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A Chance Meeting

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The night they met was crisp and cold, fresh snow covering the city and making everything look sparkly fresh and new. It was Christmas Eve, and they’d just come off a brutal case earlier that afternoon. When Tony had gotten home, the stillness and silence of his apartment had been suffocating, even with ‘A Christmas Story’ playing softly in the background.

So he’d pulled on a pair of cozy dark wash jeans, his thickest black turtleneck and his well-worn leather jacket, and he'd set out into the night. His gun was tucked into its shoulder holster, him being unable to leave behind the security blanket while he was still so on edge. He didn’t take his car, knowing he was planning to drink and not wanting to leave it at the bar. It was another reason he should have left the weapon behind, but logic was a tough defense against paranoia.

He walked the few blocks to the dark jazz bar he liked to frequent. It wasn’t often visited by his co-workers, it honestly being a bit high class for most of them, but he occasionally saw Sec Nav, Sec Def, and an array of other high-ranking officials that lived in or frequented the DC area. It also hosted its fair share of expensive lawyers, politicians, and more of the like.

Despite pushing eleven, it was comfortably full inside with a quite hum of conversation filling the dimly lit space. He headed directly to the bar, trading nods with a few people he was familiar with but not stopping to exchange pleasantries.

Luckily for him, most of the men (and the few women) who were there, were there because they didn’t have a family to spend the holidays with. For many of them, it was because they had chosen to put their careers above their personal lives. Thus, the holidays ended up feeling more melancholy than cheerful for the patrons, and so most of them were keeping to themselves that night. 

He headed to the darker end of the sleek wooden surface, only to see a man already seated upon the stool he’d been intending to claim for himself. He shrugged it off easily, sitting instead two seats over, leaving one empty between the two men. It left two seats on the other side in-between him and the next patron.

The bartender was familiar to him, and didn’t that make him feel a bit pathetic. He tried to ignore the feeling, nodding his thanks when Joey slid a glass of his preferred scotch silently on the bar before him. It was too late for a live band, but smooth jazz was playing at a comfortable volume throughout the room. The first glass went down quickly, and it wasn’t until he was into his second glass that he felt relaxed and comfortable enough to shrug off the soothing weight of old leather, leaving it draped over the back of his barstool.

His phone buzzed once against his leg and he stretched the appendage straight out to be able to pull the device free from his snug pocket. It was a group text from Abby, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. The clock read 12:00. He let out a quiet snort and thumbed the screen back off, tossing it face down on the bar, unanswered. He ignored the next few buzzes that signaled several of the people she sent it to responding. He hated group texts, but that never seemed to stop her from adding him to them, and he just wasn’t in the mood to send out fake-cheerful holiday salutations.  

Ironically enough, the man to his right seemed to have the same problem, if the series of buzzing coming from the side was any indication. Tony eyed him from his peripheral vision, taking in the distinguished features of a man who had aged very well and still looked strong and fit despite his greying hair. He held himself like a soldier, even slumped causally over as he was, one elbow lazily propping up his head.

He wasn’t sure what it was about the older man that caught his attention, but once he was aware of him it became very hard to ignore his presence. Any another night, Tony might have tried to strike up conversation, but he just couldn’t bring himself to ‘be on.’ Instead, he ignored the slight buzz of attraction, finished his third drink, tossed down the cash to cover his bill plus a generous tip, and then left the warm space.

Flair of initial intrigue aside, if he never saw the man again than he probably wouldn’t have ever spared him another thought.

~*~

A week later, Tony found himself “celebrating” the New Year at the same bar. This time, the atmosphere was much more festive. A live band was playing through the night, and the patrons were much more talkative and, consequently, or at least seemingly, much more drunk. He headed in his normal direction, though he let himself to be snagged into conversation several times along the way in a manner he simply hadn't been open to previously.

While he was passing through, he noticed the man from last time he was here standing amongst a small group of men who he knew worked at the Pentagon. He obviously knew the men, but Tony saw him roll his eyes the slightest bit when the other three weren’t looking his direction. The sight of such a childish gesture on such a distinguished looking man caused a flair of amusement to spike through him.

When he arrived at the bar, he saw that the majority of the seats along the end were empty- most of the room gathered at tables closer to the stage holding a large Grand Piano that took up a corner on the opposite side of the large space. After brief contemplation, he took the same seat he’d sat in the week prior. The bartender was a different one, a college aged girl with dark hair pulled up into a high pony, and a friendly smile when she asked what he’d like. He’d gotten so used to automatically being handed Scotch that he paused and thought about it.

A minute later, the smooth rich flavor of a dark beer was filling his mouth and he took a moment to savor it. A bowl of bar nuts was set before him and he picked through them as he drank. A few minutes after he sat, the man from before broke away from his small group and made his own way over to the bar, reclaiming the furthest seat at the end, just as he had before.

He ordered a beer of his own and then reached out to casually dip his hand into the bowl resting beside Tony. Tony turned and followed the appendage as it pulled back and casually tossed a palmful of nuts into his mouth. The older man met his eyes boldly, almost challengingly, but with a hidden playful depth.

Tony turned to him more fully, tilting his head and raising a brow as the bartender set two beers down between them. He took the last swig of his previous bottle and then pushed it empty across the bar for the woman to grab more easily. When she’d walked away he turned his focus back to the stranger. “Thank you.” He murmured when older man grabbed his own bottle and held it up to tap against Tony’s new one.

“Jack O’Neill.” He offered freely.

“Tony DiNozzo.” He hoped he was reading this right, because he couldn’t help but drop his eyes and smile a bit flirtatiously. “Are you new to the city? I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before last week.” He led, freely acknowledging that the man had caught his attention enough to be memorable, despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken or really even traded a look.

The older man grimaced slightly, but it seemed to be aimed more at the situation than at Tony himself. He hummed and took a deep drink of his beer before he answered verbally. “Let myself get promoted one too many times.” Hf offered blandly.

“Congratulations.” Tony offered, though it was clear Jack wasn’t thrilled with his new position, whatever it may be.

Jack grunted and then shook it off, smiling at the handsome younger man instead of commiserating that fact that he was now, technically, assigned to a desk- and in an even more permanent capacity than when he'd been commander of the base.

“How about you? Have you been in DC long?”

“About ten years now.”

“Is living here as awful as it seems?” Jack asked bluntly, drawing a surprised, but honest, laugh from Tony.

“It’s really not.” He assured.

“Humm.” Jack broke eye contact and took his own turn running his eyes down Tony, once more reinforcing where this was leading. “I can see it getting better.” He continued when his eyes once again met hazel.

Tony smiled again, edges a bit softer, feeling pleased with the obvious appreciation. Conversation flowed easily, beginning with Jack talking about the home he’d left behind in Colorado Springs, and going from there. Over the course of the night the two men found they had a lot in common. At one point, Jack excused himself to use the restroom. When he came back, he sat on the bar stool directly beside Tony’s, rather than leaving it in between the two.

They continued to drink as the hours passed by unnoticed. They’d ordered an appetizer plate to share at some point, and found they had similar taste in bar food as well. At quarter past eleven, Jack pulled back slightly from how close he’d gotten to the younger man and glanced around the now full bar. No one seemed to be paying attention to the two of them, tucked away as they were in their little corner. He looked back at his companion, taking in his attractive features, quick wit and obvious interest and decided take a chance. “You wanna get out of here?” He propositioned blatantly and then hid his careful observation of Tony’s reaction behind a mask of casualness.

Tony paused with his bottle most of the way to his lips, but only for the briefest of seconds. He took the drink he’d been intending, though made it deeper so that he finished what was left. “Okay.” He agreed easily, once he’d set it back on the bar. Jack smiled at him, a slow unfurling of his lips, and tipped his own bottle up to finish it, never breaking eye contact.

When the stood, side by side, Tony realized he was actually about an inch taller than the older man, though his commanding, if laid back, presence made him seem taller than he was. They pressed through the crowd, not quickly, but determinedly, neither allowing themselves to get caught up in conversation by various acquaintances.

The night was cold and sobering once they’d reached the main door, and both immediately hunched deeper in their outerwear. “My place or yours?” Tony asked, and it should have been cliché but it sent heat thrumming through Jack’s eyes all the same. Jack didn’t know it, but it was a bold offer in of itself for Tony, who normally wasn’t willing to bring people back to his sanctuary. Jack though, Jack felt different, felt more important, like he might be worth the intrusion into his space.

“Mine’s still pretty torn up from moving in.” Jack admitted, voice a bit deeper.

“Mine’s three blocks’ that way.” Tony stated in return, nodded behind them.

“Yours it is.” Jack murmured, tucking his hands into his pocket casually.  

“I have to warn you that my beds not very big.” Tony said the, stepping a bit closer.

“I think we can make do.” He replied, naughty tone edging into his voice.

The two men turned together and began strolling casually down the street. It was lively for how late it was, everyone waiting to greet the New Year, or to say goodbye to the last one. They didn’t act overtly affectionate towards each other, but they did walk closely together, with a bit more of a hurry in their step than they might otherwise have walked with.

As a result, they were entering Tony’s apartment a brief time later. As soon as the door was closed behind them, Jack turned and pressed Tony back against the its surface and claimed his lips for his own. Despite the small start of surprise, Tony returned the gesture eagerly, pressing back against the older man and showing his own clear interest in the proceedings.

Despite their eagerness, both men were well into adulthood and neither felt a particular need to rush. They remained in the entry for several long moments, learning each other in a much more physical way than they had been thus far that night. Eventually, they began making their way through the apartment, allowing space between them only in small little gaps.

When they reached the living room, Jack pulled away enough to take in the baby grand piano filling a large portion of the space. “Do you play?” He asked, voice husky.

“A bit.” Tony replied before ducking back in to nip at the older man’s bottom lip.

“Mmmm.” Was all Jack said in reply, reaching to push up the fitted black long-sleeved shirt Tony had been wearing under his favorite leather jacket, exposing his abs and chest to the other mans teasing hands. The shirt was pulled off fully a scant few seconds later, and Tony pressed forward to return the gesture.

Tony was pleased to find Jack as fit as a thirty-year-old under his own black t-shirt, dog tags enhancing the knowledge that this man had been a soldier, and was a man who was still at the peak of his fitness, despite the age his steely hair suggested.

They ended up in a tangle together on his narrow bed, but they did manage to make it work despite the challenges they faced. They were just getting to the good part when the sound of fireworks erupting somewhere in the city. Their lips broke apart, Jack quietly wishing him a Happy New Year just as he pressed inside his tight heat.

Tony was gone at that point, unable to speak in whole sentences and communicating only through a series of pants and bitten off moans. When they finished, they settled with Jack on his back, with Tony laying between his legs and resting on his chest, his own legs curled comfortably at the bottom edge. Tony cleared his throat quietly, fingers absently tracing across a faded scar on the flesh beneath him. “Happy New Year’s.” He was finally able to return, his own voice raspy. And the two quietly watched the splashes of color flaring from beyond his window until they fell asleep.

~*~

When Tony woke the next morning, Jack was already awake, though he hadn’t moved to try and get out from under his bed partner. He lifted his head up to meet Tony’s eyes when they blinked lazily open. “Good morning.” He murmured to the younger man.

“Morning.” Tony replied, lips curling into a content smile, one that he halfheartedly attempted to hide by pressing a kiss against Jacks sternum. They languished together for a long while, neither in a hurry to separate. Eventually hunger drove them from the bed and into the kitchen.  

Tony’d been half expecting him to duck out as soon as he was awake, a small part of him wondering if his ‘still moving’ excuse had been so that he wouldn’t have to try and kick Tony out the morning after. It didn’t seem to be the case however, as Jack seemed more than content to sit at kitchen island while Tony whipped them up coffee and breakfast. They discovered something else they had in common then- they both liked to be well into their second cup of coffee (at least), before being overly talkative in the morning.

“So, do you have any plans for the day?” Jack questioned as they dug into their omelets.

Tony shrugged casually from where he sat beside Jack at the island, bare feet propped up on the barstool beneath him. “I usually go to the Y on Sundays for a game of pickup ball if I’m free, but that’s sporadic enough that they don’t expect me to be there every weekend.” He offered freely.

Jack’s expression changed to one of interest. It was clear by his fit physique that the older man stayed active. Being new to the city, Tony wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t figured out a place to work out yet. Tony threw the offer out before he really thought about it, but didn’t regret it once he had. “It’s pretty casual, you could come if you want to.”

Jack chewed his food thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t mind?” He questioned lightly once he’d swallowed.

“I wouldn’t mind.”

“Well alright then. Though I have to warn you, I haven’t gotten much of a chance to play where I’ve been stationed.”

“I’ll take it easy on you.” Tony promised tauntingly, sparking a competitive, though still playful, tension to life between them. 

~*~

Jack and Tony kept in frequent communication after that first weekend together. Jack, it turned out, was a bored texter, and the man was bored a lot in his new role. Tony wasn’t always able to text back right away, and vice versa, but both men enjoyed having random little messages waiting for them throughout the day. Tony found himself having to bite off laughter more than once at the droll or sarcastic little remarks Jack would make about the people he had to deal with throughout the day.

At NCIS, the others had quickly realized Tony was seeing someone new, though he refused to give in to their prodding questions, choosing instead to use his talented tongue to talk them into another subject (typically without them realizing). The only one who refused to be appeased was Abby, though he was honestly expecting it from her, considering how close the two were.

He managed to keep her at bay for the first few weeks, but she eventually showed up at his apartment after work on Friday night, an armful of goodies pressed haphazardly clutched to her chest. It was their weekend off rotation, so Tony had invited Jack over for a home cooked dinner and an early night. The two were getting reacquainted on the sofa when the heavy knocking began.

Tony pulled back in confusion, glancing across the apartment and clearly debating on whether or not he wanted to find out who it was. Abby’s voice calling across the wood clearly identified the visitor, and Tony was torn between sighing and feeling pleased at her dropping by. They normally got together at least every couple of weeks outside of work. Their nights together usually involved alcohol of some sort, though the activity varied depending on their mood and energy level. When they felt up for it, they’d go dancing. On lazier weekends, they’d spread alcohol and junk food across his coffee table and watch movies late into the night.

“Tony! C’mon, let me in! I saw your car downstairs, I know you’re home! Tony!!”

The man in question sighed, letting his head drop to rest on Jack’s chest where he was stretched out beneath him. “She has a key.” He muttered into the still clothed flesh.

“You should probably let her in then.” Jack replied with amusement. It was one of the man’s more endearing qualities for Tony- the ability to find or create amusement (and thus enjoyment) just about anywhere. It was a rare kind of person who could do so, and Tony was very much enjoying discovering the man’s large and diverse sense of humor.  

Tony let out a quiet groan of protest in return, but pushed himself up to roll of the couch all the same. Once he was fully back on his feet, he turned and strode across the room, one hand coming up to ruffle in his mussed hair as he unlocked and pulled open the door. He didn’t pull it open fully, blocking her view into the apartment with his body as he wedged himself into the small space.

Abby either didn’t notice his stance, or simply didn’t care, because she ducked under his arm and pushed her way forcefully into his space, already chattering away without a care in the world as she pushed the brown paper bag against his chest. “I told you that I’ve been wanting to watch all of the Jaws movies, right? So I brought all three, and popcorn, and candy oh! And-“ She paused to dump her remaining arm full onto the table and then grabbed the bag back from Tony’s limp hold. She pulled out a bottle of red colored vodka ‘KINKY RED embossed across the top of the bottle. “look! I thought it kind of looked like blood, so it’d go with the movie theme. I mean, I know it doesn’t really look like blood- it’s too orangey, and too thin, but, well-“

Tony cut her off, physically placing the palm of his hand across her mouth. “Abby!” He said firmly. He’d said her name a couple of times already, but she’d been so into her explanation that she’d rolled right over the top of his attempt. It wasn’t one of her best qualities, but he’d long since accepted it as one of her quirks. “Now’s not really a good time for Jaws.” He finished, shooting her a pointed look.

“Oh, well, I mean, okay, we can watch something else if you want, I was just-“

“No, Abby, tonight’s not really a good night for movies, at all.” He corrected himself.

She pulled back and glanced around, finally realizing they weren’t alone. Jack had pulled himself up so that he was lounging lazily back into the corner of the couch rather than sprawled across it. He made quite the picture, short grey hair pulled up into little spikes from Tony’s hands running through it, and Tony wished it wouldn’t have been so weird for him to pull out his phone and snap a picture of the man who was, at that moment, reminiscent of a satisfied jungle cat, stretching out in the sunshine after a good meal.

“Oh!” Abby exclaimed. “I’m sorry! Tony! You should have told me you had company!”

“When was I supposed to do that?” He mumbled, resigned, as she moved further into the apartment. It wasn’t like she called after all. He closed the door with a sigh and moved back over to the pair.

“Hi, I’m Abby!” She introduced herself brightly, almost bouncing on the tips of her platform boots in her excited rambling. “Well, Abigail Sciuto, technically, but everyone calls me Abby. I work with Tony, but like, not as an agent, I’m a forensic scientist! And I’m Tony’s best friend! He really should have told me he had plans tonight, but I guess it’s a good thing that he hasn’t been talking about you- he never talks about the ones he really likes, so that’s a good thing! Do you like Jaws?” She finished expectantly. While she waited for his eyebrow to relax enough for him to answer, she sent a miniature flurry of hand signs to Tony, unable to stand still.  

Tony shook his head exasperatedly at her essentially telling him ‘He’s hot!,’ and refused to respond. Jack let amusement curl across his features and signed ‘thank you’ back to her when she turned to look at him again. “General Jonathan Jack O’Neill, technically. Call me Jack. And I do like Jaws, as a matter of fact.” The surprise that flashed across her own face didn’t last very long before she was smiling at him even brighter than before.

Abby looked back at Tony, the beseeching look on her face clearly begging to be allowed to stay. Tony glanced down at Jack and, though they really hadn’t known each other for long, Tony found his expressions fairly easy to read. The older man raised a brow at him, head just slightly tilted, with a tiny smile curling one side of his mouth lazily, and Tony knew he didn’t mind if she stayed.

Tony himself was a little perturbed at essentially being cock-blocked on a Friday night in his own apartment, but he couldn’t bring himself to be too annoyed with her. It’d been a long week at work, and it was normal for them to have a movie night after such a week. “I guess it would be rude to kick you out after your brought vodka and.. gummy bats? Where did you even get these- It’s January!?”

“I have a site.”

“Of course you do.” Tony mumbled, moving to take the small stack of DVDs over to his hidden entertainment system. They’d had an old western playing on the TV, but the volume was low and neither man had been paying attention to it in the slightest.

Abby was very much at home in his apartment, and made her way to the kitchen to get three glasses. “You don’t have to drink that.” Tony reassured him from his crouch on the other side of the room. “I have plenty to choose from in the kitchen.”

“What? No,” He lifted the bottled and peered down at the label. “Ahh, ‘Watermelon and Strawberry flavored vodka’ sounds delicious. I’m game.”

Tony was glad he was facing away, because the grin that spread across his face was far too smitten to be seen by others. Abby returned then, moving over to plop herself on the other end of the couch and begin pouring them all a generous drink of the brightly colored liquid. The sound of popcorn popping could be heard coming from the kitchen and the scent of extra butter soon wafted out into the living room.  

A few minutes later and the three were settled on the couch, Jack sitting more fully up against one arm, Tony tucked close to his side, while Abby sat cross legged and completely focused on the large TV across from them, huge bowl of popcorn sitting in her lap. The night ended up being more enjoyable than any of them could have pictured, as odd as the group may have been. And the next morning, when Jack included Abby in their breakfast plans, Tony felt just a little more enamored.

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

Jack joining him at the Y was becoming something of a tradition in the sense that it would be the third consecutive time that Tony had gone, and that he’d been accompanied by the other man.  They were driving there together in Jack’s large pickup, and had been riding in comfortable silence since the beginning of the journey. Abby had departed after an early breakfast of chocolate filled pancakes and too much syrup. Though she didn’t say anything when she left, she’d squeezed him extra tight when she’d hugged him goodbye and had even darted in give Jack a quick hug.

Tony glanced over at him, gaining his attention. Jack nodded at him, clearly prodding him to proceed. “Abby can be… well, a bit much to deal with…” Tony began softly, wanting to let the older man know why he was so appreciative of his being okay with the intrusion. And Tony had definitely showed his appreciation after she’d departed, more than making up for the time lost the night before. “She’s, uh, well. Not everyone understands her personality, you know? They see the way she dresses or acts sometimes, and assume that’s all there is to her. The last guy I dated and her didn’t really click. I could kind of tell when I introduced them, but she tends to grow on people, so I figured it’d get better with time.” He paused, remembering that explosive fight.

“What happened?” Jack inquired when he didn’t continue immediately.

“He answered my phone when she was trying to call one night. I was getting ready to get in the shower, the water was running already, but I headed out when I heard the ring. He didn’t hear me come back, and he was basically telling her to fuck off, that she was a grown woman and needed to stop being so clingy. Granted, she had been hanging around a lot, but we’d just arrested her stalker ex, and when we were investigating him, we found a gun and a suicide note he’d written in her hand writing. She was pretty freaked out by it all and didn’t like being home alone, even though he was in jail.”

“So what did you do?”

“I uh, grabbed the phone from him and told Abbs to give me thirty and then head over.”

“And?” Jack pressed, curious as to how the whole event ended.

“And I got dressed and left.”

“Oh come on, there has to be more to it than that.”

Tony shook his head stubbornly, though a smirk did curl his lips at the memory. It took a lot to make him truly angry, but he’d definitely felt his Italian blood burning hot that night. They’d been quite a bit of yelling, the man defending his actions just serving to make Tony angrier, and all of the little annoyances that cropped up in a new relationship were brought viciously to the forefront. Needless to say, they didn’t see each other again after that night. “Anyway, he wasn’t the first ex to react badly to her, so I tend to be cautious when I first introduce her. Wow that sounds awful.” He berated himself, laughing a little self-consciously.

“It doesn’t sound awful.” Jack argued. “It sounds like you’re being a good friend.”

“I guess…” Tony agreed half-heartedly, shrugging. “Abby, she’s one of those genuinely good people in the world, you know? She doesn’t have a cruel or judgmental bone in her body, and she’s way more sensitive than she looks. I just wish everyone else could see that.”

“People don’t usually care to look deeper.” Jack offered quietly. “It’s easier to take the world at first glance than to second guess everything you see. So, they take what they see as fact, and that fact as the whole. Blissful ignorance is both life’s best and worst quality.”

~*~

Three weeks turned into two months faster than they could blink. Despite the ease in which the two had fallen into a comfortable routine, there was one thing that had begun bothering Tony, to the point he started debating how he should bring it up. At first he thought he just might be being paranoid, but after conferring with Abby, he was convinced he had a right to be a little concerned.

Despite the amount of time they’d taken to spending together (which truly was a considerable amount considering they tried to see each other at least once a week, often much more), Tony had never been invited to Jack’s house. He’d accepted the ‘still moving’ excuse for the first month or so, but twice as much time had now passed and he still didn’t know where the other man lived beyond it being in the vague direction of Alexandria.

He finally decided he’d just have to ask, because he’d been waiting patiently for the last month and keeping his silence obviously wasn’t getting him anywhere. They were sitting together on the couch watching a hockey game. Well, Jack was sitting, Tony was lying with his head cushioned on the arm rest and his feet resting comfortably in the other man’s lap.

As his mind wandered, Tony glanced down at the Jack’s left hand, which was loosely holding onto his ankle. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring- obviously. Tony definitely would have noticed that. But did he have a tan line? He peered closer, trying to see if there was any difference in color. It took a second for him to realize he’d drawn his partner’s attention, Jack watching him steadily with a brow half raised and a bemused look on his face.

He opened his mouth to say something, but Tony decided to spit out the question that was resting on the tip of his tongue before he could talk. “Are you married?” He asked directly, voice only a little demanding.

 The bemused look shifted to surprised confusion. “What?” He questioned, a quiet burst of laughter bubbling up. “Ahh, nope. Not since my divorce...? Why? Are you?” He shot back easily.

“Definitely not. Serial killer? Crazy cat hoarder?”

“Uh, no, and more of a dog person really. What’s this about?” Jack asked, sobering from his initial amusement.

Tony shook his head a little, face scrunching thoughtfully. “Just trying to figure out why we’ve never gone to your place, despite my tiny bed.” He said casually.

“Ahh.” Jack said again, though in a different tone entirely. “I was wondering when this was going to come up.”

“Oh?” Tony pressed, pulling himself to sit up with his back resting against the opposite arm and his legs pulled up to his chest and leaning against the back cushion. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“No, it’s..” He paused, sighing a bit through his nose. “Hold that thought.” He said instead, pushing himself up and heading into Tony’s bedroom where his bag was stashed. He came back with a legal sized envelope, which he handed to Tony as he sat back down.

Tony shot him a look of confusion, but accepted it anyway. Assuming he was meant to open it, he pulled the small stack of papers out to examine. “I’ve been informed that my position has bumped me up a security bracket. Because of the classified nature of my assignment, anyone with unmonitored access to my residence has to be pre-screened and sign that paperwork. It’s not actually a non-disclosure agreement, but more like a declaration of intent to sign one should you happen to see or hear anything you’re not supposed to. It’s basically a warning not to pry into anything interesting, and if you do, not to talk about it until they bring you in. And just a warning, if you do see or hear something you’re not supposed to- they’ll bury you in paperwork- and I do mean that literally, you might actually drown under all the forms. It’s all very Big Brother.” He tried to joke, though his voice was a little more tense than normal. He reached up and scratched the back of his head, looking uncomfortable. “You don’t have to sign it, and my people don’t have to run the background check. You just, uh, won’t be able to be alone inside my house.” He cringed the tiniest bit, though he did a good job of hiding it.

Tony’s head tilted back in a slow nod of understanding. That actually made sense to him, already having known that Jacks work was far beyond his own significant security clearance, and that it wasn’t a subject he could discuss. The older man was very practiced at censoring himself. When he talked about his work day, he either spoke very specifically, narrowing down on the details and not the situation as a whole, or he spoke very vaguely, ensuring he didn’t give enough information for Tony to piece anything together that he shouldn’t. Honestly, he felt more relieved than anything at knowing Jack had a legitimate reason for not inviting him over.

“Does the paperwork come with a pen?” He joked nonchalantly, glancing around his living room and wondering where he might have one stashed.

Jack reached into his own pocket to pull one out, but he didn’t hand it over immediate. “This isn’t something you should take lightly. If you sign this and violate it, you’re looking at Gitmo.” He said seriously, wanting Tony to understand fully before moving further. “And the background check isn’t your run of the mill one either, they’re going to tear your life apart and look for any potential weaknesses or soft spots in your past. They’ll look at everywhere you’ve ever lived, everyone you’ve ever dated, every purchase you’ve ever made. They will know everything about you and they will continue to monitor you for suspicious activity, even if we stop seeing each other.”

Tony sobered a bit at his firm tone, understanding the severity of what he was holding, but Jack’s censor still hadn’t changed his mind. “Jack, I might not have Gitmo level security clearance, but I am a federal agent who specializes in undercover work. I understand the importance of confidentiality and classified information. Your security check might sound intimidating, but I doubt it’ll be much worse than the one they put me under before I was granted access to MTAC. I don’t have anything to hide, and I’m not worried about accidently letting classified intel slip. As far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t really change anything. It’s just a technicality.”

Jack handed over the pen without another word, an undefinable look crossing his features before he hid it away, and Tony wasn’t quite sure what it meant. Still, their fingers brushed together during the exchange and when Tony settled deeper in to the couch to begin reading through and signing the small stack of documents, he felt no hesitation.

~*~

The next month passed by just as quickly, as did the one after that. With April came the end of the snow and the start of the rain. It was late on a Tuesday, coming up on nine, but the NCIS Major Case Unit was still hard at work trying to crack their current case. It’d had been three days since it had started, and three days since Tony had been home, having gotten called in early Sunday morning. Gibbs had stepped out for more coffee while the three subordinates combed back through all of their intel, trying to find some clue that they might have missed, when Tony’s cell rang.

He pulled it out and answered it without looking away from his computer screen and the list of expenses dating back fifteen years. “DiNozzo.” He greeted distractedly.

“You sound tired.” Jack said in return.

“Oh, hey. Yeah, sorry, still at the office.” Tony replied, pulling his attention away from the screen and to the phone call for real, spinning his chair to the side so that he wasn’t directly facing the curious looks he could see forming.

“Not having any luck?” Jack asked, sympathetic.

“Not even remotely.”

“Do you think there’s any chance of the case wrapping up by Saturday?”

“God, I hope so.” He answered whole heartily. “The floor here’s not the greatest for sleeping.” He joked, running a hand through his hair and then pinching the bridge of his nose to try and offset the tired burning of his eyes.

“I can imagine. Well, if you do wrap up, I need a plus one for a black-tie shindig I’ve been instructed to attend. It promises to be exceptionally dull and boring, but the foods not bad and I’ll be there. You interested?”

“Hum, with an offer like that, how could I say no?”

“Great. Do you have a nice dinner jacket?”

“I do, as a matter of fact.”

“DiNozzo!” Gibbs barked from where he’d entered the bullpen without notice. “That call better be case related.” He growled, having gotten more and more worked up the longer their murder remained unidentified.

“I’ll let you go.” Jack drawled, having heard the demand clearly. “Call me when you’re free.”

“Will do. Night.”

“Night.”

When he hung up the phone, he immediately went back to pursuing his computer screen, trying to ignore the death glare he was getting from his boss, and the curious looks that his two teammates were trading back and forth and sending towards him. They clearly wanting to interrogate him, but not at the risk of drawing Gibbs’ further wrath. It was going to be another long night, he could already tell. Still, his mood was uplifted the slightest bit just from the brief call.

~*~

The case finally wrapped up late Friday morning and everyone was sent home for an early weekend after the reports were submitted. It was their weekend off of rotation and Tony was looking forward relaxing. He headed straight home and collapsed into his bed, pausing only long enough to text Jack and let him know he was officially free for the weekend. He crashed immediately after hitting ‘send,’ and remained that way until he was awoken several hours later by his ringing phone.

He reached for it blindly and held it to his ear after a bit of fumbling. “’Nzzo” He muttered, face still a bit smashed into his pillow but too tired to care how he sounded. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sleeping for, everything feeling too bright and disorienting in his exhaustion.

“I was going to ask if you wanted to get dinner, but maybe I should let you sleep more.” Jack’s voice came, accompanied by enough background noise that Tony figured he was probably just leaving the Pentagon for the night.

Tony forced his eyes open and squinted towards the window. “Wha’ time is it?” He asked, rolling onto his back and stretching.

“Just after six.”

“Mmmm. Dinner sounds good. I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since…” He broke off to try and remember. “huh, well, I’m sure since when. But I’m definitely hungry.”

“Feel up to going out, or do you want me to stop for pizza and beer?” Jack offered generously.

“Honestly? Pizza and beer sounds amazing.”

“Done. I’ll be there in less than an hour.”

“You’re the best.”

When they hung up, Tony had every intention of getting out of bed. He didn’t mean to drift back off, but his bed was just so comfortable after days of sleeping at or under his desk. He woke again to the scent of his favorite pizza place and the feeling of familiar lips pressing against his own.

“Mmmmm,” he moaned, kissing back lazily, hand coming up to cup the back of Jack’s strong neck. “This is a good way to wake up.” He said, smiling lazily when the other man pulled back. His eyes blinked open to see the older man standing beside the bed with his strong arms crossed and brow raised down at him, lips twisted in his familiar little smirk. Tony ran his eyes slowly down the gorgeous picture, lingering on the tight black sleeves snug against his solid biceps and again on his strong thighs. His smile widened. “A very good way to wake up.”

They’d had a case take them out of the area a couple of weeks before, and so Tony had given Jack a spare key to feed Kate the goldfish for him while he was gone. He was pleased that he’d used it to let himself in. Waking to the sight of him was much better than waking to his cell ringing to come let him in, after all. He reached a hand out for Jack to help pull him up, or at least that’s what he originally intended. When he felt the rough brush of gun callused hands against his own though, a different kind of hunger erupted and he pulled Jack towards him instead.

Jack was pulled a full step forward, not expecting the sudden force. He regained his footing at that point, but still allowed himself to be pulled down to his reclining partner until he was resting his weight a bit awkwardly on one knee, with his hands supporting his upper body on either side of Tony’s head. Jack shook his head at him, faux chidingly, but leaned down the last foot to press their lips together anyways. Tony wrapped his arms around his neck, holding him in place for several long, drawn out, minutes. He was still sleepy enough that he didn’t really get aroused from it, but rather felt like he was half way in a dream, floating on a cloud with the slightest wash of pleasure floating through his veins and originating from his lips. Okay, maybe he was still more out of it than he though.

Jack finally reached up to grab wrap a hand through Tony’s and pull one of his arms down so that he could maneuver himself back. “Your pizza’s getting cold.” He said once he’d freed himself. “You need to eat something.”

Tony let his arms drop back to the bed, an expression that he’d never admit was a pout overtaking his face at the loss. Still, he was pretty hungry, and the pizza did smell good. Maybe not as good as the faint hint of Jack’s cologne he’d been getting, but good all the same. He pushed himself up in truth, Jack climbing the rest of the way off of him to stand back on his feet.

They ended up side by side on the couch, pizza and beer already waiting for them on the coffee table. The beer was Jack’s favorite brew, Heineken, which Tony was okay with, but it wasn’t personally his favorite. Pizza was one of the things they did have in common, both preferring peperoni, sausage and extra cheese.

Tony managed two of the huge slices and three-quarters of a beer before he passed back out, head resting comfortably on Jacks thigh. They remained that way for a few more hours, Tony drifting in and out of consciousness every once and a while Jack watched a movie. Once it was late enough to go to bed, Jack roused him up and shuffled him back to the bedroom, making sure he stripped before he laid down (he’d skipped that step earlier). Pressed close together on the narrow bed, both men slept soundly until morning.

~*~

Though the next morning started normally enough, Tony could tell something was bothering Jack. There were sitting in the truck together, heading out to a brunch joint Jack had heard about. Tony didn’t like the edge of tension he could feel humming between them, and decided they should try and get it out before they arrived at their destination. “Sorry for falling asleep on you again last night,” he tried, wondering if maybe he was upset about trekking across the city to essential feed Tony and then act as his pillow. “I should have stopped for coffee on my way home and stayed up to get some stuff done.”

Jack’s expression twitched. It only lasted a second, but it didn’t look happy. Tony felt a little off kilter at the continued silence, Jack not even glancing over at him but rather keeping his focus on the road in front of them. He felt like he should say something else, but wasn’t sure what would help since he still wasn’t entirely sure what the cause of Jack’s upset was.

The older man finally glanced over at him just when he was starting to get uncomfortable, but only with a flick of his eyes. His lips curled in like they did when he was trying to prevent himself from saying something he knew he shouldn’t and he jerked his head slightly to the side. “It’s fine.” He grunted, trying to sound casual and clearly not wanting to continue the conversation.  

Tony’s frown deepened, knowing that wasn’t all there was to it. “… Next time you should just shake me awake. Or a splash of cold water. That usually works.” He tried to joke, but knew it fell flat.

Jack’s head jerked into another rough shake. “It’s fine, you needed the rest.”

“…Okay…” Tony sighed quietly, though it could hardly be heard over the loud rumble of the truck. Jack must have heard it anyway, because he looked over again, actually turning his head towards Tony with the second glance. His expression seemed to ripple, and Tony felt a little frustration begin to build at the continued stubborn silence. “Would you please just say whatever it is you want to say?” A bit of bite coated his words and Jack glanced over again, giving him a longer look.

His eyes swept back to the road and his expression seemed give in. “Alright. I don’t think it’s healthy to push a team to the point of collapse in the name of solving the case.” His tone was conversational rather than antagonistic, but Tony felt himself ruffle anyway.

“Hardly to the point of collapse.” He drawled back, waspishly.

“Oh? Okay, guess I misread that then.” Tony brows furrowed farther at the flippant attitude Jack had apparently chosen to take in this conversation. It wasn’t nearly as endearing when it was aimed towards him, he decided.

“We give everything we have to our jobs.” Tony stated firmly, a tad of offence coating his sharp pronunciation. “It’s what makes us the best. When we have a case, we don’t stop working it until it’s either solved, or we’re ordered to bounce it over to cold cases. There’s no ‘taking a break,’ or ‘starting again in the morning.’ If the price of catching a murderer, or a rapist, or a kidnapper, is my missing out on a bit of sleep and feeling a little extra tired, it’s a price I can handle.”

Jack grunted, brow twitching. His expression curled again, and Tony could tell he still didn’t want to be having the conversation, but Tony was too worked up by that point and didn’t want to let it go. His dedication to his work was one thing he refused to compromise on. Jack might be a General, sitting in an office with fairly predictable hours, but Tony was a field agent. If the older man was going to get pissy with him every time he worked a long case, things just wouldn’t work long term.

They pulled into the parking lot and then a space, but neither man moved to get out of the truck. Jack’s hands twisted on the steering wheel before he let out a breathy sign and turned to face Tony, expression seeming to say ‘might as well get it this over with.’ “Look,” When he spoke his voice was almost appeasing in their pitch, but firm and unyielding at the same time. “I’m not telling you how to do your job-”

“Damn right you’re not.” Tony cut it, earning himself a look.

“But-” the word was just a bit louder. “it’s a well proven fact that sleep deprivation has a direct impact on a person’s cognitive functions and abilities.”

Tony grew even more offended, drawing back and looking at him incredulously. “My team has the highest close rate in NCIS history and across all of the alphabet agencies.”

“Imagine what your close rate could be if your brain was allowed to actually work properly.” Jack couldn’t help but jab.

“Wow, really?” Tony asked, mouth twisting.

“Look, I’m just saying-”

“I think you’ve said enough.” Tony cut him off.

“Tony-”

“My job is the most important thing in my life, because if we don’t bring our victims or their families closure during our investigation, then they’re probably never going to get it. Statistically, I mean. I know you like your facts.”

Tony-”

Tony shook his head, still angry though with a little hurt creeping in. “My job’s not up for discussion.” He said bluntly. “I know the hours suck, and there’s a reason so many in law enforcement officers either stay single or end up divorced, so if my job is a problem you should just tell me now and be done with it.”

Jack remained quiet for a long second, waiting until Tony gestured at him impatiently. “Oh, sorry, am I allowed to talk now?” He asked sarcastically. His face twitched again right after, but Tony was too incensed to care if he regretted letting that come out.

Tony shook his head again and scoffed, moving to open the door and push himself out onto the cement. Instead of heading towards the door, he moved towards the busy street nearby. “You know what?” He said when he’d gotten around the hood, Jack half posed to exit like he wasn’t sure what the correct move was. Well, the man had fully professed to be hopeless at relationships early on, so at least he was honest about it. “I’m not really feeling brunch anymore. I’ll take a cab home.” He tossed at the older man as he raised a hand to hail one that luckily happened to be coming towards him.

Tony!” Jack tried to call once more, but Tony didn’t even spare him a glance as he ducked into the back seat. “I’ll pick you up at six!” He threw out just before the door closed. Tony’s head swiveled towards him at that, but Jack couldn’t see his expression before the cab pulled away from the curb. Still, he knew Tony’d heard him, so there was that. He sighed again, plopping back on his seat. “I mean, it could have gone worse…” He tried to reassure himself optimistically in the suddenly too still space. He had a sinking feeling he might be going to the dinner stag after all. Damn it.

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

Tony felt like an ass as soon as the cab pulled away. He let his head drop back onto the seat and closed his eyes. He remained that way for several blocks, silently berated himself for overreacting. He sighed heavily and looked around to see where they were at. They still had a bit to go before they reached his apartment, but he suddenly didn’t want confined anymore and instructed the cabby to let him out at the familiar coffee shop up ahead.

He went inside and ordered a large hazelnut latte with an extra shot of espresso, knowing he needed the boost to shake off the cobwebs still clinging to his brain. When he headed back outside, he walked around the back of the building, choosing to head the rest of the way home on foot rather than hailing another taxi. He passed a rain soaked cardboard box that looked like it once had ‘Free’ written on it before the ink ran and the side started to collapse in.

He wasn’t sure why it caught his attention at first, littering being more than a common sight, but it did. He started to walk past it when he noticed it shake a tiny bit. He immediately moved to crouch down beside it and reached out to carefully pull back one of the flaps. His heart broke a little when saw the bedraggled little puppy, curled up in a ball against the driest corner of the box.

It was hard to tell what breed it was for sure, it’s fur matted and stained a bit brown from the filthy box. He wondered how long it had been abandoned there as he reached out to pick it up. Its little body was small enough to fit in both cupped hands, and he wondered how old it was, if it was even old enough to be away from its mom.

Its eyes opened with the movement and warmth from Tony’s palms and he melted a little when he saw the sad eyes watching him, one rich brown and the other electric blue. It was a bit of an odd sight, but striking all the same. He pulled it closer, shifting it to one arm while his other hand unzipped his leather jacket. He tucked the puppy inside, lifting his t-shirt to cradle it and then zipping the jacket almost all the way closed back over the top of it. He could feel its tiny little shivers against his skin, and rubbed through the layers to try and help it warm up faster.

After thoroughly ensuring there weren’t any other little puppy's lying around, he scooped his coffee cup back up from where he’d set it and headed back around the front. He’d take a cab after all, wanting to get the little one home where it was warm and dry. God, what would he do with a puppy? He’d always kind of wanted one, never allowed as a child and never with the time as an adult. He still didn’t have the time, not really. He could barely keep a fish alive, let alone train a young dog.

That was another problem- he had nothing at his apartment equip to deal with this new addition. A cab pulled up beside him and he ducked in, rattling off his home address quickly and then tucking his coffee between his knees so he could pull out his phone. He started to call Jack, ‘more of a dog person, really’ echoing in his head and remembering that he’d mentioned having dogs before. He stopped himself before he could hit the last button, not sure how he’d be received after his drama-queen like antics just a little while before. He probably wasn’t even home yet, if he’d gone home at all. He might have stayed to eat anyway, Tony reasoned, finger hovering over the ‘send’ button that would connect the call.

He bit his lip and backed out instead, opening the shopping app for one of the larger stores that delivered in the DC area. What did puppies eat? Did it- that was another thing, was it a girl or a boy?- drink milk still? Could it eat people food? He was pretty sure he had some steak in the fridge he could chop up, but would that be okay? He didn’t want to make it sick. Maybe he should cook it first? But no, dogs could eat raw meat… Couldn’t they? They always could in movies, but then, they weren’t usually this small in those scenes.

He thumbed through the limited pet section and went a little crazy with the ordering. He selected a dozen different types of canned food, three different types of dry food (though he at least ordered the smallest bags available), and a small dog bed and a collection of toys that he’d added at the last minute. The delivery could take a few hours, he knew from experience, so he brought up a browser and started looking for the answers to all of his questions.

By the time he entered his apartment, he felt slightly more equipped to deal with the situation. His coffee had been drained on the journey so he tossed the cup into the bin and then stripped out of his jacket, leaving it in a dirty heap on the tiled floor to deal with later. He carefully pulled the wiggling mass free of his shirt and then stripped that off too. Luckily the shirt had absorbed most of the remaining moisture, so the pup had started to dry and wasn’t shivering quite as much as it had been.

He dropped the sopping, muddy black fabric on the floor beside the jacket and then moved over to the large sink. He set the puppy on the counter, keeping one hand on its back to make sure it didn’t dive off the edge while he started the water and adjusted it to be room temperature. He picked it back up and gently held it under the gentle stream, starting to rinse free the small clumps of dirt and mud matting its fur. He realized another problem then- he didn’t have any dog shampoo. Could dogs use people products? He did use a high quality, all natural, shampoo, so it should be ok to use on the dog too, right?

Deciding to risk it, he pulled the dog back to his chest, water immediate running down to soak into his pants. He’d forgotten a towel too. He really wasn’t good at this type of thing, he decided, as he carried it with him to the bathroom to retrieved both things.

By the time the dog was sufficiently clean, the rest of his kitchen was a disaster, dirty puddles pooling on the counter on either side of the sink, more puddles on the tiled floor from his jaunt to the bathroom. He didn’t bother with it then, knowing he’d need to scrub and disinfect the surfaces before he was satisfied, and instead bundling the small thing in a fluffy towel while he moved to grab the milk from the fridge and a shallow cereal bowl from the cupboard. He poured a bit of it in and then stuck it in the microwave to heat slightly.

He moved back to the living room, settling on the floor with his back pressed against his sofa. He set both the puppy and the bowl on the floor between his legs and was relieved when she started lapping at the substance (and he had verified that she was, in fact, a she, during her little bath time). Looking at her in the light of the living room and fur clean of mud, he thought she might be a German Shepard or something similar. She lapped at the bowl until she’d had her fill, then curled back into a tiny fluffy ball and settled in to sleep once again.  

Figuring he should shower himself, he carefully scooped up the tiny little body and carried her to his bedroom, pulling the small laundry basket he kept out of his closet and put a fresh towel at the bottom, pulling it so it formed something of a nest in the middle. Once satisfied, he placed her down in the center and, once he was sure she was still asleep, moved to the bathroom.

He washed quickly, but thoroughly, shaved for good measure and then dressed in a pair of loose sweat pants and a tee. He knew he was probably being a little ridiculous with the whole situation, but he almost felt how he imagined having a baby dropped into his lap would feel. He wasn’t sure what the right or wrong thing to do with her was, exactly, and he didn’t want to leave her locked in the small little basket, not after having been locked in a tiny box for who only knew how long.

So he scooped her back up and made his wake back to the living room. He realized then how hungry he was, not having eaten anything thus far, so he continued on to the kitchen to snag the box of leftover pizza out of his fridge. He carried it and her both back to the living room and the collapsed down onto his ridiculously comfortable couch.

While he ate the cold pizza, he grabbed the remote to find something mindless to watch. He settled on Balto, feeling a little amused as he turned her so that she was facing the TV. He polished off the last three pieces and then tossed the empty box back onto the table.

About half way into the movie, a knock on the door came and he moved over to answer it. It was the delivery he’d ordered, and he immediately moved to spread his new purchases over the empty floor space to examine each one carefully.

It was only once he was comparing labels on the different types of food that he got that he realized he hadn’t ordered any food or water dishes, or even a leash and collar. He needed to go to the pet store himself- a real pet store, not just a department store virtual pet isle. She seemed satisfied off the milk for the moment, so he settled deeper into the couch to finish the movie, ball of warmth huddled up against his chest.

~*~

He startled awake sometime later at the knock on his door, coming to his feet before he was aware of what was going on. The puppy was still clutched in his arms and he blinked down at it for a second before his mind caught up with his body. A second knock came and Tony moved towards it automatically

“Uh…” He blinked, confused, to see Jack standing in full dress, bar his cover, stars shining brightly on his shoulders and looking more the General he was than Tony had ever really seen him.

“So, not coming then.” Jack said steadily, though disappointment flashed briefly in the crinkle of his eyes.

“God, sorry, no, I fell asleep. I have no idea what time it is.” He explained, glancing at the wrist that was still bare after his shower. “Come in, uh, give me two minutes.” He requested, moving quickly back towards his bedroom. The wiggling puppy was deposited back into the basket and he hurried to his closet to retrieve his favorite Tom Ford tuxedo that he had waiting ready for him, choosing a wide black tie over a bow to match Jack’s uniform. He also grabbed his favorite Louboutin shoes and then moved to dress, grateful he was so practiced at dressing in the layers of a suit.

Once his shoes were on, he bypassed his everyday Omega Seamaster in favor of the Rolex that had been a gift from his Uncle Clive upon his graduation from Ohio State. Understated platinum cuff links finished off his look and he moved into the bathroom to dampen and run a bit of product to his sleep flattened hair.

He was back in the living room, dressed and ready to go, in just under five minutes, feeling grateful he’d showered earlier. Jack was standing with his hands tucked into his pockets, looking slightly uncomfortable standing alone in the middle of the room.

Tony set the basket down on the floor and moved to stand in in front of the other man, eyes downcast and expression abashed. “I owe you an apology.” He announced directly. “I’m sorry for overreacting this morning. Believe it or not, I actually do agree with you. That’s not the first time I’ve had that argument, but the last time was years ago and I was uh, on the other side of it.”

Jack raised a brow, curious, so Tony continued. “Gibbs retired, temporarily, after a head injury that caused some pretty bad amnesia. When I took over the team, I made it mandatory to have at least eight hours off a day, with the exception of child kidnapping or extremely time sensitive cases. We maintained our close rate, despite being a man down. When Gibbs recovered and came back, that rule went out the window the first Jon Doe. I said something to him about it and was informed, rather succinctly, that if I want to sleep on the job then I could go work for the Feebs. He said, ‘we don’t quit until we close the case, or we die trying.’” Tony shrugged a bit, like it didn’t matter, like it hadn’t shredded him a little bit at the time.

Gibbs hadn’t been the same when he’d come back from Mexico. He’d gotten better with time, but Tony wasn’t sure he’d ever gotten completely back to normal. His eyes darted back up to Jack, who was watching him closely. “So, anyway, sorry for, my uh,” He wiggled his fingers vaguely. “little diva moment. It’s a, uh, touchy subject.” His mouth twisted slightly.  

Jack stepped forward, cupping the side of his neck firmly and pulling him forward to meet his lips. Tony went willing, arms coming up to press lightly against Jacks chest and side, careful to avoid the glistening bits of sliver so he didn’t inadvertently smudge them. They pulled back soon after and Jack sent him a teasing look. “We all have our diva moments.” He said, playfully. “Two things though.” Tony sent him an inquisitive look, to which made Jack’s small little smirk spread into a fuller smile. “Who’s the mutt, and were you watching Balto for you or for it?”

Laughter bubbled to the surface, Tony’s face splitting into a grin of his own. “She doesn’t have a name yet,” He said, moving over to gather the basket. He would have picked her up, but he was suddenly very conscious of both of their very nice clothes, and the untidy state of his apartment. He glanced around a bit sheepishly, not usually one to leave such mess.

Jack followed him easily enough. “That’s only one of the questions I asked.” Jack taunted further.

“We were both watching it.” Tony replied, nose raising in the air.

Really.” Jack drawled slowly.

“Really.”

“Okay, then.” Jack accepted, still amused. “Where’d she come from?”

“I found her abandoned in a box on my way home this morning. I couldn’t just leave here there…” He went on to explain what he’d gotten for her so far and his overall helplessness of the situation. He also admitted that he’d almost called Jack right after, but wasn’t sure if he’d want to hear from Tony so soon after everything.

When he admitted that, Jack informed him seriously that he could always call, no matter what. Granted, Tony knew he might not always be able to get him on the line right away, but he felt warmth in knowing the other man would get back to him as soon as he was physically able.

When it was time for the two to leave, Jack suggested closing her in the bathroom with her new little bed and another cereal bowl full of water and one with a container of the wet food. Tony was informed bluntly that there would be accidents soon, and it was better for that to happen on the easily cleaned tile than left to soak into his hardwood floors.

She started sniffing and nibbling at the new food once they’d placed it in there with her, so Tony didn’t feel too bad leaving her there alone. It was still a step up from wet cardboard, after all, and comfortably warm. Jack shuffled him out of the apartment and they headed down the elevator together. When they exited the building, Tony automatically headed towards his own car, thinking it would look much better with their fancy cloths than Jack’s truck would, but the older man stopped him with a hand on his arm. “We have a driver tonight.” He informed Tony with a small shrug. “It wasn’t optional either.” A small scowl twitched across his lips as he steered Tony instead towards a sleek black sedan where the driver was walking around to open the back-passenger door for them.

“General. Sir.” The man greeted them both as they ducked into the car.

“So you still haven’t told me where we’re going.” Tony said, twisting slightly in his seat to watch his partner.

“Oh, no where special.” Jack replied, though amusement still gleamed in his eyes. Tony shook his head at him, but let him have his fun. He’d see soon enough, after all. The car slowly wound its way through the city and it was soon clear at least the area they were heading to, if not the specific building. When they pulled up in front of the White House, Tony wasn’t even really surprised. They joined the procession of nearly identical cars unloading one at a time at the foot of the steps.

When it was their turn, Jack exited first, shoulders back and excluding the confidence Tony knew he felt but rarely showed to such a degree. Tony moved to join him and they walked up the steps, side by side. The small troupe of photographers were confined to the entrance, it seemed, because once they got inside they didn’t see any more standing around. Or perhaps they just blended in better, Tony wasn’t honestly sure.

Jack seemed to know where they were going, and led with purpose until they came to the State Room, where a few dozen men and women had already gathered, all dressed to the nines and a large number of them dressed in uniforms similar to Jacks. “We should get a drink first.” Jack murmured quietly into his ear as his hand came up to rest lightly against Tony’s back and direct him towards one of the waitresses holding trays of beverages.

They each managed to snag a glass before they were pulled into conversation with someone Jack obviously knew. This happened a few more times and it was clear this type of event wasn’t Jack’s favorite, and he spent more time rolling his lips against offending the high-ranking guests then he did talking. DiNozzo’s were practically built for this type of thing, however, and Tony was well practiced at working a room. He led the small talk for the most part, charming anyone and everyone who pulled them into conversation with an ease that had Jack sending him appreciative looks throughout the night.

At one point, he leaned over and stated lowly that Tony could have been a politician. Tony laughed genuinely at that. “It probably would have made my father happier than my going to the police academy after college.” They were standing in a corner, taking a break from the constant conversation, or at least trying to. They only had a couple of minutes peace before they were interrupted once again, this time by a face familiar to Tony.

“Director Morrow.” He greeted with a smile, reaching out for a handshake.

“Agent DiNozzo, General O’Neill.” The man hailed in return. “I’m a little surprised to see you here, DiNozzo.”

“Ah, well, I had an invitation I couldn’t refuse.”

“And yet you’re so good at refusing.” Morrow replied, shaking his head at Tony, though a small smile showed he wasn’t too serious. At Jack’s curious look he continued. “I’ve been trying to get DiNozzo here to jump ship and join me over at Homeland for years. More so in the last couple of months.” He said pointedly. “He’s pretty stubborn, though.”

“It’s one of his best qualities.” Jack piped up, earning himself a fond little grin from Tony.

“You would say that. I’ve heard stories about you too, General.”

“They’re all true.” A new voice broke in, causing an honest grin to cross Jack’s face.

“Danny!” He stepped forward to pull the thinner, spectacled man into a manly hug. “God it’s good to someone here whose not-“ He faux whispered before cutting his eyes obviously first to Morrow and then around the rest of the room.

The man shook his head at the antics, looking all too familiar with this behavior. “Jack.” He said, voice a mix of fondness and resigned acceptance. “It’s good to see you too.”

“Ah, Doctor Daniel Jackson, this is Director Morrow of Homeland and Special Agent Tony DiNozzo of NCIS. My date tonight.”

“Yes, I’m familiar with Dr. Jackson. It’s good to see you again.” Morrow greeted.

“It’s good to see you too, sir. Agent DiNozzo, nice to meet you. Your date tonight, Jack? I didn’t know you were seeing anyone.”

“Well how would you? You don’t call, you don’t write-“ He exclaimed woefully.

“Sorry.” Daniel cut off pointedly. “I’ve been a bit out of contact.”

“Rub it in, why dontcha.”

“I’ll leave you to catch up.” Director Morrow cut in with a smile. “It was nice seeing you all again. DiNozzo, you have my number. Think about it. Gentlemen.” He nodded and took his leave.  

“Tony, Daniel was on my team before my reassignment.”

Tony glanced over the doctor. While he had a bearing similar to a soldier, Tony didn’t think he truly was one. He wondered silently again just what Jack did, but knew better than to pry. “Can I ask what you’re a doctor of?” He settled on, eyes darting quickly over to Jack.

“Ah, Anthropology and Linguistics.” The curiosity surged further, but he carefully concealed it. Jack took back over the conversation at that point, but seemingly more due to his excitement at seeing his absent friend than censorship.

They were joined just a couple of minutes later by an attractive blond wearing the female version of Dress Blues and a larger, muscular black man with a strange symbol pressed to his forehead, looking slightly out of place in his own, somewhat odd, dress clothes. The symbol itself didn’t seem as out of place as it could have given that Doctor Jackson was an anthropologist, assuming it was significant to his obviously foreign culture. Happy greetings and introductions were repeated, and they began catching up in earnest.

Tony was pleased to see Jack looking so animated, glad he was getting the chance to catch up with people who were obviously very important to him, and was more than happy to stand by his side as the four chatted away, mostly amongst themselves, but never making him feel ignored. It was enlightening, seeing him this way, and Tony felt like he was uncovering a whole new side of the man.

They seemed like a good group of people, and that Jack’s isolation in DC seemed a bit sadder to Tony at knowing he’d lost contact with the people who’d obviously acted as his family. It was clear, though never stated aloud, that the other three were still either stationed or frequently sent to remote locations, and thus didn’t have access to consistent means of communication.

Despite their pleasure at reconnecting, it was clear they were all fairly important people, as there were several others waiting in the wings to speak with them, and they could only politely ignore it for so long before they were forced to bow to courtesy and move on.

Still, when the president himself walked up and politely, but firmly, request to speak with you, you went along with the request. Though not directly invited to join in their conversation, Jack remained with the pair as the others broke away and moved off after a promise to meet for lunch the next day if they didn’t see each other again that night. The first lady joined them a second later, lightly grasping her husband’s arm in a familiar gesture. The president nodded to him with a familiar, “Jack. You remember Michelle.”

“Sir. Ma'am.”

“Special Agent DiNozzo.” The man greeted him with a polite smile. “I’ve been hearing your name more and more often lately. I was looking forward to fitting a person to a voice. I’ll try not to be a wise-ass tonight, if I can help it.” He japed.

Tony winced a little sheepishly, seeing Jacks eyes dart to him from his peripheral vision. “Ah, I am sorry about that, Mr. President.” He stated, remembering that fateful day he’d answered the secure number ringing their victims phone. “If I’d have known it was you, I probably wouldn’t have said that.”

“Probably?”

“Definitely,” He corrected, shaking his head firmly. “Definitely wouldn’t have said that.”

The man’s smile widened. “I hear there’s been a lot of pull to get you to accept a position in Homeland Security.”

“Oh, Uh, well, Director Morrow has made a few overtures, but I’m happy in my current position.”

“Are you?” He pressed lightly.

“Yes, Sir.”

“I’ve read your file. It’s an interesting read.”

“Is it?” Tony asked, voice just a little bit too light.

“Mmm. Tell me something, Agent DiNozzo. How is it that you can go undercover in the Italian Mafia, take down a guy like Michele Macaluso, and still be named a major beneficiary in his will- after getting him sentenced to life in prison?”

“That’s not in my file.” He tried, flippantly.

“We know everything about you, Agent DiNozzo. Not just what’s in your official file.”

Tony let out a scoff of laughter. “Michele had a phrase he always used to say, “La famiglia è più spessa del sangue. Il sangue non è niente, è fluido e agile. La famiglia è più, la famiglia è forte come diamanti.” Tony said, repeating the words he’d heard often during that period of his life.

“I apologize, Agent DiNozzo, I don’t speak Italian.”

Tony shook his head. “It roughly means, ‘Family is thicker than blood. Blood is nothing, it's fluid and pliant. Family is more, family is strong as diamonds.’ Sorry, it does sound better in Italian, doesn’t it? There was a reason Michele grew as powerful as he was as quickly as he did, Sir.” He stated bluntly. “He was a good man.”

“You sound like you admire him.”

“Don’t you? Just a little?” He challenged, referencing the millions of dollars the mafia boss poured back into Baltimore, all the good he’d done, honestly caring for the city and those in his employment and under his protection. Tony had once witnessed him shoot a man point blank for striking a prostitute across the face with a pistol, and then offer the bloodied and heartbreakingly young woman a position as a waitress in one of his many restaurants across the city.

“He murdered, or ordered the killing, of 137 people that we know of.”

“How like a politician to dodge the question.” Tony dared boldly, knowing the First Family was known for their charity work in the South Side of Chicago especially, however different of a manner they might go about it.

“How like a detective to lead his target away from answering his own question. How’d you do it?” He asked again.

Tony met him eye for eye, wondering where this was going, why this man was interested in him at all, let alone interested enough to keep pressing on a subject Tony usually tried to avoid at all costs. He had a lot of mixed feelings about that operation, he’d gotten in more deep than was wise, and he felt the resounding backlash when everything exploded. “I’m good at my job.” He said finally, not making a secret of the fact that he didn’t want to discuss this.

“That’s it? He named you his heir, called you son. Your own father disowned you when you were- twelve, wasn’t it? Did you ever think of flipping sides for real? I mean, he offered you everything you could have wanted.” The president pressed harder.

Tony’s jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth together. “I believe in the system, Sir. Flawed as it may be.” The man smiled again, seemingly pleased with his response, but Tony was beginning to feel frustrated with the line of questioning, and flustered trying to keep his calm in the face of knowing just who he was speaking with. “Can I ask what your interest is, Sir? I wouldn’t think I’d be important enough to gain your personal attention.” He almost managed to contain all of the sarcasm, and hoped the bit that shone through would go unnoticed.

“The position Tom is offering you is one among a very small and very elite group of people. I am aware of, and sign off on, every new appointment When your name started being tossed around I admit I was hesitant. You’re a man of many contradictions, Agent DiNozzo.”

“Aren’t we all?” He asked blithely, hiding his surprise, feeling torn between whether he should be flattered or offended. Granted, he knew Morrow wanted him, but he’d never shown enough interest to be given any details on what the position may entail, so he wasn’t entirely sure of the meaning behind the presidents probing.

“I suppose so.” He smiled again, only to have his attention caught by his aid standing off to the side. “You’ll have to excuse me, gentlemen. But I hope you think about the offer, Agent DiNozzo. It really is once in a lifetime and I can guarantee you wouldn’t regret it. For what it’s worth, I think you’d be a good addition. Jack.” He reached out and shook both of his hands, the First Lady following suit immediately after.

“When I heard Jack here was bringing someone with him tonight, I admit I was a little surprised.” She stated playfully when Jack pressed a familiar kiss against her cheek. “I had a hard time imaging what you might be like, but I can see it now.” She finished with a smile. She took in Tony’s vaguely dazed expression, looking amused herself. “I hope you boys enjoy the rest of your night. Dinner will be served soon.” She smiled once more and the two turned to take their leave together. Tony watched them go silently, honestly at a loss for words.

~*~ TBC ~*~ 

Chapter Text

The remainder of the event passed by much as the beginning had. Dinner was served shortly after, which was much better than ‘not bad,’ and the round tables made it much easier to communicate with a small group for a longer period of time.

It was late when the driver dropped them back off at Tony’s apartment and, after checking on the newest addition, they retired to bed. The next morning they woke slowly, pressed close together and feeling cozy beneath the covers. Tony had considered getting a bigger bed once he realized Jack was becoming a frequent addition, but a small, guilty part of him liked that the small surface forced them close. Jack didn’t seem to mind either, and so the small bed stayed.

They lazed for a good thirty minutes, Jack occasionally sliding his hand across a stretch of smooth flesh, or nuzzle into the back of his neck. It was after one of those moments that he broke the silence, voice raspy with lingering sleep. “Are you going to call Morrow?” He asked, dragging a hand across Tony’s chest to rest over the beat of his heart.

“I haven’t decided yet.” Tony replied, just as quietly. “Do you think I should?”

“Up to you.” Tony could feel the drag of his lips against the back of his neck as he spoke.

“Do you know what the job is?”

“Vaguely, but not the details. Aren’t you even curious?”

“Of course, I’m curious.” He admitted, pressing more into his warmth. “Not every day the President gives his personal recommendation. But I do like my job, and I can’t really see myself leaving it.”

“Calling to get more information doesn’t mean you have to accept it.” Jack reasoned, drawing a thoughtful hum from Tony. They conversation ended there, the two falling back into comfortable silence.

They eventually drug themselves up and to the shower together, what should have been a quick procedure becoming much longer as the sight of each other wet and naked sparked passion to life. They eventually made their way back to the bed for the main event, and then lazed some more before actually getting up and showering for real.

The pair was just getting dressed to head to the pet store before they met Jack’s team for lunch when Tony’s phone rang. “DiNozzo.” He answered it distractedly, sitting on the edge of the couch to pull on his shoes with the device pressed between his shoulder and jaw. 

“Where the hell have you been?” Gibbs angry voice barked over the line.

“What?” Tony asked in confusion, dropping his foot back to the floor and reaching up to take the phone in hand as he stood.

“I called you a half hour ago.” He growled.

“Sorry Boss, I was in the shower. I haven’t looked at my phone.”

“Rule three, DiNozzo! We’ve got a body. Get to the yard, you’re late.”

“But, Boss, come on. It’s our weekend off rotation.” Tony tried to defend, disappointment already curling in his gut.

“The other team has a triple homicide across town they’re working. You got something better to do, DiNozzo?” His voice was getting lower in his annoyance, and Tony knew he was pushing it.

Still, he couldn’t help but mummer under his breath, ‘why would I have something better to do on my day off.’

“What?!” Gibbs straight growled.

“I said I’m on my way, Boss!” Tony exclaimed sarcastically.

Both men hung up at the same time, and Tony turned to look at Jack, who was holding the still unnamed puppy, with a helpless expression.  “I have to…” Jack nodded in understanding before he could finish the sentence, the tone of the conversation having already made that clear. Tonys eyes dropped to the mismatched pair looking around curiously from her perch.

He stepped closer, reaching up to scratch under her chin as realization set in as more than a vague thought floating around in the back of his head. “I’ll have to find a home for her.” He admitted aloud, frown emphasizing the lines starting to linger between his eyebrows. “Thought I’d at least have today to figure out a plan. I guess I could take her to the shelter on my way in. God knows when I’ll be able to come back home.”

“What? No!” Jack argued strongly, already growing attached to the cute little mutt. He’d been thinking about getting a dog of his own for a while now, he just hadn’t gotten around to it. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll go to the pet store myself and get the stuff you need, and I’ll keep her at my house until you’re done with the case. Even if it runs into the week, I’m home by six anyway. That gives us plenty of time to get things figured out.”

“You don’t mind?” Tony asked, peering at him hopefully.

“Wouldn’t have offered if I did. Go, before the bear gets even grumpier. Call me when you’re free.”

Tony smiled at him and leaned forward for a gratitude filled kiss. “Thank you.” He said, heartfeltly.

“Happy to do it.” Jack brushed off, returning the gesture gladly.

“Lock up when you leave?” Tony requested, pulling away to gather his badge, sidearm and keys.

“Course. Good luck.”

Tony smiled at him again, expression showing the words he wasn’t quite ready to say yet, before he hurried out the door and down to his car, knowing Gibbs would already be furious with him for missing the first call, and then not calling back. Though he never bothered to leave a message, he expected that the missed call alone was enough to gain a response.

~*~

About an hour later, Tony was sitting at his desk combing through their victim’s financial records when his phone chimed on his desk. He picked it up to see a photo from Jack of a tiny little collar and leash colored in shades of blue, and dotted with stars and suns to look like an endless galaxy spread across the material. He smiled at it and typed his response back immediately. - I like it. -

-  You could name her Nebula. - Jack sent after a couple of minute pause, followed quickly by another picture. The second picture was a screen shot of an image of a galaxy that was split down the center in a glowing slash, bright blue coloring one side and a rich brown filling the other half in a near perfect representation of her eyes.

- That’s gorgeous. What’s it called? - Tony sent back.

- IC 5070. -

Tony chuckled aloud. - Is it really? - He typed.

-  Well, or the Pelican Nebula, but I never really liked that name. -

- Either way, I like it. Nebula it is :) –

Gibbs growled at him, and he glanced up to see all three of his team members watching him curiously. He set his phone back down with a murmured ‘Sorry, Boss,’ and got back to work. It buzzed a few more times, and Tony discreetly checked it when he was able, though he was sure to do so when he wouldn’t be noticed.

The case ran until late Tuesday, and when he got off he didn’t even think about it before heading straight to Jacks, though he did at least have the foresight to text him that he was on his way over. Jack has responded that the door was open, so after tapping lightly on the surface, he let himself in.

When he arrived, he found Jack stretched out across his couch, hockey game playing on the TV and the recently dubbed Nebula sleeping in a tiny little ball on his stomach. The entry to the room was in the direction of Jack’s feet, so he didn’t think he’d been spotted yet, or heard over the sounds of people screaming on the TV. He pulled out his phone and discreetly snapped a picture before dropping the device back into his pocket and making himself known. 

“Hey.” He greeted, leaning down for a kiss. Jack smiled at him lazily, reaching up to hold him in place for an extra couple of seconds. When he pulled back, Tony reached down to scratch gently at the top of the fuzzy head, smiling as she woke slightly enough to nuzzle him back. “How was she?”

“She’s an angel.” Jack said easily, reaching down to carefully scoop her up and deposit her into Tony’s waiting hands. She wiggled around to get comfortable again and then was content to stay there, mismatched eyes hidden behind closed lids. “You know,” He continued, pushing himself to sit up and watching Tony with a content look on his face. “I don’t mind having her here whenever you have to work. It could be like a shared custody thing.” He joked, almost hesitantly, and it seemed like he wanted to continue but wasn’t sure if he should.

“I couldn’t ask you to do that, Jack.” Tony denied initially, knowing his crazy, unpredictable schedule was enough of a strain on any relationship, without adding the care of an untrained puppy during those same time periods.

“I would like to.” Jack insisted, and Tony saw the honesty shining through his eyes and remembered him saying he’d been thinking about getting a dog. It would be a good solution, he knew, as he spent most of his off time with the man anyway. Really, it’d be almost as if she were Jack’s dog, with Tony getting visitation, and there he went thinking of her as a child again. Still, the analogy fit the situation. It didn’t upset him to think about it that way, but rather made that more and more commonly felt warmth settle in his stomach when he thought about more nights like this one, coming from work to find the two relaxing together and waiting for him. Jack must have read something on his face because he continued slowly, watching his face carefully. “There is another option.”

“Oh?” Tony asked, already feeling a small flare of disappointment as he realized he didn’t want another option, that the one playing through his mind was... perfect.  

“You could move in with me.” It took a second for the words to compute, and when they did his expression turned to one of light shock. It hadn’t, honestly hadn’t, even crossed his mind. He hadn’t lived with anyone since he was engaged to Wendy, God, it’d been decades ago now. Jack easily read it on his face and hurried to continue. “I mean, no pressure or anything. I could just watch her when you’re at work, if that’s what you want.”

“We’ve only been together for four months.” Tony finally managed to utter, mind swirling with the possibilities and a part of his mind already jumping to consider what he’d need to do with his apartment.

“Closer to five, really.” He joked and then sobered. He stood up and took Nebula from Tony, depositing her onto her bed that was set beside the couch and then stood before his partner to ensure his full attention, resting his hands lightly on Tony’s upper arms. “Look, I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve… Well, I’ve learned not to waste time with the things that are important to me. You’ve become very important to me. I don’t know what I’d have done with myself if I hadn’t met you. You’ve made being in this awful city worth it. I like having you around, even if it’s just eating takeout and watching old movies. I suppose I’m trying to say that, well,” He scrunched his nose slightly, trying to find the right words and silently berating himself for being so worthless when it came to talking about feelings. “I’m falling in love with you.” He finally said bluntly, deciding to just get on with it. “And I like having you in my house and in my bed, and I want you here as often as I can get it. If you’re not ready for that than I understand, but, well, there it is. Cards on the table.”

“Jack,” Tony near whispered, stepping further into his hold so that Jack’s arms moved to wrap him in a loose hug, and allowing himself to want like he hadn’t in a really long time. “What if, what if things don’t work out? What if…” He let out a choked laugh. “Well, I’ve been told I’m easier to deal with in small doses.” He finished self-deprecatingly.

“Hey, I’ve been told the same thing!” Jack joked and shook his head. “I’m not saying that this is necessarily going to be a forever thing, but I’m also not saying that it’s not. Even if we do break up eventually, I enjoy having you here now, and I’d like to have that as much as possible. If that’s a couple of nights a week, that’s okay too.” He reassured again. “And for what it’s worth? I don’t see myself getting sick of you.”

“I have to warn you that I can be really cranky in the morning, sometimes, and I play piano at two in the morning after a bad case, and I’m terrible about leaving the milk out, and I have a ton of clothes and too many movies and…” Jack cut him off with another small smile. “I already know all of that.” He reminded him.

Tony shook his head with another laugh, this one a bit louder. “God, I feel like a twenty-year-old. Okay, yes, I’d love to move in with you.” Jack smiled brightly and closed the small gap between their lips to pull him into a euphoric kiss, which quickly rose in intensity. They lost all track of time and ended up eating a dinner of cold, left over take-out near one in the morning, and then curling up together to sleep in what was newly dubbed ‘their room.’  

When they woke the next morning, not even the short night of sleep and exhaustion still clinging to him could bring down his mood, and he was practically buzzing when he walked into the bullpen. They, luckily, didn’t have a new case waiting for them and so mid-morning Tony was able to head down to see Abby, excited to share the news with someone.

~*~

The next couple of weeks passed in a blur of work and packing. Tony had decided to rent the space out as a furnished apartment, knowing it was primly located in the expensive city and not figuring he’d have any trouble finding a tenant.

They’d settled in to living together easier than Tony could have hoped, it feeling as natural as their frequent visits had before they'd made it official. Only, instead of Tony coming over to visit, he was coming home. Jack’s house was a bit further from the Navy Yard than Tony’s apartment had been, but it was a small price to pay for what he gained and so he accepted the extra fifteen minutes to his commute happily. He quietly filed his change of address paperwork with HR, at the same time changing his next of kin from Gibbs to Jack, so that the man would be notified if anything happened to him in the field, all without anyone but Abby being the wiser.

It was a couple of weeks after that, a Friday night coming into June, when things took another turn. Tony and Jack were settled in the living room, curled up together on the couch and watching a movie when a knock came on the door.

Tony glanced over his shoulder, but Jack clearly wasn’t expecting anyone. The older man pushed himself up from his position behind Tony with a small grunt, displeasure radiating from him, and trudged across the room to the front door. Tony pushed himself to a sitting position while he waited to see who it was.

He was a bit taken aback to see a familiar face walk into the living room, Jack trailing behind him easily, though still looking a little annoyed at the unexpected arrival. “Director Morrow!” Tony exclaimed in surprise.

“Good evening DiNozzo. I’m sorry to drop in on you boys unannounced, but some conversations are better had in person.” Tony had finally given in and called Morrow to request more information about the position, but the man had been in back to back meetings all day and thus unavailable. He’d left a message requesting the man call, but he hadn’t expected a personal visit.

The man took a seat in the armchair, Jack offering him something to drink and the director accepting a beer. He came back with three and then settled back beside Tony on the couch. “So.” Morrow began once everyone was comfortable, the whole situation feeling a little bizarre for Tony, but he figured he should get used to seeing high ranking officials in a casual setting considering who he was now living with. “You’re finally ready to hear what I have to say?”

Tony had to smile at that. “I’ve had quite a bit of encouragement to hear you out, Sir.”

“I'll take that. So, there’s three levels of information I can give you. The first is very vague, but doesn’t require signing any paperwork. The second requires an NDA and gives a bit more, and the last would be you accepting the job and getting read into the program, with requires a lot more paperwork.”

“Let’s start with the vague one first, since the only thing I know is that it involves Homeland.”

“Fair enough. We run a multidisciplinary, multinational program under direct oversight of the President and a few other countries. Our home base is in Colorado, where Jack here was the commander before he came to join us in Washington. We frequently deploy expedition teams that contain a mixture of personnel , including military, scientists and medical staff. The Air Force has primary command,  but we also have numerous naval, marine and army personnel in our ranks. It's a very diverse group of individuals.  We have several established classified bases that have either semi-permanent or rotated staff, depending on the parameters of the location. With me so far?”

“Yes Sir, but I’m not military, a scientist, or a doctor, so I’m still not seeing where I fit in here.”

“As the program continues to expand, so does the number of people involved.  While our screening process is, intense, to say the least, it cannot contain all facets of human nature. We’ve had a couple of instances where we could have used a trained investigator to get to the bottom of things, but no one with the clearance to do so. If you were to accept this job, you would remain stationed primarily in DC, but would be expected to travel to our various outposts should it become necessary, and report your findings and recommendations back. You would be under my direct command, and report directly to me.”

Tony glanced over at his partner, but Jack’s face was blank and expressionless, clearly letting Tony decide this for himself. “What would I do when there’s not an active investigation?”

“The same as you do now, I imagine. Paperwork, reports, work on cold cases if you want. If you want more responsibility, we could talk about making you a part of the hiring process for new recruits. It’s been discussed a bit already, to have you interview new candidates to get your take on their character.” The older man shrugged lightly. “But it’s hard to make those kinds of plans when we’re not sure who our investigator will be. You’re my first choice, and the President has allowed me complete authority with filling this position. That said, he is getting antsy for it to be filled. If you’re not interested, I will have to move on to my second-choice candidate soon.”

Tony frowned thoughtfully, turning over everything he’d heard so far. It definitely sounded interesting, and that curious part of himself wanted to know exactly what Jack did, but he just wasn’t sure if was for him. He imagined investigating on remote bases would be mostly petty things, done more out of boredom and isolation than out of malice. The work he did with NCIS was important, they solved real crimes, arrested real criminals, they made a difference. Could he give that up to write up reports on bored soldiers and scientists sniping at each other? “Can I think about it?” He asked finally.

“I can give you a week.” He agreed graciously. “It also comes with a pay boost, great benefits and, barring offsite investigations, normal hours.” He added, trying to sweeten the deal, clearly seeing that Tony wasn’t convinced. “And, if you decide you don’t like it and want to move on, it’ll open just about any door you can imagine, with my personal recommendation.”

They spoke for a few more minutes, though less about the job and more just chatting, Jack finally joining in here and there. Morrow took his leave a bit later, and the two eventually settled back into position to finish their movie, but Tony’s mind was lightyears away, jumping between his loyalty to his current position, and the burning curiosity to explore this new possibility.

~*~

The weekend passed by without a case, and Tony reported into work Monday morning as normal. The day was dedicated to working old cold cases and they were dismissed at five. Unfortunately, they were called back in just after nine when a body was discovered.

Already in a mood from being called in himself, Gibbs ripped into him as soon as he pulled up to the scene. “Where the hell have you been?” He demanded. “You should have been here thirty minutes ago. You think we want to be standing around here waiting for you to decide to show up?”

“Sorry boss, there was an accident on the 11th street bridge, traffic was stopped up, had to go around.”

“If I wanted your excuses, I would have asked for them. Get to work.” He growled, Tony moving to join McGee and David without another word.

“You don’t have to take the 11th street bridge from your apartment?” McGee pressed immediately, curious. “Don’t tell me you had a date on a Monday night.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Probie, but I’ve moved.”

“What? But you love your apartment! You’ve lived there as long as I’ve known you.”

“And now I live somewhere else.” Tony growled. “Is this relevant?”  

“Well, no, but Ducky’s with the body and we’ve already sketched and took pictures. We’re just waiting to load up and head back to the yard.”

“Lovely.”

“You did not ask for help moving?” Ziva’s accented voice joined in sounding a little offended at not knowing about it.

“Abby helped.” He replied shortly.

Abby knew you were moving and didn’t say anything?” McGee cut in.

“Why should she have?”

“I, well, because she tells me everything.”

Tony laughed at that and patted him on the shoulder. “Keep telling yourself that, Probie.”

McGee’s shoulders drew back in his offence. “She does!” He defended.

Tony raised a pitying brow at him. “Did she tell you she helped me move?”

“Well, no, but…”

“No ‘but’s’ McGee. Trust me, there’s a lot about Abby that you don’t know.” Ducky and Palmer exited the alley beside them then, body on the stretcher and securely enclosed in a nondescript black body bag. Their arrival cut off of McGee’s further protests, which Tony figured was probably for the best. He couldn’t decide if it was amusing or sad that the younger man though he knew everything there was to know about their favorite Goth, recalling the drunken conversation they’d shared laying on a pile of pillows on his living room floor not long after she and the probie had started the physical side of their relationship.

He’d learned more than he cared to remember about what McGee was like in bed that night, despite his attempts to stop her drunken ramblings, but he’d also heard her woefully list all of the stuff she couldn’t, or wouldn’t tell him, how she knew they’d never last because he was just such a soft, squishy little marshmallow inside, and she didn’t think he could handle all of her without having a meltdown.

She was right, of course, as much as the probie had followed her around like a love-sick puppy, he was way too nice for her. Abby needed someone as strong as she was, someone who could handle her at her more willful, and someone who could keep up with her when she felt her darkest, when she dressed in leather and lace and headed to the shadiest, most grungy, illegal basement rave she could find and indulge in her darkest desires.

Tony had accompanied her on such an escapade more than once, more out of a desire to watch over her and make sure she was safe than for himself. He could blend in as well as he could anywhere, but it’d never really been his scene. They’d gone once since he and Jack had gotten together, the older man there while he got ready.

Tony had dressed in painted on jeans so dark they looked black, a pair of thick soled combat boots over the top with the laces left loose and open at the top, and a half sleeve length button up in a steely grey color that also hugged him tightly. He’d never admit it, but he’d also added a small bit of kohl to his lash line. These nights with Abby were the only time he’d do it, but he did secretly like how it made his eyes look. He’d left off all jewelry, and only had his license and a small amount of cash in his front pocket. His hair had been spiked up into a spikier look than normal as well. It was an altogether different look on him, and Jack had been a little taken aback when he’d exited the bedroom. Still, the older man’s eyes had ran down the length of him, head tilted to the side. “I kind of like it.” He announced finally as their eyes met, a predatory heat taking root.

Damn, but he wished he was home in bed. He shook the wandering thoughts off and focused back on the scene before him. “There’s no visible cause of death, Jethro. Liver temperature says he’s been dead for about four hours, but I won’t know more until I get him back to autopsy.”

“Alright, Duck. Let me know when you’ve got something.”

“Of course.” The pair from autopsy hustled back over to the NCIS ME van and started packing him in. Orders were barked to start looking for surrounding surveillance cameras and to take statements from people in the area.

It was a couple of hours before they were back at the yard, combing through surveillance to see if they could track where their marine had been before ending up in the alley. Abby came bouncing out of the elevator a second later, heading immediately to the screen mounted on the wall and bringing up the facial rec and finger print search they were running on the man who’d been without identification.  

Though a close up of the man’s face appeared, all other information was locked under the tag ‘classified.’ Gibbs tried his own credentials, to see if his higher level of security would allow access, followed by Tony whose expansive undercover background actually bumped his own security level above that of his boss. All three were denied access, though Tony was studying the man with a frown.

“What have you got, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, catching the thoughtful expression.

“I think I know this guy, boss. Or at least, I’ve met him before. His name is David Sorenson.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“He was in dress blues when I met him. Didn’t realize it was the same man at first. He has a wife and three kids.” Tony finished quietly.

“Where did you meet him? What else do you know about him?”

“Uh,” Tony glanced around at all of the people focusing on him, a bad feeling settling in his gut. “I met him at an event at the White House a few weeks ago.”

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

~*~

McGee and Ziva automatically traded looks, but Tony didn’t grant them his attention. Gibbs was frowning at him like he was trying to figure him out, though Tony couldn’t have guessed anymore what he was looking for. Still, he held the narrowed gaze more out of habit than anything, waiting for his boss to decide he was ready to move on.

Gibbs tore his gaze away to shoot a look at McGee, who immediately moved to start pulling up information. “What was the date?” Gibbs questioned, looking back at Tony.

“It would have been, uh, May 16th.” He replied, thinking back. McGee immediately began trying to pull up information from that night, but wasn’t having any luck. Most functions held there were a matter of public record, often with guest lists and plenty of photos for political publications, so it was unusual to not immediately get results.

“Uhh, Boss, it’s all listed as classified as well.” He said finally, voice just shy of meek. “I can’t get into any of the files.”

Gibbs’ face grew stony. “Keep trying.” He commanded, and all present knew that he meant by any means necessary. Tony’s face scrunched slightly, knowing inherently that it wasn’t a good idea for him to be prodding into these particular records, let alone thinking about hacking the White House database in the first place.  Even Tim hesitated, but at the glare from Gibbs he began moving again, if a little slower. “You got something to say, DiNozzo?” He demanded next, catching Tony’s expression from the corner of his eye.

Tony wanted to shake his head immediately, but forced himself not to. “Are you sure that’s a good idea boss?” He finally forced himself to say, pitching his voice to be the least challenging it could be.

Instead of answering, Gibbs focused his full attention back on him. “Tell me everything.” He commanded. “Starting with what type of event it was, since it doesn’t seem to be available.”

Tony carefully kept his face blank, fingers itching to grab his phone and text his partner, feeling just how out of control this could all spiral if he approached it wrong. Gibbs had, more than once, been compared to a dog with a bone, and Tony knew that he didn’t consider levels of classification and ‘need to know’ of any concern, not when it came between him and a case. He may still not know exactly what this program entailed, but it was more than obvious that it’s security and secrecy were maintained to the highest degree. He couldn’t see Director Morrow, Jack or the President taking too kindly to unwelcome probing into it. But how to get that across without making the bull headed marine dig in his heals out of obstinacy?

Again using every skill he had available, Tony carefully pitched his voice with his reply, hoping to head it off. “I’m not sure what the actual title of the event was, Boss. It was a formal cocktail hour and dinner, from what I could gather, honoring particular members of a classified program.” He said being vaguely detailed enough to hopefully do it.

Ziva spoke up then, unable to keep to sharp looks anymore. “How would you attend such an event if you do not know what it was for?” She questioned sharply, tone a cross between mocking and dismissive.

He had to stop himself rolling his eyes. “It was a ‘plus-one’ type event, Zi-va. I was a plus-one. They weren’t exactly talking shop over apéritifs and hor d'oeuvres.” He said, French rolling off his tongue with perfect sharpness. “The people who got the invitations knew what they were there for.”

“It must have been strange for you to be the plus one.” She pressed further. “Who was she, Tony? The personal assistant? Young secretary? Waitress?” Her eyes narrowed as she tried to read him, but Tony sent her a dismissive look at her attempts to goad him, once again barely preventing himself rolling his eyes (he blamed Jack for the behavior- his partner preformed the gesture way more often than he should be able to get away with it for a man of his age and rank), and turned back to Gibbs.

“What else did you learn about Sorenson?” He questioned once Tony’s attention was back on him.

“Uh, not much. We only talked for a couple minutes. He’s a Marine Captain, his wife’s name is Jennifer, his kids are 12, 7 and 4, named Jenna, Matthew and Lilly.” He shook his head, remembering the other man’s friendly demeanor and feeling a swell of sadness for his young family.

“That’s it?” Gibbs demanded when Tony didn’t continue.

“That’s it.” When the older man glared he felt a flare of defensiveness rise. “I was making small talk, Gibbs, not interrogating him.” He managed to stop himself from finishing the sentence with, ‘you do remember what small talk is, right?’ “I must have talked to fifty or sixty people in uniform that night. He didn’t particularly stand out.”

“McGee, search for the wife. See if you can get anything to come up on her.” That search yielded more results; utility bills, bank transactions, school enrollment records and the like. It showed her as married to a David A. Sorenson, his birthdate and his that he worked at ‘Enlisted: USMC.’ Aside from his name being listed on the title of their house and the birth certificates of their children, he was a ghost.

Frustrated, Gibbs spun once again back to Tony, sure there was more he could tell them if he thought hard enough. “Who else was there? Who else did he talk to?”

Tony cringed just the slightest amount. “Uh. I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell you that, Boss.” At the ever-darkening look, he hurried to continue. “It’s just, I signed a contrast stating I wouldn’t discuss anything classified I inadvertently see or hear, and I’m pretty sure this qualifies. Anything I could tell you would be inadmissible anyways, voided by the contract.” He tried. He’d noticed, when reading through the pages and pages of legal jargon, that the constraints of the contract actually expanded to include anything he might see or hear regarding classified materials as they relate to General J. O’Neill, or the work that he’s involved in- whether it took place in his home or elsewhere.

 He wasn’t entirely sure if the guest list counted, but he figured it was probably better to play it safe. He rambled on as he was prone to do when he wanted to be annoying enough to force attention off himself. “Plus, you know, I only talked to the guy for a couple of minutes. And really just a couple, not even a few. Pleasant guy, strong handshake, typical Marine. Wife was a gem, sweet as pie, from Georgia, though I guess I should say sweet as a Georgia Peach. I never really liked peaches, to be honest. To slippery for my taste- not really slimy, but slick, you know? So I never really liked that expression. It fit her though-” Gibbs was starting to redden in his anger so Tony decided to cut himself off before it got too much worse.  “You could just… Call the White House and ask for a copy of the guest list?” He tried again, more recklessly, knowing he was poking the bear but unable to resist.

Their Team Leaders voice dropped to a dangerous level. “Does it look like I care what piece of paper you signed, DiNozzo?” He pressed slowly, voice like steel. “If you know something that could be relevant to this case, you’d better start talking.”

Tony silently cursed at how well the older man knew him and his tricks, not losing focus in the slightest. “I do know one of the people he reports to, though I’m not sure where exactly where on the chain they fall. They knew each other, at least.” At the expectant ‘get to it’ look he continued, knowing he was going to regret this, but not seeing another way out of it. “Uh, it’s a secure number, so I need to be the one to call it, or he won’t answer.” He informed them, pulling his cell out slower than normal.

He cringed a little again when he saw it was just after midnight, glancing back up at his boss before deciding the older man wasn’t going to be put off until morning. He moved several steps away, turning his back for some small semblance of privacy as he dialed.

“Tony?” His partner answered almost immediate, sleep already clearing from his voice at the unexpected, middle of the night, call.

“Hey, sorry to wake you.”

“No, it’s fine. What’s wrong?” He could hear him shuffling to the side of the bed and once again wished he was home. It was a novel experience for him and he liked the thought of it almost as much as he hated being kept away from it.

“Uhm, so, I know this is random, but do you think you could come into NCIS? There’s something you need to see.”

“What is it?” He asked, voice sharper, the General starting to sneak into his tone. He wasn’t good with not knowing what was happening, and he didn’t fancy waiting until he made the drive in to find it out. “Tony?” He continued when the other man didn’t immediately answer.

“Okay,” Tony said, wishing he could make his voice more soothing to deliver the news he was about to, but he was already feeling exposed and uncomfortable in his current setting, and so it came out feeling a little too cold. “Jack, I’m sorry, but the body we found last night was Captain Sorensen. I didn’t realize who he was at first,” He admitted, voice softer. “But when we ran facial rec and fingerprints everything came up classified. It was at that point that I even recognized him, or I would have called you sooner. Gibbs wants answers, and he’s going to keep going until he gets them, one way or another.” He warned quietly.

Jack was silent for several long seconds, taking that in and then running through everything it would mean and everything that needed to be done. First though, he needed more information. “How did he die? How long ago?”

“Time of death was around six o’clock last night, and we don’t have a cause of death yet. We’re waiting…” The phone was ripped away from his ear.

“Who is this?” Gibbs demanded down the line, glaring darkly at Tony for sharing that information so easily.

“General Jack O’Neill. That’s with two ‘ells.’ You must be Agent Gibbs.” A dry voice stated, unconcerned with the sudden change, causing the agent’s eyes to narrow further.

“You were Captain Sorenson’s commanding officer?”

“Well,” He drawled, “more like his commanding officers’ commanding officers’ commanding officer? Yeah, that sounds about right. Or close enough to it. Care to finish filling me in?”

Gibbs checking himself was a visible process, and it was clear he was only barely keeping a civil tongue because he was speaking with a General. The importance of rank had been instilled in him long ago, and, however much he might dislike it, he’d follow it until he had a reason not to. “How about you come down to the Yard, Sir? I’ve got some questions of my own for you.” His tone was as mocking as it was harsh, and Tony cringed a little for him.

Though those at NCIS couldn’t see it, the smile that curled Jacks lips at that was cool. “I’ll be there in an hour.” He promised and hung up before Gibbs had the chance to get another word in.

He growled as he threw Tony’s phone back against his chest. “He’ll be here in an hour. I want to know as much as possible before that happens!” He barked, striding back over to his desk and harshly dialing down to autopsy, letting it ring over the speaker.

“Yes, Jethro?” Ducky’s voice came, sounding as it always did despite the lateness of the hour.

“How long until you’re done, Duck?” He demanded.

“Well, I’m actually just finishing up. You really do have impeccable timing, though I would have appreciated the extra two minutes I need to finish sewing the poor boy up.

“We’re on our way.” Gibbs said shortly, reaching down to disconnect, but Ducky spoke up again before he could.

“There’s not really any point, I’m afraid. I’ve found no obvious cause of death. This young man is in perfect shape, he had no injuries, no obvious signs of a heart attack, stroke or any other natural cause. Abby has some blood and tissue samples, of course, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait for her to find out what made such a fit young specimen well, end up as he did.”

Gibbs growled again, hitting the button to disconnect the call and turning to storm towards the stairwell anyways, tossing one last command over his shoulder as he went. “I want those files, McGee. And I want this guy on surveillance! He didn’t just appear there!”

Once he was gone, the three slowly retook their seats, Tony once again trying to ignore the furtive looks the others were ending towards him. He wondered which one would crack first, silently betting on Ziva. When McGee spoke up not even a minute later, Tony felt a flare of disappointment. He’d been such a promising probie before the Mossad agent had joined them and started whispering in his ear. Now he was near as bad as her- worse, in some cases. “How’d you do it?” Is what he led with, prompting Tony to look up at him with furrowed brows.

“How’d I do what, probie?”

“How’d you get an invitation to the White House?”

Tony frowned at him, shaking his head. “I already told you, I didn’t get an invitation, my date did. My going wasn’t a big deal.”  

“Not a big deal!” He exclaimed, sounding almost angry. “Did you meet the President?”

Tony sighed heavily through his nose, pushing down the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Honestly, he wanted to tell them to get back to work, but he was hoping Jack would arrive before his team to go back to trying to hack into the White House, so he supposed he could deal with the interrogation to buy him some time. “Yes, McNosey, I met the president. But only for a minute- he’s a busy man, after all. I doubt he even remembers me.”

“Why wouldn’t you say anything?!” He demanded again, and Tony didn’t understand why he was so angry. It’s not like him knowing about it would have altered it in any way. Truthfully, if Tony had said something about it on his own, the others probably would have claimed he was either bragging or lying. He rarely said anything about his personal life at work, or rather, rarely said anything truthful. He’d occasional go on about a bodacious body or a smoking hot date, but only because he knew how much of a rise it’d get out of the two and sometimes he just couldn’t help poking at them.  

“My personal life is none of your business, McGee.” Tony drawled slowly, dismissively, drawing a bit of angry color to the other man’s face.

Ziva rose then, coming around to sit on the edge of his desk and leaned over him, studying him and, he knew, trying to make him uncomfortable with his lower position in his chair. He didn’t give her the satisfaction, sitting back casually and crossing his left ankle over his right knee, head tilted to the side as he met her hooded gaze.

“We are friends, are we not?” She chose to start with.

Tony raised a brow at that. “Are we?” He questioned. “I mean, sure we’re friendly enough at work. And I suppose we go out for drinks once a year or so…”

“I thought we were friends.” She pouted down at him, crossing her arms and accentuating the curve of her bust.    

A smirk curled the corner of his lip at her attempted ploy, having become accustomated to it ages ago. “Oh? Okay, Ziva, sure, I guess we’re friends.”

“And friends tell each other things, yes?” She peered at him through her dark lashes.

“I suppose.”

“But you did not tell us of this? You did not tell us you were moving? What else aren’t you telling us?”

Tony’s brow rose once again from where it had relaxed. “Huh,” he rubbed his chin, looking thoughtful. “Well, let’s see, I had Fruit Loops for breakfast. Got an oil change last week. New tires on my car a couple of months ago. How about you, Ziva? Anything going on in your life you’d like to share?”

“Are you still dating the person you accompanied?” She pressed, ignoring his own inquiry. 

Tony paused, eyes darting over to an enthralled looking McGee at his own desk before looking back at the woman, toying with what he wanted to say. He wouldn’t deny it, not when asked outright, but he wondered what her interest was. She rarely wanted to hear about his dates or anything else to do with his life, so he’d stopped sharing it years ago. He was honestly a little surprised that this was the direction she wanted to press, in light of everything going on. He decided to proceed bluntly, wondering if it’d throw her off kilter. “What’s your interest, Ziva?” He asked, emphasizing the second half of her name.

She shrugged almost sensually. “It is the kind of things friends share, yes?”

He smiled at her, but it was calculating. “Yes, I’m still dating them.” He decided to answer.

“Are you living with her? Is she why you moved from your apartment?”

Tony blinked to hide his surprise, but he really shouldn’t have been. She’d always been good at putting those types of clues together. Still, “Mmm, sorry, that’s not correct.” He answered with a insipid smile.

It was her turn to blink, this time in confusion. “Are you living with her or are you not?”

Tony clucked his tongue in response. “That’s not correct.” He said again.

“It is a yes or no question, Tony.” She said, starting to get frustrated. For being former Mossad, she was frightfully easy to rile up.

“You’re asking the wrong question, Ziva.” Her confusion increased, as did her annoyance, which was clearly breaking through sensual strategy she’d still been playing on. Luckily, or unluckily, Gibbs reentered at that moment and the thunderous look on his face was enough to send her scurrying back to her desk without another word, though she did glance at him again once she was seated.

“Abby found an unknown substance in the Captains blood. It may have been the cause of death. If he was poisoned then I want to know who did it!” Gibbs barked, moving over to his desk to pull open the drawer and grab his gear. “I’m going for coffee. When I get back, someone better have something to say!” He left again as suddenly as he’d come, Ziva and McGee both jumping back to work so they’d have something to offer in approximately ten minutes. It wasn’t a lot of time to work with, and neither of them wanted to bear the brunt of his wrath.

Tony tapped away at his computer, but wasn’t really doing much. He had a pretty good idea how this was all going to play out, and he had a feeling it might be time to move on after all. He’d been doing a lot of soul searching over the past few days. He was at an age now that he wanted certain things out of life, more so now that Jack had reminded him just how good a comfortable routine could be.

One of the things he wanted was a work day that didn’t leave him rung out and bone tired. Yes, the work they did was important, and he was good at what he did, but he wasn’t a spring chicken anymore and there were newer, shiner, agents in the wings, waiting to get a little tarnished. He’d been looking at the personnel files of the probationary agents on reserve, and there were several very promising men and women waiting for a chance to prove themselves.

He’d always thought he would take over the MCRT when Gibbs retired, and maybe move on to AD at some point in the far future, but he was realizing it was never going to play out like that. Gibbs had already shown retirement wasn’t for him, so Tony couldn’t see him leaving again any time soon. Even if he did, Ziva and McGee had shown they didn’t respect him to lead their team, and they’d likely taint any new addition with the same disregard.

They’d never be his team, they’d always be Gibbs’. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, he supposed, but it wasn’t what he wanted the rest of his career to be like. He wanted to be in a position where he once again respected the person he reported to, and knew he was respected in turn. He’d lost that feeling at some point along the way, and he’d never really gotten it back.

So, instead of searching for information on David to feed his angry boss, he pulled up the copy of his resignation letter he’d had written since he’d first started at NCIS, and had updated one more than one occasion through the years.

He glanced over it quickly, changing a few little things and adding a few more. He dated it and printed it a second later, scribbling his signature in the appropriate slot and then tucking it into an envelope that he placed in his desk drawer. By the time he was done, Gibbs was coming back and looked just as piqued as he had when he’d left.

It was clear none of them had any new information, so he clenched his jaw and moved over to his own desk. “Anything?” He asked regardless, always pressing for more than he knew they could give.

“I’m still trying to get into the files, Boss. The security is intense.” McGee said first, after exchanging a quick look with the other two.

“There is nothing odd in the wife’s finances, Gibbs.” Ziva said next. “All of their bills are set to auto pay, she goes to the same grocery store every Saturday, gets her hair done every three weeks…” The woman shrugged helplessly. “Unless she has another bank account, there is nothing unusual.”

“And you, DiNozzo? Find anything on surveillance?” He barked.

“Nothing yet, Boss.” He replied simply, not glancing over.

Gibbs growled again, dropping angrily into his own seat, silently commanding them to get back to work, and so they passed the earliest hour of the morning.

~*~

Jack’s arrival came suddenly and unexpectedly ten minutes earlier than he’d stated it would. It came unannounced, Jack’s rank and identification allowing him to order the gate security to not call ahead and warn the team, and it came accompanied by three men in military uniform following faithfully behind him. Tony recognized all of them from the dinner.

The team stood immediately at the arrival, Gibbs coming out from around to desk to stand a couple of feet before the other silver haired man.  “General.” He growled out. “This isn’t what I meant by you coming in. The guards are unnecessary.”

Jack glanced behind himself casually. “Oh, they’re not guards.” He said easily.

“Whatever they are, they can wait for you here. I have some questions for you. If you could follow me?” The last bit was said mockingly, but he wasn’t expecting the other man to say no.

“Oh, that won’t be necessary.” Jack said blithely. “If you could just show me what you’ve found so far?”

Gibbs smiled, but it wasn’t friendly. “I’m afraid that’s not how this works. General.” He tacked on at the last second.

“Oh?” Gibbs narrowed his eyes, the flippant behavior not what he’d been expecting.

“You’re a part of our investigation. You don’t get to know the details.”

Off to the side, Tony was captivated on the scene before him, as were his two coworkers. The men who’d accompanied Jack didn’t act like anything unusual was happening, standing at loose attention at their commanders back, ready for whatever order he might give.

“I’m part of your investigation?” Jack laughed aloud. “How did I manage that?”

“You’re the only lead we’ve got so far. Give us something else to go on.” Gibbs challenged.

“Well, see, that won’t be necessary either, as you no longer have an investigation. Feel free to go home, Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs-“ He drew out his rank pointedly. “It’s late. We’ll take it from here.” 

The sound of the elevator rolling to life sounded in the otherwise silent space, and they heard Abby before they saw her. “You can’t just TAKE my evidence!” She shouted angrily. The elevator doors opened and she pushed the uniformed and armed man out of the doors. The man was holding a box that he’d collected all of the blood and tissues samples, as well as printed reports and anything else related to the case that had been in her lab. The man allowed the motion, looking at Jack slightly helplessly as he was manhandled by a woman nearly as tall as him and wearing a short, pleated skirt and tank top under her lab coat, pick tails swinging with the force of her motions and boots thick and heavy enough to be a dangerous weapon all of their own. Jack shot him a quelling look, so he continued to move more easily than he otherwise would have.

“Gibbs!” She yelled. “He’s stealing my evidence!” Once the elevator had closed behind them and continued on to the destination he’d originally selected, she released the pressure on his back and moved around him to glare with her arms crossed. She looked over then, and her eyes widened from their narrowed state to one of shock and the beginnings of betrayal. “Jack?” She asked in disbelief.

“Sorry, Abby. Standard procedure.” He did sound a little apologetic when he met her eyes.

“You know him, Abby?” Gibbs demanded, looking between the two.

“Of course I do. He’s-“ She cut herself off, but glanced over at Tony regardless. Tony shook his head the slightest bit at her, lip curling. She’d never been able to keep a secret. Not that he was trying to keep anything a secret, per say, he just wasn’t willing to blatantly offer up the information unasked for. 

Gibbs’ phone rang then, sparing him from having to explain immediately. “You’ll want to get that.” Jack suggested glibly. Gibbs pulled it free of his pocket, keeping eye contact until he was holding the screen up. Only then did he look away, and he frowned darkly when he saw that it was Vance calling. He answered it regardless, looking back up to make lock eyes once again.

“Yeah, Gibbs.” He said, voice dangerously soft.

“Gibbs, you are to turn the case over to General O’Neill and his men immediately, and release any and all evidence you’ve collected. You’ll also delete any remaining files or documentation post haste.” Vance stated directly, sounding a little harassed himself. It wasn’t surprising really, not with one am in the rearview mirror.  

What?”

“You heard me. That’s an order from SecNav, Gibbs. Do it now.” Gibbs pulled the phone away and hung up, fury growing.

Jack smiled blithely, rocking back on his heals as he clapped his hands together. “So, as I said, feel free to head home for the night. Agent DiNozzo, if I could have a moment?”

Tony rose with a small nod of agreement, leading him to the stairwell to give them a small amount of privacy and not risking looking at his team in that second. “I’m sorry.” Tony stated immediately, once they were alone.

Jack shook his head slightly. “It’s okay,” He reassured. “His team was exposed to a toxic substance on their last mission that went unnoticed on their return check. We were able to identify the toxin and issue the antidote in enough time. The others will be fine. Captain Sorenson must have gotten a bigger dose of it, but him doing so saved the rest of his team. He’d be okay with that.” He finished, certainty in his voice, though it still held a sad note. Jack had liked the other man, Tony knew, though the two didn’t have much direct contact.

Tony nodded, stepping closer for a light kiss and then a longer, loose, hug. “Sorry you’re going to have to deal with him.” Jack offered next, a bit of wiry amusement in his voice, lips close enough to brush against his neck as he spoke. “He looked pretty angry.”

Tony shuddered slightly from the sensation, and he felt a smile form against the same spot. “I’m not, really.” He offered lightly. “I decided that I’m going to take Morrow up on his offer.”

Jack pulled back at that, meeting his eyes squarely and studying him. “Are you sure that’s really what you want to do?” He asked seriously.

Tony smiled easily and nodded, already feeling at peace with the decision. “I’m sure.”

Jack smiled back at him then, eyes crinkling as he let Tony see just how happy that made him. “It’s going to blow your mind.” He promised, darting in for another kiss.

Tony laughed, pulling back. “We’ll see about that.” He tried, but Jack shook his head at him, eyes bright. “No, you have no idea. You’ll see soon.”

He nodded his temporary agreement, though he still wasn’t fully convinced. How unbelievable could it be, after all? He’d seen quite a bit over the course of his life, there wasn’t much left that could surprise him. Jack could clearly read that thought on his face, because his smile grew even more impish, and he had to restrain himself from saying more just then. “We should get this over with.” Tony finally said instead, gesturing back to the door they’d come through.

Jack stole one more kiss, this one all together more intense, pressing the younger man back against the wall for several long seconds before he finally released him. Tony found himself pressed back against the cold stone, hands gripping the handrail behind him and near breathless as he was left to himself once more, feeling bereft.

Jack’s eyes ran over him heatedly as he regathered himself enough to step forward, straightening his button up at the same time. Tony ran a finger across his bottom lip, feeling it erupt in tingles at the movement and cleared his throat to help get himself under control. Though Tony wouldn’t admit it, seeing Jack go toe to toe with Gibbs so easily- Gibbs who intimidated subordinates and superiors alike- and come out so breezy and unruffled on the other side had already started his blood rising. The man truly did hit every one of his kinks and it was sexy as hell. He’d always appreciated a strong, powerful and unrelenting nature when he’d look at members of his own sex. He wouldn’t say he had a type, per say, but if he did, Jack definitely would have been it. Thus, even a little heated kissing in the dank stairwell was enough to have him standing at half mass.

Jack seemed to know and enjoy it as well, if the smirk he was still wearing was any indication as he continued to watch Tony gather himself into a state fit to face his boss. When doing so no longer felt like an impossible task, Tony stepped forward to begin climbing the stairs they’d absently moved down, not willing to risk the temptation of kissing the man one more time.

Jack followed him easily, and if his hand reached out to brush against Tony’s waist, well, who could blame him, really, when such a man was his to touch?

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

The scene they entered back into was tense, to say the least. Abby had retreated to stand behind Gibbs, arms crossed and clearly torn between righteous indignation and reluctant understanding of the situation. McGee and Ziva were standing side by side, and the four soldiers waiting for Jack seemed content to ignore the daggers being shot their way.

Tony moved back to his desk and collected the flash drive that they’d compiled all of the surveillance footage on, along with the few random paper’s he’d collected, and handed them easily off the man holding the box. “Major Castleman.” He acknowledged amicably.

“Agent DiNozzo.” The man nodded in turn, shooting him a small smile. Tony had quickly realized that Jack bringing him to that particular event was akin to him posting a billboard (though, one in a severely restricted area) advertising their relationship. While neither man was overly affectionate in public, or rather, in the company of others, they’d made no attempt to hide the nature of their relationship that night, and those who hadn’t known the General was seeing someone previously were definitely aware by the nights end. The older man was completely unashamed, and with the repeal of DADT, there was no longer a requirement to be discreet. Even so, Tony had been vaguely surprised how easily everyone there took the development. Between his career in law enforcement, and the sheer military presence at the event, he would have expected at least a couple of dirty looks, but none had been forthcoming.

Jack had told him afterwards, voice a little petulant, that his men liked Tony more than they did him. Apparently they’d taken to calling him Jack’s ‘better half,’ not only because Tony was so friendly and amiable, but because his presence caused the infamously tight lipped General to speak more at that event than he had at all the one’s he’d attended previously. Tony could tell it was all good natured, that those under Jack’s command clearly respected him as a leader and as a person. You could always tell the good commanders from the bad in the way their subordinates treated them. Tony had seen, time and time again, shared comradery and mutual respect exchanged as they’d rounded the room, and if he wasn’t already sure what kind of man Jack was before that night, there wouldn’t have been a doubt left at its conclusion.

Granted, those emotions only seemed to apply to those in his command, because the regard he’d treated the politicians remined just within the constraints of polite conversation (with only a couple of exceptions). 

“I don’t know if the General told you,” the Major continued, nodding at his commanding officer. “But some of the boys are getting together for a game of football this Saturday. I hear you used to play.”

“Ah,” Tony laughed slightly with a small shake of his head, resolutely ignoring the daggers he could practically feel colliding with his back. “That was a long time ago.”

The man raised a brow at him, darting another glance over at Jack. “Heard you were first string quarterback for Ohio State.”

“Well, that might be true, but it was still a long time ago.” He smiled crookedly.

“Back home we were outnumbered by the Zoomies, so we split the rest of us against them. Here we’re all outnumbered by the Brass. Being NCIS, I figure that makes you an honorary one of us, even if you’re not actually military. We could use you on our team.” He cajoled.

“Now wait just a second.” Jack protested, face twisting to show just what he thought of that idea. “I haven’t even said we’d come, and if we do, I get him on my team.” He said, definitely not pouting. “I’ve got…” His eyes darted over from Abby to Tony quickly, and then down to the floor before he looked back at the Major. “dibs.”

“You’ve got ‘dibs,’ sir?” The Major attempted to keep a respectfully straight face, but he couldn’t help but let a mocking little smirk curl one corner of his mouth. A muffled feminine laugh sounded, and Tony covered his mouth discreetly to hide his own smile, remembering the night that had started that conversation amongst the three of them.

Jack’s eyes narrowed at the Major, seeing the amusement clear as day. “It’s a… thing. Anyway. We ready to go?” He asked, changing the subject as he tucked his hands loosely into his pockets.

“Yes, Sir.” The man stated firmly, straightening the slightest bit at knowing they were moving out. “The others are waiting outside.”

Jack nodded at him easily before he turned back to the rest of the room. “Agents.” He dipped his head lightly to them, glancing at Tony once more, but not singling him out directly as they turned to go. They were half way back to the elevator when the resounding echo of a hand meeting a skull cracked through the quietness of the room.

The five military men paused, all turning to look back at what happened. Tony had sat back in his chair to begin closing out of his computer, only for his boss to finally let lose all of his displeasure about the present situation, displeasure that he was no doubt piling on Tony’s shoulders. It was he that called the General, after all, no matter the fact that it was only because of pressure from the boss.

Jack’s eyes narrowed in on the point of contact with laser focus, fury lighting his eyes as they slowly traced from Gibbs’ hand, and then up his arm and onward until their eyes met. The two silver haired men exchanged heated glares, Gibbs’ challenging, Jack’s holding a deadly warning, all signs of amusement wiped from his handsome face.

Tony’d frozen at the contact, the force of it sending a spike through his brain and causing a headache to immediately rise to the surface. He’d been expecting it, of course, but he thought the older man would at least have the common sense to wait for the interlopers to leave before making his move. Jack had heard of the infamous head-slap, via Abby’s overenthusiastic retelling of a story, but Tony had done the best he could to play it off as a minor thing, a tap more than a slap. The sheer force that sounded made it clear it was no small tap on the back of the head, and rather more akin to a concussion inducing blow.

He’d closed his eyes at the stab of pain, but had opened them again as quickly as his brain could relay the command. The resulting stare down was fraught with tension, and Tony watched with a small feeling of apprehension. Gibbs wasn’t saying anything, though his posture clearly dared the General to challenge him in this. Jack though, Tony had never seen Jack look so angry at someone before, so fixated and predator like. It sent a thrill shooting down his spine and brought back that so recently tamed ball of lust back to life low in his abdomen, despite the new throbbing in his temples and the utter inappropriateness of the situation. The soldiers at Jacks’ back were trading looks, clearly wondering how this was going to play out after all, and all looking nearly as unhappy as their commander as all of their postures’ tightened.

Tony knew he couldn’t let things get any more out of hand though, so he opened his desk drawer, the sound drawing the attention to him as he carefully pulled out the pristine looking envelope. He looked up, pointedly meeting his partner’s eyes and told him, “I’ll see you at home in a bit.” Jack eyed him carefully for a long moment, and Tony wasn’t sure if he was going to back down. He needed him to though, needed Jack to know that Tony was capable of standing on his own two feet. Finally, when Tony was starting to get nervous, Jack nodded. The move was small and tight, but it was a nod at that was all that mattered just then.

He turned and left without another word, jaw taunt and moving with a dangerous, liquid grace, as he bypassed the elevator and moved instead for the stairwell entrance. His soldiers followed like faithful ducklings, though the looks they’d exchanged and shot at the NCIS agents clearly showcased their own disquiet with the situation. 

As soon as the heavy door shut, Tony felt a second, even harder, slap connected with his already sore head. This time he allowed his own anger to bloom, having kept it in check before long enough to get his partner out of the immediate vicinity, if not yet out of the building. Gibbs began speaking then, in the same tone of voice he used to speak to some of their worst perps, and that caused his anger to burn even brighter because really, what did he do to deserve that? Follow the orders of his superiors? SecNav? Of Gibbs, himself?  “We will talk about you conduct after we close this investigation. Right now, you’d better get back to work.”

Tony pushed his chair back and stood in one fluid motion, spinning so that he was on the other side of his desk- not out of fear, but simply not wanting to even be near the man in that moment, so great was his irritation. “There’s no work to do, Gibbs.” Tony spat, barely keeping his tone on the right side of civil. He realized then that he’d been calling the other man the moniker of ‘boss’ less and less often lately, and felt even more sure of his decision. “There’s no investigation. There’s nothing to do but go home.”

“There is an investigation until we find whoever was responsible for the death of our marine.” His voice was silky and dark. “Which is going to be even harder now that you’ve handed over the only copy we had of the surveillance footage. We’re going to have to start pulling the tapes all over again.”

Tony shook his head, incredulous. “It’s already done, they’ve already solved it!” He exclaimed, trying to get the man to see reason.  And even if they hadn’t, even if it were still an ongoing investigation, Gibbs would be so far out of line ignoring a direct order from the Secretary of the Navy, Tony didn’t see how the man thought his own job would survive it. “Picking up the evidence was just them tying up the loose ends! You’ve got to let this one go.”

“Did Jack tell you that?” His partner’s name on Gibbs’ tongue sounded twisted and wrong, clearly showing what he thought of that development being fairly clearly revealed during the conversation and then confirmed just before their departure. Tony knew it wasn’t because he was living with another man- Gibbs had long known he was bisexual, and wasn’t prejudice in that way at all. No, it was likely more to do with the fact that the man was Air Force, and a General at that- two things Gibbs had shown his distaste for more than once. That the man had so blasély used that rank against him couldn’t have helped, nor could the further demand from SecNav, who Gibbs disliked a little more every time the man involved himself in one of their cases, seeing the oversight as his skills as an investigator being questioned. 

“Yes, as a matter of fact, he did. Sorenson’s team came in contact with the toxin Abby found in his blood on a classified assignment. They’ve already identified it and treated the rest of his team. There’s nothing to solve, Gibbs. It’s done.” Tony repeated, seeing that he was finally getting through to him, though he looked like he still wanted to press on. He shook his head again, knowing Gibbs would want to get to the bottom of it himself, verify the information himself, if nothing else, but this was not an area he could dig around in unchecked.  

His opinion clearly had no influence on the situation, and he wondered why he was still trying. If the man wanted to ignore a direct order, on his head be it. The others would have to decide on their own who’s authority they were loyal to- Gibbs, or the organization as a whole. So he picked up the white envelope and held it out for the older man to take. Gibbs looked at it, but made no move to accept it. “Is that something to do with the case?” He asked instead, voice a quiet challenge.

“No.” He said firmly. “It’s my resignation, effective immediate. I’ll be taking my backlog of vacation time in exchange for two-weeks’ notice.” Tony informed the room bluntly, eyes locked on glaring blue.

Gibbs reached out to accept the envelope then, and Tony handed it to him willingly enough. He wasn’t surprised when Gibbs tore the thing in half and then quarters, and tossed the scraps into Tony’s own wastebasket. “You can resign when I say you can.” Gibbs stated lowly.

Tony met him stare for stare, ignoring Abby’s gasp of surprise and apprehension in the background, along with that of his teammates, who still stood frozen in the corner of his peripheral vision. He hadn’t told her that he’d decided to accept the job yet, though she’d known there was an offer on the table. “I’ve also emailed a copy to the Director. I’m more than happy to give my official recommendation for McGee to be promoted to your Senior Field Agent, and I’m also prepared to recommend a new probie from the pool if you’d like.” He continued, unmoved. “I’ve reviewed all of the personnel files, and there are a few that I think would be good additions to the team.”

Gibbs was growing angrier, if that were possible, at the knowledge that this wasn’t a sudden decision, and Tony knew there’d be no reasoning with him in that state. His eyes dropped for a second, as he considered the full implications of what he was doing. Even still, he felt no regret. “I’ll come clean out my desk tomorrow.” He finally said, pulling open the drawer to remove his service weapon and badge and then set them, almost reverently, on the desk before Gibbs. Those two accessories had been a part of his life for a long time, he knew every scratch and ding on the metal and the story behind them. He knew they’d be replaced soon, but it still felt odd to part with them, knowing it’d be the last time. “I do appreciate everything you’ve taught me, Boss,” He continued once he’d pulled back, wanting the man to understand how much he really did appreciate him. “I’ve learned a lot from you over the years. Lessons I’ll never forget. Thank you.”

“Tim, Ziva,” He said next, turning away from Gibbs’ almost disbelieving expression. “It has been a pleasure working with you both, despite our occasional ups and downs. Watch each other’s backs, yeah? And whoever replaces me. Tim, if you need advice on being the SFA, feel free to call me. Abby, I will see you for poker Friday night.” Abby was the only one who smiled at him or really even reacted, everyone else still too shocked. She bounced forward to pull him into a strong hug.

“Ohh, Tony! Nothing’s going to be the same anymore!” She professed, sounding close to tears, despite her smile.

“Sure it will.” He reassured her softly, hugging her back and then playfully tugging on one of her pig tails. “We’ll still see each other all the time. We just won’t work together anymore. It’s not like I’m leaving the city.” He reminded her.

She sniffled softly. “Tell Director Morrow I said ‘Hi.’” She finally said when she pulled back. Despite the wateriness of her eyes, she was clearly happy for him.

“I will.” He promised, leaning forward to press a brotherly kiss to the side of her forehead.

“And tell Jack he’s on the naughty list for stealing my evidence!” Tony sent her a quelling look, but her expression was stubborn and he knew she’d hold it over the General for a long time to come. He settled for shaking his head at her, and said “You can tell him yourself when you see him this weekend.” She liked the sound of that, if her gleeful expression was any indication, and he couldn’t help but shake his head at her again. He’d been doing that a lot, he realized. “Whelp. Guess this is it.” He tucked his hands into his pocket, glancing around the room once more.

No one else moved to respond, and he pretended like that didn’t hurt just a little bit. He rolled his shoulders as he turned, keeping them straight and his strides steady and even as he made his way to the stairwell, also choosing to bypass the elevator. He didn’t allow himself to stop until he’d reached his car, and even then didn’t allow himself to linger in the parking garage.

He drove home without consciously thinking about it, mind feeling both full and blank at the same time. He’d pulled into the driveway and then just sat there for a long few seconds. You think he’d be used to this by now, having once changed jobs every two years or so. He’d been with NCIS so much longer than them though, for half his career now. Knowing he’d no longer be there was an odd thought, not matter how much he was looking forward to diving into this new adventure.

He brushed off the slight melancholy and climbed out of this car. Jack’s truck was already parked, so he knew the other man had beaten him home. When he walked in, Jack was lavishing attention on the wide awake Nebula, kneeling on the floor as she paced around him and jumped up to rest her tiny little paws on Jack’s knee. The sight made his heart swell and feel just a little bit lighter.

Jack looked up at him as soon as he entered and rose from his position in one smooth motion, scooping the pup up at the same time. He stepped towards Tony, reaching out to snag the glass of Scotch he had waiting, and then pressed it into Tony’s hand at the same time he pressed a kiss to his lips. Tony accepted both happily, lips curling against Jacks and his free hand coming up to scratch at the puppy that was now nuzzling his chest from his position between them.

“How are you?” Jack asked immediately when he pulled back, eyes focused on his expression.

Tony didn’t answer immediately, but rather tilted his head and thought it over. “I’m good.” He said finally, smiling once again. “A little anxious I suppose, but good.”

“Should I ask how it went?” He asked next, though he’d relaxed a bit at Tony’s reassurance.

Tony grimaced slightly. “As well as I could have expected.” He answered honestly. “But it’s done. I’ll call Director Morrow tomorrow. Or, later today I suppose.” He lifted the glass to take a sip, sharp flavor serving to relax him even further. He hummed and shot a small smile at the older man. “Thank you.” He said, lifting the glass to emphasis.

They moved closer to the couch together, Tony setting the glass down on the end table so that he could shrug his jacket off. Instead of hanging it immediately as he would normally do, he tossed it haphazardly on the back of the armchair and then sat as he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top third of his shirt. Once he was more comfortable, he grabbed the glass and leaned back into the comfortable cushions. Jack sat at the other end and then placed Nebula in the space left between them.

She regained her balance and started moving towards him clumsily, tiny little tail waggling away unevenly. Tony turned in his spot, bringing his right knee up in front of him and leaning against the left arm rather than the back of the couch so that he was facing his two companions. Settled, he leaned forward and starting petting the excitable little thing.

He glanced up at his partner to see Jack watching the two of them with a small, crooked, smile, which widened when their eyes met and Tony smiled back at him. Jack leaned forward himself to draw him into a liquor flavored kiss, and Tony felt himself settle completely, feeling almost like jello.

They pulled back after a long moment, and both turned their attention back to the fluffy body demanding it. They stayed there long enough for Tony to finish his nightcap and for Nebula to settle from her excitement at seeing them both again, and then headed upstairs. Tony took a quick shower and then joined Jack in bed, feeling warm and comfortable despite the nights upheavals. Jack turned and wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him close, and Tony had no trouble falling asleep.

~*~

Jack had to leave for work the next morning, but Tony took advantage of his sole day of unemployment to lounge in bed until almost ten. When he did rise, he took Nebula outside to try and encourage her to do her business and then indulged in brewing himself a fresh espresso (he’d brought his own machine from his apartment), and cooking himself a spinach, feta and tomato omelet with a side of bacon. The bacon he ended up sharing.

Only once breakfast was had and the mess cleaned and put away, did Tony finally pulled out his phone.  He dialed as he sat down in the armchair, absently rolling one of the little balls he’d gotten that first day across the floor, Nebula bounding clumsily after it. 

“Agent DiNozzo.” The man greeted before he could announced himself.  

“Director Morrow, good morning. Is now a good time?”

“Perfect time, actually. I’m free until two. I’m hoping you’re calling me with good news?”

“I’d like to take you up on your offer, Sir.”

“Well now that’s great news. I was starting to think I was going to have to find someone else. When can you start?”

“I’m free anytime.”

“What about your notice at NCIS?” The man questioned shrewdly.

“I requested to use my backlog vacation hours in lieu of notice, being as we were between cases.”

“Yes, I heard about that. We appreciate that you notified General O’Neill of the situation. You saved three lives in doing so. The toxin had few side effects, unfortunately, so it was able to go undetected. It’s likely the other members of Captain Sorenson’s team would also have succumbed without realizing anything was wrong had we not known to check. Thank you.” 

“Just doing my job, Sir.”

“Of course.” Tony could hear the small smile in his voice before he changed the subject. “If you’re free, I can have you come in and fill out your paperwork now, get you read in, show you what you’re going to become a part of.”

“I can leave now.” A thrum of excitement filled him at knowing he’d finally get some of the answer’s he’d been wondering about for months now. “Where should I be going?”

“How familiar are you with the Nebraska Avenue Complex?”

“Honestly, Sir? Not at all, beyond where it’s located.”

“Come in the main entrance, I’ll have someone waiting to bring you up.”

“I can be there in thirty minutes.”

“Great. See you soon.” Director Morrow stated, sounding satisfied, before he hung up.

Tony headed into the bedroom to dress in something more appropriate than his sweats. The house was larger than one man truly needed, but it was nicely designed and had an enormous back yard considering its location within the city. The yard was fenced and lined with thick trees and shrubbery, both of which served to help block out the sounds surrounding them and create an almost country-like atmosphere. The previous owner had even built a koi pond to one side, creating the tranquil sound of water bubbling as it cascaded down the small fountain built into the side of it. It was an oasis of peace in a city that was anything but.

The yard was the main thing that had attracted Jack to the house, the others being that it was close to the Pentagon, and that there seemed to be a little more room between neighbors than average. The large kitchen was nice, but Jack could have made do without it, and he’d used the large dining room to place a regulation sized billiard table.

The master bedroom was spacious, with a jacuzzi tub ensuite and a huge walk in closet that Jack definitely could have done without when he bought the place. Before Tony had moved in, his own clothes took up less than a quarter of the space and it had looked almost laughably empty. Lucky for Tony, because he had enough clothes of his own to just about fill the rest of the space. Tony wasn’t an overly sappy man, but he did have the brief thought that it was almost like Jack’s house was built for him to move in. Aside from having just the right amount of clothes, his piano fit perfectly tucked up against a large bay window, allowing him to either gaze outside while he played, or close the curtains if he preferred. There was also a built in entertainment center with enough empty shelving to host his entire media collection. Moving in had felt like the last piece of a puzzle falling neatly in to place, a feeling that he was honestly still a little high on, even weeks later.  

Tony was dressed and out the door within a couple of minutes, and made good time through the city. As promised, a young man was waiting for him and clearly knew what he looked like. “Sir, if you could follow me, Director Morrow is waiting for you.”

“Thank you- ?” Tony phrased like a question.

“Ben Matthews, Sir. I’m Director Morrow’s aide.”

“Nice to meet you.” Tony said, shooting the younger man a friendly smile.

“You as well, Sir.”

“You, uh, don’t have to call me ‘Sir.’” Tony informed him.

“I’m the one who prepared your paperwork, Sir. Once you sign everything, you’ll technically outrank everyone in the chain of command barring the Director, himself.”

Tony paused for a brief second, blinking at Matthews In surprise. “I will?” He asked.

“Yes, Sir. Were you not informed of that?”

“I haven’t gotten all the details yet.” Tony replied, voice a bit light.

“Ah, well, I’ll let Director Morrow fill you in. Here we are.” He nodded at the door they were approaching, and the younger man knocked briefly and then entered. Tony trailed in behind him to see the Director seated behind his desk, several stacks of folders and neat piles of papers taking up an intimidating amount of space on the desk.

“Thank you Ben.” The man first said, nodding to his aide. The young man nodded in return and then exited the room and shutting the door behind himself. “Have a seat.” He said to Tony next. “We’ve got a lot to go over.” He gestured at the mess, and Tony had the thought that Jack might just have been right about him literally getting buried in forms.

Ugh, paperwork.

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

The paperwork took well over an hour, but luckily not all of the stacks were things to sign. Several of them were for him to read on his own time to get caught up on different aspects of the program. Tony was tempted to try and start flipping through them then, still largely clueless, but restrained himself rather admirably, if you asked him. 

Almost immediately after signing the last form came a light knock on the Director’s closed door. To his surprise, it was no other than Jack himself who entered. Tony shot him a look of confusion, but only received a small smile in return. He turned back to Morrow, hoping for an explanation, but the man was standing from his seat and moving around the desk. “We’ll be heading to the programs Base of Command for the show and tell.” The man informed him as he came to stand beside them. 

Tony rose as well, still frowning. “The base in Colorado?” He asked, a little chagrin. Even if they made the trip by aircraft, it was still something like 1,700 miles away. “Will you at least fill me in on the way?” 

“There won’t be time for that I’m afraid. Jack?” 

Jack stepped closer until he was within arm’s reach of both men. He raised a hand to press a button on the com already in his ear, invisible to his companions, and stated, “Beam us up, Scotty.” With anticipatory eyes locked on Tony. As soon as his hand dropped from his ear, he clasped both men by a shoulder. Tony shot him a look of bemusement, but before he could question his odd behavior the strangest sensation came over him and everything began to glow brilliantly bright. Or maybe it was him that was glowing? It was hard to tell. He instinctively tried to take a step back, but Jack’s hand tightened and Tony reminded himself that he trusted the older man. 

A second or so later, the glow faded and Tony found himself in an entirely different setting. They were standing in an extremely high-tech, gunmetal grey room that was filled with a handful of Air Force personnel and a whole lot of computer screens and what looked like 3D star maps. Tony blinked around himself in shock, eyes inevitably drawn to the large viewing windows at the front of the room, only to see what looked like a wall-hang of Earth far below them. 

He ripped his eyes away, realizing then that Jack had moved slightly away and was speaking with the two men seated before the window, and mentally shook himself back to awareness. He glanced around again, trying to take in more details, and then shuffled forward to look closer at one of the screens. Jack came back then, smiling at him broadly. “What do you think?” He asked slyly. 

It took a second before he could speak. “Is this.. What… Are we on a spaceship?” He finally settled on, having a hard time getting his question across. He was pleased to note that his voice sounded fairly normal, despite the jumbled thoughts that were filling his head. 

“We are. Welcome to the Prometheus!” He stated with a flourish, throwing his hands out for emphasis. Tony couldn’t help by laugh, what might have been the hint of a hysterical note woven into the sound, and looked around once more. 

There was just so much to see, so much to look at! But, if this was a spaceship, and one with Star Trek beaming technology, of all things, what did that mean for the rest of this top-secret program? Sure, he’s started thinking up a few bizarre theories in his continued ignorance, but nothing quite on this scale. His mind started to piece things together, the established bases, the mixture of personnel, some of the odd, fragmented, stories Jack had told him over the months, and then he started re-examining them under the light of this new information. 

He wanted to think he was dreaming, and maybe he was, but as unbelievable as the sight before him was, the growing pile of facts and information said otherwise. Of course, being who he was, he pushed past the mind-shattering aspect of the program itself and latched on to the most comfortable of the questions that he had. “Did you name your spaceship after the ‘Alien’ trilogy sequel ‘Prometheus?’” 

Jack looked a little taken aback himself. “Uh,” He frowned. “Not sure? Never heard of it. I thought they named it after the Greek tragedy, you know, the Titan ‘Prometheus?’ That would make sense though. Huh.” 

Tony smiled at him fondly. “Should have named it the Enterprise.” 

“Thank you!” Jack exclaimed, regaining his smile. “That’s exactly what I said!” 

“Did you get outvoted?” 

The expression on the older man’s face could have been called a pout. “Didn’t even make it to the vote. Something about the decommissioned aircraft carrier ‘Enterprise,’ and the ship getting its own name.” He shook his head, realizing he was getting distracted. “You’re taking this very well.” He observed then, eyeing Tony carefully. 

“Ohh, I don’t know if I’d say that.” Tony drawled. “More like, I’m saving my freak-out for the end of the tour. No point holding things up in the middle, after all.” 

Morrow rejoined them then, before Jack could reply, and Tony wasn’t sure what he had been doing since they’d arrived.  “We should head on then.” He announced jovially, having heard the end of their conversation. The man nodded towards the front of the ship, and Tony tried to take in as much as he could as that glow enveloped them again and he once again found himself somewhere else entirely. 

The second stop was much more spacious. They were in what looked like a concrete bunker, behind a thick glass window overlooking a huge room. The room beyond was largely empty, though there were several armed soldiers standing guard within. Aside from the men, the only other object present was a huge, ancient looking ring with a large platform built up to it. He wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but it must have been either very important, or very valuable, to warrant such tight security. 

Jack and Morrow were once again talking, this time with the two men seated in front of the glass. They were joined just a minute later by a friendly enough looking man about Jack’s age, wearing a light blue shirt and tie, two stars sewn into the strap of either shoulder and two sets of Air Force wings gleaming proudly from his chest. 

“Tony?” Jack stated lightly, causing Tony to turn fully and step by beside him. “This is Major General Henry Landry. He’s the Base Commander of Stargate Command. Hank, this is Anthony DiNozzo, he’ll be filling the role of Investigator for the SGC. You already know Director Tom Morrow.” 

“General.” Tony said respectfully, accepting the offered handshake. 

“Agent DiNozzo. I’ve been hearing a lot about you lately.” 

“Oh? You know, people keep telling me that. Not sure how I feel about it, to be honest.” He smiled charmingly, latching onto the conversation to give himself something to focus on, something to stabilize himself with. 

“You’ll find the chain of gossip here is worse than high school. Most of our personnel don’t get off base much, you understand. And even when they do, there’s not much they’re allowed to talk about.” The General shrugged casually, and Tony smiled in response. 

“I saw a little bit of that when I served as Agent Afloat. The curse of monotony, I suppose. And please, call me Tony.” 

“Call me Hank. And, yes, I rather suppose it is.” 

“Hank here weaseled his way out of the presidential dinner, or you would have met him then.” If Jack sounded petulant in that statement, the gleam of laughter and slight smirk gave away that he was joking. 

“You’re just jealous that your old excuses don’t work as well with you actually stuck in Washington.” Landry shot back lightly. 

“You know, it actually hasn’t been that bad.” Jack revealed lightly, head tilted with a small shrug. 

“Oh no? Remind me what you said about hijacking the Stargate and going to live off planet before the years’ end?” 

“Well how lucky was it then that New Year’s Eve was the night I found something worth sticking around for.” His tone sounded droll, but the quick look he shot towards his partner had a smile tugging at Tony’s own lips, though he was trying to remain composed in light of the life altering revelations so casually being flung around, one after another. 

“Lucky indeed. We’d have been sad to have lost ya.” Despite the still flippant manner the two were speaking in, Tony got the feeling it wasn’t entirely in jest. He wondered if Jack really would have disappeared to live on another planet. God, that that was even a possibility! Don’t get him wrong, Tony had casually wondered if there might be alien life somewhere among the stars. 

He’d never been an overly religious man himself, leaning more towards atheism at this point in his life than anything. People who absolutely refused to believe in the possibility of life existing in one of the infinite other galaxies glowing away in the depths of space, had always seemed a bit narrow minded to him. How conceited must we be to believe that we are all there is, when we can’t even begin to envision, let alone understand, a fragment of what’s out there? 

Despite that generalized set of emotions towards the subject, he’d never been one to invest himself in thinking about it too deeply. He never could have imagined that what he’d seen and heard so far was real, was happening somewhere in Colorado, of all places. However much it sounded like the product of a bad prank TV show, the evidence on the contrary made it impossible for any logical person to try and deny. 

Almost as if it had been timed to occur along with his mental thought process, at that moment red strobe lights began flashing and an artificial voice announced, “Stargate Off-World Activation.” The men waiting below all straightened and held themselves in position. Seemingly on reflex, both General Landry and Jack turned to look at the two men seated in front of the large observation window. 

“It’s SG-3’s ICD Sir. Sirs.” The man on the right stated. 

“Open the iris.” General Landry commanded easily. “Excuse me for a moment, Gentlemen.” The commander stepped away and appeared a couple of moments later down below. Tony’s eyes were riveted on the strange stone-like ring as it came to life and swept open with a sound similar to a sharp knife being unsheathed. 

Beneath was a rolling blue vortex that looked almost like a choppy pool of water. Tony stepped closer to the viewing window without thought, and he felt Jack step up just behind and slightly off center from him. His chin came nearly to rest on Tony’s shoulder, and he began speaking quietly enough that Tony was the only one who could hear him. With all of the commotion happening below, no one was paying any attention to them, still standing in the back half of the room. 

“So you know how the Prometheus beamed us up from DC to the ship, and then from the ship to here?” Tony nodded slightly, giving the man more of his attention. “Well, before we had the ship, we had this. It’s a device that was built by people called the ‘Ancients’ a few million years ago.  They left them all over the place and, if we know the address of another gate, we can use them to create a temporary doorway through space.” He explained softly as they watched a four-man team step nonchalantly through the liquid looking substance and began striding down the metal ramp. They were wearing full combat gear, though with their weapons hanging casually over their shoulders and they appeared at ease and relaxed.   

“How does it work?” Tony asked just as softly, mind racing with the possibilities. 

“It’s wormhole technology. If you want the scientific, nitty-gritty version, you should ask Carter. She likes explaining it.” 

“Is a wormhole the same thing as a black hole?” 

“Mmmeeehhhh.” Jack made a noise that sounded more disagreeing than anything. “Only in the loosest sense possible. They can both be used to transverse space, but a black hole is one directional. A wormhole goes both ways,” Innuendo coated his voice, despite the location,  and Tony had to shake his head slightly.  “If you want to know anything more than that, seriously, ask Carter. She is the astrophysicist, after all.” He advised. 

“Okay, okay.” Tony laughed quietly, the two still basically invisible in the background. “This is crazy.” He announced a second later. “I feel like I’m going to wake up any second.” 

Jack made a sympathetic noise in his throat. “You’ll get used to it.” He tried to console. And Tony couldn’t even deny it. Aside from one familiar looking man still talking to Landry, things had returned to business as usual. It was as if the interruption hadn’t even happened, as if a group of people hadn’t just stepped into the room from another galaxy. 

Before he could dwell on it any further, the man speaking with Landry broke off, and the general looked up at the window and made a gesture in their direction that Jack understood immediately. He pulled back from his position and turned to lead the way out of the observation room. They met up with the base commander just a few seconds later, in a hallway that was largely empty. “So, how about a tour?” Landry asked. 

“A tour would be good.” Tony responded, proud of how normal his voice sounded. 

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you boys. I can’t miss that meeting back in Washington, and I need to get ready for it. DiNozzo, I’ll have those files sent to your house for you to look over. How about you report in at 9:00 Monday morning? That gives you the rest of the week to get caught up.”

“I’ll be there. Thank you, Sir.” Being early Tuesday afternoon, that gave him damn near a weeks’ vacation. He definitely wasn’t going to turn that down!  

And so Director Morrow took his leave and the other three traveled around the base. They began filling their newest member in on how the program had come to be, it’s somewhat rocky beginnings and how it had expanded over the years since. Tony was introduced to several more people along the way, and also saw several that he’d met at the dinner. Lucky for Tony, the longer they walked and the more people they spoke with, the more relaxed he became. Ignoring the odd nature of the base itself, it was like any other structure under military command, and that was familiar to him. In addition, having the full, logical, background of the program made it much easier to swallow then simply ‘surprise- we’re on a spaceship, oh and, by the way, we’ve learned how wormholes work without telling anyone.’ 

They ended up in Landry’s office, Jack looking extremely comfortable sitting on the visitor side of the desk, long legs stretched out and crossed casually at the ankles as he lounged in his seat. Tony sat more formally beside him, but much relaxed himself compared to the state he’d been in upon their arrival. 

They sat and just talked for a while, Landry catching Jack up on the going-ons around the base since his departure, and Tony got a firsthand look at just how far up the chain of command the gossip went. They remained there for over a half hour, until the base commander was called away to address a matter elsewhere. 

Jack and Tony both stood and shook the other man’s hand, as they’d be leaving from there rather than walking with him back to the gate room. “Let me know once you get settled in, and we’ll get you on your first trip off planet. There’s a scheduled trip to the Gamma Site in ten days. That’ll be a good first trip for you- the chance of running into an unpleasant surprise are, well, on the lesser side of the scale at least!” 

“I’m looking forward to it.” Tony replied with a small, but eager, smile of his own. 

“It’s something you’ll never forget.” The Base Commander took his leave then, and Jack stepped closer to him. 

It was the first time they’d had true privacy since the revelations began, and Jack let his ‘Devil-May-Care’ expression slip from his face so that his concern was visible. One strong hand came up to cup the side of Tony’s neck, but the older man didn’t move to do anything more than that. “How’re you holding up with all this?” He asked softly. 

Tony let his own mask fall at the caring tone, and he realized he didn’t have to pretend to be 100% acclimated to this already. “Better than I was a couple of hour ago.” He settled on. 

One corner of Jack’s mouth twisted. “You really will get used to it. Once it has time to sink it. Once you start thinking on a bigger scale, it all really does make a lot of sense.” 

“I’ve kind of started realizing that already.” 

“Then you’ll be just fine. And I’ll be here every step of the way. You can ask me anything.” 

Tony smiled again, softer, and leaned forward to press his lips against the other mans. “Thank you.” He said when he pulled back. 

Jack shook his head. “No thanks necessary. Now what do you say we head home and call it a day?” 

“That actually sounds really good.” Tony admitted with a quiet laugh. 

Jack pressed one more kiss to his lips and then pulled back to a more respectable distance. Even still, the hand he used to hold onto Tony during the beam was closer than it had been when Morrow had been present, and was too close to be called anything but intimate. 

Still, no one called them on it, not that any of them really had the ability to do so, and the second time around they were only on the Bridge for a couple of seconds before they were sent on back home. Tony blinked around the living room, the whole thing still feeling so surreal. “We’ll go get your car later.” Jack promised, stepping closer once again. Tony nodded, his car honestly being the last thing on his mind just then. 

Jack voice was all that was needed for the sound of tiny little claws scurrying across the floor, and just a couple of seconds later, paws the size of a quarter were being excitedly pressed against their feet and ankles as a small, fluffy tail wiggled rapidly from a small rump. 

Happy for the distraction, Tony swooped down to grab her, and held her between him and Jack so that they could both lavish attention on her. She didn’t know who to focus on, and so kept spinning around as much in her hold as she could, darting back and forth between licking at Tony’s chin to licking at Jack’s. 

The older man glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that it was coming up on four in the evening. They’d been at the base longer than he’d realized, but he wouldn’t have missed seeing Tony’s introduction into his world for anything. Still, he had a little bit of time and a growing idea taking root in his brain. 

He pressed a kiss to the corner of Tony’s mouth, and then another one to the top of Nebula’s furry little head, and then pulled back. “I need to make a phone call. Give me just a sec?” 

“Of course. Are you hungry? I can get started on dinner.” Being Italian, Tony found comfort in cooking long, complex and flavorful meals. When he’d lived alone, he hadn’t cooked much because it was a lot of work for just himself. It was much easier to call for takeout, or to grab something throughout the day. Since he’d began seeing Jack, he’d taken to cooking much more. 

Despite the opulence his position now granted him (such as invitations to dinner at the White House), Jack was a military man through and through, and he’d been living primarily on military food for a good chunk of his life. He also wasn’t the best cook himself, so he too  tended to live mostly on takeout once he'd moved off base. Once Tony saw how much he appreciated a fresh, hot, home cooked meal, he’d began doing so regularly. Once they’d moved in together, that had evolved into cooking dinner most ever night that he was home, the older man often pitching in to chop veg or whatever other prep work he could help with. 

“Dinner sounds great.” 

~*~

The older man rejoined him as he was adding the chopped tomatoes to a pot on the stove. He stepped up behind him and wrapped his strong arms around Tony’s waist, and nuzzled into the side of his neck in contentment. Tony shifted slightly to accommodate him, and carried on with his cooking, feeling cozy himself. 

“So,” Jack began a minute or so after joining him. “Any plays for this unexpected vacation?” 

“Hadn’t really thought about it much. I normally plan my vacations months in advance. Don’t usually get them on short notice.” 

“How would you feel about taking a trip to my cabin in Minnesota? We could get a flight out tomorrow, stay until Saturday or Sunday. What do you think?” 

“Don’t you have to work?” 

“President said I can have the time.” 

Tony set the large spoon he was using down and turned in Jack’s arms to wrap his own around the other man’s neck. He’d changed when he was out of the room, and was wearing soft and comfortable sweats and his typical black t-shirt, dog tags gleaming atop the worn fabric. It was Tony’s favorite look on the older man, and his lips curled from the sight alone. 

“Is this cabin dog friendly?” Tony asked slyly. 

“Of course.” 

“And what kind of amenities does it have?” 

“Absolutely none.” 

Tony’s smile grew larger still. “Sounds perfect. I have to warn you though, I’m a city boy through and through. I’m a little helpless in the middle of nowhere.” 

“I’ll teach you.” 

“Don’t know if I can be taught.” Tony laughed. 

“Anyone can be taught with the right… incentive.” Jack’s voice dropped on the last word, and he leaned forward to nibble at the juncture between Tony’s jaw and neck. 

“Well now that sounds promising.” Tony replied, voice a bit breathier as he allowed his head to tilt to the side and give the man more access. 

“I’m not feeling quite as hungry now.” Jack murmured in between nips. 

“Food needs to simmer anyway.” Tony said just as quietly. The older man pulled away to take in his heated eyes, his shiny, bitten lips, and the hint of a hickey under his jaw that Jack was too old to be leaving and Tony was too old to have. It was just so temping though, the younger man’s skin leaving behind such perfect marks. Still, better to keep them confined to somewhere they could be covered. Since it was already there though… He leaned forward once more, lips latching onto the small blue bruise forming as he reached around to turn the stove down to simmer. Tony groaned quietly as the sensation returned, and was near putty in his hands as Jack turned and maneuvered him from the kitchen. 

~*~

They had, luckily, finished their activities and were lounging together atop the sheets when the fire alarm began blaring from outside the room. Both men leapt up on reflex, only getting held up for second while they detangled themselves from each other. They discovered, once they’d freed themselves, that Jack hadn’t actually turned the pot down to simmer, but rather had gone right past it and back around to the ‘High’ setting. 

The sauce base had boiled away all of the liquid that had been inside, and the vegetables had formed a burnt, unappetizing layer on the bottom of the large pot. As soon as they’d realized what had happened, they exchanged identical looks and had both fallen into hysterics. Tony managed to maneuver the stainless steel over to the large sink and began covering the charred, smoking mess with hot water.

“Oops.” Jack said once he’d gotten his laughter under control. That set Tony off again, which in turn set Jack off. The alarm was still blaring overhead, and Nebula could be heard barking from the other room, her high pitched little voice as far from intimidating as it could be at that point in her young life. 

Both men were still naked from their pervious activities, and it felt natural to step back together, despite the chaos still screaming around them and the acrid, bitter stench of the smoke still lingering in the air. Tony wrapped his arms back around Jack’s neck, and felt arms wrap around his own waist in what was becoming one of his favorite positions to stand in with this man. Their eyes met, Jack’s a mixture of sheepishness and mischievous delight at the mayhem, and Tony couldn’t help but shake his head, even affection surged through him and his lips curled with it. “I love you.” Tony told him aloud for the first time, no longer caring to hold the words back or to try and guard himself from them. 

And Jack’s thrumming energy stilled, his shoulders relaxed slightly and his eyes lost some of their manic gleam. His own grin became less impish and his eyes softened in his own affection. “I love you, too.” He replied, voice firm and confident. Their lips came together again, and they were content to remain there for another long moment. Eventually though, they could no longer ignore the screaming of the alarm, or the relentless barking of Nebula, and had to pull apart to deal with it all. 

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

Once the mess had been cleaned and Nebula soothed, the two dressed once more and set off into the warm evening air. They’d decided to forgo cooking and head to a tasty local joint a few blocks away for burgers and beer instead. They enjoyed their meal and were heading home under the sunset, the city seeming somehow more tranquil under the vibrant pinks and oranges.

They’d just reached the driveway when they saw an older, white haired gentlemen in a suit standing on their porch. Tony froze immediately, eyes locked on the back of the man’s head, knowing who he was without ever needing to see his face. Jack trailed to a stop a couple of steps later, looking back at him in question and confusion.

Tony shook his head once, and then again more firmly. “Nope.” He stated quietly before he turned around and continued marching down the street, jaw clenched and frustrated confusion overtaking the features.

The man must have heard him, because he turned on his heels and caught sight of them. His right had raised in greeting. “Junior!” He stated happily, moving down the steps and towards them. Jack remained in his position, but Tony kept walking down the street, refusing to acknowledge the man trailing behind him. “Oh, come on, Junior, are you really going to make an old man chase you down the street?” He demanded, coming to a stop with his hands fisted on his hips.

Tony slowed to a stop, clenching his eyes closed as tight as his teeth were and wondering how the hell the man found out where he lived. Considered only one other person in his life knew their address, Tony had the sinking feeling akin to betrayal in his stomach. Knowing that the man wouldn’t give up until he’d gotten whatever it was he’d come here for, Tony resigned himself to dealing with it and spun back around. “What are you doing here?” He demanded plaintively, keeping his eye locked on the ones so similar to his own so that he wouldn’t look beyond at his partner.

“Is that any way to talk to your father?” Anthony DiNozzo Senior replied, voice taking on a slight scolding tone.

Tony sighed, feeling his shoulders slump the slightest bit. He really, really, didn’t want to do this now, but he got the feeling the older man wouldn’t be put off, stubbornness clear in his stance and tone both. “Why are you here, dad?” Tony asked again, voice calmer. “How are you here?”

“About that.” Senior stated, voice aggravated. “Why didn’t you tell me you moved? I waited in your apartment all day before your tenant came home and told me you didn’t live there anymore.”

“You broke into the apartment?” Tony demanded, aghast. “How did you get in?!”

“I didn’t break in!” Senior disputed, sounding offended. “I had a copy of your key made when I was staying with you.”

“And you didn’t notice that everything was different?” He asked, sarcasm coating his tone.

“Most of the furniture was the same! I thought you redecorated, or- here’s a crazy thought- maybe you were finally living with a woman!”

Tony ignored the dig, his father being the last person he’d listen to about any sort of life or relationship advice. “You could have called. How did you find me here?”

“I don’t have your number! When I realized you moved, I went into NCIS to talk to you. And wasn’t that a surprise!”

“You don’t have my number.” Tony repeated, deadpanned. Jack had walked closer, and stood a small distance away, observing them closely, but allowing Tony his space in this. He knew the younger man didn’t have a good relationship with his father, but Tony had avoided going into detail about the complicated nature of said relationship. “Was saving it in your phone just too complicated?” The sarcasm was shining through, and he attempted to blank his voice once more, knowing his father would take any kind of fuel and use it against him. “Why are you here, Dad? What do you want?” Tony asked again, sounding more tired. Tired was okay though, it was better than emotional.  

“Can’t a father just come to catch up with his son?” The old man asked, sounding injured.

“A father, sure. You? Historically, not so much. Seriously, what do you want? I’m not going to ask again. You can answer, or you can leave.”

Senior straightened slightly, the hurt looking persona giving way to a small scowl. “I’m getting married next Saturday, and your new stepmother wants the whole family to be there.” He stated abruptly, apparently deciding to forgo beating around the bush.

Both his brows raised and he looked at his father, wishing he was more surprised. “What happened to, uh-“

“Jennifer. Things didn’t work out.”

“Jennifer?” Tony repeated in confusion, the name unfamiliar.

“You missed one.” Senior replied carelessly.

“Oh, another one?” Tony asked, just as blithely. “So how many is that now? Six?”

“Seven.”

“Ahh, seven. Right. I haven’t been to the last five. I haven’t known about the last four. Why do you want me to come to this one? I didn’t think you even told your many wives about me, so briefly are they in your life, and so seldom am I.”

His namesake didn’t even look ashamed in the face of Tony’s less than subtle sarcasm. “Christine already knows who you are.”

“How’s that?” Tony questioned, frowning slightly in confusion. He couldn’t think of anyone he knew with that particular name that would also be involved with his father.

“You know her family.” Tony’s frown deepened and he gestured for more information. “Do you remember our neighbors on Long Island when you left for Remington? The Mason’s?”

“Yesss?” Tony drawled, still not knowing where this was going. There hadn’t been a Christine Mason that he could remember.

“Well, Jessica was pregnant when they moved away.”

“…Okay?” Tony pressed after a pause, no longer sure he wanted answers to his questions.

“She named the baby Christine.”

Tony’s head dropped and he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dad, please tell me you’re not marrying a woman fourteen years younger than me.”

“Fifteen, if you want to be snide about it.”

“That’s-“ He cut himself off, forcing down the words that immediately bubbled to the surface. “The Mason’s moved. How’d you even run into her?”

“Oh, well, funny story. I saw the obituary for old Crispain in the paper. Decided to pay my respects and ran into her at the wake.”

“How is that a funny story?”

“Well, I didn’t know who she was at first. She wasn’t all that broken up about it all, if you know what I mean.” He said, pitching his voice like he was sharing a valuable secret.

Tony stared silently for another long moment before he managed to tear his incredulous gaze from his father to look at the man still standing several steps away, though still observing them closely. He started shuffling to the side, moving closer to Jack and at the same time letting his partner know he didn’t mind his presence in this fucked up situtation. He didn’t talk again until he was standing shoulder to shoulder with the general, and he felt a surge of strength when he felt the older man’s strong hand come to rest out of sight on his lower back.

His relationship with his father had never been very good, not before his mother’s death and especially not after it. There had been a few times in more recent years that he thought they might grow closer, but his namesake always fell back into the same patterns and behaviors that Tony so detested when he was younger. Senior was his father, and they’d always have that link, but they were two very different men, and Senior wasn’t exactly the kind of man Tony liked or typically associated with. Niceties aside, his father was a slimy, slippery, con-man who somehow always seemed to land on his feet despite the epic backlog of Karma that must be a veritable volcano at this point.  

God, this was so typical of him, Tony though. The neighborhood they’d live in on Long Island was one of wealth and status. At the time, it’d been granted to Senior via his first wife’s Paddington name and the affluent lifestyle that came with it. He’d be willing to bet good money  that Christine had inherited a pretty penny from her late father, else he wouldn’t bother. “Look, Dad, I’m just starting a new job, and I’m not sure I can take the time to fly to New York. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can make it.” He finally said. “Next time, maybe a little more notice, yeah?”

“Next time?” Senior blustered, seeming to swell in his offence. “What makes you think there’s going to be a next time?”

“History?” He drawled before shaking his head. “Look, I’m sorry, but you can’t just show up outside my house and expect me to drop everything and fly to New York in a week! How’d you find this place anyway? You never answered me.” He questioned, wanting to know who at NCIS had given away his location.

“What does that matter?” Senior asked, sounding annoyed. “That goofy fellow, McGee? He told me.”

“McGee doesn’t know where I live now.”

“He looked it up on his computer! You’re focusing on the wrong thing here, Junior. This woman is going to be your mother, it would mean a lot to me if you could try and make it.”

Tony grimaced, wondering exactly how his ex-coworker had figured out his new address. However he’d done it, he was glad Abby hadn’t been the one to give up the location. Despite knowing how rocky his relationship with his father was, she fell for his charms every time he showed up, and she couldn’t understand why Tony didn’t want to have a closer relationship with him. In her defense, Tony had held back quite a bit about his childhood, so she didn’t have a true understanding of the older man’s character. Still, it irked him every time she spoke about him with a fond note in her voice.

“If I promise to think about it, can we talk about it later? It’s been a really long day.”

“Fine, fine, but there’s not a lot of time, so I need an answer soon!”

“Fine. I’ll call you.” Tony turned to head back up to the house then, hoping his father would take the hint and excuse himself.

“Hold on just a second! What’s the hurry? You haven’t even introduced me to your friend!”

Tony closed his eyes again and had to stop himself from sighing aloud. Before he could decide how he wanted to open that can of worms, Jack decided to speak up for the first time during the conversation. “General Jack O’Neill. It’s a …” He paused and scanned Tony’s father with a barely hidden look of contempt. He hadn’t heard much of the illustrious man, but none of what he had had been good. Even had that not been the case, the conversation thus far had him dropping like a stone on Jacks mental list of people ranked from those whose company he enjoyed, all the way down to the likes of people like Apophis, Robert Kinsey and, apparently Anthony DiNozzo Sr. “pleasure to meet you, Mr. DiNozzo. I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.” He finished, smiling coolly as he held his hand out in offering.

“Please, call me Tony!” He announced jovially as he grabbed Jack’s hand in turn.

“Ah, I don’t think I will. It’d be a little weird, I’m sure you understand, what with me already having one Tony in my life.”

“Yes, but I am the original!” Though the smile still remained on his face, Seniors had taken on an expression of mild discomfort, Tony noticed when he finally gave in and turned back around.

He let out the sigh he’d been holding in as he stepped back up next to Jack. “Dad, Jack’s my partner.”

“Your partner? You still haven’t told me where you’re working now. What kind of work are you wrapped up in that your partner is a General?” He demanded, frowning suspiciously. He’d never liked that Tony had gone into law enforcement, considering it a substandard profession, and he’d hoped that his leaving NCIS might have been a sign he was ready for a change of career.

“No dad, that’s not- No. Jack and I are seeing each other. In a more… biblical, sense.” He said bluntly, crossing his arms and staring at his father directly. The man knew he was bisexual, as much as he may have tried to ignore it. It was, after all, one of the pivotal factors in him getting shipped off to military school in the first place. Though he didn’t know it, it’d ended up having the opposite effect on Tony’s attraction to his own sex, submerging him in a whole new environment and one with both more and less supervision than he’d had before.

Senior looked between the two in shock, thrown off and clearly uncomfortable with the revelation, but still with his goal in mind. Always with his goal in mind. Jack smiled at the man again, even cooler than before. “Ah, yes, right, well, no matter at all.” Senior blustered, trying to cover his small lapse. “Christine’s nephew is gay and will be attending the wedding with his.. partner. You are, of course, more than welcome to come as well.”

“Oh goodie!” Jack stated in faux excitement.

Senior smiled tightly and looked back up at the house. “Is this why you moved?”

“Uh, yeah. I moved in with Jack just a few weeks ago, actually.”

“Wonderful, wonderful…” Senior muttered, looking thoughtful. “Well, I was hoping to bunk with you while I was in town, but I wouldn’t want to put you both out…” He led then, looking back up to make eye contact with them both quickly.

Tony’s eyes widened in alarm, and he shot a look of his own at Jack. The chances of that happening were less than zero, but how to phrase it so that the stubborn old SOB didn’t either dig his heals in, or get too curious. Before Tony even had to try and figure out how to tackle that less than subtle request, Jack stepped up and did it for him.

In the same tone he used when dealing with politicians he preferred to avoid, he stated, “Well, wouldn’t you know it but the guest room is under renovation. Paint fumes for days. Completely uninhabitable. I’ll do you one better though, I know a guy over at the Jefferson that can get me a room on short notice.” He subtly emphasized the last two words, and Tony had to bite back a smile. “How about I give him a call and see what we can do?”

The upscale hotel was a temptation that immediately turned Seniors attention. “Oh, well, if it’s not any trouble, that would be alright I suppose.”

“Right.” Jack’s brow raised. He glanced back at Tony. “I’ll be back.” Tony shot him a look of gratitude and then turned a little reluctantly back to his father. He felt the urge to cross his arms again, but fought it down and tucked his hands casually into his pockets instead. The silence stretched uncomfortably, and Tony searched for something neutral to talk about. He didn’t usually have trouble making small talk, but his relationship with his father had never been easy, never mind the added tension from the unexpected meeting of his son’s very male partner.

Though, Tony would admit that the man took that revelation better than he would have expected. He’d have expected something like the scene when he’d first discovered a young Tony’s “debaucherous” behavior. Happily, that didn’t occur and they were able to meander their way through some civilized, if stiff, conversation until Jack returned.

~*~

Their flight departed at 8:00 the next morning. Jack had attempted to see if there was a military flight they could hitch a ride on, but unfortunately none were scheduled to go near their destination in the time frame they were looking for. As such, they were forced to fly commercial, something Tony quickly realized Jack disliked for a number of reasons. Beyond how early one needed to arrive at the airport, Jack also disliked the horrible crowds that were always seemed to exist at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, regardless of the day or time you were there, the seats in the waiting room, the boarding process, the narrowness of the walkway, the airplane seats themselves, the cheerfulness of the perky blonde flight attendant, and more than anything else- the fact that he wasn’t the one flying the plane.

Granted, he didn’t admit that last bit out loud, but it was fairly obvious to Tony anyway in the looks he occasionally shot towards the front of the plane during bouts of turbulence, and the twitchy expression that kept creeping onto his face. Still, he kept his grumpiness contained to quiet little mumbles and glares, so Tony found himself more entertained by it than anything.

The flight itself was only about two and a half hours, and they were able to retrieve Nebula and their bags quickly and were exiting the airport by eleven. It was a little bit of a drive to the destination itself, and they stopped at a large department store for supplies on the way there.

Tony got his first look at the cabin when they finally made their way to the end of the long driveway in their rented SUV. It was a quaint little thing, and he imagined it made quite the picture in the winter months all covered in snow- rather like something off the front of a Christmas card. Nebula was happy to be let on the ground and let out all of her pent up energy and excitement in the form of running around and sniffing at everything she could dig her nose into. Tony felt a flash of apprehension that she might get into something that she shouldn't, but he figured Jack would say something if there was a reason to be concerned. 

When they made their way up to the porch, Tony could see the large lake and small dock that took up most of the back yard. It was beautiful in the noon light, but he imagined it would be gorgeous at sunset. The interior of the space wasn’t what Tony would have pictured for something of Jacks. Everything inside had the feel of being old and rustic, from the knick-knacks spread across the space, to the faded fabrics decorating it. Despite that, it felt comfortable and cozy, and Tony was looking forward to this mini retreat.

When he mentioned the somewhat outdated décor, Jack admitted that he’d inherited the cabin from his Grandfather, and had left it the same as it was in his childhood memories of learning to fish and hunt in the woods surrounding them. That small confession touched Tony in a way he found himself unfamiliar with- that is, to feel a connection with a family member so profound that you preserved your memories of them as securely as possible, so that they could be revisited despite the loss of the connection itself.

Tony didn’t have anyone in his family that he was close to. He’d been closer to his Uncle Clive than anyone else, but that wasn’t saying much in all honesty. The bulk of their relationship existed in the form of brief, infrequent phone calls and the occasional exchange of money when Tony was desperate enough to ask for financial help in his youth. Still, Clive had been more of a father to him than his own had, and Tony had grieved when he’d heard of his passing. Even so, that loss seemed insignificant compared to the wistfulness that edged into Jack’s voice as he described summers spent in the very same cabin they now resided in.

Still, he liked the thought, liked the knowledge that Jack was the kind of man who formed those attachments, the kind of man he’d often wished he could be himself. That is, if not for the jaded shell he’d enacted in his youth and found himself incapable of dropping completely. It seemed like a part of him was always waiting for the next disappointment, the next betrayal, the next broken trust. It sounded pathetic, even as he thought about it to himself, but even sadder was the knowledge that he hadn’t been wrong yet. Everyone left eventually, for some reason or another. Sometimes it was his fault, sometimes it wasn’t. It just seemed to be the sum of his life.

Jack though, being with Jack didn’t leave him with the same discontent. Being with Jack was comfortable and natural. Abby joked that they were two peas in a pod, and maybe they were. Whatever they might be, Tony was falling deeper and deeper in love, in a way he didn’t really think himself capable of anymore. The best part of it was Jack’s own quiet confidence in himself and who he was. The man wasn’t still trying to find himself, he knew who he was and where he stood. He’d accepted it, and looked forward to finding enjoyment in every day.

And as they sat pressed side by side, delicious grilled steak filling their stomachs and cold beer filling their mouths as the sun set over the tree line, Tony found himself looking forward to finding enjoyment alongside him.

~*~

The next morning started slowly and kicked off with a mutual orgasm. It was definitely the best way to begin a vacation, and it left both men loose and relaxed as they made their way to the kitchen for breakfast. Breakfast was followed by a long, leisurely walk through the property as Nebula bounded around them in circles, often hidden beneath the foliage but never losing track of them. She seemed to like the forest, which was so much different than anything she’d really known. The dog parks in DC just couldn’t compare to nature.

After a light lunch, Jack announced that he was going to teach Tony how to fish- a task he felt immediately intimidated by. The fishing gear wasn’t exactly where Jack had expected it to be, but then he explained that Hank used the place more than Jack did now-a-days. Tony got quite a bit of enjoyment out of picturing the somewhat dour faced Colonel Mitchell being forcibly dragged on a retreat with General Landry for some R&R. Though he didn’t claim to know either man well, Jack’s own delight in the story told Tony plenty enough about how smoothly that trip had gone.

Despite his slight hope, Jack found the misplaced equipment in a matter of minutes and was soon shepherding him out onto the small wooden dock where two chair sat askew. The beginning of the lesson was a bit boring, with Jack trying to teach him the different names of the gear and how to put everything together. Tony was very pleased to see the type of fishing they were doing did not require any live bait. He wasn’t squeamish by any stretch of the imagination, but skewering little worms and other insects on a hook and then tossing them into the water to drown or be eaten alive had always seemed like a cruel practice to him. No, the flashy little bobbles were much more his style.

Granted, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if he actually managed to catch a fish, the image of that being just as distasteful (if not more so) as the idea of using live bait. Resolving to put it out of his mind until it became a reality, Tony focused back on the moment. It really was a pleasurable experience thus far. Despite the slow start, Jack clearly enjoyed fishing, and Tony allowed his own enthusiasm to grow to match the older man’s.

Tony caught on pretty quick, considering he was about as green at the sport as was possible. An hour or so passed by comfortably, the two men seated together on the dock, their hands continuing the repetitive motions as the birds sang around them and the insects contributed their own voices to the song from the grass. The breeze blowing through the tree branches tied the melody together and seemed to give it a voice to serenade them on the gorgeous sunshiny summer day.

“You’re getting good at that.” Jack commented after a particularly graceful flick of the line.

“Oh?” Tony replied playfully, glancing over at him to meet his eyes. “That’s good, because someone promised me positive incentive for learning how to do stuff like this, and I think I’d like to collect my reward.”

Jack’s eyes sharpened with a predator like focus as his lips curled in a pleased little smirk. “I did promise that, didn’t I?” He commented casually, voice a couple of octaves lower than it had been just moments before.

“Mmmhumm.”

Jack pushed himself to his feet and seemed to appear before Tony, motions fluid and agile. He swooped down until he had an arm on either side of the younger man, hands propped up on Tony’s arm rests and caging him in place.

Tony met his eyes boldly, challengingly, but with a curl of his lip. Jack snapped his teeth together just before Tony’s bottom lip, which he then proceeded to nibble and tug on with his teeth. Only once the flesh was deep red and engorged did Jack finally pull back to take in the sight. Tony was near panting from the teasing, and it was only his strength of will that kept him from giving in and asking for it.

The chairs were much too flimsy for any kind of physical activity, but the dock was solid and worn smooth from the years. The fishing had ended up being rewarding enough on its own. The incentive he received there on that old wooden dock ensured it was a lesson he’d never forget.

~*~ TBC ~*~

 

Chapter Text

Friday morning found both men with an excess of energy. They rose just after the sun and set off together on a brisk morning run through the woods and clear around the lake. To both of their surprise, a visitor was waiting for them when they made their way back to the cabin. “Hank!” Jack exclaimed, tone torn between welcome, confusion and a little annoyance. They hadn’t exactly been discreet in their affections since arriving, not expecting anyone to be close enough to worry about it, and it was just lucky that the other General hadn’t arrived amidst a different kind of an early morning workout.

“Jack.” Landry greeted, standing from his seat on the dock where he’d been waiting for them to return. “Tony.” Tony nodded in return, but didn’t speak up. “Director Morrow has been trying to reach the two of you without success. I offered to swing by and talk to you in person.”

Tony and Jack traded a look of confusion and concern. “Well yeah, that’s kind of the point of the cabin Hank. You know that. What’s going on?”

Landry looked directly at Tony. “Your former coworker, Timothy McGee, has been taken into custody. He was caught hacking into classified personnel files. Your files, as a matter of fact. He’s being held for questioning, but he’s maintaining his right to remain silent. He is asking for a lawyer, but he doesn’t seem to understand that we don’t have to provide him with one in this case. At least not yet. Now, we haven’t found anything suspicious so far in his background, but we also haven’t identified his motivation. Any insights?”

Tony let his shoulders slump the slightest bit. He’d wondered if something like this might happen, but McGee got away with his hacking all the time and so he pretty well figured he would this time as well. “I can answer for the why.” Tony offered. At the curious look he received, he continued. “My father made an unexpected trip to the city looking for me. When he didn’t find me at my old apartment, he assumed he’d be able to at the Navy Yard, and so he showed up there. He said McGee ‘looked up’ my address for him.” He explained.

“I see.” Landry stated gravely. “Well, I suppose that’s a better reason than treason, but it still doesn’t look good for him. That’s a serious breach of security, and he could lose his job for that alone.”

Tony winced slightly, but didn’t argue. As angry as he’d been himself at first, it seemed a harsh sentence for what really was an innocent action, but then McGee should have known better. He’d worked in cybercrimes himself, he knew the law front and back, and he should know better than to hack willy-nilly into something so far beyond his own clearance level, no matter the reason. “Is that decision final?” He couldn’t help but ask, feeling a tug of loyalty for the man who’d once been his own probie to teach and protect- that is, before Ziva had started playing her little mind games and tearing the team apart.

“Not yet.” Landry said, studying him curiously. “Why? Think it’s too harsh?” Tony felt like he was being tested, and he was reminded once again of the man’s rank. Their interactions thus far had been fairly casual, but Landry was still a two-star General, and Tony felt an echo of that authority as he thought over his response. Though he was tempted to glance over at his partner, he kept his eyes steady on the ones locked on his own.

“Not too harsh, per say,” he hedged carefully. “But McGee is a damn good agent, and he still has a lot of potential to build up to. Bad habits aside, it’d be a shame for NCIS to lose him. That’s all.”

“I see.” Landry said after studying him for another long moment. “Well, we’ll take that into consideration. At the very least, he’ll lose his Senior Field Agent status and be bumped back down to a probationary agent after a mandatory unpaid suspension period.”

“A couple of classes on confidentiality might not go amiss either.” Tony offered.

“I like the way you think.” Landry replied, smiling for the first time. “Well, now that we know there aren’t any state secrets about to go up for auction, I won’t impose on you any longer. Enjoy the rest of your vacation and I’ll see you in a few days.” The interloper took his leave without delay, disappearing in a shimmer of light from the dock, but Tony felt a linger sense of discomfort.

Jack picked up on it as they made their way into the cabin to shower and then start cooking. He allowed Tony his silence until they were stood together at the counter preparing what had become more of a brunch than a breakfast. “What are you thinking about?” He probed finally, turning to lean against the wooden surface and give Tony his full attention.

Tony glanced at him from the corner of his eye, not pausing in laying out the bacon on a small baking sheet to go into the warmed oven. He finished position the last couple of pieces and then turned away to wash his hands in the sink. He dried his hands and slid the sheet into the oven, setting the timer slowly and then finally turning back to Jack once he was out of things to distract himself with. He leaned back against the counter, arms crossing loosely as he thought about his response.

“Not any one thing, I guess.” He said finally, brows slightly furrowed as he attempted to organize his thoughts. “Everything is just changing so fast. A part of me feels like I should have tried harder to get him out of trouble.”

“You stopped him losing his job. That’s a hell of a lot in my book.”

 “I know it’s stupid, but I still feel responsible for him. I was his SFA, it was my responsibility to teach him the job, to teach him how to be a good field agent. I guess a part of me feels like I failed him.” He finished, shrugging slightly. “Maybe I left before he was ready to step into the role, and now he’s put himself in a situation where he’s in danger of losing his job. I don’t know, I just, I guess I feel.. less than successful?”

Jack looked thoughtful in turn, and he didn’t immediately try to dismiss what Tony was saying- something said man was grateful for. Rather, he thought out his response enough that when he did speak, Tony was anxious to hear his own take on the events. He’d filled the man in on some of the happenings of the team, after all, and Jack had a pretty good understanding of their dynamic. Or at least, as good of an understanding as one could get off of hearing things second hand. “How long did you work with McGee?” He asked finally, squinting at him slightly as he spoke his question.

Tony raised a brown in surprise, and had to think about it before he could answer. “Uh, he joined the team in 2003? So, about five years, I guess.”

Jack raised a pointed brow of his own. “And how long are NCIS agents on a probationary status?”

“Well, technically his probationary period was over after he’d been on the team for a year. I guess he technically stopped being the ‘probie’ when David joined the team in ‘05.”

“So, what you’re saying is he was a fully qualified NCIS agent with half a decade of field work under his belt when you left. On top of that, he was promoted to Senior Field Agent upon your departure, based on his own merit, and was acting in that capacity when he choose to give classified information to a civilian with a questionable legal background just because said civilian played the personal connection card- a civilian who had no business being at NCIS in the first place. Do I have that right?”

Tony’s eyes dropped back down to the countertop. He knew Jack was right, knew this all shouldn’t be bothering him as much as it was, but it just kept nagging at him. He needed to stop thinking about it just then- there was nothing further he could do to help salvage McGee’s career than what he’d just done, and he needed to accept that and move on. He nodded his head finally, both in a show of his own resolve and in response to the validity of his partners statement. Still, he needed Jack to understand where he was coming from.

“You’re right.” He said aloud. “I know McGee made his own choices and that his being in detainment is a result of his own actions. I also know that he’s been an agent long enough to be responsible for himself, that he doesn’t need anyone covering his screw-ups, not anymore. But, these actions were a direct result of my father showing up. If Senior hadn’t…” If Senior hadn’t been such a crappy father that he couldn’t even save his only sons number in his phone, if he hadn’t tried to barge back into his life because he needed something from him, again, if he could just act like a decent human being for a change… if, if, if. He shook it off, changing what he’d been planning to say. “If not for my family drama, McGee wouldn’t have had a choice to make in the first place, is all I’m saying. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have gotten caught up in something else eventually, but I do feel a little responsible for this one, and I have to come to terms with that. I am working on it. Now, didn’t you say something about a trail up North?”

Jack studied him for another long moment before acquiescing to his technically unspoken request to change the subject. “Yeah, it’s a pretty spectacular hike. Takes a couple of hours, round trip.”

Tony nodded, glancing down at his watch. “Do you want to try and do any more fishing before we go?” He questioned.

“I wouldn’t mind, but I won’t miss it if we don’t.” He responded easily.

They’d decided to fly back late Friday night, rather than staying longer. Luckily, there was a Minnesota Air National Guard departing to DC at 7:00  and so they just needed to report to the base rather than dealing with the hoopla of going through the airport. The flight was also projected to be shorter, and so barring any delays, they’d return home somewhere just after 9:00.

The plan was to get a good nights’ sleep before diving into the rest of the weekend. Tony would head into NCIS first thing to clear out the desk he’d neglected in the wake of the unexpected vacation and trip. They’d meet Major Castleman and the rest for the game of Football that had been mentioned and then join Abby at her own apartment for the game of poker she’d postponed on their behalf so that they could still attend. Poker at Abby’s always promised to be an interesting event, a fact which Jack quickly found out the first time he’d attended.

Those nights always promised to host a bizarre mixture of players (and rarely the exact same group twice)- ranging from Nuns, to people looking like they’d stepped out of a heavy metal video, to doctorate holding nerds and others in between. Jack being a General was just another random point to the night, and hardly drew a second look. He loved it- not being deferred to or called ‘sir,’ the night not  being coated in a thin veneer of professionalism and politeness, being able to get downright competitive with people who couldn’t care less what he did outside the confines of the walls and were more than happy to rob him blind at the table, and be robbed in return. He made a point to never miss a night since that first invitation, and he’d become welcome addition to the strange group.

Sunday would be regrouping for the start of the week, and in Tony’s case, reading through stacks and stacks of records. Though it sounded boring as a whole, he was actually pretty excited to jump in and learn more about this newest revelation. As good of a job as Jack and Landry had done filling him in on everything, they’d had a limited amount of time to introduce him to the program, and so could only convey so much information. He was looking forward to filling in the gaps and learning more about what Jack had done in his career. 

Time allowing, he may also start setting up the room that was to become his study. Jack had his own office space beside the bedroom. The room had its own set of security permeameters that he’d built into it when he’d moved in, and held everything classified that he had to bring home with him at night. It was also home to the little odds and ends of things he’d collected over the years, things that weren’t Tau’ri in nature, and that really had no place on Earth. Tony hadn’t been welcomed in the space before joining the program. It’d been the one room Jack had asked him not to enter upon moving in, and Tony had respected that easily. Still, the first time Jack had taken him into the space, Tony had been a bit in awe of all the alien artifacts strewn across the walls and tables- and gifts he’d been given, and odds-and-ends that he’d ended up with for some reason or other. Jack played their acquisition off as an inadvertent thing, but Tony suspected he was more attached to them than that, evident in the careful way they’d been arranged and laid out.

He’d offered Tony his choice of the remaining three empty rooms located upstairs to convert into his own office. Tony had selected the smallest of them, a room he suspected may have been designed to function as a nursery, based on its shape and location. Regardless of the intention, it was the perfect size to fit his needs. He needed to get a desk and a few other bits of furniture and it’d be perfect. Jack had arranged for the same security measures to be applied to it that were on his own, and it was supposed to be finished by the time they returned to Washington.

As eager as he found himself to start this new adventure, he was just as eager to enjoy the remanence of their vacation. The day had started off bright and cheerful, and he was determined to regain that feeling. So they finished cooking a delicious breakfast and then set off on their hike. The mood had been mostly restored over the meal, and was regained completely once they reached the start of the trail head.

As she had every time they headed into the woods, Nebula was quickly overcome with excitement and was soon running circles around them once again. They took their time, enjoying the scenery rather than pushing themselves, and so it was nearly four hours before they were back at the cabin.

The rest of the day followed in a similar, relaxed, manner. They headed into the city a little earlier than they really needed to, so that they could eat at Jack’s favorite little dinner in the nearby town before getting on the plane. It was coming up on nine thirty when they finally arrived back home, and they settled in for an early night after relaxing on the couch for a bit.

The next morning they rose early and kicked the day off with a run together through the city. After, they shared a quick shower and then settled in for a breakfast of cereal and coffee. Tony set off for NCIS after, feeling confident the team wouldn’t be on duty considering they were currently two members down.

He was only half right, he discovered once he entered the bullpen. Gibbs was sitting at his desk, frown emphasizing the lines only slightly hidden behind his much despised reading glasses. A pile of files sat before him- the same file he himself had looked at just the week before, if he wasn’t mistaken.

Tony’s footfalls slowed slightly in his surprise, but he didn’t allow the little stutter to throw him off and continued on to the desk that had been his for a long time. Gibbs didn’t look at him, not while he was still facing him anyway, and Tony silently started packing his personal belongings into the paper box he’d begged off of Human Resources on his way up.

He was almost finished and convinced the awkward encounter would pass by silently when Gibbs finally spoke up. “Never did get that list of agents you recommend.” He commented suddenly, voice conversational.

Tony’s hands paused curled around his Might Mouse stapler, and he glanced across the open floor space cautiously. “Didn’t think you were interested in it.” He finally stated, realizing his former boss still wasn’t looking towards him. He did though, at that response, blue eyes as piercing as they’d ever been.

“I have always respected your thoughts and opinions, Tony.” He said unexpectedly, voice firm and almost admonishing. The use of his first name immediately captured his attention, but despite the honesty clear in the stern voice, Tony couldn’t help the skeptical expression that curled his lips. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping to avoid confrontation or emotion, but he knew either way that he wanted to avoid the direction this was heading.

He knew, if he were honest with himself, that Gibbs’ opinion still mattered to him. He’d been his boss, sure, but he’d been so much more than that. Tony had been drawn to him from their first meeting in Baltimore. The stern, jaded, marine had been so unlike any other law enforcement officer he’d ever met that it was hard to believe he truly was one at first. He’d become a anchor at a time in his life when he hadn’t realized he needed one. He’d offered him a job, and, at the same time, promised a partner who would always have his six. And he’d held true to that promise, held true to it for years, held true until he was quite literally brain damaged and unable to remember himself, let alone Tony and the kinship they’d formed.

But that had been a long time ago. It had shifted when the man had allowed the sister of Kate’s murder to join their team. It had fractured, bit by bit, every time McGee or Ziva undermined him and his position as Senior Field Agent without reproach. It had cracked when the man retired suddenly and disappeared to Mexico, but even then it had held. It wasn’t until he’d returned that things had fallen apart completely. Never mind his callous demotion, he himself had felt unwelcome on the same team that he had once considered his family.

A small, twisted part of himself found irony in the knowledge that his chosen family had ended up being just as disappointing as his blood relations, but he pushed the thought away. Rather than attempting to explain any of that, Tony pushed it farther behind his familiar mask and forced a small smile. He reached into the drawer he’d yet to open and removed the page of hand written notes on the strengths and weakness of each candidate. On the back were his top three choices , bullet points below each of their names explaining why he’d chosen each of them. The final decision, of course, had always been up to Gibbs. He’d complied a similar list prior to accepting McGee on the team, and his name had been on top, then. Kate’s hiring had been a little more unorthodox, but Gibbs had still been sure to get his opinion prior to extending the offer. He’d wondered, even as he was scribbling down his thoughts this last time, if going through the familiar process for his intended replacement even mattered, if it would even be taken into consideration. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the unexpected request, even as he handed over the list.

His eyes glanced over the mans’ monitor as he turned back away, not really expecting it to be on, but he froze at the image pulled up beside a few other minimized windows. It had been taken the night of the dinner, and had captured a moment Tony hadn’t even realized had occurred. Jack had already exited the car, but he’d turned back to offer a hand to his partner. Tony was in the process of standing himself, eyes looking down and away from the camera, but it was Jack who was the focus of the captured moment. He was gazing down at Tony, a small, honest, smile upon his handsome face and a look in his eye that couldn’t have been mistaken for anything but tenderness and love.

Tony didn’t remember seeing that look. When he’d finished standing, Jack had looked as composed as ever, excluding cool confidence befitting his station and the location in which they were approaching. Still, a picture was worth a thousand words, and he vaguely wondered how he might get a copy of it for himself. He tore his eyes away, looking back at his former boss, who was watching his reaction closely. He realized then that McGee had been successful in hacking into the classified files, and he hoped that the breech might go unnoticed during his incarceration and subsequent investigation.

He dropped his gaze, breaking the eye contact, and turned to finish what he was doing. “How long have you two been seeing each other?” Gibbs pressed once he’d resumed packing. Tony paused again, but resisted glancing over and again and carried on with his task.

“Since New Year’s.” He replied after the small hesitation.

“Serious?”

His hands paused again,  and he couldn’t help looking over. “Could be.” He acknowledged.

“Good.” Gibbs said simply, and seemed content to leave it at that.

“Good?” Tony couldn’t help by ask, corner of his lip curling. “That’s funny, you didn’t seem to think much of him before.”

The older man shot him a look that seemed to say ‘can you blame me?’ Aloud he said, “Well, our meeting- if you can call it that- wasn’t exactly under the best circumstances, now was it?”

Tony shrugged slightly and nodded. It was the truth, though he still thought the whole thing could have been handled better. He placed the last couple of things into the box and then straightened himself up, ready to head out and assuming the conversation was finished, as Gibbs had gone back to focusing on the file before him. He was trying to decide how he wanted to say farewell when his former boss spoke up again, as though there hadn’t been a lull in the conversation.

“Cashed in a favor, found out a bit more about him.” The man offered, sitting back and pulling his glasses off to toss on the desk and crossing his arms as he focused on his former SFA. Tony met his eyes again, curiosity flaring. He couldn’t imagine there was much floating freely around about Jack that Gibbs would have been able to get his hands on, but he’d learned a long time ago to never underestimate the power of a favor owed. Gibbs seemed to read that though on his face, because his smirk grew a bit in size. “What little I could, anyway.” He admitted.

“And?” Tony pressed.

“He seems decent. Hard to know the worth of a man based on Scuttlebutt though.”

An idea took root in Tony’s mind, and he turned it over in his head a few times before speaking it aloud. The more he thought about it though, the more it sounded like a good idea until he finally decided to offer it and leave it to Gibbs to decide. “I know it’s been a couple years since you’ve been to one,” He began slowly, watching his reaction. “but Abby’s having one of her Poker Nights tonight. It was going to be last night, but she postponed it so we could be there. You know you have a standing invitation. You could come, meet him for real. I think you’d like him, if you gave him a chance.”

Gibbs seemed to consider it, even as Tony shuffled the box to the edge of the desk so that it was ready to lift. “I might just do that.” He said after a pause. “Same time as it used to be?” Tony nodded and then Gibbs mimicked the gesture. “Later then.”

“Later.” Tony repeated with a final nod, and then hefted the box to take his departure. The conversation still felt a bit unfinished, like they hadn’t necessarily fixed the pothole in their personal relationship, but rather tossed a board over the top of it and ignored the problem. Still, he’d agreed to come to poker and that said a lot. As much as he cared for Abby, he didn’t necessarily care for some of the eccentric people in her life- people who would inevitably be present. That he’d agreed to come at all, after having sworn off these nights so long ago, made Tony think that he was trying to mend bridges. Who was he to argue with that?

Now, how to tell Jack that Gibbs was coming?

~*~ TBC ~*~

Chapter Text

Jack had taken the news of his former boss attending the night with more grace than he’d been expecting. He kept his expression neutral, with a vague tone of interest, but didn’t allow his own feelings for the other man come to the surface. He knew that the younger mans idea of family was skewered, and knew that he’d considered the Gunnery Sergeant a member of that family. If he wanted to try and reconcile some bit of that relationship, well, he wouldn’t stand in the way. Though, his good behavior was only guaranteed so long as the Marines kept to his own. If he said or did anything that Jack didn’t like than it would only be fair for the General to respond in kind.

When the night actually came around, they almost didn’t think the man was going to show. They were well into their third hand before he arrived, and he settled into quietly leaning against the wall until the next game started. When he did join, he spent the next hand mostly keeping to himself, only returning the greetings that some who remembered him tossed his way. It wasn’t until the hand after that he began to relax and begin joining in the various conversations going on around him.

He was the picture of politeness, if a bit quiet and gruff. He was the first to excuse himself, and Tony accompanied him out into the hallway to see him off. The man had been acting odd all night, and he wanted to make sure everything was okay despite the tension that was still lingering between them after the way Tony had departed. They hadn’t gotten a chance to settle things with the volume level inside Abby’s apartment, but still… “I’m glad you came.” Tony stated once they were in the quietness of the hall.

Gibbs nodded slightly, brows a bit furrowed. “Me too.” He grumbled lowly. “He seems like a good man.” He said then, nodding back towards the door.

“He is.” The younger agreed in reminiscence of their previous conversation. He thought that was going to be all, and he ignored the small bit of disappointment he felt at knowing he might well never see his former boss again- that he really didn’t have any reason to at this particular crossroads.

To his surprise, the Marine continued speaking, looking out the widow by the stairwell. “Heard any scuttlebutt lately?”

Tony frowned in surprised confusion. “About?” He questioned.

“SecNav’s been tearing things up at NCIS.” He stated, shaking his head slightly, expression torn between annoyance and respect. “Vance stepped down as director, and I’ve accepted a position as Master-of-Arms at FLETC,”

“Wait, what?” Tony interrupted, stunned. “Why?”

“It’s time.” He replied easily, more easily than Tony could have ever expected.

“Wow,” Tony couldn’t help by say, honestly at a loss for words. At the twist of annoyance on Gibbs face, he continued. “Sorry, I just, what happened to retiring to Mexico when you were done?” He tried to add a joking tone, but fell short.

“Retirement didn’t suit me too well.”

Tony dropped his eyes, knowing it was true. “What about McGee and David?”

“McGee quit. Decided he didn’t want to start back to the basics. Gonna be a full time writer.” The tone clearly portraying just what he thought of that decision. “Though I hear JAG is investigating him to see if anything he’s already published held classified information. Ziva went back to Israel.” He finished steadily.

“Wow.” He uttered again, helplessly. It’d been obvious that the higher up’s had been more than a bit annoyed with how NCIS was operating and the liberties their agents were taking, but he hadn’t expected such a huge shake up. The Director and entire MCRT gone in one fell swoop? It was unheard of.  “Who’s-“ replacing you went unsaid, but lingered in the air.

“Erica Barrett will be the new Special Agent-in-Charge. She’ll be choosing her own team.”

“Of course..” Was all Tony could muster at the knowledge that his former girlfriend was taking command of his former team. “She’s a good agent.” He managed to add on after a pause.

“She is.” Gibbs agreed candidly. He shook his head slightly, meeting hazel eyes and holding out a calloused hand. Tony accepted it automatically, still feeling a bit dazed. “Take care of yourself, DiNozzo. Maybe I’ll see you at the next poker night.”

“We’d be glad to have you.” He replied, shaking himself firmly, feeling both bereft and lighter for the conversation. “You take care of yourself, too.” He ordered as their hands dropped. Gibbs shot him a crooked smile- just with one side of his mouth, really, and nodded. Nothing further was said as the man took his leave. Tony rejoined the room a couple of moments later, Jack locking onto him immediately despite being in the middle of a hand. Tony retook his seat, quietly stating that he’d fill him in at home, and then focused back on enjoying his night.

~*~*~*~

Tony settled into his new role quickly than anyone could have expected. The rapid adjustment period was thanks in part to the unwavering support of his partner, but even more so thanks to his own strength of character and ability to roll with the punches. That skill ended up being vital during his first trip off world, when he’d accompanied the International Oversite committee, along with SG1, on a tour of the Gamma Site. It was supposed to be an easy sightseeing tour- a way for the bureaucrats feel important and like a part of the program without actually putting them in any danger. At least- that was the intention. Jack’s own duties kept him away from being able to accompany them on the journey, despite his own desire to do so.

Tony picked up on the fact that they were being treated with the kid gloves right off the bat, but he couldn’t blame SG1 for their inherent distain over being assigned what was essentially babysitting duty. It wasn’t anyone’s favorite task, and he’d dealt with his own share of boring assignments in his day, which made it easier to ignore the pasted on smiles and being handled like a clueless civilian. They’d never seen him in any capacity other than as the man Jack was dating, so of course they had no way of gauging his own strengths or skillset.

It didn’t help that the others being taken on the tour were just as obnoxious as bureaucrats were want to be, strutting around with their noses raised and an air about them clearly showcasing how they felt about their own importance when compared to those assigned to the base. Tony himself had almost broken his own silence when the Frenchmen, Mr. Lapierre, began tapping insistently on one of the glass tanks while they were being briefed by Dr. Meyers. He didn’t blame three of the members of SG1 for disappearing quickly after that little scene, leaving the group alone with Sam and Teal’c until they all met back up for lunch.  

Tony hadn’t been fed meatloaf since Military School, and he felt a small surge of pity for Jack having been eating like that for most of his adult life. He silently decided he’d go all out for dinner when he arrived back home that night to help make up for it. Perhaps he’d invite SG1 as well, give them a rare home cooked meal of their own, as he expected they didn’t eat much better than his partner had when he’d still assigned to the base.

When things went to hell-in-a-handbasket, as the expression goes, and the base became overrun with the very flesh eating R75 spacebugs Lapierre had been antagonizing earlier in the day, the primary ground team came to appreciate his cool head under pressure and his skill in handling the panicking IOA paper pushers, keeping them calm and moving when they had to flee Gamma Site and take refuge in a rocky cave nearby.

They came to respect him even more when his calm continued as things spiraled further and further downhill. The small space didn’t allow for private conversations, and so the tagalongs were privy to the ground teams’ strategy huddles and quiet discussions. The news of their dwindling odds of survival wasn’t well received and it was clear SG1 was getting very tired of listening to the whining when they had more important things to focus their attention on. The former NCIS agent once again stepped in, both calming the IOA members, and allowing the ground team to work on securing their survival.

 He continued in that role when it was announced that Gamma Site had self-destructed and their only chance of survival would be to make for the abandoned research station that was ten long miles away on foot and through open forest that would leave them completely exposed and unprotected.

Tony, only carrying his standard handgun, knew it wouldn’t be much use in keeping the bugs at bay, and so he didn’t announce it’s presence- though he was relatively sure the ground team knew he had it. Still, they didn’t call him out on it, perhaps understanding and accepting it may come to be a more merciful end then being eaten from the inside out in a manner that Tony couldn’t help but mentally compare to the scarabs in The Mummy movies, though, a thousand times worse.

Somehow, despite all odds against it, they ,made it to the research station. Sam was able to boost the transmission signal enough to break through the radioactive ionsphere that surrounded the planet and contact the crew of the Odyssey before they could release the payload and subsequently kill the survivors they had no way of knowing were there. Tony could see way Jack spoke so highly of the woman- of the whole team. He’d been in a lot of tight situations during his career, but this one had definitely taken the cake. That they were unfazed and behaved as if it was nearly commonplace said a lot about their own fortitude and strength of character.

His partner was on base when they finally arrived back home, and Tony could immediately see the small glitch in the man’s otherwise stoically professional decorum as they were directed by protocol upon returning to home soil. Not normally a clingy man by any means, Jack had remained as close as he were allowed during the temporary isolation and medical visits, and then kept him within arms reach once he was released.

The odd behavior was understandable, considering base command had been operating under the assumption that the everyone at the Gamma Site had been killed before or during the self-destruct sequence was triggered when the bugs invaded it’s very walls. Despite both their backgrounds, Jack and Tony had come to be in positions were they were supposed to be relatively safe in their day to day. Jack hadn’t  been prepared for the possibility of losing Tony in such a way, and he’d been having a hard time grappling with it, exposed as he was as the head of Homeworld security during such a massively FUBAR situation. And not just losing Tony, but his whole team- well, former team, but still the people who were the family of his heart, even if he’d never admit such a thing out loud. Tony couldn’t imagine how he’d felt having to maintain his resolve under such stress himself, but, true to his character, the man had remained the faultless leader that those under his command had come to expect during a crisis, no matter how helpless the situation might seem.

Still, they’d departed for home as quickly as allowed, eager to reconnect away from the watching eyes. Once home, Jack kept him even closer. They’d had hard, filthy sex almost immediately, and then lounged together where they’d fallen on the couch for some time afterwards. When they did drag themselves back up, it was to share a much needed shower. They’d settled for ordering pizza for dinner and then had spent the rest of the evening pressed tightly together on the couch. When they did retire to bed, they found themselves coming together once more, despite the exhausting clinging to Tony, and the tiredness that came with an adrenaline crash felt by both.

That time, there was nothing quick or dirty about it. They came together slowly and leisurely, savoring the closeness that neither had been sure they’d get to experience again just a scant few hours before. It was their most intense and intimate joining to date, and it felt a bit like taking their relationship to a higher level then they’d been at previously. It was funny how life worked out- how circumstances could twist and change unexpectedly, leaving you never knowing quite what to expect. Sometimes though, sometimes the most unexpected challenges led to the most wonderful places…

 

…. “You were an unexpected surprise, the defining moment. The collision of stars that slammed into me hard and sent my neat little world plummeting into the ocean. I never expected it to be you, you know? But it is you. It’s all you. And now there’s no looking back.” -Beau Taplin// The Defining Moment

 

~*~ END ~*~