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Stepping out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Leroy Jethro Gibbs grimaced as an icy blast of Arctic air hit him in the face.  No one in their right mind would consider Chicago in middle of January a fun place to be.  Gibbs figured Tony was right when he said that fact was probably why the national conference on foreign and domestic terrorism was being held there. 

 

The location certainly made it seem like the delegates were there to take the conference seriously. It would not be perceived as an excuse to just get out of the office and go have some fun the way holding it in Las Vegas might.  There was nothing to entice anyone out of the convention center and away from endless meetings when the temperatures were below zero. 

 

DC might have been a more logical choice except that better known and funded agencies like the FBI or Homeland Security would have likely overwhelmed and dominated the proceedings. Not just federal agencies were expected to attend and there was apparently some concern that state and city level delegates would feel as though they were not getting enough attention or had any of their concerns addressed.

 

And it wasn’t as if the threats to the United States were limited to just the East Coast.  While New York had gotten a lot of attention from 9/11 it was hardly the only big target. Having the conference in a central location added emphasis to the idea that this was a concern for the entire country.

 

Gibbs resisted the urge to wrap his arms around himself for more warmth and did his best to appear unaffected by the blowing snow and bitter wind.  He glanced over his shoulder at Tony DiNozzo, not surprised to find the younger man in his usual position, just a little behind and to his left.  Tony’s shoulders were hunched, his face angled down slightly so the collar of his long wool coat offered some protection from the biting wind. 

 

“You sure Vance sending us to this thing was a reward and not punishment?” 

 

Gibbs mentally agreed with Tony’s assessment, but it wouldn’t do for him to show it.

 

“What’s the matter, DiNozzo?”  Gibbs smirked.  “Not liking the balmy weather?” 

 

 “Oh yeah, it’s a great place if you’re a penguin.”  Tony said dryly before grinning.  “Not sure the Emperors, you know those big guys from the movie March of the Penguins, would want to live here.”  Tony glanced around.  “Not quite as barren as the arctic, but pretty damn close.”  He shrugged, shivering as the wind swirled around them.  “Was a good movie, well, for a documentary it was good.  Not great in terms of something like say Casablanca, but still worth watching once.  Morgan Freeman was an excellent choice—“

 

“DiNozzo.”  Gibbs said, cutting him off.  More because he knew it was expected than from any real desire to shut him up.  He would never admit to enjoying listening to Tony ramble, but he liked the younger man’s voice.  At the office, hearing Tony’s voice, be it case related, movie trivia, or teasing his teammates was something of an audible security blanket for Gibbs.  If Tony was talking, then he was okay.  If he was okay, things were right with Gibbs’ world.  The four months Tony had been assigned as Agent Afloat were some of the longest Gibbs had ever experienced.  And some of the loneliest if he was completely honest with himself. 

 

Gibbs tried to push those thoughts aside.  He hated thinking about how empty he’d felt with Tony gone.  Nothing had been right.   Everything was just…off.  He wasn’t used to having people he saw every day simply not be there.  It was more than a little disturbing to think about how much he’d come to rely on Tony being around.

 

He’d been tempted, so very tempted to call Tony just to hear his voice, just to make sure he was okay.  But without a good reason, Gibbs couldn’t justify doing so.  Tony didn’t have his cellphone on the ship.  And using MTAC was out of the question.  Vance would have known.  He could have asked McGee to hack into something or Jerry rig a connection, but McGee was in Cybercrimes and busy doing whatever the hell cybercrimes agents did.

 

Gibbs could have asked Abby, but he’d have had to explain why he wanted to talk to Tony, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell her it was just because he missed him.  She was distressed enough back then, keeping photos of the team around, counting the days each one had been gone, even McGee who technically hadn’t actually gone anywhere.  He told himself he simply hadn’t wanted to upset her further, but that wasn’t entirely truthful. 

 

Admitting out loud how much he missed Tony wasn’t something Gibbs was prepared to do.  It would just make it all a little too real.  So he’d just did his best to disregard the Tony sized hole in his life; he tried not to listen for the voice that wasn’t there, tried not to smell the pizza that no one had ordered, tried not to smile at jokes never said but should have been, tried not to be frustrated when his new senior agent didn’t anticipate his needs and actions as well as Tony did.  And it had worked…up to a point.  But that meant he had to focus on other things, things that inevitably served to remind him of what he was trying so hard to ignore.

 

Gibbs fought off a shiver.  Thinking about Tony being gone always led to thoughts of the new team he’d been assigned.  He didn’t want to think about Langer, Lee and Keating either.  They were never his team.  Hell they were never intended to be a team, not really---it was a sham to flush out a mole; a sham that ensured Keating would never have a career as a field agent, and ultimately cost Lee and Langer their lives.  Gibbs still felt guilty about Langer.  Brent should never have even been under suspicion; if Gibbs had listened to his gut instead of Vance Langer would probably still be alive. And while Lee had ultimately done the right thing, dying for both her country and to protect her daughter’s future, it still pissed Gibbs off that she’d never trusted him enough to be honest.  She killed two people before even considering getting help and even then she only cooperated because she was forced to.

 

Gibbs’ thoughts were interrupted by an ear piercing whistle.  He shot Tony a dirty look, hiding his gratitude for the distraction in his usual way.

 

Tony gave him an innocent look as he waved to a taxi and getting a nod in return.  As the car started moving toward them, Tony picked up his carry on. “I realize you are enjoying yourself, and dallying outside the airport might be exactly how you planned to spend your evening rather than attending the meet and greet thing for this conference that Vance insisted we go to, but it’s cold out here.  And even though I’d rather not spend hours making nice with people I don’t know and probably won’t like much, doing it inside where it is warm has got to be better than freezing my ass off.”

 

Tony shook his head.  “Besides the room is paid for.  It would be a real shame to waste the tax payers’ money, especially since I’m sure they just spent a bundle on getting us here in sardine class.” 

 

Gibbs had to agree with Tony’s assessment of their seating on the flight.  It certainly felt like they’d been packed in like a tin can. 

 

Tony gave him a winsome smile, his tone not quite cajoling but close.  “All that warmth, electricity, no wind and indoor pluming might just be something you’ll come to appreciate, Boss.  You won’t know until you give it a try.”

 

Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.  Tony was the only person he knew who could and would tease him.  He didn’t do it often, a fact that left Gibbs both relieved and disappointed. 

 

He lightly cuffed the back of Tony’s head.  “Watch it, DiNozzo.”  He pointed to the hotel shuttle bus.  “We can take that.”

 

“You see the line of people getting in that thing?”  Tony snorted.  “Now if any one of them were my type, I wouldn’t object to getting up close and personal.  Hell, I’d even offer up my lap, but as it is, I’m thinking the cab is a better bet.”

 

“Waste of money,” Gibbs said, resisting rolling his eyes. Creature comfort wasn’t a necessity.  It wasn’t like the ride from the airport would be that long.  “Better to take the shuttle.” 

 

“It’s my money to waste.” Tony returned quietly, voice firm.  “It will cost me the same whether you ride along or take the shuttle, so I’m getting in the cab. You can take the shuttle if you want, Boss.”

 

“We aren’t taking a cab.”

 

“Maybe you aren’t, but I sure as hell am.”

 

Gibbs’ jaw tightened.  Ever since the crap with Domino and the botched mission to flush out their mole Tony had become more…defiant for lack of a better word.  He was more prone to challenging Gibbs than he ever had in the past.  He never did it in front of the team, or when in the field, clearly picking his battles…like this one over the cab or shuttle, but there was a time when would have given in to Gibbs rather than force the issue.

 

Tony was never outright insubordinate, still following orders, but he didn’t seem inclined to take Gibbs word for things the way he once had, asking more questions than he used to.  Whenever Gibbs came down from MTAC or any meeting with Vance, green eyes no longer regarded him with absolute faith, now he got wary, uncertain glances.  Tony studied him, as if whatever he said and did were being weighed, measured against some unknown scale. 

 

It bothered Gibbs that Tony looked at Vance the same way.  He didn’t want anyone on his team, especially Tony, to regard him with the same suspicion, distrust and barely veiled hostility they did the Director. 

 

Gibbs hated thinking that assignment might have done irreparable damage to what had seemed like an unshakeable faith in him.  He’d explained, damn it, and that should have been the end of it.  Things seemed okay with Ziva and McGee, but clearly Tony hadn’t let go of it.  Suggesting to Vance that just Tony be the one to accompany him on this trip and not the entire team, Gibbs was hoping time with just the two of them would give him an opportunity to bring it up.  Ducky was fond of telling him talking about things helped.  Gibbs wasn’t so sure about that.  Talking had never done much for him, but things couldn’t continue as they had. 

 

He needed to know Tony still trusted him.  He needed to know Tony wasn’t thinking of leaving.  Gibbs knew Tony had been offered his own team once before and there were openings in the agency.  Vance might not like Tony, but even he had to realize Tony was a damned good agent.  Vance had to be at least considering offering Tony something.  If Tony was having doubts about Gibbs, the younger man might accept.  Gibbs knew Tony deserved it; he’d earned a shot, but he didn’t want to let him go.  He wasn’t sure he could handle it if Tony opted to leave; it was bad enough when Vance had forced him to go. 

 

Gibbs eyed the shuttle. Taking it wouldn’t be a victory; not when Tony was already sliding into the cab.  All it would mean was that they’d gone their separated ways, proving themselves both to be stubborn—and that wasn’t what Gibbs wanted.  With a sigh, Gibbs got in the cab. 

 

It was a good thing Tony didn’t look smug or Gibbs might have hit him.  Tony just looked relieved to be out of the wind and somewhere warmer.  When Tony coughed, his right hand rubbing his chest in what was obviously an unconscious gesture, Gibbs immediately regretted the length of time they’d spent outside.  Breathing in frigid air wasn’t particularly good for anyone, but especially not someone who’d survived pneumonic plague and could now be prone to lung ailments. 

 

Gibbs was ashamed to realize that Tony’s insistence on the cab wasn’t necessarily just a pissing contest.  There were enough people in line for the shuttle they could have been waiting twenty minutes or more in the cold.  And there might not have been enough room for them at all as more people were starting to line up. Waiting in the airport for the next shuttle was not high on Gibbs’ list of things to do, and was sure it wasn’t on Tony’s either.

 

He could have just said something, Gibbs thought before realizing that would never happen.  Tony was no more likely to admit to any weakness than Gibbs.  And he shouldn’t have to say anything; looking out for his team was Gibbs’ job, he should be aware of threats posed, including the weather.

 

“Where to?” the cab driver asked, looking over his shoulder.  His hair was every bit as gray as Gibbs’. 


Gibbs quickly told him their hotel, wanting to give Tony a chance to get his breath back. He got a nod from the cabbie.

 

“I know the place.  Nice hotel. Couple of restaurants down the street that are great places to eat.” The cabbie chucked, and patted his ample stomach.  “I’m a good judge of stuff like that.”

 

Tony grinned.  “Never take food recommendations from a skinny guy.”

 

“Amen.” The cabbie grinned, brown eyes meeting green in the review mirror.  “What the heck would he know about food?”  The question was clearly rhetorical.

 

“You mind turning up the heat?” Tony asked politely as they left the airport and headed for downtown Chicago.  He stripped off his leather gloves to rub his hands together.

 

“No problem.” The cabbie reached over and turned the heat up.  “January in Chicago is a bitch.  Every year I tell the wife we should move south.  Every year she says no.  It’s not supposed to be warm at Christmas time she says. But it’s really the grandkids.  She spoils them rotten.”  The man waved a hand as he talked.  “I love my grandkids too, don’t get me wrong, but they just wear me out.  And every winter my bones ache a lot more.  Know hers do too, but that woman just won’t listen to reason.”

 

Gibbs wasn’t sure any woman listened to reason.  Not that he’d ever tried to reason with any of the women in his life.  That was likely one of the causes for his three divorces.   The other causes didn’t bear dwelling on. 

 

The cabbie kept talking, acting as an informal tour guide as he drove pointing out things of interest.  Gibbs didn’t care, but didn’t mind enough to tell the guy to shut up.  Tony on the other hand seemed to enjoy hearing what he had to say, laughing in the right places, and asking a few questions that prompted the cabbie to keep going.

 

It was a dry run for what they’d be facing at the hotel.  The meet and greet session was set for six.  Gibbs would have preferred to skip it and fly in just before the conference was due to start in the morning, but Vance wouldn’t allow that. 

 

He’d told Gibbs, “Making contacts and networking is one of the goals of this conference.   You and DiNozzo had better be on your best behavior.”

 

Gibbs had been sorely tempted if he didn’t trust them then he could pick someone else, but he’d held his tongue.   He wanted this time with Tony.  Not being ‘snarky’ as Abby called it with Vance was a small price to pay. 

 

Making sure they had only one room was another.  It wasn’t like they hadn’t shared a room in the past.  Gibbs had made it sound like the agency would only pay for one room when Tony had asked about the travel arrangements.  It wasn’t like NCIS regularly spent much on their accommodations.  There was a reason they normally flew military transport and stayed on base housing when the job required them to travel. It was certainly plausible that they’d have to share a double instead of each of them getting a room to themselves. 

 

NCIS agents from LA would be attending, and a few from the Gulf Coast as well.  It made sense for the agency to budget accordingly.  And it was a good explanation for why the rest of the team wasn’t going.  It satisfied Ziva and McGee, at least.  Although, technically Ziva wasn’t even an agent, so there was really no reason for her presence at this conference no matter how long she’d been on the team. 

 

Gibbs glanced over at Tony. He remembered Tony’s narrowed-eyed gaze when he’d told Ziva and McGee they weren’t going and why.  He’d bet his badge Tony didn’t entirely believe it, but he hadn’t questioned Gibbs on it.  Gibbs wasn’t sure what bothered him more…that Tony knew he hadn’t been completely honest or that he was willing to let it slide. 

 

Had Tony looked into it?  It was one of Gibbs’ rules.  Never assume.  Tony followed Gibbs’ rules better than he did himself at times.  So who had Tony checked with?  Certainly not Vance, but Tony knew a lot of people. He likely knew some of the other agents who were attending. And what had he made of what he found?  Gibbs hadn’t been able to bring himself to ask.  He was afraid Tony would think the worst.  In his place Gibbs would have.  But Tony wasn’t Gibbs.  It was a fact Gibbs was damned grateful for most days.  One bastard on the team was enough.

 

Gibbs sighed.

 

“You okay, Boss?”


“Fine, DiNozzo.”  Gibbs softened his curt tone with a smile. 

 

Ducky was the only other person he knew who asked about his well being.  Abby, Ziva and McGee seemed to think he was indestructible, despite evidence to the contrary.  Maybe it should bother him that Tony didn’t think like they did, but mostly it made him feel good to know someone cared enough to ask.  Another reason he couldn’t lose Tony.

 

“We’re here.” Tony said.  It was only then that Gibbs noticed the cab had stopped.

 

“Thanks for the lift, Bob.”  Tony handed the cabbie several folded bills. 

 

“You’re welcome.”  Bob smiled.

 

“Hope you can convince the missus to move south.”

 

“You and me both, son.  You and me both.”

 

Gibbs saw Tony wince, shoulders hunching defensively as the wind hit him full force when he got out of the cab.  Gibbs moved to stand so he took the brunt of it, doing is best to protect Tony even if only for a moment or two. 

 

“Thanks, Boss.” Tony smiled at him, genuine and warm.


Gibbs tried not to think about how much he liked seeing that smile and having it directed at him.  He couldn’t help wishing it happened more often.

 

“C’mon, DiNozzo, let’s go see of all that warmth, no wind and indoor plumbing is all you made it out to be.”

 

Tony laughed.  “On your six, Boss.” 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs opened the door to their room.  He stopped abruptly when he realized the double he’d booked was not what they’d gotten. A king size bed dominated the room, leaving little space for much else.

Tony eyed the room.  “I’d offered to flip for who gets the couch, but I already know that it would be me…if there was a couch that is.”

The room had a desk, two wing backed chairs and matching ottomans, but no couch.  Gibbs strode over to the phone.  The overly perky young woman at the front desk was very apologetic but she swore there was nothing she could do. The hotel was booked solid. There were no other rooms available. And the two roll away cots they had were already being used by guests in town for a funeral. 

Gibbs was tempted to rip her a new asshole for not mentioning the fact that the room had only one bed when they checked in.  The staff had been busy with dozens of people checking in at one time, but that was no excuse for not sharing basic information about their room.  Unfortunately he knew yelling at her wouldn’t do any good.  From the way she sounded Gibbs was sure she’d burst into tears, and he hated dealing with weepy women.  They just made him feel like an asshole no matter how right he was for being pissed.  Gibbs settled for hanging up on her.

“No dice?” Tony asked, although it sounded more like a statement than a question.

Gibbs shook his head.  “Every room is booked.  And there aren’t any cots available.”

“No biggie.”  Tony shrugged.  Gibbs thought he saw a flash of disappointment, but he couldn’t be certain.

“I’ll just see if there’s another hotel nearby.  There’s bound to be one within walking dista--”

“No!” Gibbs asserted forcefully, his gut clenching at the thought of Tony staying somewhere else.  The whole point of them being here, at least as far as Gibbs was concerned, was for them to actually spend time together.  Gibbs knew he’d need as much time as he could get to find an opportunity to broach the issue of trust, for him to make sure things were really okay between them and fix it if they weren’t.  That wasn’t going to happen if Tony was staying somewhere else.

They didn’t have a means of transport since they were supposed to be staying at the same hotel where the conference was taking place renting a car seemed like a waste of money, which is why he was sure Tony thought walking distance would be best.  But Gibbs couldn’t agree to that.  Hell just a few minutes outside in the frigid weather hadn’t been good for him, walking several blocks or more in it wouldn’t be any better.  

Tony frowned, obviously confused by the older man’s outburst. “Boss?”

“The agency won’t pay for another room.”  It was the first thing that came to mind.  He had no idea whether it was true or not, but it was the justification he’d already given Tony for why they had to share a room in the first place.  Always be specific when lying was a rule for good reason.

“They didn’t pay for the cab either.”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “Tucking in on the floor isn’t my idea of a good night’s sleep, Boss.”

It wasn’t Gibbs idea of a good night’s sleep either.  He no longer slept under the boat, and it wasn’t just because the boat was no longer in his basement.  His back couldn’t handle being on such hard surfaces for long any more. 

“The bed is big enough for two, DiNozzo,” Gibbs pointed out quickly, making sure his tone was calm.  It’s not like there was reason to be upset…well, other than the damn mix up with the room in the first place. 

“You don’t mind sharing?”  Tony asked, sounding uncertain, eyeing Gibbs warily. 

Gibbs glared at him, and Tony immediately began verbally back peddling.  “Not that you’re selfish, Boss, I didn’t mean to imply you were, but you like your space.  I get that.  I appreciate you wanting to save me some money, believe me, I’d like not to spend any more than I have to.  It cuts into my shoe budget, but I don’t want to bother you--“

“It won’t be a bother.  And it’s not a problem.”  Gibbs set his bag down on one of the ottomans.   “Like I said the bed is big enough for two.”

“I snore.”

Gibbs snorted, amused in spite of himself.  Like he didn’t already know that?  They’d shared space before.

“It’s not like we wouldn’t hear other if this were a double like it’s supposed to be.  At least neither one of us hold a candle to Ziva when it comes to snoring.”

Tony chuckled, eyes twinkling.  “A drunken sailor with emphysema has got nothing on her.”  He shook his head clearly bemused.  “She’s got all that super secret stealth training. You’d think someone would have taught her how to apply that when she sleeps.”

Gibbs fought off a smile.  He’d wondered the same thing.  It seemed odd that someone otherwise so stealthy would unconsciously make so damn much noise. 

“So…how do you want to do this?”

It was on the tip of Gibbs’ tongue to be sarcastic, wanting to ask Tony how long it had been since he’d slept with anyone that he needed instruction on how to go about it. But the thought of Tony sleeping with someone else brought with it unexpectedly arousing images and a surge of anger and jealousy that left Gibbs momentarily speechless. 

He’d been having these inappropriate thoughts and feelings more often recently, and Gibbs wasn’t sure why.  It wasn’t like he’d been unaware that Tony was a very attractive man.  Hell, Gibbs could see that for himself the day he met him. But he was used to ignoring things like that, especially once he’d hired Tony for his team.  Gibbs was used to thinking of his teammates as off limits, ignoring anything but their job performance. 

Gibbs was normally so good at keeping wayward thoughts and feelings in line he was rarely even aware of them.  He wasn’t supposed to notice things about his teammates like pretty eyes or a nice ass, so he didn’t.  He wasn’t supposed to wonder what it would be like to be allowed to kiss or touch without restriction, and most of the time he didn’t.   

His enforced disinterest was not just because of his rules, at least not entirely.  NCIS, the Navy and the Marines frowned on relationships that spanned the chain of command.  He might not want to attend sexual harassment seminars, but he understood the reasons for prohibition on entanglements between superiors and subordinates. 

Gibbs felt that he had no business feeling relieved when he’d heard Tony hadn’t been dating much since the La Grenouille case.  The younger man’s dry spell wasn’t really any of his concern and definitely wasn’t something he should take pleasure in.  And he certainly shouldn’t get satisfaction from finding ways to keep Tony close to him, or be grateful for any opportunity to touch him even if it was just a headslap.  That was just asking for trouble.

He shouldn’t feel personally affronted at the idea Tony might not fully trust him unless it was going to affect the job, which so far it hadn’t.  His chest shouldn’t ache at the thought of Tony leaving. He shouldn’t feel an unreasonable fear that Tony might get hurt or die while in the field if Gibbs wasn’t there to watch out for him.  He shouldn’t feel more at ease just seeing the younger man strolling into the office.  He shouldn’t feel happy just getting a smile from him.

Nothing about Tony’s personal life, nothing about Tony personally period, should interest Gibbs, and for years it hadn’t--at least that was what Gibbs told himself.  But then Tony managed to lie to him, and cast doubts on his loyalty to Gibbs.  He wasn’t just Gibbs’ St. Bernard.  The commitment to the team, to Gibbs, wasn’t as exclusive as Gibbs had always assumed.  He couldn’t blame Tony for that.  Gibbs had been the one to abandon Tony and his team for four months.

Things had gotten better.  It had taken some time, but Gibbs had been sure they were making their way back to the way things had been, the way he thought they should be.  Then Shepard was killed, and Tony got sent away.

Gibbs had to deal with being left behind for the first time in his life.  It was a decidedly uncomfortable and lonely experience.  And not one Gibbs wanted to repeat.

Unlike his four months in Mexico, Gibbs knew exactly what and who was missing.  He couldn’t pretend he didn’t.  It had been so much easier to ignore his thoughts and feelings about Tony when he was around, somehow his absence made it impossible not to think about him. 

When Tony was finally returned to the team, there hadn’t been much for things to go back to normal before the shit with Lee.  Tony had literally blown up at Gibbs over the Domino fiasco, something else that had never happened before.  Oh he’d stood up to Gibbs, but never lost his temper, had never yelled at him.  It reminded Gibbs painfully of his ex-wives.  Angry tirades usually ended with them storming out and never coming back.

Tony hadn’t left but he was questioning Gibbs’ judgment.  That in itself wasn’t new, but now it wasn’t just to get Gibbs to refocus, now it was because Tony seemed to have genuine doubts and concerns.  Tony was pulling away; suddenly Gibbs wasn’t so sure of where he stood, and he didn’t like it.  He’d always been the one in control, the one in charge, the one holding all the cards, but it didn’t feel that way any longer.

Gibbs shook his head. Even his damn thoughts were defying him.  None of that mattered at the moment.  Tony was looking at him, clearly expecting an answer to his question.  So Gunny, Gibbs asked himself, how do we do this?

Opting for neutral rather than sarcastic, Gibbs finally said, “It’s simple.  You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine.”

Tony seemed to consider that for a moment before shrugging.  “Fair enough.” 

Gibbs wasn’t sure if he expected more discussion or not.  He envied the easy grace Tony had when it came to rolling with the punches.  The younger man was rarely wrong footed for long.

Tony pointed to the bed.  “So which side is yours?”

“Right side.”  It was the side closest to the door and the first to confront any possible threat.

“Left it is then.”

In all the time Gibbs had known him, Tony had never been overly picky about where he slept so his easy acquiescence wasn’t a surprise.  While he might not have learned how to get comfortable on a C130, Tony didn’t have that problem anywhere else.  He could sleep in his office desk chair, stretched out on the floor, or propped up against the wall.  Gibbs had even seen him take a nap on one of Ducky’s autopsy tables, and he knew from personal experience they weren’t all that comfortable. 

Tony shed is long wool coat and scarf, tossing them casually on to one of the chairs.  He opened his bag.  “Just need to hang up a few things and I’ll be ready to go make nice.”

Gibbs was tempted to tell him to leave it, but he knew appearances mattered to Tony. While he might not care about designer labels or fancy suits, Gibbs time in the service had ingrained an appreciation for having an orderly appearance.  He preferred his clothes to be crisp and clean.  Gibbs moved to hang up his own things as well, ensuring they would look good for the rest of the week. 

There was plenty of room in the closet.  Tony took one side while Gibbs took the other.  The conference was casual office attire so neither one packed a suit.  Gibbs opted for a few dress shirts, suit coats and slacks.  It was essentially what he wore to the office most days. 

He noticed with approval that Tony had packed several sweaters.  Even though they would be inside, heavier clothing was definitely a good idea. Chicago was a lot colder than DC. 

“You think they will have booze at this thing?” Tony asked.

“Probably.” 

Gibbs didn’t bother to reiterate Vance’s instructions about being on their best behavior.  He knew Tony usually only overindulged in alcohol when deeply troubled or when he was with his frat brothers. The conference didn’t qualify as either.  He was confident Tony wouldn’t have more than a beer or two so telling him not to overindulge was unnecessary.  More importantly it would have indicated a lack of faith in Tony’s ability to be professional to tell him not to get drunk while they were on the job.  And attending the conference, even the meet and greet portion both Gibbs and Tony considered a waste of time, was technically time on the job.

“I’m sure they’ll have coffee, Boss.”  Tony offered that with a smile as he headed for the door.

“They’d better.”  Gibbs muttered quietly.  He reminded himself that Tony’s smile didn’t mean anything.  It wasn’t personal.  It was just Tony being Tony.

Gibbs took a deep breath.  He needed a shot of caffeine to keep himself on task.  His wayward thoughts and feelings had no place here. 

Chapter Text

The meet and greet was every bit as painful as Gibbs thought it would be, but not for the reason he expected.  As soon as he walked in Gibbs spotted several people in attendance that he knew; people he didn’t particularly care for and who didn’t particularly care for him either.  He’d been with NCIS more than a decade--he’d worked with a lot of local law enforcement and their federal counterparts.  He’d pissed off a lot of people and been made pissed by an equal number.  Gibbs knew it was probable he have to deal with that, and had mentally prepared himself for that eventually.  Being confronted with it immediately didn’t faze him.

What surprised him was the number of people Tony knew.  Most of them he greeted by name, offering a warm handshake and ready smile.  Gibbs struggled hard to stifle his resentment that Tony found is easy to work the room, spending most of the time some distance away from him and seeming to enjoy himself. 

Taking a deep breath, Gibbs decided his animosity wasn’t because of Tony or even directed at him.  No it was simply that Gibbs was not used to socializing.  He’d never been comfortable in crowds.  And he hated making small talk.  It was pointless and annoying, and normally he could avoid it.  He damned Vance for insisting they attend this stupid thing. 

Gibbs didn’t want to look like he was shadowing Tony, but he wasn’t willing to let him get to far away either.  He’d spent most of his time sipping coffee, avoiding people he couldn’t stand, ignoring the hostile looks from people who hated him, tolerating interacting with the few people he did know and like, and keeping Tony in his line of sight.

He’d nearly snarled when a strikingly beautiful woman hadn’t just shaken hands with Tony but pulled him into an enthusiastic hug.  Whoever the hell she was, she wasn’t shy about expressing herself.  Gibbs watched as she pulled another man over and he hugged Tony as well.  All three were laughing and smiling clearly enjoying themselves. 

Gibbs ground his teeth, wondering why the hell he suddenly wanted to point a gun at them.  She didn’t need to keep touching Tony.  Wasn’t one hug enough?

And the guy definitely didn’t need to stand that close.  The room as crowded, and with so many people talking it was hard to hear what was being said, but he was practically breathing the same air as Tony.  Didn’t these people understand the concept of personal space?

It was only then he noticed that the man and woman were wearing matching wedding rings.  He blinked. If they were married then why the hell were they flirting so aggressively with Tony?  Why would Tony even play along?  Tony didn’t normally go for married women.   And Gibbs had never seen him go for a guy, married or not.

Gibbs frowned.  Maybe it was one of those threesome things Abby had mentioned once.  Gibbs didn’t like where his mind was going. Better to shut down that train of thought before it got out of hand.

Just who where those two anyway?  He could always have McGee check them out if need be.  Gibbs caught enough of a glimpse of their ID’s to see they were from Pennsylvania, but not enough to see what department or agency they were with.  He was very tempted to walk over and force an introduction; before he could, Gibbs was waylaid by an FBI agent. 

Fornell wasn’t in attendance, but he’d asked the agent being sent, Mitchell Anders, to say hello.  Gibbs figured it had to be pay back of some kind when he couldn’t get away from the man.  His silence didn’t seem to affect Anders at all, neither did glaring at him.  He’d bet his badge Fornell knew just how annoying Gibbs would find Ander’s nasal twang, nervous laughter and flighty hand gestures that punctuated his speech.  Gibbs was ready to lay the guy out when Tony walked up to them. 

“Excuse me,” Tony said politely, smiling at the FBI agent before focusing his full attention on Gibbs.  “Special Agent Gibbs, I hate to interrupt but Agent McGee has been trying to reach you.  I know you left your phone in the room and were planning to focus on things here, but it sound urgent.”

Gibbs nearly ruined the charade by smiling broadly in relief.  He managed to transform his expression into a scowl before snapping at Tony, demanding his phone.  Tony handed it over with a wink Anders couldn’t see. 

Gibbs made it look like he was dialing as he stepped away.  He kept one ear trained on Tony, shaking his head in amazement at how easily the younger man extricated himself from Anders’ clutches.  Apparently Anders hadn’t known there were hors d’oeuvres being offered. 

Gibbs waited until Anders had loaded a plate and found a new victim before handing Tony’s phone back.  He wasn’t sure how Tony knew needed someone to intervene but he was glad he had.  “Thanks.”

“Any time, Boss.” Tony grinned, pocketing his phone.  “Could see you getting ready to go postal on him.  I thought it would be a good idea to defuse things before that happened.  Don’t think you killing someone would make Vance any too happy.”

Gibbs subdued a stray thought of pleasure, shoving it forcefully away, when he realized Tony had been watching him as much as he’d been watching Tony.  He scowled at Tony instead of smiling.  “I wasn’t going to kill him.”

“Not sure maiming would be any better. Although, anyone who’s met Anders would likely consider it justifiable homicide.”  Tony shuddered.  “Guy’s voice reminds me of Steve Urkel.”

Gibbs gave him a blank look not recognizing the name.  “Who?”

“He was a character on a sitcom.”  Tony waved a hand.  “Annoying neighbor kid with thick glasses.  He always wore high water pants and suspenders.  He had a voice that could cut glass...” Tony trailed off and then shook his head. “Never mind, Boss, it’s not important.”

“What happened to your friends?”  Gibbs asked, pleased he only sounded mildly curious rather than hostile.

“Craig and Tammy?”  Tony shrugged, glancing around.  “They said something about sneaking out of here first chance they got.  Guess they saw an opening and made a break for it  Can’t blame them.”

“Where do you know them from?”

“Tammy was my partner in Philly.”  Tony’s smile was full of fond affection.  “Kind of reminds me of Abby. Well, except for the whole lack of Goth attire, no tatts and instead of being a hugger Tammy is more of a toucher.  She’s a great person, but I don’t think she can talk to anyone without making some kind of contact.”

Gibbs had grown used to the idea of Abby being demonstrative with her affection, but he’d always thought of that propensity to be unique, something exclusive to Abby.  Most people didn’t feel the same need to actually physically connect with their coworkers. 

“I met Craig in Philly too, but he’s not on the force any more. ”

Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “Was?”

“He left the force in Philly shortly after I started.  Had to take disability when he ruptured his ear drums and lost nearly 50% of his hearing.”

That certainly explained why he’d been standing close to Tony.  With so many people talking the guy probably couldn’t hear anything being said otherwise.  Gibbs suddenly felt like an idiot for thinking badly of them.

“Why is he here then if he’s not a cop anymore?” 

Tony shrugged.  “He came along to keep Tammy company.  There are some places in Chicago he wants to check out for ideas to improve his business so he’ll be busy doing that while she’s attending the seminars.”

Gibbs frowned.  Business?  “What’s does he do?”

“Craig bought the microbrewery just across the street from the station.  Makes the best damn beer I’ve ever had.  His pastrami sandwiches are killer too.  Man, I miss those.” 

Gibbs forced himself to look away from Tony’s expression of remembered bliss.  He found himself wanting to be the reason Tony looked that way.  Gibbs gave himself a mental head smack.  Now was not the time to get sidetracked.

“He and Tammy got married before I left for Baltimore.  We joked about me being her maid of honor in the wedding.”  Tony chuckled, green eyes bright with amusement.  “But I didn’t have the chest to pull off a strapless gown, so I settled for being one of the groomsman.”

“You stay in touch?”  They seemed far too friendly to have become strangers.

 “Off and on.”  Tony shrugged.  “I used to visit when I was still in Baltimore, but DC’s a bit more of a hike.  It’s been at least…hunh…three…no, four years, since we saw each other.” 

Tony expression turned rueful.  “Their little boy, Tommy, has to be seven or eight by now.  And the last time I saw Ella she was getting ready for kindergarten.  If it weren’t for the photos they put in the Christmas card I wouldn’t even recognize the kids.”  

Gibbs hid a wince.  By helping him escape from Anders Tony passed up an opportunity to spend more time with people whose company he clearly enjoyed.  Usually when he was a bastard, it was by design; this wasn’t something he’d done intentionally.   He couldn’t apologize, but there might be something he could do to make it right. 

“They here all week?”

“Same as us,” Tony confirmed with a nod.  “I’m sure I’ll have a chance to get together with them for dinner or something.  Which, honestly,” Tony glanced around the crowded room, “is preferable to trying to have any sort of meaningful of conversation in this room.  It’ll be nice to talk to Craig and not have to worry if he can hear me.  Or have Tammy eyeing her watch wondering how soon she can escape.”

Gibbs cocked his head, looking askance at Tony.

“Tammy doesn’t like crowds any more than you do, Boss.  It’s one of the reason they snuck out early.”  He grimaced, looking around the room again.  “Not that I blame her.  I wouldn’t mind getting out of here and spending a few uninterrupted hours with a pillow.”

“Thought you were enjoying yourself.” Gibbs commented, belatedly noticing how tired Tony looked.  Vance had insisted everything be cleared off their desks before they left.  That meant putting in some long hours making sure their most recent case was wrapped up and any and all outstanding paperwork was taken care of.  Gibbs was sure most of it could have been done by McGee and Ziva while they were gone; Vance was just being an ass by insisting he and Tony do it. 

Tony snorted.  “I mastered how to make nice at things like this by the time I was five.  Practice may make perfect but it doesn’t automatically confer any sort of genuine enjoyment.”

Gibbs should have known better than to buy into the act.  Tony was good at undercover for a reason.  Being able to remember names and make nice weren’t much different.  It was all about fitting in, regardless of the situation.

Gibbs sighed silently.  He really needed to get his head on straight. All these wayward thoughts and feelings were messing him up.  It was a shame he couldn’t find a heavy bag.  Going a few rounds would really help.  He doubted the hotel had one.  They weren’t exactly standard equipment in most hotel gyms.

Gibbs sighed again.  “You think we could skip out?”

Tony blinked and then smiled slyly.  “You advocating playing hooky, Boss?”

 “Hell yes.” 

 “What about Vance?”

 “You going to tell him?”

 Tony rolled his eyes.  “Of course not.” 

 “Well there you go.”  Gibbs nodded.  He wove through the crowd, determined to make an escape.  

 He could hear Tony behind him, making polite greetings as he passed people, working the room in Gibbs’ wake with ease.  He realized it would serve a dual purpose--not only did it ensure no one would be offended Gibbs abrupt demeanor as he forged his way toward the door, it would also make sure a lot of people remembered them being present.  If Vance called someone to check up on whether or not they followed orders, a number of people could confirm they’d attended the meet and greet.  

Exiting the room, Gibbs heard Tony sigh.  He glanced at the younger man, noticing the relaxed set of his shoulders.  He hadn’t been aware how tense Tony had been.

“You aren’t the only one who’s made a few enemies among our fellow agents and cops, ” Tony said, clearly reading something in Gibbs expression or body language that had him answering the unasked question.  Tony’s smile was self-deprecating as he continued speaking.  “I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes me.  Meeting up with Craig and Tammy was nice, but it could just as easily have been Sacks or Devons from Baltimore or Carlson from Peoria.”

Sacks was the FBI agent who’d tried to arrest Tony for murder twice.  There was understandably still a lot of animosity between them.  Gibbs knew Devons was the name of the Chief of Police in Baltimore who’d fired Tony for having the audacity to work with NCIS to solve a murder.  He couldn’t place the name Carlson, but he or she was obviously someone Tony had encountered and didn’t care for.

Gibbs was pleased they had the elevator to themselves.  He could have done without the piped in music, preferring silence, although he wasn’t entirely unhappy when Tony started to hum along.  He found himself hoping Tony might actually sing.  He liked it when Tony sang.  He didn’t do it often enough in Gibbs’ opinion.  Not that he ever planned to say so directly.   

He knew the moment Tony realized what he was doing.  The younger man immediately stopped.  He blushed.  “Sorry, Boss.”

Gibbs made a dismissive gesture.  The apology wasn’t necessary, and not because it was a sign of weakness.  Tony hadn’t done anything wrong, and Gibbs wasn’t annoyed.  He’d liked Tony’s unconscious enjoyment of the music, and was oddly gratified that the younger man felt comfortable enough with him to forget himself if only for a moment.  Gibbs was tempted to tell Tony that when the elevator chimed announcing they’d arrived on their floor.  With people waiting to get on, Gibbs wasn’t going to say anything and he knew the moment to be honest was lost. 

He led the way down the hall.  Their room might not have been exactly what Gibbs wanted, but he wasn’t upset that it was at the end of the hall.  At least they wouldn’t hear people coming and going. 

Gibbs keyed the door, turning on a light as he went in.  Tony closed the door behind him, flipping the deadbolt in place. 

Gibbs stepped over to the window, scanning the darkness outside.  Snow was swirling wildly as the wind whipped around the corner of the building. He couldn’t tell if it was snowing or just blowing around snow that had fallen days ago. 

“You mind if I grab a quick shower, Boss?”

Gibbs looked over his shoulder, making eye contact with Tony.  “Just don’t be all night about it.”

“Be out in fifteen.” Tony grabbed his toiletry bag and a pair of sweat pants before disappearing into the bathroom.

Feeling cold air seeping through the windows, Gibbs shut the curtains.  They didn’t add much in the way of insulation but they would at least cut down on the draft.  He could hear the wind whistle and shivered instinctively in response.  He was growing to hate winter.  Mexico might have been boring as hell but it at least it was warm.

Gibbs turned on the TV.  He didn’t watch much TV, finding fictional dramas far-fetched and reality shows were inane, but he regularly watched the news.  He flipped through the channels until he located CNN, sitting on the bed to take in what had gone on in the world in the last few hours.  Seeing nothing he hadn’t already gotten from the broadcast in the airport while they were waiting to board, Gibbs turned if off.

He pulled his own toiletry bag out, deciding he’d take a shower after Tony was finished.  It would save time in the morning.

Tony emerged from the bathroom, toweling his wet hair.  “It’s all yours, Boss.”

Gibbs suddenly found it hard to breathe.  He’d seen Tony in various states of undress before.  Hell, he’d even seen him completely naked once thanks to an overly curious reptile that had invaded Tony’s room, but he’d never reacted this way before.  He swallowed hard, trying not to stare at Tony’s bare chest but unable to look away.

Gibbs vaguely remembered overhearing Tony saying he didn’t have anything to do on the ship during his down time but workout and that he’d maintained most of his routine since his return.  It was obviously time well spent.  He didn’t have the overdeveloped physique of a body builder, but was nicely toned. Gibbs’ fingers itched to touch the smooth tanned skin, and he found himself wondering what Tony’s chest hair felt like.

“Boss? You okay?”  Tony draped the towel he’d been using to dry his hair around his neck, the white expanse blocking enough of Gibbs’ view to break the spell.

Gibbs nodded sharply once.  He grabbed his things and headed into the bathroom.  He didn’t know what the hell that was but it damn sure didn’t need to happen ever again.  He opted for a cold shower.

Ten minutes later, Gibbs finished up, drying off and dressing quickly staving off the chill incurred from his shower.  He brushed his teeth, refusing to even look at his reflection.  He wasn’t sure what was going on with him, but he needed to get a handle on it.  These thoughts and feelings were distracting.  They wouldn’t help him gauge the right time to talk to Tony and deal with the real reason he’d agreed to come to Chicago.

Gibbs took a deep breath and exited the bathroom.  He expected to hear the TV and was momentarily surprised when he encountered silence.  Gibbs eyed the bed, and was surprised to see Tony already under the covers apparently asleep. 

He smiled fondly.  Guess he was every bit as tired as he looked, Gibbs thought to himself.  Gibbs yawed.  Tony wasn’t the only one who could do with a good night’s sleep.

Gibbs turned off the light and slid into his side of the bed.  Closing his eyes, he could hear Tony’s deep and regular breathing.  Even though they weren’t in immediate contact, Gibbs could feel warmth emanating from him.  It was decidedly relaxing to know where Tony was and that he was safe and sound.

Hopefully tomorrow he’d get an opportunity to really talk to Tony.  Maybe by then he’d even know what the hell he should say.  And he’d have himself and his mind back under control because he couldn’t take much more of this.  He was too damn old to lose his mind and way too young for dementia. 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs frowned in confusion as to why he suddenly found himself awake.   Given how deeply he was sleeping nothing should have disturbed him before his usual wake up time.  He kept his eyes closed, his body still, and his breathing regular while trying to identify what had roused him not wanting to give any outward sign that he was now fully conscious.   He relaxed when he didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary and he didn’t sense any immediate danger.

It was only after using his senses to scan the room that Gibbs became more aware of his more immediate surroundings.  He felt oddly confined, as though his movements were restricted, but rather than leaving him feeling trapped, he felt grounded, content even.  That’s when he realized Tony was snuggled up close to him, his face buried against Gibbs’ shoulder, one long arm wrapped around his torso while an even longer leg draped across Gibbs’ shins. 

Gibbs grimaced.  He hadn’t known Tony was a cuddler.  He’d have never suggested sharing the same bed if he’d known, no matter how nice it was. 

Gibbs frowned.  Nice?  Had he just thought of this as nice?  That was just ridiculous.  There was nothing nice about having nearly two hundred pounds of muscle pinning him in place. 

Well, almost nothing, Gibbs conceded, unable to not be honest with himself.  The heat radiating from Tony made Gibbs warm all the way to his fingertips and toes.  And the decidedly enticing fragrance that Gibbs could just barely make out coming from Tony’s skin and hair was very pleasant.  He had no idea what the younger man used to bathe with but there was a hint of mint to it.   Gibbs tilted his head, unable to resist rubbing his cheek against Tony’s hair.  The baby soft strands felt wonderful against his skin, reminding him of his daughter’s favorite plush toy. 

Gibbs sighed softly.  He really was losing his mind.  No doubt about it.  He should be shoving Tony away from him. Pushing him back on his side of the bed where he belonged.  They’d agreed to each staying on their own side, damn it.  This, whatever the hell it was, was all Tony’s fault.

It was then that Gibbs realized they were both on Tony’s side of the bed. Tony hadn’t invaded his space, Gibbs had invaded his.  Some time during the night, Gibbs must have unconsciously migrated closer to Tony, eliminating the distance between him.  While not a cuddler, Gibbs always slept better when he was at least within touching distance of his bed partner.  But then his normal bed partners had been his wives. He rarely spent the night with a one night stand. 

At what point Tony began using him as a body pillow Gibbs couldn’t be sure, but it had been long enough for him to have grown accustomed to it. It wasn’t their current proximity that had woken him up. 

At least Tony had slept through all this.  No reason he had to know about it, Gibbs decided.  He could just work is way back over to his side of the bed.  No harm, no foul.

Gibbs nodded to himself. It would work.  His mind seemed to be happy with that decision, but his body not so much.  He couldn’t seem to force himself to actually move.  He was warm and comfortable, more relaxed than he could remember being in years. He was very reluctant to pull away from Tony.

Damn it, Marine, just do it, Gibbs mentally chastised himself.  Waiting wouldn’t make it any easier.

He took a deep breath and shifted away from Tony.  The younger man made a small sound of loss, curling in on himself in what Gibbs could only think of as a defensive movement.  It was almost enough to make him change his mind.  Almost.

Resolutely Gibbs moved until he was once more on his side of the bed.  He shivered, missing the shared warmth. Gibbs rolled over on his side making sure he faced away from Tony. 

Gibbs stared at the shadows on the wall cast by the light from street lamps leaching in under and around the curtains.  No where in any modern city was ever totally dark.  It was both comforting and annoying at the same time.

Gibbs sighed, resisting the urge to toss and turn, unable to go back to sleep.  He felt restless, chilled and lonely.   The bed that had been so comfortable only a few minutes ago was lumpy and too soft now.

“This is stupid,” he muttered to himself. He’d slept alone for years.  Years, for God’s sake, so a few hours with Tony shouldn’t have made a difference, except that it obviously had. 

Gibbs nearly growled in frustration.  He got up and made his way to the bathroom.  He closed the door behind him before turning on the light, flinching at the bright illumination, instinctively shielding his eyes with one hand. 

Once the light no longer made him squint painfully, Gibbs got rid of the numerous cups of coffee he’d ingested.  He flushed, wincing at how loud the toilet was.  He shot the porcelain bowl a dirty look.  Ecologically low flow toilets might be better, but they were a lot louder in Gibbs’ opinion. 

Gibbs washed his hands, eyeing his reflection.  He almost didn’t recognize himself.  Despite being frustrated and restless, he looked….well rested, refreshed even.  He scowled, shaking his head.  He was reading too much into things.  It wasn’t sleeping with Tony that made him look that way.  A few solid hours of sleep would do that regardless of who he was with. He resolutely ignored the fact that it rarely had before.

 Gibbs flicked off the light, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness again before opening the door.  He made his way back to the bed hoping he could get a few more hours of sleep.  It was way too early to be up, and there wasn’t anything for him to do here to keep him occupied until it was time to attend the seminars.  He’d just slid under the comforter when Tony spoke.   

 “Boss?”  Tony’s voice was little more than a rough whisper.

 Gibbs rolled on his side to face him.  “Yeah?”

 “S’matter?”

 Other than I might be losing my mind nothing at all, Gibbs thought.  But that wasn’t something he could actually say to Tony. 

 “Just had to use the head.”

 “Not t’me to get up?”

 Gibbs smiled at the nearly unintelligible question.  “No, it’s not time to get up yet.”

 “Kay.”  Tony sighed softly, shifting before settling once more. 

 Gibbs fought down the urge to move closer.  Doing it in his sleep was one thing, doing it while awake and aware he couldn’t excuse.  Gibbs didn’t think deliberately snuggling was something Tony would tolerate.  He’d gotten lucky with Tony not waking up before.  But then Tony had always been a sound sleeper.  Hard to imagine an iguana sneaking into bed with him and going unnoticed otherwise.

 Gibbs pursed his lips, annoyed with himself.  Now he was thinking he could move closer and not get caught.  He wasn’t sure why he even wanted to.  He was used to sleeping alone. And he liked his space.  Or at least he had.  Now he wasn’t so sure. 

 He was pulled from his spiraling thoughts when Tony spoke softly.  His voice was oddly clear and readily understandable.  “Like it better…when you aren’t so far away.”

 Gibbs froze.  Tony’s breathing hadn’t changed; his muscles had remained in that lax sleep state that made him appear almost boneless.  In the dim lighting Gibbs would see his eyes were still closed.  He didn’t remember Tony talking in his sleep before, but then if he weren’t in such close proximity, Gibbs wouldn’t have heard him this time.  Maybe he’d just never heard him any other time.

Gibbs frowned.  Had Tony just said what he thought he said? Did he know Gibbs hadn’t stayed on his side of the bed?  What the hell did he mean he liked it?  Was he even talking to Gibbs?  For all he knew Tony could just be dreaming about some woman he was trying to convince to go out with him or something.

Almost as if he were answering Gibbs’ unvoiced questions, Tony muttered, “S’cold without you, Boss.”

Given how much heat Tony put out, Gibbs had trouble thinking he could possibly be cold, but then he’d felt the chill when he’d moved away from Tony so it wasn’t fair to judge.  Even now the bed didn’t seem as warm as it had before he’d gotten up.  The wind whistling as it carved its way around the building certainly didn’t help the room seem any warmer.

Concerned, Gibbs asked, “You warm enough?”  He didn’t want Tony to get sick.

“With you around, yeah.”

 Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “I make you warm?”

“Hot and bothered.” Tony’s chuckle sounded positively dirty.

Gibbs rolled his eyes.  Leave it to Tony to make an innuendo even in his sleep.  Still, Gibbs felt a strange flash of pride and satisfaction at hearing Tony imply he was sexy. 

“S’more than that though.  You make me feel safe.”

Gibbs smiled, inanely pleased to know his being around made Tony feel secure.  Maybe trust wasn’t an issue after all. 

“Wanna be closer, but I can’t.”

 Gibbs frowned.  Did he just mean closer now?  Or was he talking about something else?  “What do you mean you can’t?”

 Tony hesitated and Gibbs was wondering if his conscious mind was taking over.  But he appeared to be sleeping soundly yet.  Studying his face, Gibbs could just make out the furrow forming as Tony frowned.  The younger man sighed, the sound laced with disappointment and regret. He seemed to curl even further in on himself, moving away from Gibbs.  

Tony shivered.  Whether it was a byproduct of him being cold or something else Gibbs wasn’t sure.  He was beginning to think Tony wouldn’t answer when he finally spoke.  “Bad idea.  Very bad.  You don’t trust me enough…not like before.  Not any more. Dunno.  Maybe never did.  Better not to risk it.”

Gibbs nearly protested loudly that he did trust Tony. What the hell was he thinking that he wasn’t trusted?  Okay so the whole Domino thing might have made it seem that way, but Tony had to know that his being kept in the dark hadn’t been about trust.  It was necessary.  Surely he saw that.  Didn’t he?

Maybe if it had only been Domino, a quiet little voice inside Gibbs said, a voice that sounded a lot like Tony.   But there was more than that.  A lot more than that. 

There was Jenny’s death…not that Gibbs ever truly blamed Tony for that, but he knew his silence on the subject made it seem as though he had.  And four months at sea had to seem like punishment to Tony, no matter what Vance said on the matter. There was the case with Maddie Tyler.  And pretty much anything that involved Mike Franks.  He’d been less than understanding about Jeanne Benoit. Tony had been under orders, Gibbs knew that, but he’d still acted like an ass. Not to mention how he came back from Mexico.  Even he knew there were better ways to handle coming back.  He’d been an ass to leave in the first place. 

Gibbs’ lips curled in a silent snarl of frustration.  He thought all of those things were settled.  They were finished, put to bed and no one talked about them.  Maybe that was the problem, Gibbs suddenly realized. He’d never explained, never apologized.  And just because Tony had stayed silent didn’t mean he’d forgotten or forgiven.  That he didn’t question Gibbs motives or actions didn’t mean he necessarily understood or agreed with them.

Gibbs thought they’d drifted apart only recently, a byproduct of the Domino case, but looking back on it, they’d been drifting apart since Gibbs had left for Mexico with no more than ‘you’ll do’.  They weren’t nearly as close as they’d been.  Tony hadn’t stopped by with beer and pizza since Gibbs’ return from Mexico.  He hadn’t sought out Gibbs for advice or company.  He didn’t seem to be dating but he wasn’t coming into the office in the wee hours of the morning either.  Gibbs had no idea what Tony was doing with his down time.

If Tony thought any of what happened during the past eighteen months was because Gibbs didn’t trust him, his withdrawal made sense. Tony might seem like an immature frat boy at times, but he wasn’t going to go where he thought his company wouldn’t be welcome. 

Keeping him the dark about Domino certainly wouldn’t have done much to correct the impression Gibbs didn’t fully trust him. It was hardly surprising he would be watching Gibbs with wary, suspicious eyes whenever he came back from MTAC.  Damn little good had come to Tony from upstairs.  Even if he didn’t hold Gibbs personally responsible, he couldn’t help but be leery of what new test or burden would be coming his way.

Gibbs took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  How could he expect Tony to trust him completely if Tony thought Gibbs didn’t trust him in return.  Have is back in the field, sure, but Gibbs might just as easily be the one who put him in danger in the first place.  No one was supposed to get hurt when Gibbs had sent Tony and Ziva in to rip off a secured government facility, but they had, and could very easily have ended up dead.  Gibbs knew all too well that lack of intel could be fatal.  But he’d been so sure they could handle it, that Tony would be okay because he always was. 

Gibbs swallowed hard.  Maybe Lee had good reason to think Gibbs couldn’t be trusted with the life of her daughter.  Anyone looking in from the outside at how Gibbs had treated Tony certainly wouldn’t expect much in the way of compassion and understanding.  Tony had been with Gibbs for years, longer than anyone else Gibbs had ever worked with.  He didn’t treat him with respect, punished him for actions executed while under orders, regularly undermined him by embarrassing him in front of his teammates, and letting those same teammates insult his abilities, letting them dismiss and belittle what he’d done in Gibbs’ absence. 

What hope did Lee, a probie, have of getting a fair shake?  Gibbs had booted her off his team when he’d come back from Mexico without so much as a word to her.   He’d snapped and snarled at her, impatient with her timid nature when she’d been assigned as part of his ‘new’ team.  It wasn’t exactly the sort of behavior to encourage her to use him as a confidant.

He couldn’t really blame Tony for thinking getting closer would be a bad idea.  He’d have to show him differently.  He’d have to prove to him that he never thought any less of Tony, had never doubted him. He’d have to convince him that Gibbs wanted him on his team, as a part of his life.

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Gibbs whispered.

Tony rolled over, turning away from him, giving no sign he’d heard the apology.  Gibbs tried not to read too much into it when he reached out to touch Tony and the younger man flinched away.

They might not have had a conventional conversation, but Gibbs had learned a lot.  Now he just had to figure out how to put it to use. 

 

Chapter Text

At 5 AM the quiet peep of Tony’s watch alarm woke Gibb from the light doze he’d managed to slip into.  If he’d been sleeping deeply the small sound might not have even registered given how quickly Tony reached for his watch on the nightstand and turned off the alarm.  It had barely gotten the chance to sound twice.

Tony stretched, the movements slow and languid.  Gibbs could feel the mattress shift slightly in response, making him aware of how little Tony actually moved while he was asleep.  Tony groaned softly and got out of bed. 

“There a reason you’re up so early, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, wincing at how annoyed he sounded.  That wasn’t a good way to start on the resolution he’d made last night…or really just a few hours ago.

“Sorry, Boss.”  Tony whispered.  “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

Gibbs raised his head to look at Tony.  “That’s not an answer to my question.”

“Thought I’d hit the gym.  Figured it wouldn’t be crowded this time of day.”

Gibbs grunted in acknowledgement.  He doubted the gym in the hotel was ever crowded regardless of the time of day.  It wasn’t like the place had a regular membership or was likely as well equipped as a conventional gym. 

“And unless we’re working a case, this is when I usually run.  No reason to skip it just because we’re out of town. Especially not when all I’m going to be doing today is sitting on my ass.”

Tony definitely had a point. The seminars might be good, but they weren’t going to be anywhere near as demanding as working a case.  The structured set up wouldn’t allow for Tony to get up and randomly walk around when thinking the way he was prone to doing at the office, or take the stairs down to visit with Abby or Ducky like he did when things got slow at the office and he needed to work off some energy.  Tossing paper airplanes and spitballs when he got bored would be out as well.  Although, depending on who was there and how good the speaker proved to be, Gibbs might encourage such behavior. 

Gibbs couldn’t really give Tony grief about wanting stay fit.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t known about Tony’s ongoing workout regimen.  Hell, he’d passed on one of his rare compliments when he’d told Tony not long after his return from agent afloat how impressed he was that Tony could keep up with Ziva. 

Gibbs could see Tony moving, and even though he couldn’t make out exactly what he was doing, he had a pretty good idea.  Tony was able to easily navigate the room without needing to turn the light on, and Gibbs realized Tony must have laid his running gear out last night on one of the chairs before going to bed.  Gibbs hadn’t noticed it then, but only the small lamp on his side of the bed had been lit then casting shadows over the rest of the room and he hadn’t really been paying much attention.  When running outside in cooler weather, Gibbs knew Tony typically went jogging in a t-shirt, windbreaker and tights made from some sort of high tech material long distance athletes favored.  Gibbs had no idea what it was, but he knew it was decidedly form fitting.  His usual morning hard on twitched in response to the thought of Tony’s long legs tightly encased, muscles flexing visibly with each stride.

He shuddered, firmly squashing that flare of desire just as he had last night when Tony had come out of the bathroom half naked.  He had to get a handle on those inappropriate thoughts.  They weren’t helping.

Realizing that running inside on a treadmill meant Tony would be wearing a pair of running shorts and a tank top didn’t help either.  The thought of so much skin exposed for Gibbs to see made him shudder again.  He wanted to pull his pillow over his head and scream out his frustration, but he couldn’t do that until Tony left.

“Make sure you’re back in time to get breakfast.” 

“I’ll be back in an hour.”  Tony tossed off a sloppy salute, his teeth flashing brightly as he grinned.  He unbolted the door, opened it just wide enough to slip out then pulled it closed behind him.

Gibbs sighed, rubbing at his eyes.  Maybe he should go running too.  It wouldn’t be as good as going a few rounds with a heavy bag, or working on the boat, but it might help him focus.  Unless of course he spent more time ogling his second in command as he ran, in which case, the damn treadmill wouldn’t help at all.

At least Tony didn’t seem to remember talking to him last night, or their cuddling together. It was that or he was just acting normal in the hopes that Gibbs didn’t remember either.  But he knew Tony well enough to see through most of his acts, so Gibbs was betting that he didn’t remember.  He couldn’t decide if he was pleased or disappointed. 

“Ah, fuck it,” he muttered, turning on the lamp and getting out of bed.  Even though he showered last night, another one seemed like a good idea.  He had plenty of time.

The hot water was nicely relaxing and invigorating at the same time.  He absentmindedly stroked his still hard cock.  Unbidden came images of Tony.  Shit.  Gibbs immediately let go of his cock. 

Gibbs wondered if beating his head against the wall would help.  He decided against it when he realized he had no idea how he’d explain the damages…to his forehead or the wall.  He sure as hell wasn’t going to say he slipped in the shower. 

He looked down at his cock.  It hadn’t flagged at all for the lack of attention.  “Traitor.”

Gibbs sighed.  He decided he was better off giving into temptation for now rather than have his body betray him at an inopportune moment.

Gibbs quickly stroked his cock.  He wasn’t interested in prolonging the experience, or even enjoying it.  He just had to get this out of his system before he did something stupid.  It was bad enough he’d snuggled up to Tony in his sleep.  In light of how many times he’d screwed up in the past, Gibbs didn’t think he could afford to make any more mistakes; not if he wanted to prove to Tony he was trusted, that nothing that happened over the last year or more was a reflection on how Gibbs felt about Tony.  He had to find a way to make Tony understand that it had more to do with Gibbs being an idiot and not thinking about how his actions and words might affect those around him or how they would be interpreted than anything Tony had said or done.

Gibbs stroked his cock faster, his grip almost painfully tight.  Now that he wasn’t actively fighting himself, achieving release didn’t take long.  He’d be embarrassed by how quickly he got off if he were with someone else, but as it was, he was simply relieved to have it over and done with.  It was unsatisfying, and but Gibbs hoped it would be enough to get it out of his system. 

He didn’t think letting Tony know he suddenly found him attractive in a sexual way would help his case any.  God knew it hadn’t helped Gibbs trust Shepard knowing she wanted to get back into his pants.  If anything it made him question her integrity, motives and abilities all the more.  Besides, Gibbs was sure he could get a handle on this once everything got back to normal, and it wasn’t going to be an issue.  No reason for Tony to know about it. 

He cleaned up the evidence and finished his shower.  It was nice not to have to rush.  In a hotel this size it wasn’t like they’d run out of hot water any time soon.  

Gibbs eyed the coffee maker on the counter as he briskly dried off, studiously ignoring his reflection in the mirror.  The pot wasn’t exactly like his, but it seemed close enough Gibbs was pretty sure he could make passable cup of coffee.  He set it, leaving it to do its thing, while he went about getting dressed.

He was dressed, sipping his second cup of coffee and watching the news when Tony got back.  He nodded in greeting, not looking at Tony.  With how he’d reacted earlier to just the thought of looking at Tony in his workout gear, Gibbs decided it best not to risk it. He’d wait until Tony was wearing more clothes.  If he looked like he did at the office every day it would be easier to regard him with an on the job mindset. 

Controlling himself and his thoughts was easier when he was working.  Gibbs had a lot of practice not letting anything interfere with the job. 

“I’ll be out in twenty, Boss.”

Gibbs grunted, letting Tony know he heard him.  Fortunately, no one who knew him expected Gibbs to be overly talkative, especially not first thing in the morning.  His time in the Marines might have made him a morning person, but it didn’t come naturally to him.  He was still more naturally a night owl, which was usually a good thing since a lot of the sniper work he’d done was under the cover of darkness.

There was nothing new on CNN.  Gibbs flipped to the weather channel.  The forecast for Chicago wasn’t particularly inspiring.  The entire week was essentially the same; there was a good chance there would be freezing rain, sleet or snow all week.  It was a good thing they didn’t have to leave the hotel for anything.  Hopefully the weather would clear up before they were due fly back to DC.

Gibbs heard the shower shut off and the blow dryer turn on.  A few minutes later the door opened.  Gibbs caught a glimpse of Tony’s bare chest and back before resolutely turning away to look out the window.  His own reflection started back at him, and he could make out Tony moving behind him.  Gibbs closed his eyes.  He sighed softly wishing the stupid little pot in the bathroom made more than two cups of coffee. 

“Boss?”

“Yeah?” Gibbs turned to look at Tony, relieved to find him dressed.  He managed not smirk when he realized their outfits were coordinated, both of them wearing black and shades of gray.  In Tony’s case it was black slacks with a charcoal gray cable knit sweater.  Gibbs had opted for gray slacks with a black button down dress shirt.  He had a gray sports coat to wear as well. 

“You ready to head out?”

Gibbs nodded.  He grabbed the packets of information on the seminars they’d been handed last night and tossed Tony’s to him.  Tony caught it easily. 

“We’ll go over that stuff while we eat.”

“Gotcha, Boss.”

Gibbs hadn’t looked at any of it last night when they’d signed in other than to confirm when the seminars started.  Eight-thirty was later than they usually started work and he’d actually looked forward to sleeping in for a change.  Although, Gibbs couldn’t honestly say he that he didn’t feel well rested.  A bit confused, anxious and frustrated maybe, but the hours of sleep he’d gotten snuggled up with Tony were more than he normally got.

He shrugged into his suit coat, putting the plastic name tag thing around his neck afterward.  He hated wearing a name tag.  But everyone was expected to wear the damn things.  Tony had his on as well.

Riding in the elevator down to the main floor, Tony hummed along with the music while his restless fingers tapped out a matching beat against his leg.  Gibbs made sure not to react.  He didn’t want Tony to feel self-conscious.  And he didn’t really want him to stop either. 

Gibbs eyed the emergency stop button, wondering if he could use this elevator as a temporary conference room.  Other than the music, it at least felt familiar.  He might actually be able to say something meaningful here.

“Don’t think hitting that would be a good idea, Boss.”

Gibbs scowled, annoyed that he’d telegraphed is intent and oddly proud that Tony had noticed.  He might not know everything Gibbs was thinking--which was probably a good thing--but he obviously knew more than most. Gibbs sighed, eyeing the emergency stop button again.

“How long do you think it would take them to notice?”

Tony shrugged.  “Not long enough for us to miss the whole conference.”

“Shame.”

“And I’m pretty damn sure Vance wouldn’t buy it just quit working.”  Tony grinned.  “He has met you after all.”

Gibbs snorted.  He had gotten an e-mail about misuse of the elevator from Vance.  There was an implied threat to install cameras in it.  He had Abby sweep it periodically now to make sure no micro cameras or listening devices had been added. 

Tony made a show of looking around.  “There is a conspicuous lack of creature comforts in here that we’d have to consider.”

Gibbs smirked.  “It’s out of the wind and has heat, DiNozzo.”

“But it’s lacking a bed and bathroom.”  Tony pointed out.  “I’ll pass on spending a week in here.”  He flashed a bright grin at Gibbs.  “But if you still want to hide out in here, I could always attempt the heroic escape they use in every movie by trying to go out through the never seen in real life ceiling hatch.”

Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to keep from chuckling as Tony continued to ramble on about movies and various ways of getting out of a stalled elevator, each option a bit more improbable than the last.  He lightly cuffed the back of his head to get him to stop. 

“I missed you, Tony.”

Tony looked at him in surprise.  “Been here the whole time, Boss.”

“When you were at sea,” Gibbs clarified, “I missed you.”  He couldn’t remember if he’d said it before to Tony, but he should have.  And while he hadn’t really meant to say it now, he wasn’t going to take it back.  “And I’m glad you’re here.”

Tony’s cheeks flushed, and he looked away shyly. “Thanks, Boss.”

Gibbs felt rush of victory knowing he’d gotten it right.  Of course, now he had no idea what to say or do.  He had a sudden urge to kiss Tony and that was just crazy.  Totally unacceptable.  He was saved by literally by the bell--the elevator ding announced their arrival on the first floor, the doors opened smoothly to reveal the lobby.  Gibbs breathed a silent sigh and told himself he was relieved, not disappointed. 

Once they exited the elevator it was simply a matter of following the signs to where the breakfast being put on for conference attendees was being held.  It looked like the staff was just stocking the buffet.  Gibbs took that to mean the food had been freshly made.  He’d learned to eat a lot of crap in the Marines, but he’d never learned to like cold eggs and he hated greasy potatoes.

Most of the tables were large enough to seat ten to twelve people.  Not wanting to have to make small talk with strangers, Gibbs pointed to one of the smaller tables that were set up in the corners.  Those tables only had room for four. 

“Let’s sit there.”

“On it, Boss.” Tony held his hand out for Gibbs’ packet of information, and then headed for the table he had selected.  The folders would act as their place holders until they’d gotten their plates.

Gibbs loaded his plate with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and sausage.  He got a cup of coffee.  He was exasperated by the size of the cups, resigned to the fact that he’d have to come back for more.  He ignored the fruit platter, and was honestly surprised when it was the first thing Tony went for.

“Oh…pineapple.”  Tony grinned, filling a bowl with it.  “I love fresh cut pineapple.”

Gibbs expected Tony to fill a plate similar to his own, and watched in amazement as Tony opted for lighter fare instead.  In addition to the heaping bowl of pineapple, Tony opted for two pieces of toast, a few strips of bacon, a glass of juice and nothing else. 

When he’d first met Tony Gibbs had been amazed by how much food the younger man could put away. It was like he had a hollow leg.  Clearly his workout regimen wasn’t the only thing that had changed while he was afloat. 

“No coffee?”

“I’ll get a cup after I eat.”  Tony smiled at him, warm and genuine.  Gibbs tried not to notice how much he liked being on the receiving end of that smile.

“Not all of us mainline caffeine like you and Abby.”

“You call her yet?”  He asked as he made his way to their table.  He was sure Tony had agreed to maintain some sort of contact with Abby.  She worried any time any of them were out of sight. 

“I sent her a text last night while you were in shower.”  Tony told him, taking his seat.  He popped a piece of pineapple in his mouth. He made a pleased and satisfied sound Gibbs did his best to ignore.

“You look at the seminar information at all?” Gibbs sipped his coffee. It was a lot better than the stuff they stocked in the room.

Tony looked a little sheepish.  “Meant to look at the schedule last night, but I sort of—“

“Fell asleep.” Gibbs finished for him. 

Tony ducked his head, clearly hearing a reprimand in Gibbs’ tone.  “Won’t happen again, Boss.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Gibbs quickly assured him.  He hadn’t meant for it to seem like he was being critical. “You weren’t the only one.”

Tony smirked.  “I told you creature comforts weren’t so bad.” 

Gibbs chuckled.  He pointed at Tony’s plate with his fork.  “Eat your breakfast, DiNozzo.”

Gibbs thought the eggs were little dry but the potatoes and sausage made up for that.  He hadn’t had any that good since his mother passed away. He briefly considered seconds when he went for another cup of coffee, but decided to pass.  Not point in over doing it. 

He wasn’t surprised to see Tony go back for seconds of the pineapple.  He half expected him to go for thirds.  The only other food he could remember seeing Tony get so much obvious enjoyment out of was ice cream. 

When the wait staff had cleared the table, Gibbs opened his packet of information, and Tony did the same.  There would be at least four rooms with concurrent seminars going on in each one.  Two of the morning seminars Gibbs was most interested in were being offered at the same time. 

The Office of Immigration had representatives who would be speaking on their efforts to crack down on expired student visas, and tracking of foreign nationals residing legally within the country.  More than one terrorist organization had members posing as students or living in the United States for long periods of time.  It would be nice to see how well INS’ efforts and database might coordinate with NCIS.

Illegal nationals were decidedly more difficult to locate and assess for threats, but Homeland Security, the Boarder Patrol and the FBI were slated to cover that topic tomorrow.  Gibbs had already decided to attend that one.  Even if not directly related to terrorism, there was often a correlation to the drug trade. 

The other one he wanted to sit on today was a review of the Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering by the Office of Foreign Asset Control and the FDIC.  Knowing how domestic banking institutions tracked money and reported the information had been very helpful on several of their cases.  It wouldn’t hurt to make a few contacts there that could give them insight or answers in the future.

Gibbs asked Tony which seminars he thought would be most worthwhile attending.  In addition to the two Gibbs had selected, Tony thought the afternoon seminar sponsored by a private contractor would be worth seeing.  Some of the latest technology was going to be demonstrated.  The two Tony thought might be the most useful were the ones related to bomb detection and a mobile finger print scanners. 

“If Abby or McGeek were here they’d be all over that one.”   Tony smiled, eyes lighting up.  “Maybe they’ll have free samples I can take home to them.”

“Just make sure you don’t help yourself to anything you shouldn’t have.”

 “But, Boss, Abby would love to have---“

 “No.”

 Tony huffed.  “I’ll make sure she knows it was you who wouldn’t let me get her the best new toy ever.”

Gibbs snorted.  “If it’s really worth having, make a good case for it, and I’ll see that she gets one.”

Tony nodded.  “Will do, Boss.”

Gibbs’ choice for the afternoon was to sit in on the one being sponsored by Defense Department and several different urban bomb squads on recognizing IED’s, defusing them and proper disposal.  Dirty bombs, ordinance contaminated with either radioactive material or organic biohazards, were mentioned as a rising threat.

“You want BSA or INS this morning?” Gibbs asked.  He wasn’t keen on splitting up, preferring to keep Tony with him, but it couldn’t be helped. They were here to learn as much as possible.

“We could flip a coin.”

“We could.”  Gibbs finished his coffee.  “But we aren’t going to.”

“Party pooper.”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “It’s probably better if I take BSA.  Computers will be a big part of that, and while I’m not anywhere near as good as McGee, I’m better at it than you are.”  Tony winced.  “Well not better, Boss, bad choice of words there.  Let’s just say I’m less inclined to shoot the machine.”

Gibbs wasn’t offended by Tony’s assessment. He was better than Gibbs when it came to computers.  Hell almost anyone was better at it than Gibbs, but he did think Tony sold himself short.  He’d managed to get anything needed to solve the case before McGee joined the team.  He might not have been as fast, but he still got the job done.  Gibbs realized he should have told Tony that. 

Tony downed the last of his coffee.  “I generally don’t make bank managers break out into a cold sweat either so it’s easier for them to talk to me.”

“It’s part of my charm,” Gibbs informed him dryly. 

 Tony grinned.  “Just not the sort of charm most appreciate, Boss.”

 Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “But you do?”

 “Always have.” Tony grinned. 

 Gibbs felt his heart beat a little faster at hearing that.  Damn, he had to get this under control before he did something stupid.

 “I expect you to pay attention and take good notes.”

 Tony’s expression sobered.  “I won’t let you down, Boss.”

 “You never have,” Gibbs told him.

 That earned him a narrowed eyed look, one that searched his face intently.  Gibbs wasn’t entirely certain what Tony was looking for, but he could guess.  He wanted to be sure Gibbs wasn’t going to turn his statement into a joke, or add some qualifier, or attach further warning that would confer some lack of faith or trust.  All of those had been done before, and for once, Gibbs was wise enough to keep his mouth shut realizing this was a golden opportunity to repair some of the damage he’d unintentionally caused.  He held himself still, meeting Tony’s eyes easily, waiting for Tony to accept was he’d said at face value.  He was rewarded with a blinding smile.

 “Thanks, Boss.”

 Gibbs nodded.   He might not be good with words, but he’d gotten it right twice today.  And it wasn’t even noon yet.  Better to quit while he was ahead…at least for now.

 He stood up.  “Let’s go.  Don’t want to be late.”

 “On it, Boss.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs tried to shift discreetly in his seat.  As a sniper, he could sit still for days waiting for a target to appear and the right moment to take the shot, but that was decidedly different than sitting in a seminar for hours listening to a monotonic speaker drone on for hours. Most of what he had to say was good information and worth knowing, but the way he was presenting it was damned boring.  Gibbs’ butt had gone numb almost half an hour ago and his brain wasn’t far behind. 

Gibbs sighed and forced himself to concentrate.  He made a few notes in the margin of the small booklet that had been handed out at the beginning.  The booklet had all the web pages, and numerous points of contact for further information if it was needed as well as copies of the entire power point presentation.   The speaker seemed to be wrapping up so Gibbs scanned the pages again just to make sure there wasn’t anything missing that he might need.  He was glad he’d remembered his glasses…or more accurately Tony reminding him they might be needed.  Gibbs hated that his eyesight wasn’t as keen as it once was. 

In truth, he hated most reminders of his age.  He hated the way his knees ached if he ran too far.  He hated the way his back had protested when he’d fallen asleep under the boat. He hated the way spicy foods no longer sat as well as they once had.  He wasn’t vain enough to care much about the most obvious sign of his age, his gray hair.  Hair color didn’t affect his ability to do the job or keep up with the younger agents, and more importantly several people had commented positively on how attractive his silver hair was. He found himself wondering if Tony liked it. Did he think it was sexy the way Abby claimed to?  Did he think it made him look distinguished or did it just make him too old to be interesting? 

Gibbs grimaced and shook his head.  Pay attention, Marine, Gibbs snarled to himself.  What did it matter if Tony liked his hair or not?  He wasn’t going to dye it and he sure as hell wasn’t going to get some fussy, high maintenance haircut. 

He shifted restlessly in his chair trying to grasp the final points being made.  Mostly he was too relieved to know the seminar was nearly over to actually care much about what was being said. He’d finished his last cup of coffee over two hours ago.  The cups they had simply weren’t large enough he decided.  He would definitely mention that if asked to comment on the facilities when offering a review of the session. 

Since he didn’t need clarification on anything, Gibbs was up and moving before the audience had finished the polite round of applause.  He slipped out the door determined to get a cup of coffee.  He headed for where the hotel staff had set up a complimentary refreshment table.

“Hey, Boss.”  Tony greeted him with a smile and a cup of coffee.  He held the coffee out to Gibbs.  It was a easily double the size of what the hotel offered and the logo on the side of the cup made it clear Tony had gone somewhere else to get it.

“Thought you might be needed a cup of Java.”

“Thought right.”  Gibbs said as he eagerly took the cup, unconsciously reveling in the heat he could feel seeping through the Styrofoam.  He took a healthy gulp, sighing in satisfaction at the rich, bitter taste.

“Thanks.”

Tony’s smile softened, turning warm and a little shy.  It made Gibbs’ heart beat faster and it was suddenly a lot harder to breathe. 

“You’re welcome, Boss.”

“You better not have skipped out early to get this, DiNozzo.” Gibbs said gruffly, trying to hide his reaction to that smile.

The smile faded, and Tony straightened his shoulders, his posture stiffening. Gibbs felt like an ass.  He knew better.  Tony might act like a slacker but he wouldn’t have skipped out, no matter how boring the presentation might have been.  He didn’t always behave professionally the way Vance defined it, but Tony took the job seriously.  He took a lot of pride in his skill and ability to do whatever needed doing; he wouldn’t skip out on getting information that would make ‘busting bad guys’ easier to accomplish.

“I didn’t skip out, Boss.”  Tony’s voice was just as tight as his posture.

“Then how—“

“I asked the concierge to get it.”  There was just a hint of anger in Tony’s tone as he explained, but what really got Gibbs was the undercurrent of hurt.  “I promised him an extra five bucks if he made sure it was still hot when the seminar was over.” 

Gibbs nodded, fighting the urge to apologize.  Tony had done something nice for him and he’d all but thrown it back in his face.  He hoped that moment of stupidity didn’t ruin the small headway he’d managed to accomplish this morning.  “C’mon, I’ll buy you lunch.”  If he couldn’t say he was sorry, Gibbs figured he could at least make up for it. 

“Lunch is free.”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “Part of the package deal, Boss.”

“Not if we try out one of those good restaurants the cabbie said was near here.”

Tony eyed him warily.  “You are really going to buy me lunch when you don’t have to?  Spend money when there is probably a reasonably good meal already waiting that wouldn’t cost you a dime?”

Gibbs glared at him.  He was trying to be a nice guy here.  It wasn’t that out of character for him to offer to buy lunch.  Okay, so normally he only did it when it was his turn or to pay up on a bet, but it wasn’t like he never bought lunch.  He wasn’t that cheap.  Why the hell couldn’t Tony just go with it?

“Yes, I am really going to buy you lunch when I don’t have to.  That okay with you or not, DiNozzo?”

“Okay with me, Boss.”  Tony grinned, unaffected by Gibbs’ sharp tone, his good humor restored with gratifying ease.  Tony was probably the only person Gibbs knew who seemed more comfortable with Gibbs when he was being gruff and sarcastic.   

“You want me to get our coats?”

Gibbs nodded.  Going outside in subzero weather without some additional layers was simply not an option.  He handed Tony his resource materials.  “Will you put that in the room for me while you’re at it?”

Tony looked surprised he’d ask rather than order.  “No problem, Boss.”

“Thank you.”  That earned him another warm, shy smile.  I really need to work on using the manners my mother spent so much time trying to drum into me, Gibbs thought giving himself a mental head slap. Especially if being polite kept getting him more of those smiles.

“I’ll meet you at the front desk in five minutes.”

“On it, Boss.”

Gibbs had finished is coffee by the time Tony returned.  He hoped they’d walk by the coffee shop on their way back.  He could do with another cup. 

Stepping outside, Gibbs winced. The wind was still blowing, carrying ice and snow with it making any exposed skin sting.  He was ready to rethink leaving the hotel, but Tony was already following him.  Turning back now would make him look weak, and that wasn’t going to happen.

Tony gave Gibbs a rueful smile as he turned his face away from the wind.  “If nothing else, this will definitely make me appreciate staying inside. And it is an effective pick me up.  I’ll be wide awake for this afternoon’s session.”

“Silver lining, DiNozzo?”

“More like brass.”  Tony shrugged.  “Best I can do on a day like today.”

As they started walking, Gibbs decided they’d duck into the first place they found, regardless of what they offered in the way of food. He wasn’t going to be picky.

Tony talked as they walked, and Gibbs found himself relaxing.  The low-grade tension he’d been feeling since they’d parted company after breakfast was finally starting to fade.

“Hope the guys showing off the new toys this afternoon are more interesting than the bankers were.  Man, what a dry bunch.  It was all good information, Boss, don’t get me wrong.  I paid attention and took a lot of notes, but it was also just about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Damn glad I didn’t go into business for a living.” 

“Did you ever think of doing that?” Gibbs asked, genuinely curious.  Most children wanted to emulate their parents at some point in their lives, and Tony’s father was a businessman.  Kelly had wanted to be a Marine for a few weeks before she decided being a veterinarian was a better choice.

“Never even crossed my mind.”  Tony laughed.  “Well, at least not the job, to be honest.  But the perks…yeah, those I’ve thought about.  You know, the ones you get when you’re at the top of the heap.  The outrageous salary, the private plane, fancy cars, beautiful personal assistant, and homes in exotic locations.  Oh yeah, I can see the appeal.  But to land all that…well, you have to be damned lucky, incredibly good or unbelievably smart to score a spot at the top. And let’s face it, Gibbs, I’m not any of those things.”

Gibbs frowned.   He didn’t agree with Tony’s assessment of himself.  He survived the plague…admittedly there was some good science involved, but Tony had been incredibly lucky.  15% chance of survival were long odds.  And Tony had managed handle more than the plague--he’d been shot at, beaten, chained to a murder, and blown up.  He had more lives than a cat.  He was one of the best young agents Gibbs had ever worked with.  He was damned good at the job.  He made some of the strangest connections and used movie plots as guides at times, but there was no denying he was a top-notch investigator.  Tony might not be as technologically savvy as McGee and Abby, but he wasn’t an idiot…regardless of how often he played the fool for a laugh.

Tony shrugged, devil-may-care grin flashing.  “Thinking I’m better off as a federal agent.  I get to carry a gun and shoot bad guys.  Best perks ever.”

Not wanting Tony to sell himself sort, or get away with dismissing his dedication to the job as just a grown man playing cops and robbers, Gibbs told him, “You are one hell of an agent, DiNozzo.  And I’m better off for having you on my team.” 

Tony stopped walking.  Gibbs stopped as well, turning to face him.  Tony was staring at him.  “You mean that?”

Gibbs arched an eyebrow, blue eyes meeting green.  “You ever know me to make a habit of saying things I don’t mean?”

Tony’s eyes narrowed, his head cocked to one side as he studied Gibbs.  That Tony hesitated, that he actually thought about it before answering, hurt like hell.  Gibbs made sure it didn’t show on his face.  He didn’t want Tony to know he felt like he’d just taken a kick to the chest.

“You’ve never said anything you didn’t mean, Gibbs.” Tony raised his hand, coming within a hair’s breath of touching Gibbs’ face before pulling back.  “But then you don’t usually say much at all.” 

“Actions speak louder.”

“Yeah they do.”  Tony’s lips curled upward, his expression sardonic.  “But do they always say the right thing, or as much as you need them to?”

Gibbs looked away.  In light of what he learned last night, he’d have to say the answer was no.  His silence on Shepard’s death had made it seem like he was blaming Tony.  The time it took to get him back from being assigned Agent Afloat hadn’t helped.  Hell, even Gibbs thought the assignment was Vance’s way of punishing Tony; Gibbs not saying it wasn’t when Tony asked outright had clearly made it seem like he agreed with the new Director that Tony deserved to be punished.  His not filling Tony in on Domino hadn’t done anything to make things better—especially not when Gibbs admitted Tony being kept in the dark had been his call. 

Gibbs swallowed hard, forcing himself to look at Tony.   He wasn’t sure he could apologize---Not because he didn’t think it was warranted, but because he didn’t think words would make it right.  Talk was cheap, but clearly something had to be said.

“I’m not good with words.”  Gibbs wasn’t making excuses; he was trying to explain.

“Pretty sure anyone who has ever met you knows that.” 

Tony’s expression reminded Gibbs of looks he used to get from Shannon.  It was affection with a mix of amusement and exasperation.  It wasn’t exactly forgiveness but it wasn’t far from it.  And Gibbs was stuck again by the urge to kiss Tony.  The mood was broken by a sudden gust of wind, and several people moving quickly around them huddling in their heavy coats as they moved, reminding Gibbs they weren’t as alone as it had felt.

“We better find a place to eat.”  Tony shivered, shoulders hunching.  “We don’t have that much time until the next session starts.”

Gibbs nodded.  He turned and started walking up the street.  Hanging from the building on the corner was a sign that read ‘Haymarket Pub and Microbrewery’.  They couldn’t have anything to drink, but most of the time microbreweries had good food.

“This place look good to you?”

Tony nodded.  “Too damn cold out here to wander around.” 

Tony sighed as they stepped inside, clearly relieved to be back where it was warm.  Gibbs watched with narrowed eyes as Tony rubbed his chest.  He hadn’t coughed, and other than pink cheeks, Tony didn’t seem overly affected by the cold, but Gibbs decided they wouldn’t be braving the outdoors again unless the temperature actually got to the freezing mark or higher. 

“Shame we can’t sample the beer.”

“Maybe they deliver.”

 Tony grinned.  “Like the way you think, Boss.”

 Gibbs unconsciously placed his hand on Tony’s back, shepherding him toward a small table well away from the door and windows and any possible draft.  It was also relatively private, away from where most of the other patrons had opted to sit.  He only realized what he’d done after they’d gotten to the table.  It was a ‘date’ or ‘husband’ move, one Gibbs hadn’t actually done in some time.  He could feel his face flush and hoped if Tony noticed he’d write it off as a reaction to the cold.

Tony shrugged out gracefully of his coat, hanging it over the back of his chair with a neat flourish.  Gibbs couldn’t help but admire the precise and elegant moves.  Tony was rarely clumsy or awkward. 

Gibbs shucked his coat as well.  He knew his moves were more efficient than graceful in comparison to Tony’s.  Gibbs had learned at a young age to move with an economy of motion, something the Marines and being a sniper later honed to a fine skill.  He wondered idly if that was something Tony could ever appreciate the way Shannon had.  Gibbs frowned, why the hell did he even care?

“Something wrong, Boss?”

“No.”  Gibbs sat down.  “Just hungry.”

Tony pulled a menu from the caddy on the table and offered it to him.  He took a second for himself. 

Gibbs perused the menu.  The offerings weren’t anything fancy, but Gibbs wasn’t the sort to want or need food with unpronounceable names.  He liked simple and filling. 

The waitress approached their table.   Gibbs guessed her age to be somewhere between his and Tony’s.  She was pretty but not overly so.  She smiled politely at them asking if she could get them something to drink.  Gibbs ordered a cup of coffee.  Tony opted for hot chocolate. 

“You want whip cream in that, honey?”  The endearment was casual and clearly more habit for her than anything said with intent, but Gibbs still didn’t like hearing her use it. 

Tony grinned.  “Yes.”

“Only way to have it, ” she said, winking at him.  Gibbs fought down the urge to glare at her, telling himself it didn’t mean anything.  Even is she was flirting with Tony, it wasn’t his place to get upset by it.  Gibbs couldn’t help feeling just a little smug when Tony didn’t flirt back. 

“What are you having?” Tony asked him as the waitress went to get their drinks.

“Cheese steak and fries.”  It wasn’t terribly original or risky, but he wanted something he knew would be warm, edible and satisfying.  “You?”

“I always wanted to try a genuine Chicago style deep dish pizza.”

Gibbs wasn’t surprised by his choice.  Pizza had been something of a mainstay in Tony’s diet ever since Gibbs met him.  He was surprised Tony opted for a small rather than something larger.  It was more proof Tony had altered his eating habits. 

Gibbs was tempted to tease him about it, but he wasn’t sure how sensitive an issue it was for the younger man.  Gibbs had already screwed up with the coffee earlier; he didn’t want a repeat of that.  Especially not when he’d managed to make some headway on repairing the rift between them on their way to here.  The damage hadn’t been done all at once, and Gibbs knew fixing it couldn’t be done in just one fell swoop either, no matter how much he wised it could be. 

After they’d gotten their drinks and placed their lunch order, Gibbs found himself uncharacteristically nervous.  He was never particularly good with small talk.  Hell, he wasn’t good with conversation period, but for the first time in a long time, he was willing to make the effort.  So he asked Tony to fill him in on what he’d learned this morning.  It seemed like a good, safe starting place. 

Conversation flowed easily between them as they went over what they’d learned. There was a natural give and take of information, questions and answers, theories on possible applications, avenues to explore in the future.  It reminded Gibbs of the case discussions he and Tony used to engage in when they first started working together.  It was similar to the back and forth that now went on between Tony, Ziva and McGee. 

Gibbs hadn’t realized how much he missed being a part of that.  Sure, they reported their findings to him, but he wasn’t as much a part of the discovery process as he used to be.  He’d done more when dealing with his temporary team because they were so green, but he hadn’t realized until now why it felt so off.  Langer, Lee and Keating didn’t get him the way Tony did, they couldn’t follow his thoughts and anticipate what he would need nearly as well.  McGee and Ziva were getting good at it, but they’d had to be trained, and learned how over the course of several years.  He and Tony had just clicked from the day they’d met.  Gibbs had taken that for granted, not fully appreciating it until Tony had been sent away.

From the glow in Tony’s eyes, and his animated expression, Gibbs wasn’t the only one enjoying their conversation and the simple act of sharing a meal together.  Gibbs realized Tony had probably missed this just as much as he had.  It was no wonder four months at sea has seemed like a punishment.  Tony hated working alone.  He thrived on being around people, needed the interaction and support that came from working on a team.  Gibbs found himself hoping it wasn’t just the team, but him that Tony needed. 

Gibbs was genuinely sorry they didn’t have more time to just sit and talk, maybe kick back with a few beers and just while away the rest of the day with one another.  He hadn’t wanted to do that with anyone since Shannon. 

Gibbs sighed regretfully.  They still had the afternoon sessions to attend.  “We better head back.”

 “If we have to.”

Gibbs tried not to read too much into Tony sounding every bit as reluctant to leave as Gibbs felt.  Just because Tony enjoyed their conversation and sharing a meal didn’t mean it meant anything more.  It wasn’t like they hadn’t done it before—just not for a long time, and it was usually at the office not in a restaurant. 

“We should do this more often,” Gibbs said. 

 Tony blinked, and then smiled.  “I’d like that.”

Gibbs smiled back, pleased to have confirmation that Tony had enjoyed himself and wouldn’t mind doing it again.  His gut was rarely wrong, but it never hurt to have concrete proof he was right particularly when his thoughts and emotions seemed to be all over the board. 

Gibbs picked up the check.

“You really don’t have to pay—“

“I said I would,” Gibbs cut him off. 

“I know.  But I didn’t honestly expect you to buy me lunch.  This was a lot more than a cup off coffee.  Boss, we could go Dutch, I don’t min--”

“We could,” Gibbs waited a beat before adding, “but weren’t not going to.”  Buying lunch wasn’t about returning a favor; it was supposed to be his way of apologizing for being an ass earlier.  He wasn’t going to Welch on that just because Tony didn’t feel he was owed anything. 

“Fine,” Tony huffed as he pulled on his coat.  “I’ll get it the next time.”

Gibbs found himself smiling at that.  He liked the sound of next time; it was a promise of more.  A future he could look forward to wasn’t something Gibbs had given much thought to recently.

Feeling more lighthearted and optimistic, Gibbs pulled on his own coat.  “Let’s go brave the frozen North, DiNozzo.”

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs enjoyed the afternoon session a great deal more than he did the morning one.  He could relate to the presenters, most of whom were either active duty servicemen or had been in the military at one point in their careers.  And while his team wasn’t directly assigned the task of locating and identifying Improvised Explosive Devices, or defusing bombs, they’d encountered enough explosives over the years Gibbs wanted to know as much as possible about how to recognize and deal with them. 

For as violent and dangerous as DC could be, Gibbs was glad it wasn’t Baghdad or Fallujah.  At least in DC they didn’t have to worry about people turning children’s toys and innocuous cleaning supplies into bombs.  They didn’t have people releasing poisonous gas in the subways the way they had in Matsumoto, Japan.  They didn’t have people trying to blow up school buses the way they did in Jerusalem.  They didn’t have any of those things happening…at least not yet. 

But the way things were going, Gibbs thought it best to be prepared for the eventuality.  And so clearly did most law enforcement agencies.  The room was packed with agents and local law enforcement officers, all of whom were paying close attention to the PowerPoint presentations and speakers.

The final slide show had moved on to detail shots of the aftermath of various attacks.  It was visual proof of the consequences that they’d have to deal with when failing to recognize hidden dangers for what they were.  The picture of a badly burned body in the wreckage of a bombed out car made Gibbs flinch.  It wasn’t that long ago he’d looked at a similar sight convinced it was Tony who had died. 

He swallowed hard, forcing himself not to look away.  Gibbs took a slow deep breath and reminded himself that Tony hadn’t died when Trent Kort and the CIA blew up his car.  The same way he hadn’t died when Ari Haswari blew up a car hoping to kill most of Gibbs’ team.  The same way he hadn’t died from a from a bioterrorism attack using a disease out of the middle ages.  The same way he hadn’t been killed in a dozen other situations since he’d started working at NCIS.  Tony was fine.  Gibbs had seen him just a few hours ago and he knew the younger man was okay. Knowing that did not lessen his anxiety.

Tony is fine, Gibbs told himself repeatedly.  There was no danger here.  The pictures being shown had all happened somewhere else, to someone else. It was his job to make sure it didn’t happen here; that it didn’t happen to any of his people, especially Tony.  He had to stay seated, and pay attention. People were counting on him to keep things like what he was seeing from occurring on US soil.

Gibbs opted to ignore the pictures, and focused on the speaker.  He didn’t need to see the aftermath.  He knew the dangers were real enough.  

There were questions he wanted to ask, details he’d wanted clarification on, but when the lights came up, all Gibbs could think about getting way from the possible dangers being presented and finding Tony.  There were already dozens of hands up from other people eager to ask questions.  Gibbs didn’t have the patience to sit through theirs until his own could be addressed.  He had the speakers names and contact information, he was sure he could get in touch with them later if need be. Maybe he could convince Vance to have the speakers still in active service do a presentation just for NCIS.  There was definitely a need for every agent to understand the threats posed by IED’s, poisonous gasses, and biological weapons.  If nothing else, they needed a good understanding of what Marines and Naval personal might be facing on the ground.

Gibbs stepped out of the room. It took a moment to scan the milling crowd of people who’d already left or were leaving various rooms.  When he couldn’t locate Tony, Gibbs immediately reached for his cell phone.  He hit number one on his speed dial, growling when Tony’s didn’t answer.  Gibbs nearly growled, frustration, anger and fear coalescing as he cancelled the call.  Never be unreachable. Tony knew better.

Gibbs headed for the room where the seminar Tony was supposed to be attending was being held.  He glared at the people blocking the entrance, getting them to move out of his way without him having to say a word.  He walked in, long strides eating up the distance with little effort, eyes sweeping the room as he looked for Tony.

He spotted him near the front of the nearly empty room.  Tony was talking to a small, rotund man with a thinning hair and thick black framed glasses.  Gibbs felt a rush of relief at seeing Tony alive and well.  He wanted to step forward and hug him.  Then he wanted to smack him a good one for making him worry.  He forced himself to stand still and not do either one. 

He couldn’t hug Tony, no matter how much he wanted to.  It wasn’t like he’d ever hugged him before.  He wouldn’t be able to pass it off as normal behavior the way Abby might, which meant he’d have to explain.  No way in hell was he going to admit that a few pictures had prompted an irrational fear for Tony’s health and well being. Especially not when he’d never admitted caring at all even when the situations those pictures brought to mind had occurred. 

He couldn’t really smack Tony without reason.  The smacks had always been delivered as a wake up call, a directive to focus or get back to work.  Tony hadn’t done anything to warrant getting hit.  If he told Tony it was because he’d failed to answer the phone, he’d have to explain why he was calling when doing so was totally unexpected.  It wasn’t like they were working a case, or even had expectations of being assigned one. It all led back to him having to admit to needless worry.

Gibbs shook his head. He felt like a dog chasing its tail.  Better to just let it go.  Tony was fine.  He didn’t need to know about Gibbs’ irrational moment of anxiety. Gibbs continued to approach Tony, watching his conversation with who he assumed was one of the speakers.  Whoever he was, the man was very animated when he talked, hands making numerous meaningless gestures that kept pace with his flow of words, head bobbing and nearly bouncing in place the way Abby was prone to doing when excited about something.  He was obviously energized by what ever topic he was expounding on.  Tony was uncharacteristically still, leaning in, expression intent as he listened closely to whatever was being said. 

Gibbs took a moment just to appreciate the rarely glimpsed view of a completely focused Tony.  At the office, the younger man seldom showcased how serious he could be.  It was easy to overlook that facet of his personality since it was so infrequently seen.  Most of the time, Tony provided the humor, easing tension that was often part of their day to day lives.  He could babble nonsense about movies, women, and upcoming parties with ease, effectively keeping his teammates from sinking too far into their own heads or getting lost in a difficult case.  He was lighthearted, seeming to rarely give any situation the full weight it warranted.  He could be annoying and childish, but Tony was also very good at his job.  He ferreted out information with the best of them.  The same curiosity that drove his teammates nuts every time Tony invaded their privacy or asked too many personal questions was often put to good use uncovering details needed to solve the case.  Tony could be just as driven and obsessed as Gibbs when the situation called for it.

As if sensing his presence, Tony suddenly looked up, green eyes unerringly finding Gibbs.  He smiled; a brief flash of warmth and welcome that once again made Gibbs’ heart beat faster.  He smiled back instinctively before getting control of his expression and scowling fiercely. He should be pissed Tony hadn’t answered his phone and that meant not acting like some teenager with a crush just because Tony smiled at him. 

“Hey, Boss, you done with your seminar already?”

The man Tony had been listening to didn’t see Gibbs’ smile.  He only noticed Gibbs when Tony spoke to him, just in time to see his dark, angry expression.  The man immediately began trying to politely end the conversation.

Tony chuckled, giving the other man an understanding look. Most people reacted to Gibbs’ anger by retreating.  Tony was one of the few who might flinch in the face of it but would still stand his ground.

“I’d like to be able to say Agent Gibbs’ bark is worse than his bite, Doctor Phillips.  Unfortunately, they are both pretty bad.”  Tony grinned.  “But he’s had all his shots and he only bites when provoked so I think you’re safe.”

Gibbs cuffed the back of Tony’s head knowing the smack was expected.  He kept the hit lighter than usual though.  Tony didn’t even wince at the touch.  If anything, Gibbs thought he might actually have leaned into it.

“If it’s any consolation, it’s not you he’s upset with,” Tony continued speaking as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  For them, nothing had, but clearly Doctor Phillips didn’t encounter Gibbs’ brand of discipline every day.  He cleared his throat, eyes measuring the distance to the door. “Thank you so much for staying to speak to me, Doctor Phillips.”  Tony continued to respectfully address the man, holding out his hand for Phillips to shake.

“You are welcome, Agent DiNozzo.”  Doctor Phillips smiled, warily eyeing Gibbs as he handed Tony his card.  “Just let me know when you want to schedule a demonstration for your office.”

“I think NCIS would benefit greatly from your portable finger print scanner.”  Tony pocketed the card. “It would certainly cut down on the time needed to identify victims if we could do it while still at the scene.”

“I know time is often a critical factor,” Phillips said. “It was the primary motivation for our working to create the scanner.” He looked at his watch.  It was a poorly executed move, but Gibbs had seen people be a lot less subtle in their efforts to get away.  “If you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere I need to be.”

“Certainly.” Tony smiled and waved as Phillips beat a hasty retreat.  He gave Gibbs a dirty look.  “You know, it wouldn’t hurt if you could make nice once in a while.  At the very least, you could try not terrifying people within seconds of meeting them.”

Gibbs snorted.  He wasn’t going to apologize for scaring Phillips. “You didn’t answer your phone.”

“When?”

“Less than five minutes ago.”

Tony raised both eyebrows, and then frowned as he pulled his phone free of the belt clip to look at it.  “Damn.  Battery died.”

“You didn’t charge it before leaving DC?”  Gibbs couldn’t help the censure in his tone.  Cell phones were always to be charged and ready. 

“I did.” Tony scowled.  “But the battery has been on the fritz lately.  It doesn’t hold a charge as long as it used to.”

“Why the hell haven’t you gotten a replacement?”  Being unreachable wasn’t just a rule for his agents just so he could contact them; it was rule so they could contact Gibbs as well.  Tony got into enough tight spots to know being able to call for back up any time, anywhere was vital. 

“I ordered one, but it’s not like we get same day service.”

Gibbs glared at him.  “Yes, we do.”  When Tony had been infected with the plague his phone was replaced in less than 24 hours.  Hell they replaced the ones Gibbs broke within hours.

“We used to.”  Tony shrugged.  “But things take longer now that Vance has all requisitions for equipment going through him.”

Gibbs blinked.  “Why the hell would he--“

“He said it was to cut down on wasteful spending.”

Gibbs’ jaw tightened.  “When did he say this?”

 “It was an interoffice memo.  It was in your e-mail.”

“I never read that crap.”

“I know.  That’s why I read all that stuff.”

Picking up the slack and not complaining about it was what a good second in command did.  It was something Tony did very well.  Keeping Gibbs informed was part of his duties too. 

“Why didn’t you mention this before?”

“It didn’t come up.”  Tony shrugged again, nonchalantly.  “I keep an eye on what the team needs and usually I can order stuff well in advance.”

Gibbs knew that.  From the day Tony started, he’d taken care of ensuring the team was well supplied even when the team had only been the two of them.  Gibbs had forgotten how much Tony did, until he wasn’t there to do it.  It had been years since Gibbs had to instruct anyone on what to get, how much of it to get and where to get it from.  Langer had picked up quickly but he had been no where near as good at it as Tony.

“Having to go through Vance normally doesn’t slow anything down, Boss.  At least not enough that you would notice, or have it affect the job. ”

“I notice you being unreachable, Tony,” Gibbs said softly.  “Even when it doesn’t affect the job, I notice you.”  He noticed a lot more about Tony than was probably wise, far more than he was going to admit to. 

Tony flushed.  Gibbs wasn’t sure if it was pleasure or embarrassment that brought color to Tony’s cheeks.  It was no secret that Tony had craved attention and approval from his boss; he always lit up when getting any sort of compliment or praise from Gibbs.  But what Gibbs had just said was a bit more than the much sought after ‘good job’.  He suddenly worried he’d said too much. 

Tony cleared his throat.  “I didn’t really think I’d need it much this week.  A replacement phone should be waiting for me when we get back.”  It wasn’t quite an apology, but it was close.  The ‘won’t happen again’ wasn’t said but Gibbs could hear it just the same.

Tony smiled ruefully.  “If anything happened back home, well, it’s far more likely the team would call you than me and I know your phone works.”

There was an undercurrent of something Gibbs couldn’t decipher in the last bit. It wasn’t anger or disappointment.  It sounded more like resignation. 

“Why wouldn’t they call you?”

“As far as they’re concerned, I’m just the second string, Boss.  The fall back guy, not the go to guy.  That’s you.”

“You’re my go to guy.”  Tony wasn’t his second in command for no reason. Ziva and McGee should have realized that by now.  And by all rights they probably had---but they likely hadn’t said so or ever admitted it to Tony. 

“Must be something new then.” Tony arched an eyebrow, mouth twisting in a bitter smile.  “Because I sure as hell wasn’t on the Domino case.” 

“Yes you were.” Gibbs countered.  “I couldn’t trust that op to anyone else.”

Tony snorted.  “Of course not, who else were you going to send in as a patsy?  You needed a schmuck who trusted you and wouldn’t ask any questions, wouldn’t look any deeper.  Not to mention, I make such a good fall guy. Hell I did it for Shepard, no reason I couldn’t do it for you and Vance, right?”

“It wasn’t like that.”  Although in hindsight, given how things had turned out, he could see why Tony would think it was.  And while this wasn’t the time or the place he thought he’d be addressing it, Gibbs was never one to back away from a thrown gauntlet. 

“It had to be you.  It had to be someone I trusted.” 

“You trust me?  Right.  But clearly not enough to tell me everything.” 

“I knew you could handle it.”  

“Glad you knew that.” Tony shook his head.  “I would have liked to be so sure when I’m staring down the barrel of a loaded gun and getting the crap beaten out of me by pissed off Marines who don’t know I’m not really a terrorist.” 

“You weren’t supposed to engage,” Gibbs argued.  He’d nearly panicked when he realized how wrong things had gone.  The Marines had live rounds and didn’t know it was just an exercise; he knew they’d reacted the way they were trained to.  He’d been so relieved the end result hadn’t been any worse.  That’s when he realized how much a mistake it had been to send Tony and Ziva in blind.  But he wasn’t going to admit that--not when challenged directly by Tony’s anger.  Being confronted by bitter, disillusioned green eyes that didn’t accuse but seemed simply resigned and disappointed was another thing altogether.  Gibbs realized he’d let Tony down.  He’d done him a disservice by not admitting he’d been wrong.

“We weren’t supposed to get caught either.”  Tony sighed.  “But then we didn’t know the real mole already killed two people trying to steal the thing you sent us in after.  Or that she knew exactly what we were going to do, and when we were going to do it.  It was a golden opportunity for a world class cluster fuck, Gibbs.  One that didn’t have to happen.” 

“You’re right.”

Tony blinked and nearly took a step back in surprise.  “What?”

“I said, you’re right.” 

Gibbs squared his shoulders.  He might be a bastard, but he was an honest one and fair.  He’d left Tony to assume he wasn’t trusted far too long, and now that he knew it was a problem, he needed to man up and address it.

“I should have told you and Ziva what you were being sent into and why.  I didn’t because I didn’t want to tip my hand too soon. I didn’t know for sure it was Lee.  Hell for a time I thought Vance was right and Langer had been the mole. I had to be sure, had to catch her red handed.  No mistakes.  Only way to keep a secret---”

“Tell no one.”  Tony nodded slowly as he finished the well-known rule. 

“I knew you could handle it.  That’s why it had to be you.  There wasn’t anyone else I could send in blind and know would come through the other end okay.  You weren’t a fall guy.  You were there to get the job done because I knew you could.   No matter what happens you have never, ever let me down.”  Gibbs made eye contact, holding Tony’s gaze, willing him to believe.  He reached out with both hands to cup Tony’s face.  “You are not a patsy.  You never were.”

Tony smiled, brightly.  Gibbs realized it had been a long time since he’d seen Tony so openly joyful, so genuinely happy.

“I’m irreplaceable, right?”

“Damn straight.” 

Gibbs again had the urge to kiss Tony. He started to lean in, pulling Tony toward him feeling no resistance from the younger man.  Tony’s pupils grew larger, and he licked his lips.  Gibbs eyes drifted closed.

A door opening loudly and several hotel staff entering to clean the room broke the mood, and Gibbs immediately stepped back, jerking his hands away from Tony as though burned.  Tony’s expression transformed just as quickly to something carefree and genial, like he’d slipped on a mask.  It was as though the last moment and what had almost happened was a figment of Gibbs’ imagination. 

If not for the way Tony wouldn’t meet his eyes, Gibbs might have been able to pass it off as that.  He felt awkward and unsure as when he’d tried to kiss Shannon for the first time.  He was grateful for Tony pushing them back toward normal. 

“Why…why were you calling me?”  Tony asked. 

“What?”

“You didn’t say why you were calling me.”

Gibbs had enough honesty for the moment.  And he’d already decided when he’d walked in Tony didn’t need to know he’d been worrying for no reason.

“It’s time for dinner.”

“We eating here?”  Tony asked.  “Gotta tell you I’m not keen on going out again. Unless of course you want to. I mean, it’s damned cold out and---”

“I was thinking room service and a pay-per-view movie.”

It was late enough in the day, with the sun down, it would be even colder than it had been when they’d gone out for lunch.  He wasn’t going to subject Tony to the frigid weather again.  Hell, he wasn’t keen on facing it himself. 

“Seriously?”  Tony looked ridiculously hopeful.

Gibbs grinned, feeling suddenly lighthearted and eager to make Tony happy again even if only for a moment.  “Vance is paying for it, why not?”

Tony held up his hand for a high five, which Gibbs obligingly gave him.  “All right, Boss.”

“We’ll see if they can get make us some popcorn too.”

“Like the way you think, Boss.”

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs hadn’t actually expected Tony to ask his opinion on what movie to watch after they’d ordered room service.  He thought the younger man would simply scroll through what was offered, pick whatever he liked and that would be that. And Gibbs wouldn’t have minded if Tony had, after all, it wasn’t as if the older man was known for taking an active interest in pop culture or as a huge fan of movies.  He’d suggested room service and a movie because he wanted to indulge Tony, to show that he wasn’t always a hard ass, that they could spend time together and not have it be exclusively about the job, to make up for the number of times he’d rudely brushed off an invitation, to make up for just being an ass so many times period; the chance to stick it a little bit to Vance in the process was just icing on the cake.

So when Tony turned to him and asked what he’d like to watch, Gibbs was decidedly unprepared.  He found it oddly endearing to have Tony offer him a choice---as if he had an opinion on the subject, as if his opinion mattered.

It was on the tip of Gibbs’ tongue to say he really didn’t care, but he stopped himself.  Saying he didn’t care what movie Tony selected would also imply that he wasn’t actually going to watch it with him.  Gibbs wasn’t leaving the room, and he knew himself well enough to know he wouldn’t be able to completely ignore what was playing.  If he was going to sit through the movie, then Gibbs decided he should put some thought into it.  At least give it some consideration before dismissing it out of hand. 

He studied the display on the TV screen.  He didn’t recognize any of the titles.  They weren’t things Tony had mentioned before, although, that only stood to reason if they were relatively recent releases.  It was possible Tony hadn’t actually seen any of them yet.  Unlikely, but possible.

“I don’t know anything about any of them,” Gibbs finally admitted.

Tony nodded, seemingly not at all surprised by Gibbs’ lack of knowledge.  “We can eliminate them by genre if that helps.”

“Sure.”

“You care for horror films at all?”

“See enough blood and gore on the job,” Gibbs admitted with a grimace.  Not to mention the shit he’d seen in actual combat.  He didn’t particularly find most horror films terrifying or entertaining.

“Animated?”

“I look like a kid to you?”

“Not the sort with an all day sucker, no.  But everyone is a kid at heart.”

Gibbs couldn’t resist sticking his tongue out at Tony--proving what point he wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t sorry he’d done it.  It earned him a disbelieving look and then peals of laughter.  Tony was gorgeous when he was happy; his hair in disarray, skin flushed, green eyes sparkling.  For a moment, it was all Gibbs could do to drink the sight in. He nearly missed it when Tony got control of his amusement and started speaking again.

“Not all animation is for kids any more, Gibbs.  Seriously.  Cool World definitely wasn’t, but then it as a blend of live action and animation.  Kind of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, only not as G-rated.  It was released in 1992, Cool World that is, not Roger Rabbit. Brad Pitt, Kim Bassinger and Gabriel Byrne were in it.  You might remember Byrne from the Usual Suspects.  Great film that one.  Seriously. I think you’d-“

“DiNozzo.”  Gibbs managed not to put as much bite into Tony’s name as usual, but still bring his rambling to a halt. 

“Right, right.  No cartoons.  That leaves out The Tale of Despereaux and the Kung Fu Panda.”

Tony cocked his head, eyes once more on the selection screen.  “Comedy?”

Gibbs shook his head. He didn’t find a lot of shit in comedies all that funny. 

“I’m tempted to make you sit through Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but honestly I think it would be funnier to see Ziva’s reaction to that one.”

“Why?”

“It’s about an Isreli counter terrorist army commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue a dream of becoming a hairstylist in New York City.” Tony laughed.  “Just imagine her expression?”

Gibbs was wondering if Tony would survive if he invited Ziva to watch that movie.  And suddenly he didn’t want to think about her with Tony at all.  The two of them laughing, talking, snuggling up on the couch was not an image he wanted to dwell on.   If  I can’t snuggle with him, then neither--Gibbs stopped himself abruptly.  What the hell?  He didn’t want to snuggle with Tony.  Okay, so yeah, last night he’d got a little close, but he’d moved away as soon as he was aware of it…or almost as soon as he was aware.  A few minutes delay didn’t matter.  And so what if he’d almost kissed him.  It didn’t mean anything.  Tony was leaning in to him too.  That thought stopped him cold.  He’d been aware of it at the time, but had been too embarassed and awkward to truly acknowledge it or even think about what it meant.  Would Tony be open to more?  Gibbs mentally slapped himself.  Enough.  None of that mattered.  His thoughts just needed to shut the hell up. 

“Thinking we can forgo Witless Protection.” Tony snickered.  “Definitely not your cup of tea.” 

“That leaves us with drama or the action adventure film where not much has to makes sense as long as something blows up.”  Tony pursed his lips.  “We’ve got the Other Boleyn Girl.  I have to admit that one isn’t really something I’ve given much thought to.  It a historic piece that deals with Henry the eighth.  Pretty sure it’s a chick flick.  And we’ve got The Bank Job, which is based on a real bank robbery in London that happened in 1972.  Might not be too bad.  Jason Statham is never going to win an Oscar for best actor, but the man knows how handle a kick ass fight scene and look good doing it.  And last but not least we have, Ironman.”

“Ironman?” Gibbs frowned.  “Like the comic book?”

“Exactly like the comic book.”  Tony looked at him, both eyebrows up.  “You read comics as a kid, Boss?”

“Yes, DiNozzo, they had them when I was young.”  Gibbs glared at Tony.  He wasn’t that damned old.  “The rocks were cool by then and everything.”

“I know they pre date you, Boss.  I wasn’t being an ass.”  There was the lightest bit of hurt and reprimand in Tony’s voice at Gibbs for snapping at him.  It was something very few people could do and actually make Gibbs feel genuinely chastised for letting his temper get away from him.  He shouldn’t have assumed Tony was making a crack about his age.

“I just never figured you as the sort to read comics. Or if you did, I guess I thought you’d be more GI Joe, or maybe a Superman fan.”

“Why?”

“They have a code.”  Tony smiled.  “Rules to live by.  Always on the side of truth, justice and the American way.  Sounds a lot like you.”

Gibbs wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of Tony believing he’d always had a code he lived by, one he’d never violated and that he was always one of the good guys.  It was an attractive image---the unsullied hero, but in real life they didn’t exist.  In real life, Gibbs had to commit a felony, murdering a man, before seeing the value in upholding and enforcing the law.   He was no Superman.  He had feet of clay. 

He didn’t want that to make him less in Tony’s eyes.  He wanted to be the guy Tony looked up to, that he could trust and rely on.  But he didn’t want to be some unreachable paragon either, an unfeeling idol on a pedestal. Maybe there was a middle ground, but Gibbs doubted he’d find it.  He’d been denied the often sought after happy medium before.  Most of Gibbs’ life had been all or nothing.  He sighed silently. Why would this be any different?

“I always kind of preferred guys like Tony Starke and Bruce Wayne.”  Tony said thoughtfully.

“Rich guys with neat gadgets.” Gibbs teased, trying to shake his own morose thoughts.

“Well yeah.  There is that. ” Tony grinned and then sobered.  “But a guy like Tony Starke, well, he had to stumble into being a good man.  It didn’t come naturally and he didn’t always get it quite right.  Kind of the same thing with Bruce Wayne.   I mean, the Dark Night wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy kind of guy--he was on the right side but not always the side of right, if you know what I mean.”

Gibbs nodded.  Being a vigilante meant Batman went after people society could readily agree were bad guys, but he didn’t exactly use sanctioned means.  He worked with the police but he wasn’t a cop.  Technically, he was a criminal, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t one of the good guys. 

“You ever think they were bigger heroes for that?” Gibbs asked softly.  “For being human, having faults and foibles and still trying?”

“Definitely.” Tony murmured softly.  His gaze shifted to the middle distance, clearly looking at something not in the room.  “In elevating our heroes we remove any trace they were like us, and eliminate the chance we’ll ever be like them.  What makes our heroes worth emulating is not who they ultimately become, but how it was they managed to get there.  No one knows the true value of virtue without being well acquainted, at least once, with vice.”

Gibbs stared at him.  Did Tony really believe that?  If he did…Gibbs didn’t want to guess about this.  “What--”

“Nothing,” Tony shook his head, his expression suddenly uneasy.  “Sorry about that.  Was something I had to memorize for history class once.”  He made a meaningless gesture.  “Not sure where it even came from.  Just forget it.”

Tony typically shied away from showing how deep he could really be.  What he thought would happen if he allowed people to realize he had more depth than a parking lot puddle, Gibbs didn’t know.  The face of a clown was as much a shield for Tony as Gibbs anger was for him.   Neither of them was comfortable letting people see too much of what was hidden behind the mask.

Tony pointed to the TV with the remote, bright frat boy smile once more in place.  “So what movie did you want to watch?”

Knowing it was too late to ask for more, Gibbs let it go.  “I think the winner was Ironman.” 

Tony hit a button on the remote.  The screen shifted to let them know the movie would cost them $15.95 and would be billed to their room. 

“You think Vance will even notice?”

Gibbs snorted.  “He’ll notice.” 

The man had every requisition order coming across is desk.  Details like a pay-per-view movie and room service wouldn’t escape his scrutiny. The agency was saving a good bit by Gibbs only booking one room for them, so if Vance got in his face about it Gibbs was sure he could put him in his place.  And it wasn’t like this actually cost more than the standard per diem the agency officially allotted for agents. 

Just as the movie was starting room service knocked at the door.  Gibbs had ordered steak, a baked potato and in a rare concession to Ducky’s many lectures something green and leafy.  Tony had also ordered a steak, but opted for steamed vegetables as his side and a cup of the tomato bisque soup.   The hotel bar stocked a selection of beers from the microbrewery down the street where they’d grabbed lunch so they were both able to get a beer to go with their meal.  Gibbs had ordered the stout curious to see if the dark beer would be as good as others he’d sampled; Tony selected the pale ale.

Since the waiter had placed the tray on the small table, and it had a clear view of the TV, it made sense to simply eat there.   The setting was intimate, but Gibbs felt too comfortable and relaxed to be bothered by that. Nothing about being alone with Tony felt awkward.  It was a sharp contrast to the last evening meal he could remember sharing with anyone in such a private setting--that had been with Shepard in her office.  Until sitting down with Tony he hadn’t realized how tense and on guard he’d been with her.  And it wasn’t just her, it was pretty much everyone he dated.  With them he’d felt obligated to make some sort of small talk, to keep up appearances, to perform in some way.  With Tony, he knew he didn’t have to make an effort to be charming, or overly pleasant, or do anything more complicated than simply enjoy his meal and the movie. 

Gibbs was struck by how nice it was, similar to lunch earlier but better.  There was no cold weather to contend with or other people to interrupt.  He had Tony all to himself, which was probably something he shouldn’t think about.  But even so, Gibbs wouldn’t mind doing this more often. 

He sat back when he was finished eating, sipping his beer.  He wondered if Tony would want to do this again.  Maybe when they got back to DC they could go out for dinner or he could invite Tony back to his place.  It could be like a real date.  Gibbs shook his head.  Thinking that was dangerous and it was best to stop now. Tony might have leaned into that almost kiss earlier, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.  Gibbs finally felt like he might be well on his way to repairing a lot of the damage he’d unintentionally caused.  Now would not be a good time to screw things up again.

He covertly studied Tony.  The younger man looked as relaxed and comfortable as Gibbs felt.  There were no overly bright smiles, no blithe commentary, and no fidgeting or obvious signs of unease.  Green eyes focused on the TV, clearly enjoying the unfolding storyline.

Gibbs hadn’t expected Tony to be so engrossed by the movie; at least not so much he didn’t speak.  He thought for sure Tony would offer up information on the director, the actors, where the action was filmed and how.  Talking was part and parcel to who Tony was.  At times Gibbs was sure he’d be able to talk under water if need be.   It was oddly disconcerting to have him be silent.

Tony glanced over at him.  “What?”

“Just surprised you’re so quiet.”  Gibbs admitted.

Tony shrugged.  “I might never have mastered the right fork to use, but I got a good handle on movie etiquette.”

“Never understood why more than one fork was needed myself,” Gibbs said with a smile, turning his eyes back to the movie.

Tony chuckled.  He got up from the table and settled in on the bed, back against the headboard, his half full beer resting on his stomach, and long legs stretched out in front of him with his stocking feet crossed one over the other.  Gibbs envied how comfortable Tony seemed, and realized there was no reason he couldn’t be equally comfortable.

Gibbs removed his shoes, and joined Tony on the bed.  He bunched a pillow behind him, settling in to watch the rest of the movie.  There was more than enough room on the bed that they didn’t have to even come close to one another, but Gibbs didn’t mind that they’d somehow ended up close enough for their shoulders to touch. 

It was a shame the room service menu didn’t offer popcorn.  It would have been nice to have it to munch on, but after the meal he’d just eaten, Gibbs wasn’t really hungry. 

Settling in, Gibbs took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He took another breath and was suddenly aware of Tony’s scent.  It was similar to what he’d noticed last night when Tony had wrapped around him in his sleep, but not exactly the same.  He could make out the faint mint that had to be from either Tony’s soap or shampoo.  It was overlain by his cologne and deodorant that created a musky spice Gibbs found rather attractive.

He fought down the urge to wrap an arm around Tony’s shoulders and draw him closer.  Gibbs’ jaw clenched.  Maybe getting on the bed was a bad idea.  But he was enjoying the quiet companionship and close proximity too much to really regret it.   And he sure as hell wasn’t going to move.

By the time Tony Starke had escaped from his captors and gone home to California Gibbs had become sufficiently engrossed in the movie he could overlook where he was and who he was with.  He could see why action movies made for such an easy escape for most people.  The flow of events didn’t have to make sense, the science didn’t have to be sound, and the details didn’t have form a continuous or logical plot.  It just had to be entertaining, get the heart pumping and make people cheer for the hero.

Gibbs found himself honestly enjoying the film. Tony Starke was a surprisingly complicated character given his comic book origin.  He was not nearly as one dimensional as Superman or Scott Summers of the X-men.  He could be charming, annoying, thoughtlessly juvenile, humorous and hostile.  He was a filthy rich playboy with a conscience and a compulsive need to fix the horrors his weapons had created.  Turning over a new leaf hadn’t come cheap, and it appealed to Gibbs that the cost ultimately didn’t sway Starke.  In the end, that was what made him heroic--a willingness to pay the price being asked, standing strong in the face of adversity.

By the time it was over Tony Starke grew a lot.  But the way the movie ended nicely showcased he was still had a lot in common with who he was at the beginning.  He was still narcissistic enough to want full credit for his invention; still cocky enough to be sure he could get away with it; still juvenile enough not to see all the consequences of his actions.  In a very real way, Tony Starke reminded Gibbs a lot of Tony DiNozzo.  He wondered if the younger man saw the same similarities. 

“That was pretty good,” Tony said as the final credits scrolled by.  He turned his head to look at Gibbs. “You like it?” 

“I did.” 

Tony smiled shyly. “Thanks for watching with me.”

Gibbs didn’t think he was owed any thanks, but nodded his acceptance of the sentiment. 

Tony pointed the remote at the TV and deftly switched the channel to CNN.  He offered the remote to Gibbs as he got up from the bed.  “I’ll put the room service tray in the hall.” 

Gibbs blinked, pleasantly surprised Tony offered to clean up.  Not that Tony was a slob, but he wasn’t exactly the neatest guy around either.  Gibbs suspected Tony only cleaned up because they were sharing the room, and he knew Gibbs liked things orderly.  It had been a long time since anyone catered to his preference for anything that wasn’t directly related to the job. 

“Thank you.” 

Tony smiled at him, once more making it hard to breath easily. Gibbs was starting to think he might need to let Ducky check him out.  That was happening far too often. 

 Tony grabbed the packet of information they’d been given on the seminars.  He settled in on the bed with a pencil and small notebook.  

“What are you doing?” 

Tony looked up.  “I only had time to look at what was going on today at breakfast.  I thought it would be a good idea to look at the rest of the week.”

It was a good idea.  Gibbs hadn’t look though everything either.  He got his own packet of information. It would save time in the morning to have it sorted out now.  Not that they would likely run short on time, but Gibbs believed in being prepared.

The news made for background noise as they reviewed what was being offered.  It didn’t take long to sort out what seminars they’d be attending in the morning.  Tony wanted to sit in on the one that focused on how to build a profile of terrorist--what sort of people were attracted to extreme views, how did they justify attacking non-combatants, what sort of people were susceptible to the call of radical action by zealots.  Gibbs was more interested in the session on global efforts to deal with terrorism.  Many countries had been dealing with the issue for far longer than the US had.

Gibbs had already decided to attend the FBI’s seminar in the afternoon on tracking illegal aliens with ties to terrorist groups.  Tony had considered attending as well before opting for the session on coordinating efforts with local law enforcement. 

“Not sure it’ll be anything more than a lot of lip service, but better we split up and hit as many of these things as we can.”  Tony grinned.  “And I’m pretty sure Tammy will be in that one.  I want to see if she and Craig will be free for dinner tomorrow night, see if we can spend a little more time catching up.” 

Gibbs had forgotten about Tony’s old partner and her husband.  He bit his tongue against giving voice to the sudden rush of disappointment that Tony wouldn’t want to spend tomorrow night with him. 

“You want to come along?” 

Gibbs was surprised by the invitation.  He hadn’t expected to be included. 

“If you don’t have anything better to do that is.”  Tony immediately offered, clearly taking Gibbs’ hesitance to respond as a negative.  “I mean, it’ll probably just a few drinks and dinner.  You wouldn’t be missing out on much.  I’m sure you’ve got better things to-“

“I’d like to meet your old partner.”

Tony’s grin was blinding.  “Really?”

Gibbs smiled pleased to see Tony happy again and no longer nervously babbling.  Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t tease him a little.  “I’m sure she’ll have some good stories to tell about you.”

“Oh, a few.”  Tony laughed softly.  “Might cost you a bit to get them though.”

“You think I’m too cheap to pay it?”  Gibbs challenged.

“Hell no, I’m hoping you do.”  Tony grinned.  “I’m good with getting spillover perks.” 

“Spillover perks?” Gibbs chuckled. 

“Yep.”  Tony waggled his eyebrows.  “Just so you know, she likes the expensive vodka and has a real weakness for cheesecake, and if you don’t buy enough for everyone she won’t tell you a thing.  Tammy is a firm believer in sharing her bounty.  Course she expects everybody to share theirs too.  Tit for tat isn’t just an expression to her.”

“Good to know.”

“We done with this stuff?” 

“For now.”

Tony moved put away the materials until they were needed tomorrow.  The younger man disappeared into the bathroom, returning a few minutes later dressed in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. Tony slipped under the covers on his side of the bed.   He had the crossword puzzle book he’d been working in while on the plane. 

Gibbs knew Tony liked to downplay his intelligence, claiming to only be able to do the easy puzzles or those that focused on the trivia from movies and TV shows.  But the book he was working contained puzzle that were from the Sunday New York Times.  They weren’t easy, or mainly trivia, but Gibbs didn’t call him on it.

Tony would occasionally ask for Gibbs’ input.  Although, Gibbs had never said so, he liked working the puzzles with Tony.   It was similar to working a case, without the time crunch or intense pressure.

The news was starting to repeat when Gibbs noticed Tony hadn’t said anything for several minutes.  He looked over and saw the younger man was sound asleep.  He gently slipped the book and pencil out of Tony’s hand, trying not to wake him. Tony started, eyelids fluttering. 

“Boss?”

 “Shhhh…It’s all right.  Go back to sleep, Tony.”

 "N’ght, Boss.”  Tony mumbled, curling up on his side, facing away from Gibbs. 

 Gibbs smiled fondly.  “Good night, Tony.  Sleep well.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs found himself waking up just as he had the night before held firmly in place by Tony’s weight.  The younger man was wrapped around him, almost as though he was using Gibbs as a living body pillow.  His head was half buried under the comforter, resting on Gibbs’ shoulder; his breathing deep and even. 

Gibbs absently noted that this time they seemed to have met in the middle rather than him migrating completely over to Tony’s side of the bed. He smiled wryly to himself.  At least this time it wasn’t entirely his fault. 

Gibbs sighed, unconsciously tilting his head to rub his cheek against Tony’s hair.  Despite being held down Gibbs felt very relaxed and comfortable.  He didn’t want to move, but knew he should.  He felt like he was taking advantage of Tony.  The younger man couldn’t possibly know who he was snuggling up to.  Gibbs was sure Tony would be just as embarrassed as he was by it.  It was better for both of them to put a stop to this.  Now if he could just convince himself to actually move Gibbs knew he’d have it made.   Unfortunately, he really didn’t want to.

He sighed again and forced himself to pull away from Tony.  His resolve was broken when Tony made a small sound of distress and began to shift restlessly.  Gibbs told himself he stopped trying to pull away simply because he didn’t want to wake Tony.  He wasn’t bothered by the way Tony shivered, or how lost and forlorn he sounded. Gibbs wasn’t the sort to let things like that bother him--usually. 

Tony settled again with a sigh once he’d eliminated what little space Gibbs had managed to create between them. His hand moved in a soothing gesture across Gibbs’ chest, patting him once before long fingers curled and got a firm hold on the well worn T-shirt Gibbs had opted to wear to bed. 

Gibbs shook his head.  It looked like getting away without waking Tony wasn’t going to be an option.  Although, he had actually carried on a conversation with Tony and the young man never woke last night.  Maybe he could do something like that again.

“Tony.” Gibbs whispered.

“Hmmm?”  Tony rubbed his face against Gibbs’ shoulder.

“I need you to move back to your side of the bed.”

Tony didn’t respond.  Gibbs sighed.  He whispered Tony’s name again, sharpening his tone slightly.

“What?” Tony sounded more awake but Gibbs noticed he hadn’t actually opened his eyes or moved.   So far, so good, he thought.

“Move back to your side of the bed.”

 “No.”  Tony shook his head.

No?  Both Gibbs eyebrows rose.  He hadn’t expected that.  “Tony--”

“Warmer here.  Staying.” Tony countered, cutting Gibbs off.  “Think the boiler’s broke ‘gain.”

Gibbs frowned.  Boiler?  Oh right.  He remembered the heating going out in Tony’s building more than once.  The first time it happened, Tony had slept at the office.  The second time, Gibbs offered him use of his couch.  He knew it happened one or twice since then, and he was honestly glad that Tony’s stint as an Agent Afloat meant he’d been forced to find a new apartment.  Gibbs had been very pleased when he found out Tony’s new place in a safer neighborhood with a more proactive super.  It was close to the office, but more importantly it was also less than twenty minutes from Gibbs’ home.

Raising his head, Gibbs was suddenly aware of just how cool the room was.  It wasn’t just Tony’s weight and proximity that had woken him.  Any bit of exposed skin, especially his nose, was cold.

He pursed his lips as he considered things.  The room had been warm enough when they’d eaten dinner, and during the movie, but he hadn’t paid any attention to whether or not the heat had come on after Tony had fallen asleep working on his crossword puzzle.  Gibbs had gone to sleep himself not long after that.

Surely the heat had kicked on at some point.  With the way the wind was howling and the fact that the outside temps never got above freezing Gibbs was honestly surprised it had ever stopped running. 

Just as he was getting ready to get up and check it Gibbs heard the fan start up.  Evidently the heater worked, but it didn’t run continuously and it when it did run it wasn’t up to the task of keeping the room truly warm.  The dropping temperatures outside and gusting wind were more than it could handle. 

Gibbs huffed in annoyance.  For what the room cost he shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the damn heater worked.  He told the little voice in his head that pointed out sharing body heat has obviously kept them reasonably comfortable and the heater wasn’t truly needed to shut the hell up. 

He considered calling the front desk and demanding another room, one with a better heater and two beds, before he remembered there were no other rooms to be had.  Wouldn’t be sharing the bed if there were, he thought.  And he really wished that little voice hadn’t piped up to point out how little sharing the bed actually bothered him.  He wasn’t going to think about that.

If getting another room with a better heat source wasn’t an option, more blankets certainly wouldn’t hurt.  Most hotels had at least one extra blanket in the closet.  He just had to get out of bed and get it.  Nothing to it.

Tony shivered and muttered something about hating the cold.  Gibbs rubbed his cheek against Tony’s hair again.  He wanted to wrap his arms around Tony and pull him closer to make sure he stayed warm enough. Shared body heat clearly wasn’t enough for Tony not to feel the cold; more was needed.  They needed that extra blanket.  Gibbs swallowed hard and forced himself to pry himself free of Tony’s hold. 

Tony made a sound that was somewhere between a whimper and a moan when Gibbs gently but firmly forced him to let go of his shirt.  Gibbs winced.  He didn’t think he’d hurt Tony--he really hoped not, but wouldn’t allow himself to stop.  If he stopped again he’d never finish the task he’d set for himself.  Gibbs shivered as he slid out from under the comforter, goose bumps rising immediately on his forearms.  He shuddered when his bare feet made contact with the floor.  The room was even colder than he realized. 

“Boss?”  Tony raised his head.  “Where are ya goin'?”

Gibbs didn’t know if he was fully awake or not, but he given the way he slurred his words, Tony was probably more asleep than awake.   He didn’t answer, thinking Tony would settle if he stayed quiet.  Gibbs managed to locate the closet without turning on a light.  Feeling blindly in front of him Gibbs found the shelf where he thought an extra blanket should normally be.  He let out a breath in triumph when his fingers encountered soft fabric. 

“Boss?”  Tony called quietly, sounding anxious.  “Gibbs?”

“It’s okay, Tony.” Gibbs answered him, unable to ignore him as he turned and headed back to the bed.  “Just getting another blanket.” 

Tony didn’t seem to hear him.  One arm made several sweeping motions clearly searching the spot where Gibbs had been. 

“Gotta find ‘im.  Shouldn’t ‘ave let him go off on his own. Needs someone to watch ‘is six.”  Tony’s agitation increased.  He was shivering more now and his breathing grew ragged.  “Gibbs? C’mon, you have to be okay.  You have to.”

Gibbs quickly spread the blanket haphazardly over the bed more concerned with getting it done than ensuring it was neat.  He slid back into bed, grateful for the warmth.  He reached for Tony, intent on calming him down.  Gibbs was totally unprepared for Tony to latch on to him and pull, hauling him across the bed with impressive strength and rolling on top of him, pinning him. 

Tony raised both hand to cup Gibbs’ face.  His eyes were open but he was staring blindly.  Gibbs wasn’t sure what he was looking for or expected to see.

“Please.”  Tony whispered, his voice hoarse and broken.   “God, Boss, please.”

Gibbs wasn’t sure what Tony was asking for.  He had no idea how to answer him, to give him the reassurance he seemed so desperate for.

“I know you want me to save her.  I know she’s Kelly’s friend, but she isn’t anything to me.  Not like you are.  You are everything, Boss.”

Gibbs’ mouth dropped open.  He hadn’t expected to ever hear that sort of declaration.  Kate had once accused Tony of worshipping the ground he walked on, but this wasn’t a case of hero worship.  Tony expression was so full of pain and loss it hurt to look at him.

“You have to breathe, Boss.  Damn it.  You have to breathe.  Please.”

The mention of Kelly and the command to breathe clued Gibbs into what Tony was obviously dreaming about.  He hadn’t been really aware of what happened on the dock; Shepard had filled him in later at the hospital when she dressed him down for going off on his own and almost getting himself and a civilian killed.  He’d had no idea his near drowning had such an impact on Tony.  Tony never talked about it. Hell no one on his team ever mentioned it. The silence on the subject should have clued him in.  It was clearly something too painful to talk about.  

In hindsight he should have known.  Thinking Tony had died when his car exploded still gave Gibbs nightmares.  And he never brought it up, never admitted to being unable to look at a burned body without checking to see where Tony was and making sure it wasn’t him. 

“Tony, it’s okay.” Gibbs tried to sooth the younger man, to ease the pain that had brought tears to his eyes.  “You saved Maddie.  You saved me.”

Once again Tony didn’t seem to hear him.  He trembled, whether from distress or cold Gibbs wasn’t sure.  His breathing was harsh and uneven.  Gibbs remembered Shepard telling him Tony had performed CPR on him and Maddie.  Doctor Pitt had insisted Tony be on supplemental oxygen for almost two days and broad spectrum antibiotics to ensure no lasting damage had been done to his lungs.

Tony’s head dipped, closing the distance between them.  Before Gibbs could even wonder what Tony was doing, the younger man’s lips were pressed against his.  It wasn’t a kiss, not in any conventional sense. Tony blew hard into Gibbs’ mouth, forcing air into his lungs. 

Gibbs rode out the uncomfortable feeling, unwilling to simply pull away, breathing in the air Tony was trying to give him.  He breathed out in relief when Tony stopped.  When Tony started to raise his head, Gibbs stopped him, holding him in place to kiss him properly. 

Tony’s lips were surprisingly soft, and so very warm.  Gibbs nibbled on Tony’s full bottom lip, encouraging him to open his mouth.  He moaned softly when Tony willingly granted him access.  Tony’s mouth was a bit larger than most of the women Gibbs had kissed; it was also hotter and far more enticing. 

His other hand wormed its way under Tony’s shirt, desperate for more contact.  His hips moved of their own volition, rubbing his groin against Tony. He suddenly regretted the fact they’d both opted for sweats and t-shirts. This would have been so much easier, so much better, if they were both naked.

It was only the need to breathe that finally forced Gibbs release Tony’s mouth.  The irony wasn’t lost on him.  Just a moment ago he’d had too much air in his lungs, and now he was panting, trying to catch his breath.

Confused, but very aware green eyes met blue.  “Boss?”

Gibbs froze, painfully aware of what he’d just done.  Oh shit.  He’d kissed Tony.  Kissed him?  Hell he had practically molested him in his sleep.  That was wrong on so many levels.  What was he supposed to do now?  His usual ability to think quickly and calmly deserted him.  Gibbs didn’t know what to say and found himself blurting out the first thing that came to mind.

“The heater isn’t working well.”

Both Tony’s eyebrows rose.  “The heater?”

Gibbs mentally cursed.  He had to make sense and explain things.  “I got up to get the spare blanket, and you were dreaming.  I think you were dreaming about the Maddie Tyler case--”

“The dock.”  Tony closed his eyes.  “Shit, did I…oh hell, I did.  Damn, Boss.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean t--“  Tony stopped talking and nimbly scrambled away from him.  The loss of his weight and heat left Gibbs feeling bereft.  He reached out to grab Tony’s arm to stop him but the younger man was already sliding out of bed.

Gibbs quickly turned on the light on the nightstand, wincing at the sudden illumination.  He hadn’t meant for Tony to take the blame for this; he’d just started explaining badly. “Tony, calm down. I can--“

“You weren’t breathing.  I had to do CPR.”

“I know.”

“I was so sure I wouldn’t be able to save you and her…I was scared, well, more like terrified you were going to die, and I know it’s not the most manly thing to say but it’s true.  And it kind of stuck with me.”

“Tony, just listen to me--“

“Jesus.  I haven’t acted out my nightmares in years.”   Tony kept moving, backing away until he was as far from the bed and Gibbs as he could get.  He ran a hand through his hair, eyes darting frantically around the room.  “I thought I’d stopped doing that.  I mean no one has said anything about it recently.  Not that there’s been anyone around recently to notice.  Four months at sea and one hell of a dry spell so it wasn’t like anyone could say for sure I was…but still, I thought I was over that. I’m sorry. I should have said something.  Warned you that I some times…I didn’t think…well, obviously I didn’t think.  And that doesn’t really matter now.”

He swallowed hard. “Look, I’ll just go.  I should have gotten a room before. There has to be another hotel nearby, right?  I’m sure the concierge can tell me.  Hotels are always open.  Bound to be someone who can check me in.  I can always get a cab--”

“Damn it, DiNozzo, just shut up.”  Gibbs growled, standing up to face him.

Tony’s shoulders hunched as though he expected a blow.  “I said I would leave.”

“I heard you.”  Gibbs shook his head.  He forced himself to gentle his voice.  Yelling at Tony wouldn’t help.  “I don’t want you to leave.”

Tony shifted his weight, clearly uncertain, eyes measuring the distance to the door.  “Boss, it would be better if I--“

“No.” Gibbs held up one hand in a classic stop motion.  “You didn’t do anything wrong, DiNozzo.”  The only wrong that had been committed had been Gibbs’ doing.  Tony didn’t seem to realize that though and he hadn’t given Gibbs a chance to tell him.

“I appreciate you being understanding about all this, but you don’t have to put up with my being--“

“Have you ever known me to tolerate anything I didn’t have to?” Gibbs barked out, making it sound more like a demand than a question.

“Well…no.”  Tony crossed his arms over his chest.  Gibbs couldn’t decide if the move was defensive or if it was because he was cold.  The damn curtains were moving in response to the wind, shifting slightly each time the wind blew.

“I’m not trying to be polite and understanding.”  Gibbs snorted.  He wasn’t entirely sure he knew how.  None of his ex-wives thought so.  “I’m telling you that you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not angry with you and I don’t want you to leave.”

“But--“

“No buts, DiNozzo.”  Gibbs sighed.  “Look, Tony, it’s okay.  Really.  It’s okay.”

Tony shivered.  He bit his lower lip, looking wary and uncertain.  It hurt to see the usually confident younger man looking so hesitant and uneasy.  He had to fix this. 

Gibbs held out his hand.  “It’s cold in here.  Come back to bed.”

Tony shook his head.  “Not sure that’s a good idea, Boss.” 

“Tony.”  Gibbs kept his tone firm.  “Bed.”

Tony fidgeted for a moment before making his way back to the bed. He seemed determined to stay as far away from Gibbs as possible. 

Gibbs waited until Tony was under the covers before he got back in on his side.  He really wanted to pull Tony in close, to physically reassure him, but Gibbs knew better than to try. Tony was acting like he expected Gibbs to hit him.  Gibbs was sure any effort to touch him would end badly.

He couldn’t decide if he was relieved Tony didn’t actually seem to know he’d kissed him or if he was disappointed.  He couldn’t tell if his actions would have been welcomed or rejected entirely.  Tony had said he considered Gibbs everything…but he seemed afraid he’d overstepped some boundary, that his ‘invasion’ of Gibbs’ space could be unforgivable.

Am I really that much of a bastard, Gibbs asked himself.  CPR was intended to be a life saving measure, not romantic, but there was no denying mouth-to-mouth was decidedly intimate.  Did Tony think Gibbs wouldn’t be open to such contact?  Naturally, he does you idiot, Gibbs thought.  Tony might know Gibbs wasn’t homophobic but nothing in their normal interactions implied he would be open to a relationship with a man. Tony knew about all four of his wives, Shepard, Mann, but no one knew about the mutual hand jobs with his buddies while in basic training, or the occasional blow job in the bathroom of a bar since his last failed marriage.

Other than the head slaps, Gibbs rarely touched Tony.  Hell, he rarely touched anyone on the team other than Abby.  It was only natural for Tony to think Gibbs wouldn’t appreciate what could be perceived as forced contact.  And that Gibbs might lash out with a fist rather than welcome him.  He wondered what Tony would have said if he knew about Gibbs being the one to migrate across the bed the night before.  What he would think if he knew about all Gibbs’ inappropriate thoughts.  What Tony would think if he knew how much Gibbs enjoyed that kiss and would really like another.

“I’m sorry.”

Gibbs frowned.  “Don’t apologiz--“

“It’s not a sign of weakness when it’s warranted.” Tony’s fingers plucked nervously at the comforter.  His eyes flicked toward Gibbs and then skittered away.  “I didn’t mean to--“

“I know that.”  Gibbs was quick to assure him, trying to keep his tone gentle and infuse his voice with warmth. He didn’t like Tony being genuinely afraid of him. 

“You don’t need to apologize.”  Gibbs was the one who needed to apologize.   Tony had at least been acting out subconsciously.  Gibbs didn’t have that excuse.

“I used to sleepwalk as a kid.” Tony told him, not giving Gibbs a chance to offer his own apology.  “I think it was that stupid canopy bed.”

“The one that made you dream about vampires?”  Gibbs vaguely remembered Tony mentioning something about it years ago. 

“Yeah.” Tony nodded, a jerky motion that gave mute testimony to how tense he still was.  “I quit sleep walking once my mother got ride of it. Thought I out grew it.  No one at boarding school ever said anything.  None of my frat brothers mentioned it.  Wasn’t until after I became a cop I found out I acted out my nightmares.  Course, I didn’t have that many nightmares until then so I guess it makes sense.” 

Tony rubbed a hand over his face.  “I fell asleep at the station house after a rough case. Scared the crap out of Tammy.  Scared me too when I woke up and found myself with my gun pointed at her.”

His lips curled up in a wry grin.  “Guess trying to do CPR in my sleep is a bit less dangerous.”

“A bit.”  Gibbs smiled.  He was pleased to see Tony’s sense of humor reasserting itself.  Tony seemed to be relaxing more. 

“It doesn’t happen often.”  Gibbs wasn’t sure if Tony was trying to reassure him or himself.

“At least, I don’t think so.”  Tony sighed, he wormed his way further under the blankets.  “Like I said, there hasn’t been anyone around recently to tell me.”

Gibbs shifted to lay on his side, facing Tony.  “I’ve had my share of nightmares over the years.” 

Tony turned to face Gibbs.  “I thought you said--“

“I can tell myself I’m not going to dream about it, but sometimes my subconscious just doesn’t listen.”  Gibbs gave Tony a rueful smile.  “And sometimes I forget to tell myself not to dream.”

Tony nodded.  “I haven’t thought about that case in a long time.”

Gibbs hadn’t thought about it either.  He’d stayed in touch with Maddie, mostly through her efforts.  She called or sent an e-mail about once a month.  He had McGee show him how to use Facebook so he could check on what she posted from time to time.  But he hadn’t really given much thought to how close he’d come to getting them both killed. 

“I never thanked you.  I should have.” 

Color rose in Tony’s cheeks.  “I was just doing my job, Boss.  I’m supposed to have your six.”

“And you did it really well.  Even though I didn’t make it easy.” 

“No, you didn’t, but it all worked out okay.”

“Thanks to you it did.  CPR on one person is hard.  Doing it on two is damn near impossible.” 

Gibbs wanted to be sure he made that point, ensure Tony understood that he was grateful, that he believed he’d done a good job, had gone above and beyond the call, and had every right to be proud of himself.  He felt like he failed when Tony simply nodded and looked away without really acknowledging what he said. 

“It’s late or early, depending on how you look at it.  We should get some more sleep.”

Gibbs wanted to tell Tony what had happened, to admit to his own actions and apologize, to find out if Tony would be angry or accepting of what he’d done, but Tony rolled over, putting his back to Gibbs and pulling the blankets up around his head and shoulders.  He could keep talking, knowing Tony couldn’t have fallen asleep that fast, but Gibbs had never liked speaking to someone’s back.  Two of his ex-wives would literally turn their back to him, effectively shutting him out. He couldn’t really blame them; it was a tactic they’d learned from him after all. 

Gibbs took comfort from the fact Tony didn’t pull away when he reached out to touch him, laying his hand on the younger man’s back.  Tony didn’t move closer, but he didn’t flinch away either.  It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was more than Gibbs expected.  He felt like he’d made one step forward only to end up taking another step back. 

The bed was warmer with the extra blanket, but Gibbs found himself missing having Tony wrapped around him.   How the hell he could come to miss what he’d barely had wasn’t something Gibbs wanted to think too much about.  He sighed, and forced himself to regulate his breathing.  If he wasn’t going to get any more sleep he could at least try to get some rest. 

Chapter Text

Gibbs wasn’t sure if it was cowardice or discretion that had him pretending to be sleeping when Tony’s watch alarm went off.   He was pretty sure neither of them had gotten any more sleep after Tony’s nightmare.  And even with the extra blanket, the bed wasn’t all that warm since they were keeping as much space between them as possible. 

Gibbs had wanted so badly to move closer, to have Tony curl around him again.  He’d made himself to stay still though, to remain on his side of the bed.  He’d already forced himself on Tony once, even if Tony didn’t know it.  Gibbs wasn’t going to do that again.  It wasn’t right to have done it at all much less be thinking about doing it twice.

Tony slipped silently out of bed.  Gibbs could hear him moving around, getting dressed to go work out.  He was tempted to say something, but had no idea what so he just kept his mouth shut, held still and made sure his breathing was deep and even. 

“I’ll be back in an hour or so,” Tony whispered softly before heading out.

Gibbs couldn’t help but smile.  He felt both proud and more than a little sheepish.  He hadn’t fooled Tony and he shouldn’t have expected to.  The younger man was one of the best investigators Gibbs had worked with.  He was too good to overlook the fact Gibbs was playing possum. 

Gibbs shook his head.  He got up, shivering as the cool air hit his bare skin.  Shit.  He was going to complain to the management. If they couldn’t fix the heater or find them another room, they’d better be able to supply them with an alternative heat source. 

Gibbs turned on the hot water, letting the bathroom fill up with steam before he stripped out of his clothing.  He ignored his morning hard on, refusing to deal with it.  He wasn’t exactly punishing himself, but it didn’t seem right to give himself any sort of pleasure when he’d obviously screwed up badly last night. 

Gibbs let the warmth from the hot water seep into his muscles, easing the aches and stiffness that came from holding himself still for hours.  He sighed.  Maybe it would have been better if he’d pushed harder last night instead of just letting Tony shut him out.  But he couldn’t see pushing getting him anywhere. Tony could be every bit as stubborn as Gibbs when he wanted to be. 

And it wasn’t like Gibbs had much experience in saying he was sorry.  He really didn’t know how to go about it especially when Tony wasn’t even aware of what he’d done.  That was a bit of a first for him.  Usually he was the one who was clueless as to why someone would expect him to apologize.  His ex-wives could readily attest to that.

He also had no idea how Tony would react if he found out that Gibbs had kissed him.  And he’d wanted to do more than just that.  Gibbs suspected all that might have earned him was a well deserved punch to the face.  No matter how deserved, Gibbs didn’t actually want to get belted one.  He’d sparred with Tony before.  The younger man hit hard when wearing gloves, Gibbs had no real desire to take a bare knuckled punch.

Gibbs finished with his shower, movements brisk and efficient.  He wrapped a towel around himself and stepped out of the tub.  The damp tiles were cool but not nearly as cold as they’d been when he’d entered.  He wiped away the condensation that had fogged the mirror and studied his reflection.  Tired blue eyes stared back at him.

“Admit it, Marine, you have the hots for Tony.” 

It was impossible to deny.  Getting hard thinking about Tony and then jerking off in the shower yesterday should have clued him in long before he’d lost control of himself and kissed Tony.  Hell, by all rights he should have realized something was up when he got angry over Tony getting a hug from Tammy at the meet and greet.  Or when he’d gotten so much satisfaction when he’d found out Tony wasn’t dating much any more.

Saying it out loud somehow made it more real, but it wasn’t quite right either.  Having the hots for Tony meant he was just interested in scratching an itch, that it was only a physical reaction, just about sex and nothing more.  But Gibbs knew it was more than that.  He’d had the hots for Mann, but hadn’t given a damn about what made her truly happy or felt like lovesick teenager just because she smiled at him.  He’d fucked Shepard, raw and brutal, never gentle. Sex with her was never about making love; he’d never treated her as something precious the way he wanted to treat Tony. 

Other than Shannon, he’d never actually missed any of the people he’d had anything even vaguely resembling a relationship with.    He’d missed Tony every day he was at sea.  He’d worried about him too.  And not just about how dangerous situations he might encounter as the only cop on board a floating city, but whether or not he was eating property, getting enough sleep, if he was as lonely as Gibbs. 

When his ex-wives left, Gibbs had been mostly been relieved and maybe more than a little resentful that they could so easily abandon him while holding him responsible for everything that had gone wrong. Tony had been on Gibbs team longer than anyone else, tolerating his bastard attitude and behavior with quick wit and a ready smile.   He rarely blamed Gibbs--hell, even the latest fiasco, Tony seemed to think it was at least partly his fault, that he was somehow failed to be worthy of Gibbs’ trust. 

Gibbs wanted to beat his head against something.  How in the hell had he fallen in love with DiNozzo?  When had it happened?  Why hadn’t he been aware of it?  Was he really that damn dense?  And just what was he supposed to do about it?  What about rule 12?  It was more of a guideline really, but he’d said it so many times to his team would Tony think he was a hypocrite for wanting to ignore it now?  Would he even believe Gibbs wanted more than a quick fuck? Or that he’d even be interested in sex with a man when all Tony knew of his sexual proclivities was that he’d been married four times and preferred redheaded women?

Gibbs grimaced. He needed coffee.  He set the pot to do its thing.  He decided getting dressed was the next priority.  He was not going to be wearing a towel when Tony got back.

Stepping out of the bathroom, Gibbs cursed.  The temperature contrast between the rooms was definitely noticeable and he had goose bumps almost immediately.  He hurried to get dressed, not wanting to be exposed to the cool air for any longer than absolutely necessary.  He went with several layers, opting to wear a turtleneck, sweater and jacket.  The rest of the hotel might not be as cold; he could always take something off if he needed to but for now he wanted as many layers as he could comfortably stand. 

Gibbs turned up the thermostat.  He doubted it would help but at this point he didn’t think it would hurt.  Turning on the TV he looked for the local weather, glaring at the perky blonde meteorologist who was gleefully commenting on the below average temperatures and the likelihood of them continuing to be well below the norm for the rest of the week.

He got a cup of coffee and watched the news while he waited for Tony to return.  Gibbs sighed deeply.  He’d always known he cared about Tony--he just hadn’t realized how deeply.  He knew Tony cared about him.  Hell, he’d risked his life to save Gibbs on more than one occasion.  And what he said last night about Gibbs being everything couldn’t be interpreted any other way than honest, deep affection.  But that didn’t mean his feelings for Gibbs were more than platonic.  Hell, for all he knew Tony could see him as a father figure.

Tony rarely mentioned his father.  Gibbs hadn’t met the man, but from what little Tony had said and what he learned from Tony’s file, he already disliked him.  What could a twelve-year old possibly have done to warrant being disinherited?  And what sort of man sends an eight-year old boy, whose mother recently died, to boarding school?  If Kelly had survived, Gibbs would never have sent her away.  Every moment with his daughter was precious.  Hell, Tony’s father sent him a sander as a birthday present.  Clearly the man had no idea what his son liked or did in his free time.

It was obvious to anyone who’d met Tony that he looked up to Gibbs, respected him and modeled much of his own investigative style on what Gibbs had taught him, but Gibbs seriously doubted Tony thought of him as a father figure.  The differences in their ages wasn’t that great, and there was a lot more to their relationship than mentor and student.  Or at least there had been before Gibbs running off to Mexico, the La Grenouille fiasco, and Tony being sent away as agent afloat.  Recovering that closeness was something Gibbs hoped being in Chicago would help him accomplish.  Of course, now it wasn’t just about getting back to where they’d been but also the possibility of going even further.

And all of that hinged on Tony.  Just because he liked and respected Gibbs didn’t mean he would see him as a potential lover.  Gibbs bit his lower lip as he thought about it, eyes staring sightlessly into the depths of his now empty cup.  Tony had dated a lot of women, but like Gibbs he could just as easily have kept hidden the men he’d spent time with.  Probably for a lot of the same reasons Gibbs kept his own dabblings secret.  Other than the Voss case, Tony hadn’t reacted badly or been rude to any one he’d known was homosexual. 

He had leaned in when Gibbs had nearly kissed him in the seminar room.  At least it seemed that way, but Gibbs wasn’t sure he could trust his own perceptions.  Was he right or was it just wishful thinking? 

Gibbs got a second cup of coffee, wrapping his fingers around the mug.  He breathed in the steam, enjoying the warmth.  He sipped the scalding beverage, enjoying the well-known rush of heat, letting the familiar action help him focus in thoughts on finding an answer to his problem.

The only real solution was the obvious one.  He was going to have to find a way to ask if Tony was open to a same sex relationship.  It was probably better to start that conversation in generic terms rather than asking if he’d consider doing anything with Gibbs specifically.  Because if the answer was no, then the question could become just an academic, hypothetical inquiry.  Something Gibbs could claim to be asking out of idle curiosity, and not something that could break of the team the way asking specifically if Tony were interested in a romantic, sexual relationship with Gibbs might.  Because if Tony said no, Gibbs wasn’t sure he’d stay on the team knowing Gibbs was interested in him.  If Tony were at all homophobic he’d likely run the first chance he got.

Gibbs had agreed to this stupid week in Chicago, and made certain it was just him and Tony, to ensure Tony wasn’t going to leave the team.  He couldn’t let Tony leave, especially not after he’d realized just how much he needed him professionally and now personally.  He wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize that, not when he’d been making so much progress toward fixing what he’d messed up.

Gibbs sighed.  He wasn’t exactly known for subtly.  But he couldn’t see just asking outright as being a real option either.  Asking about someone’s sexual orientation, or how open minded they were, wasn’t exactly an every day topic of conversation.  At least not in any conversation Gibbs had ever had with Tony.  He couldn’t just sneak it in.  Gibbs laughed, rolling his eyes at himself.  He was chasing his own tail again.  He was definitely losing his mind.

He sipped his coffee still trying to find a viable solution, but got no further on how to broach the subject with Tony when the younger man opened the door to the room.  Tony’s clothing and hair were damp and there were lingering beads of sweat on his face, arms and legs.  Gibbs had no idea how far he’d run or how hard, but from the look of him, he’d say today’s workout had been far more punishing than whatever Tony had done yesterday.  He quickly looked away before he started thinking about other ways Tony could have worked up a sweat, ways they both could have enjoyed. 

“Damn, it’s cold in here,” Tony muttered as he closed the door. 

“I plan on having words with the hotel manager.”

“Guessing he or she won’t get to use any.”  Tony grinned.  He put his IPOD on the dresser, toeing off his sneakers and placing them neatly in the closet.  He headed for the bathroom.  “I’ll be out in fifteen.”

“Take your time,” Gibbs told him.  “I’m only on my second cup.” 

Tony cocked his head, a small furrow forming between his brows as he frowned at Gibbs.  “Usually you’d tell me I could have ten.”

Gibbs shrugged.  “Not on a case, DiNozzo.”

There was really no rush.  They had plenty of time for breakfast before the seminars started and they knew where they were going today.  He also wanted to make sure Tony didn’t end up getting chilled.  It was bad enough they’d both spent several hours not being quite warm enough pretending to sleep. 

“Okay, Boss.”  Tony smiled and then disappeared into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. 

Gibbs sighed.  What did it say about him that even so small a gesture of kindness needed an explanation?  But Tony had always claimed not to like it when Gibbs was nice. 

Gibbs shook his head, smiling in spite of himself.  Tony wasn’t like anyone else he knew.  That was a big part of the appeal.   It was hard not to like someone who could deal with him at his worst and still smile. 

Okay, so he didn’t have a plan and had no real idea of how he was going to talk Tony about what he’d realized, but he still had time.  Before they left Chicago, Gibbs would have figured it out.  He was a Marine, damn it.  They didn’t shy away from the difficult, or wimp out just because it looked hard.  Especially not when the rewards could outweigh the risks. 

Gibbs finished his coffee.  He knew his mission objective.  Now he just had pull together a plan.  “Piece of cake, right?” he muttered to himself.

For now he simply had to find something to do so he didn’t end up staring at Tony when he came out of the bathroom in just a towel.  He might not be subtle, but he wasn’t a complete idiot.  Besides, if he played his cards right, he’d be able to stare all he wanted in the future, and hopefully do a whole lot more than just look. 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs glanced at his watch, not entirely trusting the clock on the wall was accurate.  He was pretty sure it hadn’t moved once since the seminar started.  He could have handled the speaker being boring, if anything being presented was actually new to him or worth knowing, but everything being covered was stuff Gibbs already knew and most of it was of useless.  He sighed softly.  At least he didn’t have to feel guilty that he’d spent the bulk of his time pondering how to approach Tony.

He smiled to himself.  Breakfast had provided him another opportunity to make some headway.  They were a bit later in getting to breakfast since Gibbs had stopped to ask the hotel management to send maintenance to their room and check on the heater.  Tony had tagged along to as he put it ‘to ensure he didn’t completely alienate any more people than totally necessary’. 

“Of course, watching you go all alpha male and make some guy cry or nearly wet himself isn’t something I want to miss either.”  Tony had grinned as he’d said that.

Despite the joking tone, Gibbs knew Tony was serious.  He’d always liked watching Gibbs during an interrogation or taking on another agency.  Gibbs liked knowing Tony appreciated his hardass nature--he actually enjoyed that aspect of Gibbs’ personality.  It was something his ex-wives had not cared for once they were married, always trying to change him.  His relationship with Tony, albeit not exactly a romantic one yet, had already lasted longer than three of his marriages and Tony hadn’t tried to change him yet. 

Gibbs was rather proud of the fact that he hadn’t needed Tony to smooth over any ruffled feathers.  He’d made his case without pissing anyone off.  He didn’t always have to yell or scare someone to get his way.  Getting an admiring, awed look from Tony had been icing on the cake. 

Being later to breakfast meant there were more people present than the day before.  Gibbs had sent Tony to secure seats for them while he checked out the spread.  Apparently several people liked fresh cut pineapple as much as Tony did and it was nearly gone when Gibbs started to load his plate.  He was quick to secure what was left, offering it to Tony.  He got one of those warm genuine smiles in return. 

“Thanks, Boss.” 

Gibbs had been inordinately pleased with himself for being able to do something that made Tony happy.  It wasn’t much, but Gibbs got the impression Tony was touched he’d paid attention to his preferences and had catered to them.  It reminded Gibbs of when Tony had been framed for murder and he’d brought him his favorite pizza.  The fact that Gibbs knew his favorite and bothered to bring it meant as much as his belief in Tony’s innocence. 

They’d been forced to share their table with other people.  Gibbs hadn’t bothered trying to make small talk, letting Tony handle that.  He doubted anyone at the table even realized Gibbs hadn’t said more than hello and good morning.  He’d smiled at Tony, wanting to let him know he appreciated his running interference. 

Gibbs was disappointed he and Tony hadn’t been able get a table to themselves, but he wasn’t ready to have a truly personal conversation yet so it didn’t bother him all that much.  He took advantage of their being seated next to one another to brush against Tony periodically.  Perfectly innocent contact on the surface, nothing anyone would notice, but more than enough to satisfy Gibbs’ sudden need to physically reassure himself of Tony’s presence.  

Tony didn’t seem to find the contact unusual.  He even returned it several times--shoulder bumping Gibbs once, his hand drifting to touch Gibbs’ for a moment, knee brushing against Gibbs’.  He tried not to read too much into that, but found it comforting that at least he wasn’t the only one feeling a need to make contact.  The enforced distance they’d maintained during the night seemed to have been hard on both of them. 

Gibbs glared at the speaker, annoyed that he was here and not with Tony.  They should have gone to the same seminar.  Not that being next to Tony would have helped him concentrate, but at least it would have helped pass the time.

Gibbs checked his watch again.  Why would this man not shut up already?  When he’d started repeating himself Gibbs started gauging the distance to the door.  He could get out without attracting attention.  He was sure of that.  But he’d have given anyone on his team hell for leaving early.  As a leader, even when no one on his team was present, Gibbs held himself to the same high standard he held his team.  He sighed and did his best to find something noteworthy. 

He was beginning to think about how hard it would be to shoot the speaker between the eyes when the man finally ended the session.  Gibbs was up and moving even before the applause ended.  He didn’t care if it was rude.  He saw no reason to give the speaker any more of his time than he already had.  And he sure as hell wasn’t going to offer even token applause for what he considered a piss poor presentation.

Gibbs stepped out of the room and immediately started looking for Tony.  He’d hoped the younger man might repeat his action from the day before and secure a large cup of good coffee for him--more for what the action represented, a thoughtful gesture made with Gibbs’ preference in mind, than for the actual coffee itself. 

He spotted Tony on the far side of the room. He was leaning casually against the wall, arms folded across his chest, eyes closed.  Gibbs wouldn’t put it past Tony to have figured out how to sleep standing up.  He smiled and strolled over to him. 

“Hey, Boss.”  Tony greeted him when Gibbs got within arms reach.  He hadn’t even opened his eyes.

“DiNozzo.”  Gibbs smirked.  He’d suspected since his return from Mexico that he no longer truly caught Tony unawares at the office.  Tony jumped or flinched the way he was expected to, but not always when he should.  More often than not there was a second or two delay that signaled Tony had to think about reacting. 

Tony opened his eyes.  “We eating lunch here?”

“Unless you want to brave the cold?”

“Not today.”  Tony snorted. “I had to run more than a mile this morning just to warm up.”

The maintenance personnel had better be able to fix the heat in their room or Gibbs would raise hell with them.  He’d made nice this morning, but if Tony got sick because someone didn’t give his request the attention it warranted Gibbs saw nothing wrong with kicking ass. 

They walked in step toward the same room they’d had breakfast in.  Gibbs hoped they had bigger mugs now than they did then.  He hated drinking his coffee from a sissy sized mug that he had to constantly refill. 

“Got you something.” Tony said, offering him a large insulated travel mug with a small flourish. The logo emblazoned on the side was from one of the tech companies that had been presenting yesterday.

“Where’d you get this?”  It was too big to hide in his pocket, but Gibbs hadn’t seen him holding it earlier.

“Magic.”  Tony grinned, waggling his eyebrows.

 Gibbs snorted, amused in spite of himself.  He pointed to the logo on the mug and raised his eyebrows.  “Try again.”

Tony chuckled. “I saw them packing up to leave today.  I missed out on getting one yesterday, so I asked for one today.  Thought you might want a mug you could take into the seminars with you.”

“Thanks.”  Gibbs smiled, pleased to have tangible proof Tony had thought of him.  The mug was a little smaller than what he normally drank from but it was still larger than what the hotel had to offer.  The lid would help keep his coffee hot so he could sip it the way he preferred.  His team might think he drank a lot, but he could make a cup last for hours as long as it stayed warm. 

As they entered the dining room Tony seemed to miss a step. Gibbs glanced at him in concern before letting his gaze shift to what Tony was staring at, or rather who.   Gibbs didn’t recognize him but habit had him making note of his appearance for future reference.  Whoever the man was, he was older than Tony if the gray liberally threading through his dark hair and lines around his gray eyes was anything to go by.  He was average height, an inch or so shorter than Gibbs.  He looked fit enough but was definitely getting soft around the middle. Judging by his suit, Gibbs guessed he was either federal, or higher ranking local law enforcement.  They were the only ones Gibbs had seen in anything so formal since the meet and greet the first night.

“Friend of yours?”  Gibbs asked quietly.  Just from the look on Tony’s face he already knew whoever the guy was he wasn’t someone Tony liked but he thought the question might prompt an explanation. 

“Not exactly.” Tony grimaced.  “Would rather beat the shit out of him than talk to him.”

 “Who is he?”

For a moment it looked like Tony might not answer.  He bit his lower lip, eyeing Gibbs uncertainly.  He sighed.  “Not like you couldn’t find out on your own,” Tony murmured quietly.  He cleared his throat.  “His name’s Carlson.  Brett Carlson.” 

“How do you know him?”

Tony’s jaw tightened, the muscle standing out in harsh relief and then relaxing as it flexed.  “He was the lead detective in Peoria, but he’s probably moved up the ladder since I was there.  Being the Chief of Police’s son in law and stepson to a state Senator likely didn’t hurt his career any.  He’s the reason I transferred out of Peoria as fast as I could.”

Gibbs didn’t actually know much about Tony’s time in Peoria, other than how long he’d been there, that he’d been a uniformed cop and had done his job well, getting his gold shield while in Phillie.  He vaguely remembered Tony mentioning the name as they left the meet and greet, and thinking Carlson was probably someone Tony didn’t like. 

Gibbs took Tony’s arm and directed him to a small, unoccupied alcove.  He had a feeling a little privacy might be warranted.  If nothing else, he didn’t want their conversation overheard.

“This Carlson give you a hard time?” Hazing among the ranks wasn’t uncommon.  Having been in a fraternity and on various sports teams, Tony couldn’t have been a stranger to it.  From what Gibbs had seen Tony could handle himself, capable of giving as good as he got.  It had to have been really ugly for Tony to jump ship because of it. 

“Me, no.” Tony shook his head.  “But there was another rookie he took real pleasure in harassing.” 

Gibbs simply gave Tony a look.  He wanted the whole story, and he didn’t want to have to work for each detail like he was pulling teeth. 

Tony sighed.  “Callum Renolds was not a stereotypical gay guy you hear about or see in the movies.  He didn’t have a lisp, could bench press his own body weight and wouldn’t know a designer label if it walked up and belted him one.  He wasn’t blatant about his orientation but he didn’t lie about it either.  When Carlson found out, he seemed to think that gave him carte blanche to give Callum a hard time.”

Tony right hand clenched into a fist. “I liked Callum.  We’d gone through the academy together.  He was a good guy, a good cop, he didn’t deserved to get shit from a dick like Carlson.”

Tony’s practically snarled.  “He was constantly talking smack, made a big show of not wanting to be in the gym with him, or use the showers at the same time.  Carlson was always telling insulting jokes, putting Callum down or handing him playboy magazines so he could see what he was missing.  Just shit, you know?  Callum did his best to ignore the asshole.  And if it had been just Carlson it might have been okay.  But a number of others on the force figured if the lead detective could get away with it, then what he was doing must be okay.  So they started to chime in.”

Tony’s eyes hardened.  “I tried to get him to report it to IA or at least file a grievance, but Callum wouldn’t do it.  He thought that eventually they’d let it go.  He didn’t want me to stand up for him either because he thought I’d get the same sort of treatment.”

“Did you?”

Tony glared at him.  “What the hell, Boss?  How could you--“

“I know you stood up for him, Tony.”  Gibbs assured him.  Tony might pick on McGee, Ziva and Palmer but he wouldn’t stand for anyone else doing it.  He looked out for his friends and coworkers. 

“I meant did you get treated the same way when you stood up for him.”

Tony smiled, clearly pleased by what Gibbs said.  He waved a hand in a dismissive gesture.  “It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.”

“Not what I asked.”

Tony looked away. That he wouldn’t make eye contact set off all sorts of alarms for Gibbs.

“Tony.”

Tony huffed.  “It wasn’t that bad for me.  Honest, Boss.  Carlson never said anything to me.  That was left up to the others.  I was more of a secondary target.  They figured if I stood up for Callum well then I must be gay too.  Like I couldn’t just do the right thing because it was the right thing?” 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “And of course, if I was gay well then Callum and I had to be doing each other. Assholes.”

Tony shook his head.  “I mean, yeah, he was a good looking guy.  Had a great smile and an awesome physique.  If he’d have offered, I’d have been game.  Not like I haven’t fooled around that way before, but Callum and his partner, Dale, had been an item for five years at that point and he wasn’t dumb enough to mess up something that good for someone like me.”

Gibbs blinked at that.  Tony had fooled around?  Guess he know had the answer to Tony’s openness about sex with a man.  And Callum being gay obviously hadn’t been an issue for him.  What did he mean by ‘someone like me’?  What the hell did he think was wrong with him? 

Gibbs was tempted to interrupt him but didn’t want to draw attention to what Tony had said.  The younger man likely wasn’t even aware of what he’d let slip.  Drawing attention to it would only serve to embarrass him and would end the story.  Gibbs wanted to know if he needed to kill Carlson first. 

“It never got better like Callum thought.  They just kept it up.  Then Callum was mugged.”  Tony added air quotes around ‘mugged’.  “Like anyone believed he’d gotten the crap beaten out of him by total strangers for the twenty bucks in his wallet.”

“They do anything like that to you?”

“They tried.” 

Gibbs eyes narrowed.  “Tried?”

Tony smiled grimly. “I was out with my one of my frat brothers when they made a move. Donny is taller than I am and outweighs me by fifty pounds.  He’s not really an aggressive kind of guy.  I mean, he was one hell of a center when we were playing ball but he was always a level-headed sort.  Never saw him lose his temper.  Ever.  Until then I didn’t even know Donny knew how to through a decent punch.  But he’s a big guy and he isn’t the sort to back down.  We kicked ass that night.”  There was a wealth of satisfaction in Tony’s voice. 

“You press charges?” 

“By that time, Callum would have, but he couldn’t prove who it was well enough to have the charges stick.  Not sure they were smart enough not to leave any evidence behind or just got lucky.”

“Did you press charges, DiNozzo?” Gibbs repeated his question adding emphasis to ‘you’.

“I settled for breaking a couple of elbows, ribs and a nose or two.”  Tony’s grin was savage.  “I knew who they were and they knew I knew.  They never tried to get physical again after that one time.”

Tony didn’t have Gibbs’ skill or Ziva’s training, but he was scrappy and in a no holds barred sort of brawl he could easily hold his own.  Gibbs felt a surge of pride that Tony had been able to handle himself even though he was disappointed that the bastards had gotten away with trying to hurt him. 

Were Carlson and his cronies why Tony never mentioned having an interest in men?  Were they why he was so sure to talk about the women he dated, played up his chauvinist image? It would make sense, although, it wasn’t necessarily the case.  Gibbs had never been harassed or even known anyone personally who had been, but he kept his brief sexual encounters with men a secret just the same.  The only people his team and most of his friends knew he dated were red-headed women. 

“What happened after you were attacked?”

“Attacked?”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “You make it sound like--“

“DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, okay, fine. Have it your way.”  Tony rubbed a hand over his face. “Callum transferred to New Orleans not long after and I headed for Phillie as soon as I could.  We both talked to IA before leaving, but it didn’t do any good.”

Obviously not if Carlson is here in Chicago, Gibbs thought. Carlson’s political connections had probably seen to it he was spared any repercussions.  It upset Gibbs’ sense of justice to know the man had gotten away with using his position to intimidate and abuse younger cops.  That he had been able to spread his own bigotry among the ranks wasn’t right.  But what really bothered Gibbs was that Carlson had gotten away with hurting Tony.  It made Gibbs want hurt him--a lot.

“Look, Boss, it was a long time ago.” Tony grabbed his arm holding him in place.  “It’s been over ten years.  Just let it go.”

Gibbs didn’t really care when it happened, that it happened at all was reason enough to want to balance the scale.  He tugged on his arm.  “DiNozzo--“

“He was an ass.  Probably still is.  But you can’t go beat the crap out of him for that.”

“Oh yes, I can.”  Gibbs was more than capable of kicking Carlson’s ass.

“Okay, you can, but you aren’t going to.”  Tony smiled wryly. “We’re under orders to play nice, remember?  If I can refrain from making a scene so can you.”

Gibbs took a deep breath an let it out slowly.  “I’d rather--“

“I know.”  Tony squeezed the arm he was still holding and then let go.  Color warmed his cheeks.  “And I’m grateful you feel this need to even the score, but I wasn’t on your team then so it’s not like it was anything you should take personally.”

Gibbs glared at him.  The fact that Tony wasn’t on his team then didn’t mean what happened didn’t matter to him.  And he could damn well take it personally.  Tony might not know he was in love with him, but Gibbs knew it.  He didn’t tolerate seeing his loved ones hurt, regardless of when it happened. 

 “It’s not worth getting your ass handed to you by Vance when he finds out about it.”

Gibbs nearly growled.  He knew Tony meant he wasn’t worth it.  And that was just wrong.   

“Not to mention he’d probably have me reassigned as agent afloat again for being the reason you started an incident.”  Tony grimaced.  “All the same to you, Boss, I’d rather not be sentenced to time onboard again.”

He muttered quietly more to himself than to Gibbs, “Reminded me of being sent to my room.  Out of sight, out of mind until my old man deigned to deal with me again assuming he remembered me at all.”

Gibbs’ jaw clenched.  He was really starting to dislike Tony’s father.  He was beginning to think he should kick his ass too.

It was no wonder that Tony was so sure being assigned as Agent Afloat had been punishment.  Being sent away, ostracized, was probably one of the cruelest things that could have been done to someone as social as Tony.   That was probably what bothered him the most in Peoria too, more so than insults, put downs and the attempted beating. He was made an outsider.  Tony needed to be liked too much to ever handle being shut out well.  It was a credit to his character that he stepped up for Callum even knowing what the outcome would be. 

“Please, Boss, just let it go.”

It was the earnest ‘please’ that did it.  Tony didn’t ask much from Gibbs.  Hell, he rarely asked for anything at all.  Gibbs scowled but gave in. 

“All right, I won’t do anything to Carlson.”  Gibbs crossed his fingers behind his back. He wouldn’t do anything to Carlson here in Chicago where Tony might find out about it.  But that didn’t mean he couldn’t make trouble for the son of a bitch once they were back in DC. 

“Thank you.”  Tony smiled.

 That wasn’t something Gibbs thought Tony should thank him for, but he nodded anyway, accepting the misplaced gratitude. 

“You want to go eat somewhere else?”  Gibbs asked.

“No.”  Tony shook his head.  “No reason we can’t eat here as long as you don’t change your mind and take Carlson out with a butter knife.”

Gibbs grinned.  “I’d use a spoon.”

Tony laughed softly. “Never would have pegged you as having seen Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.  Although, Alan Rickman was far and away better than Kevin Costner in that one so if you were going to paraphrase anyone from that film, he’s definitely the better choice.”

Gibbs blinked.  “What?”

Tony shook his head, his expression one of fond amusement.  “I’ll tell you about it over lunch.”

 

Chapter Text

Lunch proved to be uneventful. It wasn’t as good as the meal they had the day before, but Gibbs figured not having to brave the cold made up the difference.  It was hot and filling and that was good enough for him.  Tony had gone back for seconds of the soup.  Gibbs made a note to remember that chicken corn chowder was a favorite for the younger man.  Although, according to Tony the best soup ever made was his grandmother’s vegetable beef. 

Gibbs had kept a weather eye on the crowd.  He didn’t want to run into anyone he didn’t like, and he wanted to make sure Carlson wasn’t anywhere near Tony.  Gibbs couldn’t decide if he was relieved or disappointed when he couldn’t locate Tony’s one time nemesis anywhere in the room.  He elected to just be glad he didn’t have to worry about breaking his promise to Tony.  He wouldn’t do anything to Carlson in Chicago, unless the man started something first.  In that case all bets were off.

Gibbs filled the travel mug Tony had given him with coffee as they were heading out to their next seminar.  It wouldn’t be enough to see him through the entire session, but it was definitely better than the stupid little mugs the hotel had available.  And the lid meant he could take it into the conference room without anyone bitching. 

“You want me to meet you out here after the seminar is done?” Tony asked, a teasing smile appearing.  “You nearly gave Phillips a heart attack when you came to find me yesterday.  You accidentally killing off any of the presenters definitely wouldn’t look good.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes.  “Not my fault the guy was afraid of his own shadow.”

Tony chuckled.  “You need to remember some mere mortals aren’t immune to your glare the way I am.”

Gibbs arched an eyebrow. “Immune, DiNozzo?”

“Okay, immune might not be completely accurate.  More resistant than immune.”  Tony smiled sheepishly.  “I’ve been conditioned.  Long term exposure reduces the effect.”

Gibbs wasn’t sure if that little justification was courtesy of the time Tony spent with Abby, or if it was more a byproduct of Ducky’s influence.  It certainly sounded like something either one would say. 

“You want me to meet you here?” Tony asked again, nodding to where he’d been standing when Gibbs had found him before lunch.

It would be a hell of a lot easier if Tony’s phone was working. Small minded, penny pinching prick, Gibbs thought vehemently still wanting to smack Vance because his need to control things had left Tony without adequate means to contact him or be contacted by him. 

Gibbs wasn’t happy about it, but he could live with it.  He sipped his coffee.  “That will work.” 

Tony nodded.  “If I run into Tammy, you still up for dinner with her and Craig?”

“Sure.” 

Gibbs would prefer they got room service and ate alone again, but he wasn’t going to be an ass and deny Tony a chance to reconnect with his former partner.  He also didn’t want to leave Tony alone with her.  Not that he thought she’d lure him away from NCIS--for all Tony’s job jumping he’d done before landing at NCIS, he never went back to where he’d been--but she could easily make him think the grass might be greener somewhere else. 

They’d made progress toward fixing aspects of their relationship that Gibbs had unintentionally damaged, but the older man was not entirely certain he’d done enough yet.  Not to mention he was still just a bit unsure of Tammy.  All her physical contact seemed innocent enough, and Craig’s need to be close had been explained, but Gibbs was still possessive enough to want to be there to claim Tony as his.  Even if Tony didn’t know Gibbs thought of him that way yet.

“See you in a few hours,” Tony patted Gibbs on the shoulder as he walked away. 

Gibbs resisted the urge to call him back and demand more meaningful contact--like a kiss.  He shook his head.  Even if they were lovers, he’d never kiss Tony in such a public place.  It used to make his ex-wives crazy when he’d draw back, unwilling to give or receive a kiss where others could see it.  He didn’t kiss Shannon in public either.  They held hands, and he might have put an arm around her shoulder or waist, but he didn’t think anything more personal should be on display.  They were both very private people, and their love for one another wasn’t for public consumption.  Even Abby, who he usually kissed on the cheek, got that gesture of affection typically when it was just the two of them in her lab. 

Gibbs sighed.  He glanced toward the room where the seminar he’d picked last night was going to be held, but against his will his eyes found their way back to the room Tony had gone in.  He nodded to himself, making the decision to follow with little to no thought.  He wanted to be able to keep an eye on Tony.  Not that Tony couldn’t take care of himself; Gibbs knew he could.  Tony wouldn’t be his senior agent if he wasn’t tough and competent, but Gibbs didn’t want Tony without back up either.

That he hadn’t thought Tony needed it before was immaterial.  Gibbs knew better now.  Tony had mentioned enemies the first night. But Gibbs hadn’t thought they were the sort that would pose a physical threat.  Even though it was years ago, and Carlson wasn’t the one to actually attack Tony, he could still be a threat.  Gibbs mentally head smacked himself.  He should have been paying better attention and not been misled by Tony’s blasé attitude as they left the meet and greet. 

Gibbs knew that most of his thoughts were little more than a smoke screen, a way to justify his need to be close to Tony.  But he really didn’t care.  He had an excuse for attending the same seminar as Tony when what Vance had all but ordered was for them to split up and attend as many individual seminars as possible.  Not that he expected Vance to ever know, much less ask, or that Gibbs would even explain himself unless outright ordered to do so, but he believed in being prepared.   

He slipped silently into the room, making sure he wasn’t seen with practiced ease.  He spotted Tony, not entirely surprised the younger man would be sitting near the front.  Tony might come across as a slacker to the casual observer, but he took his job seriously. If there were anything to be learned that would give him an edge, Tony would ferret it out and make the most of it.

When he and Ziva had been trapped in a shipping container, Tony had known the money locked in with them was counterfeit because of knowledge he’d retained from a similar seminar.   Gibbs smiled.  Not all Tony’s insights came from movies. 

Gibbs picked a seat in the back corner, wanting to have a clear view of both the audience and keep anyone from sitting behind him.  That he was closer to the door was a deliberate choice.  He could slip out quickly and easily without drawing any attention to himself. He sipped his coffee and settled in. 

He saw Tony stand up to greet someone and realized it was Tammy.  Tony smiled, hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  Gibbs clamped down hard on his jealousy.  Even if he wasn’t into public displays, he still envied Tammy being able to receive one from Tony without anyone raising an eyebrow.  He hated that she had something he had yet to experience. 

Gibbs kept one eye on Tony and another on the rest of the audience until the lights went down and the seminar started.  The speaker was very engaging.  She knew how to modulate her voice to ensure she didn’t lull her audience to sleep. She knew when and how to use humor to get her point across.  And she had a lot of good information that, while not entirely new to Gibbs, could be utilized in ways he hadn’t considered. 

Gibbs enjoyed this seminar far more than the morning session. Not only was the speaker good, he could see Tony.  He already knew the younger man was less of a distraction when he was around than when he wasn’t.  Gibbs smiled. It was one of those paradoxes that was pure DiNozzo.

Tony looked like he was paying close attention.  He was taking notes.  Gibbs smirked, thinking about Tony’s awful handwriting.  He was capable of writing legibly, even beautifully when he took his time, but when in a hurry Tony might as well be writing in code because no one else was going to be able to read it.  Gibbs was glad everything Tony turn into him had to be typed.  Even after years of working together he still had trouble deciphering Tony’s scrawl.

Gibbs idly wondered if the seminar he’d originally intended to attend was as good.  It didn’t matter, not really, although he was going to have to make sure he had a good story in place if Tony asked about what he’d learned. 

He checked his watch, slipping unseen out of the room half an hour before the session was due to wrap up. He made his way to the room he should have been in all along.  Entering silently, he spotted resource material on a table in the back.  He picked it up.  At least he’d have an idea of what was covered.  And he had ‘proof’ he’d been in attendance. 

For the seminar he’d attended that morning the source material was worth more than the speaker.  Judging by what he was hearing as the speaker wrapped up, this one may well have been the same way.  Gibbs was glad he hadn’t wasted his time. 

He didn’t take a seat, preferring to stand in the back until the seminar to ended.  Gibbs waited until people started leaving before following them out.  He headed for where he was supposed to meet up with Tony.

Not seeing him immediately, Gibbs glanced around.  He finally saw Tony in a nearby alcove not far from the one he and Tony had used before lunch.  Gibbs guessed that at one time they were mostly reserved for payphones, but now served no real purpose.  It was almost hidden by decorative, plastic potted plants that some decorator likely thought would add color but in reality just collected dust. 

As Gibbs approached he realized Tony was talking with Tammy.  Habit kept him from making any noise, letting him eavesdrop on their conversation for a few moments.

“I still can’t believe you’re still at NCIS.” Tammy was staying to Tony.  “You know I lost twenty bucks to Craig when you didn’t leave after two years.”

Tony smiled.  “You were always telling me I needed to settle down.  Don’t be so surprised I took your advice.”

She gave an unladylike snort, smacking him lightly in the chest.  “You never listened to me when we were partners, don’t pretend like you suddenly saw the error of your ways and realized I was right.”

Tony’s smile grew to a grin.  “I listened to you then, I just didn’t always agree.”

 She rolled her eyes.  “Seriously, what’s so damn special about NCIS?  I’ve asked you before, and you always give me the run around.  Tell me the truth.  You owe me that much, DiNozzo.”

“I don’t owe you.” Tony protested, laughing softly.

“Yes, you do.” She countered, pointing her finger at him.  “It’s been nearly four years since you came to visit.”

“Hey, it’s not like I didn’t stay in touch.  I call--“

“Yeah, like once a month. And e-mail so does not count.” She glared at him.  “It is not the same as seeing each other in person.  Now spill.  Why are you still with NCIS?”

Gibbs wouldn’t mind an honest answer to that question himself.  Tony had weathered a lot, standing his ground when most would have run for the hills. 

“I like it.”  Tony shrugged.  “It’s always a challenge. Never have the same case twice.  It keeps me interested.”

That was true so far as it went, but Gibbs had the feeling that wasn’t the whole truth.  Judging by the way Tammy’s eyes narrowed, she had a similar feeling. 

“Is it that…or is there a special someone you haven’t told me about that’s responsible for you staying put?” 

Tony looked away.  She was definitely on the right track, Gibbs thought.  Who was that important to Tony?  Was it someone he’d just met?  Someone he’d known for a while?  Shit.  Gibbs resisted the urge to demand answers and draw attention to himself.

Tammy poked Tony, smiling brightly.  “C’mon, fess up, you got someone out there who makes staying in DC worth it.”

“Several.”  Tony grinned, deflecting with his usual charm.  “My team.  I’ve told you about them.  We’re practically family.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She frowned, poking him again. “Play it straight with me, DiNozzo.”

She reminded Gibbs of Abby.  He almost expected her to threaten to kill him and leave no forensic evidence behind.

“You know I’m not going to give up until you tell me the truth.”

“Yeah, I know.  You’re like a pit bull.”

“Damn right.”  She laughed.  The comparison clearly didn’t bother her.  “Now talk to me.”

Tony sighed; he ran a hand through his hair.  “There is someone, but before you get all excited, and start planning a wedding, it’s not going to get to that point. Hell, it’s not going to even go anywhere at all.”

Gibbs felt his gut tighten.  Who was Tony talking about?  Ziva? Abby?  Another agent?  He’d been very close to Paula Cassidy, but he’d never seemed that serious.  That he’d cared about her, Gibbs knew.  Her death had hit him hard, but if she was the reason Tony stayed at NCIS, surely he’d have left when she died.   

“Why not?”  Tammy asked. 

“Because they are a forever kind of person, and I’m…not.”

Gibbs scowled.  Who was Tony talking about? Why couldn’t he just use a name damn it?

“What do you mean you’re not?”  She ran a hand down his arm in a soothing gesture.  “I know you can do serious and commit.  I’ve seen you do it.”

Tony grimaced.  “Yeah and that ended so well.”

“Sarah was a whore.  That she couldn’t keep her legs crossed isn’t your fault.  It says more about her than it does about you.”

Sarah was obviously someone Tony had been involved with when he was in Philly.  Based on what Tammy had said, she had cheated on Tony.

Tony’s expression took on a closed off look Gibbs rarely saw.  “Look, if it had been just her, I’d be inclined to believe you.  But no one has ever considered Tony DiNozzo to be worth the long haul.  I’m the go to guy for a good time.  More of a great Mr. Right Now than anyone’s version of Mr. Right.”

Gibbs wondered if that’s what Tony meant when he’d been talking about Callum earlier. He’d referred to Callum not ruining the relationship he had by sleeping around with ‘someone like him’.  Did he really think no one wanted any more from him than that? Is that why he made such a big deal out of being a playboy?  Love them and leave them before they left him?

“Tony--“

“It’s okay, Tammy.”  He smiled sadly.  “Really, it’s okay.”

She squeezed his arm.  “You deserve to be happy.”

“I am happy.”  His smile warmed, reaching his eyes.  “Not all of us are looking for picket fences.”

“Have you even asked this per--“

“No.”  He put a finger to her lips.  “And I’m not going to.  We work together.  Not going to mess up the best job I’ve ever had.”

Gibbs froze.  Was it Ziva?  Was she the one Tony felt strongly enough to stay at NCIS for?  Gibbs hadn’t thought Tony showed that much interest in her, but maybe he just hadn’t paid enough attention.

Tony hadn’t used a name or a gender specific pronoun.  Maybe Tammy didn’t know Tony had at least experimented with men in the past and he likely didn’t want her to know.  Could that mean the person might be a man?  McGee?  Gibbs couldn’t see that any more than he could envision Tony wanting Ziva.  But Tony and McGee had gotten to be good friends.  And McGee had joined the team not long after Tony’s two-year mark with NCIS. 

“You should take a chance, Tony.”  Tammy encouraged him softly when he pulled his had away, giving her room to speak. 

“I don’t have to, Tammy,” Tony shook his head, “I already know how they feel.”

She frowned at him.  “How could you possibly know if you never said anything?”

“It’s one of their rules.  Number twelve to be exact.  No dating coworkers.  I can’t see an exception being made for me.”

Gibbs nearly choked, unable to believe what he’d heard.  Tony had stayed at NCIS because of him?  He had feelings for him?  Tony had said last night that Gibbs was everything.  But he’d never given any indication.  He’d never said or done anything that would lead Gibbs to think he was interested in more than a working relationship.  Although, it was probably a good thing he hadn’t.  Gibbs wouldn’t have known what to do or say if Tony had approached him.  It likely would have ended with him belting Tony.  Not exactly an action anyone would consider encouraging.

Gibbs was ready and willing to make an exception for Tony now--now that he better understood his feelings for the younger man, finally understood just how much he meant to him.  But he couldn’t blame Tony for thinking he wouldn’t.  Hell, Tony didn’t think he trusted him on the job, why would he think Gibbs would trust him with anything else. 

“I’d make an exception for you, Tony. You are more than worth that.” Tammy told him, her tone serious.  “You can’t just assume they wouldn’t feel the same way.  Give it a chance.”

“It’s not just the rules. I’m not their type either.”

She blinked.  “You know their type?”

“Got to see it first hand.”  Tony’s smile was wry.  “More than once.”

Gibbs cursed silently.  Just as he suspected--Shepard, Mann, his ex-wife Stephanie--he definitely looked like he had a type.  And it wasn’t one that included men. 

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” Tammy sounded positively motherly.

“Don’t be.”  Tony hugged her.  “It’s not perfect, but no one gets everything they want.  It’s okay.”

Gibbs stepped back.  He wasn’t sorry he’d eavesdropped on their conversation, but he didn’t want to get caught doing it.  It was at best an invasion of their privacy, and at worst it was a betrayal of trust.

Gibbs also needed a moment to get his thoughts and emotions under control.  He had to figure out what to do with this new-found knowledge.  There had to be a way to act on it.  He just had to figure out what to do. 

Gibbs smiled.  It was looking like coming to Chicago was proving more and more to be the best decision he had ever made.  He just had to make sure he didn’t fuck it up.

No pressure there, Marine, Gibbs thought dryly, no pressure at all. 

Chapter Text

Dinner was…Gibbs forced himself to be honest as he mentally labeled the whole encounter.  The food was good.  His steak was done exactly the way he wanted, the baked potato was almost swimming in butter, and his beer was chilled to perfection. 

The accommodations of the hotel restaurant were comfortable. The tables were spaced far enough apart to allow for some privacy, and they didn’t have to share with anyone other than Craig and Tammy.  The wait staff knew when to appear and how to be unobtrusive when they did.

The company was actually engaging; they told humorous stories about the past, asked insightful questions about the present and never crossed the line into inappropriate.  He’d made sure to sit as far from Tammy as possible to lessen the chances she’d give in into her ‘touchy’ nature and make unwanted contact.  She hadn’t seemed to notice, but that was probably due more to Tony’s interference than anything Gibbs had actually done.  While Craig sat next to his wife, Tony sat across from her, leaving the seat the furthest from her open for Gibbs. 

Tony had looked relaxed and happy.  If Gibbs hadn’t known about his emotional conversation with Tammy, he’d never have suspected it had happened from the way he acted.  It was impressive how quickly the younger man regained his emotional equilibrium, or could at least act like he had.

Gibbs couldn’t help comparing their respective coping styles.  He usually hid any emotional turmoil behind a mask of gruff indifference, preferring to shut people out while Tony resorted to acting as though nothing had happened, and plastering on a smile that was bright and cheerful.  It was hard to say which was more effective.  They both worked, but Tony’s didn’t end up alienating everyone around him the way Gibbs’ was prone to doing. 

Gibbs pursed his lips thoughtfully.  It may not have been a mask at all.  Tony might not have been overly upset by his private conversation with Tammy.  And he seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing stories for his early days as a cop.  Gibbs had laughed out loud listening to him and Tammy talk about some of their adventures.   Tammy was every bit as silly and irreverent as Tony in some ways, and they fed off one another, making the recounting of some of the hairy situations they’d encountered seem harmless rather than dangerous.

Gibbs shook his head.  As farfetched as some of the stories seemed, he knew every detail was likely the truth. Tony might exaggerate stories about his dates and personal life, but he never did when it came to cases. Most of the cases they’d worked at NCIS were bizarre enough on their own.  Encountering the plague, spies, international arms dealers, double-crossing CIA agents, serial killers…none of that really needed embellishment to be a damn good story.  Hell, McGee had made a small fortune turning their cases into a novel. 

Watching Tammy and Tony interact it was hard to believe they hadn’t seen each other in four years.  Although, Gibbs had overheard her say Tony called and emailed at least once a month, and Tony had mentioned getting Christmas cards, so it wasn’t they hadn’t stayed in touch.

Since Tony and his old partner were on such good terms, Gibbs found himself wondering why Tony had left Philly.  Tony’s file didn’t mention anything specific.  Gibbs had always thought it was for advancement or simply because Tony had gotten bored and was looking for a new challenge. 

Tammy had stayed on the force so she clearly didn’t harbor any animosity toward the higher ups and from their stories it didn’t sound like Tony did either.  There were several commendations in Tony’s file from his time in Philly.  No black marks or any documentation that would indicate his coworkers were happy to see the back of him.

Gibbs suspected Tony leaving Philly might have something to do with the Sarah that Tammy had mentioned.  It was possible that Tony had left to escape a failed romance.  That reaction was a cliché for a reason.

He was suddenly glad Jeanne Benoit had simply disappeared into the wilds of Africa when she’d left the first time.  Tony didn’t have to leave DC or NCIS to escape her.  And since his relationship with her was mostly as Tony DiNardo, there wasn’t any genuine overlap to his undercover life and his real life.

Of course, her leaving might not have mattered one way or another.  What Gibbs had overheard indicated Tony had stayed in DC at NCIS because of him.  He wasn’t entirely sure he believed that.  None of his ex-wives seemed to consider him reason enough to stay, and they’d had to weather a hell of a lot less crap than Tony had.  Hell, Mann didn’t hang around for more than a few months. Although, that might say more about his choices in women than it did about him.

Tony had lasted longer on his team than any other agent too.  The younger man’s endurance was something Gibbs had fully come to appreciate while Tony was stationed at sea.  Gibbs knew he deserved a serious head slap for overlooking the obvious for so long.  Tony’s four months at sea were definitely a wake up call Gibbs needed.  This trip to Chicago was proving to be another one. 

By the time they’d finished dinner, Gibbs had been more than ready to get away from Craig and Tammy.  They were nice people, otherwise pleasant company, but he didn’t want any more reminders that Tony had worked with people who appreciated him and hadn’t been unwilling or afraid to show it. 

And he wasn’t sure what to make of the occasionally pointed looks he’d gotten from Tammy during the meal.  It was like she was judging him, measuring him against some standard and he wasn’t sure why or what for.  He couldn’t tell if she thought he passed muster or not. It was both annoying and unnerving. 

Returning to their room, Gibbs wasn’t happy to have a note from management that they found nothing wrong with the heater.  As far as they were concerned it was working just fine.  But they had left an extra blanket and a space heater in deference to his perception of the cold.  Gibbs snorted, knowing that the politely worded note implied he was some sort of wuss and the management was simply humoring him.  

He could see a thin layer of frost around the edges of the inside of the damn window.  That definitely wasn’t in his head.  Fuckers.  And there was no way in hell he’d believe that was ‘normal’.

He handed the note to Tony.  This is what he got for being nice and not trying to upset anyone.  He should have just been a bastard. 

Tony read the note, both eyebrows rising.  He looked at Gibbs.  “You going to go down stairs and open a can of whup-ass on someone?”

“Thinking about it,” Gibbs admitted. 

Tony sighed.  “You know, I liked to see you scare the crap out of some idiot with an overblown sense of self-importance, but I don’t think it will fix the heater problem.”

“Oh?”  Gibbs glared at him.

“It’s not you,” Tony hastily assured him. “I am sure you could get them to toe the line---if it were an issue where we actually had real clout.  But throwing our weight around when no crime has been committed would be an abuse of power that Vance would get pissy about, not to mention a few of the higher up sorts staying here.  The management isn’t guilty of anything but negligence that so far hasn’t hurt anyone.”

It was the ‘so far’ part that truly pissed Gibbs off.  He wasn’t really angry over the implication he couldn’t handle Chicago’s nasty weather as the possibility the chilly room might have an affect on Tony’s health.  It likely wouldn’t, but that wasn’t a risk Gibbs cared to take.

“It’s better to pick our battles with this, Boss.” Tony smiled tiredly, his tone reasonable rather than cajoling.  “We both know how places like this work.  If the hotel wasn’t booked, they’d just move us to another room.  But since that isn’t an option, and I seriously doubt they are going to call in someone who would actually know how to fix the heater because that would cost them money they aren’t willing to spend until they absolutely have to, all you’ll get for your effort is having some guy pissing his pants.  And while I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing,” Tony grinned brightly showing his amusement at the prospect, before he sobered, “it doesn’t fix the problem.”

“It would make me feel better,” Gibbs muttered, knowing Tony was right, but still feeling the desire to kick someone’s ass.

“At least they gave us a space heater.  That should help.”  Tony said, either not hearing Gibbs or simply ignoring the muttered comment.  He grabbed the little heater and plugged it in. The device came to life with a soft whir.  Coils took on a red glow as it warmed up. Even the small amount of heat it was putting out was immediately noticeable. 

“Not like we haven’t stayed in worse places.”

“That’s not the point.” Gibbs growled.

Tony shook his head, his expression rueful. “This is going to be one of those curse the darkness things.”

Gibbs frowned.  “What?”

“Something Ducky said to me.”  Tony shrugged one shoulder.  “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

“You thinking that heater is a candle?” Gibbs rolled his eyes.

“Metaphorically speaking, sure.” Tony chuckled.  “Glass isn’t always half empty, you know?”

Tony was the sort who always looked on the bright side.  Gibbs had missed his optimism while he was at sea.  And for the first time it occurred to him that Tony’s natural upbeat nature was what made surviving those four months away and so many years on Gibbs’ team possible.  Tony didn’t sweat the small stuff. He was a natural balance to Gibbs more negative outlook.  He needed the joy and humor Tony found in everyday things. 

Gibbs was about to continue arguing when he realized the true silver lining of the situation.  The chilly room would encourage Tony to snuggle in close when they went to sleep.  Last night they’d instinctively gravitated toward one another in an effort to stay warm.  Gibbs was hoping that would happen again.

“Okay.  The glass is half full.”

That earned him a warm, genuine smile.  Gibbs breath caught; stunned for a moment by how attractive Tony was when he smiled like that.  Knowing how little it took to earn that smile, Gibbs resolved to make it happen more often. 

“You mind if I check to see if there’s anything worth watching on TV?” Tony asked.

Gibbs handed him the remote.  He didn’t care for TV much personally, but he wasn’t going to deny Tony a chance to indulge in his favorite pastime--Especially not when he’d enjoyed watching a movie with him last night. 

Gibbs took off his shoes.  Tony shucked his own footwear, carelessly leaving them where they fell.

“I better not trip over those, DiNozzo.”

“Right, Boss.”  Tony quickly moved his shoes, lining them up neatly next to Gibbs’ near the closet.

Gibbs spread the extra blanket on the bed.  It was heavier than the one he’d found in the closet. Like the space heater, it would certainly help.  He still wanted to beat the crap out of the hotel management.  He pulled the curtains closed hoping they would help block at least some of the draft.  It had helped the last two nights.

While Tony ran through the channels Gibbs went into the bathroom.  He brushed his teeth and changed into a t-shirt and sweats.  He eyed his reflection.  He still felt like a coward.  He should just tell Tony how he felt.  But he wasn’t sure a blunt confession would be well received. 

Tony’s insecurities and Gibbs’ past behavior would probably keep Tony from believing any declaration of love.  He’d already said as much to Tammy.  Gibbs had to find away to convince him that he was a forever kind of guy, that he was worth loving, and the one Gibbs wanted. 

It took time to undo that sort of damage.  It wasn’t going to happen immediately.  Gibbs smiled at his reflection.   It was a good thing he was a long haul kind of guy.  He wasn’t going to shy away just because getting the prize took some time and lot of effort.  He might have been too damn slow on the uptake, but he was fully aware that his life was better with Tony in it.  He just needed to find a way to convince Tony of that.  He nodded, squaring his shoulders and stepped back out into the room.

Tony had evidently taken advantage of the privacy offered by Gibbs being the bathroom to change into sweats and a t-shirt as well.  He was lying on the bed, under the covers watching TV.

Glancing at the TV, Gibbs stopped short.  He expected Tony to have found a movie to watch so he was surprised to see a cartoon playing.   He frowned, head cocked to one side.  Penguins? Did they just make a reference to covert operations?  Did one of them hack up a stick of dynamite?

“DiNozzo, what the hell are you watching?”

“The Penguins of Madagascar.”  Tony chuckled, then looked over at Gibbs.  “I can change it.”

“Why?”

“If you didn’t want to watch this, it’s—“

“Not that,” Gibbs shook his head.  “Why are you watching it?”

“Because they are hysterical.”  Tony laughed softly. “I don’t usually go for cartoons, but I caught them one weekend and I was hooked.  There’s Skipper.  He’s in charge and an obvious spoof on Captain Kirk.  He gets some of the best lines.  There’s Kowalski.  He’s the brains of the outfit and something of a mad scientist. Rico is just plain insane.  He can regurgitate everything from bombs to zip lines.  I think my favorite one was him puking up a chainsaw.  It might have even still been running, I’m not sure.  And Private. He’s the young, naïve one.  The heart of the team, and no slouch in his own right. Why he has a British accent I don’t know, but he kind of reminds me of Ducky in some ways.”

Gibbs got comfortable on the bed, curious in spite of himself.  He hadn’t watched a cartoon since Kelly’s death.  He expected something akin to Bugs Bunny or Scooby Doo—they were the only cartoons he was really familiar with.  He was genuinely surprised by the witty one-liners, the quality of the animation and the complexity of the storylines. It wasn’t hard to see why Tony liked it. 

Gibbs found himself stifling several chuckles before realizing it wouldn’t hurt to let Tony know he was enjoying the show.  He wanted Tony to know that he could appreciate things Tony liked. 

When the cartoon was over, Tony switched the channel to the news.  He handed the remote to Gibbs as he slipped out of bed, heading for the bathroom.  Gibbs frowned when he saw Tony shiver.  He still wasn’t happy with management’s solution, but neither of them had been cold when under the covers so he was still willing to let it go. 

Tony was back in a few minutes, sliding under the covers with a sigh.  He picked up his crossword puzzle book from the nightstand. He opened it to the puzzle he’d worked on the night before.  Just like last night, he would occasionally ask Gibbs for his input. 

Gibbs kept an eye out, waiting for Tony to fall asleep.  It wasn’t late by their usual standards, but neither of them had gotten much sleep last night.  Gibbs was more used to going without than anyone on his team.  Tony yawned widely several times before giving up on his puzzle. He set the book aside.

“You want me to turn off the TV?”

Tony shook his head, snuggling under the covers.  “I fall asleep to the TV all the time.” He yawned again. “Won’t bother me, Boss.”

Gibbs waited until Tony’s breathing had evened out, pleased that the younger man hadn’t turned away from him.  He turned off the TV and the lights, leaving the space heater running.  It had an internal sensor that would turn it off and on throughout the night.

Gibbs settled in under the covers, shifting so he was that much closer to Tony.  He kept his breathing deep and even, almost mediating as he waited for the chance to move closer still.   He didn’t want to risk waking Tony. 

Not that he had any real reason to be worried about that.  It wasn’t like his moving closer had woken Tony up the last two nights they’d ended up tangled together.  Gibbs knew he was being overly cautious but he couldn’t help it.  It felt like there was a lot at stake.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before Tony shifted in his sleep, curling up and moving closer to Gibbs.  Gibbs moved a little closer, halving the distance between them.  He sighed, frustrated by the slow process.  He wanted Tony next him already.  All of this was so much easier when he hadn’t been aware of how he felt.

The wind howled outside, rattling the windows.  Tony shivered in response, and seemed to be trying to burrow further under the blankets. 

“Tony?” Gibbs whispered before he thought about it.

“Hmmm?”

“You warm enough?”  It seemed like an innocent enough question, not one that would seem unusual if his lack of control had woken the younger man. 

“M’ feet are cold,” Tony told him, the slight slur to his words confirming he was still asleep.

“C’mere.” Gibbs whispered, moving to pull Tony closer to him.

Tony moved easily enough, snuggling into Gibbs’ side with a contended sigh. He rested his head on Gibbs’ shoulder, rubbing his cheek against the worn material of Gibbs’ shirt like an affectionate cat.  Long, heavy limbs made there way around Gibbs’ body in a loose, languid hold that still managed to pin him in place.

Gibbs took a deep breath and released it slowly.  He should feel trapped, weighted down, but mostly he felt comfortable, grounded and whole. He reveled in the warm, solid weight of Tony.  His steady breathing was a comforting sound. He could almost feel the beat of his heart.  Gibbs titled his face to rub his cheek against Tony’s hair.  He’d missed this; he couldn’t quite fathom why the hell he’d worked so hard to escape it the last two nights or why he’d denied himself for so long.  Gibbs smiled wryly.  No one ever accused him of being quick on the uptake when it came to understanding himself.

“Much better,” Tony mumbled. 

Gibbs had to agree.  This was definitely better.

Chapter Text

Gibbs ran as fast as he could, racing down the dimly lit corridor at breakneck speed. He had to find Tony.  He had to find him before something bad happened.  Gibbs wasn’t sure what was going to happen, it was just a nameless fear something horrible was imminent which drove him forward.

He kept running, panting hard as he struggled to get enough air. He wasn’t sure where the hell he was going, he only knew he had to keep moving.  The walls passed in a blur even as the floor seemed intent on bogging him down, making it harder and harder to move.

Gibbs called out Tony’s name, frantic to have some idea of where he was.  He thought he heard a response and stopped long enough to kick open one of the many doors.  The room was empty, devoid of everything, even color.  The flat gray walls were strangely intimidating, reminding him of a prison cell without the bars. He fled back down the hall.

Desperate, he tried another door.  This time a rushing wind assaulted him, driving him back.  He squinted, struggling to see what lay beyond.  There was nothing but blackness.  He slammed the door, blocking the gaping void from view before it could suck him in.

Undaunted, he tried another door. The room was empty, seeming oddly normal unlike the last two rooms, giving him no clues and mocking his efforts.  Tony had to be somewhere. He wouldn’t have left.  He wouldn’t have walked away.  He wouldn’t have abandoned Gibbs. 

Gibbs called Tony’s name again, his voice echoed back from the endless hallway.  He could hear a clock ticking somewhere, marking the passage of time, taunting him as it made him even more aware of the urgent need to find Tony.  Time was running out.  Gibbs didn’t know how he knew that, he just knew.

He kept expecting to encounter some danger he could identify and deal with.  But there were no bombs, no guns, no poisoned letters, no terrorist…nothing he could find and eliminate.  Looking around frantically he suddenly realized there were no signs of anyone else either.  

Where was Ziva?  McGee? Ducky?  Abby?  Palmer?  Surely they would help him find Tony. He’d tried doing it on his own, but he clearly couldn’t do it. This place, whatever it was, was just too damn big to search effectively on his own.  He needed help. Where the hell was everyone?

He opened another door.  It was full of sand.  He thought he saw Ziva, but it might have been nothing more than a shadow.  He called out her name but no one answered.  The sand started to sink in the center of the room like it was flowing through an hourglass. It seemed to be trying to pull him in, threatening to bury him.  Gibbs closed the door and took off down the hall again. 

The next room was full of wires and glowing things.  He called out for McGee.  He would know what to do with all that stuff; surely something in there could be used to find Tony.  He called again, and got no response.  Gibbs slammed the door when the cables began to writhe and twist like snakes, hissing violently and sparking dangerously.

He opened another door.  The walls were white, sterile and cold.  He called out for Ducky and then Palmer.  An icy gust of air was the only answer.  It took all his strength to shut the door against the arctic blast.

He tried the next door.  His was assaulted by mindless noise, the pounding vibrations driving him back.  Gibbs tried to raise his hands to his ears but couldn’t seem to move.  Something was holding him fast.  He struggled, violently determined to break free.  He wrenched himself free, striking something solid with his knee and elbow.  He couldn’t see his assailant, but lashed out again hoping to drive whoever it was off.  He was gratified by the grunt of pain he heard.  He was free, but only for a moment before being caught again.

His struggles increased when he was sure he could hear Tony calling his name.  He had to get to him.  He had to save Tony.  His voice sounded so weak, so soft.  He couldn’t let him down.  Couldn’t fail him.

He needed Tony to call again.  He couldn’t tell where his voice had come from.  Nothing made any sense.

 “DiNozzo!”

 "Hey, easy now.  It’s okay.”

Gibbs shook his head.  It was not okay.  It couldn’t possibly be okay.  Tony was missing. He was lost.  And without him, so was Gibbs.  He had to get to him.  He had to find him.

“Tony!”

“Gibbs.  I gotcha.  C’mon, Boss, please, you need to wake up.”

The feel of warmth against his face made Gibbs open his eyes, startled by the contact. He found himself staring into Tony’s anxious face.

“You with me?”  Tony asked.

Gibbs blinked, momentarily confused, unsure of where he was.  He took a breath and let it out.  The pertinent details came back to him quickly--conference in Chicago, hotel room, no danger other than inadequate heat.  He was okay; Tony was okay.  It was just a damn dream.

“Yeah.” Gibbs finally answered Tony’s question, surprised by how hoarse he sounded. He’d been yelling in his dream, and he must have actually been shouting.  No wonder Tony had looked so worried. 

He grabbed Tony’s hand when the younger man pulled it away from where he’d been cupping Gibbs’ cheek.  He knew from past experience that he could get physical when having a nightmare.  It was one of the reasons he worked hard on training himself not to have them. He’d never wanted to hurt Shannon…or any of his ex-wives for that matter.

He’d gotten out of the habit of telling himself not to dream about cases.  It hadn’t been necessary in a long time.  As bad as many of their cases were they didn’t all affect him enough to cause nightmares.  He didn’t sleep much anyway so even when he did have nightmares they were infrequent.  And more often than not, he slept alone so he hadn’t had to worry about hurting anyone in a long time.  Even if he had told himself not to dream, he’d have never expected the nightmare he’d just had. It was definitely a new one.

“Are you okay?”  Gibbs asked, trying to read Tony’s face in the poor lighting. 

“I’m fine.”  Tony gave him an apologetic smile.  “Wasn’t me having a nightmare this time.”

“Not what I meant.”  Gibbs shook his head, tightening his hold on Tony’s hand.  “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No.”

Tony had looked away when he answered.  Gibbs cursed.  He had hurt him.

“DiNozzo.”  Gibbs made his name both a question and a warning.

“Look, it’s not a big deal.  You were a sleep.  I know you didn’t mean--“

“Tell me.”

“You got pointy elbows, Boss.” Tony told him, a bright grin appearing.  He was obviously trying to make light of it, but Gibbs wasn’t buying it. Tony sighed, grin disappearing. “You might want to check your bad knee. You pack quite a wallop with it.”

Gibbs reached for the bedside lamp, flicking it on.  He needed more light.  The sudden illumination made him squint painfully as his eyes adjusted.  The small space heater was running and Gibbs idly wondered if it had shut off at all. 

Conscious of the cool air, Gibbs was reluctant to slide out from under the covers.   He wasn’t in any pain.  Other than feeling foolish and more than a little embarrassed, he was fine, but Gibbs knew it would be easier to convince Tony to let him check him over if he at least put himself through a cursory once over. 

Gibbs sat up and rolled out of the bed knowing it would be easier to do it in one fell swoop.  Like diving into cold water, Gibbs thought, forcing himself not to react to the change in temperature.  He flexed both his knees squatting and standing easily.  He raised one leg, knee bent, and then the other. His bad knee ached and resisted moving, but it always did in the cold.  His t-shirt stuck uncomfortably to his back, reminding him how panicked his dream had made him. 

He turned to look at Tony.  The younger man was still curled up under the covers, watching Gibbs.  Concerned green eyes met blue.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.” Gibbs still felt a little shaky from the dream induced adrenaline rush but he knew that would pass soon enough. 

“You want to talk about it?”

“No.”  Gibbs shook his head.  The only thing he could clearly remember was the need to find Tony.  He couldn’t bring himself to try and explain how terrifying not knowing where Tony was had been. 

 He made a get up motion to Tony.  “Let me check you out.”

“Boss--“

 “Tony, just do it.”

 "It’s not necessary, Bo--“

 “Now, DiNozzo.”

Tony sighed heavily.  He got up, hissing at the change in temperature when he pushed back the blankets.  Gibbs assessed the younger man’s movements, not missing the way he hunched slightly with arms wrapped around his torso.  Whether it was due to the cold or pain, Gibbs wasn’t sure.

“Lose the shirt.”

“It’s freezing in here,” Tony protested.

“Sooner you do this the sooner you can get back under the covers.”

Tony grimaced but slowly complied, pulling his t-shirt up over his head and setting it aside.  Gibbs winced as he looked at Tony’s torso.  Several bruises were already forming along his right side.  Clearly, he’d gotten Tony with both his knee and elbow--more than once.  Shit.

Gibbs approached Tony.  He raised a hand to hesitantly touch, uncharacteristically unsure of himself, but needing to know that bruises were the only damage he’d done.  He rested his hand against Tony’s ribs, surprised by how soft his skin felt under his fingertips.  Tony shivered, but didn’t otherwise react to his touch.

Gibbs pressed a little harder, wanting to make sure he hadn’t cracked or broken any of Tony’s ribs.  Tony grunted in response to the pressure but didn’t pull away.  Gibbs breathed a bit easier when Tony’s ribs didn’t give or flex unnaturally.  Gibbs nodded to himself; superficial damage then, nothing that wouldn’t fade in a few days.

Gibbs lightened his touch, his fingers ghosting over Tony’s warm skin in a gentle caress.  He wished there was some way to erase the bruises, some way to make take back the pain he’d unintentionally caused.  Firm muscles twitched in response to the light contact, reacting to Gibbs’ touch even as Tony held himself still.  Goose bumps rose on Tony’s skin that hadn’t been present before, clearly a response to Gibbs touch and not the cold. Tony’s breathing changed, growing shallow, almost as though he were holding his breath and Gibbs was suddenly aware of the decidedly intimate aspect of what he was doing. 

He made eye contact, and froze.  There was so much longing in Tony’s eyes it took Gibbs’ breath away.  The undisguised hunger, the blatant lust was too much to ignore.  Gibbs leaned in, unable to stop himself, and kissed Tony.

The kiss stared out chaste, hesitant and unsure.  Gibbs just pressed his lips to Tony’s, not sure what he was doing or how well it would be received, but not willing to let another chance slip away from him.  He kept the pressure light, afraid to ask or even demand more for fear of rejection.  Tony’s lips were soft and warm against his.  If he never got more than this, Gibbs hoped it would be enough to see him through the rest of his life.

Tony sighed softly, mouth opening enough to deepen the kiss. Gibbs took full advantage of that, tongue darting out to taste even as his hands moved to wrap around Tony and pull him closer.  He moaned when Tony sucked Gibbs’ tongue into his mouth.  Tony’s tongue met his.  Rather like the man himself the action was complex and contradictory.  It was playful and yet serious, seductive while at the same time shy. 

This kiss was so much better than the one he’d stolen last night.  This kiss made Gibbs weak in the knees and hungry for so much more.  He couldn’t believe he’d lived so long without experiencing this.  God.  He felt light headed and suddenly the room wasn’t cold any more.    

Gibbs hands slipped down Tony’s back.  He enjoyed the feel of smooth skin over solid muscle.  He ended up cupping Tony’s ass, squeezing the nicely rounded hemispheres, one in each hand.  Gibbs used the hold to pull Tony even closer, grinding their groins together.

Tony abruptly pulled away from him. Gibbs’ eyes opened as strong arms pushed him away, breaking his hold.  Gibbs could easily read shock and confusion in Tony’s expression.  Tony started shaking his head. 

Gibbs reached out to him, but Tony backed away.  He kept moving until he was against the wall. 

“This is me dreaming, right? Shit.  This isn’t real.” 

Gibbs could see Tony trembling.  He tried to reach for Tony again only to have the younger man side step him, maintaining the distance between them.

“I mean, I’ve had some pretty real dreams before.  Walked in my sleep.  Acted out.  That’s what this is, right?  Just a dream.”

“If this is a dream we’re both having the same one.”

Gibbs had hoped that would reassure Tony, but from the way he blanched, it didn’t. 

“It’s okay, Tony.”  Gibbs tried again, keeping his voice low and even.  “Really, it’s all right.”

“Not sure I agree with you on that, Boss,” Tony muttered. 

Gibbs could almost see Tony measuring the distance to the door.  No way in hell was he going to let him make a break for it.  They had to talk about this now.  Gibbs moved closer, determined to get within arms reach so he could grab Tony if he had to.

“Tony, listen--“

“We can just say it was a dream then,” Tony said.  It sounded more like a question than a statement.  “Just like last night.  No harm, no foul.   Forget it ever happened.”

“I don’t want to forget it happened.”

Both Tony’s eyebrows rose in surprise, green eyes meeting blue before shifting away.  The younger man’s expression morphed into something unreadable.  “You are going to fire me because I kissed you?”

“I’m not going to fire you,” Gibbs practically growled, frustration getting the better of him.  Why the hell would Tony think he’d fire him over this?  Was it left over shit from his time in Peoria?  Or was it because of something Gibbs had done that would make him think the only solution was the extreme one?

“So what then?” Tony eyed him.  The muscles in his jaw flexed.  “I’m off the team?”

“Off all the stupid…Hell, no.”  Gibbs glared at him.  “First of all, you didn’t kiss me, I kissed you.  It would be hypocritical of me to punish you for something that I did.” 

He would have thought Tony knew Gibbs had initiated the kiss.  It was understandable he didn’t remember Gibbs kissing him last night.  But they were both awake and aware now.  There was no reason for Tony to think Gibbs would blame him for what happened.  Except that Tony had a tendency to think whenever things went wrong it was somehow his fault.

Tony thinking Gibbs leaving him out of the loop on the Domino case because he couldn’t be trusted was a good example of that.  Tony was sure the fault was his.  The crap with Shepard was another prime example.  He was under orders.  Tony did what he was told. He had no way of knowing she had a hidden agenda.  Getting assigned as Agent Afloat wasn’t a punishment, but being ostracized was probably the one thing Tony dreaded the most.  The team was a surrogate family for him the same way it was for Gibbs.  Being sent away was nearly as bad as being fired.

“Second of all,” Gibbs let the anger bleed out of his tone, gentling his voice, “that was one of the best kisses I’ve gotten in my whole damn life.  I’m not stupid enough to be mad at you for that.”

Tony blinked.  “Really?”

“Really.”

Tony’s Cheshire cat grin appeared.  “Seriously?”

“You fishing for more compliments?”

Tony gave him a sly look and a wink.  “Well, if you’re in the mood to hand out a few, I wouldn’t say no.”

Gibbs chuckled, shaking his head.  Sometimes being around Tony was like riding an emotional rollercoaster.

Tony shivered violently when the wind rattled the windows, a sharp draft of cold air finding its way under the curtains.  At this rate his lips would be turning blue in no time. 

“C’mon,” Gibbs held out his hand.  “We need to get back under the covers.”

Tony hesitated.  “We need to talk.”

“I know.”  Gibbs smiled gently.  He didn’t think for a second they’d covered everything.  “I’m pretty sure we can do that under the covers.  It’ll be easier to talk without our teeth chattering.”

Tony still seemed unsure.  Gibbs grimaced and resorted to what he knew would work, a direct order.

“Get in the damn bed, DiNozzo.”

 “On it, Boss.”

Chapter Text

Tony got in bed, curling up on his side, facing away from Gibbs.  Knowing the coming conversation wasn’t going to be easy, Gibbs understood Tony not facing him.  Hell, he wasn’t sure he could talk if he had to look at Tony to do it. 

Anger was an emotion he’d never had any trouble expressing, but trying to deal with any other extreme emotion always made him feel awkward, at least when it came to addressing people who mattered.  The higher the stakes, the more he cared about the outcome, the harder it was for Gibbs to find the right words. 

He’d never been able to look directly at Shannon either when things got heavy.  She’d always understood, letting him have some space, giving him time to get his emotions under control so that he could express his thoughts and feelings. He’d much rather act, but there were times when actions just didn’t cut it.  When there was nothing to be done, nothing he could work on, nothing physical to offer that would put right what went wrong.  It always took him some time to wrap his head around that fact and then a little longer to actually find the words he needed.  Somehow it was easier to get the words out if he didn’t have to make eye contact the entire time while doing it.  It was even easier if he didn’t have to face her directly. 

His ex-wives never really got how hard it was for him to talk especially when dealing with intense emotions. They had always assumed his silence was a means of punishing them, or that he was simply avoiding them, unwilling to talk about their problems.  That he didn’t look directly at them only added to their belief he wasn’t being honest. 

Gibbs had forced himself to hold eye contact with Tony on more than one occasion when things got intensely personal.  He needed him to believe he was being honest, that he meant what he was saying.  But he also knew that now wasn’t the time to force it because Tony had similar problems when it came to dealing with intense emotions. 

Oh Tony never had any trouble talking.  No the younger man had plenty of words; he just never said much that was meaningful.  Gibbs had seen the younger man deflect with practiced ease probing questions he didn’t want to answer, redirecting the flow of conversation, derailing the line of questioning by subtly changing the topic.  When that didn’t work Tony would resort to annoying the questioner to the point he or she forgot what it was they’d wanted to know.  Tony could also deftly avoid just about anything by using humor and movie references as his armor the same way Gibbs often used silence and thinly veiled hostility. 

When his deflection and misdirection tactics didn’t work, Gibbs had seen Tony look away if things got intense, hiding the windows to his soul as much as possible. He didn’t often walk away like Gibbs was prone to doing, but he created just as much psychological distance as Gibbs did physically. 

Gibbs left the light on as he slid into bed thinking the light might be needed later in case they were able to actually look at one another.  He wanted to be able to see Tony if that happened.  He wanted to be able to read his expression if given a chance.

Gibbs pulled the covers up, pleased to find residual warmth still held within the blankets. They hadn’t been out of bed long enough for it to get that cold. 

He debated staying on his side before nixing that idea.  It would send the wrong message.  He didn’t want Tony to think he regretted their kiss or that he would be put off so easily.  And he wanted to recapture that safe, contented feeling he’d gotten earlier when they’d snuggled together. 

He moved closer to Tony, spooning up behind him, wrapping an arm around him.  When Tony stiffened at the initial contact, Gibbs thought he’d made a mistake, but then the younger man relaxed, settling into Gibbs’ hold with a quiet sigh.  Gibbs rested his chin on Tony’s shoulder; he was unbelievably relieved Tony hadn’t pushed him away.

Gibbs lightly stroked Tony’s stomach.  The action was intended to sooth, not to arouse.  He tried to ignore the fact Tony hadn’t put his shirt back on, and how much he wished he’d ditched his own before getting into bed. 

“You warm enough?”  Gibbs asked quietly.

“I am now.”  Tony laid a hand over Gibbs’.  His long fingers curled around Gibbs’ hand holding it loosely.  “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”  Gibbs risked placing a soft kiss on Tony’s shoulder.

He could feel Tony taking a deep breath as well as hear it.  Gibbs waited.  He knew it was cowardly, but he wanted Tony to be the one to start.  He needed Tony to be the one to start because Gibbs really had no idea what to say.

“Is this…Is this because…I mean, I don’t... You never…I didn’t think…” Tony sighed heavily.  Even not being able to see his face Gibbs could readily imagine his frustrated expression.

Tony took another deep breath and seemed to regain a little of his composure.  “Tell me this is more than just wanting to get your rocks off.  That you weren’t just horny and running high on left over adrenaline and thought it would be easier with me than finding a red-head at two in the morning.”

“It’s more than that.”  Gibbs whispered, squeezing Tony’s hand.  “A lot more than that.”

Tony didn’t say anything.  Gibbs wasn’t sure what to make of his silence.  Did it mean Tony believed him? Or did he think Gibbs was just telling him what he’d asked to hear?

“Tony, you know I don’t stay things I don’t mean.”  Gibbs needed Tony to believe him.  “My kissing you isn’t just me taking advantage of the situation. It wasn’t just because I was horny or dealing with crap from my nightmare.  It wasn’t because I thought you were easy.  It wasn’t any of those things.”

Gibbs hesitated, struggling with himself to get the words out.  “I care about you.”  It wasn’t a full blown declaration of love, but the truth in that statement was readily apparent.  It was worth repeating.  “I care about you, Tony.  I wouldn’t have kissed you if I didn’t.”

“You care about me?” 

There was so much hope and disbelief in that question it made Gibbs wince.  Had he really been that much of a bastard?  Clearly he had been if for Tony to have to ask.

“Yes, I care about you.”

“Like you do about everyone on the team, right? It’s like a Marine thing that you look after your people?” 

“It’s more than that, Tony.”  Gibbs assured him. 

“Sure it is.”

Tony started to pull away, but Gibbs refused to let go afraid that if Tony moved away he might never let Gibbs get close again.  “I have never wanted to kiss Blackadder or Kate.  I never wanted to kiss Ziva or McGee.  Never wanted to kiss Ducky or Palmer either.  Abby is more of a daughter to me than anything else.”

“So, I’m more to you than just a good second?”

“You’re a great second,” Gibbs told him, “and I know I haven’t given you reason to think otherwise, but you are more than that to me.”

Tony nodded and settled in Gibbs’ hold, his back once more flush against Gibbs’ chest.  He pulled their joined hands higher, holding them against his chest.  “Why now?”

It was a good question.  Gibbs sighed.  He opted to be completely honest.  It seemed to be working well so far.  “I’d have probably acted sooner, but I’m a little slow on the uptake.”

“A little slow is being the last one to laugh at the joke, Gibbs.” Tony turned his head to glance over his shoulder and then look away.  “This is a lot more than that.”

“Yeah, I know.”  Gibbs took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I wasn’t just slow.  There was a whole lot denial to deal with.”

Tony snorted.  “Didn’t think you were the sort to lie to yourself.”

“Usually I’m not.” Gibbs squeezed Tony’s hand.  “But then, I don’t usually have to handle having to rethink what I thought I knew about myself.”

“Never been interested in a guy before?”  There was a wealth of curiosity in that statement.

“Never one I worked with, no.”  Gibbs bit his lower lip.  “While I was in the Corps I was with Shannon, so none of the guys in my unit or anyone else for that matter ever appealed to me.”  He swallowed hard.  “And after one less than stellar fling with a coworker, I labeled everyone I worked with as off limits.”

“Rule 12.”

“Yeah, rule 12.” Gibbs rested his cheek against Tony’s shoulder.  “Worked pretty good…until you.”

“You’ve been interested in me that way for awhile?”

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

Gibbs bit his lower lip.  He knew exactly when he’d realized he was in love with Tony, but there was no way in hell he was going to tell him he’d realized it within the last few days.  He opted to tell him when he’d first realized Tony was more to him than just another teammate, was more than just his second in command.

“It was probably the day we met, but I think I first realized you were more than just a teammate to me when I was in Mexico.  I knew something important was missing.  I thought it was memories, maybe the job, or maybe it was DC and my boat. Turns out it was you.”  Gibbs swallowed hard, hiding his face against Tony’s shoulder.  He never should have left, but at the time he couldn’t stay.

“When I got back, things were different.  I was still missing pieces so I wasn’t sure exactly what was different.  I thought maybe I wasn’t remembering things right.  You didn’t stop by the house with beer and pizza.  You didn’t stay late at the office to keep me company.  I thought maybe those weren’t memories at all but wishful thinking…just me wanting us to be friends.  But if they were real memories, you weren’t doing it any more. So then I thought you were mad at me for coming back.  That you resented me for demoting you.”

“Was mad you didn’t say goodbye when you left.”  Tony admitted softly, old hurt apparent in his voice.  “And I was pissed for how you came back, but I was glad you were home.”

Gibbs felt his face flush.  He was glad Tony couldn’t see him.  He’d been an ass about how he’d announced his return.  There was no excuse for what he’d done. 

Tony shrugged one shoulder. “If I really resented the demotion, I’d have taken the team lead position in Rota when Jenny offered it.”

Gibbs blinked.  “She offered you Rota?”

“Yeah.” 

Tony turned down Rota? Gibbs was stunned.  He’d known there were other offers, Morrow mentioned it to him, and he suspected Vance might be considering making one, but he hadn’t realized Shepard made any.  When Tony had told Tammy he stayed in DC at NCIS for him, Gibbs thought that meant Tony hadn’t been actively looking for a job.  He hadn’t realized the younger man had literally been offered a promotion and refused. 

“I wasn’t around, not because I was pissed at you, I was--“

“You were working undercover.”  Gibbs placed another soft kiss on Tony’s shoulder hoping the action would convey both his understanding and acceptance.  He wasn’t angry about the La Grenouille op any more.  Well, not angry with Tony at any rate. He was still pissed at Shepard over it.

“I didn’t realize what was going on. I should have noticed. I should have been there for you…before… during… after.”

His being in Mexico might work as an excuse for the before. But during the op was just Gibbs failing to pay attention.  And so much of what happened afterwards wasn’t necessary.

At the time Gibbs hadn’t realized how badly he’d let Tony down.  He was just so angry about a covert operation going on right under his nose, he’d lashed out, unfairly blaming Tony for what was really Shepard’s doing. 

He now understood that some of his anger and hostility was because he was jealous.  Jeanne Benoit was clearly more than just an undercover assignment to Tony.  Tony had broken rule 10--never get personally involved with a case.  At the time it hadn’t mattered to Gibbs that he was guilty of breaking that rule more than once himself, he felt justified in being angry and finding ways to punish Tony.

And he was jealous that Tony had shifted allegiance, even if only temporarily, to Shepard.  He’d been Gibbs’ loyal St. Bernard for so long, he’d forgotten it wasn’t simply a given that Tony would always follow him. He’d forgotten Tony wasn’t ‘his agent’.  He didn’t work just for Gibbs.  It had been an eye opener; one Gibbs resented.  He’d let that resentment affect how he worked with Tony, how he treated him, how he thought of him. 

“I should have been there for you.” It wasn’t exactly an apology, but it was an admission that he was wrong--about a lot of things. Gibbs knew Tony understood when he raised their joined hands enough to place a light kiss on Gibbs’ knuckles. 

“It’s okay.” Tony shrugged one shoulder.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

Gibbs snorted.  Of course it was his fault.  Tony shouldn’t let him off that easy. “If I hadn’t left--”

“Can we let that go?”  Tony cleared his throat.  “Not exactly something I want to think about…not now, please.  Okay?”

He didn’t want to argue with Tony—not now, and not about that.  Letting this go wouldn’t hurt anything.  It wasn’t’ like Gibbs wouldn’t keep trying to make up for it.

“Sure, Tony.”

“Thanks.”

Gibbs didn’t think that was something he should be thanked for.  Rather than address that, he forced himself to pick up the thread of what he’d been saying before, knowing it was important to explain as much as possible.  He owed Tony that much.  And he hoped it would be enough to convince him Gibbs was telling the truth.  That it would be enough to convince Tony he wasn’t looking for a quick fuck.  That Tony was a keeper, someone worth forever.

“After all that, well, you know it took awhile things to get back to normal.  Or at least what passes for normal for us.”

Tony huffed out a small laugh.  “Yeah.”

“I thought we’d gotten back to where we were….before I lost my mind and went to Mexico.  And I didn’t want to ruin that.  You were coming around more.  And we seemed to be doing okay.  I could ignore how I felt.  I could pretend it was enough.”

Gibbs sighed softly.  “I’ve been denying myself things for a lot of years, Tony. I’m good at it.  Ducky says I wallow.  That I make myself unhappy because I don’t think I deserve to be happy.” 

Gibbs rolled his eyes as he remembered Ducky’s accusation.  It had been during his third divorce.  He wanted to dismiss it as just so much psycho babble bullshit.  Except that everything Ducky said made sense.  Gibbs mentally slapped himself. Babbling about this wasn’t going to help.  He needed to focus and tell Tony the important stuff.

“The team was working well together.  It was good. And I was content to leave things like that.”  Gibbs winced at how bad that sounded.  It was the truth, but it made him sound selfish and like all that mattered was the job.  It always made him sound like a coward, which might be the truth, but not something Gibbs really wanted to admit to.

“I mean--“

“I know what you mean.” Tony cut him off.  “Just being on the team, getting to do what I love, being the guy you rely on, getting to see you—“ Tony stopped abruptly.  He glanced over his shoulder making eye contact for a moment before looking away again.  “I know that sometimes it is easier to work with what you know.  Safer.  Rocking the boat isn’t easy.  Not always smart either.”

“Yeah.” 

Gibbs knew playing it safe was something they both understood.  For different reasons maybe but it was essentially the same understanding.  Silence filled the room for several minutes. 

Tony sighed.  “So what changed?  What made it worth the risk?” 

“Vance sent you away.”  Gibbs could hear the waver in his voice and hated how plaintive he sounded.  “Four months, you were gone.  It was like I was missing my right arm. Nothing was right.  Nothing. And I couldn’t fix it.”

Gibbs pulled Tony closer to him, breathing in his scent.  “I missed you. I kept wanting to call, but I couldn’t figure out how to justify it or explain it.”

“What the hell was I supposed to say?”  He gave a half hearted, strangled laugh.  “Tony, I am misusing government equipment because I want to hear you talk about movies I’ve never seen because the silence is so damn loud I can’t think straight.  I miss seeing you every day. I miss having beer and pizza.  My new senior agent is a good guy but I hate him because he’s not you.”

Gibbs choked back a sob remembering damn lonely he’d been then.  “You’d have thought I lost my mind.  Hell, I thought I was losing my mind.”

Gibbs cleared his throat.  “Getting the team back.  Getting you back. I thought it would be okay. I thought things would go back to normal again.  But,” Gibbs took a shaky breath, “I didn’t want to go back to normal.  Not that I knew what I wanted, or was willing to admit what I wanted to myself…I just didn’t …I wasn’t…I couldn’t…then I fucked up on that damn Domino case.”

Gibbs tightened his hold on Tony.  “I didn’t want to admit it, but I fucked up.  And you were right to be pissed. You were right to get in my face.  But when it was over, all I could think was this time you were going to leave.”

Tony shifted, turning in Gibbs’ hold to look at him.  “Why would I leave?”

Gibbs raised a hand to cup Tony’s face.  “Because you look at me the same way you look at Vance.  Like you are trying to figure out if I’m telling the truth or not.  Like I might just screw you over. ”

“I don’t--"

“You do.”  Gibbs countered.  “And I understand why you would.  I did screw you over.”

“Not the same.”  Tony argued.  “You didn’t have a personal agenda you were putting into play.”

“Motive was different,” Gibbs conceded, “but the end result wasn’t.  You still got hurt.”

“It was just a couple of bruises. I’ve had worst.”

“Not the point,” Gibbs shook his head.

“You didn’t blow up my car.”  Tony smiled.  “And I have to tell you, I’m glad because I’m not sure my insurance company would pay out a third time.”

As much as he appreciated Tony’s humor, he wanted him to take this seriously.  “Tony--"

“Gibbs, we already covered this.”  Green eyes met blue.  “You explained it to me.  And while I would have liked to know all that then, I know it now.  It’s okay.  You admitted you were wrong.  And you aren’t going to do it again, are you?”

“No.”

“Then it’s okay.”

Gibbs searched his face.  He couldn’t understand how Tony could just forgive him so easily.  But he couldn’t see any dishonesty in his face.  “You really mean that.”

“Yeah, I do.”

Gibbs felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  “You aren’t going to leave?” 

“Was this…the trip to Chicago, the one room…was all that to make sure I stayed?”

“I needed to find a way to talk to you.”  Gibbs smiled ruefully. “I thought I stood a better shot of doing it here.  Vance was going to send us anyway, I just made sure he only sent you and I and that we had a room together.”

“So the being upset over the one bed was just--"“

“The one bed thing…that wasn’t actually something I planned on.”  Gibbs sighed.  “Didn’t plan on the crappy heater either.”

Tony laughed quietly.  “Always heard some of the best things in life don’t go according to plan.”

Gibbs breath caught for a moment.  Shannon had said something similar to him when his grand plans for a romantic proposal had fallen through.  Instead of a candle lit dinner with a beautifully set table and a nice meal, the house had nearly burned down and he’d dropped the ring in the salad plate.  She’d laughed until she cried and said yes. 

None of his exes would have been able to roll with the punches or have found the humor in the situation.  It was just more proof of how much better for him Tony was than the women he’d tried to replace Shannon with.  They’d looked like her but not one of them had her spirit, sense of humor, compassion or intellect.  Tony had all that in spades.

“Please tell me you’ll give this a chance.”  Gibbs rested his cheek against Tony’s. “I’m not sure I could handle going back to the way things were.  And I know I couldn’t take you being gone again.  I like my life better with you in it.  I’m tired of wallowing and I want to be happy.”

Tony pulled back, staring at Gibbs.  “I make you happy?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Wow,” Tony whispered.  “Don’t think anyone has ever--“  He smiled, warm and gentle, eyes alight with a glow Gibbs hoped to see a lot more of.  “You are something else Jethro Gibbs.”

Gibbs kissed him on the lips, claiming his mouth, trying to convey all the love and passion he felt in that one gesture. Enough talking.  Words were never his strong point, but this, this he could do well. He could show Tony how important he was, how precious, how utterly irreplaceable.  With enough time and effort, Gibbs was sure he could get Tony to understand he was worthy of forever.   

Chapter Text

Gibbs woke to the soft peeping of Tony’s watch alarm. He grinned when Tony reacted by mumbling a curse into Gibbs’ chest.  He fumbled for the watch and turned it off.  His movements were clumsy and slow, lacking the grace and dexterity Tony had displayed on other mornings.  It was a testament to how deeply the younger man had been sleeping.

Instead of rolling out of bed, and getting ready to go running, Tony sighed and snuggled in close to Gibbs.  He rubbed his cheek against Gibbs’ chest before resting his head over Gibbs’ heart.  Tony wrapped his arm around Gibbs, settling in again with every appearance of staying.  Gibbs tilted his head to place a kiss in Tony’s hair. He was content to stay put and act as Tony’s pillow for as long as possible.

Eyeing the dimly lit room, Gibbs found himself thinking about last night.  He wasn’t sure if what they’d done would count as intercourse to Tony or not.  Hell, they hadn’t even managed to fully disrobe, losing only their shirts, unwilling to brave the chilly room or let go of each other long enough to get completely naked. 

Gibbs knew some people thought anything less than completely naked or full penetration didn’t count—Bill Clinton’s protests that he didn’t have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky was a famous example of that.  Gibbs thought that attitude was just stupid. He sure as hell considered oral sex with his wives as intercourse whether he was giving or receiving it.  It was just as much intercourse to Gibbs whether it was a quickie in a car or hours taken in a bedroom.  Gibbs thought of getting a hand job from a total stranger as intercourse, albeit far less meaningful than having the same experience with someone he truly cared about, it still counted in his book.

It wasn’t like he’d planned to have sex with Tony when he’d made the arrangements for their stay in Chicago.  He hadn’t known then Tony would be open to the idea, if he had he’d have been better prepared.  For one thing, Gibbs wouldn’t have wasted two nights trying not to get too close when all he really wanted was to never be far away.

He still didn’t know if Tony would be comfortable with anal sex.  It wasn’t like everyone cared for it.  Most of Gibbs encounters with men had been predominately mouth or hands; he had no idea what Tony’s experience consisted of or how receptive he would be to the idea.

His ex-wife, Stephanie, had liked a little back door action, so Gibbs was familiar with anal sex enough to know some lubrication was certainly called for.  Lube was most definitely something Gibbs would have packed if he’d thought they had a chance of getting that far.  Not to mention condoms.  Both he and Tony were tested annually as part of the physical for the job, but that didn’t mean either of them were up for going ‘bareback’.  He knew enough about Tony’s sexual exploits to know the younger man always used condoms.  Safe sex was something Tony took seriously.  Gibbs had silently applauded his behavior, preferring to know if he lost Tony it would be to a better job, a bullet or a bomb, not some damn venereal disease. 

Ultimately both he and Tony had gotten off, achieving orgasms with nothing more than kissing, heavy petting and rubbing against one another. With the conversation they’d had prior, it was easily the most intimate evening Gibbs had experienced in months.  It was also the most sexually satisfying encounter he’d had in over a year.

Sleeping wrapped up around one another had been equally satisfying.  It was so damn liberating to just be allowed to fully enjoy Tony being close.  He didn’t have to worry about being discovered or rejected.  It was nice to be able to be able to kiss and caress without being afraid his affection was unwelcome. 

Gibbs stretched a little, careful not to dislodge Tony as he worked out a few kinks.  Gibbs had never been much of a cuddler, but he could readily see the appeal.  Tony was damned nice to be next to.

Gibbs huffed out an experimental breath, pleased that he couldn’t actually see it.  The damn room was still cold, but under the blankets, Tony as close as he could get, they were warm enough.  Gibbs stifled a chuckle when he realized if the heat was working properly, it would probably have been too warm to cuddle.

“What?”  Tony mumbled sleepily.

Well crap.  He hadn’t meant to disturb Tony.  “Shhh…go back to sleep.”

“I should go for a run.”  Tony sighed, sounding more awake and aware.  “Haven’t missed a day in six months, well, except for when we’ve got a case and even then I can usually squeeze in something.”

Gibbs frowned.  “You go on the weekends too?”

Tony shrugged, raising his head to look at Gibbs.  “Nothing else to do at five in the morning.”  He smiled. “I don’t have a basement, Boss.”

“You could try sleeping.” 

“Kind of got out of the habit of sleeping in.”

Gibbs chuckled.  Since when had sleeping past five in the morning been considered ‘sleeping in’ to Tony?

“How did that happen?”

“Never figured out how to sleep through planes taking off.  Could ignore them landing, but for some reason the damn take offs always woke me up.  And most of the time they seemed to be taking off at sunrise.”  Tony shook his head, clearly bemused by why flights were scheduled for that time of day and his inability to adjust. 

“I didn’t really sleep that much while on the ship.  I mean, the schedule is pretty much an around the clock thing so staying up late or getting up early didn’t mean the same thing there as it does on land.  And when you’re the only cop on duty, you’re always on call.  I made a habit of being sure to put in an appearance with every shift.  Not everyone knew me, but they knew who I was and where to find me if they needed me.”

It would have been hard to meet everyone on an aircraft carrier.  Even for someone as gregarious as Tony. And it wasn’t like he would form any deep, meaningful friendships with the crew since he wasn’t there that long.  His status as an agent would have also labeled him an outsider since he wasn’t technically Navy or even a crewmember. 

It had to have been very lonely for Tony with no one to rely on to watch his back or even just talk to.  Suddenly his being so happy and excited to hear from Gibbs and McGee made sense.  Gibbs winced.  He’d abandoned Tony for four months because he couldn’t swallow his pride.  He could have sent Tony an e-mail like he suspected McGee had done.  Or postcards like Abby did.  Or even a handwritten letter like Ducky had.  At least Ziva had a valid excuse for not staying in touch.

Tony placed a soft kiss on Gibbs’ chest pulling him away from his burgeoning guilt.  “The galley was the best place to be during shift change.  Coffee tasted terrible, but there was always plenty of it and it was hot.  When it was crowded, it didn’t look weird for crewmen to sit at a table with me.”

Smart, Gibbs silently acknowledged with pride.  No one wanted it known he’d ratted out his shipmates.  So being seen coming or going from Tony’s office wasn’t an option.  But sharing a table with the Agent Afloat in a crowded galley could be easily explained or ignored outright. 

“Food wasn’t half bad.” Tony mused quietly.  “Almost made up for the crappy coffee.”

 “Almost?” Gibbs smirked. 

Tony grinned.  “I got higher standards for coffee than you do.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes.  “I like good coffee.”

Tony laughed.  “I’ve had what you consider good coffee, Boss.” 

“Just because I don’t add a ton of sugar—“

“A ton of sugar might well be what it takes for us mere mortals to tolerate.”

Since he couldn’t easily reach the back of Tony’s head, Gibbs poked Tony lightly in the ribs.  He was surprised when Tony jerked, a startled laugh escaping.

“You’re ticklish?”

 “No, I’m not.”

Gibbs moved to deliberately tickle Tony, grinning manically when Tony started laughing, helplessly trying to wiggle away.  Gibbs rolled them over to pin the younger man in place, continuing his assault. He had never heard Tony laugh like this…so free and honest, unselfconscious and uninhibited. It was amazing, and he wanted more of it.

Tony kept trying to escape, long arms and legs moving wildly as he did his best to avoid Gibbs’ fingers.  When Tony started gasping for breath, tears leaking from his eyes, Gibbs stopped, suddenly worried he might have gone to far.  To his relief, once he stopped Tony regained his breath.  He hugged Gibbs, burying his face against the older man’s shoulder, giggles continuing to break out. 

“Bastard,” Tony muttered, as he finally regained control. 

Gibbs wasn’t sure if he should apologize or not.  He wasn’t truly sorry, having enjoyed the sound of Tony’s laughter, but Tony might think an apology was warranted.  He opened his mouth, but never got a chance to speak.  Tony kissed him. 

The kiss was aggressive, dominating and Gibbs could only go along with it.  Tony was in complete control, his tongue plundering Gibbs’ mouth with skill and confidence.  Gibbs moaned, surprised by how turned on having someone else in charge made him.  He’d been the one leading last night.  Tony wasn’t passive by any means, he was a willing and eager participant, but Gibbs had directed the action.

Tony’s hands were everywhere.  If Gibbs didn’t know better he’d have sworn Tony had grown extra arms—there was no other way he could be touching so much of Gibbs. Like the kiss, Tony’s touch was capable and sure, deft and certain.

Gibbs broke the kiss when the need for air made it impossible to continue.  Tony took that opportunity to nibble on his jaw-line working his way to Gibbs’ ear.  He sucked on Gibbs’ earlobe, biting gently before tugging on it.  Gibbs gasped, unprepared for how arousing that assault was.  He shuddered. 

“God.”

Tony laughed.  He nibbled on Gibbs’ neck, a trail of delicate bites that went from just under his ear to his collarbone.  When he bit down with more force Gibbs jerked more from surprise than pain.  The broad pad of Tony’s tongue toothed away any hurt almost before it registered.

Tony wiggled, sliding down against Gibbs’ body.  The brush of his chest against Gibbs’, wiry hair teasing everything it touched, made the older man shiver.  When Tony began to play with his nipples, Gibbs bit his lower lip to keep from crying out. He’d never known how sensitive those tiny nubs were.  No one had ever spent much time on them.  Tony pinched them, rolling them between his fingers.  He applied teeth and tongue, sucking and biting, pulling guttural moans from Gibbs. 

So caught up in the attention he was receiving, Gibbs was surprised when Tony rolled them over.  He grinned down at Gibbs, pupils so blown there was almost no green visible.  He immediately slid further down, disappearing under the covers.

He felt Tony tugging at his sweatpants.  The fabric was old, and well worn, and they slide down easily.  Gibbs wiggled a bit to help slip them off the rest of the way.  He had no objection to getting naked.  Gibbs grinned.  Hell, Tony could have just asked. 

“What—“  Gibbs sucked in a breath when he felt Tony’s mouth wrap around his hard cock.  He hadn’t been expecting that.  Wet heat enveloped him, making it impossible to talk, much less think. 

Gibbs instinctively reached for Tony, only to stop himself.  As much as he just wanted to hold Tony’s head still and thrust hard into his mouth over and over, he didn’t want to hurt him.  He had no idea how much Tony could handle.  Gibbs raised his arms over his head, hands desperately gripping the headboard.  The brush of cool air against is overheated skin was an intoxicating contrast.

He groaned, low and long, when Tony did something amazing with his tongue.  Dear god.  His grip on the headboard tightened, knuckles whitening.  Gibbs opened his legs wider, hips thrusting upward.  Tony grabbed his hips, holding him firmly in place while he licked and sucked his way up and down Gibbs’ cock. 

Tony spent what felt like forever just playing with the head.  He teased the slit, the tip of his tongue darting in and then across.  He sucked hard and then backed off only to start over.  The changing pattern left Gibbs not knowing what to expect and desperate for more.

“Please..Oh…shit…Tony…you’ve got to…”  Gibbs wasn’t sure what the hell he was trying to say or why he thought he had to say anything at all.  Tony definitely knew what he was doing.  Oh…oh…Gibbs tipped his head back, tendons standing out in harsh relief as another wave of pleasure crashed over him as Tony not only sucked hard, he started humming. 

He gasped when Tony swallowed him whole; throat working around his cock in a way that made him see white.  He hadn’t expected that.  He shuddered, trying desperately not to lose it too soon. It felt so good Gibbs didn’t want it to end.  He whimpered when Tony moved a hand to start playing with his balls.  The dual assault challenged his control, muscles quivering, flexing and twitching as he struggled not to let go.

“Tony…I’m…close.  So close….Please..I need…God…” 

Gibbs turned his head, biting his own arm, trying to hold in the embarrassing whimpers and moans that kept escaping.  He hadn’t had a blowjob in a long time…and he’d never had one this good. 

Tony pressed a spot just behind Gibbs’ balls.  It was electrifying, shattering Gibbs’ control.  He was coming with muffled shout, stars sparking behind tightly closed eyes.

Gibbs wasn’t sure how long it took him to recover some sense of self, but by the time he did, Tony had managed to make his way back up to lay his head on Gibbs’ shoulder.  Gibbs nuzzled his hair, feeling incredibly relaxed and content.  He sighed softly.

“You okay?”  Tony asked.

Gibbs chuckled.  He lightly cuffed the back of his head, the gesture more of a caress than a reprimand.  “You can’t tell?”

Tony raised his head, grinning brightly.  “You’re always saying not to assume.” 

What was it Abby said from time to time?  Gibbs smiled as he remembered.  “I’m better than good, I’m golden.”

“Good.” 

“What about you?”  Gibbs never considered himself a selfish lover, not when he cared about the person he was with any way.  He didn’t think it was okay that Tony had given him the best blowjob he’d had in years only to be left hanging.  “Do you need me to—“

Tony kissed him, just a quick buss on the mouth.  “Was thinking in the shower, if you’re up for it?”

Gibbs snickered. “It’ll be a bit before I can get it up again, Tony.”

Tony laughed.  “I wasn’t trying to be punny.”

“I know,” Gibbs gave Tony another kiss.  “I just couldn’t resist.”  He cupped Tony’s face.  “What do you want me to do?” 

“Always loved your hands.”  Tony’s expression turned dreamy.  “Want your hands on me, all of me.  Would you…can you do that?”

Gibbs smiled.  “Oh yeah, I can do that.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs sighed, and shifted in his seat.  He wasn’t five minutes into the seminar when he firmly decided not going with Tony had been a mistake.  He’d known it would be, but at the time, he couldn’t come up with a logical argument for them to attend the same session.  Not when the only real reason he could think of was that he simply didn’t want to be away from Tony. 

He didn’t mind feeling that way, but saying so was something else.  Regardless of how true it was, Gibbs didn’t want to sound like a lovesick teenage girl.  And he wasn’t sure how Tony might react.  Would he think it was too much, too soon?  Would he resent Gibbs getting territorial and think it signified he wasn’t trusted?  That aspect of his nature had upset two of his ex-wives.  Or would Tony come to expect it and then get pissed when Gibbs backed off thinking he didn’t care any more?  That had been his third ex-wife’s reaction. Better to let Tony set the tone…at least until Gibbs could get a better read of Tony’s feelings on the matter.

Once they’d left the room, it was business as usual. It only taken a few looks to communicate in the elevator that this new aspect of their relationship was not something either of them cared to make public.  They would not be outing themselves to a hotel full of law enforcement types. 

Gibbs hadn’t really thought about what it meant to carry on the usual routine.  It seemed like a simple thing.  Habit should have made it easy to act normal.  Except it was hard to be grumpy and sarcastic when he’d started his day experiencing two of the best damned orgasms he’d had in over a year.  Gibbs had found himself struggling not to maintain contact with Tony.  His fingers itched to touch, to explore the surprisingly soft skin, and he really wanted to pin Tony against the nearest wall, to ravage that amazing mouth, he wanted to hear those satisfying moans and breathy whimpers again.  But Gibbs managed to control those desires, reining in the inappropriate urges and kept his hands to himself. 

Just as he had the first day during breakfast, Tony asked what session Gibbs planned to attend and opted for another one.  Gibbs opened his mouth to protest, not wanting Tony out of his sight or arm’s reach, but before he could think of a valid reason or even get anything out Tony said, “Vance did say he wanted us to get the most out of this.  Think that means we have to attend separate sessions.  Wouldn’t put it past Toothpick to check up on us.”  Tony had grinned, bright and false.  “We are his favorites after all.”

Gibbs had snorted, amused in spite of himself.  Neither of them would likely ever be Vance’s favorites.  Although, the man did seem to be developing at least some appreciation for their ability to get the job done even if he still harbored a lot of personal animosity toward them. 

Gibbs could understand Vance disliking him.  They hadn’t seen eye to eye from the moment they met, and had been at loggerheads ever since.  But Tony hadn’t really done anything to warrant the Director’s animosity.  It wasn’t like he’d gotten in his face or even had much of a chance to act the fool before Vance had him reassigned.  Evidently it was enough that Tony was more old school in his approach to the job than computer oriented, loyal to Gibbs rather than the agency, and having the misfortune of being on Shepard’s protection detail when she got herself killed were enough to make Vance despise him. There could be things in Tony’s file that might have caused Vance to think less of him, but Gibbs did the performance reviews and he never said much more about Tony’s performance than he did any of his team.  He knew both Morrow and Shepard had put several commendations in Tony’s file, but he doubted that carried any weight with Vance.  Hell, Gibbs had awards for his job performance and that didn’t make him any more likeable or acceptable to the Director.

Vance had said being reassigned as Agent Afloat wasn’t punishment, and in light of the Domino case, Gibbs had believed him, but that didn’t mean Vance hadn’t also seen an opportunity to rid the office of someone he didn’t care for. Vance capitulated easily to bringing McGee and Ziva back on Gibbs’ team, but he’d baulked at Tony coming back.  Gibbs understood it was a power play, that making Tony serve four months afloat was a way of putting both him and Tony in their place.   It was a not so subtle way of Vance saying he was in charge. 

Gibbs jaw clenched.  He wondered if Vance realized how damn lucky he was Tony felt guilty enough over Shepard’s death to feel he warranted punishment.  Agent Afloat assignments were typically voluntary.  Tony had grounds to file a grievance since he wasn’t given a choice in the reassignment.  But Vance had to know he wouldn’t act on it. His mandatory psyche profile no doubt revealed that much about Tony’s character.

Of course, ultimately, Vance needed Gibbs and his team to get the job done.  So Gibbs thought he could claim victory over that pissing contest.  He had his doubts though about whether or not Vance had actually learned anything. 

Gibbs sighed and shifted in his seat again.  He took a sip of coffee from the travel mug Tony had given him.  He smiled to himself, still pleased to have something tangible that showcased the fact that Tony cared about him.  He planned hang on to it for as long as possible.

He wished it was a bit bigger though.  He knew there wasn’t enough coffee to see him through the entire seminar.  But at least it was hot.  And he was grateful for that.  The room seemed cooler to him than it had the day before.  He glared at the thermostat on the wall.  He was sure the hotel management would tell him there was nothing wrong with it either.  Assholes. 

Gibbs shifted his gaze back to the speaker.  She had a physical beauty he was sure Tony would have appreciated, but she had a squeaky voice that reminded Gibbs of nails on a chalkboard.  He wondered if she wasn’t aware of how she sounded, or if he was the only one who thought her voice could cut glass. 

As grating as her voice was, Gibbs had to admit she seemed to know her stuff.  There was a lot of good information being presented.  He forced himself to pay attention. He refused to think about Tony or how much he was looking forward to another meal with him, another movie, another shower, another night with him.  He had a job to do damn it, and he was going to do it.

Gibbs made notes in the margins of the reference material, sipping absentmindedly at his coffee.  He didn’t know much about computers but he could appreciate how useful they were…in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. It’s what he had McGee for.  But it didn’t hurt for him to learn a bit more about what it was McGee did and how.  It would help him make the most of the younger man’s talents. 

Gibbs raised his cup again, and grimaced when he realized it was empty.  He sighed.  He flexed his fingers trying to relieve some of the stiffness age and the cold weather brought on.

Gibbs checked his watch.  Only another half hour to go and this session would be over.  No matter what Vance expected, no matter what Tony said, Gibbs was not going to have Tony spend the afternoon away from him.  He’d snuck in yesterday without Tony knowing, he was sure he could do it again if need be.   He’d rather have Tony ask him, or indicate in some way he wanted to stay close too, but Gibbs wasn’t going to be put off. 

Gibbs shifted in his seat once more.  When he was a sniper, he’d been able to sit still for days, but after he’d started working as an agent, he’d found it hard to do.  Unless whatever he was working on completely captured his attention, he got restless.  His many trips for coffee had less to do with getting something to drink than giving him a chance to stretch his legs, to move around a bit, to simply do something. 

He smiled to himself.  He’d been tempted many times to ask Tony to download one of those silly games he played to his computer or phone.  But he was the boss.  It wouldn’t do for him to be playing when he should be working. And Gibbs could hardly give Tony shit about goofing off if he ever got caught doing the same thing. 

Gibbs eyed the speaker.  He tried not to let his impatience get the better of him.  She really was very good.  It wasn’t her fault her voice was grating. 

Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief when she began wrapping up.  He was up and moving as soon as the question and answer period was over.  His usual determined stride made it clear getting in his way would be a bad idea.  Seeing several others moving the same way Gibbs was betting he wasn’t the only one who found the speaker’s voice painful to listen to. 

When he didn’t see Tony in the hall, Gibbs headed for the room where he knew the younger man’s session was being held.  If the speaker was good, Tony may have tried to get a little face time.  He had before, so it wasn’t an unrealistic assumption.  Gibbs mentally cursed Vance once again for being such a damn penny pincher. 

If Tony’s phone was working Gibbs could have called or sent him a text.  Not that he really knew much about texting.  He knew Tony and Abby texted each other all the time.  McGee and Ziva did it too.  Hell, even Ducky and Palmer texted.  Gibbs got the concept even if he never did it. He was sure he could have figured it out…eventually…maybe. 

Gibbs wove through the people leaving the session Tony had been in.  He looked for Tony, expecting to see him near the front of the room. His eyes narrowed when he spotted Tony talking to a beautiful young woman.  He wasn’t just talking to her he was flirting.

Whoever she was, Gibbs decided she couldn’t be more than thirty. She had long, dark, wavy hair that framed her face and showcased her striking blue eyes.  The dark green turtle neck sweater she was wearing was form fitting, advertizing the sort of physical assets Tony had often commented on in the past.

Gibbs’ jaw clenched.  He’d seen Tony flirt more times than he could count over the years; he always felt a rush of anger and annoyance. It wasn’t usually so intense but it was always there.  In the past, Gibbs had justified his feelings as Tony’s flirting getting in the way of getting the job done.  It was his right to be pissed at Tony for goofing off while he was supposed to be working, but in light of Gibbs’ new understanding about himself and how he really felt about Tony, the job had nothing to do with it.  He should have caught a clue when those same emotions surfaced even when Tony was off the clock, or they weren’t working an active case. Gibbs felt like giving himself a head smack.  God but he’d been slow to catch a clue.

Watching Tony, he really wanted to smack him too.  He had no business flirting with that woman.  Gibbs tried to ignore the flash of insecurity he felt wondering if Tony might not prefer someone younger, someone female. Just because what they’d done last night and early that morning were mind blowing for Gibbs didn’t mean they’d been as good for Tony.  Yeah, he’d gotten off, but it wasn’t like they’d talked about what it meant. Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal for Tony as it was for Gibbs. 

Tony had more or less told Tammy he’d stayed at NCIS because there was someone special. But Tony changed girlfriends like most people changed their socks.  For him it could have been all about the chase.  Maybe now that he’d gotten to have sex with Gibbs, finally caught him, Tony wasn’t interested any more. Hell, most of the big emotional confession shit done last night had been Gibbs. Maybe he’d read the situation all wrong.

Gibbs was torn between wanting to storm up to Tony and belt him one and wanting to stalk away, find a stiff drink and nurse his wounded pride.  Before he could decide on either he watched the woman reach out to touch Tony and the younger man deftly sidestep.  The sidestep could have been coincidental, a badly timed restless movement, but Gibbs knew better.  If Tony had really been flirting with her he wouldn’t have objected to the deliberate contact, he’d have encouraged it, reaching out to touch her as well trying to establish a connection.

That’s when Gibbs realized that Tony wasn’t flirting with the woman--she was flirting with him.  Tony wasn’t sending out any of the signals Gibbs knew meant he was truly interested in her.  Tony’s smile was polite, and seemed friendly enough to anyone who didn’t know him well, but it wasn’t warm and open the way Gibbs knew Tony was capable of.  He was making eye contact but didn’t hold it for long.  And while he was facing her, he’d angled most of his body away from her.

Gibbs took a deep breath.  He was suddenly grateful his moment of stupidity had been all in his head and not where anyone else could see it.  There was no telling what would have happened if he’d acted on what he was thinking and feeling.  God.  It was no wonder one of his ex-wife took a golf club to his head.  Tony probably would have shot him.

Gibbs stepped forward, clearing his throat to draw attention to himself.  Tony turned to look at him and smiled. Unlike the smile he’d been giving the woman this one was gentle, warm, almost shy.  Tony’s eyes sparkled as he made eye contact with Gibbs silently signaling just how pleased he was to see him.  Gibbs felt his shoulders relax, tension draining away. 

“Hey, Boss, you done already?”

“No, I skipped out early.”

Tony grinned, not bothered by the sarcastic reply.  “Always knew you were a rebel.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes, lips quirking upward slightly in a faint smile.  “You done here?”

“Just about.” Tony nodded to the woman.  “Special Agent Charlotte Severcool, this is my boss, Special Agent Gibbs. Boss, this is Charlotte Severcool.  She’s an FBI profiler.”

Gibbs held out his hand.  She had a firm handshake, reminding him of Ziva.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Same here.”  She smiled brightly. “Agent DiNozzo was telling me about some of the case you’d worked on.”

Gibbs looked askance at Tony. The younger man shrugged.  “We were comparing notes on a few whack jobs.”

“I was fascinated when Agent DiNozzo mentioned Doctor Mallard’s physiological autopsies.”  Severcool said.  “At the Bureau we focus more on the motivations of the living.  Figuring out how to catch a serial killer or a terrorist by understanding what drives them. It isn’t often we characterize the victim except for how they appealed to the killer.” 

She turned to Tony.  “Do you think he’d be open to discussing his work in greater detail with me?”

“I’m sure Ducky would love to talk to you.”  Tony smiled.  “He’s always open to sharing information.”

Gibbs snorted silently.  That was one way to put it.  Ducky would love to have an attentive, willing audience as opposed the impatient, distracted one he usually got from his fellow NCIS agents. 

Tony opened the small notebook he held in one hand.  He quickly wrote something.  “Let me give you his e-mail address.  Just tell him who you are and that Tony said you should get in touch.”

“I don’t suppose I could get your e-mail address as well?”  She smiled coyly, taking the piece of paper Tony held out.  “I wouldn’t mind discussing a few more cases with you.”

Gibbs nearly growled at her. He wanted to tell her to back the hell off.  When Tony seemed to hesitated, Gibbs glared at him. “DiNozzo.”  Gibbs let his usual impatience bleed into Tony’s surname.

“Right, Boss.  Time is a wasting.” He gave Charlotte a brilliant smile.  “It was nice meeting you.”

Gibbs silently approved when Tony didn’t hold out his hand for her to shake or attempt any other sort of contact.  Gibbs turned away with a nod to Charlotte, and Tony fell in step with him. 

“Glad you came in when you did,” Tony said to Gibbs as they left the room.  “Wasn’t sure I’d be able to find a polite way to get away from her.  She works in the DC office and I didn’t want to piss her off and have it come back to bite me in ass.  Bad enough Sacks already hates me and had me arrested twice for murder.  I shudder to think what a woman scorned in her position could do.” 

He shook his head, looking just a bit embarrassed and more than a little bemused.  “She saw my name tag when she sat down next to me and she said she recognized my name from several cases we’d worked with the FBI.  She wanted my take on them.  I didn’t realize when she first started talking to me she was more interested in me than in the cases.”

Gibbs frowned, momentarily doubtful.  Tony always made it seem like he thought every woman was interested in him.  But how much of that was an act? Knowing what he did of Tony’s insecurities Gibbs knew acting as if every woman wanted him was likely part of the clown mask that he played up for his coworkers.  It fit his frat boy image, but didn’t necessarily reflect his true feelings.

And it was possible Tony had little experience with aggressive women.  From what Gibbs had seen, Tony usually approached women first, letting them shoot him down or open the door for more.  Other than Paula Cassidy, Gibbs didn’t know many women Tony had interacted with who took the initiative. Hell, even the first move for their burgeoning relationship was one Gibbs made.

“We might need to make sure we stick together for the rest of the week so I can have your back,” Gibbs commented, trying to sound like he was teasing.

“Sounds like a good plan there, Boss.”  Tony gave him one of those genuine, warm smiles.  It wasn’t quite Tony saying he wanted to stick close, but it was good enough for Gibbs.

Tony sighed.  “I don’t think Vance is going to buy our staying together through the seminars because there were women on the prowl.”

“You let me worry about Vance.”  Gibbs touched the back of Tony’s hand.  The contact was so brief it could have been accidental.  Tony responded by lightly bumping his shoulder with his own.

Tony looked pensive.  He bit his lower lip. “He already hates you, Boss.  You sure you want to--”

“If he says anything, I’ll take care of it.”  Gibbs always took care of his people.  That Tony meant more to him now was just added incentive. 

“Okay, Boss.”  Tony grinned, his posture relaxing.  “We’ll do it your way.”

Gibbs gave Tony a smile of his own.  “Good.” 

Chapter Text

The room wasn’t any warmer during the afternoon session, his cup didn’t hold any more coffee than it had earlier, the topic wasn’t any more interesting, the speaker wasn’t any more knowledgeable nor was his monotonic speech any easier to listen to than the morning speaker’s piercing voice, but Gibbs still thought session was better.  Having Tony sitting next to him definitely made all the difference. 

Gibbs could relax, finding it easier to concentrate, with Tony sitting next to him.  He could feel the heat from the younger man whenever their arms or legs would brush against one another.  He could hear Tony breathing, his own respiration slowing to match the calm, steady rhythm.  He could trade amused, confused and incredulous looks with Tony as they both tried to follow what the speaker was saying and relate it to their day to day jobs. 

Gibbs understood the value of teamwork and the need for good communication.  He just wasn’t sure he was willing to buy into the new age, psycho babble bullshit the speaker was going on about.  They didn’t need trust exercises.  They’d learned to trust each other in the field, under fire.  There was no better way to build a team in Gibbs’ mind than make them work together.  If they couldn’t figure out it out, each member pulling his or her own weight, they wouldn’t last long. 

Gibbs snorted in disbelief as the speaker started talking about how important it was to discuss their feelings.  Kate always thought that too, but Gibbs hadn’t bought into it.  He would readily admit that his talking to Tony had been long overdue, but that was different.  He sure as hell wasn’t going to do that in front of an audience or make it a group activity. 

Tony leaned closer to him, whispering, “If the Toothpick ever says he wants to offer us a group hug would you object if I shot him?” 

Gibbs chuckled.  He whispered back.  “You’ll have to get in line.”  He was pretty damn sure if he didn’t beat Tony to it, Ziva would.  Although, Abby would likely endorse the idea whole-heartedly.  Abby didn’t need a reason or an excuse to hug people. 

“Kind of like a campfire,” Gibbs murmured as the speaker started talking about some sort of ‘round robin’ talk session.

 “Bite your tongue.”  Tony rolled his eyes. “Campfires are serious business, Boss, not some touchy feely crap.”

Gibbs hid his smile behind his coffee cup.  He might have been disparaging of Tony’s campfires when he’d first come back from Mexico, but he was smart enough to recognize something that worked.  Tony wasn’t him, and just because he did things differently, didn’t mean it was wrong.  He really needed to tell Tony that…after the seminar was over.  This was not the right time or place for that conversation. 

Tony sighed and shifted in his seat.  Gibbs found himself moving to lean into him a little, shoulder and knee touching Tony’s, enjoying the fact that the contact would look natural and completely accidental.  No one would think anything of it.

Tony gave him a sly glance and a shy smile, and then shifted so he leaned into Gibbs a little more.  Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to keep from doing something stupid like trying to steal a kiss.  If they were in the very back of the room he might have been able to get away with it.  But they weren’t, and it was better not to tempt fate by drawing unwanted attention. 

Gibbs sipped his coffee again.  The warm beverage took a bit of the chill off.  He idly scanned the audience and noted several women in attendance had their arms crossed in an obvious effort to contain body heat.  More than one person was rubbing their arms and eyeing the clock on the wall.

“You cold?” Gibbs asked quietly, wondering if Tony’s shifting closer hadn’t just been subtle flirting. 

“Wouldn’t mind if they turned the heat up.”  Tony flexed his fingers of his left hand, the movement slower and less fluid than Gibbs was used to seeing.  Clearly the cold had a similar affect on Tony as it had on Gibbs.

Tony turned to look at Gibbs.  “You?”

“Coffee helps.”  That was as close as Gibbs was willing to come to admitting to any discomfort.

Tony nodded.  His lips curled upward wry smile. “Shame that mug isn’t bigger.”

Gibbs silently agreed.  He considered offering his cup to Tony but refrained because he knew Tony preferred his coffee to have cream and an ungodly amount sugar.  The younger man likely wouldn’t drink Gibbs’ coffee, regardless of how cold he was.  He could be every bit as stubborn as Gibbs.

Tony’s determined nature wasn’t something Gibbs considered a bad thing---anyone else would have quit and walked away years ago.  Even before the Domino fiasco Tony had good reason to do just that.  But he’d stuck it out, and Gibbs was eternally grateful he hadn’t missed the chance to realize just how much Tony meant to him. That he hadn’t passed on the opportunity to be on the receiving end of those genuine warm smiles, to know what kissing Tony was like, to find out how soft his skin was, to hear the way his breath caught and his whole body shuddered before he came. 

Gibbs shook his head.  He needed to stop thinking about that. At least while surrounded by other people and he couldn’t act on those thoughts.

Gibbs checked his watch.  There was at least another hour to go.   He grimaced as he drank the last of his coffee.  He wasn’t sure he could sit through more of this new age, express yourself and get in touch with your feelings crap. 

When Tony shivered, flexing his hand again, Gibbs made up his mind.  It was time to leave. 

“Let’s go.”

Tony looked at him, brow furrowing in confusion  “Go?”

“You learning anything?”

Tony snorted.  “Not really.”

Gibbs nodded.  “Then we’re done here.” 

“But--“

Gibbs stood up.  He knew Tony would follow.  He’d chosen seats at the end of the row so getting up and out would be easy to do.  They wouldn’t need to climb over anyone or have to excuse themselves to exit.  Gibbs seriously doubted anyone would question them leaving.  No one in their right mind would see the value in sitting through this, Gibbs thought derisively.  Not only was the information worthless, the room was cold enough to hang raw meat. 

He stepped out into the hall, noting the change in temperature immediately.  Tony was right behind him.

“Maybe we should suggest they have the seminars out there.”  Tony rubbed his hands together. 

Not a bad idea, Gibbs thought.  Why the hell the hallway would be warmer than the room they were in was a mystery.  Clearly the heating system had issues.  Trying to talk to the management hadn’t helped the last time.  He wasn’t going to bother trying a second time. 

Several other people exited the room as well.  He could hear them muttering about the heat, or rather the lack of it, as well.  Gibbs was betting the hotel was going to get a few more complaints before the day was over.  Whether it would make a difference or not wasn’t a call Gibbs cared to make. 

“Coffee,” Gibbs muttered heading for the refreshment table.

He refilled his mug, watching as Tony got a Styrofoam cup and doctored his coffee with cream and sugar.  He grimaced at the amount of sugar Tony added.  That was obviously one thing in his diet that hadn’t changed.  

Tony took a sip, sighing softly; a small, satisfied smile appeared as Tony’s eyelids dropped to half mast making him look like a contented cat.  Gibbs swallowed hard, and turned away.  The last time he’d seen that look had been just after Tony had used his hand to get Gibbs off in the shower.

Tony nodded to the young woman handling the table.  He smiled brightly at her.  “This is just what I needed.  Thanks.”

She smiled back, batting her eyelashes at Tony.  “You’re welcome.”

Gibbs was tempted to glare at her.  Let her go make eyes at someone else, he thought viciously.  Tony was taken.

Tony took another sip of his coffee, stepping away from the table, moving closer to Gibbs.   “Are we going to slip into another session, Boss?  Even if it is more than half over we might still learn something.”

“No.”  Gibbs headed for the elevators.  They weren’t going to another session.  They were going to the room. 

Tony followed him.  “Boss, why are we--“

Gibbs hit the button, holding it down longer than necessary.  Intellectually, he knew it wouldn’t bring the car any faster, but emotionally it was satisfying to just hold the button, making the simple action more of a demand than polite request.

“We’re going to go warm up.”

Tony took another sip of his coffee and shook his head.  “Probably not any warmer in our room than it is down here.”

“It will be when we get there,” Gibbs said, giving Tony a deliberate once over with his eyes.

Tony smiled, green eyes sparkling.  “Good to know.”

The doors to the elevator opened before either of them could say anything else.  Gibbs had hoped they’d have the car to themselves but as luck would have it, someone else stepped up to get on just as they got in.  The annoyed glance Tony shot the other passenger let Gibbs know Tony was thinking the same thing he was. 

Tony winked at Gibbs and whispered.  “Next time, Boss.”

Gibbs liked the sound of that.  Next time implied something to look forward to, a future.  They hadn’t really talked about what would happen once they left Chicago and went back to DC.  Gibbs wasn’t sure if he should even bring it up. 

They got off on their floor and headed for the room, walking in step.  Tony casually dropped his empty cup into the first trashcan they passed.  The fact that he’d finished it so quickly told Gibbs just how much the chilly room had gotten to him. Tony tended to linger over his coffee a bit more.  Should have left sooner, Gibbs thought.

He unlocked the door, stepping in just far enough to allow Tony to follow him and close the door.  He put down his cup on the small table, spun and pushed Tony back against the door with one arm, pinning him there with his weight.  Blue eyes met green, checking for any resistance or reluctance. 

Anyone else Gibbs had ever been with would have been at least a little wary, uneasy or nervous.  His intensity tended to do that to people, but Tony just smiled, warm and welcoming.  “Well, hello, Jethro.” 

Gibbs shivered.  That had to be the first time Tony used his name.  He wouldn’t mind hearing the younger man use it more often.

Tony tilted his head in a clear invitation; one Gibbs saw no reason to ignore.  Gibbs captured his mouth in a breath-stealing kiss.  He could taste sweetened coffee, mint from the gum Tony had been chewing an hour ago and something he couldn’t identify.  It was a heady combination. 

They were both panting for breath when Gibbs finally pulled back.  “Hello, Tony.”

Tony grinned, eyes bright with an emotion Gibbs couldn’t quite name.  He was hesitant to call it ‘love’ since the word hadn’t actually been spoken between them….yet.  It would be, Gibbs promised himself.  It would be.

Tony stared into Gibbs’ eyes, searching for something.  Gibbs had no idea what the younger man was looking for and held his breath, unaccountably afraid he might not find it and equally terrified he might.  Tony raised a hand to gently cup Gibbs’ face, thumb caressing his cheekbone in a touch that was so light it was almost non existent.  Tony kissed him.  This kiss lacked the passion of the previous one, but was strangely all the more powerful.

Gibbs shuddered, and clung to Tony.  He wasn’t sure what the hell just happened but he hadn’t anything affect him so much since Shannon had said yes when he asked her to marry him. 

Tony nibbled delicately along Gibbs’ jaw, working his way down neck.  Gibbs tilted his head back, baring his throat and giving Tony better access. He hadn’t quite figured out how he could have Tony pinned against the door and still find himself in an oddly submissive position.  None of that really mattered as long as Tony kept doing what he was doing. 

Gibbs’ hands weren’t as content as he was to simply let Tony take the lead.  They wanted to take control, to touch, to feel, to pet and hold.  Without conscious thought, Gibbs managed to work his way under Tony’s multiple layers.  He sighed in satisfaction when his searching hands met heated flesh.  That was so much better.

He stroked up Tony’s sides, working his hands up his chest.  Tony whimpered when Gibbs’ questing fingers found his nipples and began playing with them.  The sounds were quiet, desperate and needy, encouraging Gibbs’ to rub, pull, twist, pinch, anything to ensure Tony kept making those noises. 

Tony’s hips rocked against his. Gibbs rubbed against him, matching each thrust.  The door rattled, startling both of them into freezing for a moment. 

Tony chuckled, dropping his head to Gibbs’ shoulder.  “Just us, Boss.”

Gibbs bit his lip to hold in his own humor.  “Maybe we, ah, should move this to the bed.”

“Yeah.”  Tony raised his head, smiling.  “Could do with getting rid of some clothes too.”

Gibbs snickered.  “It is warm in here.” 

“It is now.”  Tony placed a quick kiss on Gibbs’ cheek before slipping away from him and heading for the bed. 

He pulled his sweater and long sleeved t-shirt up and over his head in one smooth movement.  Gibbs swallowed hard looking at the carelessly exposed beautiful expanse of skin.  The muscles in Tony’s back and shoulders flexed as he lightly tossed his clothing on to one of the chairs. 

Gibbs reached out, too tempted by sudden exposure of so much bare skin not to touch.  His fingertips ran from Tony’s neck down his spine to the waistband of his slacks, enjoying the feel of solid muscle and warm skin against his hands.  Goosebumps rose and Tony’s skin flushed in the wake of Gibbs’ touch.  Tony shivered, but Gibbs knew it wasn’t because he was cold. 

Tony looked over his shoulder, green eyes peeking out from under dark lashes.  “See something you like?”

“Yeah,” Gibbs whispered, his voice hoarse.  “Something I like a lot.”

Tony bit his lower lip, his expression coy and flirtatious as he turned to face Gibbs more directly.  “A lot, you say?”

“A lot.” Gibbs confirmed with a smile, stepping forward to kiss Tony.   He wrapped his arms around Tony, holding him firmly in place even though Tony wasn’t trying to escape.

Tony tried to step away when the need to breathe made Gibbs break the kiss. Gibbs tightened his hold.  He’d waited hours to have the chance to touch Tony freely, he wasn’t letting go now. 

Tony laughed softly.  “Much as I like this, Jethro, I can’t get naked without a little room.  Neither can you.”

Gibbs felt his face warm.  He cleared his throat.  “Right.”

He forced himself to let go and step back.  He started stripping out of his clothes, focusing on speed and efficiency.  He tossed aside his jacket, sweater and undershirt, not caring where they ended up. He toed out of his shoes and socks before shucking his pants. 

Already having a head start, Tony easily beat Gibbs discarding his remaining clothing.  He pulled back the blankets on the bed, shoving them out of the way.  He hopped on the bed, bouncing like a little kid, grinning brightly at Gibbs as he stretched out.

“Enjoying yourself, DiNozzo?”

“Not as much as I’m going to.”  Tony waggled his eyebrows and made a ‘come here’ motion with his fingers. 

Gibbs didn’t waste any time joining him on the bed. Tony wasn’t the only one who was going to enjoy himself.  Gibbs had every intention of seeing to it there was a lot of mutual satisfaction had.  And if that meant they missed dinner being offered downstairs, well, hell, there was always room service. 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs ran his fingers through Tony’s hair. He enjoyed the feel of the silken strands sliding through his fingers.  More importantly, he liked the fact being able to do so freely meant that Tony would allow him the liberty to touch without restriction. It was a privilege Gibbs suspected Tony had granted very few people. 

Tony sighed softly, and snuggled in closer.  His head rested comfortably on Gibbs’ chest, arms and legs wrapped around Gibbs, holding him in a way that should have felt confining but didn’t.  Tony’s breath was warm against the bare skin of Gibbs’ chest. His steady breathing was deep, slow and even. Gibbs didn’t think Tony was asleep, but he was obviously very relaxed in the wake of their bout of lovemaking.

Gibbs mentally snorted.  Lovemaking sounded…girly.  It was like something from one of those stupid romance novels his first ex-wife liked or that soap opera his third ex-wife had routinely watched.  It shouldn’t have been a term that applied to them, given that they’d only been having sex for a day or so, but what they’d done was a hell of a lot more than just a physical reaction. He didn’t know for sure if it was love for both of them, but it was a hell of a lot more than lust, of that Gibbs was certain. 

Gibbs sighed. He should probably think about getting something to eat.  Room service was the best option since it was well past the time when the scheduled dinner had been due to start.  They could go out, track down another restaurant in the area and eat there, but Gibbs didn’t seriously consider that choice. It meant braving the cold, and Gibbs didn’t want to do that again.  It also meant getting dressed and being in public.  He’d rather have time with Tony alone.  Staying in their room allowed them a freedom they wouldn’t find elsewhere and Gibbs was loathe to give that up.

“Tony?”

“Hmmm?” 

Gibbs felt a rush of warmth and contentment when Tony rubbed his cheek against his chest.  It was such an intimate, trusting gesture.

“You want dinner?”

Tony raised his head, sleepy green eyes regarding him steadily for a moment as he processed the question.  Tony blinked slowly, a small frown furrowing his brow.  “I could eat.”

“You okay with room service?”

Tony raised his arm to look at his watch.  His laugh was little more than a quiet puff of air. “I didn’t realize how late it had gotten.”

It wasn’t truly late, Gibbs thought.  It was just well past the time they could reasonably expect to find anything worth eating at the scheduled dinner.  He wasn’t interested in picking through leftovers or eating anything that had gone cold.   Certainly not when they could have something hot and fresh delivered.

Gibbs didn’t regret spending several hours indulging his desire to know every bit of Tony’s body.  It was worth missing a meal.  Hell, it was worth a lot more than that to him.  But he didn’t want Tony to go without. The younger man didn’t exactly have a lot of body fat to sustain him.   

Tony sighed.  “Really don’t want to brave the frozen north if we don’t have to, so I’m all for eating here.”

Gibbs nodded.  Decision made.  It was best to get on with it.  He shifted his weight, trying to maneuver out from under Tony. Tony’s grip tightened, holding him in place.

Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “I’m just going to grab the menu, Tony.  I’m not leaving.”

Tony blushed, and looked away. He released Gibbs, sliding away from him.  “Sorry.”

Gibbs grabbed his arm, keeping Tony from moving too far. He put a finger under his chin, drawing his gaze upward to meet his own.  “Hey, nothing to be sorry for.”

Tony’s smile was hesitant; a little shy, but genuine.  “Right, Boss.”

Gibbs gave him a quick kiss and moved away, fairly certain that if he didn’t do it quick he wouldn’t be able to.  He shivered when the cool air touched his skin.  Without the blankets and Tony nearby he was suddenly aware of how chilly the room was.  He grabbed his sweat pants, tossing Tony’s to him.

“You might want to put those on before getting out from under the covers.”

“On it, Boss.” 

Gibbs pulled on a t-shirt and grabbed an old Marine Corps sweatshirt out of his bag for good measure glad he’d thought to pack it.  He turned up the space heater to full power wanting as much as heat as possible.  He doubted it would make much difference, but he didn’t think it would hurt to try.

He picked up the room service menu, quickly refamiliarizing himself with the limited selection.  It wasn’t like anything would have changed from the last time they’d ordered room service.  He didn’t really want the same thing he’d gotten before, but not much else held any appeal.

“You want anything in particular?”

“Already got what I wanted,” Tony said, his voice muffled slightly has he pulled on an OSU sweatshirt on. 

Gibbs hid his smile behind the menu.  “I meant to eat, DiNozzo.”

“So did I.”  Tony flashed him a quicksilver grin.  “Nothing wrong with having dessert first.”

Gibbs felt his face warm.  He was too old to be blushing.  He rolled his eyes at Tony, covering for his embarrassment.  “What do you want to eat?”

“This is still on Vance’s tab, right?”

“Sure.”

Tony nodded.  “I’ll have the prime rib, medium rare, mashed potatoes and a cup of soup. And the same beer I had before, if they still have it on hand.”

Gibbs picked up the phone.  He got the steak as well, opting for French fries and a salad.  The salad was a concession to Ducky’s repeated comments that he needed to eat better.  He could genuinely claim to have gotten something green and leafy while on this trip.  If Tony could eat better, there was no reason Gibbs couldn’t at least try. 

He ordered a pot of coffee, opting to skip a beer in favor of a hot beverage.  He wanted more than what the little pot in the bathroom would make.  And while he was willing to at least try to eat a few veggies, he was not going to voluntarily cut down on his coffee intake any time soon. 

Tony turned on the TV, quickly finding the news.  He sat on the bed, leaning back against the headboard, feet tucked up under him in what Gibbs’ second grade teacher had called ‘Indian style’.  Gibbs shook his head, wondering why Tony didn’t just pull the blankets back up.  He rifled through his bag to find a pair of heavy socks for both of them.  Going around bare foot wasn’t a good idea.

He tossed the socks to Tony.  “Put those on.”

Tony chuckled.  “You know, I have socks of my own.”

“And yet your feet are bare.”  Gibbs noted dryly, sitting down next to Tony to pull on the pair he’d kept for himself.

Tony shrugged and put on Gibbs’ socks.  There was something oddly satisfying about knowing Tony was wearing his clothing.  He elected not to dwell on what that meant.

Tony shifted a little so he was touching Gibbs.  Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders, pulling him in even closer.  He sighed softly when Tony rested his head on Gibbs’ shoulder.  This was nice. 

Since Shannon and Kelly had died, it was usually only when he had sex with someone, got into a fight, or was handing out discipline that he touched or got touched in return.  He’d forgotten how nice it could be to simply be next to another person, to make contact without it leading to anything more. He half expected Tony to push for more, but then Tony had been content to simply cuddle earlier.  Maybe he liked this just as much as Gibbs’ did.  It made Gibbs smile to think that they both liked being close.   

It was probably better they didn’t start anything.  Their meal was due to arrive in half an hour or less.  As much as Gibbs didn’t mind a quickie now and again, he preferred to be able to take his time to really enjoy himself.  Based on what he’d experienced so far, Tony felt the same way.  He was one of the most responsive and attentive lovers Gibbs had ever been with.  

The news wasn’t overly interesting or noteworthy. That is probably a good thing, Gibbs thought.  It meant nothing had happened that warranted the press getting involved.  A slow news day was something Gibbs had come to appreciate over the years.

“Anything else you want to watch?” Tony asked as the evening news wrapped up.

“Whatever you want is fine with me.”  Gibbs didn’t watch enough television to talk about. 

Tony started flipping through channels at a dizzying speed.  Gibbs closed his eyes, and wondered if this was how Tony felt when he drove. 

A knock at the door had Gibbs reaching for the gun he wasn’t wearing.  He’d have been embarrassed by the reaction if Tony hadn’t done exactly the same thing. 

Tony smiled sheepishly.  “Old habits.”

Gibbs smiled back.  “Yeah.”

“You wanna get it or you want me to?” Tony asked.

“I’ll get it.”  Gibbs got up. 

He checked the peephole, innate caution made him verify that the person on the other side was indeed room service before opening the door.  He held the door open for the waiter to wheel in a small cart.  The kid looked like he was probably still in high school or had just started college.  Gibbs hated that his thinking they were always getting younger was really just another sign he was getting older.  At this rate he’d be calling everyone ‘son’ like the old duffers he’d known back in Stillwater.  Gibbs rolled his eyes at himself as he watched the kid efficiently set up their food on the small table.   It was a little too early to label himself a ‘duffer’ just yet. 

Gibbs gave the kid points for being polite but not saying any more than necessary.  Clearly he got that they didn’t want or need him to do any more than bring their dinner and leave.  Gibbs handed him a twenty when he left. 

Gibbs glanced at the TV surprised to see Tony had settled on what looked like a nature documentary of some kind. He cocked his head when a large dinosaur showed up.  He’d never figured Tony for the sort to watch Discovery. “What is this?”  Gibbs asked as he took the covers off their meal and set them aside. 

“Walking with Dinosaurs.”

 Gibbs blinked.  “You like it?”

“I liked the first time I saw it.  Of course that could have more to do with the fact that I watched the first time with Abby.”   He chuckled as he sat down at the table. “She was apparently a huge fan of dinosaurs when she was a kid, and seeing them brought to life was just too cool to miss.   Not to mention all the neat science stuff they included.  I mean it’s not Jurassic Park with T-Rex running around and raptors trying to eat people, but I enjoyed the computer graphics and the storylines they incorporated into each installment.  That’s more my speed than Paleontology or any other ology for that matter.” 

Tony shrugged, giving Gibbs a self-deprecating smile.  He knew Tony liked to act like a fool, but he was far from stupid.  He probably was every bit as fascinated by the science as Abby, even if he didn’t completely understand it as well as she did.   Even after knowing him for years, Gibbs still had no idea why Tony made such a point of hiding his intelligence or depth, but he was hoping that the more time they spent together in private the more Tony would relax and be himself. 

“At the time it was made, it was probably the most expensive documentary ever produced.  Computer graphics aren’t really cheap.  And it’s not like this was a blockbuster that would recoup the initial outlay like The Matrix or Lord of the Rings.  Avery Brooks does the narration for the US version.  Kenneth Branagh did the BBC version.”

Tony shrugged again, looking sheepish.  “It’s not bad background, but I can change it if you--”

“It’s fine.”  Gibbs didn’t care what was on, not really.  And it gave him a great conversational opening so they’d have something to talk about during dinner. 

Tony was surprisingly well versed when it came to paleontology.  Gibbs had thought all he knew likely came from TV or movies, but to his astonishment, Tony had read several books on the subject and gone to the Natural History Museum in NYC.  Tony and Abby had even gone to the Smithsonian together.  She’d wanted to show him some of the creatures the Discovery special had showcased.  It amazed Gibbs to realize he was still learning things about Tony---and made him wonder if he’d still be learning things about him ten years into the future.  He hoped so. 

Tony pushed his plate away, and sat back in his chair. He sipped his beer; long legs crossed at the ankle and stretched out in front of him. He smiled at Gibbs.

“This is nice.”

Gibbs smiled back, instinctively knowing Tony was referring more to the act of sharing a meal and conversation than what they’d eaten or their accommodations.  “Yeah, it is.”

“Shame we had to come all the way to Chicago to do it.”

“Not like we can’t do it when we get back home.”

Tony’s eyes took on a glow Gibbs couldn’t remember ever seeing before.  “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”  Gibbs sat back, sipping his coffee.  He stretched out a foot to rub his toes against Tony’s leg.  He wanted some sort of contact, finding it easier to touch Tony than to look him in the eye.  “This…I mean…I’ve been enjoying myself a lot.”

Gibbs realized immediately that what he said could be taken the wrong way and mentally cursed. He didn’t want Tony to think all he meant was the sex.  That would just confirm Tony’s belief that he wasn’t a ‘forever kind of person’.  Gibbs forced himself to look Tony in the eye. 

“I mean all of it Tony.  Having dinner together, the movie, meeting your old partner, even that stupid seminar was better for you being there.   I want more of that.  It’s not just the sex.  Not that the sex hasn’t been good.  Really good. Great even.  Not like you couldn’t tell, or need me to say it.  And I definitely wouldn’t object to doing any or all of it again.  Hell I wouldn’t mind doing a lot more--”

Gibbs broke off suddenly feeling like an idiot for babbling.  Tony grinned at him, amusement and affection in his expression in equal measure.  Gibbs could feel himself blushing.

“You know, I almost wish I’d been able to tape that.” 

“Oh shut up.”

Tony laughed softly.  He leaned forward, reaching across the table to grab Gibbs’ hand.  “Hey, you’ve heard me babble like an idiot for years.  Kind of nice to be on the other side.”

“I meant it.”  Gibbs wanted to be clear on that.  He may have run off at the mouth like a nervous school girl, but he’d meant every word. 

“I know.”  Tony smiled gently, his thumb brushing against Gibbs’ knuckles.  “You don’t say things you don’t mean.”

“This is more to me than just…”  Gibbs stalled again, unable to finish and unable to maintain eye contact.  His jaw clenched, his eyes on the table as he struggled to find the right words.  He squeezed Tony’s hand, not wanting to lose contact, afraid Tony might just walk away.  Maybe this would be easier if they were cuddled up on the bed together.  He’d found the right words then.

“More than just a one night stand?” 

That made Gibbs look up.  “It’s a lot more than that.  I care about you, Tony.  A lot.” 

He couldn’t bring himself to say he loved Tony.  Not when he wasn’t sure Tony would believe him.  Not when Tony might think he’d be expected to say it back and be unable or unwilling to.  As far as Gibbs knew, Tony had never said ‘I love you’ to Paula Cassidy and it was obvious he’d felt something deep for her.  And Gibbs had found out secondhand, eavesdropping on Abby, that Tony hadn’t said ‘I love you’ to Jeanne until he’d been dating her for months.  Clearly they were not words Tony said often or took lightly.

“I care about you too.”   Tony smiled, his expression turning wry a moment later.  “Probably more than is wise.”

“No one ever accused me of being wise,” Gibbs muttered, getting a low chuckle from Tony in response.  

Gibbs leaned forward, pulling their joined hands closer. He placed a soft kiss on Tony’s knuckles.  “We could do something unwise together.”

Tony smiled shyly, green eyes meeting blue from under long dark lashes. “Pretty sure we already have, Jethro.”

“Good enough reason to keep right on doing it then.”

Tony laughed quietly.  “Thinking there are people out there who would disagree with you.”

“Don’t give a shit about them, Tony.  Only person I need to agree is right here in this room.”

Tony’s eyes were glowing again the same way they had earlier. Gibbs took that to mean he’d said the right thing.

Gibbs asked, just to be certain.  “You are good with us…continuing this back in DC?” 

Tony bit his lower lip.  “You don’t mind breaking rule 12?”

“It’s already broken.”  He sighed softly.  “And I don’t mind that we broke it.  You are worth changing the rules for.”

Tony stared at him, eyes searching Gibbs’ face the same way he had when they’d come back to the room.  Gibbs waited, holding his breath.

Tony nodded, evidently satisfied with what he saw.  “Then, yes.”

Gibbs released the breath he’d been holding and felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  He grinned and stood up, pulling Tony to his feet as well. He hugged the younger man hard, holding him close, trying to find a way to express the simply joy he was feeling.  He figured Tony got it when he hugged him back just as hard.

Gibbs his face against Tony’s shoulder, and breathed in deeply.  No one else, not even Shannon, ever got Gibbs quite the way Tony did.  He was damned glad he got his head out of his ass before losing Tony forever. 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs stepped out of the shower, glad today was their last day in Chicago.  They’re flight back left a little after two.  Gibbs sincerely hoped there would be no delays. If it were up to him, he’d have skipped the stupid closeout stuff and taken the first flight out, but just like the ‘meet and greet’, Vance had insisted they attend.  It was so much political bullshit, but Gibbs knew there was no point in fighting with the Director—at least not in this case. He’d save his energy for when it mattered. 

The last two days of the conference were unremarkable---at least as far as the seminars were concerned.  Gibbs learned a few things he thought worth knowing, but nothing that would have justified a trip to Chicago.  Gibbs smiled to himself. It was good he’d learned a lot more about himself and Tony, or the trip would have been a total waste of time.  As it was, Gibbs was starting to think he should volunteer for these stupid things more often, provided it was always just him and Tony.

For their final few nights, he’d slept longer and deeper than he had in years.  It wasn’t just the sex, although it certainly hadn’t hurt.  There was just something so damn relaxing about cuddling up with Tony.  Somehow he made everything right with Gibbs’ world in a way that hadn’t been right in a long, long time.

Gibbs sighed softly.  It shouldn’t have really surprised him.  A lot of things with Tony were just…better.  Of course, he had to be without Tony to realize that, but now that he was aware, Gibbs was determined to never be without him again. 

Gibbs was somewhat surprised by how easy talking to Tony was.  They’d talked about a lot of things over the last two days when not tied up in the seminars.  And none of it was work related.  He’d never conversed with anyone so easily unless it was about a case.  Hell, small talk and personal things were taboo with just about everyone except Tony and Shannon.  And it was far easier to talk to him than it had ever been with her.

It didn’t hurt that he could be more honest with Tony than he’d been with Shannon.  He’d never wanted her to worry about what he did in the Corps so he rarely talked about it, but Tony was in the field with him.  He got the dangers of the job, shared the risk, and understood what their profession required.

And Tony had the same difficulties discussing important things Gibbs did.  Although Tony typically resorted to deflection and humor rather than silence when dealing with strong feelings, he could relate better than anyone else Gibbs had been involved with to how hard he struggled to express himself honestly.  He wasn’t simply tolerant, patiently giving Gibbs the time and space he needed, Tony needed it to.

It also helped that he and Tony had spent more time together than he had with anyone else—including Shannon.  He’d spent nearly half their marriage deployed.  They had a deep, meaningful connection that was made all the more special by the limited time they had together.  But being around Tony nearly every day for years, watching out for him and trusting him to do the same for Gibbs, had given him an insight and connection Gibbs didn’t have with anyone else.  No one else had ever anticipated what he’d want or need on the job quite the way Tony did.  Gibbs hadn’t expected it to carry over to a personal level, although in hindsight he should have. 

Gibbs had rolled his eyes at his reflection in the mirror when that thought occurred to him as he shaved.  He was definitely more than a little slow on the uptake.  Someone should probably have given him a head smack years ago.  He’d only just now come to appreciate just how well he could know another person and still have so much to learn. 

It made him feel like a traitor for thinking it, but in a lot of ways he trusted Tony more than he ever had Shannon.  Not that he’d ever doubted her or had reason to, but she’d never weathered anywhere near the things Gibbs had put Tony through.  Tony had survived being pushed out of a plane, dragged through a sewer, being chained to a murder, lived through the fucking plague of all things, getting shot at and beaten.  Gibbs had gotten used to the idea that Tony might not be indestructible, but he was damned durable.  He hadn’t lied when he told Tony that during the Domino case, Tony had been his go to guy because he was sure Tony could handle it. 

What he hadn’t considered was that emotionally Tony might not be as strong as he was physically.  He should have realized how damn painful it was for Tony to bury Pacci, Kate and Paula.  And how much that stupid shit with La Grenouille and Jeanne had hurt him.  He should have understood how wrong it was not to have at least thanked Tony for saving his life and Maddie’s had been.  How many times had he been careless with Tony’s emotional well being?  How often had he denied him even the faintest of praise, or found ways to poke fun at his expense?  It was something Gibbs found himself trying very hard not to think about.

And through it all, Tony had forgiven him for crap Gibbs was sure Shannon would never have tolerated.  If he’d run off to Mexico only to come back and leave again without saying good-bye, she’d have shot him or at the very least hit him with something hard and heavy.  Hell, even Ducky was pissed at him for that, and they’d been friends for years. But Tony had never said anything to Gibbs directly about it.

Abby, McGee and Ziva had forgiven him for that easily, but then they still seemed to think he was infallible.  It’s hard to hold a grudge against someone you think can do no wrong.  They’d never lost faith in him---and he never thought Tony would either.

It was another reason Tony’s wary, suspicious glances hurt.  He’d never wanted to be on a pedestal, but he didn’t mind knowing his team looked up to him, especially Tony.  That he’d fallen off, lost some measure of regard, had definitely been the eye opener he needed. 

He had no idea what the limit of Tony’s forgiveness was, but it was better not to risk it. He’d already used the lion’s share, Gibbs was sure.  Second chances weren’t something Gibbs had gotten a lot in his life; he wasn’t taking this one for granted.  Gibbs pointed at his reflection.  “Don’t fuck this up.” 

A knock at the bathroom startled him.  “Hey, you about done in there?”

Gibbs glared at the door, momentarily angry over being interrupted before he realized who had knocked.   He chuckled quietly to himself.  “Yeah, Tony, I’m almost done.”

Gibbs had hoped Tony would join him in another shower, but the younger man had opted to go running, wanting to get back into his usual routine after having missed two days in a row.  Of course, Gibbs hadn’t asked him to, and he only realized he should have after Tony left.  Assuming Tony would always know what he wanted without him actually saying anything wasn’t something Gibbs knew he should be doing.  Tony might get him better than anyone else, but he wasn’t a mind reader.  It would be good for Gibbs to remember that.   

Tony had already toed off his sneakers and was striping out of his sweaty shirt, his back to Gibbs.  Gibbs’ breath caught at the expanse of skin exposed for him to see.  He wanted to touch, to feel that warm, smooth skin that was now well known to him, and all the more appealing for the familiarity. But if he started now, he wouldn’t be able to stop with just a touch.  Better not to start something they wouldn’t have time to finish. 

Tony looked over his shoulder, giving Gibbs an appreciative once over. He smiled wryly when green eyes finally met blue.  “Yeah, I know.”  He sighed softly.  “Probably a good idea for us to get used to putting things off.”

Gibbs’ gut clenched.  “Why?”

“You know how often we get called out on a case at the ass crack of dawn,” Tony grimaced.  “And it’s not like we leave the office on time most days.  I’m thinking delayed gratification might be the rule for us.”

“Yeah.”  Gibbs breathed easier.  Right.  The job.  That’s what Tony meant. It wasn’t anything more than that, but not wanting to assume more than he should, Gibbs forced himself to get more clarification.

“When we get back, would you like to have dinner with me?”

Tony turned to face him, his smile warm and gentle. “I’d love to.”  He stepped closer, leaning in to kiss Gibbs.  The kiss was just as warm and gentle as his smile.

“And maybe afterward you could come by my place,” Tony offered, green eyes twinkling.  “Have a cup of coffee.”

“Coffee?” Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “That all we’ll be having?”

Tony chuckled. It was a rough, low and inviting sound that made the room feel a lot warmer.  “Maybe.” 

With that Tony moved past him, one hand trailing along the edge of the towel Gibbs had wrapped around his waist.  Tony stepped into the bathroom, blowing Gibbs a kiss as he shut the door firmly. 

Gibbs shuddered and then laughed quietly.  It was another revelation for him.  He enjoyed Tony’s flirting with him.  He liked the little tease that caused a flutter of anticipation to build knowing at some point Tony will make good on it.  And he knew just how good it would be when Tony did. 

Gibbs grinned, eyeing the bathroom door.  He could pick the lock easily enough, assuming Tony even bothered to lock it.  But they didn’t have any more time now than they have five minutes ago.  He grimaced.  Damn Vance.  If Gibbs wasn’t so sure the miserable prick would check up on them he’d skip the damn close out session and spend the rest of the morning in bed with Tony.

Gibbs reluctantly got dressed rather join Tony in the bathroom the way he wanted to.  He started packing as soon as he was fully clothed.  Without really giving it much thought, he started packing Tony’s stuff as well.  Tony had already laid out what he was planning to wear, so Gibbs was fairly certain everything else could be packed.

Tony stepped out of the bathroom ten minutes later wrapped in a towel, hair damp and roughly styled.  Gibbs’ jaw clenched as he once more fought down the temptation to touch.  He thanked a deity he wasn’t sure he believed in that they never worked wearing so little.  It would be far too difficult to keep his mind on the job. 

Tony eyed the closet, then his bag.  “You pack my stuff, Boss?”

“I made sure I folded everything.”  Gibbs didn’t want Tony to think he’d been careless with his possessions.  He knew how much Tony’s clothes mattered to him.  And even though most everything was destined for the laundry or dry cleaners, he made sure it had been stowed neatly.

Tony dipped his head.  It was more than a nod, but not quite a bow.  It was an old fashion gesture that conveyed both respect and gratitude.  Gibbs had seen Ducky execute it on more than one occasion.  He doubted Tony had learned it from the ME though; it was more likely something he’d learned from his upper crust, wealthy British relatives.

“Thank you, Jethro.”

Gibbs smiled, feeling a rush of affection and pleasure at the simple display of courtesy between them.  He’d never gotten that from Tony before.  But then, he’d never really done anything to warrant it before either. It was…nice. 

“You’re welcome.”

Tony started to get dressed.  Gibbs looked away, knowing the best way to resist temptation was to simply not be in the way of it.  He silently cursed Vance again.  He’d have to find a way to screw with him to even the score.  Poisoning his toothpicks seemed a bit extreme, but it was all that came to mind at the moment. 

“You ready, Boss?” Tony asked a few minutes later.

Gibbs turned to look at him.  He was both relieved and disappointed to see Tony was fully dressed.  He approved of the multiple layers.  The damn hotel was still too chilly to be truly comfortable.  Management claimed to be working on the problem after dozens of complaints, but they hadn’t fixed anything as far as Gibbs could tell.

They rode down in the elevator, mostly ignoring the other passengers they shared it with.  Gibbs never made polite small talk, and Tony apparently didn’t feel the need to do any more than reply to the offered ‘good morning’ with a smile and nod. 

As they had every morning, Tony went to secure a few seats, preferably at one of the smaller tables for them.  Gibbs was giving the buffet a once over, hoping Tony wouldn’t be too disappointed by the lack of fresh cut pineapple, when he noticed Carlson entering the room.  Gibbs had seen him once after finding out who he was and what he’d done to Tony while in Peoria.  Having promised Tony he wouldn’t hit the man while they were in Chicago Gibbs had genuinely tried not to show the man the error of his ways by beating the shit out of him—unfortunately, his legendary will power wasn’t completely up to the task of leaving the man alone. 

Fortunately, his timing was still outstanding, and he had no trouble at all making smacking the man with the door as he left yesterday’s seminar look like an accident.  He’d been able to take advantage of Carlson being off balance to trip him face first into the wall under the guise of trying to help him recover from being hit by the door.  He managed to clip him with an elbow as well while pretending to help Carlson to his feet.  Gibbs was rather proud of his ability to make his clumsy antics seem completely natural, blaming his lack of balance and coordination on a ‘trick knee’ and age.  The black eye and split Carlson sported were not nearly enough in Gibbs’ opinion but he felt a rush of satisfaction over being able to accomplish that much without truly breaking his promise to Tony. 

Technically he never laid a hand on Carlson---it was the door and the wall that had done the damage.  And Tony had been in the restroom at the time, so it wasn’t like he knew about it.  Which was the main reason Gibbs had chose to act when he did.  Tony wasn’t there to stop him, and no one else knew his ‘trick knee’ excuse was an entirely bogus explanation for his being momentarily a walking disaster area.   

Gibbs was hoping for a chance to ‘accidentally’ spill hot coffee down Carlson’s pants, but as soon as the man noticed him, he headed in the other direction.  Gibbs hid his smile with his cup.  He was still going to find a way to mess with Carlson once he was back in DC because his promise to Tony only held for while they were in Chicago.  Carlson’s avoidance was just minor delay.  Gibbs had already called in a few favors to get as much intel on Carlson as possible.  It would be waiting for him when he got back to DC.

Tony joined him at the buffet.  If he noticed Carlson’s face or his beating a hasty retreat, he didn’t comment on it. 

“No pineapple today,” Gibbs told him.

Tony shrugged philosophically.  “Well, as long as there’s bacon, it’s not a total loss.”

Gibbs grinned. “Amen.” 

The room wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had been during most of the week.  Gibbs thought that was likely due to the number of people who saw the close out session as much a waste of time as he did and were leaving early.  At least it meant they had a table to themselves.  There wasn’t anyone at the few tables around them either. 

Gibbs liked that despite there being plenty of room Tony still elected to sit next to him. It was just more proof that if given a choice, Tony would opt to stay near him.  It made Gibbs feel better knowing that. 

He bumped Tony’s knee with his, enjoying being able to touch him regardless of how minor the contact truly was.  Tony lightly brushed Gibbs’ arm with his.

“Going to miss being able to do this at the office.”

Gibbs nodded.  He would too.  Touching each other freely, even this innocently, wasn’t something they would be able to indulge in.

“There’s always the elevator.” 

Tony chuckled.  “Can’t see Vance being happy about us tying that up.”

“So?”

Tony shook his head, clearly amused.  “Maybe it will get easier the longer we’re together.”  He sighed softly, expression sobering slightly.  “I’m sure the novelty will wear off.”

Gibbs frowned.  Something in the way Tony said that made him realize the younger man still didn’t believe Gibbs wanted this to last---not for a few weeks or a few months, but for as many years as humanly possible.

“It’s not going to wear off.”  Gibbs told him.  “I can’t see myself ever not wanting to touch you, to be spend time with you.  I won’t ever not care about you, Tony.  You were a big part of my life before now.  Probably the best part if you want to know the truth.  And I expect that to continue for a long time to come.”

Tony positively beamed at him, green eyes glowing.  It was only then that Gibbs realized he’d said the right thing. Tony looked around, eying the few other diners, before he discreetly took Gibbs hand, and squeezed it.

“You really mean that,” Tony whispered.

It wasn’t a question but Gibbs felt compelled to answer anyway.  “Yes, I really meant it.”

“Thank you, Jethro.”

Gibbs squeezed Tony’s hand.  “You don’t have to thank me for that.”

“Yeah, I think I do.”  Tony’s blushed.  “You’d be the first person I’ve been involved with to ever say anything like that and really mean it.”

Gibbs suddenly wanted to hurt a few people and ironically thank them for being so stupid as to pass up on someone like Tony.  He cleared his throat. “Well, in that case, you’re welcome.”

He really wanted to kiss Tony, and tried to convey that with a look knowing there was no way he could actually kiss him in such a public setting.  When Tony smiled, warm and gentle, Gibbs knew he understood.  No one ever got him quite the way Tony did, and he was increasingly aware that he might be the only person who truly got Tony. 

“We were made for each other,” Gibbs murmured quietly.

“I think you just might be right about that.”

“I now I’m right,” Gibbs told him, “and one of these days you’ll know it too.”

“Might take awhile to convince me,” Tony said hesitantly, eyes apologetic.

“That’s okay, I’ve got time.”  Lots and lots of time, Gibbs thought.  The rest of my life should just about do it.  And Tony was more than worth every minute of it. 

Chapter Text

Gibbs opened his eyes, squinting in the face of the weak sunlight streaming through half closed blinds. He blinked blearily trying to focus his eyes on the clock on the nightstand.  He grunted when he made out the time. It was just after nine. 

 

Under normal circumstances he’d have been up for hours, but the team hadn’t wrapped up their most recent case until after midnight. Gibbs had sent Tony, Ziva and Tim home around two. Abby, Ducky and Palmer had left well before that.  Gibbs hadn’t left the office until nearly four in the morning, making sure every ‘I’ was dotted and ‘T’ crossed before leaving. Having it all done meant he could have the next two days off and not have to worry about going in to the office.  He wanted that free time, had plans for it, and fully intended to enjoy himself.

 

Gibbs sighed, shifting a bit as he took stock.  He knew he was in Tony’s bedroom---the sinfully soft pillow he snuggled into, the lightweight and yet amazingly warm down comforter, and east facing windows were all proof of that, but he couldn’t actually remember driving to Tony’s apartment. By the time he’d left the office he’d been moving on autopilot.  He had enough presence of mind to hope he’d heard Tony right when the younger man had whispered he’d see him at his place before he’d followed McGee and Ziva out. 

 

Gibbs hated the idea of getting to Tony’s apartment, only to find it empty.  They’d failed to communicate clearly once or twice, resulting in several ‘where the hell are you?’ phone calls.  Fortunately he’d gotten it right and didn’t have to deal with getting back in his car and heading to his house.  It didn’t matter how tired he was, there was no way in hell was he sleeping alone when he could be sleeping with Tony.

 

Gibbs hadn’t seen Tony’s car in the lot when he pulled in, but that didn’t mean much because Tony didn’t always park in a spot that was readily visible.  The door being unlocked when he arrived had been proof Tony was home. Gibbs had shaken his head when the knob had turned easily in his hand.  He was touched that Tony would bother to make it easy for him to enter, and annoyed that it was equally easy for anyone else.  It wasn’t safe, and he made a mental note to tell Tony again not to do that.

 

Gibbs had a key; it wasn’t necessary for Tony to leave himself vulnerable in his own home.  And saying it wouldn’t make him a hypocrite either since Gibbs had started locking his own door now that he and Tony spent as much time at his house as they did Tony’s apartment. Having someone’s safety, other than his own, to consider had made Gibbs more cautious.

 

Gibbs had managed not to trip over Tony’s sneakers as he entered the apartment.  The small pot light that illuminated the foyer ensured he spotted the errant shoes before falling on his face.  He scowled and pushed the shoes off to the side. 

 

Tony rarely let them lying around, and it was a testament to how tired he’d been that they hadn’t been put away.  The younger man had probably kicked out of them carelessly after having gone for a run when he’d gotten home. The gym just down the street from Tony’s apartment was open twenty-four hours, and no one thought anything of his coming in during the wee hours of the morning.

 

Gibbs thought Tony would have simply skipped running, until he realized the case had likely left Tony exhausted but mentally unable to relax enough to sleep. It was one of the reasons Tony had often come back to the office late at night.   Gibbs had to concede to Tony’s reasoning that working out was probably healthier in the long run than spending extra hours at the office.   

 

Since returning from his stint as Agent Afloat, working out had become a way for Tony to wind down and deal with the stress of the job as much as working with wood was for Gibbs. It was one of the reasons he’d stuck to the routine he’d established while at sea.  Not to mention the added benefit being more fit added to his ability to do the job.  

 

It hadn’t hurt that McGee had been focusing on staying fit and slimming down, and Tony saw keeping up with or surpassing the junior agent as necessary.  The rivalry between them reminded Gibbs of what he’d seen between brothers.  It was amusing—as long as it didn’t interfere with the job.  Gibbs just hoped like hell Tony didn’t start dropping weight the way McGee had.  He liked Tony having a bit more meat on his bones, although, he hadn’t said anything and decided he wouldn’t as long as Tony didn’t start looking skinny rather than lean.

 

Gibbs suspected it was Tony’s competitive nature that had him working out even when staying at Gibbs’ place.  Tony had mapped out a path to run when he stayed at Gibbs’ house, but he hadn’t been able to use it yet.  The potential impact of the chilly air on his lungs and danger of slippery terrain had kept him from trying it out. In an effort to give Tony’s restless energy an outlet, and make it obvious he was welcome in Gibbs’ house, Gibbs had invested in a treadmill and a universal for Tony to use.  He had turned his guest room into a home gym. It was a small price to pay if it meant Tony would enjoy spending time at his house and be willing to stay the night more often. 

 

Not wanting to bother with turning on more lights, Gibbs had navigated Tony’s dark apartment with the same ease he used getting around in his own home. In the month since their return from Chicago, he’d come to know Tony’s place like the back of his hand. Other than being occasionally careless with his sneakers, Tony typically kept his apartment neat, so there was little actual danger of tripping over anything in the dark.

 

Gibbs had opened Tony’s bedroom door quietly, hoping he wouldn’t disturb the younger man if he was asleep.  The door squeaked, sounding as loud as a gunshot to Gibbs.  He’d never noticed it making noise before.  Gibbs had glared at it, silently promising the hinges a shot of oil.

 

“Boss? That you?” Tony’s voice had been a soft whisper of sound.  If Gibbs hadn’t been listening closely he’d have never heard him. 

 

“Yeah, Tony it’s me.”  Gibbs had stepped into the room, shedding his clothing, tossing things haphazardly on the small, padded bench at the foot of the bed.  He’d deal with them in the morning.

 

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”  Gibbs had said as he slid under the covers.

 

“Wasn’t really sleeping yet.”  Tony had sighed, shifting until he was close enough to lay his head on Gibbs’ shoulder, an arm and leg wrapping around him.  Gibbs rubbed his cheek against Tony’s hair.  He had yet to grow tired of the feel of those baby soft strands against his skin.

 

Gibbs had taken a deep breath.  The smell of Tony’s soap and shampoo was stronger, testifying to the face that he’d showered recently.  It was an enticing fragrance that Gibbs had been unconsciously familiar with even before they’d started sleeping together.  He now found it hard to sleep without that distinctive scent nearby. 

 

“You have a good workout?”  Gibbs had asked softly. 

 

“Kicked ass on the stair thing,” Tony mumbled, sounding smug.


Gibbs grinned in response to that.  Tony periodically opted for something other than the treadmill.  He called the machine an ‘elliptical’ and described as being similar a blend of running, cross country skiing and taking the stairs.  Gibbs had immediately dubbed it ‘stair thing’ because he couldn’t remember the other name for it.  Tony now habitually referred to it by that name so Gibbs would know what he was talking about.  It was apparently more of a workout than just running, and Tony had been increasing the amount of time and the resistance level on it whenever he used it.

 

Although, Tony seemed to be more aware of his limitations now than in the past, Gibbs wasn’t entirely convinced he wouldn’t push himself too hard. Ducky said his lungs were scarred, and he warned him about the dangers of getting chest colds, bronchitis and pneumonia.  It was one of the main reason Tony worked out indoors during the winter months, but it was entirely possible Tony believed being inside was the only precaution he really needed to take which made his overdoing it not just possible but probable.  Gibbs might not have been paying attention before to what the cold weather could do to Tony, and what limitations it might have as a result of the plague, but he sure as hell was now. 

 

Gibbs had wanted to ask how long Tony was on the stair thing, to make sure he wasn’t over doing it, but the younger man had already fallen asleep.  Obviously all he’d been waiting for was for Gibbs to get home.  It made Gibbs feel guilty for not getting there sooner.  He’d fallen asleep promising himself to leave the office earlier in the future, and to start going to the gym with Tony and make sure he wasn’t pushing too hard.  

 

Gibbs had slept soundly until he’d awoken just a few moments ago.  He pulled the comforter up over his head, fully intent on going back to sleep, feeling far too relaxed and content to consider doing anything else.  He reached out to pull Tony closer, frowning when he didn’t encounter the warm, solid weight of the younger man. 

 

It was only then that he realized what had woken him in the first place was Tony’s absence.  He pushed back the blankets, sitting up to look around the room.  His clothes from last night were missing, as was the hamper that usually sat near the closet. Gibbs cocked his head, acute hearing picking up on the faint sounds of the dryer tumbling.  Tony had a high efficiency, front load washer that made surprisingly little noise, but it still should have been enough to wake Gibbs. 

 

Gibbs shook his head, running a hand over his face.  He must have been more tired than he realized.  But Tony should have been just as tired.  Why was he up so early?

 

He could smell coffee now as well.  The enticing fragrance forced him out of bed.  He’d get a cup of coffee and then he’d track down Tony.

Gibbs shrugged into the monogrammed, dark blue, terry-cloth bathrobe Tony had gotten for him.  He’d originally protested, thinking the gift too expensive and unnecessary.  It wasn’t like he was the sort to lounge around, but in the past month he’d found himself enjoying taking a more leisurely approach to starting his day whenever he could.  Gibbs liked that he and Tony could sit on the couch together, watching a movie or a game or whatever Tony happened to find, relaxing and simply being together. Tony would invariably end up snuggled into him, head on Gibbs’ shoulder.

 

It was the first time he’d done that when Gibbs realized the robe had been as much for Tony as it was for him.  Tony liked quality fabrics because they felt good against his skin.  And Gibbs was developing a real appreciation for how nice it was to encourage Tony to be close to him, with as much skin showing as he could manage.  Anything that encouraged Tony to touch him, however innocently, was a good thing in his mind.

 

The robe was now something Gibbs considered essential.  If there were ever a fire, after making sure Tony got out of the building okay, his next priority would be to rescue the robe. There were a lot of good memories wrapped up in it, and Gibbs fully intended to hang on to them for as a long as humanly possible.

 

He shuffled into the kitchen.  Gibbs had claimed the largest mug Tony owned for himself. It still wasn’t as big as he’d prefer, but it worked well enough. He filled the mug with coffee, breathing in the scent with his eyes closed to better enjoy the moment.

 

“You know, if I didn’t know I could make you look like that, I’d be jealous.”

 

Gibbs opened his eyes to see Tony sitting at the kitchen table smiling warmly at him.  Tony was similarly attired to Gibbs, except his robe was silk and emerald green.  He also had on some sort of slippers that looked more like moccasins that Gibbs knew were lined with sheepskin.  He secretly envied and periodically considered stealing them, but had so far resisted.

 

“Good morning,” Gibbs muttered, feeling just a little embarrassed about having missed Tony entirely when he entered the kitchen.

 

Tony got up and stepped toward him.  He leaned in, kissing Gibbs firmly.  It was a welcoming kiss, friendly rather than fierce, not entirely platonic but not quite passionate either.  It was the sort of kiss Gibbs enjoyed getting and giving---they implied familiarity, and affection; they weren’t the sort of kisses you got from a one night stand. 

 

“Now, it’s a good morning,” Tony told him, stepping back with a grin.  He turned to fill the mug he had in his hand.  Gibbs absently noted it had Bullwinkle on it.  Tony had a number of mugs depicting classic cartoon characters, most of whom Gibbs recognized but hadn’t thought they would be something Tony would appreciate.  Then he remembered Tony owned a Mighty Mouse stapler, so it wasn’t a huge surprise he would have mugs with Rocky the Squirrel, Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker.      

 

Tony added what Gibbs considered an ungodly amount of sugar to his coffee.  The younger man looked tired.  Hell, Gibbs still felt tired.  So why weren’t they both in bed sleeping?

 

“Why are you up?” Gibbs asked.

 

“Couldn’t sleep.”  Tony shrugged.  “It happens some times when my schedule gets messed up.” 

 

Since they’d started…dating?  Seeing one another?  Having a relationship?  Gibbs didn’t honestly know what to call it, but since Chicago, he realized that while Tony could roll with the punches, adjusting and adapting better than most, he was really more a creature of habit.  He preferred to have a routine, and having structure.  He got up at the same time nearly every morning, ate the same thing most days for breakfast, figured out what he was wearing the night before.  Gibbs suspected it was something that had been ingrained while Tony was attending the Rhode Island Military Academy.  Being in the Corps had given Gibbs a similar appreciation for order. 

 

Tony frowned, head cocked to one side as he studied Gibbs.  “Why are you…oh, shit, I’m sorry, Jethro.  I didn’t mean to wake you. I just thought I’d get a head start on some stuff. Things piled up a bit and…well, I thought with the bedroom door closed and the door to the utility room closed the noise wouldn’t bother you. I should have--”

 

“It didn’t.” Gibbs quickly assured Tony.  “It was you being gone that woke me.”


“Really?” Tony looked decidedly pleased. 

 

Gibbs was tempted to turn it into a joke.  It was an old habit, a reflex he belatedly recognized as being a byproduct of his simply not recognizing his feelings for what they were.  Blue eyes met green.

 

“I sleep better when you’re with me.”  Uncomfortable with both the level of honesty and eye contact, Gibbs looked away and sipped his coffee.  “The bed is colder without you.”

 

That earned him an affectionate smile and another kiss.  “Sleep better with you around too.”

 

“Not that much better,” Gibbs observed, “or we’d both still be sleeping.”

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “I might not have bothered going to bed at all if you weren’t here.”

 

“Guess it’s a good thing I stayed then.”

 

“A very good thing.”  Tony agreed with a grin.  “You want breakfast or were you planning to stick to coffee?”

 

“You going to cook?” 

 

“Sure.”

 

Over the past month, Gibbs had learned that Tony liked cooking breakfast on the weekends.  Those meals were one of the few times Gibbs had seen Tony actually eat like he used to when he’d first met him.  Tony might not be able to make anything else, but Tony could easily make some of the best pancakes, waffles, eggs and home fries Gibbs had ever eaten.  Why he couldn’t make anything else was something Gibbs hadn’t gotten around to asking yet. 

 

“Waffles?”

 

“I can do that.” Tony nodded.  “Might even have some preserves and whipped cream.”

 

Tony had made Belgian waffles for him two weeks ago.  The strawberries weren’t fresh but rather some sort of preserve that Gibbs hadn’t been able to resist.  He’d come very close to eating the entire jar.  Tony said he’d gotten it at a local farmers market.  Gibbs fully intended to visit that market as soon as he could. 

 

Tony pointed to the cupboard.  “Check there and see what I’ve got, while I get everything else, will you?”

 

“On it.”  Gibbs opened the cupboard.  He couldn’t find any strawberry preserves, but a jar of raspberry and one peach.  He thought either one should work as well.

 

He set the table and then settled in to watch Tony cook.  The younger man moved with a grace and economy of motion which was enjoyable to watch. Gibbs wished they could to this every morning, but their work schedules didn’t really allow for it.

 

It didn’t take Tony long to mix up the batter and turn out half a dozen of waffles.  They were light, fluffy and just a little bit crisp—Perfect.  Gibbs covered the majority of his in raspberry preserves adding a healthy dollop of whipped cream.  Tony did the same, except he used the peach.

 

Tony chuckled.  “Thinking we shouldn’t tell Ducky about this.”

 

“Damn right.”  Gibbs did not want the ME’s ongoing tirade about improving his diet to deny him something this good.

 

Breakfast was leisurely consumed.  They didn’t talk much, but touched frequently.  Hands brushed against one another, feet and legs lightly made contact under the table.  Gibbs liked having the freedom to touch and not have to worry about anyone seeing more than they should. 

 

“More coffee?”  Tony asked when the waffles and most of the preserves had been consumed.

 

“Yes, please.”

 

Gibbs sat back with a silent sigh and reluctantly had to admit it was probably a good thing he didn’t eat like that all the time. But damn it was good.  He said as much to Tony when he returned to the table with the coffee pot.

 

Tony smiled.  “Glad you liked it.”

 

He filled Gibbs’ cup and then set the empty pot down on the table.  “I’m going to go take care of the stuff in the dryer.”

 

The timer on the dryer had buzzed signaling it was finished while they were eating.  That Tony didn’t immediately get up to deal with confirmed Gibbs’ suspicion that whatever had been washed wasn’t something Tony cared if it wrinkled or not.  That would be casual clothes, workout gear, sheets and towels.  Probably Gibbs stuff is in there too, but unlike Tony, he not only knows how to use an iron he’s willing to. 

 

“I’ll clean up here.”  Gibbs offered.

 

Tony gave him a quick kiss. “Thanks.”

 

Gibbs patted Tony on the ass as he walked by, enjoying the feel of firm muscle under soft silk.  He got a wink in return.

 

Gibbs chuckled quietly as he started cleaning up the kitchen.   He filled the sink with hot water and started the dishes.  He couldn’t understand why Tony didn’t have a dishwasher.  Even Gibbs had one, although he rarely used it.  It was something his last ex-wife had insisted on having.  Looking around Tony’s kitchen, Gibbs had to concede that without removing a few of the older cabinets and upgrades to the plumbing a dishwasher just wouldn’t work. 

 

This building was older than the one Tony used to live in, but it was better maintained and in better shape. It had character, and reminded Gibbs a lot of his own home.  He kind of hoped that similarity was the reason Tony had selected it.  Tony had always seemed comfortable in Gibbs’ home---even before they’d started this.

 

Gibbs smiled.  It hadn’t taken long for them to get pretty damn domestic. It had never really been this easy with Shannon because he’d been away so much; they’d never managed to establish a set routine.  They had both been willing to make it work, and that was probably the biggest reason they’d succeeded where his later marriages had failed.

 

Until he’d been truly on his own, after Shannon and Kelly’s deaths and the succession of his many ex-wives, Gibbs hadn’t really done much with regard to housekeeping.  He hadn’t done the dishes or the laundry, but he took out the trash, shoveled the walk, and made sure the wiring worked well.  He’d thought it was a give and take that worked---and it had with Shannon, but not his ex-wives.  He liked knowing he had it with Tony after just a month together.

 

He smiled as he scrubbed the waffle iron, knowing full well if it wasn’t clean, he likely wouldn’t be eating waffles any time soon.  It was a fair trade.  Especially if Tony stocked up on more preserves.

 

He sighed softly, still feeling tired but very content.  This sort of quiet, easy morning never happened with any of his ex-wives.  They would never have been comfortable with so little conversation at the table, or accepting of him coming home so late, or his sleeping in when they were up and moving. 

 

It suddenly struck him as odd that he’d told all of the women he’d married he loved them when he hadn’t known any of them as long as he’d known Tony.  He’d put off saying ‘I love you’ to Tony, not wanting the other man to doubt his feelings, wanting time to prove his commitment to Tony, wanting Tony to understand he wasn’t someone Gibbs would ever willingly walk away from.  He had no idea how long that would truly take, but he did know he didn’t want to wait any long to say it. 

 

Tony might not believe him, but he’d didn’t want anything to happen with him having never said it at all.  They’d both had their share of close calls.  Anything could happen.  It did damn near every day.  Just driving to work could be fatal if the sheer volume of traffic related deaths was anything to go by. Gibb didn’t want to die having never told Tony how he really felt, or have Tony die never hearing him say it. 

 

Gibbs snort, rolling his eyes at his melodramatic thoughts.  They seemed at odds with how relaxed and happy he felt.  The sun was shining.  It didn’t seem like the sort of day that warranted thinking about the worst. Still, he didn’t want to miss a chance to let Tony know how he felt.  Tony knew he cared.  The younger man didn’t seem to have any doubts about that.  Maybe he was ready to accept that Gibbs didn’t just care about him but truly loved him.

 

“You want me to dry?”  Tony asked, startling Gibbs.  He hadn’t heard him come back into the kitchen.

 

“Sure.” 

 

Tony grabbed a dishtowel that had a pattern of black bats and spiders.  It could have only come from Abby.  To give it to him, she had to have known he wasn’t entirely the playboy bachelor he made himself out to be.  He wouldn’t need a dishtowel if he never did anything more in his kitchen than eat take out and drink beer.

 

“Tony?”

 

Tony looked up from the plate he was drying.  “Yeah?”

 

Gibbs hesitated. Blurting out he loved Tony in the kitchen while they took care of breakfast dishes wasn’t exactly romantic.  It wasn’t simple.  Well, it was—there was nothing really complicated about how he felt and saying it wouldn’t be painful or truly difficult.  He loved Tony.  And that also made it a damn big deal.  It wasn’t something to be taken lightly, because Gibbs meant it when he said “I love you”.  He’d never not meant it.  He’d never been the one to leave any of his wives---they’d all left him.  They were the ones who walked away, changed their minds, found him to be just too difficult to put up with.  After years together, Tony had certainly showed far more staying power than any of his exes ever had.  Gibbs didn’t have to worry that Tony would walk away.  He just had to make sure Tony knew he was in for the long haul too.

 

Gibbs chewed on his bottom lip.  Maybe he should wait.  Do it like they did in Tony’s movies.  Maybe that was what Tony expected.  Something with moonlight and candles and music.  But that wasn’t Gibbs.  Never had been.  And he was afraid if he put it off he might not find another time to say it.  

 

“Jethro?”  Tony frowned, looking concerned. “You okay?”

 

“Yeah.” Gibbs cleared his throat.  “I’m just…trying to figure out how to…I mean I want to tell you…I just thought you should know—“

 

“Tell me what?”  Tony moved closer, one hand rising to cup Gibbs’ cheek.  “What should I know?”

 

“I love you.”  Gibbs blurted out, wincing internally over how brusque he sounded.  He forced himself to make eye contact and hold it, instinctively reaching out to wrap his hands around Tony’s waist and hold him in place.

 

“I have loved you for a long time, but I was too damn dense to figure it out until you were assigned as Agent Afloat. Then I just…I don’t have words, Tony.  I was never good with them.  I wanted to tell you I love you in Chicago, but I thought it was too soon.  That you’d think it was just because we had sex.  But really, we had sex because I love you. I wouldn’t have risked it for anything less.”

 

Tony searched his face. “Boss…Jethro…I have---“

 

“You don’t have to say anything,” Gibbs quickly assured him not wanting to hear any doubts or protests.  “I just wanted you to know how I feel. This isn’t some passing fling for me. This is real.  Probably the most real thing in my life in a long time.”

 

 A slow smile of wonder appeared on Tony’s face.  “You mean that.”

 

“I do.” Gibbs nodded, turning his head enough to place a kiss in Tony’s palm.  “And with all the crazy shit that has happened and could happen, I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you. ”

 

Tony pulled him closer and kissed him.  It was slow, gentle and so sweet.  It was the promise of more to come.

 

“Love you too, Jethro.”

 

Gibbs hugged him hard, feeling an overwhelming relief and joy.  He wanted to laugh out loud.  The last time he’d felt like this was when Shannon had said yes to the ring.

 

“So you got any plans for the rest of the day?” Tony whispered in his hear. 

 

“Why?”

 

Tony pulled away enough for Gibbs to see that bright grin Tony only got when he was truly happy.  “Thinking we might want to wander back into the bedroom and celebrate our mutual feelings.”

 

That sounded like a great idea.  It sounded like the best idea ever as Abby would have said.

 

“I like the way you think, Tony.”  Gibbs kissed him soundly.  “I like the way you think.”

 

Tony batted his eyelashes flirtatiously.  “That all you like about me?”

 

“I like everything about you,” Gibbs answered.  “Everything.”

 

Tony blushed, green eyes glowing.  He took Gibbs’ hand and led him down the hall to the bedroom. Gibbs decided talking might not be so bad if this was what he got every time he managed to get it right.  It was definitely incentive to keep trying.  And he was pretty sure he’d have the rest of their lives to keep working on it.  That should be just about enough time.