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End of His Rope

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Prologue: Tobias

Present Day

FBI agent Tobias Fornell slammed the door to his apartment shut, dropped his keys on the table by the door, and shrugged his trench coat off. He let out a long sigh, his shoulders drooping as he hung up his coat and loosened his tie. He was tired. It had been another long day at work, and even though he was home now, he wasn’t done yet. He had to keep looking into this, especially since he could see the deadline looming, and he didn’t want to be pulled off this case because they had nothing on it. He stared at his tan trench coat and, without meaning to, he remembered that time Anthony DiNozzo gave him a hard time for his supposed clichéd style.

“Is there a class at Quantico that teaches all of you Feebies how to dress like every FBI G-man in every movie ever?” Tony had snarked.

Tobias had responded with a middle finger as he walked on, trailing after Gibbs towards Gibbs’ fucked up idea of an office. One day, that elevator was going to refuse to start back up after one of Gibbs’ famous emergency stops and trap Gibbs’ victims in there with him during what was inevitably an uncomfortable discussion. Or worse, it would just give up the ghost and let gravity win, and fall right down to the bottom when Gibbs pressed the emergency stop button. He was definitely not using an elevator in the way it was meant to be used, and Tobias had no desire to go down with it. But of course he was going to get in the elevator with Gibbs. It was what they all did.

He could hear Tony chuckling about his clothes as he walked by. “Hey, at least I’m not a fashion plate,” Tobias threw over his shoulder.

“Why, Toby, thank you for noticing that I’m wearing a new Zegna today!” Tony yelled after him. “I think it makes my ass look awesome!”

“Fuck. You,” Tobias raised both middle fingers this time.

“You wish!” Tony called back.

“Shut up or I’ll find a reason to arrest you again.”

“Meh… You know the charges will never stick,” came the irrepressible answer.

“Get back to work, DiNozzo!” Gibbs barked, holding the elevator door open and glaring impatiently at Tobias.

“On it, Boss!” Tony’s response had been tongue in cheek, and Tobias could see Gibbs roll his eyes but he didn’t say anything else.

It was actually a pretty good memory of the agent, Tobias thought to himself, as he padded to the kitchen and dropped his briefcase on the table along with his handcuffs. Still thinking about the NCIS agent, he went to his bedroom, shed his work clothes and pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt. Anthony DiNozzo was someone Tobias actually liked. He was smart, uncanny at putting together clues to solve crimes, he was funny and surprisingly thoughtful, for all that he portrayed himself to be a cad. Despite himself, Tobias actually liked the man. Besides, he’d been the one putting up with Gibbs as a boss for years. Just for that, he had to be a veritable saint. It was no wonder he had a reputation for being a flirt and commitment phobic. Tobias figured he would need a lot of anonymous and casual sex, too, if he was partnered with Gibbs all day, every day. The poor man needed an outlet for his frustrations and no woman would ever want to voluntarily tie herself to a man whose life was dedicated to making Gibbs’ life, in and out of work, easier. Tobias never begrudged Gibbs’ Senior Field Agent whatever comfort he might find in the arms of random strangers. The guy definitely needed coping mechanisms to put up with the shit that Gibbs put him through.

He trudged into his kitchen, grabbed two bottles of Heineken and took them to his kitchen table, where he twisted the top off one, carelessly dropped it on the table, drank a few swallows of beer and placed the bottle on the table. Directly. Cold, sweaty glass on wood. Without a coaster. Take that, Diane, he thought to himself. It was nice not to have to care about rings on the table and to be endlessly nagged about the use of coasters. He got his briefcase, opened it, and took out a bunch of files, and various other items, scattering them on the table so he could see them.

First, there was Anthony DiNozzo’s NCIS badge, with his ID, his picture looking out at him, looking like the headshot of some movie star. He certainly had the looks to be one, but he wasn’t. It was important to note that even though he could have parlayed his looks into a different sort of career, he hadn’t done that. He’d dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice, a dangerous, time consuming, and for the most part thankless vocation. He was a hardworking schmuck, trying to make a difference in the world, just like Tobias was. Although Tobias would argue that the photo on his own ID did not look quite as glamorous as Tony’s did. They would probably be hard pressed to find anyone whose ID badge made them look as good as Tony’s did. Fuck the man and his stupid classic bone structure and photogenic nature.

He sighed, looking at Tony’s badge. It felt so wrong for Tobias to be in possession of it. It should be with Tony, ready to be whipped out as he gave his trademark ‘Very Special Agent’ spiel. But no. Tobias had it, and it wasn’t because of anything good. He tapped it and nodded, feeling that resolve strengthen within him. He had a job to do, and he had to do it.

Then, he put the strip of leather down by the badge. It was black leather, and although at first glance it looked like it could’ve been something attached to a key ring, he’d learned that it was a collar. The kind that a sexual submissive might wear. He’d also found out that this collar had cost a lot of money and was in excellent condition. Gibbs didn’t remember it being a part of the original case file, but for whatever reason, Tony had squirreled it away with the copy of the case file that he wasn’t even supposed to have anymore. Tobias could only conclude that it was something personal of Tony’s, but was significant enough to be hidden away with the secret case file in his secret hiding place.

Next, he smacked a fat stack of file folders onto the table, opening the first folder. This was the folder, the problematic one as it was a copy Tony had apparently secretly made and maintained even before the originals had been yanked away from him and his team. The case file that Tony should no longer possess. Tobias had it now, and he’d been working hard to ensure that nobody but Gibbs knew he had it. He would probably have to keep it in his house and stop carrying it around in case it was confiscated. He didn’t want to lose the files now when he had no other leads, and he couldn’t afford to lose these the way the MCRT had had their official copy and all evidence removed.

He rummaged through the file. There were papers, forms and documents, and photos paper-clipped together, and he separated a few of the photos out. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t scrutinized before, but maybe tonight it would jar something in his brain, allow him to make some connection or other to figure out what the hell had happened.

Then there was a Philadelphia Police Department badge on a metal chain, the kind a cop put around his neck and could easily slip under his clothes if need be. He’d looked into the badge number and it was no longer in use. The detective who used to have this badge had been killed on the job, he’d been part of the security team for a mob related case and been shot and killed during an attempt to assassinate a witness he had been holding in protective custody. It had happened over a decade ago, and when Tobias asked around to see if any of them remembered the dead detective or Tony, whose time at the Philly PD overlapped with the dead detective’s time, they definitely remembered Tony for his takedown of the Macaluso family. Hell, even Tobias had known about Tony’s undercover work bringing down the Macalusos. But no one could say for certain if Tony and Detective Matthew Holbrook had known each other. Tobias didn’t even think there was a real connection to the case that Tony had been working on off the books, but he’d kept this badge and the leather collar in his secret stash, along with the files, so Tobias had to wonder if there was some intangible connection that he couldn’t see right now. Looking at it all together might help him. Besides, he wanted to keep all of Tony’s secret things together. When he found the man, and he was going to find the man, some of these things might be of value to Tony.

Finally, there was a length of rope, tied in a series of complicated knots. Gibbs hadn’t known what type of knot it was, so it wasn’t something that Marines, sailors, or boy scouts might be familiar with, but the knots were definitely complicated. It wasn’t the exact rope that had been in the original case file because of course that had been sent to Abby as evidence and subsequently confiscated with the rest of the original case file. But Tony had bought the same type of rope and tied that knot, so he didn’t mess up the evidence, or get it taken away with the rest of the original case file. And it had been clear that he wasn’t an expert at tying these knots, because compared to the pictures in the file, the knots there had been much more expertly tied, beautiful even. The knots in Tony’s rope looked clumsy by comparison. Tobias didn’t know how the rope fit into the case, but Tony had apparently needed to feel it, to tie it, and to have it as a concrete example of what the case was that he’d been looking into. On his own time. After it had been taken away from their team, and the MCRT had been told to stay out of it.

This was a case that Anthony DiNozzo had not been able to let go of. He’d made a copy of the file from the beginning, maintaining a personal, secret copy of it for a reason that Tobias did not yet understand. And he’d kept digging into things that he wasn’t supposed to, despite the case being yanked out of their hands. Gibbs had said that the order had come from up high. Higher than Vance. Higher even than the SecNav. Gibbs didn’t know how high the order to turn in all of their case materials and stop investigating it had come from, and while he would normally have dug in his heels and continued to investigate anyway, fuck orders and the fucking brass that might have given them, they had been assigned another grueling and far more immediate and high priority case. Gibbs would have come back to this investigation once they had closed that case, but apparently Tony hadn’t been able to let it go, for reasons that neither Gibbs nor his teammates understood. He’d quietly continued to work on it, even though as a team, the MCRT had been running low on sleep and rest. He gave his normal full attention to the next case, of course, but instead of taking cat naps like the others on the few breaks that they’d been granted, he’d operated on caffeine and apparently no sleep in order to secretly keep working the case that had been yanked away from them.

He hadn’t even been keeping Gibbs apprised of his progress. Normally, he would, and Gibbs would turn a blind eye at this kind of behavior because, let’s face it, that was what Gibbs sanctioned, perhaps even encouraged. But this time, Gibbs had told him to leave it be for the time being, until they could work together on it as a team. But Tony just couldn’t do it. It was rare that Tony DiNozzo would disobey one of Gibbs’ direct orders, but this was one of them. He’d been investigating away on his own, poking into whatever it was he’d poked into. And after they finally closed that next case, the MCRT was allowed to go home and take a day off to recover. Unfortunately, when they were all due back at work, Tony did not come in.

Gibbs had done his usual barely legal maneuvers to track down Tony’s cell phone, and gone to his apartment. But when he got there, Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo was absent. His car was there in the parking lot where it usually was, his keys were in the bowl by the front door, his wallet, badge, gun, ID were all present and accounted for. Everything was there. The apartment was immaculate, which was apparently, how Tony kept it, something that had surprised Tobias when Gibbs was finally forced to call him in. The disappearance of a federal agent was the FBI’s jurisdiction after all. They found a plate of half eaten food on his coffee table, half a glass of wine, the TV still on. The rest of the bottle of wine was open in the kitchen, waiting for Tony to come back and pour himself a refill.

Nothing was out of place. Nothing had been ransacked. Gibbs didn’t think that anything was missing, other than the agent himself. It didn’t look like the man had packed anything and left, and it definitely didn’t look as if he had been forcibly taken away from the apartment. There was no CCTV footage anywhere of Tony leaving the apartment after he’d gotten home that night that they closed their case. And after a whole month of people from the FBI and of course NCIS diligently looking for him, they still could find no trace of the man anywhere.

It was as if he had vanished into thin air.

Luckily, these secret files of his had been hidden away and Gibbs had known about Tony’s secret hiding place. Tobias had spent the last month trying to use the usual tools to try to locate the missing federal agent. However, they had all come up with a big fat nothing. And throughout this time, he’d had to fight with Gibbs every single day, because the fucking man refused to cede that Tony’s case was outside of NCIS’s jurisdiction. Had butted in and impeded his progress with his demands. Wouldn’t let Tobias do his thing and forced them to work together at his house. But today, Tobias had put his foot down and refused to keep working at Gibbs’ house. He’d worked the case with his own people today, and brought the work back to his own apartment and tonight, Gibbs was not invited to join him. He had been disinvited and discouraged to come around, in fact.

They were on a deadline now. Tobias needed to rethink everything and he didn’t need Gibbs breathing down his neck and refusing to consider other theories of what might have happened to Tony. He was desperate enough now to follow Anthony DiNozzo’s last moves before he disappeared. Figure out what Tony might have learned about the case they’d been ordered to cease investigating that could have somehow led to his disappearance.

He had only a few more days to figure this out, before the FBI considered this a cold case and he would officially be taken off the case. Tobias wanted to find this man, no matter what happened. He didn’t want this case to grow cold. How could an honest to god Federal Agent just disappear into thin air? And how could it be that there was no trace of him anywhere? There should have been something, some small trail to follow. It would have been logical then, if the trail went cold. The absence of such a trail was not normal. It was an impossible, superhuman feat.

And besides, it was Tony. He knew the guy. He liked the guy. And he was missing. Tobias wasn’t just looking for any old missing person. He was looking for his friend.

And the fact that someone could just pluck this man, this experienced law enforcement officer, right out of his home and disappear him so thoroughly in a city like DC where there were countless traffic cams, CCTV and other cameras, it was unthinkable. Who would do this, and why? And how had they accomplished it?

Chapter Text

Chapter One: Tony

Four weeks and three days ago

Tony DiNozzo sat on the closed lid of the toilet in a stall of the men’s room on the squad room floor, flipping through the case file that was balanced on his knee. He didn’t need to use the facilities, but he needed to take a look at the file again. Something was niggling at him and he wanted to browse through what he still had to see if he could determine what it was that was bothering him. He had to hide the fact that he had a copy of a case file that he wasn’t supposed to have anymore, and that he was currently carrying it around with him. He knew that he was disobeying a direct order to immediately cease investigating the case and turn in all the evidence they had unearthed so far, per the orders of some unnamed higher up who outranked Vance and even the SecNav.

They had been taken off the case only a day ago, but Tony hadn’t wanted to let it go. The case was in the forefront of his mind and had been since they’d first caught it. He’d made a secret copy of the file when they started the case, needing to keep it close to him while they worked it. This was why he still had this copy of the file, and this was also why he was in the men’s room, reviewing the illicit copy of the file that he’d managed to hang on to even though they had had to turn in everything else, including every scrap of evidence they had collected.

Looking at the crime scene photos took him back to when he and the MCRT had first come upon it, two days ago. The call came in about a dead Marine and assigned to them. At first glance, nothing seemed special about it. A dead body, some poor dead Corporal, same as always. But when they found the remnants of knotted ropes, some of the knots just soaked in the victim’s blood, it had raised Tony’s hackles. He immediately wondered if this was a hate crime. This Marine was tall, fit, and muscular. Everything that a Marine was supposed to be, and he was definitely not one of the ones on the Admin side of things. This Marine was obviously someone who had not only seen a lot of action, but was still in the thick of it. Tony could see the muscle definition on the vic’s body, he wasn’t just fit like gym rat kind of fit. This was a man who put his life on the line, fought for himself and his fellow Marines, and defended his country. This was a man whose muscles weren’t sculpted for the most aesthetically pleasing configuration, this was a man whose body was hard from being on active duty.

McGee was already theorizing that this man must have been lured into this rental cabin. He was talking about there being more than one perpetrator, because how else would this big, muscly man have been stripped naked and bound? They hadn’t found any evidence that he had been tasered or something to that effect. Bruising on his body indicated that he had been trussed for some time before he died. Then someone had cut the bonds, leaving some of the rope behind. The ropes had been cut with no rhyme or reason, but Tony could tell that whoever had tied the rope had not been the one to remove them. An expert had tied the man up, and they would have had an elegant way to release him. Clumsily sawing away at the rope into many pieces was not how this usually went. Not that the Marine would care that much about the aesthetics of it. He was dead now.

And how he died had been brutal. He had been beaten to a pulp and the cabin walls splashed with his blood. Ducky thought that he might have been penetrated anally, although he couldn’t say whether the sex was consensual or not, not at first glance, but McGee was immediately thinking that this man had been overpowered by multiple people, stripped naked, tied up, and then raped. Because McGee couldn’t fathom how this could have been anything but some sick and twisted thing.

But Tony saw the beauty in the rope markings left on the body. He had to stop himself from pressing his own body at matching points, where the rope had been knotted. He could see it in his mind’s eye, the markings indicating the intricate knotting on the man’s back. And for the first time in a very long time, he thought about Matt and he yearned for him. Yearned for the freedom he’d experienced with Matt, trusting him to bind him, and leave those markings on him. Snug enough to immobilize and leave an indentation, a mark on his skin, but not so tight that it chafed or broke his skin. He noticed that it was even the right kind of rope, used specifically because it could mark skin without harming it. Used specifically for this kind of bondage. Tony looked up at the ceiling and saw the sturdy metal rings embedded in it, in multiple, strategic places. Rings that could be used to hoist a trussed body up and secure it several feet above the ground. Suspend them right at the height needed so their partner could fuck them easily, if that was what they wanted. Fucking wasn’t a necessary part of the practice, because the point was the bindings.

Not for any sick or twisted reason. But because this was a shared kink. This was how they expressed love, and trust, and intimacy. How they appreciated the beauty of their partners.

Being so near it now made Tony want to weep. Matt was the only person Tony had ever trusted with this. No one else had even known about this kink, and Tony wasn’t really someone who would trust just anyone to tie him up and fuck him. Tony had to stop himself from thinking about this, and thinking about Matt. He had to focus on the case, and the present, and stop himself from thinking back to the past.

Tony kept looking up at the ceiling, noting the placement of the rings. This cabin was used by people like this Marine often. There weren’t that many people who shared this Marine’s predilections. Maybe the owner of the rental would be able to tell him more about the vic. He made a mental note to talk to him.

Then he looked back at the scene. He was in charge of photographing the crime scene, so he took a close look at everything while he snapped the photographs. He took a close up shot of the blood soaked knots, becoming sadder and sadder as he kept shooting. The knots had been expertly and beautifully tied. Who had tied this man up so lovingly? And where the hell was he now? How had things ended in such a gruesome way for Corporal Wozniak? And had his partner met with the same gruesome end, somewhere else? Tony couldn’t believe that someone who would take his time with these kinds of knots – these had been lovingly and painstakingly tied – would be the same person to cause this excessive level of harm to the Corporal. Something had to have happened to his partner, too. Tony was convinced of it.

“We know anything about the vic’s personal life?” Tony asked out loud. “A significant other?”

“Why?” Ziva asked rudely. “Do you want to hit on his girlfriend, now that he is out of the picture?”

“Someone took the time to tie him up,” Tony couldn’t help sounding defensive.

“They hogtied him so they could rape him, Tony,” McGee chimed in, his tone condescending. “Or maybe it’s a serial killer. We should look up this MO and see if we can spot any patterns.”

“I don’t think the tying up was part of a serial killer’s ritual,” Tony snapped. “This is a bondage thing.”

“Trust you to think only of the kinky shit,” Ziva sniffed.

Tony growled under his breath and continued to take photos. He placed markers every so often, photographed further, and McGee was doing sketches and bagging and tagging.

When Jimmy and Ducky finally moved the body, underneath it, free of any blood spatter, was a piece of paper that looked like it had been in an explosion, soot marking all of it, except for a clean, blood free rectangle right in the middle.

“What the fuck is that?” Tony asked Ducky.

“I don’t know, my dear boy,” Ducky frowned at it.

Tony carefully got on his knees and sniffed it. “I smell smoke,” he murmured. “Why isn’t it bloody?” He started taking pictures of it and then turned to the body that was now lying on his back on a gurney, and Tony took pictures of his front. Where the paper had been was a clear area. No blood. Nothing. “What the hell?” he was mostly speaking to himself now, as he photographed what he saw.

“Have you ever seen something like this, Doctor Mallard?” Jimmy Palmer asked his mentor.

“I can’t say that I have,” Ducky shook his head.

Tony zoomed in and took pictures of the unbloodied area as well as more rope markings covering the man’s front. He would have to take his time to figure out the position in which the poor man had been tied, and he would have to try not to recall how amazing it felt to be so tied up.

“What’s his posting, do we know?” Tony asked.

“I wasn’t able to pull it up,” McGee replied. “Classified. Gibbs is talking to Vance about it.”

“Huh,” Tony kept photographing. “Even his posting is so classified you couldn’t see it? How are we supposed to talk to his CO and his platoon?”

“We’ll just have to hack in and find out if no one will tell us,” McGee said. “Because whoever fucked this poor guy up, they can’t just be let go scot free.”

“We should look around outside,” Tony pursed his lips.

Tony knew that whoever had lovingly bound this man wouldn’t have just walked away leaving him so vulnerable. And there was no way that someone who was an expert at this sort of bondage would have not been able to untie him. Tony examined the edges of the rope pieces. Maybe they hadn’t been cut? He zoomed in and took some close ups of the frayed edges. Maybe they had been burned or blasted apart? Shit. Maybe this man’s partner was outside somewhere, dead, because he was definitely not inside the cabin. This Marine whose work was so classified that even his posting wasn’t something that NCIS had visibility into wouldn’t have trusted just anyone to bind him like this. This was something he did with one specific person, someone he trusted with his very being. That was how it had been between Tony and Matt. And if whoever had tied him up hadn’t come back, then Tony had to think that he, like Matt, was dead, too.

And yes. Tony did think that whoever the vic’s significant other was, that he was a man. Someone strong enough to pull a dead weight up and suspend it in midair using the rings in the ceiling. Most probably a man, and someone very strong, given the height and build of the vic.

Once they finished inside, Tony organized a search of the area surrounding the cabin, ignoring Ziva’s and McGee’s complaints. At that point, Tony didn’t give a shit. They needed to just do as they were told, and do the job properly. They worked their search grid, but of course, Tony was the one to find him.

Tony had to stand and stare at what he’d found for a long moment, before he called out to get Ducky’s attention. He ordered Ziva to continue searching the area while they processed the new scene.

What was left looked like it had been torn limb from limb by something with superhuman strength.

“Animal attack?” McGee ventured. “Bear maybe?”

“I do not see teeth or claw marks,” Ducky shook his head. “It is doubtful that an animal could cause this much damage without leaving some traces of teeth or claw marks. In fact, it is doubtful that any animal currently living could cause this kind of damage, with or without leaving such marks. There is no reason for any animal to cause this kind of destruction. Predatory animals would incapacitate and kill their prey, usually efficiently and quickly to prevent their escape, and then they would proceed to eat them. Again, there is no evidence that any animal large enough to cause this dismembering of a human being had even taken a bite out of its supposed prey.”

Silently, and grimly, Tony just kept photographing. This man, whoever he was, was Corporal Wozniak’s lover. Whatever it was that killed him had done it viciously. Tony felt like there was a directed fury behind this work. He desperately needed to learn more about what had happened here. He felt as if he were thrown back to when he’d first heard about Matt’s death. He’d needed to learn more about how it had happened, and to figure out what, if anything, he could do about it. That was how he felt now. He needed to be able to do something, find whoever had killed Corporal Wozniak and his mystery lover. It was imperative that they closed this case to his satisfaction.

Back at the office, Tony surreptitiously made copies of the case file and the photos, socking them away in his backpack, meaning to dump the file in his hidey hole in his apartment. This case was too important to him to not have right at his fingertips. Tony felt a deep connection to the case.

They found out that the Corporal was on shore leave, and nobody in his family had known if he was even in a relationship with anyone. McGee and Ziva were throwing out theories where the other dead man that they were still trying to identify was one of the rapists. But Ducky still couldn’t say whether Wozniak had been raped. Tony just knew in his gut, that Corporal Wozniak did have a boyfriend, and he and his lover had reunited for the first time in six months, and it had ended in tragedy.

Tony knew that if Wozniak had been raped, it wasn’t by whoever the other dead man was. They were in a committed relationship, a Dominant/submissive one and the man who had been torn into pieces was an expert at tying knots. They practiced shibari, which was what Matt had introduced Tony to back in Philly. But all of his ideas were pushed to the side because they were apparently too farfetched. Tony was too focused on sex. He needed to get his head out of the gutter and work the case based on the evidence that they had.

Ducky had just come up to the bullpen to tell them that the autopsy had gone very strangely for the Corporal. His insides had been practically liquefied.

“Liquefied?” Gibbs had barked.

Ducky nodded.

“What does that mean? How can somebody’s insides be liquefied?” Tony asked the rather obvious follow up question.

“I don’t know, Anthony,” Ducky looked troubled. “I have never, in all my life, seen this.”

It was about at this point in the investigation when people in various uniforms, primarily Air Force and Marines, had come in and confiscated everything they’d gathered. Every scrap of evidence, every vial of blood, every body part, every piece of paper, every photograph and the SD card. Everything. Gibbs was in Vance’s office, yelling bloody murder, and Vance couldn’t appease him. Vance didn’t have any information, and when he ran it up the flagpole, the SecNav admitted that the order came from above him and he didn’t have any say in what happened now.

The MCRT was ordered off the case in no uncertain terms. Everything was confiscated, and the men in uniform even wiped the evidence from their computers in such a way that neither McGee nor Abby were later able to recover them. Whatever they had used had truly deleted only the selected files in a very permanent manner.

The only things left were in Tony’s hiding place in his apartment, secret copies of the file and photos. And even while Gibbs was still foaming at the mouth, yelling at Vance, the SecNav handed them a high priority case that needed to be worked right away.

Tony could see a distraction tactic when he saw it. And that was why, even though the MCRT was supposed to be working on this new high priority case, Tony couldn’t let go of the Wozniak case. Couldn’t let go of the fact that this Marine had loved and trusted someone, someone they hadn’t even been able to identify, to tie him up, mark up his skin in beautiful patterns left behind by the rope. And that they had both died.

Tony yearned for it. The feel of the rope against his skin. It had been the most freeing experience of his life, to let go of control of everything, including any control of his body and its voluntary movements, to let Matt kiss every inch of his exposed skin as he worked to tie him up. But of course, Matt had died. Killed in action. He’d died a hero, but Tony had been left behind to pick up the pieces without him. It had been the beginning of the end of his time with Philly PD. He’d signed up for the long term deep undercover work after that. He didn’t really have anything important left, there was no one left to miss him at that time. He didn’t have anything to lose. Because Tony had already lost everything with Matt’s death.

Right now, he could see Matt in the body parts of the man found outside. And he saw himself in the dead Corporal Wozniak. And he couldn’t just let it go.

“DiNozzo!” Gibbs’ voice surprised him, and the stall door was banged on loudly. “Stop burning daylight. We got a case to work.”

“On my way, Boss!” Tony scrambled to put everything back in his backpack. He stood up, flushed the toilet, went to wash his hands, and went back to work on the case – the distraction – that they had been assigned.

But even though they were kept super busy with the new case, he kept working the Wozniak case on the side. At the very first opportunity – when Gibbs had given them a couple of hours to take a nap – he’d taken off back to the cabin to see if he could find anything else. He left a voicemail for the owner as he sped there.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Tobias

Present Day

Tobias opened the door and flicked the lights on in the cabin. It was now completely bare. Everything had been removed, the furniture, the fixings. It was devoid of everything. All that was left was a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. There was no trace now of the violent murder that had occurred here. How they had managed to so thoroughly clean all that blood and human innards and whatnot was a miracle.

This wasn’t unexpected though. Tobias looked at the photo that Tony had included in his secret files. From the timestamp, it looked like Tony had taken the picture not even a day after the case had been unceremoniously yanked from the MCRT. It showed the cabin the way Tobias was seeing it now – everything had been removed and completely sanitized the day after the case had been pulled. Which was sketchy as hell. Who the hell sanitized a crime scene before the crime was solved? Someone who had something to hide, that’s who. Tobias knew that Tony would have thought exactly the same thing, too.

Tobias pulled on latex gloves and began poking around, but there was nothing left to find. Whoever had cleaned this cabin had probably bleached and sanitized it to where they could probably eat off the floor, and any DNA traces from all the way back to the time that the cabin was built, probably, had been obliterated. He blew out a breath, frustrated, as he stood in the middle of the cabin and glared at it.

There was a knock at the doorjamb and a man stood there, looking uncomfortable. Tobias turned his glare on him.

“I’m, uh, Barry? The landlord?” the man volunteered, and he was sweating.

Tobias nodded, pulling out his badge and flashing it. “Agent Fornell, FBI. Thanks for meeting with me.” He gestured for the man to walk in. “Who authorized the cleanup of this crime scene?”

“I-I don’t know,” Barry shrugged. “My office received the paperwork saying that the cabin wasn’t a crime scene anymore, and that the agency was covering the cleaning costs. And that I’m not to talk about this with anyone.”

NCIS?” Tobias frowned. “NCIS sent you this paperwork?”

“I guess?” Barry grimaced. “It all looked official, sealed and notarized and everything. The documents are in my office, if you need to see them. I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t on the up and up. Just like I told the other investigator.”

“What other investigator?” Tobias latched on to that. Was someone else looking into this, too? Maybe they would have an idea of what might have happened to Tony DiNozzo.

“Ummm… it was weeks ago? Very Special Agent something? Tony something?”

Tobias had to suppress his disappointment. He pulled out a picture of Tony from his folder and showed it to the landlord. “This guy?” he asked.

“Yeah!” Barry brightened up when he saw the photo. “He was really nice, and really knowledgeable. He definitely knew what was supposed to happen and he seemed to really care about Alex and Julian.”

“Julian?” Tobias asked. Alex was Corporal Alexander Wozniak but he didn’t know who this Julian was. “Who’s Julian?”

The man looked uncomfortable. “You should maybe talk to Tony. He’s probably got all kinds of leads by now.”

“He’s been pulled away for an emergency, and he’s out of touch,” Tobias sighed. “I’m taking over until he can come back. And I don’t have all of Special Agent DiNozzo’s notes. So if you wouldn’t mind repeating to me your conversation with him?”

Barry gave him a suspicious look. “How do I know you’re really FBI?”

Tobias resisted the urge to smack his own face. People were getting warier these days, which was a good thing, until he was on the receiving end of this wariness. “You can call the main FBI 800 number that you can google and ask for me,” he told the man, allowing him to examine his FBI credentials and handing him a business card.

Barry looked at the ID and card for a long moment. “And you can’t ask Tony?” he asked softly.

“I’m afraid I can’t. I wish I could…”

“Is he OK?” Barry’s eyes were wide now.

“Why do you ask?”

“He seemed… I don’t know… a little lost.”

“I thought you said he knew his stuff?”

“No, no. He knew his stuff. He just seemed sad, I guess.”

“Sad?”

“Well… you know. What with what happened to Alex and Julian.”

“Tell me who Julian is?”

Barry sighed. “The guy you found in pieces outside the cabin. We think that has to be Julian.”

Tobias started scribbling in his notebook. “Who is Julian and why do you think it’s him?”

“Well,” Barry snarled under his breath. “Because he’s Alex’s bakushi.”

Tobias cocked his head. “I don’t know this term,” he told the man bluntly.

“Oh, man…” Barry sighed and covered his face. “Look. This cabin is one that we rent out to couples who are, well, who are into bondage.”

“Bondage?” Tobias raised an eyebrow.

“Yes. Bondage. Specifically, rope bondage,” Barry’s eyes went to the ceiling, and Tobias followed his gaze, seeing the rings embedded in the ceiling. He remembered how Tony had photographed them carefully in the original case file.

“Like tie you up and fuck you sort of thing?” he asked.

“That really demeans the practice, and the relationship that Alex and Julian were in,” the man complained. “Look, this is why I don’t like talking to you people.”

“Who? Cops?”

“No. People who don’t understand the BDSM lifestyle, and furthermore, the kind of rope bondage that couples who rent this cabin are into,” he crossed his arms.

“But Tony understood this? He understood bondage?”

The man nodded.

“Really?” Shit. Tony was kinkier than he’d ever imagined. Tobias remembered the leather collar that he’d kept in his secret hiding place. He tried not to picture Tony tying people up for shits and giggles, and honestly, now that he was thinking about it, he could definitely see Tony enjoying that sort of thing, so he shouldn’t really be so surprised.

“I think he was sad, because this case reminded him of his own bakushi,” Barry continued. “He really felt for Alex.”

Tony felt for Alex? Had Tony been the one to be tied up? That was not what Tobias would have pictured at all. Tony was someone who seemed to always need to be in control. Sure, he gave Gibbs power over him, but he’d voluntarily given Gibbs that power. Gibbs would never be able to just take it from the man. And being tied up seemed to be the epitome of powerlessness.

“What does this term bah - ” Tobias struggled with the foreign word.

Bakushi?”

“Yes. That. What does it mean?”

“The bakushi is the dominant in the relationship,” Barry explained. “The bakushi is the master rope tier.”

“So Alex was the submissive,” Tobias noted, remembering the rope markings on the man. “And Julian was his dom. What is Julian’s last name?”

Barry gave him the information and Tobias asked the man some more questions, but it really didn’t amount to much more. He thanked Barry and took a walk around the cabin, noting that the area where the other body parts – Julian’s presumably – had been found had also been completely cleansed. He could tell that whoever had done the cleaning up had even removed surrounding branches and bushes, so as to not leave anything at all that Tobias might be able to use. After a futile attempt at gathering more evidence, Tobias left.

When he got home, he googled rope bondage and the new term that he had learned, and he realized that the whole rope bondage thing – shibari or kinbaku – it was a big thing amongst certain subcultures. He wondered if this was a hate crime or maybe a sex crime, although the cause of death was still a mystery. Ducky Mallard, the NCIS’s ME had talked to him privately about how the young Corporal’s insides had been liquefied and how Ducky knew nothing about how someone could go about liquefying a man’s internal organs while keeping his flesh and bone intact. Well, as intact as someone would be who had been given a severe beating. He also searched for Julian Moreland, the man who was purported to be Alex Wozniak’s dom, and saw that he was listed as a missing person, last seen on the same day that Alex Wozniak had been killed.

Tobias sighed. What the hell was going on here? Someone had come in and truly sanitized the crime scenes, to the point where this poor man, Julian, wasn’t even identified and put to rest, assuming that the second set of remains was indeed Julian’s. At the very least, Wozniak’s family and next of kin had been informed of his death. Julian Moreland’s family had no idea what had happened to him, and Tobias had no way of informing them, since he had nothing on Julian. No DNA, no evidence, no case. Nothing. Anything he might tell them would be pure conjecture and speculation, so he couldn’t talk to them without more evidence. And that was the problem, all of their evidence had been confiscated. He didn’t have anything to work with for the poor man.

He growled under his breath as he sat at his laptop and sipped his Heineken. Whatever was going on, he really needed to follow Tony’s trail. He hoped it would lead him to Tony and that he himself wouldn’t end up mysteriously disappeared, too.

When he went to bed that night, he wondered if the deceased Detective Matthew Holbrook, whose badge Tony still kept, had been Tony’s dom. The one who Tony had trusted to tie him up.

He laid in the bed and wondered about Tony’s past. Tony had gone from bed to bed, actively trying not to get into a relationship. All of the relationships that Tobias had known about had ended in disaster. There was the arms dealer’s daughter, of course, that had gotten his car blown up, and almost gotten him killed and later arrested for murder. Gibbs had alluded to an ex-fiance of his, Wendy something, and how that had ended badly for him. And he could see how Tony might seem lost to someone like Barry, who knew the kind of lifestyle that Tony apparently indulged in. Tobias couldn’t see how a regular, vanilla relationship would appeal to someone with that kind of fetish. Especially if his Dom had died unexpectedly, if Detective Holbrook had been his Dom, and they had been in a committed relationship in secret. It would have left Tony untethered. Literally.

Surprisingly, the fact that Tony would also sleep with men did not shock Tobias. It made sense that he wouldn’t have made that public knowledge, given that he was in law enforcement, but it wasn’t at all shocking to him that Anthony DiNozzo would have male sexual partners. The man seemed to enjoy sex too much to have something as trivial as a person’s gender get in the way of a good orgasm.

God. Tobias had no idea how he was going to explain this to Gibbs. Because it didn’t really factor into the case of the missing NCIS agent, and it seemed like a breach of Tony’s privacy to disclose this sort of thing willy nilly. Especially since Gibbs wasn’t even in charge of the investigation. Tobias was.

And knowing that Tony was a submissive, it suddenly made sense how the Senior Field Agent tended to obey Gibbs’ orders so completely. That he endured the physical abuse that Gibbs doled out – like those stupid head slaps. That he enjoyed the challenge of living up to Gibbs’ unrealistic expectations. So much about Tony made sense to Tobias now. The man had to be a masochist as well as a submissive. The Tony-Gibbs dynamic suddenly made so much sense that it made Tobias a little disappointed at himself that it had taken him this long to figure that out.

Tobias shuddered, not wanting to think of Gibbs and Tony in a sexual relationship. Or Gibbs tying Tony up. Or fucking him.

Shit. Tobias groaned and rubbed his face. Why the hell couldn’t he just fall asleep without the image of Gibbs tying Tony to his boat and fucking him just like that popping into his mind? Why? Whyyyy? He was so going to give that boat the side eye the next time he went to Gibbs’ basement. He’d better be careful not give Gibbs the side eye too, or Gibbs would be giving him the head slaps next.

Tobias closed his eyes and firmly forced all thoughts of the case out of his mind. He needed to sleep so he could pick up Tony’s trail tomorrow. And that was the end of it.

A thought popped into his head, despite his attempts to go to sleep. He wondered what the rings in the ceilings meant. The way Tony photographed them meant something, but what, he didn’t know. He grabbed his phone and googled it, and for the next half an hour, he scrolled through an amazing number of pictures of people tied up and suspended in mid-air, and by the end of it, even though he didn’t quite understand the sex part of it, he could see the beauty in the forms that the tier – the bakushi – might have achieved, in positioning their captive and displaying them so artistically. He could see the appeal of it as art, and as he understood it, there were many such exhibitions where the dominant and the submissive weren’t in a committed relationship and there might not be anything sexual between them, not in the way that Alex Wozniak was supposed to be with Julian Moreland. And not in the way that Tony DiNozzo might have been with the dead Philly PD Detective Holbrook.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Tony

Four weeks ago

Tony’s fingers shook a little when he caressed Matt’s badge. He shouldn’t even have it, but after Matt died, his partner, the only one who had known about Matt’s relationship with Tony, had been the one to give him the badge. It was one of the most precious things that Tony possessed. He kept it in his secret hiding place, along with the black leather collar that Matt had put on him when they decided to enter into a permanent contract.

Tony fingered the collar gently and wrapped it around Matt’s badge. He had never put the collar back on after Matt’s death. Besides, Matt had liked fastening it on him before they played. And since they had both been cops, everything had been secret and private, so Tony had never even worn his collar outside. Not even once. But it had been his honor and his privilege to wear Matt’s collar all those years ago, no matter how privately it had been. And he would never put it on again now that Matt had died.

He closed his eyes, remembering the brush of Matt’s calloused fingers over his body, his movements slow and deliberate as he positioned Tony’s limb and expertly wrapped the rope, binding his arm to his chest. Every knot was a thing of beauty, the whisper of the rope gliding on his skin causing gooseflesh to rise, and his dick to harden. The rasp of the rope as Matt knotted it, and then wrapped the rope around him again, making another knot, slowly and gracefully completing the ritual. Matt was a skilled bakushi, and the increasing freedom Tony felt as Matt continued to wrap rope around him and tie those incredible knots had been indescribable. Matt had bound his body even as he freed his mind. Tony would have been happy to be Matt’s forever. When he was Matt’s captive, sometimes, Tony didn’t even care if they got to the sex part. Every knot would bring him closer to subspace, and once there, all he wanted to do was be unable to move, and to let Matt do whatever made him happy. He had been able to relinquish all his control so completely and trust that Matt would always take care of him. His love and devotion for Matt had been reciprocated fully, and he couldn’t fathom ever finding that sort of love again. It had been the best and happiest time of his life.

He picked up the envelope and opened it, sliding the polaroids out. Occasionally, Matt had loved to photograph him, bound and immobilized. And back then, they wouldn’t have trusted Tony’s images on film that needed to be developed. Even if Matt or Tony had developed it themselves, there would be negatives. There would be a trail. It had been too risky. So Matt had only taken polaroids. Tony shuffled through the deck of polaroids, wondering not for the first time, just how many pictures he would have had if they had had digital technology back then. He found the one he had been looking for and paused to stare at it for a moment.

He’s on his knees, eyes blindfolded with rope bindings. His torso was criss crossed with rope and knots, a main set around his neck and coming down, bisecting him in half long ways, and then there was rope going around his chest, binding his biceps to his sides, the bindings spaced regularly down his body in a beautiful pattern. His hands were tied behind his back, and the rope that acted as a blindfold around his eyes was connected to the bindings around his wrists, pulling his head back and exposing his neck. His dick was hard, bound with rope around the base and around his balls like a cock ring made out of jute, and then the rope was lovingly wound around the rest of his erection and then secured to the rest of the rope off to the side.

He couldn’t even remember the picture being taken, he’d been so deep into that haze of pleasure, of the praises that Matt had whispered in his ear, how good he was being, how beautiful he was, how responsive, the best captive in the world. That was what he remembered about that night. How absolutely Matt had filled his world, worshipped his body, freed his mind from all his every day worries, and satisfied his every desire. Matt had been his everything. Nothing before Matt, or since him, had compared.

Fuck. Tony couldn’t help but miss Matt. So much. This case that had been pulled from them was haunting him. It was bringing up all the memories that he’d worked so hard to repress. He didn’t have time for sorrow or regret. He’d learned long ago that wishing things were different never changed anything. But he knew though, that right now, he needed to remember Matt. He needed to think of the man he had loved with everything in him. Remember Matt as he had been. Dominant. Strong. Controlling. Freeing. Loving. Tender. Matt had been strong enough to physically subdue him, even without the rope, and that had been a huge turn on. That Matt was strong enough to hurt him, but he never did, not in any way that Tony hadn’t wanted him to. And Matt had loved him for who he was and had never asked him to be anything other than himself. He’d been the only person to ever be that way with Tony. He’d been the only person to ever think that who Tony was was not just enough for him, but exactly what Matt wanted. All these years later, it still hurt him to think of what could have been, if Matt hadn’t died.

He kissed his index finger and touched it gently to the badge, letting it linger on its familiar ridges for a few moments. Then he put it and the copy of the case file and photos under the loose floorboard in his walk in closet. But he slid the envelope filled with polaroids into the front pocket of his hoodie next to his butterfly knife. Tonight, he wanted to feel close to Matt, remember how Matt felt about him, and how he made Tony feel. Tonight, he wanted to feel close to Alex Wozniak and Julian Moreland who he knew in his gut had shared the same kind of connection that he and Matt had had.

Tonight, Tony wanted to feel.

Because he needed to let it out before he could stuff it all back into the corners of his brain. He needed to sit and remember Matt, remember what it had been like back then, remember how safe he’d felt, how wanted he’d been, how loved. Without letting his loss overcome him, preferably. But he needed to just sit and let these emotions wash over him so he could think clearly about the Wozniak case. And try hard not to compare how it used to be too unfavorably with how things were for him right now. His own unhappiness with how things were going with Gibbs and the MCRT wasn’t pertinent to the case. Just because Gibbs hadn’t bothered to let him know that he was hunting a mole to the point where he allowed Tony and Ziva to infiltrate a fake facility and come out with a real concussion, just because Gibbs hadn’t trusted him with that information, his dissatisfaction with his own life had nothing to do with Wozniak and Moreland. Or Matt, for that matter. Not anymore. But tonight he needed to get Matt out of his immediate system again so he could focus back on the case.

Yeah. He was feeling extra maudlin tonight, probably because he was at the point of exhaustion. Thank god they had finally solved the case that had been assigned to them, high priority, as a distraction from the Wozniak case. It had been a challenging case, certainly, and definitely worthy of being classified as high priority and assigned to NCIS’ Major Case Response Team, but the timing of it had been much too convenient for Tony to believe it just happened. He didn’t believe in coincidences. But Gibbs had worked them all hard to solve it, which wasn’t a different MO to any of their other cases. Gibbs was allergic to slacking off. And the best way to cope was usually snatch little catnaps here and there, sleep in the office, grab an hour or two on Abby’s futon. That was the MCRT’s usual MO on urgent cases.

But this time, Tony hadn’t been able to relax. He hadn’t been able to just let the Wozniak case go. So he’d been secretly investigating it, adding little details to his illicit copy of the case file instead of taking the usual rest periods to actually rest. Which meant that he was running on fumes right now. But at least, even though the cause of death might be mysterious as all hell, Tony was sure now that Alex Wozniak had to have been stalked by someone with a sexual interest in him. Someone strong enough to somehow literally tear apart, rend from limb to limb, Julian Moreland, Wozniak’s dom.

He sighed, bringing his plate and glass of wine to the coffee table. He’d heated up one of his homemade frozen meals – lasagna, this time, with a side of steamed broccoli – for his dinner. He was absolutely sick and tired of takeout and delivery. He turned the TV on and flipped around until he found a re-run of Seinfeld, which Matt had loved and settled in to eat. He took his time, chewing his food and smiling at the jokes. Remembering some of Matt’s comments. Every so often he fingered the envelope in his hoodie pocket. He wished that he’d put Matt’s badge in there, too, just so he could touch it and feel comforted by it.

He was sitting there, thinking about going back to his secret hiding place and pulling out Matt’s badge, maybe even putting it around his neck under his hoodie. Having his badge close to his heart was something that he liked when he was unsettled or missing Matt too much. But then things went blurry and he thought he could see through his own body. A blink of an eye later, he was falling on his ass onto a cold metal floor, because his couch was no longer where it was supposed to be. His hands went straight to his waist, where his holster was usually clipped onto his belt, but of course, he had been sitting at home, chilling on his fucking couch in his pajama pants and hoodie, so he didn’t have his gun on him.

“Whoa, Agent,” a voice said, trying to sound soothing. “Let’s not get crazy, here. We’re all on the same side.”

Tony glared at the owner of the voice, a good-looking man, around Gibbs’ age, same stupid military bearing but with a regulation military haircut. US Air Force though, instead of a Marine, which stopped him from panicking outright. How had he been sitting on his couch in his living room one minute and here the next? He scrutinized the man smiling at him. A one-star general from the looks of it. He blew out a long breath and grumpily took the hand that the man held out to help him up. He looked around to see that he was on some kind of vehicle, an aircraft carrier, perhaps. It had that feel to it, something huge. Although he didn’t recognize any of the interior as any aircraft carrier that he’d ever been on, and given that he’d been NCIS for a decade, and had even been an Agent Afloat, he was quite familiar with what the interior of an aircraft carrier looked like.

“What the hell kind of technology is this that you could beam me here, wherever here is, like this is Star Trek?” Tony demanded.

“I don’t know why I always feel disappointed when we do this, and nobody says ‘beam me up, Scotty’,” another voice came from behind Tony.

He whirled, assuming a defensive stance, and saw that it was a bespectacled man, probably about his own age, smiling at him, and giving him an awkward wave. He was clad in some kind of uniform, although Tony couldn’t see a rank nor any indication of what branch of the military he might be attached to.

“Maybe it’s because nobody ever actually said ‘beam me up, Scotty’ in the TV series or movies?” Tony knew he sounded a little belligerent, but he didn’t care. What the fucking hell was going on here?

Really? That’s disappointing,” the first guy, the general remarked.

“Well, not verbatim,” Tony hedged. “Because you know, technically, the concept did originate from it. Wait. Hold on. Are you guys from the future? We’re not literally doing some City on the Edge of Forever crap, are we? And besides, showing yourselves to me, isn’t that breaking the prime directive? I’m not going to have to get run over by a car to preserve the timeline of the future, am I?”

The younger guy laughed at that. “Way to show us your geek chops right away, Agent DiNozzo. And no, we’re not Star Trek. I promise.”

Tony realized that the general was wearing a current version of the USAF uniform, so he nodded. “So. What the hell is going on, and why have you kidnapped me?”

The general sighed. “I’m Jack O’Neill, US Air Force, and that is Doctor Daniel Jackson. We need your help.”

“Yeah? With what?”

“A case that you were supposed to cease investigating several days ago?” O’Neill raised an eyebrow.

“Are you guys the assholes who took my case away from my team?” Tony growled at him. “Corporal Wozniak deserves justice.”

“Um… yeah,” O’Neill nodded. “We would be those assholes. Definitely.”

Tony crossed his arms. “You have all the information. Why the fuck would you need me?”

“We know you’ve continued looking into this matter on your own time, Agent DiNozzo,” Jackson chimed in. “Turns out, we need your help figuring out what’s going on.”

“And what the hell is up with all the…“ Tony gestured with his hands, pointing out the room. “Where the hell am I and how did you guys get me here?”

“Funny story, that,” General O’Neill grinned at him. “But before we give you any information, we need for you to read and sign a bunch of documents.”

“Let me guess, you’re going to need for me to go to Corporal Wozniak’s super top secret military base,” Tony’s arms were still crossed and he wasn’t budging. “And you want me to sign some stuff saying you’ll Gitmo my ass if I say anything about whatever it is you guys are hiding.”

“It won’t be Gitmo,” Jackson said, grimacing apologetically.

“Someplace worse?”

Both men nodded.

“Of course,” Tony said facetiously. “And there’s no other way for you to solve these murders?”

O’Neill shook his head. “Our men are incredibly overworked, as it is. We have no one to spare to conduct a proper investigation, and so far with our limited resources, we’ve found nothing.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll sign these documents and take this case. But you guys need to tell my Boss you’re borrowing me, and give him whatever excuse you need or he’ll have my ass when I get home.”

Both men nodded solemnly. They led him away to a smaller room where a stack of papers, at least as thick as two of the volumes of War and Peace that were waiting for Tony on his nightstand.

Seriously?” Tony whined when the assistant – strangely enough, a US Marine Corporal, gave him a pen and pulled a chair out. His stomach growled. “And you couldn’t wait for me to finish my dinner before you zapped me here? I’d just started on my lasagna.”

“I think it was pizza at the commissary tonight, no?” Jackson asked the Corporal.

“One of their more palatable meals,” O’Neill agreed.

“I’ll be right back with some, sir,” the Corporal scurried away.

“That was a Marine,” Tony observed, pointing to the doorway that the guy had disappeared through.

“This is true,” Jackson agreed.

“We forgive him for it,” O’Neill grinned.

“And you’re Air Force,” Tony pointed to O’Neill. “And you’re… a civilian?”

Jackson nodded and smiled.

“Interesting,” Tony hummed thoughtfully before he sat and started going through the first stack of papers.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Tony

(Still) Four weeks ago

Three hours later, Tony had signed his life away, gotten his mind completely blown by where the hell Corporal Wozniak had been stationed at, undergone an invasive medical examination and been stuck with at least a thousand syringes. No, he definitely wasn’t on an aircraft carrier. He was on a fucking spaceship. He even got to look through some kind of viewport and see the Earth, his home planet, from orbit. Not something he had ever thought he would achieve.

And now he was about to walk through a Stargate (or a series of them, if one wanted to get all technical about it) to the Pegasus galaxy, where a base called Atlantis was waiting for him. He was still in his OSU hoodie and pajama pants. Somehow he hadn’t been given any shirts or pants and he’d been dragged here without warning, so hoodie and pajamas it was. They’d managed to get him a pair of shoes in his size, at least, so at least he wasn’t going in socked feet to a whole other galaxy to solve a murder. It didn’t help that he was still overwhelmed by the whole Ancients thing, and the alien technology, the fact that aliens of all kinds populated the universe, the Stargates and the base in the Pegasus galaxy and whatnot. When Tony thought about expanding his horizons, he’d thought about going to a different country like Greece or Cambodia or New Zealand or someplace. He didn’t think it meant leaving the Milky Way galaxy and going to a whole other galaxy. And if he was going to introduce himself to a whole passel of people in a galaxy far, far away – yes, of course Tony had snickered about that, and if the laughter was edging into hysteria, well, then who the fuck could blame him, OK? Because Tony was going to an Ancient base, Atlantis, which had been built a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away while wearing only his fucking pajamas. As if he was going to a sleepover. All he needed now was his blankie and a stuffed animal.

He didn’t know what to expect, but he walked through the first Stargate, feeling the liquid-like substance suck him through, and he followed the directions he’d been given, and continued being sucked through from one gate to another until he finally stepped through into a large chamber. Despite the seeming liquidity of whatever filled the Stargates, he emerged on Atlantis dry. So whatever the hell it was, it wasn’t any liquid he’d ever encountered. Which of course, made sense, since this was technology beyond current human ability to invent, so yeah, alien tech for the win.

A man in black fatigues and what looked like a USAF rank of Colonel stood, waiting for him. Along with him stood a lovely woman with tan skin and straight brown hair, and a tall man with dreadlocks. The man was tall, four or five inches taller than Tony and Tony was not a small man. He was quite eye catching in what Tony had to assume was some kind of Pegasus galaxy clothing. He had on a sleeveless top that showed off his broad shoulders and his heavily muscled biceps, honest to god leather vambraces that went from his wrists halfway up to his elbows, and an interesting tattoo design starting from where the vambrace on his left arm terminated up to his elbows. Tony hadn’t really seen clothing like this anywhere but on television and in movies. He had a large gun-like weapon holstered low on his hips, and Tony could already tell that he probably had a bunch of other little goodies hidden about his person. His very muscular person.

Tony tried not to blush when the man’s eyes raked him over from top to bottom. Because yes. He was wearing pajama pants that had cartoon sheep and bunnies on them. It had been a gag gift from his frat brothers from their last trip together and he didn’t often wear them, even in the privacy of his own home. But he hadn’t been home to do his laundry in a while, OK? These had been the last clean pair of pajama pants he had and say what you will about the design, they were cotton and soft and really comfortable. He tried not to blush and think about the fact that he was free balling it under the pants. He should reiterate strongly that he was supposed to be relaxing at home and that was why he was not dressed for company. And why the hell was he mentally justifying his clothes to the best eye candy he’d seen in a long time even though they hadn’t even exchanged one word yet? And if he was going to keep justifying the fact that he was wearing his pajamas with no underwear, keep in mind that he hadn’t been given any time to pack or prep for his trip. He didn’t even have a toothbrush with him.

“Agent DiNozzo,” the Colonel looked at him, shook his head and grinned in amusement before he held out his hand. “I’m Colonel John Sheppard. Welcome to Atlantis.”

Tony looked around the chamber and tried not to gawk, but fuck. It was science fiction come to life. He took Sheppard’s hand and shook it, tearing his eyes away from the huge chamber to meet Sheppard’s eyes. “Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS. Everyone calls me Tony.”

“This is Teyla Emmagan,” Sheppard introduced the woman, and she held out her hand to shake Tony’s. “And Specialist Ronon Dex.”

The big man gave him a silent nod, and Tony gave him a hesitant smile. The man’s eyes were sharp and it made Tony nervous, for some reason. Shit. Why wasn’t he wearing underwear again? He didn’t know why the man – Ronon – looking at him made him feel so self-conscious. Maybe it was because he could tell that Ronon Dex was not someone from Earth? He was meeting his very first extra-terrestrials, and if everyone in the Pegasus galaxy looked like Ronon Dex then Tony was in serious trouble. He turned away from Ronon, forcing himself to look at Colonel Sheppard instead, to stop himself from blushing again.

It wasn’t like Tony was insecure about his looks. He knew he looked good on most days. Probably not right now though, after not sleeping for at least seventy-two hours, and wearing ratty pajamas and an old hoodie. Fuck. He needed to get a hold of himself.

“Um, I’m sorry I’m inappropriately dressed,” Tony gestured down to himself. “One second I was sitting down to dinner after a few crazy work days, finally at home, and the next I’m beamed aboard a spaceship with no warning, and three hours later, here I am. I didn’t get a chance to pack or dress or anything.”

“We will get you a spare uniform and get you situated,” Teyla told him kindly. Her voice was melodic. “And John will want to be briefed on what you have learned about the murder of Corporal Wozniak.”

“Thank you.”

Not long after his arrival at Atlantis, Tony was still staring at everything with wide eyed amazement and curiosity. Shit, he really wanted to start fiddling with things, but he knew that at least for now, he needed to focus on the case. After he got to change into a tight black t-shirt, black pants and black boots – which seemed to be fairly standard for Atlantis base denizens – and a black jacket with no markings on it, he did feel better. He snagged his envelope of polaroids and butterfly knife from the pocket of his hoodie and stuffed the former into his inside jacket pocket and the latter into his right hand pocket before watching Teyla stuff his discarded clothing into a storage locker. And then he was ushered into what seemed to be kind of a conference room? Big table, people sitting around it, all of them staring at him as he walked in.

“Welcome, Agent DiNozzo,” Sheppard smiled at him. “Take a seat.”

Tony sat and looked around the table. Teyla was there, of course, and Specialist Ronon Dex, whose voice he still had not heard was carelessly slouching in a chair. Another man that he hadn’t met was sitting next to Colonel Sheppard, and he seemed to be whispering non-stop to the base commander.

“Enough, Rodney,” Sheppard hissed at him, before turning to give Tony a guilty looking smile. “Here are the files that we took from your team.”

Tony took the folder that Sheppard pushed across the desk towards him, and opened it, and began to flip through it to see if something new had been added to it. Nothing much really, other than the things his own team had gathered. There were other documents added to the end of the file, but they were in a language Tony didn’t recognize. He guessed it had to be some non-Earth language, because even if he didn’t understand an Earth language, he could at least recognize it and place where the language might have come from. He glanced up, realizing that the group was still looking at him expectantly. Well, except for the one guy who he hadn’t officially met yet.

“I just don’t understand why he’s here?” Tony heard the whispering man, Rodney, continue to complain, before Sheppard’s glare quieted him, although he was pouting.

Tony was an experienced investigator, though. He could recognize a dispute over jurisdiction when he saw one. “You’re thinking why do you need an outside investigator, when this should be something you take care of in house, am I right?” he gave Rodney a charming smile.

“Well, we do have the best minds in two galaxies stationed here,” Rodney was definitely pouting.

“OK. And how far have you gotten in the investigation of the death of Corporal Wozniak?” Tony asked.

“I’m not responsible for this type of investigation,” Rodney objected.

“So who is?” Tony kept his tone mild.

Everyone looked at each other, shrugging and making faces.

“OK then,” Tony nodded slowly. “I guess this is why General O’Neill brought me in. If we can just get started, let’s see how far you’ve gotten and see if we can figure out this case. Because Corporal Wozniak and Julian Moreland deserve justice.”

“Wait. Who’s Julian Moreland?” Sheppard asked.

Tony spread out the photos in the file on the table and pulled out the ones of the victim that they had found outside. “I believe this was Julian Moreland. We weren’t able to get a match on his DNA or fingerprints, because you guys swooped in and took away all of our evidence before we could do it.”

“This is the part I don’t understand,” Teyla spoke up. “Who is this second victim, and how is it connected to our dead Corporal?”

Tony sighed. “I think I figured out what was going on but all I have are theories. Because you know, I have no hard evidence to work with anymore,” he shrugged. “I don’t know how the deaths were caused – our ME said that Corporal Wozniak’s internal organs were liquefied and he had no idea how that could happen while keeping Wozniak’s body intact.”

“Yeah… I can explain that one,” Rodney raised his hand.

“Please,” Tony nodded at him, giving him the go ahead.

“I think the internal organ liquefying gun – I call it a ‘lat’…”

Rodney!” Teyla and Sheppard interrupted him together.

“You know you’re not allowed to name things anymore,” Teyla admonished him.

“You’re just jealous ‘cause O’Neill got to name the zat,” Sheppard rolled his eyes.

Anyway, as I was saying,” Rodney huffed. “The lat is something that we found when we stumbled upon that Ancients weapons cache on MKX-421 a few months ago.”

Tony had to stifle a grin at the behavior of the team. They were obviously close to each other.

“You should’ve seen how upset Zelenka was when he accidentally killed his rat with that thing,” Rodney shook his head. “He conducted an autopsy and everything! And we still don’t quite know how the lat actually works, but we know that it can somehow liquefy the internal organs of biological organisms – biology isn’t my specialty anyway, so I can’t really talk about it in detail…”

“We got it, Rodney,” Sheppard told him. “Special gun that liquefies organs without harming the external body. Check.”

Tony snorted.

“What?” Sheppard looked at him.

“I just never thought I’d hear anyone say that… and actually mean it,” Tony grimaced.

“Yeah. Well, welcome to Atlantis,” Rodney grumbled.

“You’ll be saying this shit, too, before too long,” Sheppard grinned at him.

“And the body that was just ripped apart and torn to shreds?” Tony asked.

Rodney cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Look. I know I learned that from the Ancient files that I was translating…”

“Let’s just chalk it up to more Ancient tech that we discovered that does nasty things, hmmm?” Sheppard grimaced at that.

“OK. Good. So I don’t have to worry about the cause of death, it’s basically ‘Ancient tech gone wild’?” Tony reiterated.

Rodney made a noise of disagreement. “I don’t think it went wild,” he countered. “Because these were things that need to be activated and used by someone with the ATA gene.”

“The ATA gene?” Tony asked.

“Shouldn’t this have been part of your NDA packet?” Rodney frowned.

“I don’t know. I signed just about a thousand pages after not sleeping for three straight days, so it’s entirely possible that I missed some details,” Tony shrugged.

“Is that why you showed up in your pajamas?” Sheppard chuckled.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. Let’s get through this briefing and figure out our next steps, huh?” Tony told him sternly. “And with all this tech running around, couldn’t you guys set up like a plasma or something so we can do this kind of show and tell easier?”

“Not a bad idea,” Sheppard nodded.

“I’ve been saying that for years, John! And you’ve only blown me off. A pretty, new guy shows up and you’re all like, ‘Good idea, Agent,’” Rodney mimicked Sheppard but badly, and pitching his voice low.

Tony couldn’t help but snort at that. “Be that as it may, right now you guys have the causes of death, but did you find anything else out?”

“Not really,” Sheppard looked apologetic. “It’s always so busy around here and it happened on Earth, and we didn’t have anyone to spare to look into it on that end.”

“Well, luckily for you, I kind of ignored the whole cease and desist order,” Tony shrugged. He wasn’t sorry about it. Obviously, these guys needed his help in solving this crime. “Did you guys speak to Wozniak’s team and friends here?”

Rodney pushed what looked to be a reinforced tablet over. “The interviews were recorded on here.”

“Thanks,” Tony picked it up. “I’ll look at these after this briefing. Can you boil it down? Did anyone here know that he was in a relationship?”

Teyla shook her head. “I conducted many of those interviews myself, Agent DiNozzo, and it did not seem as if anyone knew that Corporal Wozniak was in a relationship.”

“Hmmph,” Tony snorted. “I shouldn’t be surprised. He was in a relationship with Julian Moreland, and that was who I believe was killed outside the cabin.”

“Someone killed his boyfriend too?” Rodney frowned. “But why?”

“Jealousy? I don’t know… Maybe somebody here was obsessed with him. Did he ever report any weird incidents or unwanted attention?” Tony asked.

“No…” Sheppard shook his head. “Nothing like that.”

“If no one knew that he was in a relationship, then it could have been disappointing for them to learn that Wozniak was going back to Earth to spend his leave with his boyfriend,” Tony shrugged. “That’s a motive. And whoever it was had to have been stationed here and had access to these Ancient weapons that killed them.”

“That would make sense.”

“But why would they kill them? I do not understand,” Teyla frowned.

Ronon Dex sat forward and tapped on the photo of the blood-soaked knots. “This is why,” he rasped.

Tony tried not to react to his voice. He was sexy. His voice was sexy. And Tony needed to stop getting aroused by him.

“I thought maybe whoever killed Wozniak tied him up first?” Rodney sounded puzzled.

“Yeah, no,” Tony shook his head. “I agree with Specialist Dex. The ropes were something private, between Wozniak and Moreland. It’s something they practiced.”

“Bondage?” Sheppard asked.

“This kind of knot, and how much rope we found cut into pieces on the scene? It’s a specific practice of rope bondage. It’s called shibari,” Tony kept his voice level. “Sometimes known as kinbaku. It’s the Japanese art of rope bondage. It’s not just tying someone up for the sake of kinky sex, it’s practically an art form.”

“There were those who practiced such rope bondage on Sateda,” Ronon Dex nodded his agreement. Then he turned and gave Tony a flirty grin. “It is an old practice, well documented and fairly common. And you should call me Ronon.”

Tony felt his face heat up and knew that he was blushing, but he cleared his throat and grinned back. He cleared his throat and tried to focus back on the case. “So based on what I managed to dig up on Wozniak, he definitely kept his sexual preferences very much secret. No doubt DADT factored into that, but you know how we humans are about sex on Earth,” Tony snorted. “There’s a lot of shame involved just with ‘accepted’ heterosexual sex itself. It’s even worse with different practices and kinks involving sex.”

Ronon grunted and rolled his eyes. “I had thought that people on Atlantis tended to be fairly…”

“Repressed?” Teyla inserted.

“Yes. Repressed. When it comes to sex.”

Tony laughed. “Well, you’ll find the same thing in most places on Earth.”

“But you are not such a one?” Ronon raised an eyebrow.

Tony tried not to blush again. “Sex is another bodily need, like food,” he cleared his throat. “Sometimes you get to have a gourmet meal, and sometimes it’s MREs or the crappy pizza aboard the Prometheus. I see no reason for deprivation or shame, as long as everyone is of age and everything is consensual.”

“We should definitely keep him,” Ronon told Sheppard, pointing at Tony. “Perhaps he will help you all to loosen up.”

“Back to the case,” Tony knew that his face was flaming. “Shibari can also be an exhibition. Where a professional bakushi comes and ties people up so an audience can observe and learn and appreciate the human body. So the dom doesn’t necessarily have sex with the captive, and in these cases, they are not in a relationship and may not even know each other prior to the exhibition.”

“People tie each other up for exhibitions?” Rodney looked both stunned and interested.

“I don’t suppose you guys have Google here?” Tony asked.

Sheppard and Rodney shook their heads. “It’s the distance, and the fact that we are in a secure facility and we can’t…” Rodney started to speak.

“I get it,” Tony waved him off. “I don’t need the technical details of why I can’t google anything because I don’t even have my phone with me, so who cares, right?” He grinned. “But if you had the chance to google it, there are some pretty amazing images out there.” His hand involuntarily patted his jacket pocket where he’d deposited his envelope.

“That would be sacrilege on Sateda,” Ronon mumbled. “It is a sacred trust. To be privately appreciated amongst lovers.”

“Oh, I agree,” Tony shrugged. “That would be my take on it as well. But others have different opinions.”

Ronon snorted.

“So Wozniak and his boyfriend practiced this… shibari?” Sheppard asked.

“Yeah. The cabin is one that was outfitted for this kind of play,” Tony pointed out the rings in the ceilings from the photos he had taken of the crime scene. “These can be used to suspend a bound captive. Plus I talked to the rental owner, he’s definitely in the lifestyle. I don’t know whether he was someone who practiced shibari specifically or something else, but he’s in the know. And this cabin was especially used for bondage and rope bondage.”

“And how do you know this boyfriend was not someone who does these exhibitions of which you speak?” Teyla asked.

Tony sighed. “Because he doesn’t do exhibitions,” he made a face. “I looked into it, and he was just a normal guy. He was on the staff of a politician in DC. No red flags. Except when I checked today, he was listed as a missing person. I spoke to the DC Metro cops that caught his case, and so far they had nothing to go on. They did say that Moreland talked about his boyfriend, but never showed anyone any pictures or revealed that he was a Marine. People just assumed that his boyfriend was still in the closet and Moreland didn’t want to out him. Which was, of course, true, although not the whole extent of the truth.”

“That is sad,” Teyla pursed her lips.

“That’s Earth and our dumb attitude towards sex and sexuality,” Tony pursed his lips and suppressed a sigh. “But I really couldn’t do anything about Moreland’s case because a) he’s a civilian and therefore out of my jurisdiction unless I can connect him to Wozniak, and b), of course, you guys took all of our evidence away so I couldn’t even say that we even found his remains, never mind identified him. Everything I had on him was circumstantial. If I still had his remains, I would have at least been able to try to match it to Moreland’s DNA. Then we’d be able to inform his loved ones that he’d died. Rather than leave them wondering where he was or if he was even alive.”

Sheppard nodded. “Let’s assume you’re right, and Wozniak and Moreland were in a relationship, and they practiced shibari, why would anyone kill them for it?”

“Motive can be tricky here. Jealousy. Outrage. It could be a hate crime, a sex crime. Just plain old psychopathy. Hard to tell sometimes,” Tony sniffed. “But you have narrowed down your suspect pool to people who were on leave on Earth at Wozniak’s time of death, who would also have access to these weapons that you described.”

“And have the gene,” Sheppard mused.

“Or had the gene therapy,” Rodney added.

They all nodded. “I’ll come up with a list of people that fit these criteria,” Rodney nodded.

“And I’d suggest we be careful and not spook this guy,” Tony said carefully. “He brought weapons that could kill to Earth with him on leave and then he used them. Whether he started out thinking he would kill Wozniak or not, I don’t know. I don’t know what was in his heart. But from a legal standpoint, he brought the weapons with him and then presumably followed Wozniak before ultimately killing him and Moreland. In my line of work, we’d call that premeditation.”

“I agree. Rodney, send me the list, and in the morning, Agent DiNozzo and I will look into the suspects. It looks like Agent DiNozzo is about to fall asleep on the conference table,” Sheppard grinned at him. “Let’s call it a night.”

“You should really call me Tony,” Tony grinned back, and a yawn surprised him before he could suppress it. He knuckled at his eyes after that, and Sheppard patted him roughly on the back.

“Welcome to Atlantis, Tony.”

“I’ll take him to the guest quarters,” Ronon volunteered.

It seemed to Tony as if the team was surprised by that.

“What? The guest quarters aren’t that far out of my way,” Ronon shrugged.

Teyla and Sheppard exchanged looks and Tony just waited.

“Oh-kayyy,” Sheppard nodded.

Tony picked up the tablet to take with him, hoping that he would be able to listen to some of the interviews overnight so he would be prepared to work on the case the next morning, and Ronon walked him through passageways and weird elevator things, until they came to a door. Ronon chimed it open and Tony saw that it was a room with a bed and he hoped there was a bathroom in there somewhere.

“There’s no way I’ll be able to find my way back to where we were today by myself,” Tony stammered.

“I’ll pick you up in the morning for breakfast,” Ronon told him gruffly. “Goodnight Tony.”

Tony looked up at him and couldn’t help letting his lips quirk up in a smile. For the first time he noticed how green Ronon’s eyes were, noted the trail of three beauty marks by the corner of his eye, as well as the interesting tattoo on his neck, and he couldn’t help but think again how fucking hot he was. “Goodnight Ronon.”

Ronon’s eyes crinkled up as he smiled back. He gave Tony a long look, and Tony tried not to lick his lips or do anything to attract attention to himself, and then Ronon seemed to mentally shake himself and pull himself together. He put a large hand gently on Tony’s cheek, gave him a nod and a smile, before he whirled and disappeared down the hallway.

Tony’s heart was pounding when he walked into the room. The door slid shut behind him and he didn’t even take a moment to note that doors here worked like he was on a spaceship or something. He blew out a long breath, thinking instead of heated green eyes. What the hell had he gotten himself into here?

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Tony

Three weeks and six days ago

In the morning, Tony was sleeping like the dead. He finally forced his eyes open when a voice pierced through the fog of sleep. It was a nice voice. And it was definitely not the television.

“I’m on it, Boss,” he mumbled automatically. Interruption of sleep was always work related and no matter how deeply asleep Tony was, his subconscious knew he needed to be on his toes for Gibbs.

“Tony,” the voice came again. “Agent DiNozzo!”

Tony sat up with a jerk, realizing that he wasn’t in his own bed, nor was he sleeping at his desk in the bullpen. The tablet he’d obtained the previous night fell off his chest onto the bed.

“Easy,” the voice told him.

Tony looked up and saw that Specialist Ronon Dex was leaning against the doorway, smiling faintly and just looking at him. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Is it morning?” It was hard to focus, and his body clock was feeling off from the days of not sleeping, and now he was disoriented, unsure if it was day or night on Atlantis.

“Yup,” Ronon handed him a stack of neatly folded clothing, and Tony saw that he’d been handed several black regulation looking t-shirts, pants, socks, and underwear. At the top of the pile were his pajama pants and sweatshirt, looking like they had recently been laundered and folded.

“Fuck, I should’ve packed the rest of my laundry to bring if I’d known this is the kind of service I’d get here,” Tony grinned up at the man.

“I really like the pants. What are those animals?” Ronon pointed to a cartoon bunny.

“A bunny,” Tony cleared his throat, embarrassed by it.

“I am familiar with sheep from the times I have visited Earth,” Ronon said solemnly.

“Right,” Tony nodded.

“Both are prey animals,” Ronon stated, although the raised eyebrow made it a question.

“Yeah,” Tony nodded, grimacing. “And they’re cartoon. I know. What can I say, I needed to do laundry.”

Ronon grinned at him, and the sight made his heart stutter. The man was gorgeous, but he had the kind of resting bitch face that made Tony wary of interacting too carelessly with him. He was big enough and Tony didn’t doubt that he was strong enough to do some damage to Tony if they were to tangle. Plus he didn’t know the man, not to mention he wasn’t even from Earth so Tony would need to get to know him to understand what it was he could or couldn’t get away with in regards to sass. But he hadn’t expected Ronon’s grin to transform his face into something that much more approachable.

Shit. He needed a shower first before starting his day. And some coffee. So he would stop staring at Specialist Ronon Dex.

“Did you get through the recorded interviews?” Ronon gestured towards him.

“What?” Tony looked down and saw the tablet by his side. “Yeah. I did, actually.”

“Good. Rodney should have the list this morning. We’re meeting them at breakfast.”

“Do I have time to grab a quick shower?” Tony looked at where his watch usually sat on his wrist, but of course, he’d taken it off when he’d gotten home. He didn’t have any way of telling time.

“I will wait outside,” Ronon nodded, and then he turned and stalked out.

Tony couldn’t help but check out his firm, muscular ass and legs as he gracefully stepped outside Tony’s room. Before the door could slide shut, Ronon did an about turn, catching Tony staring at his ass. Tony blushed, especially when Ronon quirked an eyebrow up and smirked at him.

Thankfully, the door slid shut then. Tony got out of bed, stripped off his clothes – he’d been sleeping fully dressed – and stepped into the shower. Seven minutes later, he was clean, and dressed in fresh clothing, his envelope of polaroids and butterfly knife back in his jacket pockets. He opened the door and saw that Ronon was leaning against the wall, one foot up, looking as if he had all the time in the world. He touched the contraption on his ear. “We’re on our way,” he muttered.

It was a radio, Tony realized. It made sense. It was a large base. They probably didn’t have great cell reception here. He tried not to giggle at his lame joke. Yeah. Go all the way to the Pegasus galaxy and let’s hope that Sprint or Verizon would still work? He tried not to giggle at the roaming charges that would be tacked onto his bill. How much would intergalactic roaming charges cost, he wondered.

“This shibari,” Ronon’s voice took him out of his own head. “You are… intimately familiar with it?”

“Why would you say that?” Tony hedged.

“I saw your face when you were speaking about it yesterday. This is something you care about. You are angry for Corporal Wozniak, not just because he was wrongly murdered. This is personal to you.”

Tony sighed. They walked through the corridors again, with Tony blindly following Ronon. Every hallway seemed to look exactly the same as all of the others he’d been in, so he was definitely getting turned around again. After a moment of silence he finally nodded. “Yes. But it’s been… many years.”

He felt Ronon’s eyes on him, but he refused to meet the man’s eyes.

“It did not end well?” Ronon asked carefully.

“He died,” Tony didn’t know why he was telling Ronon these things, even though they hadn’t even had a proper conversation yet. He had to swallow hard, feeling that familiar pain when he thought about Matt. “Thirteen years ago.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” Ronon sighed and nodded. “My fiancé died, when the Wraith destroyed Sateda,” his voice was soft. “As far as I know, I am the only Satedan left.”

“That’s terrible,” Tony gasped. “I’m so sorry.”

“As long as I remember it, Sateda is alive,” he shrugged. “As long as you remember your lover, you keep him alive.”

Tony gave him a smile and nodded. “Is it true that shibari or whatever it is called in Satedan was widely practiced? Not some dirty little secret?”

Ronon nodded.

“Interesting…”

“I had thought that the knots in the pictures looked sexual,” Ronon murmured. “I didn’t know Earth also had a similar practice. But John and Rodney didn’t see it either.”

Tony shrugged. “Well, we humans tend to be quite afraid of sex and all of its variations,” he hummed. “We’re a small minority who enjoy shibari or other practices. And since I’m a cop, like Wozniak was a Marine, we would never disclose this. Nor our interest in anything other than women, for that matter. It could make us targets, put us and those around us in danger. Get us fired. All kinds of stupid shit.”

“That seems unenlightened.”

Tony barked out a laugh at that. “Tell me about it.”

“I do not believe John would have that kind of bias to anyone under his command.”

“Colonel Sheppard?”

Ronon nodded.

“I don’t know. But sometimes it’s too dangerous to take a chance. After all, Wozniak and Moreland were both murdered.”

Ronon made a face and nodded.

They ended up in the cafeteria and Tony got in line with Ronon, getting a selection that sort of looked familiar. He realized that they had integrated local Pegasus galaxy meats and produce to the Atlantean diet. Ronon led him to a patio that was outdoors and overlooked an incredible expanse of ocean. Wider than anything Tony had ever seen. It was also the first time he’d seen any of the external part of Atlantis. He stood and gaped for a long minute before Ronon nudged him to get him to move. Sheppard, Rodney and Teyla were waiting for them at a table.

“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” Rodney told him, smiling.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tony grumbled, setting his tray down, and he saw Sheppard’s eyes noticing that Ronon had chosen to sit next to Tony even though there were other open seats at the table, and that he’d pulled his chair closer to Tony’s for some reason. But Tony had a job to do here. And they got to work.

Tony looked through the list of possible suspects, eight of them altogether. Only one of them had been interviewed as someone who had been a known friend or teammate of Wozniak’s, but he recommended that they interview all eight of the suspects.

“Interview them? In person?” Rodney asked.

Tony nodded, forking in a mouthful of food. The scrambled eggs were actually good, but he was pretty sure whatever animal this egg had come from, it wasn’t a chicken. The toast had a slight purple tinge to it, but it tasted quite fine, as did the fruity jam that he slathered on it.

“Well, we might have to be a little careful about that…” Rodney looked guilty now.

“Why?” Sheppard asked.

“Well… let’s just say that I went to check to make sure that the Ancient weapons used to murder Wozniak and Moreland were where they were supposed to be and… I didn’t find them,” Rodney said quickly. “I mean, they were there the other day, when we first heard about Wozniak’s death! I made sure to check.”

“But they’re not there now?” Sheppard looked concerned.

Rodney shook his head.

“Are any other dangerous Ancient toys missing?” Sheppard exhaled in a long sigh.

“Zelenka’s looking into it and doing a full inventory,” Rodney frowned.

“Well, it just means, Tony,” Sheppard was looking at him now. “That when you talk to these guys, you’ll have to have an armed escort.”

“I could do with a weapon, too,” Tony asserted. “I feel kind of naked without my service weapon.”

“We’ll get you kitted out,” Sheppard agreed.

After breakfast, Tony chose a SIG-Sauer for his primary weapon, a Beretta for his backup, which he strapped around his ankle, and he saw Sheppard’s eyebrows go up when he strapped a k-bar around his thigh.

“I didn’t think Feds were so bloodthirsty,” Sheppard remarked.

Tony brought his butterfly knife out of his pocket and expertly whirled it around in his hands for a moment, before folding it up and slipping it back into his jacket pocket. “My Boss is a Marine,” he grinned. “He has a rule about knives.”

“Yeah? What kind of rule?”

“Always carry one.”

Ronon chuckled at that. He’d just been quietly watching Tony’s preparations until then.

“Figures you’d like that,” Sheppard rolled his eyes at Ronon. “He’s got a bunch of knives.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I probably won’t need my usual complement for today if Ronon’s coming with us,” Tony grinned.

“I’m coming with you,” Ronon’s words were softly spoken, but they were firm.

They fitted Tony with a headset and then they were ready. The rest of the day went by quickly. Both Colonel Sheppard and Ronon escorted Tony around Atlantis. Tony didn’t want to warn the suspects by requesting them to report to Sheppard’s office, so they had to walk all around the humongous base to conduct their surprise interrogations.

By dinner time, they had gotten the bad guy. Halfway through their interview, he’d tried to use the lat – or whatever the liquefying weapon was called – on Tony, and there was a bit of a scuffle until Ronon took him down. Hard. The man was definitely concussed when all was said and done, and Tony wasn’t the least bit upset about it. Especially when they went to his quarters and found the shrine that had been built with photos and other things of Wozniak’s. Tony had conducted the interrogation with Sheppard and in the end, it had been pretty simple. A case of obsession, and unrequited love. He’d been upset to find that not only did Wozniak already have a boyfriend, but that he regularly let the man tie him up for sex. It had been too much for him.

And when asked why he would have brought lethal weapons with him to Earth if he was going to be stalking Wozniak during his leave, his answer had been “Just in case.”

“I should’ve let Ronon punch you a few more times,” Tony growled at him as he stood up to leave.

The man sneered back as he was taken away.

“What’s going to happen to him?” Tony asked Sheppard.

“We adhere to the UCMJ as much as we can,” Sheppard told him. “There’ll be a tribunal here, then he’ll probably have to be incarcerated somewhere where he can’t tell anyone about Atlantis.”

“Let me guess – the worse than Gitmo place that I was threatened with if I tell anyone about all this?”

Sheppard laughed a little at that. “Yeah. Something like that.”

Tony snorted. “Well. Case closed. I’ll fill out all the paperwork you need.”

“Sounds good.”

Tony’s stomach rumbled at that point.

“In the morning,” Sheppard told him, grinning at his belly’s complaints.

“It is time to eat,” Ronon stepped into the room and escorted both Sheppard and Tony back to the cafeteria.

It was interesting to Tony how Ronon was mostly silent when he was around other people, or if he had to speak he was clipped and terse. But he seemed to always have things to say to Tony when it was just the two of them. And it was definitely interesting to Tony how Ronon seemed to always be the guy to walk him back to and from his room. But he was still pretty exhausted from his busy week, not to mention the fact that he still felt as if he was turned around here on Atlantis. He was glad that the case had been closed, though. Paperwork, and then he’d be back to DC, back to the MCRT. Back to Gibbs and the knowledge that Gibbs didn’t trust him. That Gibbs had chosen to hunt the mole without Tony’s knowledge or input. That Gibbs hadn’t valued Tony’s experience or ability to keep a secret. And that above all else, Gibbs had not deemed him trustworthy enough to even know about the mole. Never mind the fact that Tony had been the one busting his ass for Gibbs for going on ten years now. That Gibbs had been the one to recruit Tony from Baltimore. Never mind that Tony had sacrificed everything for the sake of Gibbs and the team.

He laid in the bed, staring up at the ceiling for a long time, clad only in his cartoon bunny and sheep pajama pants. He didn’t know what it was he wanted in the long run. Other than a place to belong. He’d thought that he belonged with Gibbs on the MCRT, but more and more he was wondering if that was still true.

People grew up, didn’t they? People changed. Evolved. Gibbs certainly had had the freedom to be whoever the fuck he wanted to be, and to trust whoever the fuck he wanted to. So maybe it was time for Tony to spread his wings again. He would have to try to figure out where the hell he was headed to next. But this time, he didn’t want to make a decision without thinking things through. He wanted to be methodical and logical about it this time. After Matt’s death, he’d gone undercover to infiltrate the Macaluso family. Matt had been killed trying to protect a witness against the Macalusos, and therefore Tony had a bone to pick with them. And after he’d brought them down, he had no choice but to leave Philly given the price on his head. Not that he had necessarily wanted to stay there without Matt.

Baltimore PD had recruited him, and he’d certainly worked hard for them. Worked his way up to a gold shield pretty quickly, too. But then after he met Gibbs and learned that Danny had been a dirty cop, things had gotten so jumbled and messy and he’d taken the easy way out and joined Gibbs rather than face the kind of fallout that he would have had to deal with if he’d reported Danny. Because there was no way that he could continue to work with Danny. This kind of thing? How could he trust that Danny would have his back going forward? Danny’s loyalty had been for sale. But he hadn’t had the guts to report him either. Because Danny had been more than just a partner, he’d been a friend. A confidante.

So he’d gone to NCIS and Gibbs, and he’d thought that he was happy there. Happy enough that he’d overlooked too many things that should have made him leave. When Gibbs lost his memory and ran away to Mexico, that would have been a good time to leave. There was no MCRT without Gibbs. But he’d been loyal to his boss, kept the team together awaiting Gibbs’ return, and been rewarded with being unceremoniously demoted in public, and then that mother of all fucked up op with Jeanne and the La Grenouille debacle. Jenny Shepard had sent him on an unsanctioned op while he’d been working full time with the MCRT. But Tony had accepted the assignment and done his best, even falling for Jeanne. He lost his car, his fake lover, and his trust in Director Shepard after that, but for whatever reason, he still put his trust in Gibbs, convinced that Gibbs wouldn’t steer him wrong.

But after Shepard pulled her suicide by criminal fuck up – what a self-centered bitch she’d been, not caring that Tony and Ziva would have been the ones picking up the pieces after she was dead – and Tony had been sent afloat and the MCRT disbanded, Tony had started having serious doubts. Because yeah, sure, Gibbs got everyone back eventually, but Tony had been the last one he got back. Then there was the whole dust up with Ziva’s Mossad/terrorist boyfriend Michael, and Tony almost being sent to some godforsaken prison in Israel, except he’d bested Eli David during interrogation and got him to admit his own culpability in everything, including the death of the ICE agent. It was exhausting, listing it all, and he wasn’t even done yet. After that, they’d gone to Somalia to take down Saleem, to avenge Ziva’s supposed death. And they had not only taken Saleem down, but they’d also rescued Ziva. And while Tony was glad that Ziva was still alive, he really didn’t understand so many things surrounding her – why did Gibbs continue to trust her? Why did Ziva keep fucking him over and making him look like an idiot? It was small comfort to him that at least Ziva didn’t know about the mole hunt either. Although, he didn’t put it past Gibbs to just lie about that to him, too. Maybe Ziva did know about the mole hunt. Maybe Gibbs thought that Tony had some connection to the mole and that was why he hadn’t been told.

Whatever. That was a long enough list of events, of which any one of them should have been more than enough reason for Tony to leave. He’d become too blindly devoted to Gibbs. Maybe he thought of him as a bit of a replacement for Matt, even though there had never been anything sexual or romantic between them. But Gibbs had been dominating enough to have made his inner sub just want to sit up and beg. People hadn’t been wrong when they described him as Gibbs’ Saint Bernard. But maybe it was time for the Saint Bernard to find somewhere else to belong.

Tony didn’t want to stay somewhere where he no longer felt safe. Or felt like he was trusted. And right now, he didn’t have the kind of faith in Gibbs that he used to have before. He didn’t think that Gibbs would stand up for him, or defend him. This Gibbs was not going to clear his name if the FBI arrested him again. This Gibbs wouldn’t hunt him down if he was kidnapped and taken into the sewers again. This Gibbs, and he hated to even think it, this Gibbs no longer thought that he was something special. Something worthy. Something good. It was what had made him respond to Gibbs – that the Marine had been one of the few people to see past his masks and value the Tony DiNozzo that resided underneath it all. But these days, he didn’t think that Gibbs could see that Tony anymore.

His mind whirled with these thoughts, until he came to a startling realization. It wasn’t just that Gibbs no longer trusted him. That much was evident. And had been for a while now. He’d just been too blind and loyal and desperate to see it. He’d made excuses. Tried to brush away his hurts. That was a painful enough realization, sure. But what hurt even more was the realization that he no longer trusted Gibbs.

He laid on the bed, just breathing in and out, in and out, while that thought ricocheted around in his brain. He didn’t trust Gibbs anymore. Gibbs didn’t have his six. And he didn’t want to work for someone who he didn’t trust. He hadn’t made an exception for Danny. There was no reason that he should make an exception for Gibbs, either. And of late, he was also starting to realize that McGee, Abby, Ziva, and even Ducky were exactly the same as Gibbs. None of them really and truly had his back anymore. So why the hell was he staying where he was clearly not wanted?

He blew out a cleansing breath. His mind was made up. He was going to resign when he got back to DC, and he was going to take his time to figure out what his next steps were. He had plenty of savings. Not to mention even though he’d claimed that his Uncle Clive had left him nothing, the truth was that Clive had been generous with him. So he didn’t need to rush to figure out his next steps for financial reasons. He’d been politely declining offers of work from other agencies for years, so maybe it was time he looked at all of his options and made a logical choice.

That seemed to settle something inside him. He had a plan. He knew what he was going to do now, and NCIS and the MCRT were not going to be part of his future. Making this decision lifted the weight that he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying around for a long time. This was the right thing for him to do. His resolve strengthened, sleep claimed him quickly after that.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Tony

Three weeks and five days ago

In the morning, Ronon had to rouse Tony again because he’d stayed up so late worrying about his future. Tony gave him a sheepish smile, because Ronon was smirking at his pajama pants again. He tried not to blush when he felt Ronon’s hot gaze on his bare chest before the big man retreated outside his quarters. As in the previous day, he took a quick shower, put on fresh clothes, armed himself, touched the butterfly knife and the envelope of polaroids in his jacket pockets, and went out to start his day.

After breakfast, Ronon and Sheppard walked him to a small room that looked like an office. Rodney shoved a laptop at him, a heavy-duty looking thing, and mumbled that it connected to a copy of the DOJ databases, including the UCMJ and NCIS and AFOSI documents that he might need, and Sheppard showed him where their office supplies were. Tony was able to find and complete all the requisite documents. He also spent some time reading through a few of the reports that had been filed for Atlantis, and he found that the After Action Reports were incredible. Better than science fiction. He had a newfound respect for everyone at Atlantis, but especially Sheppard, Rodney, Teyla and Ronon, who seemed to somehow always find themselves in the thick of it.

Finally, he tore himself away from the laptop and found his way to Sheppard’s office to hand off the documents. Sheppard thanked him, glancing quickly through the documents. Tony was familiar with that look – Sheppard, like Gibbs, was not someone who liked being in the office and doing paperwork. He was a man of action. And given the sampling of reports that he’d skimmed through earlier, he knew that John was still someone who was on active duty. He took his share of gate missions. Even though John Sheppard and his team had saved Earth at least once, he was still pulling his weight and working with all the different peoples of Pegasus, as well as fulfilling his role as the leader of Atlantis.

“Looks good. Thanks for clearing that up,” Sheppard nodded.

“Someone should do a formal DNA comparison to Julian Moreland, and make some shit up about how he died,” Tony nodded. “Same deal for Wozniak. You can’t just say he was killed in action since he was on Earth and he’d had dinner with his parents the day before he died. Their families deserve to know that they died and aren’t coming back, even if we can’t tell them the details of how they died.”

“Good point,” Sheppard agreed, signing off and scribbling something on a piece of paper and clipping it to the documents Tony had handed him. “It’s always worse when you don’t know what happened.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed.

“Alright. Someone from the SGC will take care of that for us,” Sheppard noted, before he picked up a folder and handed it to Tony. “But while you’re here, do you think you would have time to look into this thing for me?”

“What is it?” Tony asked.

“It’s something that’s been bugging me about what happened when Team Bravo was out on MGX-348 last month.”

“What happened?”

Sheppard gestured to a chair, and Tony settled in, taking the folder and starting to sift through its contents while Sheppard talked through the events, as he knew them, and what it was that was bothering him about it.

An hour later, Tony was kitted out with a flak vest, enough knives that even Ziva would’ve been happy, and an FN P90 so he could join Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla on his first foray into an actual town in the Pegasus galaxy. Tony was legitimately having extraterrestrial contact. Granted, he’d been working with Ronon and Teyla since the previous day, and they were extraterrestrials, but being on Atlantis kind of diluted that a little bit. Walking on the ground of a planet that was not his own was not something he’d ever thought he would achieve, nor anything he’d truly aspired to do after he’d been whipped for ruining his father’s ski suit for his astronaut Halloween costume, but he couldn’t deny how cool it was that he got to do this now.

And so, things went. After Tony solved that case, Rodney brought him another case. And then Major Lorne brought him another. Even Teyla brought to him a case that wasn’t even technically something that had happened on Atlantis or directly affected Atlantis personnel, but it was a case from one of Atlantis’s close allies and he felt that he couldn’t ignore it, given that Atlantis still needed the cooperation of the beings of Pegasus in their shared battle against the Wraith. He ended up being kept busy working these cases, but not so busy that he didn’t start spending more and more time with Ronon. It seemed like Ronon kept finding a way to be on his team if he had to leave Atlantis. And he came to really respect Ronon’s battle prowess.

There were also many shared meals with the team, but also increasingly alone with Ronon. In the cafeteria, in the villages that they traded with, and once, Ronon even asked him to have dinner with him in Ronon’s private quarters. Which he did accept. Ronon started lacing their fingers together when he walked Tony back to his room, something which he tried to do almost every night. If he was on Atlantis, he made himself available for the nightly stroll back to Tony’s room. He also took the time to show Tony around the base, taking him to the vantage points with the best views, and they would stand and stare into the breathtaking panorama, fingers intertwined. There was never any pressure to move beyond that, but Tony knew that the potential was there. He was the first person Tony wanted to talk to, about how much it had hurt to lose Matt. He was also someone that would understand Tony’s need to be tied up at times. From his stories, Tony couldn’t help but wish that he’d had a chance to know Sateda in all its glory. It seemed as if he would have enjoyed it there.

And the thing about Ronon was, that the more Tony interacted with him, the more he wanted to know about him. Ronon was fascinating. He was a warrior, a fighter, a survivor. Ronon was a beautiful man, inside and out. He had every right to be bitter and angry and rail against the fates about what had happened to his home planet. Withdraw from life instead of embracing it. But somehow, he still seemed to be more alive than so many people that Tony knew. And the fact that even as Tony started to learn his way around Atlantis, Ronon still insisted on escorting him from place to place if he wasn’t on a mission warmed Tony’s heart. It was sweet. Ronon was sweet. In so many different ways.

And they always had the best conversations. Sometimes Ronon would talk to him about Sateda, and he always tried to listen attentively when Ronon spoke about his decimated homeworld. Sometimes they talked about the similarities and differences in the art of rope bondage practiced on their separate planets. Tony was very tempted to show Ronon one of the pictures he carried. Maybe not any of the explicit ones, but Matt had taken some of him that didn’t show his face or any of his distinguishing features. Ronon seemed to have been someone who practiced the Satedan version of shibari, at least that was what Tony inferred from their conversations. He was most definitely a top that Tony’s inner submissive wanted to enthusiastically respond to. He was such a layered person overall. He was articulate and well-spoken when it was just the two of them, but he tended to stick to monosyllables and grunts, as few words as he could possibly get away with when he was around the others, which made Tony feel honored that Ronon trusted him with that part of himself. Tony certainly understood the need for masks and would never judge anyone for it.

Needless to say, Tony was kept very busy, getting to know everyone on Atlantis as well as solving the myriad of cases, big and small, that came to his attention. John Sheppard was turning out to be a good friend, and someone he could jock out with. He enjoyed Rodney’s caustic wit. Rodney sometimes came across as callous and a little self-absorbed, and sometimes he was kind of callous and self-absorbed. He was an absolute genius and not the least bit modest, but he was truly one of the kindest men that Tony had ever met and Tony found himself liking him. Teyla was not someone to be underestimated. She was sweet and kind and she saw everything, but she was a born leader and was scarier than Ziva when they saw action. She was also the proud mother of a ridiculously cute toddler who just seemed to be fascinated with Tony and would always insist on sitting in his lap if they ate together. He met Doctor Jennifer Keller, who checked him over after every away mission – Tony couldn’t stop calling them that in his mind. McGee would’ve been surprised at how much Star Trek Tony had watched over his lifetime. He was hoping that he wasn’t going to be a red shirt for Atlantis, because he was definitely enjoying his time there so far. Jennifer was super sweet, on top of being a crack medical professional, and she was also Rodney’s girlfriend. It was always fun for Tony to watch them interacting. They were the most adorably awkward couple that he had ever seen. And yet they seemed to fit well together.

A week into his stay at Atlantis, after a tiny little incident with the Genii, Ronon decided that Tony had to start training with him. Tony had thought that training with Gibbs was tough, but Ronon’s training took that up several levels. If he trained with Ronon regularly, he would absolutely be able to singlehandedly take down even a Marine on LSD, he thought.

And although he was kept incredibly busy what with his new case load, getting to know the people on Atlantis and their allies around the Pegasus galaxy, he was very much enjoying his time there and hoped that Gibbs had found a proper TAD. He didn’t feel overworked or underappreciated here. He felt quite at home with his new friends. Even though he was brand new to Atlantis, he felt like he was earning their trust, and he was starting to trust them right back. It was a novel experience, having that knowledge again that whatever happened John would always have his back, and Ronon would move heaven and Earth to get him back. He felt like he was among trusted friends again. Given time, they could become a new family for him. Besides, everything about Atlantis was amazing. In his spare time, he also read more and more of the After Action Reports, and delved into the history of Atlantis, wanting to know more about the people around him. It was all incredibly fascinating to him.

As the weeks passed, the idea of going back to DC and starting anew on Earth seemed to fade further and further into the background. Until one day, he was sitting in his office, flipping through documents on his tablet, trying to figure out a case that he was working on, when John knocked on his doorjamb and strode in.

“We have a bit of a problem, Tony,” John told him.

“I’ll suit up,” Tony put the tablet down. He knew what that tone meant now. It meant Tony needed to get that sweet, sweet, P90, his knives, and haul ass somewhere.

“Yeah… not that kind of problem,” John made a face.

“What other kinds of problems are there on Atlantis?” Tony frowned. “Don’t tell me there’s been another body swap event? Or are we shutting down the base because we’re being infiltrated again? You going to go all ninja and save all our asses again?”

“You really need to stop reading our old files,” John rolled his eyes. “No, the Earth type of problem.”

“I thought the IOA was all happy with us after you guys saved the world, and Wolsey went back to head the IOA and became a real advocate for us. And even for you personally?” Tony frowned.

“Seriously. Have you gone through all our archives?”

“Maybe not all of it…”

John laughed at that. “Well, here’s the thing. Stargate Command was going through some stuff in the past few weeks, O’Neill and Daniel Jackson had to save the world – again – and the thing is…”

Tony raised his eyebrows expectantly.

“They kind of forgot to put your paperwork through?” John rushed the words.

“The Wozniak and Moreland case is still open?” Tony blew out a frustrated breath. “We got that solved within twenty-four hours of me being here!”

“Yeah. That, too.”

Too?” Tony picked up on John’s words. “What else is going on?”

John rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Well. You remember how they surprised you, took you aboard the Prometheus, and then you were here without any prior warning?”

Beamed me aboard the Prometheus,” Tony corrected him. “And yes, how could I forget showing up in my pajamas and nothing else?”

“Yeah. Well… they got busy with you know, important world saving things, and kind of forgot to file the paperwork to tell people you had been selected to join our super top secret mission and be stationed aboard an Ancient base in a galaxy far, far away,” John said it really fast.

What?” Tony knew that his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t stop himself. “So…”

“So you’re a missing person, and the FBI and your team lead are looking for you. We got wind of it because now the FBI is looking into Wozniak’s death, thinking – and rightfully so – that solving that might also lead them to you.”

Fuck,” Tony facepalmed. “Oh man. Well… Wait, is Gibbs really looking for me?”

“Umm… I was told it was an Agent Fornell…”

“Toby!” Tony grinned. “Aw, I’ll get that straightened out with him, no problem. Gibbs would’ve been more complicated. He’s my former boss.” Tony did a double take then, because that had rolled off his tongue without a second thought. That Gibbs was his former boss. He knew that he’d been planning on leaving anyway, but he hadn’t actually taken any direct action about doing that, other than just staying on Atlantis for weeks on end. “Shit. I have to go back to Earth…” Tony’s stomach fell at that thought. He’d been happy on Atlantis. He didn’t really want to face the shit show that was his life on Earth. Or the fallout from quitting NCIS. Especially now after he’d be perceived as the idiot that forgot to tell anyone that he was leaving and had been a missing person for weeks now.

“About that…?” John gave him an expectant look. “We like you, Tony. You fit in well. And you do great work. Atlantis needed an NCIS agent, and we never even knew it. But we do. You are a valuable and necessary addition to Atlantis.”

Tony nodded dumbly. It would hurt, leaving these people who were his new friends, who were fast becoming a new family for him. But it did feel good, hearing that John appreciated him. He really respected John, both as a leader and as a friend.

“I’d like to put in a request for you be permanently stationed here on Atlantis. You can be our Agent Afloat, and you can take care of the Marines and Air Force, as well. You could be both NCIS and acting AFOSI. Whatever floats your boat. Basically, you’d be the Atlantis Police Department, which you have been anyway since you arrived,” John shrugged. “But only if you want to. I know you said that the last time you were Agent Afloat on an aircraft carrier, that it had been a terrible assignment. So I don’t want to twist your arm, or force you. And I know you wouldn’t violate your NDA so there’s no reason for you not to just go home and resume your life. But I know that if I didn’t even ask you, I’d regret it. And Ronon would probably beat the shit out of me at our next sparring session, if I just let you go without saying something. Teyla’s told me she wants you to stay. Rodney even showed you the Ancient archives, and I know he was excited that you were starting to learn the Ancients’ language because he probably has some thousand year old mystery he wants to ask you to solve… So… We want you to stay here and keep working with us. But only if you want to.”

Tony stared at John, eyes wide. He could tell that John was sincere, and that if he so chose, he would not just be able to stay here on Atlantis, but he would be welcomed and folded into the base as if he was family.

“Take some time. Think about it,” John gave him a solemn nod. “This is a huge change, and at least you know exactly what you would be getting into if you chose to stay. But you know well enough that as amazing as Atlantis is, it’s definitely not Earth. And we lack some of Earth’s creature comforts.”

“But I’d have the best team in the universe behind me,” Tony gave him a shaky smile.

“That you would.”

Tony swallowed hard. “Would I be able to go to my apartment and bring some personal stuff with me?”

“Oh god, yes!” John grinned at that. “You wouldn’t be a hostage. We’ll give you the checklist of things you need, things you can’t bring, and the kind of space you’d get. We’ll move you out of the guest quarters to one of the bigger, permanent quarters. If you wanted to stay, that is.”

Tony grinned. “Yeah. I think I’d like to stay, if that’s OK.”

John clapped him on the back heartily. “Glad to hear that, Tony.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

They grinned at each other for a while.

“O’Neill will file all the paperwork, but it might be best if you appeared in person to, you know, make them see that you’re fine,” John shrugged. “Draw attention away from us, if you can.”

“I can head back to Earth to square it all away with Fornell. Clear out my desk at work. Pack some stuff.”

“Great,” John patted his back one last time. “Let’s get this done.”

And without delay, Tony found himself going through the gates back to Earth, this time accompanied by Ronon, who had appeared by his side a minute before he was going to go through the gate, dressed in black jeans and a black long sleeved shirt, dreadlocks pulled into a sloppy ponytail, his plasma gun or blaster or whatever it was called still slung at his hip, looking way too sexy for Tony. He didn’t need to show everyone that he was ready to climb the man like a tree. Besides, they worked together and were going to be working together for a long time, if Tony had his way. He didn’t want to rush whatever it was that was building up between them. So he went the other route instead and gave him the side eye.

“And where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“With you,” Ronon grunted.

“For what purpose?”

“Security,” Ronon shrugged. “I usually accompany John, too.”

Tony rolled his eyes but decided that he wasn’t going to fight it. If Ronon already had an Earth outfit on, and he wanted to come with, and John hadn’t said or done anything to stop him, well, Tony wouldn’t mind the company, in all honesty. He wasn’t looking forward to talking to Fornell and ensuring that this time the paperwork came through from Stargate Command finalizing his transfer to the classified base. If he was lucky, he’d get out of speaking with Gibbs. O’Neill had confirmed that they would send Stargate Command personnel to clear out his desk, so he didn’t even need to go to the Navy Yard unless he wanted to. And he found that he really, really didn’t want to talk to McGee or Ziva or anyone. He might not feel the sting of being pushed out at some point in the future, but right now it was still too recent. He didn’t need to reopen that wound right away. It would be kind of nice to have company and backup, and Ronon would have been his first choice for both of those purposes.

He sighed and Ronon just bumped his shoulder with his arm, and he couldn’t help but quirk a grin up at the man. Ronon’s green eyes were filled with confidence and he made Tony feel a lot less nervous for what he was about to do.

They stepped through the gate to the inside of the mountain, and then were beamed up to the Prometheus where Ronon switched out his plasma gun for a run of the mill 9 mm Sig similar to Tony’s. Tony thought that beaming back to his apartment would be the easiest thing for all involved, so that was what they did. Tony changed into his own clothes, opting for a suit because it had been a long time since he’d put a suit on and he kind of missed it. Say what you will but even he couldn’t make black combat fatigues sexy every single day. But he decided to keep it casual and left off the tie, leaving his shirt collar unbuttoned. And the searing look Ronon gave him when he came out of his bedroom dressed in his own clothes made it all worth it.

He tapped his earpiece and confirmed with SGC Fornell’s location and that the paperwork was filed and his formal transfer was already in the system. He couldn’t find his keys or his wallet, phone or anything like that, and figured that Fornell must have them. Evidence. He checked his secret hiding spot and saw that it had been cleaned out. He snarled under his breath at Gibbs for showing that to Fornell. He definitely had to get the case file back and also his collar and Matt’s badge. The files were of course more than classified. The other items? Those were his things. They were precious. He needed them back. He couldn’t help but thank the universe that he’d kept the envelope of polaroids in his pocket the night he was kidnapped from his own apartment. The thought that those precious pictures could have ended up with Gibbs, or worse, Ziva and McGee was so horrific, he couldn’t even entertain it.

He ended up pulling his Lion King DVD from the bottom shelf and pocketing the five hundred in cash he’d stashed in it for emergencies (Hakuna matata, his ass. Everyone should have secret funds to dip into in an emergency), and he and Ronon went to his car. He picked his own lock and reached under the passenger seat for his spare key. At least he wouldn’t have to hotwire his own car, not that he wouldn’t have been able to do it, but he didn’t need to get arrested for hotwiring his own car when he didn’t even have a driver’s license on him. Ronon got in the passenger side and they set off.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Tobias

Present Day

Tobias was sitting outside, on a park bench, not far from the Hoover Building, enjoying the fresh air and the setting sun. The day was ending. He was going to lose his fight to let Anthony DiNozzo’s missing persons case go cold because he had not made any headway in it. At the end of the day, Tony’s disappearance would be declared a cold case. Sure, he’d found out some interesting things about the last case that Tony had been secretly looking into at the time of his disappearance, but other than wild theories, he had nothing on Tony. Gibbs was frothing at the mouth, but he hadn’t been able to get anything either.

Tobias didn’t like how it made him feel, to give up on Tony. Not that he was planning on giving up or stopping his search for the man. There was no way he would stop looking for him. He just wouldn’t be able to have his search for the missing NCIS agent be something he did as part of his official case load, but he would still keep looking even if Tony’s disappearance wouldn’t be his primary focus anymore.

He sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. It was a bad feeling to have to let a case officially go cold at any point in time. He always felt like he was failing the victim’s loved ones. It was an even worse feeling to have a case go cold when the vic was someone he knew in person and he was, in fact, a friend and would be one of the people affected by this loss. He closed his eyes, trying to compose the voicemail he was planning to leave for Gibbs to keep him informed of the status of Tony’s case. He wasn’t looking forward to Gibbs showing up on his doorstep and punching his face in at such awful news, when to his absolutely shock, Anthony DiNozzo himself dropped down and took a seat next to him on the bench.

“Hey, Toby,” Tony gave him that wide smile, looking at him fondly. “How’re you doing?”

The supposedly missing agent looked good. Wearing a suit and everything. He was looking fitter and tanner than before his disappearance, his skin glowing healthily as if he’d been spending a lot of time outdoors in the sun, and had stayed active the whole time. He didn’t have those dark circles around his eyes that all of Gibbs’ people had because the man worked them as if they were machines. He didn’t look like someone had kidnapped him and kept him captive for weeks. Tobias glanced down to see, and as far as he could tell there were no marks around his wrists that could point to Tony being restrained via handcuffs or rope, since rope was a factor in the Wozniak case. As far as Tobias could tell, Tony looked like a happier and healthier version of himself. Someone whose smile was genuine for once, and who looked rejuvenated somehow. A tall man with dreadlocks accompanied him but even a blind man could tell that despite the casual clothes and the non-regulation hair, the man was military, through and through.

“Tony?” Tobias couldn’t help but ask the obvious. “Is it really you?” He was so surprised he didn’t even remember to object to being called Toby.

“Yeah, it’s me. I’m here to tell you I’m totally fine. I was never missing,” Tony leaned back and relaxed on the bench, lifting his face up into the sun, eyes closed, breathing in deeply as if he hadn’t had oxygen in a long time, a slight smile on his face. He looked younger and more carefree somehow. Which suddenly grated at Tobias’s nerves. After all, he’d been the idiot busting his ass trying to find Tony and figure out what the hell had happened to him.

“No?” Tobias glared at him, even though he knew that Tony was impervious to his angry looks. The man had worked for Gibbs for a long time and had developed an immunity to all but the worst of Gibbs’ looks. And Gibbs’ death glare was renowned. There was no way Tobias would be able to top that. “Then why the hell have you been missing, neither hide nor hair of you to be found? And what the hell has Gibbs been breathing down my neck for, for all these weeks?”

“Yeah, about that,” Tony sighed. “I was pulled out of the MCRT for an urgent op, and apparently the paperwork got misfiled.”

“For four weeks?” Tobias exploded. “What the hell kind of op is that?”

“The kind I really can’t talk about,” Tony looked apologetic. And he really did look convincingly sorry. “I thought that the paperwork was all done. Then things got really busy. I wasn’t even focusing on what was going on here, to be honest.”

“And where did you go?”

“Can’t talk about that either,” Tony’s smile was genuine, with a hint of apology. Wherever it was he’d been taken to, apparently, he hadn’t hated it.

Tobias sighed. “OK. Well. I’m glad you’re not dead in a ditch somewhere. Or kidnapped and being tortured somewhere else.”

“Yeah, me too,” Tony nodded. “None of that.”

“Wouldn’t even be the first time,” Tobias grumbled.

“I know,” Tony agreed, his tone consoling.

“You have been kidnapped and tortured before?” the big man with the dreadlocks exclaimed, scowling at Tony, a look that would rival Gibbs’ in its efficacy, Tobias thought.

“Well, torture is such a strong word,” Tony shrugged, grinning winningly up at him.

The man grunted, crossing his arms. Tobias could see his biceps flexing under the fabric of the black shirt. This man was built. He could probably break Tobias in half without breaking a sweat, and then do the same thing to Tony, still without breaking a sweat.

“So anyway, Toby…”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that, huh, DiNotezo?” Tobias griped, wanting to inject some normalcy into this surreal conversation.

Toby,” Tony grinned at him, that insouciant grin that Tobias hadn’t realized he needed to see again. “I’m gonna need everything that you took from my apartment.”

“What things?” Tobias tried to play it stupid.

“Don’t even,” Tony shook his head. “Look, if you don’t hand it to me, then someone like this big guy or someone even scarier will come by and forcibly take them from you. I wish I was kidding about that.”

Tobias sighed. “Sure. Let me make sure that your ‘paperwork’ got filed properly this time.”

“Thanks, Toby. I mean it. I need everything you have on the case… and the other items from my stash.”

Tobias could sense the worry about Tony’s secret things in his voice. “I kept them safe for you,” he reassured him.

Tony gave him a small smile. “Also, thanks for looking into what happened to Corporal Wozniak. I appreciate that you guys didn’t ignore what happened to him.”

“And his secret boyfriend.”

Tony smiled at him, looking extremely pleased. “Yes,” he agreed. “And his secret boyfriend. I’m going to make sure those cases are closed, and I’ll personally notify their family. I did get to the bottom of that while I was away.”

“Great,” Tobias nodded. Although he had to force himself not to react to Tony saying the word ‘bottom’ because he was almost sure by now that Tony would have been the bottom in any relationship that he might have had with a man. Maybe a secret one, like Wozniak’s, but with the long-dead Philly PD Detective Holbrook. That would be his guess, anyway.

“And you have the badge still, right?”

“Your ID badge?”

“That would be helpful. My wallet, too. I drove here without a license,” Tony chuckled. “Had to break into my own car and everything. But I meant the Philly PD badge.”

Tobias gave him a long look before he nodded. “Yeah. I have all of them. Thought you’d want me to keep them safe for you,” he muttered.

“Thank you,” Tony grinned, and he actually looked grateful.

“Come on. You can come too,” Tobias nodded at the big guy with Tony, and they made their way back to the Hoover Building. “I didn’t catch your name…?”

“I didn’t give it,” the man bit back grumpily.

“Fuck, DiNozzo,” Tobias grinned at him. “You sure do know how to pick ‘em. Gibbs. This guy.”

“I know, right?” Tony said brightly. “Must be something really fucked up with me.”

The man literally growled at Tony at that, but he only laughed and punched the man’s arm. “It’s all good,” he told the guy. Tobias realized that he’d carefully not mentioned the man’s name, either.

Going through Security at the Hoover building was interesting. The big guy flashed some kind of ID that got him through without going through the metal detector – some kind of military ID, Tobias thought. Tony flashed the same ID.

“They gave you one of those things too, huh?” Tobias nodded to Tony’s new badge.

“Yeah,” Tony gave him a guilty grin. “Decided I’m going to stay on at the new posting.”

“Agent Afloat again?”

Tony nodded.

“Thought you hated it the last time that happened?”

“Last time it was a fucking punishment,” Tony shrugged. “This time it’s my choice. My decision. And this time it’s a place I like, and with people I like.”

“How long will you be away from the MCRT?” Tobias asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess I better give Gibbs a call…” Tony sighed.

Tobias gaped at him. “You thinking of leaving? For good?”

“I’m still NCIS. Just posted elsewhere. But yeah, I’m leaving the MCRT for good,” Tony pursed his lips.

“Gibbs is not going to take that lying down,” Tobias warned him.

“Well… At least I’m still NCIS. I was originally going to quit NCIS after this assignment was over. Maybe give you a call to see if you Feebies had an opening for a guy of my questionable reputation.”

“Shit. You’re serious?”

Tony gave him a serious look and nodded. “Now I have a new job and I didn’t even have to go on an interview to get it, or update my resume, or anything. Hell, even my creds and badge are still valid. Once I get them back, at least.”

Tobias sighed. When they got to his desk, he logged on to the system and checked and sure enough, Tony was no longer listed as a missing person, and was now reassigned to a posting that was classified to a level that he had never seen before. He opened his briefcase and handed over all the items he had removed from Tony’s hiding place, and watched as the younger man looked through to make sure everything was there before he stuffed the files into a backpack and carefully placed the collar and Philly PD badge into a side pocket, only after he reverently touched the items. He zipped everything up securely, stuffed his phone, wallet, badge, creds, and other items into his pockets and thanked Tobias for looking out for him.

“Take care of yourself now,” Tony told him, shaking his hand and patting him on the back. “Say hi to Emily. Watch your six.”

“You too.”

“Roger that.”

“Don’t make me be the one to break this news to Gibbs,” Tobias yelled at him as he and the big man walked away. “You fucking better call him!”

Tony turned and walked backwards, trusting that his partner would not let him walk into anything. “I’ll talk to him,” he called back. “But you owe me.”

Tobias rolled his eyes. “Don’t make me arrest you!”

“Ha! The charges will never stick,” Tony’s smile was wide, his cheeks creasing into dimples that no woman seemed to be able to resist. “Thanks Toby! Watch Gibbs for me, OK?”

“Don’t be a stranger and look me up if you’re in town.”

“Will do,” Tony gave him a sketchy salute, before he turned and walked next to his partner. There was a bounce to his step that Tobias had to say he’d never really seen before. And when the elevator arrived, he watched as the big man laid a gentle hand on Tony’s lower back to guide him into the elevator, since Tony was busy jawing at a couple other agents that he seemed to know. Interesting. Although he didn’t want to read into it what he was reading into it. The man deserved happiness, whatever the hell else happened.

Tony gave them all one final jaunty wave before the elevator doors closed, and Tobias sat heavily at his desk. Man. He did not envy Tony for having to tell Gibbs to his face that after being missing for weeks, he was not only perfectly fine and dandy but that he was also leaving the MCRT. Tobias would not want to be in his shoes right now. Gibbs was not going to take this at all well.

“Better him than me,” Tobias muttered to himself, as he sat at his desk and got ready to type up his final report to be added to Tony’s case.

He wanted to make sure that he clearly documented how Tony didn’t look like he’d been coerced into doing anything against his will, because he knew that Gibbs would want to try and paint it that way. He wouldn’t begrudge Tony this escape from Gibbs’ clutches, especially since he looked so content. Wherever it was, whatever crazy black ops he’d gotten himself involved in, he was happy there and Tobias thought that after ten years with Gibbs, the man deserved to go somewhere where he was happy. And hopefully it was somewhere where his talents were truly appreciated, and not begrudgingly, the way Gibbs was with the man. Although it did upset him that he could have had Tony working for the FBI, if not for this new secret posting of his.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Tony

Present Day

It was dark by the time Tony found his way to Gibbs’ house. He’d done the notification to both Corporal Wozniak’s and Julian Moreland’s next of kin, and that was always exhausting, even on a good day. It was never pleasant to inform people that someone they love had died. It was even worse when he couldn’t tell them anything concrete, given the secrecy of the whole secret military base in a galaxy far, far away thing. It was easier with Wozniak’s family, since he could use the classified excuse which made it easier to swallow. It had been more difficult with Moreland’s family since none of them had even met Wozniak before, although they had known that he was in a serious relationship with someone in the military and therefore it hadn’t been safe for Moreland’s boyfriend to be out. Moreland had been missing for a while by this time, but Tony could tell that they had still been holding out hope that he was still alive. Tony hated to be the one to dash that, but he knew that it was better in the long run to know that Moreland had died, so they wouldn’t constantly be wondering if he was alive out there somewhere, unable to get in touch with them for whatever reason.

It was definitely not Tony’s favorite part of the job, but he was good with people, so he smoothed it all over without outright lying, and he was as honest as he could be without giving away anything classified. Hell, given how much Wozniak had tried to keep everything quiet, Tony didn’t even feel comfortable telling Moreland’s family Wozniak’s name. But he’d handled it, and it had been easy to draw strength from Ronon who stood with him, looking as intimidating as heck even though he wasn’t even trying. Tony had seen Ronon look intimidating on purpose plenty of times, and this was definitely not it. Ronon had his concerned face on. But when the man’s resting bitch face rivaled Gibbs’ death glare, it was what it was.

But now that Tony had procrastinated enough, he had to do this one last thing before he could pack his things. He and Ronon were going to head back to Atlantis in the morning.

After a moment’s hesitation, he rapped sharply on Gibbs’ front door before barging in, as if it were any other day. Not that Tony had been making it a habit of coming around Gibbs’ unannounced for a while now, but he figured, this was probably the best way of not making this too weird. Ronon was on his heels, and even though he thought this talk would probably go better if Ronon were to wait in the car, his chances of getting the man to let him out of his sight were probably not too good. Get kidnapped by the Genii one measly time, and that was what he got from Ronon. He’d practically freed himself, anyway, by the time John, Ronon and Teyla came barreling in to rescue him. But apparently, Ronon hadn’t enjoyed that experience. And even though they were now on Earth and technically in Tony’s territory and comfort zone, it hadn’t done anything to make Ronon less vigilant in any way.

“Gibbs! It’s me!” Tony yelled out. He peeked into the kitchen, saw that it was empty, and headed straight to the door to the basement.

DiNozzo?” Gibbs looked shocked, his blue eyes wide as he stared at Tony.

“Hey, Boss,” Tony threw out the customary greeting, giving him a sheepish grin as he came down the steps. “I’m safe. I’m not missing. Or dead.”

Gibbs’ expression morphed into anger. “Where the fucking hell have you been?” he snarled. “We have been looking for you everywhere!”

“Yeah, I know…” Tony shrugged, reaching the bottom of the steps. “I’d apologize, but we have rules against that.”

Gibbs strode over and pulled him into a tight hug. “Fuck you,” he muttered, holding on tight.

“I know, I know,” Tony hugged him back, suddenly glad that he’d come here in person instead of just letting Fornell take the heat on this. It was nice to know that Gibbs had missed him, even though he was sorry that the man had been put through a month of unnecessary worry.

Gibbs released him and looked him over. “What happened?” he demanded.

“I got pulled into a really time sensitive op,” Tony told him the truth.

Gibbs frowned. “At Wozniak’s top secret base?” he asked.

Tony felt Ronon flinch at that, but he was used to Gibbs’ ability to put things together. Besides, Gibbs had been stewing on this for weeks, now. Of course, he’d have put some things together. “Yeah,” Tony nodded. “It got crazy, and I just learned that my paperwork got lost in the shuffle. And you guys thought I was missing. I came right away to fix this and set the record straight.”

Gibbs looked at him for a long moment before he nodded. Tony could tell by the quirk of his lips that he was still unhappy but being called away for an op was not something they ever had control over, even though Gibbs tended to defend his control over his own team to the death. “Vance didn’t know,” Gibbs said softly.

Tony shook his head. “The orders came from really high,” he confirmed.

“Like when the Wozniak case was taken from us?”

Tony nodded. “They didn’t give me any notice. I showed up on base in my pajamas, if that tells you anything.”

Gibbs couldn’t help but grin at that, rolling his eyes in tandem with Ronon. “Your case all cleared up?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tony nodded. “It was supposed to be done a while ago, but shit was going down… You know how things can get.”

Gibbs nodded, grunting his agreement.

“Well…” Maybe it was time for Tony to just take this as a win and leave before things could go bad. But he still had more news for Gibbs.

“You OK, though?” Gibbs’ sharp eyes were assessing him.

“I’m fine,” Tony brushed it away. “All good.”

There was a moment of awkward silence. Tony didn’t quite know how to tell Gibbs that he was transferring off his team without just blurting it out, and he didn’t know how Gibbs would take the news, so he fidgeted for a while.

“They assigned you security?” Gibbs jerked his head at Ronon.

“Yeah, kind of?” Tony shrugged.

“They know your penchant for getting in trouble then,” Gibbs grinned.

Ronon snorted and nodded at Gibbs.

“Hey!” Tony smacked Ronon’s arm, objecting to him agreeing with Gibbs on that point.

Ronon made a face and grinned at him.

“Asshole,” Tony sniffed haughtily.

Gibbs cocked his head and looked Tony up and down again. “You’re not here just to tell me you’re back, though,” he mused.

“Yeah… about that…” Tony cleared his throat. “I’ve decided to stay on the base.”

Gibbs pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow. No other reaction. Which made Tony worry even more. Ronon had turned to look at Gibbs’ boat, trying to give Tony some privacy, but he knew that Ronon’s ears were perked up and he wasn’t going to tolerate Gibbs’ usual treatment of him. He thought that if Gibbs slapped him in the back of his head, Ronon would have Gibbs’ face pushed into the floor a second later, so he decided to not allow either of those things to happen tonight.

“I mean, I like it there. I feel like I’m contributing. And doing good. What we do there helps make all of us safer in the long run. And you know… I do like it there,” he finished lamely.

“More than you like DC?” Gibbs asked. “You’re doing more good there than you are on NCIS’s MCRT?”

Tony sighed. “You know it hasn’t been the same for me here for a while,” he finally managed to get the words out.

“This is about me not telling you about the mole hunt, isn’t it?” Gibbs’ tone was sharp.

“It’s part of it,” Tony agreed.

“Only part of it?”

“I don’t know what it was I did to cause you to do this, but you haven’t been seeing what I really bring to the table in the last couple of years,” Tony blurted out. “You haven’t trusted me. With anything.”

A muscle in Gibbs’ jaw was jumping, but Tony decided to ignore it.

“I don’t know if it started after you lost your memory…”

“I remember everything fine now.”

“Do you?” Tony frowned at him. “You lost all respect for me when you learned about the La Grenouille thing, then?”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed.

“Jenny put me in a tough spot,” Tony knew that he sounded defensive, but well, he was being defensive. “I didn’t know it was an unsanctioned op.”

“You should have known.”

“Maybe I should have. But I was also too fucking busy trying to keep your goddamned team together and somewhat functioning while you were off taking a fucking siesta!” Tony yelled back. “I was tired, and I just wanted to fucking do my job, and I just wanted Ziva and McGee to do their goddamned jobs instead of having me do it all! And then you come back and treat me as if I was nothing. What the hell else was I supposed to do?”

Gibbs stared at him in silence, his expression inscrutable.

“And I know you blame me for Jenny’s death. I could see it in your face,” Tony blew out a long, tired breath. “Even though she engineered it herself, suicide by criminals. And Ziva was with me, obeying our esteemed director’s orders. You still blamed me for it.”

Gibbs glared at him. “You’re the Senior Field Agent. You were responsible for what Ziva did as well.”

“Then shouldn’t Jenny be responsible for what she did to herself? She was my senior officer, like I was Ziva’s. I obeyed her orders. Ziva obeyed my orders. But I’m the only one you blame for Jenny’s actions and her death?” Tony shook his head. “I don’t understand you.”

“You’re my Senior Field Agent,” Gibbs repeated.

“I’m only the Senior Field Agent when you need a scapegoat, or someone to do extra paperwork,” Tony growled back, noticing that Gibbs didn’t deny that he blamed Tony for Jenny’s death. “You should keep in mind that your ex-girlfriend did this on purpose, because she didn’t want to die a slow and painful death by tumor.”

Gibbs bristled at that.

“I just got caught in the crossfire, and you and Vance blaming me didn’t help any,” Tony leaned against the railing, suddenly tired. “Whatever, Gibbs. You stopped trusting me. And in the end, I’ve stopped trusting you, too. I can’t keep going out in the field with people I don’t trust. It really won’t end well for me.”

Gibbs’ eyes widened at that.

“This mole hunt thing? Just the last straw,” Tony kept talking. “I’m tired of being the whipping boy. I’m tired of being blamed for everything bad, and never given the credit for anything good. I’m tired of the entire team, not just you, taking me for granted. I’m tired of Vance continuing to blame me for everything just because McGee isn’t exactly the hot shit that he’d originally thought he was. I’m just sick and tired of how things have become at work. I’ve been thinking about quitting anyway. I’ve stuck it out with you for a decade. That’s a record for me. And for you.” Tony’s tenure was now twice as long as Stan’s had been.

Gibbs rolled his eyes and was silent for a long time. “The people on this black ops base,” he started saying. “They have your six?”

Tony couldn’t help but glance over at Ronon, who was still examining Gibbs’ boat. “They do,” he nodded. “And I have theirs.”

“You’ve always had our sixes,” Gibbs told him. “Even when I couldn’t see it.”

There was another long pause, and Tony could feel his eyes burning. “Anyway,” Tony rubbed his eyes, knuckling the moisture away. “I just wanted to come and tell you in person that I’m fine, I’m sorry about the fuck up with the paperwork and being listed as missing even though I wasn’t missing. And I wanted to tell you in person that I was leaving. I’ll still be NCIS, Agent Afloat and whatnot. But I won’t be your SFA anymore. Thank you, for the opportunity that you gave to me all those years ago. I really appreciate it.”

“Rule Five,” Gibbs said softly. “I guess I broke that rule with you.”

Tony grinned. “Well… I should get going then.”

“You selling your place?” Gibbs asked, surprising Tony.

“Nah. I like it. I can’t take much with me, and it’d be nice to have a place to come home on leave and stuff,” Tony gave him a sad grin.

“Come by for dinner when you’re in town then,” Gibbs gave him a solemn nod.

“You won’t poison me?” Tony asked, only half joking.

Gibbs snorted and rolled his eyes and pulled Tony into another tight hug. Gibbs fingers were buried in the hair at the back of his head, right where he’d always smacked him, almost a caress. Tony put his arms around his former boss and hugged him back just as tightly.

“Thanks for everything, Boss,” he whispered.

Gibbs tightened his hold for a moment before he released Tony. “I know you’ll do me proud.”

“I’ll try,” Tony smiled at him.

“This base you’re at, it’s cut off? Not even emails?” Gibbs asked.

“Yeah, it’s real secure,” Tony nodded reluctantly. “Very few things get in or out.”

“How do I get in touch with you?” Gibbs asked.

“Maybe check in with General Jack O’Neill? He’s Air Force but he’s ornery. I think you’d like him.”

Gibbs nodded at that.

“Don’t let Ziva or McGee or Abby try to hack into my records, OK?” Tony told him, growing serious. “It won’t go well for them. And neither you nor I will be able to protect them from the repercussions. It would be some really bad shit, Gibbs.”

Gibbs nodded solemnly. “Will do. Send me word every so often if you can.”

“I’ll do that,” Tony grinned at him. “Thanks again, for everything Boss. You changed my life.”

“Don’t be a stranger, DiNozzo.” Gibbs picked up a tool and headed towards the boat.

“What is this? A vessel of some sort?” Ronon asked Gibbs.

“Gonna be a boat one day,” Gibbs told him.

“Interesting. How do you get it out?” Ronon looked around the basement.

“That’s a mystery Gibbs swears he’ll take to his grave,” Tony laughed. He grabbed Ronon’s wrist, dragging him towards the stairs.

“You watch DiNozzo’s six,” Gibbs told Ronon.

“It is my honor to do so,” Ronon gave him a nod.

Then they left and Tony was home free. He was going to take Ronon out to a nice dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant, then back to his place to pack. He might need to go shopping for some supplies to take with him back to Atlantis, too. Good coffee, certainly. For bribery and black market trading. Other things. He had John’s checklist with him. Hopefully he’d be able to get it all done and get home to Atlantis tonight because he felt like he’d been away from Atlantis too long already.

He didn’t know when it happened, but somehow, Atlantis felt more like home to him now instead of DC. And now that their day was officially over, Ronon had taken his hand and was holding it, fingers entwined, as if Tony was something precious, and he hadn’t felt that in so many years that it almost brought tears to his eyes. Whatever happened or didn’t happen in Atlantis, or between him and Ronon, he was, for the first time in years, filled with hope. And filled with confidence that this was absolutely the right thing for him to do, and absolutely the right choice that he was making. He was choosing Atlantis over DC.

He’d been at the end of his rope here in DC, without even realizing it, and now he felt like he was filled with a new purpose. He’d found a new place where he knew he belonged. He was choosing a real future for himself, and it felt like a good choice. Whatever else happened, he was going to choose to go somewhere where his skills were needed and appreciated, and he was going to surround himself with new friends and new experiences with people that he had come to trust and who seemed to trust him right back.

He didn’t know just how much he needed to feel that returned trust until he found it again on Atlantis, and he wasn’t going to lose it now. Especially not when Ronon was giving him smoldering looks and holding his hand across the table. In public. Ronon was a breath of fresh air. He didn’t give a shit about DADT or if the people of Earth had weird hang ups about sexuality. He was who he was and he made no excuses for it, and he seemed to like Tony for who he was. Which was both scary and exciting. Tony felt as if Ronon could see right through all his bullshit, and see him for who he really was, and it seemed like Ronon liked what he saw. So yeah. There was something between them, and Tony was looking forward to exploring that over time.

He wasn’t in a rush to fall into a relationship with anyone. But Ronon was making it harder and harder for Tony to resist him. Still, he wanted to take it slow. And so far, Ronon did as well. They had both lost people they loved along the way. Ronon was extremely cautious and wary, given what happened to Sateda and his years as a runner. They both had baggage and issues up the wazoo. But Tony wanted to try and give this a chance. It would be a fresh start in all of the ways for him. A new beginning. One that he was looking forward to.

Again, there was that hope thing again. And it was a really good thing.