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Angel of Death

Chapter Text

Angel of Death
by ksl

Gibbs wasn't sure what woke him from his light doze. He remained still, trying to pinpoint what was wrong. Blue eyes immediately shifted to check on Tony, concerned that the younger man might have taken a turn for the worse. Gibbs relaxed seeing Tony was still sleeping, his breathing harsh and raspy but even. Tony's face was unnaturally pale in the dim lighting, but his expression remained untroubled and relaxed for what seem liked the first time in hours.

Although no longer contagious, Dr. Pitt said it would probably take a few weeks for Tony to fully recover from his exposure to Y. Pestis. The lingering cough was the most obvious sign of the illness that had nearly killed him a little more than a day ago. The rough, hacking cough disrupted Tony's sleep, making it hard for him to get the rest the doctor said he needed. Having noticed that Tony seemed to rest easier when others were around, Pitt okayed letting one of his teammate remain with him around the clock, at least until Tony was a bit stronger.

Gibbs had sent Kate home, ignoring her protests with practiced ease. He was glad she's stayed with Tony through the worst of it, relieved that the younger man hadn't been alone. But he also resented like hell that he couldn't be there himself, to help Tony through what had to have been one of the most terrifying moments of his life. He had the chance to be here now, to make sure Tony was really going to recover and get better, and he was taking it. Tony mattered too much to him not to.

Gibbs sighed softly and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He was relieved that the younger man was no longer coughing up blood. That scared him more than Gibbs cared to admit.

He hadn't been sure ordering Tony to live was going to work. The younger man had looked like death warmed over when Gibbs had seen him the first time. Gibbs shuddered at the memory---usually people he saw who looked that bad were already on one of Ducky's exam tables.

He clenched his hands into fists, flexing his fingers before moving to raise the blankets that had slide down a bit. He smiled tightly, studying Tony's face. The younger man had never disobeyed him before, and he damn sure didn't want him to start doing so now.

"You are going to live, DiNozzo." Gibbs whispered, ignoring how desperate he sounded. Dr. Pitt said the worst was over, he told himself. But it didn't hurt to remind Tony he wouldn't tolerate having an order disobey. "You are going to live."

Feeling another presence in the room, Gibbs turned to look, expecting to see one of the medical staff on the night shift. He was on his feet in an instant when he realized it wasn't a doctor or nurse that had entered. Without conscious thought he placed himself between the intruder and Tony, one hand resting on his weapon.

He knew this stranger even though he didn't actually recognize the face. It had to be one of them. Once the alabaster skin and dark eyes had been seen and faint chill that wafted from him were felt, it was impossible for Gibbs not to know who and what the stranger was. The half unfurled over the stranger's shoulders cemented the knowledge.

"You can't have him." Gibbs hissed, eyes narrowed in impotent anger, determined to do the impossible.

The stranger smiled quizzically, head cocked to one side. Midnight eyes, darker than coal, seemed to suck up what little light remained in the room. "And how would you stop me?" The question was soft, gentle, openly curious.

Gibbs glared. He didn't know how to stop an angel of death, but he damn sure wasn't going to let Tony go without a fight. He unconsciously tightened his grip on his gun, but didn't draw it, knowing the weapon wouldn't do any good. But he wasn't losing any more of his own, especially not Tony. Not now, not ever. There was so much he hadn't gotten to say yet.

"You take me instead." Gibbs made it a command rather than an offer or suggestion. His chin came up in defiance, challenging.

The angel shook his head slowly. "It does not work like that." A graceful shrug caused the wings to open widely before closing to settle neatly against broad shoulders. The angel opened his hands, palms toward Gibbs. "Everyone has to go some time."

"It's not his time." Gibbs' jaw tightened, unwilling to back down. Tony was going to live a long life damn it. He'd see to it. Even if he couldn't be a part of it, even if he never got the chance to tell him how much he cared---none of that mattered as long as he knew Tony would be okay.

"It is not your time either, Leroy Jethro Gibbs." The angel countered mildly.

Gibbs tried not to start at the full use of his name, oddly surprised by the fact the angel knew him. He wasn't sure what to make the angel's placid, forthright demeanor. The last time he'd encountered one of the many who ushered souls from one world to the next, things had happened so quickly he wasn't sure what had happened. He'd only come away with a feeling of rage and frustration that he'd been unable to stop it and another good man had been lost because of his ineptitude.

"Boss?" One whispered, raspy word from behind him made Gibbs flinch. He hadn't meant to disturb the younger man. Tony needed to rest.

"It's okay, Tony." Gibbs didn't look over his shoulder, unwilling to take his eyes off the angel. "Everything's fine. Go back to sleep."

The hacking, painful cough forced Gibbs to turn around. It was impossible for Tony to breath through coughing without sitting up. Physically exhausted by the past two days it was difficult for Tony to sit up on his own unaided. Gibbs couldn't let him suffocate even if it meant turning his back on an angel of death.

Gibbs helped Tony sit up, supporting him as Tony struggled to clear his lungs. He snarled silently in anger and fear when he saw the angel suddenly appear on the other side of the bed, one hand reaching out to lightly pat Tony's back. Tony stopped coughing almost immediately, his breathing easier and clearer than it had been since he'd been infected.

The angel smiled beatifically, eyes taking on an indigo color as they met Gibbs startled, wary glance. "Death is not always a bringer of pain and suffering."

Gibbs wanted to snap at the angel to get the hell away, but he wasn't sure if Tony was even aware of its presence and he didn't want to draw attention to the angel if the younger man couldn't see it. Most people were oblivious, unless they were dying. Ducky was a notable exception, much like Gibbs. The former Marine assumed the nature of the older man's job and his association with Death might have something to do with his sensitivity.

Gibbs wasn't sure why he could see them, but he had ever since his time in the Gulf and he was damn glad it was a rare occurrence. This was the first time he'd ever actually spoken to one. He just wanted the damn thing to go away empty handed.

"Thanks, Boss." Tony rasped quietly drawing Gibbs attention away for the ethereal being.

Gibbs helped him lie down again, unconsciously running his fingers through Tony's hair in a soothing gesture. It was a liberty he'd never allowed himself before, but couldn't deny himself now. "Better?"

"Yeah." Tony sighed. "Can...I have...some water?"

A small cup appeared, the angel holding it to Tony's lips for him to drink before Gibbs could even voice a protest. The water or whatever was in the cup didn't appear to have caused Tony any harm, but Gibbs shot a fierce glare at the angel anyway. He didn't like this. Not one bit. Death wasn't supposed to be helpful.

Tony frowned slightly, forehead wrinkling as tired green eyes stared at the angel. "I know you." The statement was more of a question.

"Yes, you do." The angel gave Tony a warm, fond smile. "It has been awhile, Anthony Michael DiNozzo."

Tony blinked, a sudden grin appearing. "Sam."

"Hello, Tony." The angel readily took the hand Tony offered. They engaged in what had to be some sort of ritual handshake Tony had probably learned in college.

Gibbs shook his head. Tony was on good terms with most people, Gibbs thought with a silent sigh, but this is ridiculous. Only Tony would be on a first name basis with an angel of death.

"You here for me?" The question was surprisingly calm. Tony sounded more disappointed than upset.

"No." Sam shook his head. "Not this time."

Green eyes narrowed darting from the angel to Gibbs and back. Tony frowned, accelerating breathing and heart rate showing up on the monitors still attached to him. "He can see you."

Sam held up one hand in a placating gesture. "I am not here for him either."

"You sure?" Tony sounded as close to panicked as Gibbs had ever heard.

"My word on it."

Tony nodded, his breathing slowing again, a small cough escaping as he relaxed into the bed.

"Why are you here?" Gibbs interjected, determined to get an answer.

"Bethesda is a very busy place." Sam shrugged casually, wings once more ruffling before lying flat.

Gibbs grimaced, unable not to acknowledge the simple truth in that statement. People died in the hospital every day, it was an unavoidable fact of life. To his surprise, Tony gave Sam a sympathetic look.

"Sorry, Sam." Tony reached out and captured one of Sam's hands, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Job sucks, but someone's...gotta do it."

Sam smiled, his free hand reaching to lightly caress Tony's forehead. Gibbs watched Sam like a hawk, only relaxing when he literally saw Tony's color improve, the heart monitor beeped steadily in the background. Tony's eyes drifted closed before fluttering open again.

"Go to sleep, Tony. Rest."

" you." Tony shook his head like a stubborn child resisting a nap. "Haven't seen to have stuff about."

"There will be plenty of time in the future. An eternity, in fact." Sam smiled warmly, eyes changing to a slate gray, hand moving to cover Tony's eyes. "Sleep."

The command was gentle but clearly unavoidable as Tony settled into sleep again. Gibbs couldn't resist double checking. He placed two fingers on Tony's neck, relieved to feel his pulse still beating strongly, not trusting the machines around him.

Sam stepped back, eyes once more a deep indigo meeting Gibbs blue counterparts. "He will sleep for the rest of the night, and most of the morning."

"What did you do?" Gibbs was still uncertain how to deal with an angel of death that hadn't simple killed and left.

"I don't kill people." Sam's light chastise held a definite note of hurt and made Gibbs wonder if the angel could read his mind. "The force of life, the soul, can only abide so much, and only animate the body for so long. I usher them home, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, when they are ready. Ease their passing whenever possible. No more, and no less."

Sam's eyes rested on Tony again, his expression warming to one of fond affection. "Tony has always understood. It is but one of the many things that makes him so special."

Sam straightened, shoulders squaring as he faced Gibbs. "As for what I did," Sam made a meaningless hand gesture, "infections and disease have a natural course of life as well. I simply hastened that along."

Sam stepped back, head cocked to one side as though listening to something. "It is time for me to go."


Sam arched an eyebrow, waiting silently. Gibbs shook his head, still trying to grasp what the hell had just happened here. "Angels of death don't just pay friendly visits."

Sam blinked, giving him a quizzical look. "How would you know?" He laughed lightly, a soft musical sound that was reminiscent of the tinkling of bells.

Dark eyes once more rested on Tony. "For him...I do a great many things."

"Why? What is Tony to you?" Gibbs growled. He hated that he didn't understand.

"Tony is an old friend."

That wasn't not possible, Gibbs thought. People didn't make friends with angels and certainly not those that are harbingers of death.

Sam smiled enigmatically. "Anything is possible."

The angel stepped forward, his countenance suddenly less benign and more chilling as he leaned into Gibbs' personal space. "Tony stayed for you. Fought hard to live...has fought harder than most ever do, just for you." Dark eyes narrowed. "Make sure you are worth it."

Gibbs swallowed, not afraid but definitely uneasy with the implied threat. It was decidedly unnerving to face off against a being he couldn't really do any damage to, couldn't even be sure was real.

Sam sighed softly and shifted so that he no longer towered over Gibbs, pose less threatening. "Tell him what secrets you have, share your accords you only so many second chances Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you may not get another."

Sam smiled gently again, reaching out to lightly brush pale fingers through Tony's hair. "He deserves to be happy." Dark eyes regarded Gibbs steadily for a moment. "And so do you, I think."

And with that Sam vanished. Gibbs blinked. He expected something more obvious---a puff of smoke, a flash, roll of thunder... something. The room seemed brighter now, warm than it had been with the angel gone.

He sat down, taking a shaky breath. That wasn't something that happened every day and he needed a minute to just absorb it. One deep breath in, Gibbs let it out very slowly.

He shook his head, looking at Tony sleeping peacefully. If it weren't for how much better the younger man looked and how much better he was breathing, Gibbs would be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as a strange dream. But then he had is own past experience to draw on as well---not that it even held a candle to what had just happened. Not by a long shot.

Without thinking, Gibbs took Tony's hand in his, entwining their fingers, drawing comfort from the warmth he found. Sam said Tony had stayed for him, fought to live for him. Maybe it was time to share a few things. Before he wasted another chance to do so.


Chapter Text

part 2

Gibbs tried once more to settle comfortably into the stiff chair the hospital had provided. He sipped from yet another cup of hot coffee he'd procured from the doctor's lounge just down the hall. The medical staff knew better than to deny him access to their stash. There was no way in hell Gibbs was going to drink the crap the vending machine dispensed and he definitely wasn't going without is usual amount of caffeine.

Gibbs sighed softly, leaning forward slightly to reach out and clasp Tony's left hand with his own. He'd spent most of the night holding Tony's hand and it felt wrong to even consider letting go. The physical connection was far more reassuring than the machines steadily monitoring Tony's life signs.

Sam hadn't lied when he said Tony would sleep through the night. There were no more painful bouts of coughing, no restless movements or indications of distress. Gibbs glanced as his watch wondering if Sam's statement that Tony would sleep most of the morning would be just as accurate.

Gibbs had already fielded four phone calls; Ducky, Kate, Abby and McGee had all checked in to see how Tony was doing and if they should relieve Gibbs. He grimaced, still insulted by Kate's not so subtle insinuation that he wasn't the Florence Nightingale type and that he might do more harm than good. He grinned wolfishly wondering just how much progress she'd made on the dead case files he'd put her to work on.

He told McGee to work with Cassie on finishing up the paperwork on this case. It needed to be done, and they were as good a choice as any. Gibbs wondered if he might be able to get Cassie assigned temporarily---just until Tony was cleared for duty. He unconsciously tightened his hold on Tony's hand, once more making sure the younger man was still warm and alive and on his team.

Abby, he'd bribed off with the promise that she could come by in the afternoon if nothing came up in the mean time. She was Tony's friend, and Gibbs knew the younger man would be glad to see her. He didn't want Tony to think she didn't want to see him. Tony's feelings would be hurt if no one stopped by.

Ducky---somehow Gibbs was sure his old friend knew something had happened last night even though he hadn't actually said anything about Sam or his feelings for Tony. The ME was too smart by far. He hadn't quibbled when Gibbs said he was staying. He could almost hear Ducky smiling over the phone.

Gibbs glanced toward the window, pleased that Tony was in a regular room. The isolation chamber with its ultraviolet lights and glass walls was just too cold and sterile to be comfortable. And it didn't exactly inspire a lot of hope. It was unnatural. The sunlight streaming through the window was more positive and comforting.

He looked back to find confused, sleepy green eyes regarding him. " still here?"

"Yeah." Gibbs wasn't sure what else to say, what explanation he should give that would make sense so he opted just to stay quiet.

" it?" Tony mumbled around a small cough, voice roughened by a combination of illness and sleep.

"Little after nine."

Tony sighed, shifting in bed for the first time since Sam had left last night. He raised his right hand to rub at his eyes before frowning slightly. He looked down at the hand Gibbs still held before looking back up in askance at Gibbs.


Gibbs cleared his throat and tried not to let his embarrassment get the better of him. "Just making sure you were still here." He tried to sound gruff, unconcerned, but knew he failed miserably.

"Was I going somewhere?" Tony arched an eyebrow, looking perplexed, but he didn't try to withdraw his hand.

Gibbs grimaced, remembering how Tony had looked not that long ago. He shuddered, automatically tightening the hold he still had on Tony's hand. Embarrassed or not, he still wasn't ready to let go.

"No, you aren't going anywhere." Gibbs declared. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Don't think it works like that, Boss." Tony smiled wanly, looking apologetic. The words strangely echoed what Sam had said last night.

"You remember?" Gibbs' eyes narrowed as he studied Tony.

"Remember what?"

"Sam." He tried not to make the name sound like a curse.

Tony blinked, the same grin he'd had when he recognized Sam last night returned. It was easier to see now in the light of day that this wasn't his usual Cheshire grin or devil may care look, but was softer and warmer, hinting at fond, pleasant memories. Gibbs caught his breath for a moment, a surge of jealousy catching him by surprise as he realized he'd never seen anyone cause Tony to look that way before.

"Yeah, I remember." He gave Gibbs another puzzled look, head cocked to one side as his smile faded. "Didn't think you'd remember him though."


"Most people don't even see him, much less remember him." Tony shrugged one shoulder. His expression turned sheepish. "Guess you aren't most people, hunh?"

Gibbs resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "He said you were old friends." He didn't quite ask, but the question was there just the same.

"We are." Tony smiled again, eyes alit with pleasure before dimming a bit with regret. "Would have liked to have talked to him some more. Haven't seen him in a few years."

Gibbs didn't see the lack of contact between Tony and an angel of death as a bad thing. But Sam was certainly not what he was used to either. "You want to tell me how you got to be friends with an angel of death?"

Tony winced. "Angel of death is kind of harsh, Boss."

"Telling me he isn't one?" Gibbs didn't quite bark the question and he winced internally at how quickly the younger man's face lost all expression, shifting into something blandly neutral.

"No, not saying that." Tony sighed. It was a tired, resigned sound. His eyes moved away from Gibbs to focus on the far wall. "Just has a negative connotation when you put it that way."

Tony tugged the hand Gibbs still held, clearly wanting to him to let go. Gibbs reluctantly released it. Tony fumbled for the bed controls, keying it so he was sitting a little more upright but still not looking at Gibbs.

Gibbs' jaw tightened. When he spoke again, he deliberately softened his tone wanting to reestablish some sense of rapport. "I know it isn't exactly a flattering description...but I'm not sure there's a better way to characterize what he is and what he does."

"Never thought I'd have this conversation with you." Tony shook his head, a raspy ironic chuckle escaping, before it morphed into a small cough. "Abby maybe. But don't think Sam would live up to her expectations." Sharp green eyes met blue. "Don't think he's what you expected either."

"He wasn't." Gibbs stated honestly, not ashamed to admit that. "But then I've never really spent much time with them."

"They usually don't spend much time." Tony shrugged, fingers fiddling with the edge of one of his blankets. "Sam said mostly they just do the job and move on."

Gibbs considered that. Sam had said Tony was special. That, Gibbs already knew. The younger man was irreplaceable to him. But what he didn't know was what made Tony special to Sam. What made him special enough that Sam would come to visit, would hang around and help him, would consider Tony a friend instead of just one more soul to assist on its way.

Tony licked his lips. "Can I have some water?"

"Of course." Gibbs mentally cursed himself for not offering Tony something sooner. Dr. Pitt said Tony would be dehydrated, and even with the IV he was still bound to be thirsty. He filled one of the paper cups on the night stand with water from the nearby pitcher offering it to Tony, helping him hold it steady when his hand shook slightly.

"Thanks." Tony pushed the cup away when it was empty. In spite of having slept soundly for more than eight hours, they younger man still looked exhausted and run down. It hurt to see the usually energetic younger man so uncharacteristically lethargic.

"You hungry?" Gibbs had no idea what time they served breakfast but if Tony wanted something, Gibbs would make damn sure someone in the hospital got it for him.

Tony shook his head, eyes closing. His palor and the dark circles under his eyes were even more pronounced with them closed, mute reminders of how close the young man had come to dying. Gibbs thought Tony had fallen asleep again when he started talking quietly.

"When I was five, I taught myself how to ride a bike." The statement held a note of pride. "Was going to show my mom and dad when they got back from their trip."

Gibbs bit his tongue to keep from asking who was supposed to be watching Tony while his parents were away. And what sort of trip required both of them, leaving a five year old behind. He didn't know the particulars, but he knew Tony's home life hadn't exactly been Normal Rockwell material. He knew if he said anything odds were good Tony would stop talking or would neatly direct the conversation to another topic.

Tony shifted so he was lying more on his side, facing Gibbs, eyes opening part way. "Still wasn't too good at it when my buddy, Mike, dared me to ride all the way up the street and back."

Tony swallowed hard, taking a deep breath and then another. "Can't remember exactly what happened, but I clearly remember the sound of squealing tires and how it felt to get hit."

Adults could easily be killed being struck by a car, and Gibbs had no difficulty picturing the sort of damage one could do to a child. Without thinking he found himself moving to touch Tony again, to once more confirm that he was alive and well. He ran his fingers through Tony's hair, more than a little pleased that the younger man didn't seem to mind.

"I a coma for about a week." Tony shivered and Gibbs found himself reaching to pull the blanket up. He sat on the edge of the bed, needing to be closer, wanting to ease old hurts.

Tony sighed. "Doctors said it was touch and go for awhile." He shook his head, expression more than just a little lost. "Mom and Dad couldn't get back. Had to have my uncle sign off on the paperwork, but he didn't stay long enough to see the ink dry."

Gibbs took a slow, deep breath, forcibly reining in his fury. What kind of parent doesn't move heaven and earth when their child is in intensive care? What sort of person leaves a child alone in that situation?

Tony curled into himself just a bit, incidentally putting him closer to Gibbs. "That's...ah...that was when I met Sam."

"Were you scared?" Gibbs asked softly, keeping his anger in check.

"Not really." Tony smiled suddenly, tension and remembered disappointment leaving as quickly as it came, his eyes closing completely as his body relaxed. "Sam's a good guy. Kept me company 24/7...told me stories, made shadow pictures on the wall that seemed to come to life. Even made it so I didn't hurt so bad."

Tony yawned, once more rubbing at his eyes. "Didn't really know what he was then. Didn't know I should be afraid of him. When I found out, I already liked him so he didn't scare me."

His voice was fading as his breathing slowed and Gibbs leaned in closer to hear him clearly. "Sam's feathers were so soft. Warm too. Reminded me of petting a baby the ones Alison brought for show and tell."

Tony sighed deeply, a faint rattle in his chest audible when he did. "He let me keep one...still have it."

He started coughing. It was a harsh, grating sound and Gibbs shifted so he could pull Tony upright. He held him against his chest, letting Tony lean into him while he lightly patted the younger man's back to help clear his lungs. He was reminded of burping one of his old in-laws' babies except that his feelings for Tony were far from paternal.

Tony's face was buried in Gibbs' shoulder, muffling the sound of his cough. Even muffled it still sounded awful. Gibbs knew it wasn't as bad as it had been, but it was hard to find that fact reassuring.

He held Tony for a few moments after the bout of coughing ceased, just enjoying the closeness. He cupped the back of Tony's head, fingers stroking the silky soft hair and massaging the back of his neck. "You okay, now?"

Tony shook his head. "Hurts."

"What hurts?" Gibbs tried not to panic. Dr. Pitt had said Tony's recovery would be a lot like getting over pneumonia or bronchitis.

"Chest." Tony's hoarse whisper was nearly as painful to hear as it had likely been for him to talk. "Throat."

That was expected given how Tony had been coughing. "Let's get you lying down again, and I'll call the nurse to bring you something."

He helped Tony lean back on the bed, assessing his pale face for signs of any thing more serious than just the after effects of coughing. No blood on his lips or on Gibbs' shoulder. Thank god.

He hit the call button, unwilling to leave Tony alone. A nurse Gibbs didn't recognize entered the room a moment later. She was older than Emma, neatly braided blonde hair streaked with gray. Her name tag indicated her name was `Ruth'.

"Hello, Mr. DiNozzo." She just nodded to Gibbs as she checked the machines and Tony's IV, moving with a calm efficiency. The corner of her eyes crinkled when she smiled at Tony. "It's good to see you awake. What can I do for you?"

"His chest and throat hurt." Gibbs interjected before Tony could say anything.

"That's not unexpected." Ruth nodded, patting Tony's arm reassuringly, the gesture decidedly maternal. "Let me see what I can get for you, okay?"

"Thanks, Ruth." Tony whispered tiredly.

"I'll be right back, honey." Ruth patted his shoulder again and left the room. She was back less than a minute later with a syringe and a cup of some thick, syrup like liquid.

She offered the cup to Tony. "That will help your throat."

Gibbs helped Tony drink it, holding his hand steady and ignoring the face the younger man made at the taste. He offered him another cup of water to wash it down with. Tony sipped it slowly, but he was definitely swallowing with more ease than he had been.

Ruth inserted the needle into Tony's IV. "This will give you a steady delivery of pain medication for the rest of the morning." Ruth smiled. "You want some breakfast?"

Tony shook his head wearily. Ruth frowned slightly but nodded, accepting his decision. "I'll be by to make sure you get something for lunch then."

Gibbs liked that she didn't actually give Tony a choice when it came to lunch. He had no doubt that Ruth would be by in a few hours and make sure Tony got something nutritious and substantial to eat. She endeared herself to him with that simple fact.

"You okay, now?" Gibbs asked, hesitantly after Ruth left.

Tony grimaced, rolling his eyes. "Just...peachy."

"Stupid question." Gibbs admitted feeling foolish for even asking.

"Yes." Tony smirked. "Pretty sure you aren't the only one to ask that."

"No" Gibbs pursed his lips. "Probably not."

"You don't stay, Boss." Tony made a vague shooing motion with one hand before covering his mouth to cough once more. " got...more important things to do."

Gibbs winced internally. There was nothing more important to him---and maybe it was high time Tony knew that. They'd had more than their fair share of close calls in the last few years. He really hadn't needed Sam to point out he was only going to get so many `second chances'; he should have come to that conclusion on his own a long time ago.

Gibbs sat down in that torture device that doubled as a chair. With deliberate care he captured Tony's hand, rubbing one thumb across his knuckles in a gentle caress. "Nothing more important than you, DiNozzo."

Tony stared at him, eyes wary and uncertain, brow wrinkle slightly. "Gonna have to ask...Ruth what she...gave me, cause I thought you saidâ€""

"I did." Gibbs fought the urge to nervously clear his throat. The admission wasn't a declaration of love, well, not really. But it was a start.

Tony's eyes widened, face losing what little color he'd regained. "I'm dying, right? They lied?"

"No." Gibbs didn't quite shout, but raised his voice enough to cut through Tony's rising panic and agitation. "You're going to be fine, Tony." He let go of Tony's hand to stand up and cup his face, leaning in to force eye contact and holding it. "I. Would. Not. Lie. To. You." He kept his words slow and distinct. "You are going to be fine. You are not dying."

Tony frowned, breathing still a bit ragged as Gibbs words sank in. Eyes narrowed in confusion. "Then why---"

"Because it's true." Gibbs sighed. "You are irreplaceable." He'd made a joke about it before when Tony had been rescued from the sewer, and he realized now he shouldn't have. "I'm sorry if I ever made you think otherwise. You are a damn good agent, and an asset to my team." He couldn't quite bring himself to confess the rest.

Tony stared at him, green eyes searching blue. Gibbs waited, hoping the younger man would find whatever he was looking for. "One of those razor's edge realizations, eh?" Tony murmured thoughtfully.

"What?" Gibbs shook his head, confused by that cryptic statement.

"Sam told me the difference between alive and dead was like the edge of a razor." Tony's lips curled in a half smile. "He said lots of people have their epiphanies when they find out they're standing on the edge fighting for balance." Tony chuckled dryly. "Though, I'm thinking, it should have been me having that...moment of insight and not you."

"You are probably a few steps ahead of me there, DiNozzo." Gibbs admitted with sheepish smile. Being on good terms with an angel of death no doubt had helped that understanding along. And for the most part, when it came to relating to people, Tony was definitely leaps and bounds ahead of him.

"S'nice to know." Tony's words slurred a little, eyes drooping. He sighed softly, once more relaxing into the bed. "Might be...first...only time...I'm ahead of the curve." Between his exhaustion and whatever medication Ruth had put in his IV Tony clearly wasn't going to be awake for much longer.

Gibbs wasn't entirely certain Tony got what he was trying to say. Words were definitely not his strong point. At least he'd managed to convey how much Tony mattered. Gibbs considered that a small victory. He'd gotten the ball rolling. That had to count for something. He just hoped it was enough for when he finally managed to find the right words. He wasn't going to waste this chance.

"Go to sleep, Tony." Gibbs ordered gently.

"You' here...when I...wake up?"

"I'll be here." There was no where else he'd rather be.

end part 2

Chapter Text

part 3

I will have to work in Twilight eventually in this story. But for the moment this chapter doesn't include any reference to that yet. :-) Still bacially Post SWAK.


Gibbs sighed softly, rubbing at his eyes. He poured himself another cup of coffee, hoping it would work its usual magic and make him feel more alert. He glared at the man who walked in giving Gibbs a suspicious once over as he got a mug for himself from the small rack nearby. Given that it was the physicians' lounge it was safe to assume the guy in scrubs was a doctor, but Gibbs didn't know whohe was, and he didn't care.

Gibbs knew he probably warranted getting more than a cursory glance. He hadn't shaved and his clothes were wrinkled like he'd slept in them. It only stood to reason they would look that way since he had slept in them. Not that he'd really gotten much sleep, just a few hours at most, but it was enough for now.

When Abby arrived late in the afternoon to spend time with Tony, Gibbs had planned to leave for a few hours. Tony would be in good hands with Abby. He trusted her. So it was going to be his chance to go home, shower, take a nap, and change his clothes before coming back. That had been the plan. But then Tony's temperature spiked back up, and he'd been running a fever since.

Dr. Pitt said it was nothing to be concerned about. Gibbs had nearly punched him when he said it----looking so calm and unconcerned. The former marine knew it was the man's job to look like that, but he wasn't going to be pacified with stupid platitudes. Everything about Tony mattered, so he sure as hell wasn't leaving until the younger man's temperature was back to normal. A slight fever had been the first symptom of Y.Pestris and the nagging fear of nearly losing Tony to it again made it impossible for Gibbs to leave.

Abby stayed for a little over two hours. She entertained Tony with a running commentary on everything from what was going on at the office to her theory on aliens and where she should get her next tattoo. The lab tech didn't seem to mind or notice that Tony wasn't holding up his end of their normal banter as well as he usually did. Or that his commentary was often interrupted by painful bouts of coughing.

When Tony dozed off, she all but dragged Gibbs into the hallway quietly demanding, "He is getting better, right?" Worry and apprehension clear in her _expression and harsh whisper.

"Yeah, Abs, he's getting better." Gibbs assured her. Assuming the damn doctor hadn't lied.

"Kate said he looked like hell." Abby shook her head, dark pigtails echoing the movement. "But I thought he wouldn't look as bad as he does. I mean," she punctuated her words with her hands, "Tony never really looks bad. Ever. Even in that stupid orange prison jumpsuit he still looked pretty hot. I just thought maybe she was exaggerating `cause you know how Kate be some times. Nearly dying and all is bound toâ€""

"Abby." Gibbs growled, halting her flow of nervous chatter, gripping her upper arms firmly. "He's going to be fine."

She blinked, eyes brighter than normal with unshed tears. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure." He forced himself to make eye contact and hold it. One of them worrying was plenty. He placed a kiss on her forehead. "He's going to be just fine."

He sent her home, ignoring her comment that he looked a little rough around the edges and should probably go home as well. He couldn't leave until he knew Tony was really out of the woods. Doctors were the reason Tony was here in the first place, Gibbs wasn't entirely sure he trusted them to see the younger man safely out.

Gibbs headed back down the hall, leaving behind the disapproving physician without a backward glance. He'd have felt better if Tony had actually eaten something. It was an oddly ingrained belief, the product of his grandmother's influence that a good meal could fix whatever ailed you. But Tony had picked at his lunch and dinner tray, eating only the lime green jello and chocolate pudding.

Gibbs hesitated outside Tony's room, head cocked to one side. He could swear he heard music. Someone was singing, softly, in a foreign language that sounded like Italian or Spanish. Maybe the night nurse had stopped by while he was out.

Gibbs silently entered, jaw tightening as he realized who was singing. "Sam."

The angel looked up, unperturbed by Gibbs arrival. He continued to sing, finishing the song as one hand lightly ran through Tony's hair in a decidedly familiar, paternal caress. Gibbs fought down his instinctive fear and outrage.

"Why are you here?" Although he whispered the question, it still carried enough power to come across as a demand for an answer rather than a request.

"Because I choose to be." Sam answered with an arched eyebrow, dark eyes betraying his amusement. "I thought we already covered that."

Gibbs stepped closer. He studied Tony carefully, unable not to be suspicious of Sam's motives. The younger man was sleeping better than he had been when Gibbs slipped out for his coffee. His breathing was deep and even. Gibbs reached out to feel Tony's forehead, relieved to find he was cooler than he'd been.

Gibbs was grateful Sam's presence had so far been helpful rather than harmful. Taking a deep breath, he swallowed his pride to acknowledge what Sam had done. "Thank you."

Sam cocked his head to one side. "I did not do anything." He shrugged, feathers ruffling slightly. "The lullaby was one his mother used to sing to him. He still finds it soothing."

Gibbs grimaced at the mention of Tony's mother. He still hadn't come to grips with Tony being left alone in a hospital at the tender age of five.

"It was not her fault."

Gibbs frowned. He kept his tone low and even with an effort. "What wasn't her fault?"

"Josephine took great pains to ensure Tony did not know how sick she was."


"The trip she and Tony's father were was to the Walter Reed Hospital." Sam sighed softly, eyes shifting to a disconcerting white opalescence as they focused on Gibbs. "She was in the third day of an experimental ten day treatment for late stage lymphatic cancer when they heard about the accident."

Sam's wings unfurled slightly as though the angel were upset or uncomfortable in some way. Gibbs was surprised to note the feathers weren't white but rather a light gray.

"She was in no condition to leave then. Her husband...Michael was understandably torn." Sam shook his head, eyes once more ebony. "It was not an easy decision for him to make. He thought his brother would make a suitable stand in until both he and Josephine could safely return. It was an error in judgement."

Sam's expression shifted, hinting at something dark and unpleasant. His smile was hard and cruel, reminding Gibbs of what task the angel normally engaged in. "Tony's uncle, Daniel, most definitely warrants your hostility and anger." Black eyes took on a reddish glow reminiscent of lava flows Gibbs had seen in Hawaii. "But he has already been dealt with."

It was odd to find himself in a position of knowing someone else's wrath rivaled his own. Gibbs was tempted to ask what had been done with Daniel, but decided it was probably better not to know. It was unlikely the angel would tell him anyway.

Sam's eyes once more shifted color, this time to a turquoise blue. He smiled at Tony, visage softening. "I thought he would be angry with me. Hate me even."

Gibbs blinked, not quite understanding. "For his uncle?"

"No." Sam shook his head. "A little over a year after our first meeting...I took Josephine when it was her time."

Gibbs had known Tony's mother was deceased. He'd read that in Tony's file, but he hadn't known she died when Tony was so young. "Does he know you--"

"He was there. He saw me." Sam gave Gibbs a rueful look. "He should not have been able to, but then he's not good at following the norm."

Gibbs smirked a little. "No, he isn't."

"I expected him to lash out, to feel as though I had betrayed his trust." Sam winced, eyes shifted to look out the window. "So many think that."

It was just a statement of fact. No condemnation or judgement in it. But Gibbs still felt a bit guilty. He'd definitely fell into the `lash out' category.

"He asked me if she would no longer be in pain if she went with me."

"What.....ah...what did you tell him?" Gibbs asked unable to stifle his curiosity.

"Her struggle for life was what was painful. Her spirit simply could not fight any longer. Coming with me put an end to that." Sam looked him, his countenance sober. "He understood."

Gibbs eyebrows rose. How the hell could a six year old comprehend death, much less accept it? It wasn't possible.

"Nothing is impossible." Sam counted quietly, reminding Gibbs he'd said the same thing last night. "By the time he was six, Tony's life had already hung in the balance once. He had a decidedly personal perspective that most children do not have."

"No child should have." Gibbs ground out.

Sam held up his hands, palms out in a mute proclamation of innocence. "I do not make the rules."

Gibbs grimaced. He wanted to say that was a cop out, wanted to argue that more could be done, should be done. The influence of the religion he was brought up in kept him silent, respectful in spite of himself. Sam's knowing look told Gibbs the angel didn't need him to say what he was thinking.

"He asked if I would keep his mother company so that she wouldn't be scare or lonely."

"Did you?"

"So much as I am able." Sam tipped his head in a brief nod that was more reminiscent of a bow. He smiled, reaching out to lightly cup Tony's face, eyes once more blue. "She taught me the lullaby."

Gibbs wondered if that meant Tony's mother was in heaven. He opened his mouth to ask but closed it when Sam ran a hand lightly down one of his wings before plucking out a feather. He offered it to Gibbs.

"I forgot to give it to him when I was here the last time." Sam smiled sheepishly.

Gibbs was surprised by the warmth he felt radiating from the pin feather. His fingers unconsciously moved to stroke it. Tony was right. Sam's feathers were incredibly soft.

"Tell him to add it to his collection."


"I try to leave one for him every time we meet."

Gibbs stared at Sam. "And just how many does he have?"

"More than a dozen if he still has them all."

Gibbs swallowed hard, unprepared for the number to be so high. "He's been that close to dying twelve times?"

"No." Sam shook his head firmly.

"Then howâ€""

"His path and mine have often converged." Sam made a vague, meaningless gesture with one hand. "But I do not know why he can see me. I do not know why you can either." Sam laughed softly, a musical sound that was oddly calming. "Angels are not omniscient, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, so there are things in life that are as much a mystery to us as they are to you."

Gibbs snorted. "Somehow I doubt that."

Sam adopted an innocent expression that closely resembled one Tony often used. He wondered if the angel had taught the younger man that look. Sam waggled his eyebrows silently answering his unvoiced question.

"Have you told him yet?" Sam asked.

"Told him what?"

"Obtuse does not become you."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "You're a persistent shit."

"I am eternal, so I am persistent by definition." Sam pointed out, sounding matter-of-fact rather than smug.

Gibbs pursed his lips in annoyance. "I got the ball rolling."

Sam raised an eyebrow. And Gibbs nearly growled at the faint aura of disappointment in the angel's countenance. The last person to give him that look had been his father when he was sixteen and had gotten his first speeding ticket.

Gibbs pointed a finger at Sam. "It would be easier if you clued me in a bit on how Tony feels." He'd have more confidence if he knew for sure he wasn't going to embarrass himself, or risk being rejected outright.

Sam laughed softly again. "The best things in life require taking a few risks, Leroy Jethro Gibbs." He opened his mouth to say something else before closing it. Sam cocked his head to one side, the same listening posture he'd adopted last night before disappearing.

Gibbs sighed, somewhat surprised to find himself genuinely disappointed that Sam would likely vanish again. It really wasn't hard to see why Tony liked him once he got over his initial reaction to what Sam was. "Let me guess, time of you to go?"

"Duty calls." Sam sounded almost apologetic. To Gibbs surprise he bent down and placed a quick kiss on Tony's forehead and whispered something Gibbs couldn't hope to understand. It sounded almost like a prayer or blessing. And then he was gone.

Gibbs huffed out a breath in annoyance. But he was also relieved. Twice now Sam had shown up and Tony was still warm and alive, better for his visits.

He pursed his lips. He wouldn't put it past Sam to have shown up and spoken to him just to remind him again how limited his number of `second chances' were. He didn't need to be reminded. He needed a shot of courage to suck it up and find the right words.

Tony moaned and shifted in his sleep, eyelids fluttering but not really opening. Gibbs waited, fingers lightly tracing the feather he'd forgotten he was holding.

"Boss?" Tony shifted restlessly.

Gibbs caught one of Tony's hands. "I'm here." He whispered, inordinately pleased that Tony settled almost immediately. "I'm here."

end part 3

Chapter Text

Gibbs knew his attitude for the past week would be what Abby would call 'cranky'. He let his team assume it was because his knee was bothering him. That was easier than trying to explain the real reason why he was snapping and snarling at everyone, sarcastic and biting commentary even sharper than what was normal for him.

He couldn't very well tell his team the reason he was so out of sorts was because Tony was out of the hospital. Tony being out of the hospital was a good thing, a very good thing. It meant the younger man was getting better. Unfortunately, it also meant Gibbs couldn't see him every day.

In the hospital it was okay to be there. No one asked questions. Hell, it was almost cliché for him to be there for his teammate....friend. Tony definitely seemed to want him there. And Tony obviously didn't object to having company or letting Gibbs hold his hand when he felt like shit, hovering near death's door with his very own Angel of Death popping in twice to see how he was doing. But, home, that was another story.

Gibbs had never shown up at Tony's door without a reason before, and couldn't do so now. And while he had a reason, a damn good reason at that, he still hadn't figured out how to verbalize it. He hadn't found the right words or maybe he had and just couldn't seem to locate the courage to take the risk and say them out loud to Tony. Until he did, he didn't want to find himself staring at Tony like some love struck teenager, stuttering through some lame ass excuse that wouldn't fool a four year old.

The office atmosphere was wrong without Tony there, adding to Gibbs feeling of being out of sorts. There had been no teasing comments, no laughing, no delighted grins or insightful observations that were the hallmark of the younger man's presence. Gibbs hated seeing Tony's desk empty. It was an all too visible reminder of what nearly happened. And he knew it wasn't just him. Kate and McGee missed Tony too even though they hadn't said anything to Gibbs directly, he could tell.

He already knew Tony was planning to come back early. He had to be; in his own way, Tony was as much a workaholic as Gibbs. He made a better show of having other interests, even managed to take time off to enjoy himself, but he logged nearly as many hours as Gibbs. The former Marine knew Tony often slipped in after the rest of the staff had gone home to finish up a report to dig deeper for answers. Tony made it look easy to have the answers at his fingertips, to be able to piece together clues the others missed, but Gibbs knew he put a lot of work into it. It had to be driving him nuts to be out of the loop.

While he would be secretly ecstatic to have him back where he could see him every day, Gibbs worried Tony was pushing himself and coming back to soon. And he hadn't quite let go of the fact that it was at the office where Tony had been exposed. The office was supposed to be a safe place, damn it. Part of his rage with the demented bitch who'd sent the Y. Pestis was the righteous anger of having his sanctuary violated.

He'd made the health crews sanitize the office twice. And Gibbs had kept it shut down a day longer than the maximum requirement to be sure it was safe again. New protocols for the mail had been implemented too.

Tony had called and left a message on Gibbs' voice mail yesterday letting him know when he'd be in. It was a little later than his usual time. And Gibbs wondered about that until he remembered Tony had one last doctor's appointment first thing in the morning. It was one last check up.

Gibbs had already spoken with Tony's doctor half an hour ago. The doctor had cautiously okay'd Tony's return to work, but had also recommended another week off. Gibbs grimaced already knowing that wasn't going to happen.

Gibbs lingered in the lobby, out of sight, waiting for Tony to arrive. He sipped his coffee, eyes focused on the door eager for that first glimpse of Tony. He smiled as Tony sauntered through the door, long limbed gait easy and smooth. He looked a lot better than he had the last time Gibbs had seen him.

From where he stood Gibbs couldn't hear what Tony said to the security guard but it made the other man laugh. Gibbs shook his head. Tony was on good terms with nearly everyone. His easy going nature and ready smile made it hard not to like him even when he was being an ass. It was definitely part of his charm.

"It's no wonder I fell for him." Gibbs muttered to himself before moving from his hiding spot to the elevator. He blamed his not realizing it sooner on the fact it had been years since another man had sparked any interest.

He timed his move so that it would seem as though he'd just been waiting on the elevator when Tony got there. Everyone knew he went out for coffee and he had the cup to prove it. Nothing suspicious or out of the ordinary there.

"Hey, Boss." Tony greeted him with a smile.

"DiNozzo." Gibbs returned the smile, unable not to. "Doctor clear you?" It would have seemed odd for him not to ask even though he already knew the answer.

Tony nodded as he stepped into the elevator, leaning casually against the back wall. "I'm good to go."

"You sure you're up for this?" Gibbs needed to be certain.

"Never felt better."



Gibbs faced the door, not wanting to give into the temptation to scrutinize Tony more closely. He'd already noticed the pallor and dark circles under his eyes. Tony had lost weight; not much, but noticeable. Gibbs knew Tony hadn't been eating well while at the hospital and it didn't look like he'd been eating any more at home. He looked like crap, and Gibbs couldn't stop himself from saying so.

"Missed you too, Boss."

Gibbs smiled slightly at that comment. For all its sarcasm and feigned hurt, it was honest. Gibbs couldn't quite bring himself to tell Tony he'd missed him too.

He wasn't really surprised to hear Tony start arguing against taking more time and how important he was to the team. He made the dig about them getting more work done while he was gone because it was expected. It wasn't true, but it worked to keep Tony talking. Gibbs had missed the sound of his voice.

He knew they'd all done just a bit too well appearing unconcerned and uncaring in the bull pen when Tony mumbled aloud, "Maybe I did die."

Gibbs winced. That was just a little too close to home. And he immediately regretted tossing the keys to McGee.

"You feel that?"

Tony gave him a confused look. Gibbs smacked him across the back of the head. It felt so damn good, so normal and right to be able to do that again. He realized he'd vented a bit too much of his left over fear, anger, and worry at the way Tony flinched.

"You're still alive. Welcome back, DiNozzo."

Of course that declaration was nearly not true only an hour later when the car with two dead sailors in it blew up. Gibbs had silently cursed with a vehemence and dexterity that would have made his drill sergeant blush, instinctively checking his team as he tried to recover his own sense of equilibrium. He was nearly frantic when he realized he couldn't find Tony.

Kate had beaten Gibbs to the punch when she called out Tony's name, giving voice to his own anxiety and desperation. Seeing Tony crawl up the hill, Gibbs had almost panicked thinking he'd been seriously injured. He should never have let him out of the office, much less on a case. He knew he should have ordered him back when Tony had tripped and fallen down the hill earlier. It wasn't something that would have ever happened if Tony had been at the top of his game. Instead he'd made some comment about how Tony really should have taken that week, pretending things were back to normal when he knew they weren't.

Tony looked up at him, his expression faintly pained. "Boss, when I said this morning I never felt better?....I lied."

That little bit of honest humor would have been a lot more reassuring if Tony hadn't collapsed right after he said it. Gibbs was up and moving before he realized he'd even done so, crouching down next to Tony, seeking his pulse. He was relieved to feel it beating strongly, if a little fast, and set to looking for blood and other signs of trauma.

"Damn you, DiNozzo, you've got to stop doing this." Gibbs whispered harshly, as he gently rolled him over, reassured to find no blood or obvious broken bones there either.

"Doing what?" Tony blinked, eyes not quite focusing as they stared up at Gibbs.

"Damn near dying." Gibbs growled.

"Okay." Tony's easy agreement told Gibbs he still wasn't quite with it. Otherwise he'd have probably given him a more snappy retort.

When Tony tried to sit up, Gibbs held him down, palm centered on his chest. "Don't move." He called for Ducky over his shoulder.

He could see McGee giving Tony anxious looks as he helped Kate to her feet. Better to put them to work rather than dwell on what almost happened. "Kate...McGee...get busy processing what's left of our crime scene. We still have a job to do here."

"Hello, Anthony." Ducky crouched down on the opposite side of Tony. He captured one of Tony's wrists, fingers moving unerringly to locate the pulse point. "First day back and it seems you've managed to find some excitement already."

Tony's grin lacked its usual brightness, but it was good to see nonetheless. "Heard you got a little lost on your way here, Ducky."

"Yes, well, that was all Mr. Palmer's fault, I'm afraid." Ducky shook his head at Tony. "He was foolish enough to give me the map." Everyone knew Ducky had no sense of direction.

Tony chuckled and then started coughing. The coughing wasn't as harsh or rough as had it been when he was in Bethesda, and was probably just the result of getting the wind knocked out him, but it still added to Gibbs' worry. He helped Tony sit up knowing that would make it easier for him to breathe and clear his lungs.

Ducky frowned, and gave Tony a studied glance. "Perhaps you should take some more time off, Anthony. A few more days."

"No." Tony glared at Ducky, jaw tightening in a stubborn look Gibbs knew all too well. "I'm fine."

Ducky gave him a pointedly disbelieving look. Gibbs grimaced. He wanted Tony where he could keep an eye on him. And that meant staying on the job. It wasn't ideal, but it would have to do.

"When the bodies are ready, Ducky, take Tony with you and check him out thoroughly." When Tony opened his mouth to protest, Gibbs stopped him cold with a hard look. "You let him look you over, or you go home. Those are your choices."

Tony sighed. "Fine."

"Good." Gibbs smiled slightly. He lightly patted Tony's back before moving his hand to cup the nape of the younger man's neck, shaking him just a little, leaning in to speak softly enough that what he said was for Tony only. "Scared me badly twice already, DiNozzo. I'd appreciate it, if you didn't make a habit of this."

Tony frowned at him when he leaned back. Green eyes widened when he clearly recognized the genuine concern being reflected back at him. He nodded slowly. "Got it, Boss."

"Good." Gibbs fingers just barely brushed the soft strands of Tony's hair in a feather light slap that was more of a caress than a reprimand. "I'll send Kate along to make sure you behave."

"Fine." Tony rolled his eyes. "I'll justâ€""

"Sit right here until Ducky is ready to leave." Gibbs dictated flatly.

Tony sighed heavily. "I canâ€""

"Sit." Gibbs pointed a finger at him. "Stay." Gibbs wasn't sure if he was glad Tony didn't argue more or worried. He hated indecision so he opted to be glad and let it go at that.

Ducky and Palmer worked quickly and efficiently getting what was left of the bodies bagged and tagged. Once they were through, he sent Kate along with them to keep an eye on Tony. "Make sure he lets Ducky check him out."

"No problem, Gibbs." Kate's dark eyes narrowed slightly as she looked over to where Tony was sitting watching McGee collect evidence. "You sure he shouldn't go home?"

"I'm sure he won't go home." Gibbs wished he hadn't finished his coffee already. He could really use some about now. "At least at the office we can keep an eye on him."

She nodded and headed off toward Tony. Gibbs watched her offer him a hand up and his refusal. He took it as a good sign that Tony could get to his feet on his own, but didn't like the stiff way he moved.

Tony looked over at him. Gibbs pointed to the truck with a smile and waved 'bye-bye'. Tony's annoyed little boy expression was heartening for its normalcy.

Gibbs grimaced as he looked over the scattered evidence. At least Kate had pictures from before the explosion. He helped McGee get everything else loaded and ready for Abby. Gibbs hoped she could tell them more about the device. He already had a very bad feeling about this. His gut was telling him this was a lot more than what it appeared on the surface.

After they got everything unloaded, he sent McGee upstairs to track down more information on their dead Lieutenants. Gibbs headed for the morgue to see what Ducky could tell him. And more importantly, find out how Tony was.

Having learned the value of eavesdropping a long time ago, Gibbs hesitated just outside the doors. He winced when Ducky mentioned Tony's blood pressure was 136/84. He knew the younger man's blood pressure was usually closer to 100/60. He grimaced hearing Tony's comment on feeling sore only when he breathed or moved. Damn. He hadn't realized the younger man was feeling that bad. At least his temperature was normal and he still had enough sand to be harassing Kate. Sending her along was a good idea. It kept Tony focused and gave him someone else to harass other than Ducky.

He heard Kate's statement about getting Tony into bed and had to stifle a near instinctive jealous reaction to her words. He knew she didn't mean it the way it had sounded. She cared about Tony, but he was sure she didn't want to have sex with him. It made him wonder what happened that prompted her to say it in the first place.

He entered the morgue abruptly, deftly interrupting the conversation, blue eyes assessing the situation. Tony's posture clued him in on what prompted Kate's 'get you into bed' comment. He really did look like he should be lying down.

"How is he?" He asked Ducky after letting the bit of embarrassment and teasing pass between Tony and Kate.

"Stubborn, pigheaded, and unaware of his own limitations." Ducky indicated, not looking overly happy.

"Sounds about right." Gibbs tried not to show any relief that there wasn't anything more seriously wrong with Tony, and he focused on the case for the moment.

There really wasn't much Ducky or Palmer could tell him about charred remains. They already knew the cause of death had been gunshot wounds. Confirming their ID from their dental records was about all they could do. Gibbs briefly wondered if Sam had been involved in leading their spirits home, or if it had been another of his brethren. He half expected to see the angel at the crime scene when the explosion occurred, and he was damn glad he hadn't.

"Tony, go lay down somewhere before you pass out." He ordered. He knew Tony wouldn't leave the building. He was counting on it in fact because he really wanted to keep an eye on him.

Heading back upstairs he arrived in time to catch the last bit of Kate and McGee teasing Tony. It was nice to have things that much closer to normal. "Hey, thought I told you to lie down?"

"I was." Tony shot Kate a dirty look as he moved to lay down behind his desk again. "I am."

"Not here." Gibbs wanted Tony to rest. It wasn't going to happen if he was listening in while they discussed the case.

His gut feeling that this case was more than just a simple murder just kept getting louder. Everything pointed to it being something far more sinister. He wondered briefly just how fucked up it made him that he welcomed a personal attack to thinking about how to tell Tony that he might just be in love with him.

He had no trouble tracking Tony down later to see if he did what he was told. It wasn't a huge leap in logic to assume he'd gone to Abby's lab. Nor was it a huge surprise to find them discussing the case rather than Tony simply resting. He shook his head, listening in on their conversation.

"Abby, every military explosive over the last 20 years has had taggants mixed in for identification purposes." Tony pointed out calmly, sounding vaguely confused.

"Yep, but these don't." Abby sounded a bit smug, like she's just offered up a detail that will crack the case. Gibbs smiled slightly when he saw her on the floor with Tony. At least he'd followed orders and had laid down.

"You're telling me this guy made this stuff from scratch?"

"The compositions are exact as off the shelf."

"That's not possible." Tony shook his head slightly. "How's that possible? "It shouldn't be possible."

"Oh, it's possible." Gibbs countered, looking down at the two of them. "Are you sure these explosives aren't traceable?"

"Um." Abby managed to shrug in spite of her prone position. "So far, but I'm still checking."

"What about the detonator?"

Abby held up one hand, letting Gibbs pull her to her feet. "Also weird. The electronics are fairly simple but there's no serial number on anything. It's like it's been sanitized."

Gibbs grimaced, trying not to be disappointed. "Let's go, DiNozzo. We've got problems." He turned to leave, not bothering to help him up, knowing Tony would worry that he was showing weakness if he accepted the offer. "Someone's trying to kills us again."

He heard Tony reassure Abby. "I don't think he meant that literally."

Unfortunately, Gibbs did. It was frustratingly familiar. Someone wanted NCIS at that scene. And the bomb was clearly no accident and not the work of an amateur. Now all they had to do was figure out who.

He watched his team working their way through dinner and bantering back and forth. It was a refreshingly normal moment. Something that had been missing since Tony had been gone.

"You want some?" McGee offered food to Tony. Gibbs knew the computer whiz had ordered Tony's favorites. It was a sure sign that he had missed Tony and was trying to let him know that without actually saying so.

"No, thank you." Tony's tone was mild.

McGee raised his eyebrows. He looked slightly worried, glancing toward Kate. "Pass on free food."

Gibbs frowned, jaw tightening. Tony needed to eat. He wasn't going to regain his strength if he didn't. He shouldn't be at the office at all. But Gibbs needed him here. He couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. Tony's agile mind and insight were a good compliment to Kate's logic and detail orientation and McGee's computer skills and technological know how. Gibbs knew they'd all be needed.

"Maybe he is dying." Kate's needling little comment, Gibbs knew was meant to goad Tony into eating, but he still wanted to smack her upside the head for it just the same.

"Well, I haven't had much of an appetite lately, Kate, on account of having the pneumonic plague."

Kate grimaced. "Yeah, Tony, I know, I was there. You don't have to keep bringing it up every five minutes."

Gibbs arched an eyebrow. To his knowledge it was the first time all day Tony had mentioned it, but then he hadn't been with them all day.

"It's not every day you escape the clutches of the Black Death, Kate. It was a life changing experience."

Oh it was that all right, Gibbs thought. It had definitely been an eye-opening experience for him too. Tony's term, 'razor's edge realization' certainly fit. And damn it, he still hadn't found the right words to act on what he'd discovered.

McGee frowned. "How so, Tony?"

"Ask Kate. She was there."

Gibbs was fairly confident Kate hadn't learned as much as he had. It was a safe bet she hadn't seen Sam either. He wondered what her reaction would have been. Given her catholic upbringing, he wasn't sure if she'd be open minded and casual about it or on her knees praying. He was pretty sure that she'd see something wrong with Tony having a friendship with an angel of death.

He studied Tony for a moment. Did Tony have an epiphany of his own? Did it involve Gibbs? Sam said Tony had fought hard to stay alive....had fought for him. He'd taken that to mean that Tony felt the same way Gibbs did or was at least open to the idea. But what if he'd changed his mind? What if Gibbs had misunderstood what Sam said? Suddenly needing to move, to think, to be anywhere but so close to Tony and still so damn far away, Gibbs got up and headed for the elevator.

"Where are you going, Boss?" Kate asked.

"Out." He answered tersely not wanting to explain. He neatly plucked the box of Chinese take out from McGee's hand and set it down firmly on Tony's desk. "DiNozzo, eat something." He made it a direct order, knowing Tony wouldn't refuse.

He issued another order on his way out for them to find out more information on their dead sailors before he got back. It would keep them busy, and with any luck give them a new direction for the case. Gibbs still wanted to know who the hell tried to kill them, and it beat the hell out of trying to figure out his own personal problems.

A visit with Director Marrow proved to be less than satisfying. The man didn't seem to fully grasp the importance of someone nearly killing his entire team. Or the effect that had on Gibbs.

Frustrated and still not quite ready to go back to bull pen, Gibbs headed out to grab a cup of coffee. He wasn't entirely surprise to find Ari in his favorite coffee shop. A familiar icy rage gripped him, and he used it to focus every ounce of his being on his adversary. Sitting down with Ari was like a high stakes poker game, one wrong move and he'd lose it all.

He wasn't particularly worried to find out he was a target. It was a nice validation of how well he was doing his job. Having his life threatened didn't worry him, it never had, but those of innocent bystanders were another story.

"How is Caitlin by the way?" Ari smiled slightly. "I've thought of her often since my last visit."

"Go near her and I don't care what government agency's watching your back, I will kill you this time."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

Ari was a rat bastard of the first order. No doubt about it. Gibbs wished to hell he'd killed him when he had the chance.

He knew better than to trust Ari's word about there not being an explosive devise under one of the tables. And he wasn't at all surprised to find it under the one where they'd been sitting. Ari liked being on the edge, and Gibbs fiercely hoped some day that edge cut him to the bone.

Having something blow up twice in one day was a record for Gibbs and one he sure as hell hoped never to beat. Gibbs grimaced as he got to his feet. He was too old for this shit.

Getting back to the office he overheard Tony say something about leaving over twenty messages and going to look for him. He immediately stifled the little surge of joy it engendered hearing just a bit of worry in the younger man's voice. Now as not the time to get sappy and stupid, especially not when he realized just how much he'd missed in the past hour. Now as not the time for his cell phone to be on the fritz.

"McGee, make the ringer thing work." He tossed the phone at McGee on his way upstairs to see the director.

Somehow he wasn't at all surprised the director wanted him to have a security detail. Having it be Kate in charge did throw him for a loop for just a second. But he accepted it. She was the best qualified for the job. And since he wasn't actually planning on leaving the building it really didn't matter.

He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face, giving up on his computer for now. He shook his head as he glanced around the office, noting with a mixture of pride and exasperation his team's determination to stay with him. He had ordered them to go home and for the first time Tony and McGee had looked to Kate for guidance rather than just accepting his instructions.

It was a disconcerting moment for him, in no small part because it was the right course of action. As much as it might gall him to admit it, where his safety was concerned, she was now in charge. He smiled feeling a rush of pride in his team. They were the best he'd ever worked with.

Gibbs got up and stretched. He frowned slightly as he stared at McGee. How the hell he could sleep sitting upright was a complete mystery. Gibbs pursed his lips and briefly debated if he should wake the younger man and tell him to find some place more comfortable before deciding against it.

He moved silently toward Tony's desk, unable to not check on him. His expression turned tender as he watched him sleep. Tony had told him once he could comfortable anywhere and Gibbs knew he hadn't lied. Over the yeas, he'd seen Tony sleep in some of the most cramped, god awful places and he never looked anything less than completely at ease.

Having done so in the hospital many times, the temptation to once more reach out and touch, to connect and reassure himself that Tony really was alive and well was nearly overwhelming. He stifled the urge. He didn't want to wake Tony. Tony needed the rest and recoup some of his usual energy. He really should be home in bed getting a good night's sleep, but Gibbs was glad he stayed. Here, he could keep an eye on the younger man.

Reluctantly, Gibbs turned away, eyes naturally falling on Kate. He shook his head. She was the only one opting for the floor and had managed to secure a blanket. Although, he suspected the blanket was Tony's. It was rather like him to be prepared for anything at the office, and in spite of the chauvinistic habits Kate accused him of, Tony was more than enough of a gentleman to offer it to her.

Gibbs crouched down and adjusted her blanket. He rubbed her shoulder knowing the light contact wouldn't wake her. Kate had a tendency to sleep deeply. Some days he envied her that.

He got smoothly to his feet, ignoring the slight popping sound his knees made. Gibbs felt restless, but new better than to leave. He opted to head for the break room. He rarely bothered with the coffee in there knowing it wasn't up to his usual standards, but given that it was three o'clock in the morning, he doubted anyone would object if he made a pot for himself.

He waited patiently for the pot to perk, mentally reviewing the case so far and trying hard not to let his anger get the better of him. Sensing he wasn't alone, Gibbs looked up. Tony stood in the doorway, arms crossed against his chest, shoulder leaning against the door jamb.

"You okay?"

Tony raised an eyebrow. "Think maybe I should be asking you that question, Boss."

Gibbs frowned. "I'm fine."

"Uh-hunh." Tony yawned, belatedly covering his mouth with one hand in a languid, graceful movement. "You get any sleep?"

Gibbs sighed. "No."

Tony nodded toward the slowly filling coffee carafe. "Thinking that won't help."

The former cop shook his head, stepping into the room. He deftly turned one of the hard plastic chairs around before sitting in it backwards, facing Gibbs. He folded his arms over the back of the chair, resting his chin on his forearms, green eyes steadily regarding Gibbs. "What's wrong?"

Gibbs snorted. "You mean besides two dead sailors and Ari trying to kill me?"

"Yeah." Tony's smile contrasted with the serious look in his eyes. "Besides that."

Gibbs bit back the desire to tell him the truth. He wanted to tell him that he'd finally realized how important Tony was to him, and how damn stupid he felt that it took Tony nearly dieing for him to figure that out. But now that he did know, he still didn't have the faintest idea what the hell to do about it because what he really wanted scared him more than Ari threatening his life.

"I offered my resignation to Morrow." Gibbs said quietly, opting for that instead.

Tony nodded. "Heard that."

"You heard?"

Tony smirked. "Rumor mill in this outfit is fast as lightning." Green eyes regarded him steadily. "You mean it?"

Gibbs shrugged one shoulder. "At the time."

Tony laughed lightly. "Trump card didn't get you what you wanted, did it?"

Gibbs found himself smiling, unable to resist Tony's good humor even if it was at his expense. "No."

"Don't sweat it." Tony grinned. "Pretty sure Morrow knows you love this job too much to just walk away."

"Job isn't the only thing---" Gibbs nearly bit his tongue in his haste not to complete that sentence. He busied himself getting a cup of coffee hoping Tony would ignore or overlook the slip.

He glanced over at Tony and knew that hope was futile. Tony was too good an investigator not to notice and wonder about abruptly unfinished comment. Gibbs steeled himself, trying not to look like he was doing so.

Tony tilted his head, a curious, thoughtful expression on his face. "You know, I heard you and Sam talking. Been thinking about it...a lot...while I was out on sick leave."

Gibbs blinked, caught completely off guard by that calmly offered bit of information. He could have sworn Tony was out of it whenever Gibbs and Sam had spoken. Gibbs waited, trying not to hold his breath. He hated that he could literally feel his heart rate picking up speed. He should not be afraid of this, damn it. He'd been in combat, handled gun toting maniacs and terrorists, and faced down angry ex-wives for crying out loud.

"Thought I was dreaming....but I know better when it comes to Sam. Have learned to trust what I hear and see around him since it is usually more fact than fiction no matter bizarre it might seem at the time." Tony half shrugged.

The gesture so decidedly reminiscent of the same shoulder rolls he'd seen Sam do that Gibbs idly wondered if he'd taught Sam how to do that when the Angel taught him how to look innocent. That sort of tit for tat seemed to be in keeping with what Gibbs knew of their friendship.

Hoping to redirect the conversation, Gibbs asked, "Just how many feathers of his do you have?"

"Fourteen. If you ask me nicely some day I'll tell you when and where he gave me each one." Tony chuckled dryly, and pointed a finger at Gibbs. "And don't change the subject."

Gibbs tried not to fidget, letting silence speak for him the way he had so often in the past. He sipped his coffee, wishing that he could predict what Tony was going to say, desperately trying to remember what he'd said to Sam and how much he might have already given away.

Tony looked at him, smiling slightly. "I always wondered what you'd look like in a panic."

"I'm not panicking." Gibbs ground out, nearly growling.

"I know." Tony's smile faded, sadness leaking into his eyes. "But you aren't far from it either."

"Don't read too much into that." Gibbs cautioned, disappointed in himself for causing that sorrow, however minor, determined not to ruin whatever this was before it even got started. "I'm not...I don't do well with....I haven't really," Gibbs waved a hand, angry at finding himself unable to explain.

Tony smiled, a surprisingly gentle and tender expression. He rose easily to his feet, stretching like a sleepy cat as he did so. He walked toward Gibbs and the former Marine held himself still, unsure of what to expect.

Tony raised a hand, knuckles lightly ghosting over Gibbs' cheekbone in a soft caress, before he turned it over to cup Gibbs' face. Gibbs unconsciously leaned into that touch, surprised by how natural it was to do, how comfortable and right it felt. He could literally feel himself relaxing. Green eyes held blue for a moment, searching.

"You really meant it." Tony declared; a touch of wonder in his voice. "When you said I was irreplaceable, that I was the most important thing to meant it."

Gibbs never even thought to deny it. "Yes."

Tony smiled. It was soft and warm and stunning. Gibbs couldn't help but return it, feeling like he'd just stepped into a ray of sunshine. He'd never seen this particular smile before and would give his right arm to see it again. It was so openly joyful, so genuine and easy.

Tony sighed softly, the faint puff of air barely reaching Gibbs' skin. A look of regret settled over his features as he pulled back. Gibbs found himself already missing his touch, hungering for return of that smile and decidedly intimate connection that he'd never known were possible with his clothes still on.

"Timing is everything." Tony muttered as he shook his head. "And I think we both know right now is not the time or the place." Tony's eyes drifted out toward the common area where Kate and McGee still slept. "And we aren't going to have enough time to really cover everything we need to."

Gibbs wasn't sure how much time it would take, but he knew Tony was right. If they wanted to do this right, and he desperately wanted that, rushing into things at three in the morning was not the way to go. And getting distracted now by personal matters was too dangerous. He hadn't forgotten Ari was trying to kill him, had probably tried to kill his entire team.

"Business before pleasure." Gibbs said quietly, wishing he sounded more resolved and less resigned. The job still came first.

"Unless pleasure is your business." Tony grinned at him, eyebrows waggling a bit.

Gibbs rolled his eyes, amused in spite of himself, and glad they were still on the same page. "Go get some more sleep, DiNozzo."

"What about you?" Tony gave him a worried look. "I've got another blanket. Even got a pillow if you need one."

Such a small thing, but that bit of generosity touched him deeply. "I'll be out just as soon as I finish my coffee."

"Dinner? A drink or two, maybe?" Tony made a vague gesture with one hand. "After."

"Yeah." Gibbs grinned. He'd like that. "After." He made it sound like a promise and was rewarded with another of those incredible smiles as Tony sauntered back to his desk.

Gibbs dumped his coffee, finding he no longer wanted it. Maybe he could get a few hours of sleep now. Sooner they put this case to bed the sooner he could get on with other things. Better things, he thought with a smile.


Chapter Text

Gibbs poured himself a drink. He clenched his hand around the mug, trying hard not to shake as the events of the day washed over him again. Impotent fury made him want to lash out at anything and everything, which is why he'd sequestered himself in his basement as soon as it was possible to do so.

He knew it left the rest of his team hanging at loose ends. Knew he was essentially abandoning them but he just couldn't face them right now. If that made him a coward or a cold, heartless bastard so be it.

He couldn't handle the way Abby had broken down and cried when he told her the news. Gibbs shuddered remembering the soft keening wail Abby had let loose before folding in on herself like a marionette whose strings had just been cut. He didn't know what to do or say, so he left the job of consoling her to McGee.

McGee. God damn it. He'd nearly lost him too. Gibbs could still hear the controlled fear in the younger man's voice as he stayed calm under fire, determined to do what Gibbs had ordered. McGee had only sounded truly desperate when his computer took a hit and there was no way for him to block the transmission guiding the bomb toward a dock full of innocents.

The young agent had definitely grown a spine over the past year, but it wasn't going to help him deal with burying a friend and colleague. Nothing prepared someone for that. And Gibbs hated that McGee was going to have to learn how.

Ducky had been so fucking calm. He was decidedly gentle as he'd collected Kate's body. Gibbs couldn't stay within ear shot to hear him speak to her the way he had so many others who'd ended up in the morgue. Gibbs knew if he had, he'd have expect to hear Kate answer and it hurt too much to know she never would.

Gibbs took a long, healthy swallow of bourbon and closed his eyes. Abby's grief, McGee's sudden and permanent loss of innocence, even Ducky's calm normalcy hadn't affected him half as much as that strange look of sorrowed acceptance on Tony's face that followed hard after shock and anger. Green eyes had tracked something Gibbs couldn't see, but he suspected what or rather who it was.

"Was it you?" Gibbs looked up, feeling the slight cool breeze in strangely still air that always seemed to co-inside with the arrival of an angel of death.

"Does it matter?" Sam asked quietly, obsidian eyes strangely soft.

"Hell yes it matters!" Gibbs shouted, glaring at the angel.

Sam tipped his head in acknowledgement. "Then yes, it was me."

"You miserable son of a bitch." Gibbs threw his half empty mug at Sam. His fury was offset slightly by surprise when the mug passed through Sam to shatter on the wall behind him.

He ignored the strange phenomena stalking toward Sam, standing toe to toe. "Why her?"

Sam arched an eyebrow, expression decidedly neutral. "I told you before I do not kill people."

"WHY??!!" Gibbs demanded, all but baring his teeth like a feral dog.

"Because the ties that bound her spirit to her corporal form were severed by a bullet through her brain." Sam stated with a clinical detachment that made Gibbs shiver.

"That's how, damn it, not why." Gibbs clenched his fists in flowing fabric, mildly shocked to find that he could actually touch Sam, to find him solid when the mug had passed through him just a moment ago. "And don't you give me some bullshit answer about it being her time." He snarled. "She was young and healthy and should have lived a long time."

"She might have lived to be eighty if she had decided to be a psychiatrist instead of a profiler." Sam's eyes darkened again and began to glow like an ember, but he didn't try to back away or break Gibbs' grip. "She might have never made ten if her mother had been less vigilant that summer she nearly drowned."

Sam gave Gibbs a hard, cold smile. "Life comes with no guarantees. What she could or should have had is not for you to decide. Any more than it is for me."

The truth of that answer just served to make Gibbs even angrier. "You could have saved her." He accused, voice raw with self-recrimination, rage and pain.

"No." Sam shook his head, eyes still glowing a dull red. "I could not."

"Bullshit." Gibbs countered fiercely. "You broke the rules for Tony. You could have done it for her."

Sam's wings mantled. They spread up and out the same way an angry hawk would spread its wings. His eyes flashed brighter as his expression darkened. Gibbs told himself he was not afraid, but that didn't keep him from letting go and backing up a step.

"I did not break the rules." The angel hissed in a sibilant whisper, leaning forward, eliminating the space Gibbs had created by stepping back. "You have lines you can not or will not cross, you stupid bastard, did you really think you were the only one?"

Gibbs wasn't sure what surprised him more, the profane insult or the question itself. He swallowed hard. "But in the hospitalâ€""

"Tony was sick, infected by a living organism with a finite life span." Sam snarled at him, baring unnervingly sharp white teeth. "If he had opted to give in, had chosen to stop struggling, ignored your directive to live....Make no mistake, I would have done my duty, Leroy Jethro Gibbs."

The angel suddenly stepped back, wings folding once more to lay flat, eyes dark and opaque. "I did not save him. He saved himself."

Sam's countenance shifted to one of compassion. "Caitlin Marie Todd never had that choice."

"She never had a chance." Gibbs' corrected Sam, his voice a broken whisper. He felt incredibly tired. One single deadly shot was all it took. Consequences were swift and irrevocable.

He couldn't help but remember her last moment. She was laughing. Her brown eyes sparkled. She was so pleased to have gotten a compliment from Gibbs.

He took a shuddering breath and then another. Gibbs looked at Sam. He had no right to ask, but he couldn't help himself. "You'll take care of her?"

"So much as I am able to." Sam bowed, a gesture of respect rather than subservience. Given how little he really knew about Sam, it was strangely comforting to know the angel would look out for her.

"Tony already asked." Sam stated calmly, dark eyes measuring Gibbs.

"You talked to him?"

"Naturally." Sam gave him a look Gibbs was used to giving to other people when they asked what he considered a stupid question.

"He's okay?" Gibbs hadn't been able to bring himself to even look at Tony afterward much less talk to him.

Sam arched an eyebrow. "You could find that out for yourself."

Gibbs grimaced. "Not the right time."

"You should have learned by now there is no right time." Sam shook his head, clearly expressing his disappointment. "There is only right now. You might not live to see tomorrow."

Gibbs flinched. It was supposed to be him, not Kate. He was the target. "God damn, Ari." He'd see to it that the miserable son of a bitch paid.

"And when you do, I will be there." Sam smiled but there was nothing friendly in his expression.

"You'll take care of him like you did Tony's uncle?"

"You can count on that." There was no mistaking the firm promise in Sam's statement.

Gibbs sighed heavily. Getting Ari would have to wait. He needed to pull himself together and head back to the office. Kate's family was due to arrive in the morning and Gibbs needed to go through her things so there were no unpleasant surprises for them.

"It is not necessary." Sam stated softly interrupting his thoughts.

"What isn't necessary?"

"Tony is going through her things now."

Gibbs frowned. Tony still hadn't completely recovered from being exposed to the Pneumonic Plague. Getting nearly killed by a car bomb, chasing terrorists and participating in a roof top shoot out that culminated in the death of a coworker certainly hadn't helped his condition any. The younger man needed to rest. That was why Gibbs had sent him home before leaving the office himself.

Sam snorted and gave him a reproachful look. "And he always does what he is told to do." The dry sarcasm in the angel's voice made Gibbs wince.

Gibbs glanced at his watch. It was nearly midnight. "He's still at the office?"


Gibbs eyes narrowed, sudden realization dawning. "That's why you're here."

"He is just as hurt and angry as you are. If not more so." Sam shrugged, feathers fanning out briefly before settling again. "He needs you."

Gibbs resented that calm declaration, feeling the added weight of a burden he wasn't sure he could handle. And yet, at the same time, he felt a strange surge of relief knowing Tony needed him; it was very reassuring. Gibbs hated ambivalence and confusion and lashed out accordingly.

"What about what I need? You ever think about that?"

"You do not need to wallow in misplaced guilt. Any more than you need to indulge in a futile obsession." Sam gave him a tight, condescending smile, the tips of those overly sharp incisors just barely visible. "Although, it does seem to be something of a pattern for you."

"Fuck you." Gibbs snarled. He wanted to beat the crap out of Sam. He wanted to vent all the pent up emotion that had been swirling since nearly losing Tony to the plague. He knew he could touch Sam, had already prove that, but he wasn't certain if he could actually hurt him. Maybe now was a good time to find out.

Before he could move, Sam reached out and lightly tapped two fingers against his forehead. It was like getting doused with ice cold water, breathtaking and painful. He gasped and shivered violently.

"Pay attention." Sam's admonishment was soft, almost gentle. "You need him as much as he needs you."

"I don't hurt him." Gibbs astounded himself with that nearly stuttered declaration. It wasn't at all what he meant to say.

"Then don't."

"It's not that simple." Gibbs protested. He'd been married three times, every one ending badly. He was too focused on the job, too hard and abrasive with people. He had communication issues, always too tight lipped about too many things. And he'd gotten Kate killed for God's sake. He wasn't the right man for Tony, no matter how much he wanted to be.

"Her death was not your fault." Sam's quietly confident tone made it impossible to argue. He cocked his head to one side, eyes warming to a slate gray. "And you do care about people, perhaps more than you should. You would have given up this job a long time ago if didn't."

Sam raised both hands to cup Gibbs' face. He braced himself to feel that biting touch again. He was surprised to find the angel's hands were warm, soothing chasing away the chill.

"The dead deserve justice, and in due time, they get it." Sam's eyes shifted to vibrant turquoise. "The living need compassion and comfort, neither of which are available in abundance."

Sam smiled gently. "This self induced isolation only serves to punish you both for a crime for which neither of you are guilty."

He leaned forward, placing a decidedly paternal kiss on Gibbs' forehead before stepping back. "Go talk to Tony. Help him. Let him help you."

"You are a pushy son of a bitch." Gibbs said without any real heat.

Sam's soft musical laughter filled the basement making the room seem brighter and less confined. "I have been called much worse."

Gibbs found himself grinning. "I bet you have."

Sam made a shooing motion with one hand. "Go."

Gibbs found himself heading for the stairs before he was even aware he'd made a conscious decision to do so. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, turning to look back when Sam called his name.

"Angels are not omniscient. Neither are you." Sam gave him an understanding look. "Try not to be so hard on yourself."

Gibbs took a deep breath. "I'll try."

"Good." With that, Sam vanished.

Gibbs blinked and just for a second wondered if he'd imagined the whole thing. Tony's comment about trusting the things he'd seen and heard around Sam no matter how weird or bizarre they might be came back to Gibbs. He shook his head and headed up stairs. He had more important things to focus on. Tony needed him.



Chapter Text

Gibbs stepped off the elevator, tension draining out of his shoulders almost immediately. He felt more comfortable at the office than he did his own home most days. He knew Tony felt the same way. Given how much time they both spent there it was hardly surprising. And in spite of everything that happened recently, the office was still a safe haven for both of them.

Contrary to popular belief, Gibbs didn't deliberately sneak around. A lifetime of habit kept his footfalls quiet, made him move silently even when there was no need. He wasn't a loud person by nature so it hadn't been a particularly difficult skill to learn. It was one he'd found decidedly useful over the years, even when most of the time all he used it for was keeping his team on their toes.

He moved silently through the familiar maze of cubicles, blue eyes seeking Tony. He was mildly surprised to find him not at his desk. Gibbs grimaced mentally calling himself all kinds of fool. Sam said Tony was going through Kate's things. A quick look confirmed he was sitting at her desk.

He studied the younger man seeking reassurance that Tony was doing okay. The florescent lights were not as harsh as the UV lights used in the quarantine unit at Bethesda, but the lighting still made Tony look washed out and ill, accentuating the dark circles under his eyes. Gibbs shuddered and banished the mental image that immediately arose as he made the comparison. He hoped to never see Tony look that bad ever again.

He cleared his throat, not wanting to startle Tony. Exhausted green eyes flicked up to meet his. Tony frowned, looking puzzled.

"Boss? What are you doing here?"

"Could ask you the same thing." Gibbs kept his voice low and gentle, sensing Tony really wasn't up to his usual, more caustic delivery.

Tony made a vague, helpless gesture that encompassed Kate's work area. "Her stuff...didn't want her parents to get any surprises." Earnest green eyes flickered around the desk, coming to rest on the open sketch pad. "Kind of got a surprise of my own." Tony murmured, his voice hinting at something painful.

Not sure what to make of that comment, Gibbs reached for the sketch pad, carefully picking it up. He stared at the picture of Tony. God. It looked just like him. He knew Kate was talented; he'd seen enough of her sketches of crime scenes but somehow he'd never realized she was so good. She'd captured Tony beautifully; the relaxed posture with his feet up on his desk, sun glasses perched low on his nose so the twinkling eyes were readily visible, easy smile in place and engaging. Gibbs had fallen in love with that smile the first time he'd seen it.

His throat tightened, realizing how much he wished he could ask her to do another and knowing he'd never get the chance. Gibbs swallowed hard and flipped the pad closed. He didn't want to be reminded Kate would never fill another page.

There was a small box next to the desk, barely half full of odds and ends. Gibbs knew it was for Kate's parents and he briefly considered putting the sketch pad in it before quickly dismissing the idea. He wasn't giving up that picture of Tony or any of the rest of the team Kate might have drawn. It was a piece of her, tangible proof of her regard for them, of hours spent in their company. Her parents didn't need it, but they just might.

Gibbs ignored Tony's questioning look as he stepped over toward his own desk and laid the sketch pad there. He wanted a chance to look at it again. Later. When it didn't hurt so much. When he could share it with the others. He already knew it would be awhile before he would be able to show it to Abby, but knew she'd appreciate seeing it.

He glanced over at McGee's desk. Gibbs had never been able to quantify the younger man's relationship with Abby. Were they casual lovers? Exclusive sex partners? Best friends with benefits? He really didn't know. He just hoped whatever they were it would be enough for them to see each other through this crisis.

Gibbs moved back to Kate's desk. He held out a hand. "C'mon, Tony. It's time to go."

Tony gave his hand a confused look, like he wasn't sure what Gibbs was offering. He shook his head, and levered himself up from Kate's chair, both arms braced against the desk. Only quick reflexes had Gibbs moving fast enough to catch him when Tony swayed dangerously, face losing what little color he had. The former marine could feel fine tremors shaking Tony's lanky frame and see a faint sheen of sweat on his face. Gibbs had seen reactions like this before.

"When was the last time you ate something?" Gibbs didn't quite bark out the question, but there was definitely a bite to it as he helped Tony sit back down. Gibbs tended to fall back on his usual brusque way of handling things when he was worried. And he was definitely worried now.

Tony frowned, eyes fluttering closed, swallowing hard. "Uh....think it was the takeout McGee got for us."

Gibbs blinked. That was almost two days ago. They'd spent the night at the office and all any of them had for breakfast was coffee. There hadn't been time for lunch and after Kate's death, no one was in the mood to eat. Given how little Tony had probably eaten since his bout with the plague it was no wonder he was pale and shaking now.

"Stay here." Gibbs ordered. He walked quickly to the break room. Not having any change in his pockets Gibbs raided the coffee fund for enough money to get a Coke and a bag of M & M's from the vending machines. Not terribly healthy, but Tony needed the sugar.

Gibbs popped the top when he got back to Tony, handing the can to him. "Take a few sips. Slowly."

Tony sighed, obeying silently. Gibbs nodded his approval, glad the younger man hadn't fought him on it. He tore open the bag, dumping a handful of candy into his hand and offering them to Tony.

"I'm not hun--"

"I don't care." Gibbs cut him off. "Eat them."

Tony grimaced, and with a show of reluctance picked a few pieces out of Gibbs' hand and popped them into his mouth. Less than a second later he reached out and grabbed a few more, clearly surprised to find himself genuinely hungry. Gibbs made sure he didn't eat too many too fast by only shaking out a few at a time into his hand. Tony would definitely need something more substantial later, but this would do for now.

Gibbs waited until Tony finished the candy and most of the soda. "Better?"

"Yeah." Tony gave him a sheepish look. "Sorry, Boss."

Gibbs reached and gripped the back of Tony's neck shaking him slightly. "Just don't do it again." He ordered softly.

He really didn't blame Tony. Hell, Gibbs hadn't eaten anything all day either. He studied Tony, pleased to see his color improve and his hands were no longer shaking.

At some point Tony had to have showered and cleaned up. No more blood and gore on his face or clothes, thank god. Gibbs wondered if he went home to do that or if he'd just used the showers downstairs. The clothes looked vaguely familiar so Gibbs was betting they were things Tony kept at the office.

"Thought I told you to go home, DiNozzo."

"You did." Tony winced looking guilty, eyes focused on the desk in front of him. "Just... Thought it would be better not to put this off."

"I could have cleaned up Kate's things in the morning." Gibbs interjected quietly. It was his job, his responsibility after all.

"It is morning." Tony pointed out without raising his eyes, a pale imitation of his usual wise ass smirk gracing his features.

Gibbs cuffed the back of Tony's head lightly, hand ghosting over the soft strands of his hair. "C'mon. I'm taking you home."

Green eyes rose to meet blue, surprised and wary. "You don't haveâ€""

"Yeah, I know." Gibbs smiled gently. "I want to." He did want to, that wasn't a lie. But he also wanted to be sure that Tony actually went home and stayed there. Tony needed to rest and fully recover. He really should have taken that extra week.

Tony smiled, green eyes warming with affection. "If you really want to."

Gibbs cupped Tony's cheek, thumb caressing the soft, fine grained skin. "I really want to."

"Okay." Tony took a deep breath and pushed himself to his feet. He was steady this time, but Gibbs stayed close just the same, his hand resting on the small of Tony's back.

Tony shivered when they stepped outside. He thrust his hands into his pockets, shoulders hunching slightly in response to the early morning chill. The temperature change didn't seem that bad to Gibbs but then he'd never been all that sensitive to the cold. He wasn't recovering from a life threatening illness either.

Gibbs turned on the heat when they got in the car, glad that the engine was still warm enough it didn't blow cold air. Tony fumbled with his seat belt, movements uncharacteristically clumsy and slow. It was a tell tale sign of the younger man's exhaustion. Gibbs waited patiently, letting Tony do it himself, knowing it wouldn't be well received if he just did it for him.

Pulling out of the lot and heading for Tony's apartment, Gibbs reached out and captured one of Tony's hands, entwining their fingers together. He frowned slightly at how cool Tony's skin was to the touch, but didn't say anything. It wasn't like Tony could do anything about the fact that his hands were cold. If his hands didn't warm up after awhile, then Gibbs told himself he could worry it might be a sign of something serious.

A companionable silence filled the car as Gibbs drove at a more sedate pace than he usually did. The lack of conversation was surprisingly natural, no awkwardness or pressure to fill the void. It was relaxing for both of them to simply exist for the moment.

Gibbs smiled to himself. For as much as Tony could talk, he was surprisingly comfortable with silence. The younger man rarely read more into it than it warranted, knew when to use it to his advantage, and seldom missed the significance of it when silence said more than words ever could.

That skill was instrumental in Gibbs decision to hire him. It was also one of the reasons he tolerated a lot of the childish antics that made Tony memorable to most people. Tony knew when to shut up and listen and could focus on putting together obscure details of a case like no one else Gibbs had ever worked with, but he needed latitude in order to pull it off. Tony reminded Gibbs of a puppy that had to expend excess energy before any training could really take place.

Gibbs looked over at Tony, his smile fading. The younger man had used up whatever excess energy he had and then some. Tony had dozed off not long after Gibbs had taken his hand, his breathing slow and even.

Gibbs unconsciously backed off the throttle, slowing the car and driving with even greater care. He didn't want to disturb Tony. He was grateful that at this time of day there was very little traffic.

Tony's place was relatively close to the office, which was likely the reason the former cop had selected it. Given the number of problems Tony had with it in the short time he'd lived there, Gibbs figured it was also the reason he'd kept it. Gibbs had only been in Tony's apartment a handful of times. He rarely stayed more than a few minutes, just long enough to note the quality of the furnishings and that Tony had better taste and was much neater than he'd let his teammates believe.

Pulling up in front of Tony's building, Gibbs sought out a parking spot. The only one open was Tony's. Gibbs shook his head. He should have realized Tony hadn't replaced his beloved car yet. He was idly curious as to what Tony would eventually replace it with. He expected it would be some racy red sports car of some kind. Although, given the younger man's preference for classics, Gibbs wouldn't discount an older model muscle car.

He carefully untangled his fingers from Tony's not wanting to wake him just yet. It was a futile effort. As soon as he pulled his hand away, Tony woke with a small gasp. He shifted as far as the seatbelt would allow, back to the door, arms adopting what Gibbs recognized immediately as a defensive postureâ€"elbows in, hands up and ready.

"Easy, Tony, it's just me." Gibbs kept his voice soft, striving for a normal tone so Tony wouldn't know just how startled he'd been by the younger man's reaction.

"Boss?" Tony blinked, green eyes still only half open, his expression confused.

"Yeah, it's me."

Tony nodded slowly. He sighed softly, his posture relaxing away from the door to rest more firmly against the back of the seat, eyes drifting closed. "Where are we?"

"Your place."

"Oh." Tony frowned, eyes opening again to stare blankly out the window. He fumbled for the release on the seat belt, flinching slightly at the soft noise it made as it retracted.

"Wait." Gibbs ordered when Tony reached for the door handle. "Just stay there for a second."

Gibbs got out and moved around the car. Tony rolled his eyes at Gibbs when he opened the door. "I'm not an invalid."

"You nearly fainted at the office." Gibbs counted. "So just humor me. Okay?"

"Okay." Tony rubbed one hand tiredly over his face, fingertips stopping to massage his temple.

"Headache?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah. No biggie. Had it for awhile now." Tony got out of the car, not shaking off Gibbs hand on his elbow, but not leaning into it either.

"How long have you had a headache?" Gibbs noticed Tony shivering again. The brisk air felt good to him after the heat in the car, but clearly Tony didn't agree.

"Since before the car blew up."

Gibbs jaw tightened. That meant Tony had a headache essentially from the time he'd arrived at the office and he'd never said a word about it. Not that he really expected the younger man to admit to a weakness of any kind, but he should have noticed, should have paid more attention.

Tony patted his arm, giving him a half smile. "Not your fault."

"I should haveâ€""

"Made me take an aspirin?" Tony snorted delicately, easily staying in step with Gibbs as they headed for his apartment. "I'm a big boy, Boss, can take care of myself."

"I should have made you take another week." Gibbs glared at him, more angry with himself than Tony.

Tony shook his head. "Good thing I was there or we could have lost McGee and..." He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. "We'd have lost Kate a lot sooner."

Gibbs jaw clenched. He could have lost Tony then too, and that was simply unacceptable. He knew it was wrong, but his first thought when Kate had been killed wasn't revenge; his first thought was to take Ari out and make damn sure he couldn't do the same thing to Tony that he'd done to Kate. That was why he'd drawn his gun and sighted on the rooftop where the shot had come from. Defense of his own equated to attack of the enemy in Gibbs' mind. It always had.

He knew Kate was dead before she hit the ground. Knew it and hated Ari all the more even as he was obscenely relieved that it was Kate and not Tony. He tried not to feel guilty about that, and failed miserably.

Gibbs shook his head and told himself to focus. His guilt about Kate was something he'd deal with after he killed Ari. And Ari wasn't important right now. What was important was taking care of Tony, something he knew he'd done a piss poor job of recently.

"Stop that."


"I can hear the wheels in your head turning." Tony gave him an amused, slightly exasperated look. "I don't need a keeper, any more than you do."

"Not so sure about that." Gibbs smiled tightly.

"You think we both need keepers then?" Tony chuckled dryly. "Thinking we're going to have a tough time finding someone willing to take on both of us. Definitely have to offer hazard pay for a gig like that."

Gibbs laughed in spite of himself. It never ceased to amaze him how easily the young man could improve his mood. He cuffed Tony lightly. "Shut up, DiNozzo."

"Not one of your better come backs, Boss."

"It's late." Gibbs grimaced. "Or way too early."

"True." Tony yawned. He stumbled on the last step. Gibbs caught him, making sure the younger man didn't fall flat on his face.

"God, I'm tired." Tony breathed out in a long sigh. He coughed softly, shivering again.

Gibbs gave in to temptation, putting the back of his hand against Tony's forehead, ignoring Tony's half hearted attempts to evade him. Not too warm, so no fever.

"Not sick." Tony protested. "Justâ€""

"Exhausted." Gibbs finished for him.

"Been a long day." Tony muttered as he pulled his keys from his pocket to unlock the door.

Gibbs winced. It had been more than one long day. And there would likely be a lot more until he killed Ari.

Inside Tony's apartment the entryway was lit by a small lamp that sat on a gracefully ornate three legged table. "Hate stumbling around in the dark." Tony commented, answering Gibbs unvoiced question about why the lamp was on at two in the morning. He dropped his keys in the heavy, dark green glass bowl that sat next to the lamp. The scuff marks on the glass were a clear indication Tony had been using it to catch his keys for some time, probably years.

Tony toed out of his sneakers, one hand braced against the wall to maintain his balance. He left them there as he padded in stocking feet into the apartment. One hand trailed along the wall, not so much for support as guidance. He looked over his shoulder at Gibbs.

"You're staying here, right?" There was a clear invitation in the question; the tone hopeful but not demanding.

Gibbs hesitated for a second before nodding. The events of the day were weighing heavily on him and he really didn't want to leave, didn't want to be alone, didn't want to let Tony out of his sight any longer than he already had. He slipped off his own shoes, lining them up neatly before following.

Tony shrugged out of his jacket letting it carelessly fall to the floor. His shirt followed a second later as Tony continued down the hall toward his bedroom. Although it offended his deeply ingrained sense of order, Gibbs wasn't going to chastise him about making a mess.

He also stifled the urge to caress that broad expanse of smooth skin so unceremoniously revealed. He knew Tony's invitation to stay was not a proposition for sex. As much as he wanted that intimacy, he knew neither of them were ready for it right at this moment.

There was a faint glow coming from the bedroom, and Gibbs expected to see another lamp left burning. But when he followed Tony inside he was surprised to find it wasn't a lamp at all. The faint glow was coming from what had to be Sam's feathers. There were two alabaster vases, one on each side of the dresser mirror, with seven feathers apiece neatly arranged like some sort of exotic bouquet.

He remembered Tony saying he had fourteen of Sam's feathers and that he'd give him the story behind each one if Gibbs asked nicely. He idly wondered if Tony could tell them apart or if they were arranged in the order they were received. If they were set up chronologically then the one Sam had given Gibbs to give to Tony should be the one on the end.

Tony chuckled, waving a hand lazily toward the arrangements. "Better than a night light."

"Didn't realize they would glow." Gibbs shook his head. He'd never noticed any added light around Sam.

"Most of the time they don't." Tony yawned wide enough his jaw popped as he struggled to undo his belt. He sat on the bed to slide out of his pants, leaving them in a heap on the floor. "Kind of light up after midnight and fade out around four in the morning."

That was the time of day Gibbs' grandmother had referred to as 'witching hours'. Gibbs would have dismissed it as a flight of fancy, a silly superstition, and nothing more than some old wives' tale except that he knew more people died and more babies were born in the early morning hours than at any other time of the day. It made a strange sort of sense to think that the veil between life and death was somehow thinner at three in the morning than it was at noon.

"You need pajamas?" Tony asked, eyes half closed and not quite focused.

"You have them?" Gibbs asked in surprise. He thought Tony habitually slept naked. Although at the moment, Tony was still wearing his boxer briefs and appeared to have every intention of leaving them on.

"Yeah, somewhere." Tony grinned, white teeth flashing briefly in the dim light. "Modesty, decorum and all the moment, I'm too really give a damn, but figured I should at least offer."

Gibbs found himself amused by Tony's honesty. "I'm fine going without if you are."


While Tony pulled back the heavy comforter, Gibbs striped down to his undershirt and boxers. He laid down with a soft sigh, reveling in the simple comfort to be found in just being horizontal and stationary. Gibbs immediately pulled Tony in closer when the younger man lay down beside him. It was reassuring to have Tony's solid warmth pressed against him, his head on one shoulder, one long arm wrapped securely around his midriff.

At some point they really needed to talk. Clear the air and address things, figure out what they were going to do, but at the moment Gibbs didn't want to. All he wanted was to enjoy this simple pleasure, to memorize this moment of mutual comfort and contentment, to forget for a few hours that he'd lost a teammate and friend. He said a silent 'thank you' to Sam for having the good sense to get him to pull his head out of his ass.

Tony sighed. He was heavier than Gibbs expected but not uncomfortably so as he relaxed into a near boneless state of sleep. When Tony shivered and snuggled in closer, Gibbs pulled the comforter higher so that it almost covered Tony completely head to toe.

Gibbs told himself he wasn't going to dream about Kate. He told himself he wasn't going to have nightmares that it might have been Tony with a bullet in his brain. He wasn't and that was all there was to it.

He forced himself to take a deep breath, unconsciously registering the faint, appealing scent of Tony's cologne, before releasing is slowly. He matched his breathing to Tony's, adopting that measured pace that always accompanied deep sleep. It had to be his imagination, but Gibbs was almost certain he could hear Tony's heartbeat, a strong steady rhythm that matched his own.

This wasn't exactly how he'd envisioned spending his, this was much better than that. It wasn't how he expected to spend his first night in bed with Tony, but Gibbs had no regrets about that either. He let his eyes drift closed content to just enjoy it.


Chapter Text

Gibbs woke feeling warm, comfortable and well rested. He was confused, unused to the feeling. More often than not he fell asleep on his couch, waking stiff and sore after hours spent working on his boat. Or he stayed at the office taking a few cat-naps rather than really sleeping.

He blinked, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling trying to remember where he was and why he felt so damn good. Gibbs frowned, turning his head slightly. He idly noted the faint bands of early morning daylight filtering through blinds that were not completely closed. Daylight meant he'd slept well past his usual waking time.

Gibbs started to stretch, wanting to get heavy limbs moving again, but stopped immediately when he realized there was someone else in bed with him. A heavy, solid weight rested against his right side. Gibbs smiled as he raised his head enough to actually see Tony's face.

The younger man's expression was so peaceful. Impossibly dark, long lashes fanned out against fine grained skin that no longer looked bruised from lack of sleep and illness. Gibbs tipped his head to place a soft kiss in Tony's hair. Tony mumbled something in his sleep, curling in closer to Gibbs with a soft sigh of contentment.

Gibbs glanced toward the clock on the nightstand, curious as to what time it was. The digital display indicated it was almost nine. Gibbs squinted at the clock and looked again; he hadn't slept so late in years.

Gibbs grinned to himself. He hadn't slept so sound in years either. Judging by their respective positions, neither he nor Tony had moved much, if at all, once they lay down.

Gibbs smile faded. They both had good reason to sleep soundly. He swallowed hard, remembering the past few days' events that culminated in Kate's death. God, he needed to get to the office; should have been there already. Her family was due to arrive this afternoon.

The director had shouldered the responsibility of the initial call. Feeling relieved someone else had taken that unpleasant task off his hands just added to Gibbs' guilt. He was her supervisor; it should have been him who called. But he simply couldn't handle dealing with anyone else's grief, not after Abby had broken down, so when the director offered to break the news to Kate's family, Gibbs accepted.

Gibbs sighed silently. This day was going to be a long one. No point in putting off facing it any longer. He tried to move away from Tony without disturbing him. There was no reason to wake him yet. Tony could do with more rest. One good night's sleep wasn't really enough after all that had happened to him recently.

His efforts to slip out of bed without waking Tony proved to be futile. Tony raised his head, heavy lidded green eyes focused slowly on Gibbs. He reminded the former Marine of a cat that had just woken from a long nap.

"Gibbs?" Tony rubbed at his eyes, yawning. "You 'kay?"

"I'm fine." Gibbs reassured him, running one hand gently through Tony's hair. "Go back to sleep." He ordered softly, hoping Tony would simply do as he was told. He should have known better.

"What time is it?" The question was a bit mumbled but still easily understood. Tony shifted, eliminating the little bit of distance Gibbs had created, snuggling into him again.

"Almost nine."

Tony sighed, rubbing his face against the soft fabric of Gibbs' t-shirt. "Should have set the alarm."

"Glad you didn't." Gibbs placed another kiss in Tony's hair. "You needed the rest."

"And you didn't?" Tony snorted delicately, a small smile curling his lips. "Thinking you didn't get much sleep the last few days."

Gibbs chuckled dryly. He hadn't gotten much sleep in years. And it wasn't the last few days that left him feeling a bit ragged around the edges; it was more like the past month. Ever since Tony had opened that contaminated envelope and damn near died. And just when things should have been getting back to normal Ari showed up and Kate....Gibbs forced his thoughts away from her. It was best not to think about her for the moment because it hurt to think of her as being gone.

He took a deep breath, and swallowed hard, feeling his eyes stinging. He was not going to break down and bawl like a baby. Not here, not now. Not when Ari was still out there, running around free when he should be six feet under.

Gibbs didn't even realize he was shaking until he felt Tony's arms around him, pulling him in closer. He buried his face in Tony's shoulder and clung to him. He didn't cry, couldn't really let go enough to allow himself that much. But he did absorb all the comfort being freely offered, knowing he needed to take it as much as Tony needed to give it.

Tony didn't say a word, just held him and waited with patience few knew the younger man possessed. When Gibbs forced himself to pull it together, to regain control, only then did Tony let go. He lightly cupped Gibbs face, green eyes overly bright with unshed tears of his own.

"You okay now?"

"Not really." Gibbs grimaced. "But I will be."

"Yeah, I get that." Tony sighed. He rubbed a hand over his face, looking more tired than he had when he woke up. "Guess we better get ready. Lot of shit to do today." There was a resigned determination in Tony's expression, the sorrow neatly tucked away as though behind shutters in his eyes.

For a moment, just a split second, Gibbs resented Tony for looking far more composed and a lot less angry than he ever could. Tony cocked his head to one side studying him with eyes far wiser and knowing than Gibbs had ever given him credit for. "Not my first rodeo, Boss."

It was a strange way to refer to dealing with death and grief, but oddly apt to Gibbs' way of thinking. Handling strong emotions wasn't too dissimilar to riding a bull---If you weren't careful, someone was bound to get hurt. It wasn't something he'd actually expected Tony to have more experience with than he had.

"How many?" He asked softly before he'd even realized the words were out of his mouth.

"More than a few." Tony glanced toward the dresser where Sam's feathers were neatly arranged in two alabaster vases.

Sam had said Tony's own life hadn't hung in the balance every time they met, but Gibbs was willing to lay odds that someone's had. He was guessing at least one of those feathers was probably from when Sam had taken Tony's mother. Another had to be the first one Tony had gotten when he was five. And then there was the most recent addition following his bout with the plague. That left eleven meetings, each representing life altering if not life threatening moments for Tony. Moments that Gibbs knew nothing about.

He was beginning to fully comprehend that Tony's childlike enjoyment and delight in every day things wasn't the product of being naïve, inexperienced or immature. It likely had a lot more to do with his understanding just how short life could be; how precious it was. It was a testament to his character that Tony opted not to dwell exclusively on the negative, chose not to become hard and bitter about life the way so many did.

Tony rolled away from him. Gibbs stifled a sigh and the urge to tell him once more to go back to sleep. It wouldn't do any good anyway.

"You got a change of clothes in the car?" Tony asked as he got to his feet with innate grace, stretching his arms overhead, back arching as he shook off the last vestiges of sleep.

Gibbs blinked, caught off guard by the surge of lust at seeing the play of toned muscles beneath smooth skin. He'd seen Tony naked before, having shared the showers at the office more than once, but Gibbs had made a conscious effort not to look then. He hadn't wanted to get caught staring, so all he really had were covert glances and his imagination. And his imagination hadn't really measured up.

Tony's form was often hidden by well tailored suits or layers of clothing. It was sometimes way too easy to forget that it wasn't the clothes that made Tony look good; He made them look good. Tony could easily have been a model.

Gibbs readily appreciated the long bones and lean muscle that suggested a wiry strength and power. Broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist. Arms were nicely defined without the artificial bulk Gibbs associated with hours spent in a gym lifting weights just to get bigger. He was somewhat disappointed that Tony was still wearing his boxer briefs, even though he had to admit they did nice things for the younger man's ass. He shuddered imagining those long, runner's legs wrapped around him.

"Boss?" Tony turned to look at him, a slightly worried expression forming as green eyes studied Gibbs. "You with me here?"

"Yeah." Gibbs took a deep breath, angry and disappointed with himself for getting lost in a fantasy even if only for a moment.

"So you got a change of clothes in the car, right? Or do we need to stop by your place on the way to the office?"

"I've got a suit in the car." Gibbs always kept a change of clothes handy. He was glad that what he had was a suit. Wouldn't do to be dressed in less than his best when he met with Kate's family. Anything else would be disrespectful.

"Okay." Tony nodded. "I'm going to grab a quick shower." Tony pointed over his shoulder toward what had to be the master bath. "Should be done in ten if you want to grab one before we head out."

Gibbs nodded. His eyes narrowed, taking a closer look at Tony as the younger man walked away. He could easily count most of Tony's ribs. Damn. He'd said his appetite had been off since his bout with the plague but Gibbs hadn't equated that to weight loss. In hindsight he should have. Given how much he knew Tony normally ate it wasn't hard to grasp the natural outcome of not feeding that high metabolism would have.

Gibbs got up, and pulled on his pants. He found his cell phone still clipped to his belt. He hit the speed dial setting for McGee as he headed down the hall toward the door. McGee answered as Gibbs was pulling on his shoes.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Where are you?"

"At the office."

The nice, succinct answer given without stutter or question was out of character, but Gibbs wasn't going to question that now. "Abby come in with you?"

"No." There was a soft sigh on the other end that came through clearly. "She didn't get much sleep last night. Thought it better to let her sleep in."

Gibbs wondered if it made him even more of a bad man that he was grateful he'd managed to have slept a solid seven hours rather than lying awake feeling angry, guilty and helpless. How much hotter would the fires of hell be for that? Gibbs shook his head, slipping out side, blinking in the bright sunlight.

McGee must have read more in his silence than he'd realized because the junior agent immediately began justifying his decision. "It's fine, McGee." Gibbs interrupted, making sure he didn't sound as harsh or exasperated as he felt. "There's nothing for her to do in her lab right now. I just wanted to make sure she was okay."

"Oh....Right." McGee stumbled. "I don't think she's going to be okay for awhile, Boss."

The admission was hesitant and not all that surprising. "I know." Gibbs keyed the trunk, grabbing his suit bag. "I'll approve a leave request for her today." He'd give her as much time as she needed.

"Tony's not in yet." McGee offered tentatively. His tone made it clear he was supplying that bit of information because he was worried.

"I know, McGee." Gibbs headed back to Tony's apartment, absently noticing most of the cars in the parking lot were gone. Probably already off to work.

"He's with you?"

It was more of a statement, tinged with relief, than an actual question, but Gibbs answered anyway. "Yeah, he's with me." It never occurred to Gibbs to lie or wonder what McGee might think about that.

"He's okay?"

Doing better than the rest of us, Gibbs thought with a wry smile. He gave McGee the answer the junior agent no doubt expected to hear. "He will be."

Gibbs slipped back into Tony's apartment, closing the door quietly behind him. "We'll be at the office in about an hour. Hold down the fort until I get there."

"Will do, Boss."

Gibbs snapped the phone closed, leaving it on the entryway table near the bowl with Tony's keys. He took off his shoes before heading back down the hall. The sound of running water stopped as he re-entered the bedroom.

Tony stepped out of the bathroom a few moments later wearing a blue terry cloth robe. Gibbs was both disappointed and relieved he hadn't come out in a towel---as much as he wouldn't mind the chance to just take in the beauty of the younger man again he wasn't sure he could keep his hands to himself. Better to avoid temptation at this point.

"S'all yours." Tony roughly toweled his hair leaving it in an attractive chaos of spikes.

Gibbs stepped into the bathroom, breathing in the fragrant steam that lingered. He turned on the water before stripping out of his clothes, leaving them in a neat pile to pick up later. The water was hotter than he really cared for when he stepped into the shower but he didn't bother to adjust it, letting the heat seep into his skin.

His nostrils flared as he sniffed Tony's soap. It was some sort of enticing combination of musk and mint, but not heavy or overpowering. He lathered up with it, and tried to ignore how good, how right, it felt to be surrounded by a scent he associated exclusively with Tony.

Gibbs eyed the automatic razor that hung in the shower caddy, before shrugging and using it. He didn't think Tony would mind. He rubbed his jaw, pleased with the smoothness he encountered. It was a closer shave than he usually got.

He turned off the water and reached for the towel hanging on the rack. It was a huge, white fluffy thing that was of far better quality than Gibbs had at his house. It absorbed water like a thirsty sponge.

Curiosity had him opening Tony's medicine chest for a quick peek. Other than the usual first aid paraphernalia like band-aids, gauze, alcohol and aspirin, there was an assortment of hair products. Gibbs shook his head. He didn't even know what the hell 'hair adhesive' was. He was somewhat surprised to find no cologne or aftershave.

Gibbs kept the towel wrapped around his waist as he stepped out of the bathroom to get dressed. He cocked his head, hearing voices. He nodded to himself when he realized Tony must have turned on the TV or radio in the living room or kitchen.

His suit was a somber dark gray. He even had a tie to match. His third wife had bought the outfit for him, saying he needed something appropriate for all those office meetings he had to go to with the upper echelon. Gibbs rolled his eyes. Like anyone had to look good to sit around and do nothing.

He checked his reflection in the mirror, finger combing his short hair into order. He passed muster. Gibbs packed his clothes from the day before into his bag, taking it with him when he headed for the kitchen.

Tony was also wearing a dark gray suit. His had a thin black pinstripe that served to make it appear even darker. His tie was black, shot through with silver threads, and stood out in sharp contrast to his white shirt. Gibbs was willing to bet everything the younger man was wearing had been designed by someone whose name he couldn't pronounce.

Tony held up the mug he'd been sipping from. "You want a cup?"


Tony snagged a mug from the wooden tree on the counter. He filled it almost to the brim before offering it to Gibbs. Gibbs sipped it cautiously, half expecting some fancy flavored beverage rather than a straight cup of joe. He smiled when it proved to be a plain cup of coffee, a little darker and richer than his usual but otherwise the same.

"You eat breakfast already?" Gibbs asked, taking another sip of his coffee.

Tony shrugged one shoulder. "Not really hungry, but I'm sure I can find something edible in the fridge if you are."

"All you ate yesterday was a bag of M & M's." Gibbs fixed a pointed glare at Tony. "You need to eat something." He made it sound like an order. He wasn't budging on this, not after he'd seen evidence of how much weight Tony had lost.

Tony rolled his eyes, but didn't argue evidently knowing it was a lost cause. He pulled a loaf of bread out and dropped four pieces into the toaster. Butter and what looked like homemade jam were retrieved from the fridge.

"You want jam on yours?"

Gibbs blinked. "Mine?"

"You didn't eat either." Tony pointed out, arching an eyebrow. "Not even a bag of M & M's."

"I don'tâ€""

"Tit for tat." Tony countered. "Not letting you get away with do as I say not as I do. That shit didn't fly when I was six, not going to get too far now either." Tony grinned, wagging his eyebrows slightly.

Gibbs bit the inside of his cheek to stifle a smile. "I'm your boss."

"Not in my kitchen you aren't." Tony shrugged one shoulder, green eyes sobering as they studied him. "Unless that's all you ever want there to be between us."

Gibbs found he really appreciated this straightforward communication. It made things so much easier than it had been with any of his wives. "Just butter. No jam on mine."

Tony smiled warmly, clearly understanding. He nodded once. "Butter it is."

The toast popped a minute later and Tony neatly buttered all four pieces. He offered two to Gibbs on a small plate before spreading strawberry jam on his. Tony nibbled his toast, eating far more delicately than Gibbs would have expected.

Gibbs reminded himself that Tony had said he wasn't hungry. He wasn't going to gobble food when forcing himself to eat. The former Marine refused to feel bad about making Tony consume something. The last thing he wasn't was for the younger man to come so close to passing out again.

Gibbs made his way through his own two pieces of toast with astonishing speed, not realizing just how hungry he'd been until he started eating. Tony smirked at him. "You want something else?"

He was sorely tempted to say yes, but shook his head. They'd be getting to the office late enough as it was. He wouldn't mind another cup of coffee, but he could get that on the way. Maybe pick up something else to tempt Tony's appetite while he was at it. What he'd eaten wouldn't have been enough to see him through a normal day, and today would be anything but normal.

"You ready to go?"

"Give me a sec." Tony rinsed out their mugs, leaving them in the sink along with the knife and plates. He put the butter and jam back in the fridge before turning off the radio on the counter that had been playing softly.

"Lay on, McDuff." Tony waved a hand toward the door.

"Didn't know you knew Shakespeare." Gibbs commented, recognizing the line from MacBeth. He put on his shoes and then clipped his phone, looking askance at Tony.

"I like the history plays." Tony locked the door after he followed Gibbs out, pocketing his keys. "And the comedies are good once you figure out the jokes."

"Would have thought you more the Romeo and Juliet type."

Tony made a face, snorting delicately. "Got enough tragedy in every day life."

Gibbs wasn't even going to try and argue that point. He caught one of Tony's hands and squeezed it lightly, not sure if he was offering comfort or seeking it. Tony smiled slightly, giving him a return squeeze before pulling his hand away.

Traffic was heavier than what he usually encountered on the way to the office, but that was hardly surprising given the time of day. Gibbs still drove at his usual break neck speed, only slowing down long enough to get two cups of coffee and a couple of cream filled donuts at a Dunkin Donuts drive thru. Tony only ate half of his, but he did so without being ordered to eat, so Gibbs let it slide.

Pulling into his usual parking spot, Gibbs hesitated to get out of the car. For the first time, he dreaded going to the office. He didn't want to sit down at his desk knowing another teammate would never take her rightful place again.

"Sucks." Tony said quietly, concisely expressing what Gibbs was feeling in one word.

"It's not fair." Gibbs winced internally knowing he sounded like a petulant child.

"Life isn't." Tony said philosophically.

Gibbs gave him a dark look, wanting to snap at him for seeming like he had a better handle on this situation than he did; like he was far more accepting of losing Kate than Gibbs would ever be. He still wanted to lash out, to give free rein to his anger while Tony seemed almost painfully composed. The younger man sighed, looking away. His long fingers neatly encircled Gibb's wrist, thumb rubbing lightly at the delicate skin near the base of his palm.

"Never mistake a willingness to endure a situation for tolerance of it." Tony's lips curled in a bitter smile. Green eyes hardened like steel, unforgiving and cold. "We will find Ari. And when we do, we will make him pay."

It was a promise. Shared anger and loss, pain and desire for retribution so nicely summed up. Gibbs nodded. Ari had hurt them, but he hadn't crippled them. Not by a long shot. And he would definitely suffer the consequences.

"For right now..." Tony cleared his throat. "Now, we have to deal with the business of living."

Sam's words from the night before came back to Gibbs. 'The dead deserve justice, and in due time, they get it. The living need compassion and comfort, neither of which are available in abundance.'

Kate's family would want assurances that she was a good agent, had been well respected and liked. They would want to know he was proud to have known their daughter, their sister. They would want to know the team shared their loss, felt their pain, to know her death hadn't meaningless. And they would most definitely want what he and Tony and the entire team see Ari Haswari punished.

Gibbs took a slow deep breath and nodded, letting Tony know he understood and agreed.
Tony smiled, expression morphing back into that of an affable, nice guy. It was all the more chilling in some ways given what Gibbs knew what lurked under it. People expected him to be a rat bastard capable of doing despicable things, but few ever suspected it of Tony.

This illusion---pleasant, immature, capable but never quite as focused as he should be was what so many people assumed defined the real Anthony DiNozzo. It hid a lot of things Gibbs was damn glad he had the chance to see. They were things he definitely wanted to take to more fully explore.

" of living?"

"Yeah?" Tony arched an eyebrow waiting.

"That include this," Gibbs made a helpless gesture with one hand not sure what word to use. "This thing between us?"

Tony grinned. "Don't see why it wouldn't."

"Good." Gibbs smiled, feeling more in control by the minute. "You interested in dinner...tonight?"

Tony nodded, leaning in to give Gibbs a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'd like that."

That small display of affection made Gibbs feel suddenly more positive and lighthearted than he had in a long time. He would have liked to gotten more than just that a quick peck on the cheek but it was a start, and anything more simply wasn't safe to do at the office. It didn't really bother him. Gibbs had always been rather private when it came to romance, never really interested in having an audience when it came to showing his attraction, interest, and affection for someone.

And while Tony was definitely a flirt, seeming to chase every skirt around, the only time Gibbs knew Tony to have gotten physical with someone in public had been Voss. Most of the time he seemed to be as discrete about public displays as Gibbs was prone to being. The former Marine blinked, suddenly realizing for all Tony's talk of dating and women, the only girlfriend he'd ever met was Paula Cassidy.

Gibbs considered her more of a passing acquaintance than someone Tony had been in a committed relationship with since her shipboard duty kept her out of touch for months at a time. Thinking about it, he could readily supply a list of names and stories to go with, but Gibbs had never run into another woman Tony had dated or even seen pictures of them. That was...odd.

"I can hear the wheels turning in your head." Tony smiled, wagging his eyebrows. He gave Gibbs a knowing look. "Camouflage comes in many colors, shapes and sizes, Boss."

Gibbs was not at all surprised to find Tony knew what he was thinking. Tony had an uncanny knack for doing it. It was another reason he'd hired him.

"I'm betting we have got a lot to talk about."

Tony chuckled. "Wouldn't do for you to get bored." With that the younger man slipped out of the car, leaving Gibbs no choice but to follow.

Today was going to be difficult, no doubt about that. But, moving to walk in step with Tony, Gibbs was sure it wouldn't be impossible. He was confident that together there wasn't much they couldn't handle.


Chapter Text

Gibbs absently noted that Kate had gotten her dark hair and eyes from her father, but not his stature. At six foot three inches Franklin Todd towered over his petite wife, the same way he no doubt had over his daughter. Gibbs managed to dredge up a smile when Mr. Todd shook his hand and quietly mentioned in a broken voice how much Kate had talked about working with him, how much she admired and respected him.

"It was a pleasure to know your daughter. She was one of the best agents I've ever had the privilege of working with." Gibbs said, meaning every word, wanting them to know he meant it. "I'm very sorry we couldn't have met under better circumstances."

Mrs. Todd's eyes were red from crying and her smile had a tendency to tremble but her back was straight and she maintained her composure. It was easy to see that she'd bequeathed a lot of her strength of character to Kate. She held her husband's hand the entire time, but Gibbs had a feeling it was more for his benefit than hers.

"I was wondering if I might speak with the other members of your team?" Mrs. Margaret Todd asked quietly. "Katie spoke of them often. And very highly."

Gibbs tried not to wince. She sounded so much like her daughter it was uncanny. She had the same inflection, the same tone and pitch. He was grateful that Kate hadn't looked much like her blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother or he'd have never been able to even make eye contact.

"Certainly." Gibbs nodded. "I'll have them sent in." Isolating the family in the conference room, away from the rest of the office, had seemed like a good idea. There was no reason to put their grief on display.

"I'd rather see where Katie worked." Mrs. Todd took a shaky breath, offering him an apologetic glance. "If that's all right?"

"No problem." Gibbs waved a hand toward the door. "If you'll come with me."

He was relieved that so far it was only her parents that had shown up. But he knew her brothers, their wives and their children were due to arrive sometime this evening. Gibbs was surprised when Mr. Todd told him that they wanted to bury Kate in Alexandria, Virginia. None of her family currently lived there but it was where Kate had grown up and evidently a family plot was located there.

He wasn't sure if the funeral being close was a good thing or not. It made attending easy to do, something he was sure his team would appreciate. But he hated funerals and usually avoided them as a rule and had secretly been hoping he could get out of it. He'd been hoping he could send the others and use as his excuse for not going that someone had to stay behind and hold down the fort. Gibbs wasn't good at handling other people's grief and pain. Standing around watching them suffer, unable to really do anything to fix it, made him feel helpless which in turn just fostered more anger. It was a vicious cycle he had rather hoped to avoid.

Rumor mill had it that the president might even attend, but Gibbs thought it highly unlikely. Had Kate still been on his protection detail, the president would probably have felt obligated to put in an appearance at her funeral. But since she was no longer with the secret service....unless it was an Affair of State, the president rarely attended funerals.

Gibbs led the Todds through the maze of cubicles, taking his time so that they could garner whatever comfort they thought seeing the office would bring for them. The office always looked rather ordinary, and unthreatening. It didn't give any hints as to the some times dangerous work they did. He wondered if Kate had ever told them about being held hostage in the morgue, and if they knew about Tony's exposure to Y. Pestis.

Knowing Kate, she wouldn't have wanted them to worry. Gibbs doubted her parents had any inkling before her death that NCIS was every bit as dangerous, if not more so, than working to protect the president. Gibbs mentally grimaced thinking to himself the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Kate's parents might not have been so surprised by her death if they'd known, although, Gibbs was sure there was no way anyone could truly be prepared to handle the death of a their child.

Entering what Gibbs personally thought of as his private domain, he looked for his people immediately. McGee was busy at his computer, working on the task Gibbs had assigned the second he got off the elevator. He was searching for evidence of whether or not Ari had left the country. Gibbs was fairly certain the miserable bastard was no longer stateside, but he wanted confirmation of that fact and he wanted to know where Ari was headed.

It was small consolation that Ari no longer had FBI backing. He never should have had it in the first place. Gibbs was very pleased that the Israelis wanted a piece of Ari as well. Hell would freeze over before the Israelis gave up looking for a traitor. Gibbs just hoped he got to the son of a bitch first.

Tony was busy finishing up reports for their last case. He told Gibbs it was better if he did it, that he should assign McGee something proactive to do rather than dwell on the case that got Kate killed. Gibbs wasn't sure he wanted Tony to dwell on it either, but the paperwork needed to be finished, the case fully documented. And there might yet be clues there about where Ari could have gone. Gibbs motto regarding the double agent was to leave no stone unturned.

"DiNozzo. McGee."

Both younger men looked up. McGee's expression was wary; Tony just looked curious. Green eyes flickered away from Gibbs to look at Mr. and Mrs. Todd before shifting back to the former Marine.

McGee stood up slowly. Tony also got to his feet. "Boss?"

"I'd like you to meet Mr. Franklin Todd and his wife, Mrs. Margaret Todd." Gibbs nodded toward McGee and then Tony. "Timothy McGee and Anthony DiNozzo."

Gibbs expected the meeting to be stilted, awkward. He realized in hindsight he should have known better. Tony was good at putting people at ease and the Todds were no more immune to his charm than anyone else seemed to be.

Tony managed to make talking about Kate seem like she'd only just stepped out of the room. At the same time, he clearly wasn't trying to create the illusion Kate might appear at any moment. Instead, Tony talked about his friendship with her and their time together in the past tense as though it were natural to do so.

He treated Mr. and Mrs. Todd with care, voice soft and warm, without patronizing them or implying they were fragile or broken. Tony casually offered Mrs. Todd a tissue when she could no longer contain her tears, not drawing undo attention to her grief that might have embarrassed her, but not diminishing it either. He made what might have been a self-conscious, disquieting moment, seem entirely ordinary.

McGee looked a bit surprised at Tony's deft handling of the Todds. Or maybe he was surprised at the return of Tony's easy-going, friendly nature. The former cop hadn't uttered more than ten words since they'd gotten off the elevator until the Todds had arrived. The silence had to be almost as disconcerting for McGee as Kate's empty desk.

If he hadn't talked to Tony or known about Sam, Gibbs would have thought Tony's behavior for most of the day was decidedly out of character, that he was overly subdued and withdrawn. But he recognized the younger man was focused, determined to help find Ari, not suffering from survivor's guilt or depression, so he let him work.

The only time Gibbs had made a point of interrupting Tony's self-imposed isolation was when McGee offered to get lunch. Gibbs insisted Tony get something, ordering a burger and fries for himself trying to set an example. The burger was delicious right up until Gibbs realized he kept expecting Kate to show up any minute and rag on him for eating so unhealthy and telling him he'd need angioplasty to flush out his arteries. He'd thrown the rest away, ignoring McGee's worried look with practiced ease, and studiously avoiding Tony's eyes.

"I'm not sure what arrangements you've made regarding Kate's things, but we boxed up what she kept here at the office for you." Tony laid a reassuring hand on Mrs. Todd's arm, rubbing up and down in a soothing gesture. "Would you like to take them with you or we could drop them off at her place to deal with when you're ready?"

"We're headed over to Katie's apartment...later....when our sons arrive...I'm not sure--" Mr. Todd cleared his throat, trading a look with his wife. "We'll take them with us."

Tony nodded his head once, accepting the decision. Gibbs knew Tony's next move would be to offer to take the box to their car for them. Seeing a faint tightness around the younger man's eyes, and the stiffness in his posture someone less familiar with Tony would have missed, Gibbs decided Tony had already handled enough.

"Special Agent McGee will help you with that." Gibbs knew it wasn't really fair to assign the task to him either but there wasn't anyone left. And he wanted a moment alone with Tony to find out for sure if the younger man was all right.

"We haven't met...ah...Abby yet. Kate said she was her best friend." Mrs. Todd gave them a weak smile. "Is she here?" She asked quietly.

Ducky they'd met earlier when arrangements were made for Kate's body to be sent the funeral home. The ME had made a very good impression on them, showing a great deal of compassion and consideration. Not that Gibbs had expected any less.

Abby had called in not long after Gibbs and Tony had arrived. She'd asked for the day off which Gibbs had granted without batting an eye. By all rights they should all be on leave, but the director hadn't pushed it.

"She..took the day off. Kate's death hit her....very hard." McGee offered hesitantly. His earnest puppy dog expression left no doubt about the validity of his words.

"I'd say it hit us all very hard." Mr. Todd observed softly with honest candor.

"We'll meet her later then." Mrs. Todd stated with a conviction that once more reminded Gibbs of her daughter. She sighed softly, blue eyes still bright with tears touching all of them. "You'll all be at the funeral?"

Gibbs gave the only answer he could. "Yes, Ma'am." He was going to have to have his black suit cleaned and pressed. He'd have to suck it up and find a way to handle his own anger and frustration. Knowing just how long one could be, Gibbs really hoped they weren't going to go for a full Catholic funeral, but expected they would.

He had McGee show the Todds out, taking the small box of Kate's things with him. Gibbs grimaced. There should have been a lot more of her things around, more tangible proof to testify to all the time she'd spent at the office, on his team, as part of his family. The hole she was leaving behind was so much larger than one small box could ever hope to express.

He turned to look at Tony again. The younger man smiled wanly, before dipping his head and returning to work at his desk. Tony had once more adopted that blandly neutral expression he'd been wearing all day. It was little more than a mask, and Gibbs hated it. He wanted to say something encouraging, to express his concern without sounding like some sort of mother hen or implying Tony wasn't handling things as well as he truly was.

Words so often failed him, but action could always be relied on. Gibbs moved to stand behind Tony, looking over his shoulder as though studying something on the computer screen. It would look innocent to the cameras that habitually covered the bullpen.

He laid his cheek against Tony's, and put his hand on Tony's opposite shoulder squeezing once in reassurance. Gibbs knew he'd done the right thing when Tony sighed softly, leaning in to his touch, tension draining away from the shoulder under his hand. Gibbs stayed like that for a moment, just enjoying the closeness, offering comfort and receiving it in turn.

He patted Tony's shoulder, turning his head to place a very discrete kiss on his cheek before moving away and going back to his own desk. Gibbs studiously avoided the top drawer of his desk where he'd secreted Kate's sketchbook. Tony knew it was there, and McGee hadn't asked about it. Gibbs would leave it there until he could look at it again without pain. By then, the rest of the team should be ready to see it too.

Gibbs knew the director was making sure they didn't get any new cases until after Kate's funeral. He'd done the same thing to Pacci's team when he'd been killed. And as much as Gibbs wanted to have something else to focus on, something else to think about other than the loss of Kate, he understood the reasoning.

His computer peeped letting him know a new e-mail message had arrived. Gibbs pursed his lips in annoyance. The director wanted him to set up an appointment to see the office shrink. Gibbs deleted it, stabbing at the keyboard with more force than necessary. He already knew the director wouldn't let him get away with not going. The message that had been in his voice mail when he got in had said as much. If he didn't set up a session the director would do it for him.

Morrow had done just that the first time Ari had shown up taking hostages in the morgue and shot both Gibbs and Gerald. Morrow no doubt thought Gibbs would benefit from talking to someone, probably hoping to stave off the obsession that had followed his first encounter with Ari. Gibbs grimaced, thinking to himself that the director really should know better by now.


"Yeah, Boss?"

"You set up a time with Dr. Mitchell?"

Tony nodded, green eyes making contact briefly. "Next Monday. Nine o'clock." Gibbs recognized the one shoulder shrug Tony executed as a sign that he was a bit uncomfortable. "I...ah...I thought it best to get it over with, Boss, and that was the first opening she had."

Gibbs nodded. "McGee make an appointment?"

"He's got eight o'clock on the same day." Tony cleared his throat. He hesitated a second, biting his lower lip before speaking again. "Think she still has some slots open that day if you wanted to make your appointment."

Gibbs nodded, accepting the information. No he didn't want to make an appointment, but it wasn't up to him, so he might as well bite the bullet and be done with it. It wasn't really in his nature to delay the inevitable. Gibbs made the call, setting up his appointment for right after Tony's. He wondered what Dr. Mitchell would make of seeing them all in one day. If she read it as a united front, she probably wouldn't be too far off.

Gibbs just glanced up, blue eyes giving passing acknowledgement of McGee when he returned from seeing the Todds off. He resisted the urge to demand a progress report on what the junior agent had found on Ari so far. It was too soon for McGee to have found much. Unfortunately.

Gibbs eyed the clock. It wasn't quite five yet, but he was ready to call it a day. A soft peep from Tony's e-mail, unnaturally loud in the abnormally silent bullpen decided the issue. Gibbs was tired of his team having to deal with people. Most knew better than to offer him condolences, sympathetic glances or god-forbid words of wisdom, but that didn't mean Tony, McGee, Ducky or even Palmer were immune from well-meaning pains in the ass.

"Call it a day, people."

"Boss?" McGee looked startled, fingers poised over his keyboard.

"Go make sure Abby is doing all right." He ordered, making a shooing motion with one hand. He knew the younger man had probably been checking on her all day via the computer, but there was no substitute for the personal touch.

McGee smiled hesitantly. "Will do, Boss." He glanced over at Tony. "You need a ride?"

"Nah. I'm good." Tony's tone was enough to let the junior agent know he appreciated the offer and wasn't dismissing it out of hand. He looked over his shoulder to give McGee a brief smile, one that lacked his usual good humor and energy. "Got a few things here I want to finish up yet." Tony's attention returned to his computer. "Need to make up for getting in late anyway."

The junior agent frowned, uncertainty and concern written on his face. When McGee had first started working with the team, he and Tony were more like adversaries than colleagues, but Gibbs had no doubt they were actually good friends. He'd been amused more than annoyed at their unending series of petty competitions, because when the chips were down they were there for each other, no questions asked. Tony had risked getting blown up for McGee....if that didn't say something about the quality and depth of their friendship, Gibbs didn't know what would.

McGee looked toward Gibbs. Gibbs nodded once before jerking his head toward the elevator letting the younger man know he'd take care of Tony and he should just leave. He briefly wondered what it meant that McGee looked relieved as he left.

Gibbs shook his head. McGee had been with the team long enough he should have gotten over his hero worship, but the younger man still seemed to have Gibbs on a pedestal. It was like he had absolute faith in his ability to make everything all right. It made Gibbs feel old and jaded beyond his years.

That was really just one more thing he found so attractive about Tony. He saw Gibbs as a human being, worthy of respect for his insight and ability, but not infallible. Tony could tease him and did so frequently. He knew where the lines were, but kept pushing the boundaries just the same. Tony could take the brunt of Gibbs' anger and come up with a smile, ready to go again, but McGee still hesitated to interrupt Gibbs or contradict him even when he knew better.

"Time to go, DiNozzo." Gibbs had already shut off is own computer, and forwarded his calls to his cell phone.

Tony sighed and powered down his computer, turning off the desk light as well. He stretched and Gibbs winced when he heard several vertebrae announce their presence. His own joints popped from time to time, but it seemed somehow worse coming from Tony.

Tony grabbed his backpack before heading toward the elevator with him. Gibbs studiously avoided making eye contact with anyone else, letting his body language speak for him. He didn't want to deal with them and made sure they knew it.

Tony walked just a step behind, to Gibbs' left. It was his usual place. When he was off on sick leave, Gibbs found himself almost constantly looking over his shoulder expecting Tony to be there. It was very comforting to have him back where he belonged.

Gibbs had forgotten how many people left the building at five. The elevator wasn't crowded but there were definitely more people than he liked. He wasn't claustrophobic but Gibbs hated being forced to share space with people he didn't trust, like or know well. He was relieved when they arrived at the parking garage level and people began dispersing.

"Your place or mine?" Gibbs asked as they got into his car.

"You going to cook or are we having food delivered?" Tony countered as he buckled his seatbelt, tipping his head back, eyes closed.

He was a bit surprised that Tony had just assumed they were eating in. Although, given the tenor of their day, Gibbs found he wasn't interested in going to a restaurant and dealing with yet more people. "You got anything to drink at your place?"

"Juice, milk, water." Tony opened his eyes. "Beer, scotch, and there might be some vodka somewhere if I look hard enough."

"No bourbon?"

"Nope." Tony smirked. "Like my taste buds."

"Bourbon is an acquired taste." Gibbs stated dryly, starting the car. "You learn to appreciate it."

"You don't have to learn to like a good thing." Tony pointed out with a warm smile, green eyes glowing. "No one has to acquire a taste for ice cream, it just comes natural."

Gibbs chuckled. He didn't feel like arguing the point. He didn't feel like cooking either. "We'll order in."

"Okay." Tony agreed easily, eyes closing once more. "Guess that answers your question then."

Gibbs frowned as he backed out of his parking spot, threading his way out of the garage. "How do you figure?"

"You're too far out for most places to deliver." Tony's lips quirked upward in a small smile. "Unless you want pizza."

Gibbs didn't mind pizza but it wasn't his favorite choice and Tony knew that. "We could pick something up along the way."

"Would be cold before we got there." Tony pointed out reasonably. "And I want something hot."

"I have a microwave."

Tony opened his eyes, staring at Gibbs. "You know how to use it?"

"Yes, DiNozzo, I know how to use it." Gibbs reached over to lightly cuff him, the gesture unconsciously becoming more of a caress than a reprimand as he threaded his fingers through Tony's soft hair. He kept his hand on the back of Tony's neck, unwilling to let go, his fingers massaging gently.

"Warming things up is for leftovers." Tony sighed, clearly enjoying his touch.

"I don't have a change of clothes." Gibbs countered, enjoying the back and forth too much to stop just yet.

Tony gave him a slant eyed look. "I own a washer and dryer, Gibbs. Can wash what you wore yesterday. Doubt anyone will even notice." Tony smirked. "And they sure as hell won't say anything to you if they do."

Gibbs laughed. No, no one would comment on his wardrobe. Not if they knew what was good for them.

"Okay, your place it is then."

In spite of everything, Gibbs felt almost as good right now as he had when he'd gotten up that morning. He was looking forward to repeating the experience. Maybe even enhancing it. Tony's warm smile and knowing look told him there was a better than average chance of doing just that.


Chapter Text

Gibbs followed Tony into his place. He found himself mentally drawing parallels to the last time he'd been there. He smiled to himself, glad that at least this time they weren't emotionally and physically exhausted. Tired, yes, but at least they weren't dead on their feet.

He was so lost in thought, he was caught off guard when Tony turned around and pinned him against the door. The younger man smiled warmly, bracing his hands on either side of Gibbs' head before he leaned in to kiss him. The kiss was soft, gentle, a simple meeting of lips that was more of a tender welcome than passionate greeting.

Tony pulled back well before Gibbs want him too. "Hello, Jethro."

Gibbs immediately understood. That morning at breakfast Tony made a point of letting him know they were something other than supervisor and subordinate away from the office, that he wasn't exclusively in charge here and that suited him just fine. "Hello, Tony."

Tony grinned, resting his forehead against Gibbs'. He playfully kissed the tip of Gibbs' nose. "You are a smart, smart man."

Gibbs smiled back, enjoying the way Tony leaned into him, effectively pinning him against the door. "So they tell me."

Gibbs watched as Tony's eyes darkened, his pupils growing so large they nearly obscured the green. Even with that bit of advance warning he was still surprised by the intensely passionate kiss Tony bestowed. The younger man ravaged his mouth, an odd blend of aggression and encouragement, gentle and fierce at the same time. Tony's tongue found its way into Gibb's mouth, and he sucked on it, capturing the intruder in a warm, wet embrace.

When Tony's tongue retreated, Gibbs' followed. He unconsciously classified the flavors he with a hint of caramel, vague bit of mint as if Tony had been chewing gum only a moment ago, and something unidentifiable but very, very appealing. Gibbs delved deeper, seeking more of that unique taste, mapping Tony's mouth, intimately learning every bit of new territory encountered.

Gibbs pulled Tony closer to him, hands moving to knead his ass, enjoying the feel of firm muscle beneath his fingers. He swallowed Tony's moan, before reluctantly pulling away to breathe. He gasped when Tony immediately started nibbling along his jaw line, working his way to Gibbs earlobe before stopping to lavish attention there.

Gibbs shuddered, very glad his back was against the door because standing on his own would have been impossible. He had no idea how Tony knew that hollow below his ear was a personal hot spot for him, or just how in the hell he could do whatever it was he was doing with his tongue. At the moment, he didn't care, just as long as Tony didn't stop.

He was vaguely aware of Tony's hands burrowing inside his suit jacket. They slid up his torso, gliding over the soft material of his shirt, the heat of them almost searing him through fabric. He shivered when Tony made a sound that was an odd sort of purring growl.

"Too damn many clothes on." Tony whispered, voice deeper and rougher than normal, his tone a blend of arousal and frustration.

By the time Gibbs got his brain in working order to tell him to go ahead and do something about that situation, Tony's hands were already busy getting rid of his tie and undoing buttons. He found it reassuring that the younger man's usually deft, graceful hands were a bit clumsy, trembling slightly with desire and urgency. He wanted to return the favor, but couldn't quite convince his hands to let go of the younger man's ass.

Tony pushed Gibbs' jacket and shirt half off his shoulders. He leaned in to nuzzle Gibbs' neck. The former Marine arched into the touch, trying to create more contact. His breath hissed out in surprised pleasure when his overheated skin came into contact with cool silk.

Tony chuckled softly, green eyes warm with mischief as he held up his own tie with one hand. Gibbs wasn't even sure how Tony had managed to undo the damn thing without his noticing. His own tie had been casually discarded, relegated to the floor somewhere.

Tony grinned wolfishly as he deliberately ran his tie gently up and down Gibbs chest, paying particular attention to his nipples. Gibbs tilted his head back to thump dully against the door, reveling in that exotic sensation. He finally got his hands to move, but only so far as to let go of Tony's ass and end up fisted in his jacket desperately hanging on as the younger man sweetly tormented his sensitized flesh.

He sighed when Tony nibbled on his neck, the exquisitely soft application of teeth and tongue made it hard for him to think about doing anything but simply enjoy the assault. Ordinarily, Gibbs was the one to take charge, be the aggressor, but he was enjoying Tony's onslaught too much to care about his own lack of action.

He shivered as Tony gracefully dropped to his knees, his entire body slithering down Gibbs as he did so. Tony grinned up at him before he undid his belt buckle. Nimble fingers pulled down his zipper. Gibbs sighed as his cock was freed from confinement.

He cupped Tony's face with one hand while the other began to lightly card through his hair. Tony's hair slid through his fingers with a sinful softness that rivaled the feel of the silk tie against his skin. He was delighted when Tony made that soft growling purr noise again.

Tony leaned forward and breathed delicately on the head of his cock. Gibbs' hips thrust forward automatically, craving more contact. He bit his lip when Tony obliged, taking just the head into his mouth, tongue working the same magic it had earlier.

Gibbs groaned, a low, guttural sound. He struggled not to thrust mindlessly into that moist heat. He had no idea how much Tony could handle and didn't want to hurt him---although, if the current skill level being demonstrated was anything to go by the younger man was no stranger to this activity.

Gibbs felt a surge of jealousy thinking about Tony touching anyone else like this. His hand in Tony's hair fisted tight enough to be painful. Tony looked up, wincing slightly, green eyes questioning.

"Sorry." Gibbs gasped out, opening his hand to pet Tony, soothing the pain he'd unintentionally caused.

"S'okay." Tony smiled up at him, licking his lips. Gibbs shivered. The younger man looked like a cat that had been eating cream.

He nearly screamed, mouth open in a soundless cry when Tony surprised him by leaning in to take his entire length in one easy motion. He hadn't expected that, was totally unprepared for it. The only thing keeping him in place was the firm hold Tony had on his hips, something he'd only just noticed.

Gibbs continued to play with Tony's hair. He left his other hand on Tony's face, thumb lightly caressing his cheek as it hollowed out when he sucked on Gibbs' cock. Gibbs shivered, eyes drifting closed, head tipping back against the door once more as he opened his mouth to try and breathe deeply.

He was vaguely aware that he was saying something but he had no idea what. Part of him wanted to tell Tony to stop. Gibbs didn't want their first time to be like this, but it had been so long since he'd felt this damn good. So long since anyone had touched him, stopping now was nearly impossible.

He heard himself almost begging. "Please....God...Tony...Please don't...stop."

He was panting, unable to really catch his breath or think clearly. He was too wrapped up in the sensations. Gibbs moaned when Tony began to increase his speed, bobbing smoothly, sucking with greater force. On each up stroke the pad of Tony's tongue laved the head of Gibbs' cock.

Gibbs hips strained against Tony's firm hold, instinctively wanting to thrust harder and deeper as he got closer to completion. He bit his lip when Tony hummed. Mother...of...God...but that felt incredible. Gibbs would almost swear the vibration was thrumming through his very bones. He wanted more of that, and Tony seemed only too happy to oblige.

He could feel muscles flexing, tightening reflexively, and that tell-tale tingling started at the base of his spine. " need close," he gasped out trying to warn the younger man.

Instead of pulling back as Gibbs expected, Tony deep throated him again. He felt Tony's hand on his balls, massaging gently. When Tony's throat worked, muscles contracting around his cock as he hummed again, Gibbs felt like the whole universe had just condensed into one point and then exploded.

He sagged against the door, panting, waiting for his heart rate to slow. He felt like he'd just run a marathon except for the incredible surge of well-being. Only locking his knees kept him upright and on his feet. He lightly pet Tony, smiling when the younger man sighed and rested his head against his thigh.

"That was....damn," Gibbs grinned, looking down, blue eyes meeting green, "amazing."

Tony smiled, looking smug and content in equal measure. "My pleasure."

Gibbs sighed, and caressed Tony's face with gentle fingertips, feeling a faint flash of regret. "Shouldn't have been just me." He whispered.

Tony laughed softly. "Why?"

Gibbs blinked. That wasn't exactly the response he'd expected. Tony smiled up at him, eyes dancing. "It's not selfish to take what is offered." Tony winked, his tone full of gentle teasing when he spoke again. "Would actually be rude to refuse. And it would have hurt my feelings...not to mention doing irreparable damage to my ego."

Gibbs chuckled, shaking his head. Tony never failed to make him laugh. "C'mere."

Tony rose to his feet with an easy, fluid grace Gibbs envied. His knees would have protested loudly if he'd attempted the same move. He cupped Tony's face, pulling him in for a deep, leisurely kiss. He was surprised to find how much he enjoyed tasting himself on Tony's tongue.

He pulled back enough to rest his forehead against Tony's, stunned by how intense holding eye contact at this close distance could be. "Thank you."

Tony smiled. "You're welcome."

Gibbs grinned when Tony kissed the tip of his nose again. It was an oddly endearing, decidedly personal gesture.

"C'mon." Tony pulled away, holding out a hand in invitation. "I want a shower."

Gibbs pulled up his pants enough that he wouldn't trip and kill himself following Tony down the hall. The younger man shrugged out of his jacket leaving it trailing after him on the floor. Gibbs wanted to say something but when the shirt immediately followed he was too entranced by the lovely display of smooth skin and muscle to give a damn about clothing. It was somehow all the more enticing than it had been last night.

Probably because I know I can touch, Gibbs thought to himself with a savage grin. He reached out and let his fingertips trail down Tony's spine, enjoying the feel of that warm, soft skin, watching goosebumps rising to trail after his touch. Noticing a small thin white line of ridged scar tissue that followed the contour of Tony's shoulder blade, Gibbs traced it with one finger, curious as to what caused this small imperfection.

"What happened here?"

Tony looked over his shoulder. "What happened where?"

Gibbs deliberately traced the faint line again, adding more pressure. "Here."

"Oh. That." Tony shrugged carelessly, stepping into the bathroom, flicking on the light as he did so. Gibbs blinked at the sudden brightness before making eye contact with Tony in the mirror.

"Back when I was a rookie, still in uniform. Got called out on a domestic disturbance. Was cuffing the husband when the wife got me with a knife." Tony undid his belt, and started to shimmy out of his pants in a move that almost made Gibbs forget what the hell he'd just asked.

He forced himself to refocus, once more tracing the scar. He winced, realizing just how many stitches it had probably taken. "Where the hell was your partner?"

"She got him too." Tony smirked. "Bet Lee still has nightmares about that woman. She could peel paint with that scream of hers."

Gibbs leaned forward to place a delicate kiss on the scar. He knew it was impossible, but he still wished he could erase it with his touch. Wished all the hurts and ills Tony might have suffered could be so easily taken away.

"It's okay." Tony turned to look at him, smiling softly. "Pretty sure you got more than a few scars of your own."

And stories to go with them, Gibbs thought balefully. He was almost sorry he asked, afraid that Tony would return the favor. He really didn't want to rehash memories about how he'd gotten hurt and when.

Tony cocked his head to one side, studying him. Gibbs wasn't sure what the younger man was searching for or what he found that made him give the former marine such an understanding look. He pulled him into a warm embrace, one that Gibbs returned. He buried his face against Tony's neck, breathing deeply. He couldn't help but classify the fragrances he encountered....musk and mint he knew came from Tony's soap, but under it was something indefinable that he could only label as 'Tony'.

"You need to get out of those clothes." Tony kissed his temple before pulling away. He waggled his eyebrows. "Know you like to buck convention...rebel with a cause and all that, but in this case, I really think naked is the way to go."

Gibbs snickered. He'd almost forgotten that being with another person could be fun and casual, that not every moment had to be intense and fraught with meaning. He shrugged out of his shirt and jacket, uncharacteristically following Tony's example of letting them lay where they fell. He'd deal with them later.

"Good boy." Tony patted his shoulder. "Hope for you yet."

Gibbs snorted, amused at the brief flash of pleasure he felt getting that flippant, teasing compliment. He glared half-heartedly at Tony but only got a smile for his trouble. He was pleased to see the smile shift into more of an appreciative leer when he quickly removed the rest of his clothing. It was a nice ego boost to know Tony found him as attractive as he found the younger man.

Tony whistled silently, showing his admiration. Gibbs hoped like hell he wasn't blushing as brightly as it felt like. He hadn't blushed in years.

Tony turned away and leaned into the shower to turn on the water. Gibbs lightly patted his bare ass in a gesture he recognized as more possessive than just approving, but he couldn't stop himself from doing it.

Tony looked over his shoulder, a Cheshire grin appearing. "Giving a whole new meaning to my ass being yours?"

"Yes." Gibbs admitted with an unabashed grin of his own. "Don't you forget it."

"Forget it?" Tony arched both eyebrows. "Shit....Gibbs, I'd have it tattooed on my forehead for all the world to see." His expression turned to one of exaggerated thought. "Might be worth it just to see the looks I'd get."

In spite of the humor in Tony's response there was no mistaking the underlying seriousness. It was more of a commitment than Gibbs expected to get so early into this ....this thing between them. It was so new, Gibbs wasn't even sure what to classify it even in his own mind. Before Gibbs could say anything equally profound, Tony stepped into the shower.

"You going to join me?" Tony made a 'come here' gesture with two fingers before ducking back inside the shower stall.

Gibbs stepped into the shower. He might not be sure of what this was between them or where it was going or might end up, but he was certain he wasn't going to pass up the chance to enjoy it. Not this time.

The water was still set at a temperature a little warmer than he cared for, but Tony obviously loved it. He had braced his arms against the wall, letting the water cascade over him. Gibbs breath caught for a moment, unable to do more than just stare at the vision in front of him.

Water lovingly traversed muscle contours, highlighting and accentuating Tony's long, lanky frame. Blue eyes followed droplets as they glided easily down Tony's back to where they hesitated for a moment before going around and over those perfect pale globes of the younger man's ass. They clung like crystals to the fine hair that lightly covered his legs.

Gibbs shuddered. For the first time he regretted that he wasn't as quick to recover as he used to be. The mind blowing orgasm he'd just had meant he wouldn't be hard again for awhile yet. He grinned....but that didn't mean he couldn't explore the beautiful body being so blatantly offered.

He picked up the soap and lathered it, running hands over Tony's back. Gibbs instinctively started to gently massage the knots and tension he found along the way wanting to make Tony feel good. Tony's low moan of pleasure seemed to vibrate and echo around the shower stall.

"'re good at...that." Tony hissed when Gibbs found a particularly tight spot but didn't pull away from him.

Gibbs worked his way down Tony's body, finding himself enjoying the opportunity to focus exclusively on him. It was highly erotic but there was no driving urge to reach completion for him, no building urgency or spiraling intensity. His own needs already sated for the moment made this a languid study, letting him concentrate on finding what pleased his partner, mapping Tony's body intimately. He wondered if this was how Tony had felt earlier.

He paused to knead Tony's ass. Gibbs smiled smiling broadly at the way the younger man widened his stance and his hips began thrusting slowly. He leaned in kissing a trail down Tony's spine, enjoying the taste of freshly washed skin.

Tony shied away when he his hands lightly shifted to ghost up his sides. Gibbs smiled. "Ticklish?"

"Yeah. A little." Tony admitted, turning to in Gibbs hold to face him. Before he could think to exploit that new found weakness, Tony kissed him.

Gibbs sighed into Tony's mouth, reveling in the chance to taste that intoxicating flavor again. He remapped that wet grotto with his tongue chasing that indefinable something. Only the need to breathe broke the kiss.

Gibbs was suddenly attracted to the pulse point he could see throbbing in Tony's neck. He nibbled at it, unaccountably pleased at how the younger man tipped his head back to bare his throat to him. He gave into the temptation to mark Tony as his, sucking hard and applying his teeth before licking away that bit of pain with his tongue. He was delighted with the little encouraging whimpering noises Tony made.

He lathered his hands again to cover Tony's chest. The younger man made little mewling noises when Gibbs lavished special attention on his nipples. "Bet you could come just from that....couldn't you?" He whispered hoarsely, leaning in to nibble on the lobe of one ear.

Tony groaned. "Maybe....Dunno." Tony's hips were thrusting lazily again, his erection sliding against Gibbs thigh, hot and hard.

Tony grabbed the shower curtain rod, his other hand braced against the wall as one leg came up to curl around Gibbs drawing him closer. Gibbs encircled him with one arm, stabilizing their position and incidentally pulling Tony closer. He let one lathered hand drift south, following the faint line of hair on Tony's abdomen that lead to the treasure he was looking for.

Gibbs stroked Tony's cock. He chose a familiar hold and rhythm that worked for him, letting Tony's response guide him as to what worked for the younger man. His other hand moved first to cup Tony's ass before his fingertips found their way to his tight, puckered opening.

Tony did another of those growling purrs when Gibbs slid one finger into him. The younger man shivered, his grip on Gibbs tightening, his breathing ragged. "God.... Gibbs...Don't stop."

"I don't plan to." Gibbs nibbled on Tony's neck, shifting to suck at the hollow of his throat when he realized that spot elicited a deep sigh.

He continued to stroke Tony's cock, finding the younger man preferred a tight grip that had to verge on being nearly painful. He timed sliding that one finger in and out to co-inside with the thrusts of Tony's hips, letting the younger man fuck himself. He added a second digit and Tony shuddered.

"So...good." He kissed Gibbs. It was a passionate, breathless, sloppy meeting of their mouths, and was quite possibly the best kiss of his life. Tony knew how to do more with his tongue than just talk. Lord.

Tony's thrust became more urgent, harder. Gibbs watched his face, enjoying the 'lost in the moment' expression. The young man was whispering something in what sounded like broken Italian, but Gibbs couldn't be sure. He understood the meaning easily enough...Tony was close, very close.

Tony began to tremble, minute shivers rippling up and over his frame as muscles grew impossibly tight. Gibbs reached inside seeking that sweet spot. He knew he'd found it when Tony thrust hard into his fist and froze in an endless moment. Tony's back arched in a bow that brought him flush against Gibbs as come, hotter than the still cascading water, coated his fingers. The younger man's cry of completion was astonishingly soft, little more than a faint puff of air against Gibbs skin as Tony's head came forward to rest on his shoulder.

Tony clung to him, breathing hard, shaking as small aftershocks rocked through him. Gibbs shifted his stance enough to more easily support Tony's weight. He ran a hand up and down Tony's spine in a soothing gesture, waiting patiently for Tony to come back to himself.

Tony sighed, lifting his head to place a gentle kiss on Gibbs cheek. It was as much a gesture of affection as one of gratitude. Gibbs took in the peaceful, relaxed expression so at odds with the tension of building ecstasy of just a moment ago. Tony really was beautiful.

He smiled. "You with me?"

"Dunno." Tony chuckled dryly, eyes closed as he nuzzled Gibbs neck. "Maybe."

Gibbs laughed lightly, hugging Tony to him before forcing himself to let go. The hot water was bound to run out some time. They couldn't stay in the shower forever.

"We need to finish up in here."

"Yeah, yeah." Tony agreed, eyes opening half way.

Gibbs shook his head. Tony looked half asleep. Gibbs moved them so they could rinse off before he shut off the water.

Tony sighed as he stepped out, his movements slow, almost lethargic. He handed Gibbs one of the dark blue fluffy towels before taking one for himself. Gibbs was disappointed when Tony wrapped his towel around his waist. He rather liked having the chance to see the younger man in all his glory.

Tony smirked, giving him a knowing glance. "Never would have pegged you as a voyeur."

"Just where you're concerned." Gibbs was delighted to see a faint dusting of color appear on Tony's cheekbones.

Tony yawned wide enough his jaw popped. He rubbed one hand over his face and smiled sheepishly at Gibbs. "You...mind if I grab a nap before dinner?" Tony glanced down at the clothes still scattered around the floor. "Before we do laundry. And whatever else we still have to do today."

"I don't mind." Gibbs reached out to lightly cup Tony's face, thumb caressing his cheek. "You mind if I join you?"

"Might be a bit offended if you didn't." Tony smiled warmly, turning his head to place a kiss in Gibbs palm.

Gibbs followed Tony out in to the bedroom. Tony had left the bed unmade and the disorder might have annoyed Gibbs except for the simple fact it made sliding back into that nest of blankets and pillows decidedly easy to do. Damp towels were tossed in the general direction of the bathroom.

Gibbs sighed in satisfaction as Tony snuggled into him, his head pillowed on Gibbs shoulder. Somehow when he got up that morning he hadn't really expected to end up back in the same place. He couldn't really say he was disappointed. Not in the least.


Chapter Text

Gibbs woke slowly, stretching. He frowned, somewhat surprised to find he'd dozed off at all. The last thing he remembered was watching Tony sleep.

Tony! Gibbs sat up with a stab of irrational panic when he realized the younger man wasn't in bed with him. He scrambled out from under the comforter, grabbing a pair of sweats he found lying over the arm of a wingback chair. They were a bit long but they would do. He snatched a t-shirt as well, slipping into it as he barely registered the message on the front that read 'Whatever'.

His bare feet made no sound on the carpet as he padded quickly down the hall. Gibbs hesitated at the entrance to the kitchen, cautious, back against the wall. He wished he had his gun. He mentally cursed as he tried to remember where he'd left it.

Gibbs cocked his head, listening closely. The TV was on and what sounded like the news carried easily to where he stood. Glancing down he noticed the clothing that had been scattered the length of the hallway was gone. From nearby he could make out the rhythmic thumping of a washer on the spin cycle.

He shook his head, straightening up from the defensive crouch he'd instinctively slipped into. He really shouldn't be so paranoid but it was a hard habit to break, especially when people really were out to get him. Gibbs sighed silently, relieved that no one had been around to witness his moment of habit induced, illogical stupidity.

Gibbs scrubbed his face, trying not to feel sheepish. He looked at his watch, surprised to find he'd been asleep for less than an hour. It felt like a lot longer than that.

Stepping into the living room, he saw Tony lounging on the couch wearing a pair of faded jeans and an old, stretched out, gray t-shirt. He must have made some sound that announced his presence because the younger man immediately tilted his head back, green eyes meeting blue. He smiled.

"Hey." The greeting was as warm and welcoming as Tony's smile. It made Gibbs heart beat a little faster. "You're up."

"Seems that way." Gibbs rubbed his eyes still feeling more out of it than he cared to admit. It was disconcerting to realize he'd been sleeping so soundly he hadn't heard or felt Tony leave the bed. When Tony said he wanted a nap before dinner, Gibbs had fully expected Tony would be the one sleeping deeply for some time, not him.

"Always said you had good timing."

"Hunh?" Gibbs frowned.

"I ordered dinner." Tony grinned, before glancing down at his watch. "Should be here in a few minutes."

"What did you order?" Gibbs moved, joining Tony on the couch, settling in so he could lean into the younger man. It was comfortable, reassuring, and he could get used to this very easily.

"Got meatloaf, a baked potato and green beans for you." Tony massaged his shoulder lightly. "Ordered chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy and baked corn for me."

His stomach growled, reminding him what little he'd eaten for lunch hadn't been enough and it was a long time ago. Gibbs raised both eyebrows, considering the menu Tony had rattled off. "You can have that delivered?"

"Ordinarily, no." Tony chuckled, one arm wrapping around Gibbs, pulling him in closer. "But Joe likes me."

Gibbs pursed his lips, trying not to sound suspicious. "Joe?"

"Joe owns the restaurant about four blocks from here." Tony sighed, rubbing his cheek against Gibbs hair. "He thinks he owes me one."

"Owes you for what?"

"Lots of stuff if you ask Joe." Tony laughed softly. "But I think lately it's because I talked to his oldest boy, Jake, about going to the police academy. Joe is real proud of Jake for wanting to be a cop."

Tony placed a soft kiss on Gibbs' temple. "Never would have thought any one would accuse me of being a positive influence."

Gibbs smiled. Tony had definitely been a positive influence on his life. Before he could say so, the doorbell rang. Tony wiggled away from him and loped to the door.

Already feeling a sense of loss at the lack of contact with Tony, Gibbs wondered if it was possible to develop an addiction in just one day. He suddenly realized just how frequently he touched Tony at the office---those little head slaps, pokes to the chest, standing closer than necessary. No, his addiction hadn't happened in just one day. He shook his head, bemused. It had snuck up on him without him even noticing.

He got up and trailed after Tony, standing where he could see the door without being seen. The kid at the door looked like he might be about fifteen, and had probably just started a growth spurt. He was all knees and elbows, and Gibbs wondered if Tony had looked that way at the same age.

"Hey, Zeke." Tony leaned easily against the open door. "I was expecting Jake."

Zeke returned the greeting with a quick smile, blue eyes bright beneath the brim of his ball cap. "Jake's studying tonight. Got his entrance exams next week."

Tony nodded. "Forgot about that."

Gibbs could almost see guilt in Tony's posture. He'd learned to look for clues to what Tony was thinking from more than just his expression.

"Tell Jake I'm sorry I wasn't around more. I meant toâ€""

"S'okay." Zeke waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "He said you'd had a rough couple o' weeks." The teenager assessed Tony looking concerned. "Said you'd been sick. Real sick. You feeling okay now?"

"Yeah." Tony smiled. "I'm good."

"Sweet." Zeke grinned. "Think Pop was a little worried 'cause you haven't been ordering anything lately. It's a good thing you called. He was getting ready to send one of us up here on a food run just to make sure you were eating."

Gibbs couldn't see Tony roll his eyes, but he knew he had. "Tell your old man I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself."

"You tell him." Zeke laughed, lightly punching Tony in the arm. "I think Pop wants to adopt you...and I know Momma does."

Tony chuckled and handed the teenager a few bills. "Keep the change."

Zeke pocketed the money with barely a glance, handing Tony a paper bag in return. He turned to go, spinning to a stop to face Tony again as if he'd just remembered something. "Jake said to tell you thanks for that recommendation letter."

"Tell him it wasn't a big deal. Anyone could have done that. Was his hard work."

He could hear the self-effacement in Tony's tone, downplaying his effort on Jake's behalf. From the sound of it Tony's far more involved with this family than he'd made it seem. His familiarity with them and the neighborhood was probably another reason why Tony kept his apartment in spite of the troubles he'd had with the building.

"Not a big deal?" Zeke snorted in response to Tony's comments. "Man, that letter is the reason he's even getting a shot and you know it." The teenager pointed a finger at Tony. His expression and voice altered, making it clear he was imitating someone else. "So you just suck it up and take your gratitude like a man, mister."

Tony threw his head back and laughed. It was a rich, carefree laugh. Gibbs had never heard him laugh like that before, and he'd give his eye teeth to have a chance to hear him do it again. He told himself he wasn't going to be jealous or resentful of a teenager. It wasn't right to feel that way simply because the kid knew how to make Tony laugh that way and had probably gotten to hear that wonderful sound more than once.

Tony made a shooing motion with one hand. "Better get back before Joe sends out reinforcements looking for you. And give your Momma my love."

"Yes, sir." Zeke tossed off a careless salute and jogged down the steps.

Tony shook his head, grinning. He closed the door, deadbolt sliding into place with a quiet snick. He looked up to make eye contact with Gibbs.

"Dinner is served." Tony made a sweeping bow.

Gibbs expected Tony to walk back into the living room. He thought they'd be eating in front of the TV, but the younger man headed for the kitchen. He set the bag down on the table and turned to riffle through a drawer, pulling out eating utensils.

"Joe doesn't bother with plastic." Tony said, answering the question Gibbs hadn't asked. "No reason to since I think I'm pretty much the only one he delivers for."

Tony placed the forks, spoons and knives on the table before he opened the bag to reveal Styrofoam boxes. "What do you want to drink?"

"I'll have a beer."

Tony nodded and pointed to the fridge, moving on to sort out the food for each of them. "Should be a six pack of San Miguel on the top shelf of the door. Got one or two Yuengling Lagers left in there too if you'd rather have that."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. San Miguel was a dark beer he'd sampled once or twice back when he was in the Marines. He'd never thought Tony would be the type to care for a dark beer, but the younger man had a way of surprising him time and again. The lager he'd never tried, so Gibbs pulled one from the fridge, looking over his shoulder to ask what Tony wanted.

"One of those is fine" Tony nodded to the beer Gibbs held. "I'll have to get more one of these days."

Gibbs twisted the tops off and tossed them easily into the garbage before setting one on the table for Tony and sipping from the other. He smiled to himself. This easy domesticity should have felt odd, but it didn't.

The food smelled wonderful and Gibbs stomach rumbled. Tony grinned as he sat down. "Dig in."

The food tasted as good as it smelled. He wasn't sure how Tony even knew he liked meatloaf, but he definitely wasn't going to complain about it. There was nothing better than a 'home cooked meal' even if it wasn't really his home where it was cooked.

Gibbs found himself reaching for something to talk about, regretting the fact they weren't sitting in front of the TV. At least then he could have found a topic or let the noise fill the silence between them. Not that conversation was really required, Gibbs thought with a small sigh. The silence between them was comfortable, natural. But Gibbs had this unexpected desire to fill the void, to find a way to stay as connected to Tony as possible.

He didn't want to talk about work. He didn't want the only thing they had in common to be the goddamn job. Although, it would be a switch from just about any other relationship Gibbs had ever had. In those, the job had been the one thing none of his wives had ever quite understood or even wanted any part of.

Gibbs sighed softly when Tony's hand covered his. Green eyes held a wealth of warmth and amusement as they met blue. "It's okay."

"What is?" Gibbs blinked.

"Conversation, or lack thereof." Tony smiled. "Think I'd rather have silence than be reduced to talking about the weather."

Gibbs chuckled, trust Tony to understand when no one else would. He sipped his beer. "This is good."

"I know." Tony's smile broadened. "It's why I drive up to Pennsylvania special just to get it."

"You drive toâ€""

"They don't carry it around here." Tony shrugged. "And it's a good excuse to go visit Pete."


"My cousin." Tony neatly cut his chicken, taking a quick bite and swallowing before he continued speaking. "He lives just outside Phillie."

"The one who collects buttons?"

"One and only." Tony nodded.

Pete was one of the few relatives Tony had mentioned by name. He usually only made passing reference to the rest of his family, if he talked about them at all. Gibbs had always assumed it was because Tony wasn't on good terms with them, now he wasn't so sure.

"I talk to my father about once a month." Tony stated quietly, his uncanny ability to understand what Gibbs was thinking coming to the fore again. "We don't always see eye to eye but we don't really hate each other."

Tony shifted restlessly for a moment. "He'd rather I had a job working as an accountant or brokering business deals. Something were my biggest worry might be a paper cut or losing a deal to the competition."

The younger man's tone shifted to adopt a carefree note that didn't sound as forced or false as Gibbs knew it had to be. "He thinks my being a cop means I spend my time with low lives, dead beats and the worst humanity has to offer."

"That where his comment about you dieing in the sewers came from?" Gibbs grip on his knife tightened. He hadn't been sure Tony was joking when that comment was made. He now suspected it hadn't been said to the younger man in jest. And it made Gibbs want to smack Tony's father upside the head. What sort of father says that to his son?

"Yeah." Tony shrugged, his _expression turning wistful. "Weird how Joe sees Jake being a cop as a good thing, and my father sees it as a step down."

"Your father is a fool."

Tony chuckled dryly. "The man runs a fortune five hundred company....he's no fool."

"What he does for a living doesn't preclude him from being an idiot." Gibbs argued firmly.

Tony grinned, shaking his head. "Rather glad you two have never met." His smile faded. "Don't think he's much like Kate's dad."

"You did really well with them today." Gibbs reached across the table to capture one of Tony's hands. "I was impressed."

"Don't be." Tony snorted. "Told you when you hired me I was good with people."

Gibbs hated it when Tony downplayed a skill. It was like he had some sort of list of what abilities mattered and what ones didn't. And what mattered always seemed to be things Tony wasn't good at. He suspected Tony's father might have something to do with that.

Gibbs winced internally thinking he probably re-enforced that thought process. He squeezed Tony's hand. "Well, I suck at dealing with people....outside of an interrogation. So, I'll be impressed if I want to be."

"Eat your dinner." Tony laughed softly, and squeezed his hand before pulling away. "It's going to get cold."

Gibbs let it go, but made a mental note to address the issue of Tony's worth and talents again in the future. He had a feeling it wasn't the sort of thing that would be handled. He chewed thoughtfully on his green beans. A change of topic was in order.

"How did you meet Joe?" That seemed a safe enough topic and one he was genuinely interested in.

"Like I said...his restaurant is just down the street. And I can't cook worth a damn." Tony shrugged, evidently not bothered by that particular short coming. "We were mostly just nodding acquaintances, regular good paying customer you make sure to say hello to sort of thing. Think what really made him take a shine to me was when he came down with the pneumonia and I started walking Mrs. D home."

Gibbs' fork paused half way to his mouth. "Mrs. D?"

"Joe's wife. Mrs. DelMarco." Tony supplied. He took a small bite of his potatoes before continuing. "Usually Joe closes up, but with him down for the count, she was taking care of the restaurant. They don't close until midnight. They only live a few blocks away, but the neighborhood isn't that safe and I didn't think she should be walking home by herself." There was just a hint of defensiveness in Tony's tone.

Gibbs smiled. Tony really was a gentleman in a lot of ways. Tony blushed when Gibbs said as much.

"Ten bucks says you can't get Kate to agreeâ€"" Tony stopped abruptly and looked away. "Damn." Tony sighed, his expression tight. He muttered, almost to himself, "Forgot for a second that she was gone."

Gibbs swallowed hard; he had forgotten too. He wasn't sure if he felt guilty or relieved. If he had to pick one, Gibbs would opt for pissed. It was familiar, productive even....well, most of the time. Right now it was just about as useful as tits on a boar, as his grandmother was used to say.

Gibbs shook his head. He pushed his food away; he wasn't hungry anymore. Tony played with his for a bit before also pushing it away.

"Might as well put this in the fridge." Tony shook his head.

Gibbs wanted to argue, to insist he eat more, but he had a feeling Tony would tell him to just shut up. He already knew he wouldn't get away with 'do as I say, not as I do'. He felt like a schmuck for ruining the easy camaraderie between them, for making Tony remember Kate was gone.

Tony stood up, and reached across the table to lightly cup Gibbs' face. "Not your fault." His thumb brushed Gibbs' cheekbone in a feather light caress. "It's going to be like that for awhile."

"Sucks." Gibbs said tersely, mimicking the same tone and inflection Tony had when he summed up the situation earlier before they'd gotten out of the car at the office.

"Like a Hoover." Tony grimaced, moving away to take their barely eaten meal to the fridge. "But it gets better."

Gibbs knew it would get better, eventually. "It only hurts until it doesn't."

Tony gave him a look he didn't quite now how to read. Gibbs resisted the urge to fidget. "What?"

"That's....well, profound." Tony shook his head, a quicksilver grin appearing. "In addition to being blatantly obvious."

Gibbs shrugged, pleased to see Tony's good humor at least partially restored. "Was something my father used to say."

"Ah." Tony nodded. "Must have been wiser than mine."

Gibbs resisted the urge to agree. It didn't seem appropriate to insult Tony's father any more than he already had, no matter how much he wanted to. One of these days he fully intended to have a conversation with the senior DiNozzo. There was quite a bit he'd like to say to the man.

"I'm going to go throw the clothes in the dryer." Tony pointed toward the living room. "Go see if you can find something worth watching."

"Didn't even know you knew how to do laundry." Gibbs commented with a grin.

"I know how to dust too. But I suck at windows."

Gibbs chuckled and wandered into the living room taking his beer with him. He glanced at the plasma screen TV and the rack containing what looked like every DVD ever made. He shook his head. The remote on the coffee table would have been right at home in the space shuttle in Gibbs opinion. So he left it alone.

He eyed the stereo system. Gibbs knew nothing about them, but he was fairly certain it was top of the line, best money could buy. He frowned. He knew exactly what Tony made working for NCIS and what he'd made as a cop. There was no way he could afford these things and his fancy suits if his family had really cut him off.

"Trust fund." Tony said succinctly as he walked back in.

"What?" Gibbs blinked, once more caught off guard by Tony's ability to follow thoughts he hadn't voiced.

"Trust fund." Tony repeated. "My grandfather set it up."

"Same one who got you dot com stocks?"

"Same." Tony sipped his own beer, carelessly dropping onto the couch. "He was pretty savvy back in the day, but toward the end, Poppy slipped a bit."

Gibbs joined Tony on the couch. He found it so incredibly easy to lounge between Tony's legs, his back rested against the younger man's chest. He sighed, settling in. "You don't really need to work do you?"

Tony draped his arms around Gibbs, resting his chin on the older man's shoulder. "I have enough I can do anything. Not so much I could do nothing."

"Fine distinction that."


Tony made an easy reach for the coffee table and the remote. It confirmed Gibbs suspicion that the furniture had been position the way it was for easy access rather than style. "You couldn't find anything?"

Gibbs snorted. "I wasn't even sure how to use that thing."

"I can teach you." Tony chuckled, placing a quick kiss in Gibbs' hair. "It's easy."

Gibbs had little doubt Tony could teach him. He'd already learned a lot from him. He was looking forward to learning a lot more.

The image on the screen flickered as Tony switched the channel. Gibbs grimaced, giving the commercial a dirty look. It wasn't like they really needed to hear about life insurance and how to provide for loved ones after death.

Tony sighed softly. "Funeral is day after tomorrow."

"I know." Gibbs took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It wasn't exactly something either of them were going to forget.

"I hate funerals." Tony stated with quiet conviction.

"Me too." Gibbs captured one of Tony's hands, entwining their fingers.. He especially hated burying friends and family

He didn't even want to think about what it would be to have been like to have missed out on moments like this. Gibbs wondered how much damage it would do to his pride to say thank you to Sam if he saw him again. When he saw him again, Gibbs amended that thought.

He was confident the angel would show up again. Gibbs just wished he knew 'when' and 'where' and 'why' beforehand. The 'how' wasn't really an issue any more, not that it ever really was....Some things were better off being left as mysteries, and Gibbs suspected that was one he'd never really get a straight answer to. 'Who' Sam was there for was decidedly unimportant as long as it wasn't Tony.

Gibbs tightened his grip, reflexively needing to make sure he had a firm hold on Tony. He got a reassuring squeeze in return. God help him if he ever had to bury Tony. That...he promised himself, was simply not an option. And it never would be.


Chapter Text

It rained for the funeral. Gibbs thought it decidedly appropriate that it did. It was like the sky had volunteered to shed all the tears he couldn't....wouldn't let fall.

Tony stayed dried-eyed as well. He was pale but composed. Gibbs wanted to offer some comfort, to hold him the same way McGee held Abby throughout the service. But he maintained his parade rest stance, eyes fixed straight ahead, hoping just being close would be enough until they were in private.

Kate's mother cried with a quiet dignity Gibbs envied. He wasn't sure how Mr. Todd managed to look proud of his daughter and devastated by losing her at the same time, but Gibbs was impressed that the older man could pull if off. Her brothers just looked lost, like they weren't sure of what to say or do or how to act so they mimicked their father's posture and cried like their mother.

Ducky looked every day of his 70 years. It was the first time Gibbs had ever thought of his friend as old. But he was just as composed as Tony---although his expression was one of profound sorrow rather than someone just doing his best to hang on.

For once Abby's dark clothing didn't stand out or seem out of place. It almost hurt to think of her as blending in with the crowd. Gibbs did his best to ignore her soft hiccupping sobs. His right hand clenched and unclenched as he struggled not to reach out, not to lash out, not to just walk away. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, determined to endure.

McGee's eyes were red and puffy. His chin tended to quiver but his back was straight and he held it together. Gibbs was proud of the young agent. He was doing his best, and Gibbs made a note to be sure to tell him that his best was more than good enough.

Palmer looked even more lost than Kate's brothers. He wasn't crying but it appeared as though he might start at any moment. Gibbs would have liked to offer the young coroner some guidance... consolation...words of wisdom...but he knew there was nothing to say to make this moment any less painful.

The rumbling of thunder was a welcomed sound. The sky not only shed his tears, it expressed his rising anger, frustration and determination. It was a good thing. He felt Tony's minute flinch when lightening flashed.

Gibbs was sure Tony's eyes stayed hidden behind unneeded sunglasses simply to add one more layer of armor between himself and everyone else. God knew Gibbs wished he had worn a pair. It would have made it so much easier to not make eye contact, to not acknowledge the sorrow and devastation going on around him that he could do nothing to alleviate.

The canopy over the open grave kept the rain off most of the crowd. Other than Kate's parents, her brothers and the NCIS agents in attendance Gibbs had no idea who the hell everyone else was or what their relationship to Kate had been. He really didn't care, other than to note that she'd been an integral part in a lot of people's lives. He cursed Ari again for robbing them all.

Gibbs wanted to stand out in the rain. He wanted to feel the sting as it pelted down, cold and hard, let it soak him to the skin. He was sure the rain would feel more real than anything else he'd done today. He sighed and resisted the urge to walk away, to stride out across the manicured lawn with its neatly, precisely placed marble stones and never look back.

Some of the tension drained away when Gibbs felt Tony's hand at the small of his back. He smiled internally, careful to maintain the same stoic expression he'd been wearing all morning. It always amazed Gibbs that such a simple thing, so small, could have such a profound impact. He gave the younger man an infinitesimal nod, letting him know he was grateful for everything that brief contact represented.

Tony flinched again as another bolt of lightening lit the sky. Gibbs saw several other mourners do the same thing. He stifled the urge to give the priest a dirty look and tell him to get on with it already.

He regretted that thought a moment later as they began to lower Kate's coffin. It hit him then...the finality of it. Not that he wasn't aware of her being gone before, but this was just so concrete, so inescapable. He shuddered when Kate's mother dropped a rose in on top of the coffin, and her father let a small handful of earth slip through his fingers. Gibbs' jaw tightened. He would not participate in that particular ritual.

He was glad Kate's parents hadn't asked him to give the eulogy. A priest or family member traditionally did that for a Catholic funeral, and that was one of the reasons Gibbs was grateful Kate's family had opted for a traditional funeral service. The other reason was that he'd attended enough Catholic ceremonies he could sit, stand, kneel and repeat everything necessary at all the right times and places without having to really focus on the service.

Kate's brothers began leaving, accepting condolences as they huddled under their umbrellas. Gibbs had offered his earlier and didn't see any need to repeat the experience. He shared a look with Mr. and Mrs. Todd as they followed their sons, hoping it conveyed everything they needed from him. He still had no idea what one should say to grieving parents....other than promising them to bring the sorry bastard who'd killed their child to justice.

Gibbs moved to speak to Abby before she left. He found himself lacking any words so he just hugged her hard, holding her close for several minutes before releasing her to place a soft kiss on her forehead. She looked so tired and worn out, eyes red and puffy from crying. He ached for her. Her sparkle had dimmed and he worried that it might never burn as brightly.

She gave him a watery smile before stepping over to hug Tony. Tony murmured something in her ear that made her seem less wounded some how, less fragile and more like her old self. Gibbs wondered what the younger man had said but knew better than to ask. Some things should remain private.

To his surprise, Tony also hugged McGee. It was brief, lasting not more than a second or two, but it seemed to be enough and just what the junior agent needed. Tony lightly patted McGee's face when he pulled back.

"Doing good, McGee." Tony said softly, making it clear it was both an observation of fact and a statement of praise.

Gibbs recognized that little trick. Don't ask a man if he is doing okay, tell him that he is, sound like you believe it, and so will he. Gibbs used variations of it all the time...every time he set a deadline, every time he told his team to get results sounding confident they could and would deliver.

McGee's spine straightened just a bit, his shoulders squaring. He would be looking Tony in the eye if it weren't for the shades that Tony had staunchly refused to remove. McGee searched Tony's face, probably looking for some clue as to what he was thinking or feeling. Gibbs wished him luck. He hadn't been able to read Tony since they left the house that morning.

"You holding up okay?" McGee asked.

Tony smiled tightly. "I'm good. Thanks."

It wasn't a lie. Not exactly. Tony was a lousy liar but he was very good at telling the truth selectively. Gibbs had gotten equally good at spotting when he did it. He wasn't going to call him on it. Not now.

McGee accepted Tony's answer and the omission with a small nod. Gibbs had a feeling he wasn't fooled by it, but he wanted to be. Gibbs stifled the urge to sigh.

Blue eyes shifted to find Ducky. The ME was still staring down into Kate's grave; Palmer by his side. The younger man gave Gibbs a vaguely helpless look.

Gibbs excused himself, pointedly looking at Ducky so the others knew where he was going. He squeezed Ducky's shoulder. The older man gave him a tired, but genuine smile.

"I miss her, Jethro."

"So do I, Duck."

Ducky sighed deeply. "Promise me, when my time comes, you'll have the good sense to simply cremate my remains."

"I promise." Gibbs said without hesitation.

"Thank you, Jethro." Ducky patted the hand Gibbs had left on his shoulder. He sighed, and adjusted his hat. "Come along then Mr. Palmer. It is time for the rest of us to get about the business of living." Palmer moved to shadow Ducky, close enough to offer physical support if the older man should need it, holding an umbrella over both of them.

Gibbs was glad everyone on his team had someone to lean on. They would all come away from this a little older and a bit wiser. Losing Kate had taught them all something....although, Gibbs couldn't say for certain what the others had learned from it, he knew what he had.

He looked back to where Tony stood with Abby and McGee. Tony was nodding to something Abby was saying, his expression less tight than it had been. Gibbs rubbed a hand through his hair. It was definitely time to go.

"Time to go people." Gibbs ordered quietly.

Abby and McGee left together, holding hands as they got into McGee's car. Tony's lips quirked upward. "They make a cute couple."

"Yeah, they do." Gibbs started toward his car wishing he could hold Tony's hand the way McGee had held Abby's.

He grimaced when he stepped out from under the canopy. The downpour had increased, and Gibbs shot the sky a dirty look. It was enough to make him think God really did have a sick sense of humor.

"Should have invested in an umbrella." Tony observed sardonically.

Gibbs snorted. It was practically raining horizontally now. An umbrella wouldn't have done them much good at this point.

"Once you make up your mind you're going to get wet, it doesn't matter."

"You are just a font of wisdom." Tony chuckled. "Something else your father used to say?"

"Actually, yeah."

There was no point in running or dodging puddles. Gibbs opted for his usual brisk, purposeful walk. Tony kept pace easily.

By the time they made it to Gibbs' car they were both nearly soaked. Gibbs frowned when Tony shivered. It wasn't that long ago he'd nearly died from the plague, the last thing he needed was to come down with a cold.

"We are skipping the wake...reception...whatever the hell they are calling it." Gibbs stated flatly.


The younger man's easy agreement surprised him for a second. Tony reached up to take off his sunglasses. Green eyes that seemed ancient studied Gibbs.

"People go to those things for one reason...and it ends up being the one thing they can't talk about while they are there." Tony looked away, eyes tracking rain drops that streamed down the window. "It's like trying to dance with an elephant. I don't blame you for not wanting to do that. Hell, I don't want to do it either."

Gibbs nodded slowly, once again amazed with how neatly the younger man could sum up things. Tony sighed softly, one hand rubbing at his eyes. "Abby and McGee aren't going. Neither are Ducky and Palmer. No reason for us to. And even though they invited us, her family doesn't really want us there."

Gibbs arched an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"

"You really do suck when it comes to people." Tony snorted, shaking his head, his expression one of amused affection as he looked at Gibbs again. "As Kate's coworkers and friends we've spent more time with her in the past two years and probably knew more about her life than they do." Tony bit his lip, shrugging one shoulder. "Time lost...opportunities missed...not something they will want to be reminded of. Not now. Likely not ever."

Gibbs remembered Sam's blunt comment when the angel appeared in his basement. 'There is no right time. There is only right now.' He was profoundly grateful that his last moments with Kate had been good ones, that he'd complimented her on a job well done, that he'd acknowledged her skill and ability to protect him letting her know in his own way that he trusted her and was proud to work with her.

Gibbs took a deep breath, surprised to find him making his decision with far greater ease than he expected. He turned in his seat to face Tony, one hand moving to cup his face. "I love you." Blue eyes held green. "You know that, right?"

Tony turned his head to place a soft kiss in Gibbs palm. "Yeah, I know that." He smiled warmly at Gibbs, his eyes sparkling in a way they hadn't since the day Kate died. "Love you too, Jethro."

Gibbs smiled, both delighted and relieved. It was the first time Tony had ever called him anything but 'Gibbs' or 'boss'. He pulled Tony in closer, giving him a soft kiss, lips barely brushing. He wanted Tony to understand he wasn't just passionate about him. This was more than lust, he cherished the younger man.

He knew Tony understood when the younger man's smile got even warmer, green eyes glowing. Tony kissed the tip of his nose, grinning broadly. It was nice to see him playful and happy.

"Let's go home."

Gibbs would swear Tony's voice dropped a full octave. The husky tone sent shivers of anticipation up his spine. He cleared his throat, suddenly finding it hard to swallow. He started the car.

"Your place or mine?"

"Doesn't matter." Tony shrugged, leaning back to settle into his seat, eyes closing. "It's home as long as we're there together."

Gibbs tightened his grip on the steering wheel, trying not to show how much that casually delivered statement affected him. It was so natural and unpretentious and was somehow more meaningful than 'I love you'. Gibbs was astounded by how Tony could regularly say things like that...just lay out what he was thinking or feeling without expecting or pressuring Gibbs to reply in kind. If any of his three wives had been able to do that, he'd probably still be married.

The rain continued its unrelenting downpour as he headed for his house. Gibbs had seen Tony repack a bag for the office and toss it in the car before they'd headed for the church so he knew the younger man had a change of clothes. He was sure neither of them would care to don black suits again any time in the near future.

Gibbs had contemplated wearing his dress uniform to the funeral, but decided against it at the last minute. It wasn't a military funeral, and he dreaded the idea of standing out in the crowd of mourners. The military regalia might attract attention Gibbs thought would be better spent on remembering Kate and offering comfort to her family. For once he was perfectly happy just to blend in. And it didn't hurt that every one on the team wore the same severe, unadorned much a statement of their solidarity as how close they stood to one another during the service had been.

Seeing Tony shiver again, Gibbs turned on the heat. He was feeling a bit of a chill from the rain himself. It was rather refreshing after the oppressive heat and humidity that preceded the arrival of the thunderstorm producing cold front.

Gibbs drove at what would be a sedate pace for him. The rain was hard enough to make hydroplaning a definite possibility. Visibility was lousy and Gibbs had no faith at all in his fellow drivers.

He breathed easier turning on to his street and into his parking spot. Gibbs flexed his fingers, suddenly aware of just how tight his grip on the steering wheel had been. He glanced toward Tony, wondering if the younger man had nodded off.

"Didn't want to distract you, Boss." Tony gave him a rueful smile. "Thought that little Honda was going to take us out there for a minute."

"So did I." Gibbs shook his head. "I hate traffic." He muttered.

"Don't think the other drivers out there are real fond of you either, Boss." Tony chuckled. "In fact, given the number of 'fuck you' signs I've seen you get over the past four years, I'm sure of it."

Gibbs rolled his eyes. His driving was just fine. Other people were the hazards.

He eyed the steadily falling rain, and sighed. "Might as well get out. Not going to let up any time soon."

"Not like we aren't already wet." Tony pointed out with a wry grin.

They got out of the car together and headed inside. Gibbs shed his dripping suit coat at the door, and watched as Tony did the same. It had been too hot and humid when they left for the funeral to bother with a heavier jacket.

Gibbs frowned when he noticed a faint blue tinge to Tony's lips. Without thinking he reached out and embraced the younger man, wanting to warm him up. The passionate kiss he got in response definitely raised Gibbs temperature more than a few degrees.

He moaned when Tony's very talented tongue massaged his. God. He wasn't sure how Tony did that...whatever the hell he was doing...but he really didn't want him to stop doing it. Ever.

He reveled in the tastes he encountered. Mint and coffee and something he still had yet to really identify. He hadn't gotten tired of trying though. Didn't expect to ever get tired of trying.

The need to breathe broke them apart. Gibbs rested his forehead against Tony's, his hands having already moved to cup his face. He stared into eyes so dark with passion and arousal they were nearly black.

"Need to...get you out...of these...wet clothes."

"Oh yeah." Tony laughed breathlessly. "Definitely."

After waiting so long, Gibbs was unwilling to let go of Tony. He dove in for another kiss, desperate for more of that tantalizing mouth. Under his fingers Tony's skin was cool to the touch, but his mouth was so hot, so damn a glowing fire on a cold December day. Gibbs couldn't believe he managed to live so long without this.

He pulled Tony in closer, reveling in the feel of that solid form against his. Gibbs released the young man's mouth to nibble along his jaw line and throat. He breathed deeply, taking in the heady fragrance, wanting to imprint it permanently on his soul.

He licked away the moisture the rain had left on Tony's skin. Tony tipped his head back, baring his throat to Gibbs. Gibbs sucked on the pulse point that beat strongly beneath the soft skin he played with. Tony whimpered, his hips moving lazily against the older man in an instinctive response. Gibbs applied his teeth and was rewarded with that faint sound again. He could feel Tony tremble and made note of that spot for future reference.

Tony sighed, his hand moving restlessly over Gibbs back, pulling at his damp shirt. "Clothes...Jethro."

"What about 'em?" Gibbs asked without any real interest, he was too intent on nuzzling Tony's neck some more.

"Off." Tony swallowed hard. "Need them off."

Gibbs almost growled, resisting when Tony tried to push him away. Tony pushed at him again. And again Gibbs resisted, hands fisting into the younger man's shirt to hold him tighter as he continued to explore that delectable neck.

"Please." Tony breathed out in a whisper, long fingers wrapped around Gibbs forearms, clenching tightly. "Please...Gibbs...Just for a second...Please."

The soft, broken plea was all it took. Gibbs released Tony, stepping back as though he'd been burned. He shuddered, suddenly worried he'd been moving too fast, forcing Tony to give him what should be freely offered. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but snapped it shut when he realized he didn't know what to say.

Gibbs took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I'm sorry."

Tony blinked, dazed eyes looked up from where normally deft and graceful hands fumbled with stubborn buttons. "For what?"

Gibbs chuckled, realizing Tony had simply wanted room to be able to disrobe. He shook his head, amused by his feeling of chagrined relief. "I...ah...I'd planned on us actually making it to the bedroom this time."

Tony snickered. "I'm not complaining." The younger man grinned brightly. "Truth is...I'm flattered." He waggled his eyebrows, giving Gibbs a wink and a leer. "Just needed a second to catch my breath and slip into something more comfortable."

Gibbs snickered. He reached out to capture one of Tony's hands before tugging him toward the bedroom. "C'mon."

Tony followed easily, his free hand patting Gibbs ass. "Like these pants." Another affectionate pat was delivered. "Don't know if anyone's ever bothered to point it out...but you have got a great ass."

Gibbs was glad he was facing away from Tony so the younger man couldn't see him blush or see his smile. He rather liked the proprietary feel of Tony's touch. If Tony belonged to him now, he belonged to Tony.

When they got to the bedroom, he turned to face Tony. He held up his hand, raising one finger, silently asking the younger man to stand still and wait. Tony raised an eyebrow but did as Gibbs asked.

Trying not to feel silly, Gibbs lit several candles. During thunderstorms, he occasionally lost power, so Gibbs had gotten out the candles when he'd heard the weather report. But he lit them now, not for light, but ambiance. It was a romantic gesture his wives had often indulged in. Seeing Tony lit by the flickering light, dancing shadows that alternately highlighted his features before obscuring them, Gibbs understood why his wives had found candlelight so appealing.

Tony smiled. Gibbs found himself smiling in return. He made a sweeping gesture, bowing slightly as he offered the bed to Tony.

Tony chuckled. He looked up coyly from under his lashes, green eyes reminding Gibbs of a cat playing with a mouse. Agile fingers no longer shook as they moved to undo buttons but they moved with agonizing slowness. Gibbs breath caught, eyes unable to look away from the steady, tantalizing revelation of smooth skin.

Tony shrugged out of his shirt with an innate grace that Gibbs couldn't help but envy. His mouth was as dry as the desert as Tony did a smart pirouette, showing off his nicely toned upper body. Tony toed off his shoes before he executed a neat little shimmy slipping out of his pants and silk boxers in a move that would have done any exotic dancer proud. Gibbs swallowed hard, licking his lips as he took in the vision before him.

"You. Are. Beautiful." He whispered, feeling more reverent at this moment than he ever had in church. Gibbs knew his awe had been heard and understood when Tony ducked his head. The younger man was clearly embarrassed and flattered by the open appreciation.

Gibbs approached Tony slowly, just as desperate to touch now as he'd been earlier, but in far more control. He wanted to take his time, to fully explore what was being offered. He ran the tips of his fingers up Tony's arms, enjoying the satin feel of his skin.

Gibbs kept his touch light as he ghosted over Tony's collarbones, a small furrow in his brow forming as he noticed how prominent they were. Tony hadn't had time to regain the weight he'd lost. The recent stresses hadn't helped his appetite any.

Refusing to dwell on the negative, Gibbs continued to move his fingers, moving down Tony's chest. He expected the light covering of chest hair he encountered to be coarse, but it was baby fine and very soft. It tickled him, almost caressing Gibbs fingers in turn.

Tony sighed, leaning into Gibbs' touch. Gibbs index finger lightly flicked one pert rosebud nipple, smiling at the growling purr he got in response. Remembering that Tony was a bit ticklish around his ribs, Gibbs increased the pressure of his touch as he let his hand drift downward.

He loved the way Tony responded to his touch, soft sighs and moans telling him everything he needed to know about what the younger man liked, what he wanted. Gibbs leaned forward placing kisses on Tony's chest, tracing the same path his fingers had taken. He paid special attention to Tony's nipples, laving them with his tongue before sucking and carefully applying his teeth. Tony's hands cupped his head, his chest arching encouraging Gibbs to continue his tender torment.

Gibbs sighed as long fingers lightly carded through silver hair before gently pulling his head up. Green eyes met blue for a second as they shared an intense moment. Then Tony kissed him.

Gibbs moaned into Tony's mouth, willingly giving up control. Like so many things Gibbs had learned about Tony, the kiss was a blend of contrasts...playful and passionate, fierce but gentle, soft yet demanding. Gibbs could live on kisses like these. He was sure of it. God.

A sound of loss and disappointment escaped him when Tony released his mouth. Tony rubbed Gibbs' lower lip with this thumb. Gibbs curled his tongue around the digit, sucking it into his mouth, playing with it in a highly suggestive rhythm.

Tony shuddered. He cleared his throat, his voice raspy and low when he spoke. "You...ah...still have on...too many clothes."

Gibbs released his hold on Tony's thumb with a wet pop. He quickly moved to shuck his clothing. He was eager to be naked; felt such an acute need for more skin to skin contact it was almost physically painful.

Gibbs growled in annoyance when he couldn't get rid of his shirt, tugging at the fabric, frustrated by its stubborn refusal. Tony laughed softly, halting his frantic movements by placing a hand flat on his chest. He captured one of Gibbs' hands, raising his to nibble softly on the inside of his wrist.

"Need to undo the cuffs, Boss." Tony murmured against his skin, the moist warmth of his breath raising goose bumps.

Gibbs blinked in surprise when Tony deftly undid the buttons using nothing more than his teeth and tongue. Tony grinned at him wickedly. "Can tie a knot in a cherry stem too."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Really." Tony confirmed with a small tip of his head. "Took me a dozen jars of maraschino cherries to learn how." Tony's husky laugh sent shivers down Gibbs spine. "Can't stand to eat cherries any more... but I think it was time well spent."

He took Gibbs' other wrist once more kissing the sensitive inside before he undid the buttons. He smiled as he lightly brushed Gibbs' shirt off to fall to the floor. Tony ducked his head to place a butterfly soft kiss on the bullet scar on Gibbs' left shoulder.

His hands moved to mirror the way Gibbs had touched him only seconds ago. Gibbs was surprised by how much that light touch affected him. He could feel his heart rate increasing, his pulse pounding in his ears as he struggled to stay still and give Tony free rein to explore.

Tony undid Gibbs' belt. Gibbs sucked in a breath when Tony's hands slid inside his pants to knead his ass. The younger man's touch more like a massage than one intended to arouse. It felt very good.

"You have got a great ass." Tony whispered with honest appreciation, as he leaned into nibble on Gibbs' neck, lips brushing lightly just under his ear.

Gibbs had to lock his knees to stay upright when Tony started sucking on his earlobe. He bit his lip trying to keep those little mewling noises of pleasure from escaping. They were so damn embarrassing. A grown man shouldn't sound like that.

Tony started to slide to his knees, but Gibbs stopped him. Tony looked at him in askance, brows pulling together in a small frown. Gibbs lightly kissed the tip of Tony's nose, pleased to see him smile.

"Don't want you to suck me off this time." Gibbs lightly caressed Tony's cheek with a knuckle.

He licked his lips trying to find the right words to tell Tony what he did want. It had been years since he'd asked another man, and those had been one-off, no strings attached sort of things. This...this was so much more. He didn't want to just fuck Tony, he wanted to make love to him.

"If it's okay with you I..." Gibbs cursed wishing he knew just how much experience Tony had. It wasn't something they'd talked about, and given the eagerness and expertise Tony had already displayed he'd just assumed the younger man was not a virgin in any way, shape or form. But Gibbs didn't want to make a mistake here. Didn't want to do anything that might hurt Tony, or worse yet, say something that might offend him. He took a deep breath. "Not sure if you've ever...I'd like toâ€""

"Yes." Tony smiled warmly. "I've played catcher before." Tony winked. Another raspy chuckle sent shivers down Gibbs spine as he got what Tony was saying. "Would love to do whatever you want to do."

Gibbs blinked, once more surprised by how easily Tony understood him. He pulled the younger man in for a hard, breath stealing kiss. He frog walked them to the bed, releasing Tony to push him on to it. He might not be Tony's first, but he damn sure intended to be his last.

Tony bounced, testing the bed. "Not bad."

"Glad you approve."

Tony's passion darkened eyes raked over him from head to toe with a nearly tangible touch. "Oh...I approve." Tony licked his lips, drawing Gibbs eyes like a month to a flame. "I definitely approve."

Gibbs hoped the candle light was insufficient to completely reveal the blush he knew had to have risen to his face. He'd gotten comments and looks like that before, when he was younger, but it had been a long time since anyone made him feel as wanted as Tony just had. And this was definitely more than physical. It had to be. Tony knew him...knew about is obsessions with cases, his abrasive personality, his impossibly high expectations, had been on the receiving end of his sarcastic commentary and nasty displays of temper...and he still wanted to be with him.

He left his pants and underwear on the floor. Gibbs leaned down and let one hand trail up Tony's leg, noticing muscle definition that spoke of a lot of miles of jogging. He shivered as an image of those long legs wrapped around him rose unbidden in his mind.

Gibbs lowered himself slowly, covering Tony completely. He braced himself on his hands, intent on supporting his own weight, worried about being too heavy. Tony wrapped himself around Gibbs pulling him in close, foiling the older man's efforts.

"Not fragile, Jethro." Tony nuzzled his neck. "Pretty damn durable, actually."

Gibbs wanted to argue that point. Tony wasn't fragile...not exactly, but he was all too mortal, something Gibbs was painfully aware of. And he was precious to Gibbs, someone the older man wanted to handle with care, wanted to treasure. He'd nearly lost him. Just thinking about what he might never have had made Gibbs shudder, clutching Tony tighter to him.

Tony's hips moved against his creating an enticing friction that only came from skin to skin. It effectively derailed Gibbs thoughts. It forced him to focus on immediate physical sensations, on the warm and willing man holding him. Tony's hips moved again, a slow, sensual roll that made Gibbs quiver, responding to the internal hum of erotic tension as it spiraled upward again, gaining intensity as it went.

Gibbs wanted fiercely to stake a claim, to place his mark on Tony. He found that spot on Tony's neck that had elicited such delightful noises from him before. He sucked hard, worrying the sensitive flesh with his teeth and tongue. Tony arched against him, head tipping back to give him greater access, a deep sigh of satisfaction escaping the younger man.

Another of those growling purrs came from Tony when Gibbs slid down far enough that he could place a similar mark above Tony's heart. Gibbs felt as well as heard that sound as it vibrated through Tony's chest. He liked the feeling, so he marked him, imprinting the feel, taste and sound on his psyche.

Tony's hands caressed his back, flowing smoothly over his skin. His touch was sure and confident; he knew just how much pressure to use to ease away knots and tension even while arousing even greater hunger for more. Gibbs never would have thought of his shoulders and back as erogenous zones, but he moaned in response to that wonderful touch craving more. It was like Tony's hands had been made with Gibbs in mind.

He reluctantly released his hold on Tony so he could reach for the drawer in the nightstand. His fingers fumbled as they searched for lube and a condom. He shivered when Tony took advantage of the room he'd created to nibble delicately at his throat. Gibbs was torn between asking him to stop so he could grab what he sought and begging him to keep doing that thing with his tongue.

He huffed out a breath in a soft sound of triumph as his scrabbling fingers located what they'd been seeking. He dove in for another kiss, celebrating his small victory. He was panting and breathless when he pulled back.

Gibbs held up the lube. "Need toâ€""

"Oh yeah." Tony agreed with a grin. He pulled the condom packet from Gibbs hand. He arched an eyebrow as he held the condom between two fingers. "You clean?"

"Yes." Gibbs answered. Given the number of times they were exposed to blood and other bodily fluids in their job regular testing was required.

Tony nodded. "Good. Me too." He eyed the small foil package. "Don't need this then."

Gibbs shivered, his skin tingling with pleasure. It was one hell of a turn on to know he'd be making love to Tony with nothing between them. He took a deep breath, struggling for control.

Tony popped the top on the tube. "You wanna do it," his lascivious smile giving his expression a slightly mischievous tenor, "or you want me to do it for you?"

"I'll do it." Gibbs nearly growled, holding out his hand. Tony licked his lips slowly, teasingly, as he put a generous dollop of slick stuff on Gibbs' fingers.

Tony raised his hips, green eyes glowing. He gave Gibbs a look that was both wanton and challenging. "Do me."

"You could tempt a saint." Gibbs muttered as he used one finger to lightly circle Tony's entrance, teasing that pucker just a bit before sliding in.

Tony whimpered a little, rocking back into Gibbs' hand. "S'good." He hissed, eyelids drifting to half-mast. Smokey eyes stared up at Gibbs. "More." Tony demanded.

Gibbs added a second digit, struggling to keep his movements slow and easy. He didn't want to rush this, wasn't going to hurt Tony, no matter how willing and eager he seemed to be. He waited for the tight ring of muscle to relax more before adding another finger.

Tony sighed deeply, his hips moving in a lazy rhythm as he fucked himself on Gibbs fingers. His eyes were closed now. The blissful expression on his face made Gibbs feel smug and awed at the same time.

Tony's hand moved to touch his hard, leaking cock, but Gibbs caught his wrist. "Mine." Gibbs stated clearly.

"Yours." Tony agreed breathlessly.

Gibbs made a soothing gesture down Tony's chest at the sound of disappointment and loss he'd made when Gibbs removed his fingers. "Shhh... it's okay."

Gibbs ran his slick fingers over his own cock. He pinched the head hard enough to ease some of the escalating pressure. He was closer than he'd realized, and he didn't want this to be over too soon.

Tony wiggled a bit before pulling his legs upward in a deep curl. Gibbs was impressed by the younger man's easy flexibility. He wasn't sure he'd ever been that limber.

Gibbs positioned himself. He took a deep breath before breaching Tony's opening, holding himself still for a moment, letting the younger man adjust to his presence. Even though Tony seemed more than ready, opening up for him effortlessly, Gibbs needed to be sure he wasn't hurting him.

"Open your eyes, Tony." Gibbs rasped out, voice rough and needy. Green eyes met blue. There was so much heat in Tony's gaze Gibbs could almost feel it warm his skin.

Gibbs slid into him, slow and steady. It was so familiar and yet still unique, old and new at the same time. It was like coming home after a long day. He wanted to stay in this timeless moment forever.

"So tight...God, Tony." Gibbs bit his lip.

Tony's legs wrapped around him and pulled him impossibly closer. Tony's hands fisted the sheets. "Please...please....please." It was almost a chant.

Gibbs didn't have to ask what Tony wanted. He started to move, wrapping his right hand around Tony's cock to stroke it in time with his own thrusts. He started slow, languidly pulling almost completely out each time before once more sheathing himself completely.

He reveled in the feel of that tight heat surrounding him. Tony was saying something in what sounded like Spanish but Gibbs could be sure. He understood the intent if not words, building speed and altering the angle so that he hit Tony's prostate.

His strokes weren't smooth any more, taking on a frenzied aspect as he got closer to the brink. Gibbs could feel tremors rippling through Tony. Muscles tightened and flexed, growing impossibly tight before release.

Gibbs was vaguely aware of the storm still raging outside, thunder rumbling and a flash of lightening added a strobe light affect to the room. It was as if the storm echoed the building passion of their love making, as if Mother Nature was sharing the moment with them.

Gibbs felt Tony's climax as his come spurted out to coat his hand, internal contractions tightened around his cock at the same time pulling his own climax from him. Gibbs came with a hoarse cry of Tony's name, thrusting into that tight heat as deeply as he could.

Gibbs braced himself on the bed with one hand, breathing hard, waiting for his heart rate to slow. He leaned down to share a soft kiss with Tony. He pulled back so he could make eye contact.

"You okay?"

Tony chuckled, stretching his torso a bit, arms curling up and around Gibbs' neck as he did so. "Very."

Reluctantly Gibbs pulled his cock free, missing the intimate contact almost immediately. Tony sighed. He uncurled his legs from around Gibbs, letting them fall bonelessly to the bed.

Gibbs trembled from residual aftershocks as Tony pulled his come coated hand to his mouth, cleaning his fingers with his tongue. Gibbs swallowed hard and looked away. If he hadn't just come, he'd have gotten hard again just watching Tony do that.

Tony's sly smile, and knowing look told Gibbs he knew exactly what he was doing. Gibbs lightly cuffed the side of his head. "You are a tease."

"Not true." Tony smirked. "A tease promises and doesn't deliver. I didn't leave you hanging."

No, no he certainly hadn't, Gibbs mentally agreed. Gibbs stretched, tension from the day now a distant memory. He felt relaxed, content, and very good as he lay down next to Tony.

Gibbs smiled and gave Tony another quick kiss. Tony sighed and snuggled into him, warm and solid.

Gibbs used his toes to snag the blanket folded at the foot of the bed. The throw was made of a soft chenille. Gibbs had found during one shopping trip he'd grudgingly gone on a few years ago. Once he'd touched the soft material, felt it against his skin, he simply couldn't leave it behind.

"Hmmm....nice." Tony murmured sleepily when Gibbs drew the small blanket over them.

Gibbs eyed the still burning candles. He was too comfortable to do anything about them now. They could be dealt with later.

Gibbs was content to ignore everything else for the moment. Tomorrow they'd take on new cases, tracking down Ari, and getting on with the other business of living. Right now he just wanted to bask in the afterglow, enjoying this seldom known sense of satisfaction that came with being warm, safe and content.

"Love you." Tony whispered against his skin, placing a soft kiss on Gibbs shoulder.

"Love you, Tony." Gibbs rubbed his cheek against Tony's silky hair, pulling the younger man closer to him, eyes drifting closed in a deep and dreamless sleep.


Chapter Text

Sam nodded to himself as he retraced the wards he'd placed about the sleeping couple. The faintly glowing blue bars added no light to the room, but to others of his kind they were nearly incandescent. They would immediately recognize his mark and know what it meant.

He frowned wondering if Tony could see the bars. Most humans wouldn't be able to, but then most couldn't see Sam either unless he was there to escort them to their ultimate destination. But the bars had been in place around Tony for years and he'd never said anything, so Sam decided he probably couldn't see them. And if he did, he wasn't bothered by them, so it didn't matter.

He smiled as he studied the sleeping couple. Spooned in close to one another both men slept deeply, peacefully. As it should be, Sam thought.

"Hello, Samiel."

"Gabriel." Sam greeted the archangel, dipping his head in an abbreviated bow.

The archangel cocked his head to study the glowing bars. He raised an eyebrow, looking askance at Sam. "Choosing your own assignments?"

Sam straightened his back, wings unfurling slightly, his chin ring in defiance at the faint condemnation and challenge in the archangel's tone. "It is not expressly forbidden." And was therefore, in Sam's opinion, tacitly permitted. It wasn't his fault that others elected not to exercise all the options available to them.

"I have not meddled in their destiny." Sam pointed out calmly. His wards simply marked them as his to take when their time came, they offered no protection. That was strictly prohibited. Altering fate had too many far reaching consequences....usually bad.

Gabriel nodded slowly. His golden eyes traced the bars before refocusing on Sam. "How many have you marked thus?"

"His entire team." Sam admitted without hesitation. "And the one they seek."

Gabriel frowned. "Vengeance is not for you to take."

Sam bristled at the gentle rebuke. "I am aware of that."

Gabriel nodded again. His tone was dry as dust when he spoke again. "When his time comes, you'll no doubt take that one on the same path you took Daniel James DiNozzo."

Sam grinned wolfishly. He could not exact punishment. His job was just to escort souls to their ultimate destination, but there was not directive as to what path he had to take them on to get there. He had not doubts Leroy Jethro Gibbs would find his quarry eventually. In fact, Sam was counting on it.

"You never know...Ari Mohammad Haswari might enjoy the scenic route." Sarcasm was something Sam had learned from Tony.

Gabriel snorted. "You spend too much time among humans."

"Perhaps you do not spend enough."

Gabriel arched an eyebrow but let the comment pass. His gaze rested on the still slumbering couple. "You walk a fine line here, Samiel."

Sam shrugged. "It gets finer all the time."

The archangel pointed to Tony. "Why is this one so important to you, Samiel? Why risk so much for him?"

Sam looked away. "I'm not sure I could explain it."


It was both a request and an order. Sam sighed. His dark eyes shifted to a light blue as he made eye contact with Gabriel's golden counterparts.

"You've always been the bearer of good news, Gabriel." Sam's lips curled in a half smile. "They use your name and likeness to represent 'mercy'. Consider you to be a welcomed messenger of God."

Sam shook his head, his mouth turning downward. "I am not so well regarded. They are more apt to curse revile hate me and all I represent. On a good day, I'm tolerated as a necessary evil but I am never truly welcomed."

He nodded toward Tony. "Except by him." Sam bit his lower lip, a distressing little tell he'd picked up over the years. "He's not afraid of me, Gabriel. He LIKES me, genuinely likes me. Have you any idea just how precious that is?"

Not waiting for the archangel to answer Sam continued. "The first time I met him, his soul was wandering about a hospital, not yet severed from his body, but not completely bound to it. He was delighted to see me because I was the only one who could see him." Sam grinned remembering that meeting. "We played hide and go seek."

Sam sighed, grin fading. "When I took his mother, he was not afraid of me." Sam shook his head in bemusement. "He knew what I was there for, Gabriel. Knew what I would take from him, and he did not beg, did not curse me, shed no tears. He just asked me to take care of her."


"Most would rather I never appeared at all, but he looks forward to seeing me. " Sam's eyes shifted to violet. "Not only does he not object to my presence, he would prefer I talk, to 'catch up' he says."

"He sees the silver lining of life that so many miss." Sam smiled warmly, hand reaching out to almost touch Tony's face before stopping short. "Rarely does he dwell on the negative. So much zest for life, Gabriel."

Sam shook his head in amazement. "He takes pleasure in all those simple things that were created just for humans to enjoy. Things so many of them barely even notice."

"Why the others?" Gabriel asked when Sam fell silent.

Sam shrugged. "They are important to him."

"Is that why you spoke to Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Encouraged him to act on his feelings?"

"I never intended to speak to him at all." Sam shook his head. "He saw me, Gabriel. He should not have been able to do that."

"And you couldn't just let the opportunity pass." Gabriel commented sardonically.

"Carpe Diem." Sam shot back with a wide smile.

Gabriel chuckled. He reached out to cup Sam's face. He placed a paternal kiss on Sam's forehead. "Be careful, Samiel. Anthony Michael DiNozzo is not the only one who likes you. I would not see you hurt because of your fondness for him."

Sam made a gesture of promise and binding. "I will be careful."

"Good." With that, Gabriel vanished.

Sam sighed. He studied his charges again, smiling. He couldn't keep them from getting hurt...physically or emotionally, but at least he had been able to help make sure they had each other. He was fairly confident that would be enough to see them through the worst life might throw at them. They were good for each other. He whispered a prayer, asking for benevolence on their behalf.

He couldn't stay any longer. Duty was calling. It was time to go. He'd see them again, when they managed to corner Ari Mohammad Haswari, as he was sure they would...if not before.

Chapter Text

Tony looked up from pouring himself a stiff drink when he felt Sam's presence. The angel always seemed to create an odd stillness in the air, like everything had frozen for just a moment. As a child he hadn't quite been able to describe the sensation, but as an adult it reminded him a lot of scenes from the Matrix movie.

Tony smiled slightly, setting the bottle of single malt on the kitchen counter. "Hello, Sam."

"Hello, Tony." The angel's eyes were a soft blue. "You look tired."

"I am." Tony sipped his scotch and sighed. He wanted to relax but just couldn't seem to. It felt like forever since he'd stopped moving. Glancing at his watch Tony tried to wrap his mind around the fact that it had really only been a few days since he'd gone back to work after contracting the plague.

"You take him?" There was no need to identify who Tony was asking about.

"I did." Sam tipped his head.

Tony raised an eyebrow. "Didn't take long." Gibbs had only called him half an hour ago letting him know he was fine and Ari was dead.

Sam's smile reminded him of a wolf baring its teeth. The angel's incisors were disturbingly sharp. "Time moves differently on the other side. What is only a moment here is a lifetime there." Sam's eyes went black with a reddish hue. "I took him on a scenic tour."

Tony nodded, feeling a sense of savage satisfaction. "See all the sites, did he?"

"All." The red in Sam's eyes glowed like a burning ember. "Dante was not entirely wrong in his descriptions. Hell has many, many levels."

Sam had told him years ago that his job was just to ferry souls to their ultimate destination, that he didn't mete out punishment or reward. But Tony knew Sam was just as apt to push the line as he was. And there was no prohibition about taking his time to get his charges where they were supposed to be nor was there a specific route he had to take.

Tony grimaced. Shooting Ari in the head, while poetic, didn't really seem sufficient to him. He wanted the bastard to experience real torment. He wanted him to appreciate a little of the pain he caused by killing Kate.

"He suffered?" Tony asked quietly, putting the tumbler on the counter near the bottle. He was no longer interested in the drink.

"Yes." The tone implied Sam had made certain of it.

"Good." Tony didn't want or need the details. He trusted Sam. More than he trusted anyone else, with the possible exception of Gibbs. The angel had never lied to him, never avoided giving him the truth no matter how much hurt.

Tony took a deep breath and released it slowly. He didn't really need a preview of Hell. Tony had a feeling he'd see a level or two when his time came.

"No you won't." Sam smiled warmly, his tone reassuring as his eyes shifted to violet. He raised a hand to lightly touch Tony's cheek in a gentle caress. "You are a good man, Anthony Michael DiNozzo."

"Kate is still dead." Tony whispered, his voice cracking, eyes closing in pain as he tried to block out the image of her in the morgue drawer. He hadn't saved her. Wasn't that the same as killing her?

"No, Tony, it is not the same." Sam kissed his forehead. It was an act of benediction.

Tony nodded, not sure he really believed Sam, but he wanted to. He leaned into the angel, letting Sam support some of his weight, his head resting on Sam's shoulder. It felt good.

"Thanks for taking care of Kate." Tony murmured.

"It was the least I could do."

Tony knew Sam hadn't wanted to take her at all, but rules were rules. Death was inescapable. It was one of the constants of life Tony came to understand at a very young age.

"You'll be there for me?" Tony asked, suddenly needing confirmation of his belief.

"Do you really need to ask that?" Sam's hand cupped the back of his head, fingers lightly brushing through his hair.

Tony smiled softly. "Just making sure."

"I will be there for you." There was no mistaking the promise in Sam's voice.

"That's what those glowing bars are for, aren't mark me as yours?" Tony asked. He had a good idea that's what they meant, but had never sought out confirmation before.

"I was not sure you could see them." Sam sounded chagrined. Tony wondered if he looked up if he'd see a blush form on Sam's alabaster skin.

"Saw them years ago." Tony shrugged one shoulder. He had realized immediately no one else saw them, the same way most people didn't see Sam. It hadn't bothered him then, and it didn't bother him now.

Tony unconsciously relaxed further when Sam's arms came around him, hugging him. He felt the brush of feathers, and knew the angel's wings were around him as well. It was nice, warm and comfortable. He could feel tension draining out of him, leaving him feeling heavy and even more exhausted.

Tony sighed. "Bars around Gibbs are new." He had noticed them the other day. At first he'd thought it was just because Gibbs was in close proximity, that the older man was lit by his own, but the light blue bands remained even when his lover was across the room from him.

"He is important to you." Sam shrugged, feathers rustling in response to his movement.

Tony smiled and shook his head. It was like Sam to try and help, to offer what he could. He thought he'd seen something around his other teammates as well, but they were much fainter and harder to see than the ones around him and Gibbs so he couldn't be sure. He asked if McGee, Abby and Ducky were also marked.

Sam nodded, rubbing his cheek against Tony's hair. He seemed to hesitate for a moment. "I can take them down ifâ€"

"Leave them. I like knowing it will be you and not some....stranger." Tony lifted his head to lay his cheek against Sam's. He was surprised by how smooth the angel's skin felt and how warm he was to the touch. The air around Sam always seemed to radiate a faint chill. Tony had long ago chalked it up to the whole enigma that made up what Sam was.

"You won't get in trouble, will you?" Tony pulled back to make eye contact, suddenly worried Sam had overstepped some boundary, had risked more for him than he should.

"No." Sam smiled ruefully. "I have already spoken to Gabriel about them."

Tony chuckled. "Before or after they went up?"


Tony snickered. "Always pushing the line, aren't you?"

Sam rolled his eyes. They were once more a light shade of blue. "It was you, if memory serves, that told me it was easier to get forgiveness than permission."

"I'm a bad influence." Tony shrugged one shoulder. It boggled the mind that he had any power to influence any one at all, much less an angel of death.

"Bad?" Sam laughed. "No. Not bad." He hugged Tony to him again.

Tony yawned. His eyes drifted closed. He wasn't sure it was possible for him to sleep standing up despite his boasts about being able to sleep any time, anywhere.

"Will you put up some of these bars around the new girl?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Probably should." Tony rubbed his face against Sam's shoulder, instinctively settling in to where he felt safe and secure. He was so damn tired. "Gibbs...said she...shot Ari. Killed her" He shivered. "If she's anyone I'm want to work with...that's a level of hell all on its own. Shouldn't have to...take the long way, Sam."

"No scenic tour." Sam promised, lightly patting his back. "I think you would be more comfortable lying down."

"Probably." Tony mumbled. That would mean moving. He just didn't feel like doing more than leaning on Sam.

Tony always knew Sam could walk through walls and vanish in blink of an eye, but he never knew he could take someone with him. He had to be able to because there was no way for Tony to find himself lying down on his couch otherwise. He didn't remember moving, that was for sure.

"Neat trick." Tony grinned.

"Thank you." Sam lightly stroked Tony's cheek with the knuckle of his first finger. "I think you should go to sleep."

Tony shook his head, yawning wide enough to pop his jaw. "Gibbs is supposed to be here soon."

"I don't think he will mind, Tony." Sam smiled softly.

Tony blinked owlishly. When Sam started to sing, he gave staying awake up as a lost cause. He wasn't sure what it was about that damn lullaby but it worked every time.

"No...fair, Sam."

Sam ran his fingers through Tony's hair. "Fair, like time, is relative."

Tony wasn't sure if he just drifted or if he'd really fallen asleep lulled by Sam's singing and fingers in his hair. The next thing he was certain of was the sound of Gibbs voice calling his name. He blinked and smiled up at his lover.


Gibbs smiled. "Hey yourself."

Tony rubbed at his eyes, still feeling heavy and slow. He wasn't surprised Sam was no where in sight. The angel seemed to actively avoid having to say 'good-bye' to him.

"What time is it?"

"Late." Gibbs sat on the couch, leaning in to kiss him. "Very late."

Tony framed Gibbs' face with both hands, green eyes searching blue. "You okay?"

Gibbs sighed, looking every bit as tired as Tony felt. "I will be."

"You should have let me back you up."

Gibbs frowned. Tony could feel the muscles in his jaw flexing under his hands. "I couldn't risk it. Couldn't risk him getting you too."

"Can take care of myself, Boss." Tony stated quietly. He wasn't angry, not really. It was more that he was disappointed. He hated being left out.

Gibbs turned his head to place a kiss in Tony's palm. "I just couldn't ...If I was wrongâ€""

"You weren't."

"Yeah." Gibbs took a deep breath. "But I could have been."

"Could have, might have, should have...don't mean a damn thing." Tony snorted. "All that matters is what is."

Gibbs chuckled dryly. "I think I might have said that at some point."

Tony grinned. "You did." His grin faded as he studied Gibbs' face once more. "Thought you were going to kill him?"

"I was." Gibbs sighed. "She needed to do it more than I did." Gibbs closed his eyes. "I knew exactly what he was. I needed her to know it too. She really cared about him and he lied to her, used herâ€""

"Betrayed her." Tony finished. In the hierarchy of revenge and need for vengeance, in Gibbs' world, betrayal ranked number one. And it suited Gibbs' sense of justice to have Ari taken out by a woman since he'd spent the last few days threatening the women who were important to Gibbs.

"Doesn't matter who killed him, just as long as the bastard is dead." Gibbs' eyes hardened to glacial ice. "And I got to see him go down."

Tony nodded, accepting that. Results mattered. Something about means and ends came to mind but he was too tired to sort it out.

"Let's go to bed." Gibbs patted his chest. "We can talk more in the morning."

"Sure." Tony struggled to sit up, ignoring the hand Gibbs offered, pride making him want to prove he was man enough to get to his feet without help. He ignored the feather lying on the coffee table too. He'd add it to the collection later.

Once upright, Tony leaned into Gibbs, much the same way he had leaned into Sam earlier. Unlike Sam, Gibbs leaned into Tony so that they supported each other as they headed down the hall to the bedroom.

"Glad you're home." Tony whispered. He'd forgotten to say it earlier.

"I'm glad to be home." Gibbs placed a butterfly soft kiss on his temple.

When they finally lay down together, Tony savored the feeling of all being right with his world for the moment. He snuggled in next to Gibbs, content to be close to him, warm and comfortable. The steady, familiar heartbeat beneath his ear lulled him to sleep again.

He didn't see Sam appear in the shadows. He didn't see the angel smile and retrace the glowing bars. He didn't hear the quiet whisper, "Sleep well."

He thought the next morning he heard Sam singing the lullaby again at some point during the night. And the bars looked a bit brighter than they had before. But he didn't bother to dwell on it. Gibbs was already yelling at him to hurry up; they had a case. Yeah, Tony thought with a smile, everything was definitely right with the world.