it was a good thing he kept his nails trimmed neatly since this request had taken him by surprise. Then he was again concentrating on Ian’s emotions and sucking harder every time Ian got anxious.

He built slowly up to three fingers that way, and was so focused on Ian and feeding off his pleasure and dialing back when Ian got uncomfortable, he was caught off-guard when Ian tugged on his hair and breathlessly demanded, “Now, Tony, fuck me now.”

Pulling off Ian’s cock, Tony opened desire-filled eyes and stared at Ian in incomprehension. Ian tugged his hair a bit more sharply which cleared the emotional fog Tony was in. He had been so overwhelmed by Ian’s emotions and desire that he had lost all awareness outside of himself and his empathy. He shook his head, which also cleared his head a bit of the emotional overload and huffed out a laugh as he realized he was humping the bed and leaking profusely. He didn’t know if he had ever been this turned on and yet not close to coming.

He scrambled to his knees and helped guide Ian to his hands and knees in front of him. All this continued to break the spell, so he wasn’t surprised when anxiety returned to Ian’s emotional landscape once the condom was on and Tony was positioning himself. Rubbing one hand along Ian’s spine to relax him, Tony asked, “Should I ask again?”

“Not if you know what’s good for you. Just do it. I’m nervous, but good. I promise.”

Pausing for the extra second to confirm Ian’s feelings, Tony pushed slowly, but inexorably in, using Ian’s emotions as a guide for how slow to go. It was actually hard to do because as they joined together, Ian’s emotions became clearer and clearer and hotter and hotter, and Tony’s mind sucked at it like nectar of the gods. He was panting and cursing by the time he bottomed out. It felt like he had run a marathon and then been fucking for hours he felt so turned on and ragged at the same time.

He had the feeling they were not going to last long.

Moaning lowly, he started a nice and easy pace of fucking, feeling like he was on the brink of orgasm at each shift in Ian’s emotions, just because he felt so close and intimate with him. Having an almost out-of-body experience already, he couldn’t resist reaching around and stroking Ian to full hardness, and as Ian’s arousal skyrocketed, so did Tony’s again. It was already orgasmic, and Tony had never felt anything like it.

Ian’s moans joined his, and Tony’s pace picked up slightly. With his little remaining brain power, he controlled his thrusts. He didn’t want to really go to town, partly because he knew Ian was essentially new to this, but also because he didn’t think his empathy could take much more stimuli. He figured the nice and easy fucking would join them empathically the way it obviously was, and would satisfy Ian’s need without being uncomfortable or hurt in the end. Besides, Tony knew with one sharp thrust he would be coming his brains out, and he wanted to make this as good as possible for Ian, even if Ian probably wouldn’t come from it.

As Tony stroked Ian’s cock once a little more, Ian’s ass suddenly tightened around Tony’s cock, and it was all over. Tony couldn’t stop burying his cock in Ian’s ass or his orgasm if he tried. Shouting out his release, his mind frizzing out with white-hot bliss, Tony slumped down onto Ian.

Fighting with everything he had, he resisted passing out, and instead eased out of Ian, holding the condom, and then encouraged Ian to roll over. Ian went for the kiss, but Tony was too intent on getting Ian’s cock in his mouth to follow his tug. Tony began sucking frantically, and Ian’s moans turned desperate, and he came mere moments later.

Swallowing the come down, Tony continued licking Ian’s cock until Ian was pulling him up to his face. Tony had to scramble so that he didn’t knee Ian in the groin or lose the condom. He didn’t care because then Ian was kissing him, and sucking his come out of Tony’s mouth, and Tony was shuddering at the nearly orgasmic feeling again. Damn, if sex was going to be like this from now on, he was going to be dead, but what a way to go.

Finally the kiss eased, as did Ian’s frantic desire. Easing the loose condom off with the hand holding it, Tony settled back on his heels with a groan. He tied off the condom and tossed it into the trashcan near the bedside table.

Reaching down, he ran his fingertips over Ian’s cheek. “You good?”

He could see Ian’s face soften into a loving smile, and his hand came up to hold Tony’s to his cheek. He said, “Yeah. It was what I needed.”

“I was surprised you even got hard, to be honest.”

“Me too, but feeling you there, so… intimately was hot as hell. I almost felt like I had empathy for a bit.”

The air conditioning was making goosebumps break out on both of them, so Tony began chivying Ian under the covers, and getting them snuggled together. “Speaking of which, holy hell, was that intense empathically.”

“I must admit I was surprised such a light fucking could make you come like that.”

“Trust me, there was nothing light about us empathically.” Tony kissed the back of his neck, since he had made Ian the little spoon for once.

Ian only said, “Good,” but Tony could hear the satisfaction in his voice, and Tony nosed his hair again, his own satisfaction washing over him.

Closing his eyes, Tony said, “I love you.”

There was a pause, but that didn’t worry Tony. He didn’t care if Ian ever said the words. He could feel the rush of wonder and deep affection that Ian felt at Tony’s words, which was enough. Still, when Ian huskily said, “I love you too,” Tony felt his own love and wonder rise to the surface and he tightened his hold on Ian.

He had never felt so replete, and Tony would hold on with everything he had.