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Chapter Text

by Nancy

It was absolutely beautiful in the mountains, but Tony was glad to get back to his apartment and clean off all the nature. Even though he was a life-long and confirmed city-boy, there was just something about being out in the middle of real nature. Not the small-town life that he'd bitched to Kate about, because that really did bug him. No, being lost in the great outdoors, surrounded by nothing but trees and animals, and being the only soul around for miles, listening to the patter of spring rain against the tent as he fell asleep?there was nothing else like it.

Tony had told everyone that he was going with friends so that no one would worry, but he hated camping with other people. And he was experienced enough that he wasn't going to get into trouble unless some kind of external problem occurred, like flood or mudslide. For those possible problems, he always brought a Walkie and tuned it to the ranger's frequency before disappearing.

Now that he was home, though, he was desperate for a shower and the comforts of civilization.

*Among other things,* he thought with a wolfish grin.

He had just enough time to have a long, hot shower and relax before getting ready for his date. Humming as he dropped his bag on the bedroom floor, Tony stripped to his boxers and just remembered to change course for the answering machine on his way to the bathroom. Having been gone for a week, he figured there would be plenty to listen to, and he was right.

Of course, there was only one message that he was really interested in...

"Hey, Tone, it's Jack. I really hate to do this to you, but I need to cancel tonight. My sister's kid has the chicken pox and he gave them to me, can you believe it? I'm still contagious, so you can't even come over and make fun of how I look or play connect the dots in very interesting places. I'll give you a call when I'm in the clear. Hope you had fun communing with nature. See ya."

Despite the disappointment, Tony grinned at the thought of playing connect the dots on Jack's body. Shaking his head, he went for the bathroom anyhow. Communing with nature did have its drawbacks, and grit and dust in places where there shouldn't be either, was one of them.

Scratching absently at his arm, Tony squirmed at the sensitive, hot rash that seemed to be spreading wherever he touched and really hoped that he hadn't accidentally gotten poison oak or something.

* * * *

"I can't come in today, my head is killing me. Sorry, Gibbs. I'll...I'll call back when I can think straight."

Jethro frowned at the message that Tony had left on his voice mail. The younger man had sounded utterly miserable and very weak. It was Tuesday after the long Memorial Day weekend and he hadn't seen Tony for a week even before that, since he'd gone camping with some friends.

"Where's DiNozzo?" Kate asked curiously, leaning on his desk.

Giving her a pointed enough look that she stood away from the desk, Jethro answered, "He's sick."

Indignant, she exclaimed, "The Tuesday after a long weekend? And you're buying it?"

Still frowning, Jethro stared at the phone a moment before agreeing, "You're right. I'll go get him. If it's just a hangover, then he should suffer like the rest of the country."

She grinned. "Go, Gibbs!"

Eyes rolling in exasperation, Jethro stood and headed out to his car. Sometimes it was worse than Kindergarten, it really was.

* * * *

The drive over to Tony's apartment took less time than usual, given the strange feeling in his gut that something was seriously wrong. He took shortcuts and barely made more than one yellow light, pushing his luck the entire way. He was lucky that no cops tried to pull him over, because he wasn't all that sure that he would've stopped for them. Jethro pulled up to the curb in front of Tony's apartment building with a screech of tires and ran inside.

Pounding on the door didn't bring any sign of the other man, increasing his worry tenfold. Opening his wallet, Jethro took out the lock-pick and worked open Tony's door within minutes. He drew his gun and looked around the living room, closing the door softly behind him. No sign of anything out of place, insofar as he could tell, given Tony's lack of housekeeping skills. Moving to the kitchen, he found nothing wrong there or in the bathroom.

Saving the bedroom for last, suddenly realizing just how silent the apartment was, Jethro inched the door open and peered inside. The curtains and shades were not only drawn, but there were blankets hanging haphazardly over them as well, blocking out all sunlight. Lying on the stripped bed, face down with a pillow over his head, was Tony...a very naked Tony. Jethro took in the surprising fact without comment, glancing away as he made sure there was no one else in the room. Not finding anything else out of place, he holstered his gun and said quietly, "Tony."

Tony's fingers clenched on the pillow, but he didn't otherwise respond.

Even more worried, Jethro moved the rest of the way to the bed and repeated, "Tony? What's going on?"

He leaned over the bed and lightly touched Tony's shoulder. Like a rocket, Tony rolled off the bed, shouting in pain and bolting to the corner of the room to hold his head between his hands, rocking back and forth with his eyes shut tight. Shocked, Jethro didn't move for several seconds, trying to figure out what was going on.

Approaching slowly, Jethro said quietly, "It's going to be okay, Tony, I promise. Whatever's going on, we'll fix it."

"Stop shouting, please," Tony moaned, covering his ears and curling up even more.

The frown increased and he lowered his voice to a barely-there whisper as he asked, "This better?"

Tony nodded, not opening his eyes.

Keeping his voice pitched low, Jethro asked, "What happened?"

"I don't know!" Tony exclaimed, not moving or opening his eyes. "One minute I was fine, the next everything hurt! I can't stand my clothes, I can't stand the light, I can't stand the noise! And the smells, oh God, Gibbs, it's awful!"

"When did it start?" Jethro questioned, crouching down in front of Tony. "Was it all at once?"

Shaking his head, Tony replied, "Started when I got back from camping. My hearing was up and down, I thought I was losing it. Then the migraines started and I went to bed, hoping they'd be gone when I woke up, but when I did, it was like my skin was on fire! Gibbs, help me, please!"

Jethro started to reach for him, but caught himself just before touching the other man. He'd never heard of anything like this, no drug side-effects, no medical condition...

A vague memory from years and years ago surfaced. Boot camp. A young wannabe Ranger named?shit! What was his name? Allston? Emerson? Concentrating, Jethro closed his eyes and thought back to the sweltering summer when he'd heard some of the enlisteds bitching about how...Ellison! Ellison, that was his name! About how Ellison had eyes in the back of his head and ears like a bat, that he could literally smell them coming.

He'd thought at the time that they were just pissed at having a good training officer, so Jethro had gone to check out one of Ellison's exercises. He'd been watching, watching damn close, and still he hadn't seen the young man until the objective had been accomplished. Impressed, he'd known then that the other man was going to make the Rangers and then some.

Coming back to the present, knowing it was a really slim chance, Jethro whispered, "Take it easy, Tony, okay? I might know someone who can help."

Tony nodded, miserable, and pleaded, "Please, anything. I can't take any more of this!"

The sheer desperation in Tony's voice had Jethro moving as silently as he could into the living room, closing the door to offer a thin barrier between Tony and noise. Searching the room, he spied the laptop on the coffee table and booted it up, waiting impatiently as it did so. Once online, he logged into the NCIS database for Ellison.

It took almost a half-hour to find the other man because of his inactive status and not remembering his first name, but he finally did. Thankfully, while there were a lot of Ellisons, not many had been in the Rangers, and only one, a James Joseph Ellison, fit the timeline. He scanned the information and saw nothing recent, that he'd been discharged with honors in 1996 and that he was originally from Cascade, Washington.

Taking a chance, knowing that a lot of people returned `home' after leaving the service, Jethro pulled out his cell and dialed information. "Cascade, Washington. James Ellison."

* * * *

"You are so busted, mister."

Jim grimaced, shutting the fridge and turning an innocent expression on his partner. "What are you talking about? I was just getting some water."

Hands on his hips, Blair scolded, "You're supposed to be doing this with me, man. It's a ritual cleansing, Jim, and I can't do it for you."

Sighing in aggravation, Jim replied, "Sorry, Chief, I just don't see the point."

"The point is that you agreed to do it," Blair answered, hurt and disappointed.

Inwardly wincing as the full-force of those deep blue eyes were leveled on him, Jim instantly closed the distance between them and tugged Blair into his arms. Kissing Blair lightly, he apologized, "I'm sorry, Chief, I didn't eat anything."

Reluctant humor upturned Blair's lips as he observed, "Caught you in time, huh?"

Jim grinned and kissed him again. "Like always."

The phone rang and he started to pull away, but Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's neck and murmured, "Leave it. Fasting makes me horny."

Jim's eyebrows rose with interest at the new information and he grinned. "Far be it from me to interrupt an all natural thing like your sex-drive."

They were deeply involved in getting reacquainted with each other's tonsils when the machine clicked on and an unfamiliar voice started speaking into it.

"This is Agent Jethro Gibbs with NCIS, Mr. Ellison, and I have an emergency that I need your help with..."

Jim stiffened after the introduction and pulled away from Blair, striding across the room to stare at the phone as if it might bite him. Military. It couldn't be anything good.

"You don't know me, but we were briefly stationed together in 1990, just before you were accepted into the Rangers. I was a Gunnery Sergeant at the time, so our paths didn't really cross, but?look, I'm really sorry to bother you, but a good friend of mine is in serious trouble and I don't even know if you can help him, but, I don't have anyone else to call and, shit, I hope this is the same Ellison..."

Jim frowned at Blair, who shot him a mystified look and said, "Can't hurt to pick up, right? He sounds pretty desperate."

"NCIS is an investigative branch of the armed forces, Blair," Jim informed him tightly.

Shrugging, Blair pointed out, "Yeah, but this sounds personal."

"I'll wait at this number for you to call back, *please* don't take too long..."

The stress and very real fear in the other man's voice was what finally convinced Jim to pick up the phone and bark, "Ellison speaking. What's going on, Agent Gibbs?"

There was a brief pause before the man replied, "My friend is having, I don't even know what to call it, but it's like his senses are spiking all over the map. I just vaguely remembered what the enlisteds said about you back when and tracked you down. I don't even know if you can help, I'm just afraid to take him to the hospital because even here in his own apartment, he's going crazy from the stimuli."

Jim's jaw dropped in shock and his gaze instantly shifted to Blair, who frowned at him and mouthed, `What?'

To Gibbs, Jim said, "I'm going to put my partner on the phone with you, Agent Gibbs, he's an expert in the subject and can probably Guide you through some things that will help your friend."

With wide eyes, Blair took the phone and Jim shamelessly listened to both sides of the conversation. "Agent Gibbs? What are his symptoms?"

"The light hurts his eyes, sound is magnified to overload, he's naked because anything that touches him hurts and he says the smells are just about killing him," Gibbs answered, calmly.

Or, to anyone else it would sound calm, but Jim could hear the underlying emotion and knew this man was about to snap with fear for his friend. More than a friend, maybe?

Nodding rapidly, Blair said, "Okay, the first thing you need to do is get him equalized. You need to help him calm down and focus on your voice, use it like a meditation device. Do you meditate?"

"No, but I know about focusing techniques."

"Good, good. Tell him he needs to picture a stereo or a radio dial, anything that has controls he can turn up and down. Have him label them in his mind with each sense: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. What he needs to do is bring those dials to a manageable level, somewhere mid-range, okay? That should be the normal range of his senses, if they go too low, then he won't be able to use them at all."

"Got it."

"Agent Gibbs, you should know there's something we call a Zone-out for, ah, people like Jim and your friend."

"What's that?"

"It's where he, they, focus too much on one sense and get lost in it, for lack of a better explanation. If that happens, and it could, you need to use his other senses to bring him out of it. It doesn't happen all that much to Jim anymore, but you should just stay calm and try and bring him out of it by upping the stimuli to the other senses, rub his hand or face, talk right in his ear, don't shout though, too much of a jolt will hurt him. Just take his attention off the consuming sense."

"Is that it? How do I make sure this doesn't happen again?"

Blair exchanged a helpless look with Jim, then said, "Just bring him out of this state for now. Jim and I will catch the next flight to, where are you?"


"Ah, I guess we'll fly in to Dulles and call you when we get there."

There was a brief pause before Gibbs said sincerely, "Thank you."

A soft smile surfaced on Blair's face and he replied, "Just stay calm, that's the best thing you can do for your friend. We'll be there as soon as we can."

"Good. I'll..."

In the background, Jim heard someone shout, as clear as day, "Gibbs! Gibbs, *help me*!"

The phone disconnected.

Blair was definitely worried as he hung up the phone and moved to his laptop. "I'll get the tickets and call Simon while you pack."

Nodding, Jim headed upstairs hoping that Gibbs' friend would make it until they got there.

* * * *

Jethro ran into the bedroom to find Tony curled up in a ball on the floor, crying weakly, his strength apparently gone with the shout. Rushing to the other man's side, he sat beside Tony and whispered, "It's going to be okay, Tony, I know what to do now. You need to listen to me, all right? You have to listen and try to do just what I tell you."

"I can't," Tony whimpered, arms covering his head.

"You can and you will, DiNozzo, understand?" Jethro snapped, using his best `Boss' voice.

Tony flinched, but nodded after a few seconds.

Taking a breath, Jethro said, "You need to relax and calm down, first. I want you to breathe with me, okay? I know you can hear my heart, DiNozzo, so I want you to breathe slow and deep until the rhythms match. When you've got it, let me know."

Jethro had to shift into a more comfortable position and take his own deep breaths, slowing down his heartbeat until he was `at rest.' It was a good twenty minutes before he saw Tony's inhalations slow down to an acceptable rate, but he stayed silent, waiting for Tony to get to it on his own.

Finally, Tony whispered, "Got it."

"All right. Pick out your favorite stereo and choose five dials on the technical monstrosity."

As hoped for, Tony chuckled at the comment, if only briefly.

Smiling, Jethro continued, "Label each dial with a sense. One of them is hearing, another sight, and so on. Really feel it, DiNozzo. These dials are your key to getting out of this hell, so know in your gut which one is which. You can control how high or how low they are and use them to see where your senses are?below normal, normal, or off-the-charts. Put some numbers on them. 1 for the lowest, can't even feel anything, 5 for normal, and 10 for excruciating and out-of-control."

It was nearly an hour later that Tony finally whispered, "I can see them."

Jethro took a breath and asked, "Where do you see them?"

"They're all between nine and ten."

"Then bring them down, DiNozzo! Take Sight first. Turn the dial down from wherever it is to five. The light will stop hurting. You can see normally. Nothing's fluctuating. You can see just like you always have."

It was another ten minutes before Tony's eyes opened a crack, then the rest of the way, landing on Jethro's face. Smiling, Jethro greeted softly, "Hi."

Tony echoed with a tentative smile of his own and he answered, just as soft, "Hi."

"Let's work on those other dials, okay?" Jethro suggested.

Nodding, Tony took a deep, relaxing breath and released it, closing his eyes again.

Jethro sat beside him for another hour and a half as Tony went through the other four senses, smell giving the young man extra trouble for some reason. He remembered Tony picking up Dr. Chalmers' presence in Melissa's house just by her perfume and was astounded as he realized that Tony had literally sniffed the woman out, that he hadn't caught a whiff of the scent lingering in the living room where they'd been interrogating Melissa.

When Tony pushed up into a sitting position, Jethro asked, "Better?"

"Much," Tony agreed, weary. "Thanks."

Cursing his sore knees from sitting so long in one position, Jethro stood and offered a hand down to Tony. It took a couple of tries to get him on his feet, but when he was leaning on Jethro, he suggested, "You want to try taking a shower?"

An embarrassed flush rose on Tony's face as the younger man nodded.

Unable to help himself, Jethro brushed the sweaty bangs from Tony's forehead and ordered, "Go take a shower and then a nap. By the time you wake up, help should be here."


"Someone who has the same problem."

Tony looked unconvinced, but stumbled towards the bathroom.

Not all that convinced himself, Jethro looked at the clock to find that it was almost two in the afternoon. Grimacing, wondering why Kate hadn't shown up on Tony's doorstep already, Jethro walked over to his cell phone without a clue as to what kind of explanation he could come up with to satisfy the other agent.

* * * *

The shower spray felt normal, thank God, and his senses stayed the same way, also thank God. Or, really, thank Gibbs. He snorted wearily at the thought, turning his face into the hot water and relishing the way it dripped over his skin in a sensual dance. He turned and scrubbed lightly at his scalp without shampoo, half certain that it would start burning again if he used any.

He was mortified that Gibbs had seen him that way, even though there hadn't been anything he could do to stop his out-of-control senses. He'd been whimpering like a kicked puppy, crying like a baby, and oh yeah, wasn't that a great way to impress the boss?

Sighing with regret, Tony turned off the water and grabbed a towel. In the back of his mind, he kept the picture of the stereo dials handy, checking them constantly to make sure that everything stayed at five. He was positive that things would again spiral out of control and he'd be locked in that agonizing hell. And if that really was a preview of hell, then he was damned sure going to Mass on Sunday and bringing Gibbs with him.

A soft tap on the door startled him. "Yeah?"

"Just checking. Everything okay?" Gibbs asked from the other side.

Tony sighed. "Yeah. Everything's fine. I'll be out in a minute."

Picking up the sweats that he'd left on the floor when things had started going crazy, Tony pulled them on and slung the towel over the shower rack. Leaving the steamy bathroom, he found that Gibbs had made himself at home in the living room, clearing off the coffee table and setting two plates with sandwiches on them.

Gibbs waved him over and ordered, "Eat first. Keep up your strength."

Silent, Tony sat as far from Gibbs as he could to eat, flushed with new embarrassment as he thought again about how he'd appeared to his Boss.

"I don't think I could handle something like that," Gibbs announced thoughtfully.

Tony looked over at him, squinting suspiciously at the other man. "What do you mean?"

With a shrug, Gibbs explained, "I'm too...set in my ways for me to get through something like that with my sanity intact. You did good, Tony, even if it doesn't seem like it."

Changing the subject, Tony asked, "You said help was on the way?"

Gibbs accepted the change and replied, "Yeah. Someone who's got the same thing you do. And his partner, who's supposed to be an expert."

"An expert in what!?" Tony demanded, frustrated. "I don't even know what the hell is going on with me!"

For the first time, Gibbs looked uncertain as he answered, "I don't know, Tony, I wish I did. I'm sorry."

Taking a breath, Tony apologized, "No, I'm sorry, Boss. I'm just confused and scared and, and angry, I guess. I mean, my body was so out of control. You don't hurt so bad."

Compassion showed clearly in Gibbs' eyes. "Whatever it is, you're going to need your strength. Finish eating and get some sleep."

Even though he wasn't hungry, Tony had never yet disobeyed an order from Gibbs when it was delivered in just that tone, and he wasn't about to start.


Chapter Text

Part 2

It had been a long time since Blair had been on the East Coast, let alone in DC. It was just as beautiful and dirty as he remembered, depending on which part you were in. The people ignored Jim and himself, as all proper city-folk ignored everyone and Blair felt anonymous for the first time in years.

It felt weirdly good.

"Come on, Chief, stop daydreaming," Jim called from the rental agent's desk. "We've got a schedule to keep!"

Flashing an easy grin at the woman on duty, Blair complained, "Keeping the schedule means he gets to drive like a bat out of hell. Did he sign up for the extra insurance?"

Jim snorted and slung his arm around Blair's neck in a mock chokehold. "Keep it up, Junior and no dessert tonight."

She laughed and went over the rest of the form with Jim. Even though Blair listened with half an ear, he was really still thrumming with too much excitement to pay real attention.

Another Sentinel! After so long without any subjects, it seemed incredible that there was another one! He'd learned with Alex, the hard way, and so had talked to Jethro about keeping a firm grip on Tony while Jim was in the room. He had no idea of how two male Sentinels in the same place would act. Blair was hoping that because Tony was still undeveloped, so to speak, there wouldn't be a problem. He also had no idea if Jethro was Tony's Guide, or if he was just a good friend willing to go to what some people would call extremes to help.


Jolting out of his thoughts, Blair waved hastily at the clerk and hurried after Jim, who had already reached the office door. It was beautiful outside and he soaked in the early-summer heat of DC. The afternoon sun reflected off the pavement and he sighed in contentment, asking, "Can we move here?"

Jim chuckled and answered, "Not a chance."

"Ah well, I can dream," Blair teased with a grin.

He waited for Jim to open the trunk then tossed his duffel bag inside. It was only a few minutes later that they were in the car and on the road, heading for Tony's apartment building. "How're you feeling?"

Jim shot him a surprised look and answered, "Fine, why?"

"Well, you are in another Sentinel's backyard," Blair pointed out.

Thoughtful as he maneuvered through traffic, Jim said, "I don't feel like I am."

"Could be because he's just starting out. I wonder what kind of childhood he had."

"Can't help you there, Chief."

Blair yawned, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. It was only just going on seven here, but he'd been up the entire night before, meditating and preparing for the ritual fast. He snorted. Not that they were going through it anymore.


Looking over at Jim, Blair explained, "I was just thinking about the fast."

Jim winced and said, "We can do it another time and I promise I won't cheat next time."

There was a brief pause before Blair accused, "I thought you said that I caught you before you ate anything."

" did."

"You are *so* busted, man."

* * * *

Jethro couldn't help himself from checking on Tony at least once every half-hour to make sure the younger man was still all right. Even though he'd seemed fine after the shower, exhausted, but fine, Jethro kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Staring down at Tony, Jethro drank in the sleeping face and smiled at the innocent expression. Something that he'd never seen on Tony's face unless the younger man was plotting something and up to no-good.

It was strange how fate mixed everything up and yet tied everything together at the same time. He and Tony were about as opposite as could be, but Jethro couldn't imagine his life without the younger man in it. Tony's brash humor and confidence were at odds with the vulnerability and sensitivity that lurked just barely below the surface. All of which completely contradicted the way that Jethro lived his life.

He found it more and more difficult to keep his thoughts and emotions to himself, to keep Tony at a distance. The longer they worked together, the more he wanted the other man in both his personal life and his bed. He wanted...

Sighing, Jethro shook himself out of the mood and left the bedroom before he could do anything stupid. A knock at the door kept his feet moving and he called, "Who is it?"

"Ellison and Sandburg."

Jethro took a breath, unexpected nerves fluttering his stomach as he opened the door. Ellison was a lot bigger than he remembered and with more muscles that were definitely not hidden by the light shirt and jeans he wore. Sandburg was a head shorter than the big man with long, dark curls and deep blue eyes. Jethro was instantly reminded of Abby for some reason.

"Hey, Jethro, good to meet you. Sorry it's under these circumstances, of course," Blair said, holding out his hand.

Before Jethro could do or say anything in return, he was grabbed from behind and yanked unceremoniously away from the two men. He hit the wall and stayed there for a few seconds, dazed. When his vision cleared, Jethro found Tony standing between him and the two newcomers. One hand was thrust out and back, obviously meant to protect him, and the other held Tony's gun, aimed steadily at Ellison, who was planeted between Tony and Blair.

Half-dressed and barefoot, with his hair mussed from sleep, Tony's expression was feral as he stared at Ellison.

"Jethro, now would be a really good time to talk to Tony and tell him that we're friends," Blair announced quietly.

Moving slowly, Jethro closed the distance between him and Tony, saying, "Tony? Put the gun down, they're friends. These are the guys who are going to help you with whatever's going on, remember? I told you they were coming over."

"He's a threat!" Tony hissed furiously, the gun not moving an iota. "Can't you see that? Can't you smell it?"

Not seeing any other option, knowing the stubborn tilt to Tony's jaw all too-well, Jethro ordered, "DiNozzo! Give me the weapon, now!"

Tony faltered and whined, "But Boss, he's a threat!"

"I just told you that he wasn't! Give me the God damned gun, now!" Jethro snapped.

Clearly torn, Tony snarled in frustration as he uncocked the hammer and slid the safety on before holding it out to Jethro. He took the gun from the younger man and stared at him intently, more than a little shocked by the changes in the usually easy-going agent's behavior.

Tony's eyes lowered and he muttered, "Sorry, Boss."

Jethro just barely stopped his lips from twitching into a smile at Tony's patented `little-boy' attitude. He had to nip this in the bud right away, or he just knew that there would be trouble later. "When I give you an order, DiNozzo, I expect you to obey it."

The attitude was instantly dropped and Tony raised wide eyes to him as he nodded and whispered, "Sorry."

"Come on, let's go meet the nice people you just threatened to kill."

Groaning in embarrassment, obviously over whatever strange thing had controlled his behavior, Tony muttered, "Do I have to?"

At that, Jethro did smile.

* * * *

Blair groaned as he flopped onto the hotel bed, burying his face in the pillow and mumbling, "That went well."

Hearing the words despite the muffling, Jim chuckled and put their bags on the bed beside him. Starting to unpack, he pointed out, "It could've gone worse."

"How?" Blair demanded, rolling onto his side to give his lover an incredulous stare.

Jim shrugged. "He didn't actually pull the trigger."

"Great. That's great, Jim. Make jokes."

Seeing that the younger man was really upset, Jim stopped unpacking and sat beside him. Rubbing Blair's shoulder he said, "I reacted pretty much the same way to Alex, we just didn't realize that's what I was doing. On top of that, he's got no real idea of what a Sentinel is or does, and he's just gotten online with his senses. All things considered, I think you did pretty damn good, Chief."

After a moment's consideration, a mischievous smile crossed Blair's lips and he observed, "Did you notice that Tony calls Gibbs `Boss,' and you call me `Chief?' I think there's something about Sentinels that they always know who's in charge right away."

Jim chuckled. "There's no way for me to answer that honestly and still have a sex life, so I'll just claim the 5th and ask, do you think Gibbs is his Guide?"

Blair's smirk told Jim that he was going to bring the subject back up at some other time, but was accepting the subject change.

"I don't know. It seems strange that the Sentinel would be younger than the Guide, but I could just be projecting here. I mean, it does make sense that a Guide would be older and have more experience than the Sentinel. That his or her life experiences would help shape and, well, guide the Sentinel in his or her development," Blair mused thoughtfully. "Maybe we're the abnormal pair, not them."

Nodding, Jim grinned and agreed, "Always."

Laughing softly, Blair yawned and rubbed his eyes.

Combing his fingers through Blair's curls, Jim observed, "It does makes sense, but do you think Gibbs is Tony's Guide?"

Blair shrugged and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "Hard to say. We only met with them for a couple of hours to give them the basics."

"What's your gut say?"

"That Gibbs is Tony's Guide."

"There you go."

"You're so black and white sometimes," Blair teased, grinning.

Jim stretched out beside him, his fingers brushing through the long hair as he countered, "I just have faith in your abilities, Blair. You're a great Shaman and the best Guide I could ever hope for."

A flush chased over Blair's cheeks and he said softly, "Thanks, Jim. That means a lot to me."

"You're welcome," Jim answered, kissing him. "But you still need to call Simon with our return ETA."

Blair snorted. "So much for the Blessed Protector instinct. You do know that Simon's going to shoot the messenger, right?"

* * * *

Tony could have felt Gibbs watching him, even if he hadn't heard the other man's near-silent entrance into the bedroom, the inspection was that intense.

"I know you're awake, Tony. Come on, we need to talk."

Sighing, Tony opened his eyes and looked at Gibbs, who stood only a foot away from the bed, an inscrutable expression in place. He hated that expression. Hated it with a passion and always had. It was difficult to read Gibbs at the best of times, never mind when he looked like that. Pillowing his head with his arm, he asked, "What about?"

"Very funny, you know what about," Gibbs answered. "Come out into the living room."

"I don't want to."

"Now, DiNozzo."

Even knowing that he was acting like a sulky child didn't stop Tony from grumbling as he rolled out of bed and stomped into the living room. Arms crossed over his chest, he faced Gibbs and said, "You can't order me around like that."

Gibbs arched an eyebrow at him. "And you call me `boss' because...?"

Scowling, Tony avoided the question by replying, "I can't believe what Sandburg was saying! I mean, Sentinels and Guides and protecting the tribe and ancient throwbacks? What kind of crap was he trying to feed us?"

"It's not crap," Gibbs countered, quiet, but firm. "The information he gave me on the phone saved you from a sensory hell, Tony. I want you to listen to what he says and take it as the truth, because I refuse to watch you go through that again. Do you understand me?"

Tony rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, suddenly exhausted. The confusion and panic were still there, just below the surface, and he didn't think staying angry was going to keep them at bay. He didn't want to be angry. He just wanted things back to the way they were. He wanted to go to work, be Gibbs' personal comedy routine, mock argue with Kate, have fun with Abby and Gerald, and avoid Ducky's lectures and autopsies like the plague.

Still hiding his face, he apologized, "I'm sorry, Gibbs, I just...I want it to stop! It's like, like a time-bomb inside me and I can feel it ticking. This is control that I've never had to deal with before."

"Hey, it's all right, Tony. I'm not going to leave you to do this alone, I promise," Gibbs said, walking over to him. A hand rested briefly on his shoulder and Gibbs continued, "I talked to Kate and arranged personal leave for the both of us. We'll get a handle on this thing before you have to see anyone else."

Dropping his hands, Tony stared at him and pleaded, "Can't you just make it go away?"

For an instant, something like pain crossed Gibbs' face, but it was gone almost too fast to register.

Gibbs shook his head. "I wish I could, Tony, I'm sorry."

Tony didn't say anything else for a long moment, and he looked away from Gibbs, not wanting to admit even to himself that he'd been half-convinced that Gibbs could make anything better, even this. That he couldn't was a completely irrational disappointment and Tony knew it, but he still couldn't help feeling let down.

"Come on, I'll make some tea for you so we can sit and talk."


Grimacing, Gibbs nodded and explained, "After you retreated to the bedroom to pout, Blair said that you should stay away from stimulants and depressants, including caffeine and sugar and alcohol. At least until you have things under control. I found some herbal tea in your cabinets that Blair said would be all right."

"No coffee?" Tony exclaimed, that one thing somehow seeming the most unjust thing of all. It was just a little pleasure, but one he lived for. Not as much as Gibbs, of course, but then, Tony was pretty sure Gibbs would take a caffeine injection and forget the coffee.


Tony sighed and replied, "No, it's okay. What else did he say?"

Walking to the kitchen, Gibbs answered, "That we should rewash all your clothes and linens in a new detergent, he gave me the brand, and clean this place to within an inch of its life. He was surprised that you could stand the dust."

"I wasn't expecting company!"

"That's why you should always have it neat, for those unexpected visitors."

"Yeah, yeah. The drill sergeant in you is loving this, isn't he?"

Gibbs grinned and moved familiarly around the kitchen, setting the kettle to boil, pulling out mugs and tea bags, and correcting, "Gunnery Sergeant, not drill sergeant."

"Same diff."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."

Tony smirked, relaxing against the counter at the familiar banter. "So what else did Guru Blair tell you?"


Holding up his hands at the warning tone, Tony said, "I'm just kidding, Gibbs, I wasn't making fun of him. Well, not much anyhow. What else did he say?"

"That it's going to take a lot of work and you're going to have to trust me in order to get your senses under control for real and for good," Gibbs answered, holding out a steaming mug.

Taking the mug, Tony blew on it to cool the hot liquid and walked back to the sofa. Sitting, he finally said, "That's a no-brainer. I already trust you with my life. Trusting you with the rest of me's not going to be that big a leap."

Gibbs blinked a few times, staring at him. "Uh...good. Good. He's going to show me a lot of things that I'll be teaching you, sensory exercises and control techniques, mostly."

"Why doesn't he just show me himself?" Tony asked curiously.

That seemed to throw Gibbs for a loop. He frowned and said, "That's a good question. It would certainly save time. I'll ask him when they come over tomorrow. You think you can handle hanging with Ellison without trying to kill him again?"

Flushing in embarrassment, Tony replied, "Yes. I don't know what the hell came over me, Gibbs, I swear to God! I've never had that kind of reaction to anyone before. I mean, there's been plenty of people that I've wanted to shoot, but never just from the smell of them."

Gibbs' eyebrows rose in disbelief. "His smell made you want to shoot him?"

"I can't explain it, but yeah," Tony confirmed, sipping at the hot tea. He sighed deeply, slowly starting to relax all the way through. Talking with Gibbs about what was going on was a good idea, he had to admit. "But when he walked into the apartment, I could...I don't know...smell that he wasn't right, wasn't normal like you and Blair. There was something dangerous about him and I knew that you were in trouble."

"I wasn't," Gibbs pointed out.

Tony sighed again. "I know. I just felt it."

Taking pity on him, Gibbs asked, "But you're okay with him now, right? You aren't going to go off on him again?"

It was more of a statement than a question, but Tony nodded anyhow. "I'll be fine. It was pure instinct, that first time. But I know him now and I know he's not going to hurt you."

Gibbs grinned and snarked, "My Hero."

"That's right," Tony retorted, a grin tugging at his lips.

"Why don't you grab your bedclothes and what you want to wear for tomorrow? I'll go out and buy the detergent and soaps that Blair recommended for you."

"Yeah, sounds good. And...thanks, Gibbs. I appreciate all of what you're doing."

Gibbs smiled at him, sincere, and replied simply, "You're welcome."

* * * *

The drive to the 24-hour grocery store proved to be fruitless for getting the specific brands that Blair had written down for him. Jethro made a note to have Tony order them online, knowing the younger man would be much faster at finding them than he would. In the meantime, he got dye-free, allergy-safe detergent that was supposed to be good for kids. And he bought all kids' shampoo and soaps, too, not trusting Tony to not have some kind of reaction to the soap he had on hand. Not that he had had one from the earlier shower, but better safe than sorry.

He was going overboard, and Jethro knew it, but couldn't help himself. He'd meant what he'd said to Tony about never watching him go through something like that again. It had torn at him that there hadn't been anything he could do for the younger man. If he hadn't remembered Ellison, if he hadn't been able to find Ellison...

Jethro shuddered as a cold sweat broke out thinking about what would have happened to Tony in a hospital. A hospital where they wouldn't have been able to do anything for him, where they might have thought it was all in Tony's head. That he was having some kind of psychosomatic reaction to stress, or worse. And that would have thrown Tony in the nuthouse really damn fast, Jethro knew that for a fact.

Staring into space, not seeing or hearing the cars coming and going in the parking lot, Jethro wondered if he could handle what was coming. Tony's question about why Blair had been telling everything to him instead of the fledgling Sentinel begged an obvious answer: he was Tony's Guide. It would fall on him to help Tony learn about his new abilities. It would be his responsibility to keep the younger man on an even keel while training and developing, and even beyond that.

*I don't want this,* Jethro thought in despair. *I don't want to be this for you! I don't want to see you in pain, or out of control, or looking at me like you did earlier. I'm not some God damned superhero who can make everything better, Tony. I'm not even a nice guy! Why me?*

It wasn't something that anyone could answer.

Scrubbing his fingers through his hair, Jethro sighed as he took out his cell phone and dialed it.

"Hello?" Ducky's comfortingly cheerful voice answered.

"Hey, Ducky, it's me."

"Jethro! How are you? Is Anthony all right?"

Smiling at the worried questions, Jethro answered, "We're both fine, Ducky. Tony's having some?personal problems though, and I'm going to be helping him through it so we'll both be out for a while."

"How long?"

"I don't know. Wish I did."

There was a brief pause before Ducky asked, "What do you need?"

Jethro's lips twitched into a grin. Ducky knew him so well. "I need you to cover for me. There's a conference coming up on Thursday that I'm not going to be able to make, and a court appearance on Friday. The files and notes are locked in my drawer so you can get up to speed."

"Of course. Anything else?"

Thinking about it for a moment, Jethro mentally went through his schedule and replied, "There's a senior staff meeting tomorrow morning at 10 that it would be good for you to attend, but it's not vital. I can get the gist of it from the minutes if I have to."

"I think I can squeeze it into my schedule. I'm sure that my presence will liven things up a bit," Ducky replied, humor lacing his voice.

Jethro grinned and agreed, "I'm sure it will."

"Is that all, Jethro? And are you sure you're both all right?"

"We're fine," Jethro assured him. "And yeah, that should take care of everything. I'll be checking my emails from Tony's place, and I have my cell if you need to get in touch with me on something that can't wait. Kate's in charge, and loving it by the way, so just business as usual until we get back."

"And you've no idea when that will be."

"`Fraid not, Ducky."

Ducky sighed and said, "So long as the two of you are well, that's all the matters. I'll call you after the meeting if there's anything important."

"Thanks. I really appreciate it," Jethro replied.

"It's my pleasure, Jethro. Take care and give my best to Anthony."

"I will. You too. Night, Ducky."

"Good night."

Hanging up, Jethro debated for a moment, then decided against calling Abby. Ducky would fill her in tomorrow and hopefully have some kind of cover story in place that would filter down to the rest of the office.

Finally turning on the engine, he took a deep breath and mentally changed gears. This wasn't about him, after all, this was about Tony and what Jethro would do to protect the other man.

And really, there wasn't anything he wouldn't do to accomplish that.



Chapter Text

Part 3

Tony was still wary around Ellison and didn't bother to hide it. If Ellison was the same as him, then he had to be feeling it too. He and Blair had arrived at nine that morning with groceries that apparently hadn't been on Gibbs' list the night before. Tony had been dismayed to find all natural foods, fruits and veggies and meats alike, being unpacked and put away in his cabinets. He'd almost protested the dumping of his favorite junk-foods, but a single warning glance from Gibbs had silenced him.

He'd been surprised when Ellison had asked to go to a local park, not sure what was on the agenda. So far, all they'd done was walk around in silence while the other man watched the young mothers with their kids and the old folks wandering around in pairs or gaggles of chattering old women.

"So what did you do before NCIS?"

The question, coming after such a long silence, startled Tony. He floundered for a few seconds before answering, "I was a cop."

Ellison grinned, humor lighting his ice-blue eyes as he announced, "I was in the military and became a cop, and you've gone the other way."

"Well, I'm not really military now," Tony pointed out.

"Close enough. You're going to have to be careful about that."

"About what?"

"What do you think the government would do to and with someone who has our gifts? Think about it."

Tony had opened his mouth, but closed it again as he did think about it. From the rundown that Blair had given them the night before, he could expect to be able to see and hear up to at least a mile radius when he finally mastered his new abilities. And his touch would be sensitive enough to be able to crack a safe by feeling the tumblers click into place. A shiver ran though him as Tony thought about all the applications he could be used for; espionage being the nicest.

"Exactly," Ellison confirmed. "The good news is that Gibbs is the only one who knows about you and he's not going to tell anyone. You never had any public fiascoes bring you to the attention of the government or the media, so the two of you should be safe."

"You have?"


Tony waited for more, but nothing came.

Ellison watched a young black mother with twins playing in the sandbox. "What's she saying?"

"How should I know? She's at least twenty yards away."

Ellison smirked. "I can hear her."

Irritated at the superior look, Tony frowned in concentration, staring at the woman and trying to hear what she was saying to no avail.

"You're trying too hard. Where are your dials?" Ellison asked.

"Ah, they're at normal."

"Then of course you can't hear them. Turn it up a half-notch."

Tony shook his head, fear clutching his stomach. "No, I can't. If I do that..."

"I'm right here, DiNozzo, nothing's going to happen to you."

The way Ellison said it, it was a fact. He took a breath and thought about the dials again, notching the hearing one up just a little, not even a full half-click. Instantly, sound was magnified for him. He could hear conversations from all around, the input hitting hard and fast, making him flinch.

"Block them out, DiNozzo. Look at that woman and match what her lips are saying to the sound coming out of them," Ellison ordered, his voice directly beside him and cutting through the babble.

Tony looked at the woman, straining to see what she was saying, as well as hear it. Suddenly, her face popped into clear view and he could see every word that was formed by her lips. It was only a second later that he picked out her soft, soothing voice, rich with love, saying, "Jeremy, you are doing so good today, honey! I'm so proud of you, building that sandcastle all by yourself. And sharing your toys with Jeffrey too! That's such a good boy!"

Startled, Tony realized that he'd blocked out the other conversations in his bid to hear only the woman. It was like she was standing right next to him and everyone else was at their normal distance away. He glanced at Ellison and grinned. "That's so cool!"

Ellison echoed the grin briefly. "It can be, yeah. Just takes practice, like anything else. Try it again with that old man over there. At the chess table."

It took less time for him to repeat the actions and hear the old man's conversation. He didn't turn up the dial any, still paranoid about losing control. Even though the chess table was further away than the sandbox, he concentrated more and was able to pick out the old man's words.

They spent the morning doing just that, concentrating on his hearing and sight alone because, as Ellison put it, "If those blow up unexpectedly, you're really screwed."

By the time noon came, Tony was starving and had the beginnings of a headache, though he wasn't sure if it was from regular hunger or the odd paces that he was being put through. They went to a Mexican restaurant and, not completely unexpectedly, Ellison put him through more exercises there, too. They spent time on his taste dial, which was actually harder to control than the sight and hearing.

Halfway through the meal, Ellison confided, "Whenever Sandburg brings me to a new restaurant to make me eat some new-age concoction, I just turn off my taste buds. It comes in really handy."

Laughing, Tony agreed, "I bet it does. So are the two of you partners, or partners?"

"Blair's my lifemate," Ellison answered simply. "He's my everything."

A little surprised by the shy expression of love on the otherwise imperturbable, and seemingly unmovable, cop, Tony felt a fleeting wistfulness as he said, "Wish I had someone who was my everything."

"So you and Gibbs aren't together?"

Tony choked on the water that he'd started to drink. He coughed a few times to clear his windpipe, and wiped at his eyes. "Did you think we were?"

Shrugging, Ellison answered, "He's very protective of you and you seem to be pretty...deferential to him."

The observation surprised Tony and he sat back in the booth, thoughtful. Slowly, he admitted, "I hadn't really thought about that before, how we looked to other people. He's just...Gibbs, you know? He's my boss and a good friend, the best, even though he'd die before admitting it to anyone else. We are how we are with each other, that's just how it's always been."

"You'd die for him," Ellison stated quietly.

Meeting the other man's eyes, Tony saw the certain knowledge written in those pale eyes and didn't even try to deny it. "In a heartbeat."

"Not to downplay the depths of a friendship between other people, but Guides and Sentinels have a...special bond," Ellison said, leaning forward on the table. "It's part of who we are, DiNozzo, the need to make sure our Guides are safe and protected. I can't imagine a man who needs less protection than Gibbs, but you're going to feel that way anyhow."

Flushing a little, Tony confessed, "I already do. I have for a long time now. Almost since the day we met. But, how do you know he's my Guide?"

Ellison smirked and asked, "You mean aside from the stunt last night with the loaded pistol ready to blow my head off? No reason at all."

"God. I am never going to live that down, am I?"

"Not from me."

A laugh escaped Tony and he had the feeling that everything was going to work out all right.

* * * *

Blair hadn't been this frustrated since he'd been teaching Freshman Anthro to a bunch of kids who'd thought it would be an easy A for an elective class. It wasn't that Jethro was disruptive like they'd been, but he was just as resistant.

They'd spent the morning going over potential health problems, medicinal allergies that could spring up and their counteragents, anything that could adversely affect Tony from a physical standpoint. And for all of that, Jethro had been attentive and making plenty of notes and writing down all the instructions in his own personal notebook, even though Blair had brought everything on disk for him to be able to check later.

No, it was after lunch when they'd started going over the emotional and psychological and mystical side of things, that Jethro had cooled off.

*The military mindset strikes again,* Blair thought, irritated. *If they can't feel it or see it somehow, it doesn't exist. Wouldn't have thought that a Guide would be like this, but he's military first, I guess.*

Aloud, he suggested, "Let's take a break."

Jethro looked relieved and nodded, instantly standing up from the lotus position he'd been in for the last half hour as Blair had tried to go over meditation techniques with him. Watching the older man stride over to the bathroom, Blair sighed and yanked on his hair, the brief pain focusing him.

*Something is clearly going on that I don't know about. Something that makes Jethro not want to even think about this part of things, let alone participate,* he thought arching his back in a spine-cracking move.

By the time Jethro came out of the bathroom, Blair had made up his mind and was sitting on the couch with the television on.

Jethro stopped at the sofa and frowned. "What's going on?"

"What's going on, is that we're done," Blair informed him with a shrug.



"It sounded like there was a lot more to this."

"There is, but you don't need to know it."

Jethro's gaze narrowed. "Excuse me?"

Shrugging again, Blair explained, "You're not Tony's Guide. I was wrong in thinking that you were. You don't need to worry about it, though. I'll take on Tony until we find his Guide. It's not like the two of you have bonded in a significant way, so there shouldn't be any real trauma in him moving to Cascade. And it's not like Cascade couldn't use another Sentinel. I swear that city gets more dangerous every year."

"I did take psychology, you know," Gibbs informed him, cool as ice. "A few years worth of it, as a matter of fact. I can recognize an attempt at reverse psychology."

Blair stood and agreed, "I'm sure you can, but that's not what this is. Look, Jethro, you're a good man, and a great friend of Tony's, that's really obvious. I know you care about him and want to see that he has everything he needs for a full, balanced life. But to do that, he needs a Guide and you aren't that."

"What makes you think I'm not?" Jethro demanded angrily.

Holding up a finger per point, Blair answered, "One, you're older than he is. Two, you have no patience whatsoever, and Guides need to have that in abundance. Three, Guides have a deeply spiritual nature that connects with the mystical side of life and you've been making fun of that for the last hour. And Four, well, you're straight."

Jethro opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. He thought a moment and asked warily, "What's being straight got to do with anything?"

Blunt, Blair answered, "Tony and his Guide will eventually become lovers. It's inevitable. From everything that I've read and researched, from how Jim and I are, that's the thing that cements the bond between Guides and Sentinels. If you were a woman, you'd wind up getting married and having kids. But you're not only a man, you're straight and you're military, and that leads to all kinds of problems right up front."

"Like what?" Jethro challenged.

Throwing up his hands in exasperation, Blair exclaimed, "Like this! You're rigid and need to be in control! God, it's like when I first met Jim, all over again! If you're the Guide, then the Sentinel needs to feel like he's in charge, even if he's not. They have a primal imperative to protect the Guide first, and then to protect their Tribe. But you're this macho, domineering jerk who can't even admit to the possibility that there's another side after death! That spiritual connection is essential, Jethro, completely essential to being a Guide!"

Tight-lipped and stiff, Jethro turned and walked a short distance away. Watching him closely, Blair waited for an explosion, but it never came. After a few minutes, he frowned and asked insistently, "What aren't you telling me, Jethro? What's really going on here?"

"I've been dead, Blair, I know there's another side."

Not having expected that answer, it took a few seconds for Blair to collect his thoughts. "What happened?"

Jethro turned back and offered a wry twist of the lips. "It's classified."

"Of course it is," Blair muttered, running a hand through his hair.

Apologetic, Jethro said, "I can't change who I am, Blair and I'm not going to try. I'm too set in my ways and we both know it. Maybe that doesn't make me Tony's ideal match, I don't know. He probably would be better off with someone else, but I can't let him go. I won't. There's not a chance in hell that I'll let him leave with you. I'd kill you first and that's a fact."

Blair believed him. Aside from the dangerous gaze that was leveled his way, he knew that that was exactly how he'd react if someone threatened to take Jim from him. "So how can we work around your...fear...of the unknown? Because you're going to have to, Jethro."

"I don't know. Can we save it for another time? Let me think things through a little?"

"Yeah, I guess so. But we do need to work on the meditations because you're going to have to use them a lot until Tony gets used to his senses."

"Sure. Okay."

Not exactly the whole-hearted endorsement he'd been hoping for, but Blair would take what he could get. A thought occurred to him and he asked, "You're not really straight, are you?"

Jethro flashed him an ironic grin. "Only when I was in the Marines."



Chapter Text

Part 4

Glad that Blair had taken Jim and left just about the moment the two Sentinel's had returned from their outing, Jethro just listened to Tony as he went on and on about the day he'd had with Ellison. It was soothing to be alone with Tony even though the other man was hyper from the experiences he'd had training his senses.

Finally running out of steam, Tony flopped down onto the floor and grinned up at him. "So how was your day?"

Jethro grinned back, unable not to, and answered, "Not nearly as exciting. I got to go over shopping and allergy lists, and then meditated for a few hours."

Wincing, Tony apologized, "Sorry to hear that."

"That's okay. You can make it up to me by eavesdropping on Abby and Kate. I know they're up to something for my birthday and I want to be prepared," Jethro teased.

Tony laughed. "Sure thing, Boss. So what's for supper?"

Wriggling his eyebrows, Jethro replied, "I thought that I would teach you how to cook."

"Oh, come on. Be serious."

Jethro just grinned at him.

"Oh man. You're serious? Shit."

Jethro snorted and slapped Tony in the back of the head before standing. "Come, young Padawan. To the kitchen, we go."

"I thought you said you didn't see that movie!" Tony complained, also standing.

They bickered like normal as they got supper ready and Jethro took comfort in it. He hadn't been entirely truthful with Blair, letting the other man believe it was the spiritual things that made him uncomfortable and afraid. The real thing that haunted him was losing the way he and Tony were together now; the affection and healthy competition, the laughter and touches. God knew that he'd screwed up every other important relationship in his life and he was terrified of doing the same thing with Tony.

Aside from that, there was the lingering belief that Tony could do a hell of a lot better than one Jethro Gibbs, with a second B for Bastard.

"Hey, earth to Gibbs, you in there?"

Startled, Jethro realized that Tony was frowning at him, which meant he'd drifted without even thinking about it. Talk about being comfortable with someone. Shaking the thought away, he said, "Sorry. Just got lost in thought for a second."

Stirring the vegetables in the large frying pan, Tony asked hesitantly, "What were you thinking about?"

"This," Jethro answered, honest. "The whole situation. Us. The Sentinel and Guide thing."

"Blair really wrung you out," Tony observed.

A little surprised by the too-accurate comment, Jethro bluffed, "No, it's just a lot to take in."

"Gibbs, come on, this is me you're talking to."

Busted. Jethro half-grinned and admitted, "Some things today hit a little too close to home, I guess."


"Did I ever tell you that I died?"

Tony froze in place, the spatula ceasing its circular motion. He swallowed heavily and turned big eyes to Jethro as he demanded, "When? How?"

Knowing that there was no way that Tony would let him get away with `classified,' Jethro answered, "It was in a training exercise of all things, a stupid accident. One of the cadets panicked while they were treading water and he went under. I dove in after him and he clocked me in the head with his boot. They had to drag both of us out of there, but by then, I was already dead. I was dead for about three minutes. They were just about to give up on me when I came back, throwing up pond-water and not remembering a damn thing about what happened."

"But you remember now," Tony guessed softly.

Jethro nodded. "Stir, Tony."

Tony jolted back to awareness of his actions and started stirring again. "So what happened? What was it like?"

"It was like...home, I guess. Someplace so comfortable and familiar that you could walk around blindfolded and not stub your toe on anything," Jethro mused aloud. "But there was something missing, too, something not right and I had to get back to find it. I couldn't rest for leaving it behind."

"Wow. That's...really damn disturbing actually. Why the hell didn't you tell me about this before?"

Surprised by Tony's anger, Jethro answered, "It's not usually an acceptable topic of conversation. It never occurred to me that you'd want to know."

"That my best friend had died? Why wouldn't I want to know that?" Tony demanded.

Picking up the plates, he held one out to Tony, who scooped the vegetables onto it, and then they did the same to the other. Moving to the counter to set down the plates, he used the action to mask his confusion over Tony's response. Finally, he repeated, "Best friend?"

Tony flushed but nodded, a stubborn set to his jaw. "I know there's some military code that denies the whole emotion thing and I'm cool with that, I really am. But shit, Jethro, don't you know what you mean to me?"

"I...yeah, I guess I do," Jethro admitted, which was the other part to the fear he'd been hiding from Blair. Tony was so all-consuming that sometimes, Jethro feared losing himself in the whirlwind of the younger man's emotions. He was afraid of not being able to fill the need for love and affection that Tony so obviously had. He'd never been enough for any of his ex-wives, so how could he possibly be enough for Tony?

Tony took a breath, then released it explosively. He turned the stove off and closed the distance between them, staring intently at Jethro as he echoed, "You guess you do? Well, let me spell it out for you, just so there's no misunderstandings, okay?"

Suddenly wondering if this was at all a good idea, Jethro couldn't stop himself from nodding.

"You're my rock, Jethro. I know I'm pretty scattered sometimes, and I don't look before I leap, as you're so fond of pointing out. I probably wouldn't do it so often if I didn't know that you'd be there to get me out of whatever trouble I got myself into," Tony admitted softly. "I look up to you not because you're infallible, but because you aren't. I love your drive and your outrageous sense of justice, even when it's kicking me in the ass. I wouldn't be half the man I am now, if I'd never met you. If?if I didn't love you like I do."

What could he possibly say to all of that? The vulnerable look in Tony's eyes, the glint of fear that he'd gone too far, all of it put him to shame. Gripping the back of Tony's neck, he said roughly, "I love you too, Tony," and sealed their mouths together in a hungry, desperate kiss.

Tony groaned in response and wrapped his arms around Jethro's waist, pushing him against the counter as he took control of the kiss. He devoured Jethro's mouth, feasting on it like he hadn't eaten anything in a week, and all Jethro could do was open his mouth further, inviting the tongue that slid inside.

It had been a long time since he'd done anything with a man, and he'd always been the aggressor before, so this was almost an entirely new experience. Tony posessed him in a way that no one ever had and Jethro moaned in pleasure, his legs opening to give Tony better access to his body. The younger man pushed his leg between Jethro's, rubbing against the hardening cock with his thigh.

Threading his fingers through Jethro's short hair, Tony pulled on it, breaking the kiss to suck hard at Jethro's throat. The marking of his skin sent a bolt of pure lust through Jethro and he gasped, tilting it back for more.

Growling softly at the exposed neck, Tony bit sharply on the other side and marked him again with his teeth before hissing in a feral tone, "Mine!"

"Oh God, Tony," Jethro groaned, hooking a leg over his lover's hip to pull him in hard.

Tony centered himself over Jethro, his hands leaving the hair to hold the counter to either side of him, and grind against him. He bit Jethro's ear and announced harshly, "No one else, Jethro, never again. Only me!"

Panting as he neared orgasm, Jethro nodded frantically and agreed, "Just you, Tony, always! I'm yours!"

Tony seized his mouth again as he humped against Jethro, driving them to the edge together. When his hands slid inside the back of Jethro's pants to squeeze his ass, Jethro moaned into his mouth and came, spilling in his pants. Tony continued to plunder his mouth and jerk against him until he came a short time later, gasping and freezing in place against Jethro.

Jethro sagged in the younger man's arms with all the strength of a wet noodle, his forehead resting on Tony's shoulder.

Gentle kisses rained over his temple and cheek as Tony nuzzled his face and murmured, "Let's take this somewhere else. I really want to hold you."

Chuckling wearily, Jethro pointed out, "You are. If you weren't, I'd be on the floor by now."

Tony grinned and pulled away only to tug Jethro upright and slide an arm along his waist to lead him to the bedroom.

* * * *

Running his hands over the firm, warm skin of Gibbs' chest, Tony kissed the older man sweetly, loving his mouth and pouring all the suppressed emotions into it. When he left Gibbs' mouth, there was a grumbling protest that made him grin and promise, "I'll be back. Time for some exploration."

He licked and kissed his way down the throat, pausing to suck at Gibbs' Adam's apple, before admiring his handiwork. There were two vivid hickies adorning his lover's throat, clearly marking him. It was almost scary, how much he wanted to possess, how much he needed to possess him. What really set him on fire, though, was the way Gibbs responded to him. How he arched into every caress and begged silently for more. Remembering the look of pure ecstasy as Gibbs had come in the kitchen hardened Tony's cock the rest of the way and he bit sharply at a nipple just to hear the other man moan his name.

Fingers twined in his hair as he lingered over the nipple, sucking and biting it hard enough to leave temporary teeth marks in the skin. Gibbs groaned as his fingers tightened in Tony's hair, arching into his mouth. Tony bit the flesh one more time in promise before traveling further south, ignoring the as-yet unmarked nipple, despite Gibbs' attempt to bring him over there next. He nuzzled against Gibbs' belly for a moment, then pressed his face against the side of his lover's hard cock, breathing him in.

It was...pure Gibbs...strong, masculine, musky, and slightly bitter. He grinned at the comparison to Gibbs' personality but decided against sharing it for fear of his hair being yanked out in retribution.

"What?" Gibbs gasped.

Looking up to meet the thin circle of blue nearly swallowed by the iris, Tony answered, "I'll tell you later. Hang onto your hat, Boss."

"I don't have a...fuck! DiNozzo!"

Tony went down as far as he could on Gibbs' cock in one go, sucking on it and swallowing the pre-come. It was incredible, felt like he could lose himself in the sensations dragging at his senses. All he could smell and taste were Gibbs. His sight was narrowed to the small patch of body right around the cock, the steel gray hairs mixing with the dark, the wrinkled bit of skin where abdomen met groin. His hearing was engrossed solely by the gasping moans of his name from above and the rapid heartbeat that his own was doing its very best to match. His fingers danced over his lover's body in a constant caress, memorizing every bit that they could.

"Tony, please, please, I'm gonna come, oh God, I'm gonna come again!" Gibbs cried out.

Which was exactly what Tony wanted. He wanted to swallow his lover down, take him inside and experience Gibbs intimately and always. Gibbs shouted in a loud, wordless release, his back arching taut as he spilled inside Tony's mouth. It wasn't as much seed as before, to Tony's disappointment, but at least he didn't have to worry about spilling any, he was able to drink it all down.

Gibbs pushed at his head, struggling weakly to get him off the limp shaft in his mouth. Taking pity on him, Tony stopped sucking and pulled away, breathing hard and still tasting his lover on his tongue. He worked his way back up Gibbs' body until he was lying beside him and pulled the exhausted man into his arms. He was hard and aching, desperate to plunge into his lover's body, but held back, sensing that Gibbs was on some kind of edge. The other man's heart beat much too fast and he clung to Tony, face buried against his throat.

"What's wrong? Please, Jethro, tell me," Tony whispered, rubbing his fingers through the damp hair.

Drawing in a deep, shuddery breath, Gibbs let it out slowly and relaxed against him. It was a few more minutes before the heart slowed to a normal rhythm and the other man's breathing grew steady. When he looked at Tony, it was difficult not to react to the world of pain and fear in the crystal eyes staring at him.

"Everyone..." Gibbs trailed off, then tried again with, "Just...don't ever leave me, okay? No matter what asinine thing I do, or say to you, please...I couldn't, I don't think I could survive if you, if you left me."

Cupping Gibbs' face, Tony swore, "I will never leave you, Jethro. Ever. They'd have to pry me off you. And I won't let you push me away, either."

Some of the fear receded, but not a lot and the uncertainty lingered as Gibbs whispered, "Make me believe it, Tony. Make me feel it, in my gut."

Tony took his mouth almost savagely, letting his need for this man pour out. He rolled Gibbs onto his back, devouring his mouth as he undulated against the lean, muscled body. When he pulled away, he stared down at Gibbs and vowed, "I am never letting you go, Gibbs. You're mine now and it doesn't matter what you do to shake me loose, I'm not going anywhere. You can bank on it."

Gibbs reached up and laced his hands behind Tony's neck, yanking him down for a long, hard kiss. His legs wrapped around Tony, locking behind him and pulling him in so that his cock rubbed between the sweat-slicked ass. Even knowing how much Gibbs wanted this, there was no way that he'd take the chance on hurting his lover. He gentled the kiss before breaking it off to exclaim hoarsely, "Lube, I need lube, be right back."

"No you don't," Gibbs protested, not letting him go.

Staring down at him, feeling they were on some kind of threshold, Tony said steadily, "I'm not going to hurt you, Jethro. I'm going to take care of you and protect you from here on out, even from yourself if I have to. Let me go."

For a long moment, Gibbs just stared back at him. Then the legs fell aside and he whispered, "Hurry."

"Trust me, I'll hurry," Tony assured him, grinning to lighten the mood a little.

It worked, provoking an echoing smile from his lover just before Tony hopped off the bed and ran to the bathroom. He would've used the lube in the bedside table, but he didn't want to risk some kind of reaction. He grabbed the "safe" lotion, making a mental note to ask Blair about "safe" lubes, from under the bathroom sink and ran back to the bedroom.

When he got there, Gibbs had already repositioned himself so that a pillow was under his hips and there were a couple more supporting his back and shoulders. They would be face to face, but Gibbs wouldn't be unnecessarily strained. He smiled in approval and promptly jumped on the bed, dislodging Gibbs in the process.

Exasperated, Gibbs squirmed back into position with Tony's help and complained, "Just like a little kid sometimes, DiNozzo, I swear."

"Hey, sex is supposed to be fun, remember?" Tony teased.

Kneeling between Gibbs' legs, he squirted some lotion onto his hand and rubbed his hand between Gibbs' ass, not entering him, just massaging the area. He added more lotion and this time, pushed a single finger into Gibbs. It was tight and contracted around his finger, so he didn't go far. Working it back and forth, Tony took his time to prepare his lover, intent on the feel of the flesh around his finger.

He knew without being told that this particular act was something that Gibbs had never done with anyone else. And while irrationally pleased by it, Tony was also curious as to why. Despite what everyone thought, though, he did have the good sense that God gave him and kept his mouth shut for a better time.

Two fingers took longer to be accepted by Gibbs' body, but Tony remained patient. He briefly thought about the damage he could have caused by giving in to his lover before and was intensely glad that he hadn't. Even caught up in passion as he'd been, Tony had known instinctively what to do and not to do to protect this man.

Even Gibbs needed someone to give him rules, maybe especially Gibbs, and Tony planned to be that someone.

Arcing his fingers inside his lover caused the other man to cry out and jerk in shock. Grinning wickedly, Tony announced, "Say hello to my little friend."

"DiNozzo," Gibbs ground out, panting and trying to sound threatening.

Still smirking, Tony started stretching the internal muscles, adding more lotion as he did. Every so often, his fingers thrust deep inside and curved to stimulate the prostate, earning another shock of pleasure for Gibbs that left him breathless. Thankfully, it took less time to get Gibbs used to three fingers than it had the two and finally, determining that his lover was ready, he leaned over and kissed him, long and deep while he lined his cock to the entrance.

He eased slowly inside, breaching the tight outer ring of muscle with a grunt of effort that elicited a gasp of discomfort from Gibbs. Tony moved in and out in small increments, loosening his lover and getting him used to the penetration. Not to mention that he would probably have gone off like a rocket if he'd had any sudden stimulation to his cock.

Buried at last in Gibbs, Tony stared down into his lover's eyes, memorizing the moment with all of his senses; the smell of their sex and sweat, the incredible tightness surrounding him, the slightly strained look on Gibbs' face and the salt stinging his lip from where he'd accidentally bit it open. The words slipped out, unbidden... "I love you."

A slow smile surfaced on Gibbs' face as he whispered back, "I love you, too. Now please, do something."

Tony laughed, a thing of pure joy, and this time did as he was ordered. He started thrusting, just a little, and tried to angle for Gibbs' prostate. The older man was only half-hard, but Tony was determined to bring him all the way off again. Tony nailed it unexpectedly and Gibbs' hands gripped his shoulders, the nails digging in as he jerked against Tony.

Keeping that angle, Tony moved in earnest, earning a steady supply of obscenity from his lover as he was well and truly taken for the first time. Grinning fiercely, he obeyed the urgings for harder, and more, and faster, his hips slamming into Gibbs while his cock plundered his ass. Long legs wrapped around him again and nails raked his skin, burning and accenting the pleasure with bits of pain.

"Come on, Tony, fuck, come in me, come in me," Gibbs moaned, his voice and body shaking. "Do it, please, oh God, please do it!"

It wasn't until Gibbs spilled between them, a weak burst with scant seed thanks to his previous two releases, that Tony finally came. He slammed one last time into the willing body and came, shuddering, with his heart stopping as his entire body felt like it merged into Gibbs. They both shouted with it, and Tony didn't even feel it when he passed out on top of his lover.

* * * *

His ass was already killing him, his body felt like it had been going for days, and Jethro wasn't entirely sure that he could string two words together, but he'd never felt better in his life. Tony was a limp, unconscious lump on top of him, still lodged deep inside his body, and Jethro didn't even have the strength to put his arms around his lover. Struggling against exhaustion was a futile thing and he knew it, but Jethro wanted to remember as much of this moment as he could.

For the first time ever in his life, Jethro Gibbs, with the second B for Bastard, felt whole.

* * * *

Yawning and rubbing his eyes, Blair stumbled into Jim when the other man stopped short a few feet from Tony's apartment. Frowning, he asked, "What's wrong?"

Jim grinned and, putting his hands on Blair's shoulders, turned him around and started him walking again...back to the
elevator. "Nothing's wrong. How would you like to get some sight-seeing done today?"

"What? Jim, come on man, stop messing around," Blair complained crossly. "You keep me up half the damn night, get me up at an obscenely early hour so you could specifically get Tony out for a longer time, and now we're turning around?"

Pressing the elevator button and keeping his hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim explained, "They're bonding. I seriously doubt an interruption would be welcome."

Blair took in Jim's meaning right away and he grinned. "Really? Cool! I wonder if this will help Tony get better control, faster. You know, I've always wondered if you had so much trouble in the beginning because..."



"Just get on the elevator."

* * * *

Jethro was again waiting for the other shoe to drop. When he and Tony had finally come up for air, it was to discover that Jim and Blair had to go back to Cascade, that there was a gruesome murder case that needed their expertise. So they were waiting for the flight to be called at Dulles International. Tony and Jim were talking easily a few feet away, bantering back and forth like they'd known each other for years. Brother warriors or something equally as annoying.

"Jethro, we need to talk."

There was the other shoe.

Sighing faintly, he turned towards Blair and asked, "What about?"

Obviously troubled, Blair hesitated before saying, "I don't have the answers. I've been thinking about it and thinking about it since we had our talk yesterday. I've only been a Guide myself for five years and I've made some pretty big mistakes over that time."

Not sure where Blair was going, Jethro prompted, "And?"

"And I do believe that the spiritual side of being Sentinel and Guide is very important, but maybe interacting with that is different for every pair. On one of the disks I gave you is the information about what I've been able to glean over the years, including mine and Jim's personal experience with the Sentinel/Guide Mythology and Spirituality. The Temple, the Spirit Animals, all of it is there for you to look over. What you do with it...I can't tell you what to do with it, that's just something that you're going to have to figure out on your own."

*That makes me feel so much better,* Jethro thought sarcastically. Keeping his tone even, though, he replied, "I can't promise to do anything with it."

"Yeah, I know. I just want you to know that if something comes up that you can't handle, anything, you can come to me, to either of us. You don't have to go it alone like Jim and I did all those years. You have us as a resource, you have our experiences, use them, please. If not for you, then for Tony," Blair finished softly.

He was both grateful and insulted by the offer, and tried not to let the insulted feelings win because he knew that no such insult had been intended. It was his own pride that was rearing its ugly head and Jethro knew that in order to keep Tony safe, he had to swallow it. Forcing a smile, he nodded and promised, "I will."

Thankfully, the flight was called right then. Blair offered him a knowing smile before turning around and Jethro flushed in embarrassment at his behavior, something he hadn't done in a long time. There was just something about Blair that brought out the worst in him, as if the other man's very patience and strength and spirituality, which were all very close to the surface, made him want to deny or test him.

Tony joined him in watching the two men head for the gate. He bumped Jethro's hip and said, "You ready, Boss?"

Snorting, Jethro met his lover's sympathetic gaze and answered honestly, "No. But let's go anyhow."

* * * *

Jim gritted his teeth as the plane's engines whined to their highest pitch in preparation for the flight. Even Blair's hand on the back of his neck, trying to rub the tension away as it gathered, didn't help. He had to admit, at least to himself, that traveling around like this was getting more and more difficult as he got older. Not just because of the combined assault on his senses, though that was bad enough, but because it was actively starting to hurt to leave Cascade.

Which made him a little afraid of what he'd be like in another five years.

"Hey. What's wrong?" Blair asked, leaning against him.

Thinking about it, Jim decided against telling Blair, it wasn't something urgent that needed to be dealt with, after all, even if there were a way to stop or change it. And Jim was pretty damn sure there was no way to do either. He kissed Blair lightly and answered, "Nothing you need to worry about."

"Uh huh."

Grinning at Blair's unconvinced tone, Jim put his arm around his lover's shoulder and asked, "You think they'll be okay? I know you're worried about Gibbs."

"I am," Blair agreed, biting on his lower lip. "I think they're going to be in for a really rough ride if Jethro doesn't at least try to accept the entire package. It would be like denying Tony himself."

"You can't do anything about that. It's his decision, Chief," Jim pointed out, a little regretful.

"I know, I know. I just can't help worrying."

Jim sighed and pressed his face to Blair's head, burying his nose and mouth against the fragrant hair and breathing him in. It helped soothe his senses a little, giving him a surcease from the unfamiliar and overwhelming scents in the plane.

Taking his hand, Blair brought it to his lips and murmured, "Love you, Jim."

And really, that would see him through anything.

* * * *

"So did you straighten everything out?"

Tony coughed at Kate's choice of words and manfully restrained from looking at Gibbs or even in his direction. The other man was still in some pain from their repeated lovemaking and sitting rather gingerly. Clearing his throat, Tony maintained an innocent expression as he replied, "Relatively speaking. Why? Didja miss me?"

"Like a hole in the head," she retorted, turning to Gibbs. "And you know, not that I don't appreciate the taste of power, but the next time you two take off, could you at least make sure I'm buried in work?"

Gibbs was pointedly not looking at Tony as he replied, "Why's that?"

Arms crossing over her chest, Kate complained, "Because I had to listen to Ducky all day, every day, while you were gone."

Smirking, Gibbs fished around for something in his drawer and tossed it to Kate. "Tools of survival. Ask Gerald."

Tony whooped with laughter as he saw that the item was a package of ear plugs.

"Very funny, Gibbs."

"Am I laughing?"

Settling down at his own desk, Tony powered up the computer and sighed in contentment as Gibbs and Kate snarked back and forth to each other while occasionally passing real bits of information as to how things had gone while they were away. He could almost smell her intense curiosity as to what had happened, but knew she'd never ask. They might joke about prying into peoples' lives for a living, but neither would dream of really snooping on the other.

He was a little disappointed and nervous that Jim and Blair were gone, but he knew that they had their own lives to lead. The senses weren't exactly easy to control yet, and sure as hell not second nature like they were for Ellison, but he was getting there. Gibbs was bound and determined to have him up to speed ASAP, which meant yesterday and if anyone could do it, Gibbs could.

Tony smiled at the thought.

Gibbs' comment of, "So Kate. What're you and Abby planning for my birthday?" caught Tony's attention.

She answered smugly, "You're never going to find out until it's too late, Gibbs, so you might as well stop trying."

Gibbs flashed him a conspiratorial grin and Tony cleared his throat again, trying not to laugh. Oh yeah. Everything was definitely going to be fine.