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When they find the bodies and Gibbs floats the plan, Toni stares at hard as she can at that nondescript point just over the director's shoulder, because making eye contact with Shepard is just about the last thing she wants to deal with right now.  Instead, she lets Gibbs's voice roll over her, down the line of her back, into the well of her spine.  She knows that at the beginning they're all going to talk about how maybe McGee can do it, but when it comes down to it McGee has all the guile of a dictionary entry and isn't objectively any more convincing as a Jean-Paul than Gibbs.

"Are you all right with this, Toni?" Ziva asks, when Gibbs goes to pick up one of the cars they've impounded from one of the marines who sells drugs and can afford that kind of thing, because for a woman in law enforcement, she's weirdly protective of Toni.  Toni keeps reminding Ziva she's also a woman in law enforcement, at which point Ziva usually gives her a look that comments broadly on how Toni has probably never fed a man her own dick or murdered a baby, and thus is wanting.

Toni looks away from where she's hovering over Probie's shoulder.  "I've been undercover a hundred times, Zi-vah."

"Not with Gibbs," Probie points out, still clicking around Photoshop, pasting Toni's face into the driver's license.  "Not like this."

Toni would rather stab herself in the face or let Fornell fuck her in the parking structure than to follow this discussion to its inevitable and completely horrible conclusion, so she smacks McGee upside the head, makes sure she brushes her tits into his shoulders — his hand slips, mouse skidding across the screen in a panic — before she dashes off, "You two can keep gossiping all you want: I have packing to do."

She allows herself a 20 minute freak out in the parking garage before she drives to her apartment, sorting through her closet.  She keeps imaging what her clothes would look like over the olive-bronze skin of one of her shoulders, standing next to Gibbs, but mostly that distracts her because then she's thinking about Gibbs, how his hands — there're calluses from working on his boat — might catch against the silk as he slides them up her sides, down her back, along the insides of her thighs.  Toni thinks about how he might rip off her stockings in a rush, so she packs thigh-highs instead, because she owns nice things and they're expensive.  

Toni knows this is going to be terrible for her, and the ordinary rush of immediate fear that comes with an undercover operation hits her in the solar plexus, becomes a one-two punch with her choking, stupid, asinine crush on Gibbs.  She's known the man for five years now, and Gibbs has made an art out of ignoring her advances — so effectively she'd cut it out a year into her tenure at NCIS.  There's not much of a point to sliding the inside of her knee against Gibbs's purposefully if he's never going to react, and now, when they touch, it's accidental, uncomfortable, unremarkable.

But she's filled in all those absent spaces that used to be populated by subtext with other things: a terrifying affection, longing straight out of Russian literature, heat and need and a constant, low-grade arousal that makes her wet, makes her pulse flutter.  Toni's too good to give herself away most of the time, but she doesn't know what she'll do without her exquisitely cut pantsuits and gorgeous pencil skirts, her razor-sharp stilettos with their jackknife points, the reassurance of a cashmere sweater over La Perla.  

She puts on a pair of gleaming pearl studs, layers Dior, Red Premier 752 on her mouth and dots Cashmere at her wrists, the divot between her collar bones, behind her knees, fretful and in need of comfort.  She pulls on a jade green dress, a wide, high scoop over  her shoulders and a plunge halfway down her back, the skirt skintight and arrested two inches below her knee, and she toes into a pair of buttery leather three-inch pumps: totally impractical and meant to dig into a man's thighs.

Toni's cell phone's ringing by the time she wonders if she should curl her long, sandy brown hair, but Gibbs is the type of motherfucker who would make her pay for the wait, and this is work, anyway, so she snags her travel bag off her bed and hoofs it, throwing a trench over her shoulders as she goes.  It's dark outside, and Gibbs won't see the dress — and Toni only spares a half-beat of regret at that before she buckles her seatbelt, reaches for the casefile on the car dashboard.

"Got a plan for this, Boss?" she asks, mild, trying to decipher Ducky's handwriting in the pale orange streetlights.

"Figure out who they were here to kill, DiNozzo," Gibbs tells her, lazy, and his gaze swings over to catch hers for a beat.  

"I meant more process rather than big picture, Boss," Toni says, and closes the file in her lap.  There're almost no details: two known assassins, dead at the scene of a three-car pile-up, with reservations for a hotel hosting the Marine Corps Ball.  It's been less than four hours since the bodies were identified as Jean-Paul and Sophie Ranier and all Toni knows about them is their list of suspected victims and how photos from the collision show Jean-Paul curled over Sophie, trying to protect her, his back a mess of sliced skin and Sophie's neck broken anyway.

Gibbs slides the car across three lanes; Toni's almost completely inured to the terrified honking of other drivers now.

"We fake it until someone makes contact," Gibbs says, too reasonably, and glances at her again.  "What the hell are you wearing, DiNozzo?"

She pouts.  "It's Elie Saab, Gibbs!  Spring 2007!"

He just sighs.  "DiNozzo — "

"That's Sophie, Jean-Paul," Toni scolds, curling her tongue around the consonants.  "You should be nice to me, I'm an assassin, you know."

They're at a red light, so Gibbs's look of tortured frustration — a cross between hilarity and wishing he could smack her more than he already does — lingers, and Toni feels lightheaded and doomed already, so she risks it and winks at him.  

"Maybe we should make out — just to practice," she laughs.  

And then Gibbs's face goes hard, his mouth changing into a flat line and his eyes going steely and before Toni can apologize for being a shit, Gibbs is reaching over, taking one hand off of the wheel to press his thumb to the center of her lower lip, and reflexive, by accident, Toni tries to lick her mouth and tastes the whiskey and car leather and sawdust of Gibbs' skin instead.  She tries to say, "sorry," but instead Gibbs smooths any of her words away, sliding his thumb over the bow of her mouth now, proprietary, and under her chin Toni can feel his fingers stroking the skin of her neck, slow.

"No," Gibbs says to her, in a hush, and in the near-black of the car cabin his eyes are electric blue.  "I don't think we're going to need any practice — do you, Toni?"

"No," she agrees, hoarse, and it's everything she can do not to suck his thumb into her mouth, to bite at the ridges of his fingers and gasp at the heavy knowledge of his touch.  Gibbs has known her for longer than she's ever known anybody, really, and he's ripped her a new one and made her laugh and crushed her underneath him during a firefight and let Toni sleep in his guest room, on his couch, he's bought her Chinese food and bandaged her up, sprung her from jail and helped her change, when she was so sick she could barely walk and weak like a baby cat, just out of the hospital and still barely breathing on her own.

Gibbs says, "All right, then — Sophie," and then the light turns green.


Jean-Paul is an entirely different and knee-weakening experience compared to Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and when they pull up to the valet station at the hotel, Gibbs spares Toni just a second to ask, "You ready?" before she nods and he opens the car door.  She's still trying to get into game face when her car door opens, and Jean-Paul is smiling down at her, handing her out of the car, pressing his mouth to her knuckles as she steps out onto the asphalt.

He's reluctant to give her hand back, and Toni supposes she doesn't honestly have any use for it, so Sophie just smiles indulgently and lets him lead her into the orange-warm lobby of the hotel, to the desk, to their room — a sprawling tenth-floor suite — lets him tip the bellhop extravagantly and shut the door.

"You're more solicitous than usual," Toni says, curious, and hovers in the doorway to the balcony, watches Washington glittering outside like a dark blue carpet dotted with stars, the cars below and the faint echo of voices.  This is a rush job; they won't have any in-room audio or video set up for another hour or two at least, but there's a familiar-looking NCIS van downstairs manned by well-meaning probies, and probably Madame Director is shredding a chair in MTAC as they stand here.  

Gibbs gives her a thoughtful look, and Toni has an arresting moment, thinking how he's almost fourteen years older than she is: how she might feel if she really was his wife, if she wondered about all the lovers he'd known before her, if he had found her when she was new, and impressionable, if he'd taken her before anybody else could.  She shivers, but it's not a particularly cold night.

"I'm not allowed to be solicitous?" Gibbs asks.

Toni favors him with the look that deserves.  "I'm checking the sky, but the moon doesn't look particularly blue."

"You wound me, Sophie," Jean-Paul laughs, and he reaches out an arm, hand open and upturned, and says, "Come here."

Toni would hesitate; she would make a joke, or quote a movie, or pout, but Sophie loves Jean-Paul, if the matching tattoos on the insides of their ring fingers are any indication, and so she goes, gliding over, feeling the heels of her shoes sinking into the lush carpeting and letting Gibbs collect her hand, tug her in closer.

She lets some of her actual wariness bleed through.  "What are you thinking?"

Gibbs just grins at her, dirty in a way that makes Toni's mouth wet, that makes her clit throb, a sweet, sharp clench, and slides his hands down her back, palms the swell of her hips, and Toni wonders if Gibbs can feel the lace trim of her panties, the quiver in her muscles, just under the skin.  

"Just that we have some time," Gibbs points out, his voice a rasp against her skin, and Toni lets herself close her eyes and lean in, lets Gibbs slide his hand back up, up her back and along her spine, until he finds the zipper of the dress and starts dragging it down her back, and Toni's determined to be mostly professional about this until Gibbs starts shit first — no coyness at all, just running his thumb down the seam of her ass, over the slick silk of her panties as the dress opens along the back, and that's it.  That's all it takes.

Toni knows that they're blind here, that they don't know anything about Sophie and Jean-Paul or what they're doing in D.C., who their mark is, what they want.  They don't know who they're supposed to contact, who might be contacting them, if they're being watched.  Anything they say is another opportunity for being caught out, and as wrong as it is, fucking is probably the safest thing they can do, and all of this is perfectly logical and factual and when they draft the official report, Toni will carry this story to her fucking grave.

But right now, here, with Gibbs groping the curve of her ass and her breasts crushed to his chest and her dress falling off of her shoulders, Toni could give a shit, and she lets out a sharp, breathy, "Please," before she goes up on her tip-toes — how infuriating, three inch heels and he's still so much taller — and catches Gibbs's mouth in a kiss.  

Gibbs tastes like sour mash and coffee, and Toni makes a note to give him shit for drinking just before an op.  That thought rattles around her head until Gibbs's hands reach up, cup her face and tilt her head back, and then he's kissing her like it's a warm up to what he wants to do between her thigh-high stockings: wet, teeth a sting, slick and relentless, and Toni can't find any desire to ask for permission in the way Gibbs touches her.  Toni's never seen the point in being shy when it comes to sex, so she moans, she whimpers, she tugs his shirttails out of his trousers and undoes the belt.  She shrugs off the dress, leaves it a $2,000 pile on the floor and steps out of it, feeling her tits tighten into sharp, near-painful points underneath the the lace and satin cups of her bra.

And when she presses — all hot, naked skin — along Gibbs' chest now, he's warm through the thin cotton of his button-down shirt.  He growls into her mouth and lets go of her face to grip her hips, half-shove half-carry her toward the bed, pressing her down into the comforter and trapping her wrists in one of his hands, holding her down.

"Please," Toni gasps, and when Gibbs doesn't come back to her mouth, she whimpers, "Please," because shameless has always worked for her, but Gibbs is fucking genetically incapable of cutting her some God damn slack, and he just slides down her body — the cool buttons on his shirt icy against her belly, her ribs — sucks dark, wet marks down her sternum, settles at her waist, lapping at her naval and sliding his free hand up the inside her thighs, fingers the crease between the muscle her ass, stroking the whisper of silk there.

But when Toni finally manages to catch Gibbs's eye, all he gets is a filthy smirk, and then Gibbs is licking at the elastic of her panties, scraping his teeth over the skin, and it knocks all the breath of her her body for a second before Gibbs reaches across to an empty part of the bed, grips the duvet, and jerks it over both of them, rolling them over until she's on top.

"Fucking tease," Toni swears down at him, raspy.

"I got the impression you wanted to be let up," Gibbs says, too sweetly, and tries to look innocent.  Her whore-red Dior lipstick is smeared all over his mouth, so it's tough going.

Toni smiles, bloody-minded, and says, "You know what?  You're right," and before Gibbs's full alarm can register, she slides two fingers into his mouth as she slides her way down his body, ignoring Gibbs's gasp and the warning clench of his knees, trying to stop her from settling in the cradle of his hips, mostly hidden under the covers, just the mad spill of her dark hair peering out.

Gibbs, who apparently dresses to the left, is hard and hot in his pants, and Toni grins up at him, knows exactly what she looks like, blows a hot breath over his dick, over the cold zipper that must be digging a zig-zag pattern into his cock at this point, and ignores the way Gibbs bites her fingers in warning.

Her breasts are spilling out of her bra, and Toni reaches around, unhooks it with one hand — go camp, summer of eighth grade — and lets it fall between Gibbs's legs.  Gibbs looks like he's going to kill her to death, but Toni's wanted to be here for years, right here, and she lets herself press a kiss to the button at Gibbs' fly, dot four more along the zip, hot and open-mouthed, and she wonders what Gibbs will taste like in her mouth, how it'll feel to have him fucking her face.  

Overhead, Gibbs says, "Fuck," like he really means it, and before Toni can drag down the zipper, gag herself on his cock, Gibbs fists a hand in her hair and jerks her head up, and Toni knows that the sharp pain of it shouldn't be a tease in itself, that she shouldn't feel herself getting slick between her thighs at that, but she does.  It's all she can do not to start begging again when Gibbs drags her up, along his chest, rolls them over again and pins her to the bed.

"That wasn't in the plan," Gibbs says, sounding wrecked, the heavy weight of him anchoring her.

Toni grins up at him, reckless now, because she'd felt it, something there, and she doesn't care if it's just lust, she's been at NCIS long past her expiration date, anyway, and kisses him, open-mouthed and moaning, wraps one leg over his hip and rolls her hips up to meet his.  "So what," she gasps.  "It's what I want."

Gibbs glares down at her, red and panting and furious and so fucking hot Toni can't stand it.  She wants him to lose his temper; she wants him to hold her down and fuck her through the mattress, until she screams and breaks and claws long bloody trails down his back, until she's sobbing his name, until she's full-up after being so hungry for so long and always making do with substitutions.

He shoves at her, holding himself away from her, hips grinding into air, and before Toni and push up, rub up along with him, his other hand presses her back down to the bed, hard, a little bruising on her belly.  

"Sophie," Gibbs warns, and Toni feels the blood roaring in her ears, overwhelming, when Gibbs does it again, rushes up against her, and she wishes it were real, that he was grinding his dick into her, fucking her furiously open, her thighs so slick she has to cross her ankles to keep them up, she's got no friction.  

But a job's a job's a job, and downstairs in the lobby, milling around is near a hundred of the Marine Corp's finest, and Toni knows who she is, what she's allowed to have, what Gibbs is willing to give her at the end of the day.  So she looks away for a beat, slides an arm around Gibbs shoulders, loops over his neck and drags him close, moaning, "Jean-Paul," and plays along, lets Gibbs fuck the air in between them.

Like an apology, Gibbs kisses her neck, sucks at her collarbone, finds his way back to her mouth, slow, languorous, and Toni holds out for all of thirty seconds before she kisses him back with none of his hesitation.  Toni's always been feast or famine, too much or complete absence, and she's no good at pretending she doesn't want him, and five years working for Gibbs has already robbed her of whatever dignity she has left.  She cups his face, strokes her thumbs over his cheeks, sucks on his bottom lip, kisses the corner of his mouth, bites him in reproach when the sharp edge of a zipper scrapes her, and Gibbs laughs into her mouth and Toni can only laugh back.

Mollified, Toni decides she may as well stroke Gibbs's ego a little, so she throws her head back, scrapes her nails down his back, goes gasping and silent, and she can feel Gibbs press his face into the curve of her neck, mutter, "Drama queen," and just for payback, she pulls his hair as she screams, thighs locking him down against her.

Gibbs shoves at her once, twice more, and the friction of it is fucking ludicrous, it makes her tits ache, she can feel herself wet and dripping.  God damn Gibbs, thank fucking Christ he has fucking pants on — or maybe not, his thigh is going to be God damn soaked — and Toni composes her latest resignation letter in his head as Gibbs makes three atonal grunts and stops on top of her.

Going for broke, she says, "We've got to work on your big finish, Jean-Paul."

He lifts his head to glare at her.  

"What?" Toni asks, batting her lashes sweetly, and before Gibbs can tear a piece of out her for being a shit, the door knocks and McGee yells, "Room service!"


The look McGee gives Toni when she opens the door is totally horrible.

"Room...service," he chokes out again.

She beams at him, toying with the third button on Gibbs's shirt.  She'd mugged him for it, because the other option she'd presented was answering the door holding her breasts with her hands and in her abused-looking panties, barefoot and fucked-out-looking, and Gibbs had unbuttoned it and handed it over, glowering the entire time.

"Oh, perfect," Toni purrs, and shifting her weight, she stands contrapasto — just enough so that the tail of Gibbs's shirt rides up over one hip and McGee can see the peach and black lace of her panties.  "Did you hear that, sweetheart?"

Gibbs steps out of the bathroom in a hotel robe, belted so tightly the terrycloth is straining, and he glares at Toni first, saying, "There's another robe in the bathroom, Sophie."

Ignoring him, she follows McGee as he wheels in a hotel cart, and standing close to him, she smells the comforting filtered air of the NCIS offices, McGee's Old Spice and ballpoint pen ink.  She leans over the trays, asking, "What's in here?"

McGee makes an annoyed noise, and Toni thinks, "there goes half your tip, buddy," but he says, "An array of fruits and cheeses — compliments of the hotel," before leaning close to Toni's ear, murmuring, "The director wants me to sweep the room for bugs."

Toni nods, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, and coos over the strawberries as McGee takes a vase of flowers and sets it up in the corner of the room, the gleaming black pinpoint of a camera winking out of the heart of a sunflower.  McGee putters around as Toni picks through the starfruit slices, the chunks of pineapple, ignoring Gibbs's constant glower in favor of picking a strawberry half for herself, watching Probie check the room with something that looks like a walkie-talkie until he comes across a hotel pen, left innocuous across a letter pad.

"Let me just get this spread set up for you," McGee says, and drops the silver lid of a platter over it before saying, "We should be okay if we whisper."

Toni winks at him, taking in the red waiter's jacket and clip-on bowtie.  "Cute."

"Slutty," McGee shoots back, and Toni laughs at that, blowing McGee a kiss, palming two of the earwigs nestled in the bibb lettuce of the fruit plate.  She tucks some imaginary hair behind her ear and slots hers into place, takes another strawberry, and glides over to Gibbs's side.

"Careful, DiNozzo," he warns, his voice low and warm and a rumbling like thunder two counties over, "we're probably still being watched."

She smiles at him, reaches up, sticks the strawberry in his mouth and presses the earwig into places in one deft move, dropping a kiss to Gibbs's neck and whispering, "Right, so play along, Boss."

Gibbs glares, but this time, he kisses her.  When they break apart McGee looks like he just saw his sister naked, and before Toni can invite him to fuck off, Gibbs snarls, "Is there anything else?"

McGee jumps, like a startled fawn, Toni thinks fondly.  "Uh, no, B—sir, no," he says, stuttering all over himself, and beats it, vanishing out the door and clattering down the hall, and Toni can't help it, turns around to give Gibbs a reproachful pout.

"That was mean, Jean-Paul," she chides.

This time, Gibbs doesn't really say anything, just walks over, knots a hand in her hair, and if Toni shivers at his touch, Gibbs doesn't say anything, just ghosts his mouth over Toni's ear and says, "Bed, DiNozzo," and before she can whisper anything back at all, he says, "To sleep, got it?"

Out of spite, and because she can, Toni turns, presses a kiss to Gibbs's wrist, glancing at him from underneath her lashes.

"Yeah, Boss," she promises, breathy, "I get it," and because she can, she pushes away from him, starts toward the bed, all its sheets awry, unbuttoning Gibbs's shirt along the way.  She lets it slip off her shoulders right before she climbs in, arches her back, stretches her arms, slips under the sheet, cupping one of her breasts, stroking her nipple with one thumb, lazy.  "Coming?"

Gibbs looks like he wants to throw her off the balcony.

"Well, Boss?" she asks.  "If you think you can't — "

"When this is over," Gibbs promises, unbelting the robe, wearing beat up boxers and a nondescript gray t-shirt underneath, "we're going to have words, DiNozzo."

"Oh, I'm sure," she laughs, and makes room for him when he climbs under the sheets, and he stays pissed and tense for all of half a minute until she presses her cheek into his shoulder, sighing, her hair soft in Gibbs's face — and then all the tension bleeds out of him, his arm coming up around her back, dragging her close as he mutters, "You know the director's watching every second of this?"

Toni presses a kiss to the skin nearest to her mouth.  She knows.  And those words she and Gibbs are going to have after, they'll be predicated with her resignation.  There's an entire alphabet soup of options to move on to, and when she goes, she can clutch this memory close, so she just laughs and says, "Oh, I'm all too aware," but she closes her eyes, willing her nerves to settle, and wonder of wonders, with Gibbs's knuckles stroking up and down the knobs of her spine, Toni sleeps.


McGee is in their room again, when Toni wakes up the next morning, Gibbs shuffling around and palming their "waiter" two crumpled one dollar bills just to be a bastard, and Toni pushes herself up in bed, murmuring sleepily, "Jean-Paul?" before Gibbs barks, "Sophie!  Jesus!" and she realizes the sheet has fallen away.

"Well, it makes up for the awful tip," Toni says meekly, but allows Gibbs to swath her in the second hotel robe and usher her into the bathroom while McGee leaves a brown-paper wrapped box the table next to their room service breakfast.

She comes out of the shower barefoot and feeling human again, humming the greatest hits of Journey under her breath, and she sorts through her bag, searching for underwear and something that screams, "married female assassin," while Gibbs walks around the room wearing a pair of hella ugly sunglasses.

"You doing a Ray Charles thing now, Boss?" she asks, pitched low.

"Nope," Gibbs mutters back, looking out the windows now.  "Ziva sent them; they're supposed to be infared."

Toni spares him a glance, but finds Gibbs squinting out past their patio and rolls her eyes, because she's already spent seventeen hours sexually harassing her boss, she's not taking her own life into her hands and calling him old.  She picks a slate gray dress, because Toni is thinking Mr. and Mrs. Smith, liked the sleek, desaturated elegance of it, and she slips on unadorned black panties and a matching bra, discarding the robe and reaching for the dress.  Toni's always been comfortable in her body, its imperfections and curves, she likes herself, how she feels inside her skin and bones and muscles, and she knows that Kate had been envious of that, although Toni still thinks it's a small consolation for never feeling comfortable anywhere else.

The dress has a row of tiny, cunning buttons up the back, and Toni usually puts it on backwards, does up the buttons, before risking the seams twisting it back around, but hell, she's got Gibbs here, so she says, "Honey?  Little help?"

"We got company," Gibbs whispers, against the back of her neck when he comes over, sunglasses gone now, fingers clumsy on the tiny pearl buttons.

"Careful with this, it's a Max Mara," Toni warns, and whispers, "Where?"

"Laser trained at the room, across the street, eleventh floor, fourth window over," Gibbs reports, and his fingers are less rushed now, but that's fucking torturous, to have the hard skin at the tips of Gibbs's digits scraping across the soft lines of her back.  She keeps shivering, but she fights it, ignores the way her nipples harden and asks:

"McGee — HQ, you guys hear that?"

"Yeah, Toni, we did," Madam Director answers, and Toni flinches so hard Gibbs puts a hand on her hip, steadying.  "Nice dress, Toni."

She opens and closes her mouth twice before she manages, "Thanks, Director."

"Jen," Gibbs mutters.  "Mind doing something about them?"

"No problem, I'll send a team," the director says, but there's something in her voice that doesn't sound particularly kind when she says, "Anything you guys can do to keep them distracted?"

Toni flinches again, and Gibbs squeezes her hip, reassuring.  

"Yeah, Jen," he says.  "Sure we'll think of something."

"Thanks, Jethro," Madam Director says, and Toni feels her skin crawl every time Jenny Shepard says the second syllable of Gibbs's name.  She can't help it, hates listening to them talk.  Toni's a good investigator, and every time she overhears an innocent conversation or a furious argument, all she can hear is the subtext there.  She hates the thought of the director having any piece of Gibbs, is viciously jealous of her.

Before Toni can worry herself any deeper into the corner of her head, Gibbs kisses the nob of Toni's spine, puts one hand warm and huge over her belly.

"I just got dressed," Toni says, light, already rubbing back against Gibbs, because the director thinks she's a slut; that's unspoken but universally agreed.  Shepard doesn't like Toni's work style, disagrees with her cavalier attitude and probably hates how transparently desperate Toni is for Gibbs's approval.  Toni wants to give her something good to watch.

"Be a good wife," Gibbs croons, into the skin behind Toni's ear, and she lets out a whimper, high and honest when Gibbs undoes the three buttons he'd managed to fasten, slides his hands into her dress.  "Indulge me."

"Jean-Paul," Toni says, breathy, letting Gibbs peel the dress off of her, feeling his hands stroke up her body and cup her breasts, helps her step out of the dress around her ankles.  "I'm not — "

"Sure you are," Gibbs laughs, fucking filthy, turning Toni around and dumping her into their bed again, destroyed.  "Fast and dirty this time?"

Toni can feel herself start panting, pulse racing.  "Maybe I don't want to," she says, curious, teasing, testing to see how far this can go.  "Maybe I'll fight you."

Gibbs's eyes turn very blue, and he looms over her, hitching her left thigh up, over his elbow, the other hand disappearing in between the two of them, where their bodies are tight together and nobody can see terribly clearly, and Toni's expecting him to measure out some acceptable distance, but he —

"Fuck," she shrieks, loud, honest, totally fucking shocked, because Gibbs hasn't — he's just slipped his thumb under the scalloped hem of her panties and stroked it over the hood of her clit, fleeting — a butterfly touch.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

And then Gibbs grinds into her, and Toni spares half a second to think about what that probably looks like from any other angle but then she loses the thread because Gibbs's thumb is back at it, flicking just above her clit ruthlessly, the faint buzz of pleasure getting sharper and sharper and Toni hears herself moaning, begging, gripping at Gibbs's forearms as he fucks up against her, the hard line of his dick through his pants pressing into the soft, soaking wet dip of her cunt, and in the moments of clarity she has Toni hopes he comes in his fucking pants, asshole, tease, and then thinks that it doesn't fucking matter, because she's going to ruin those slacks for him one way or the other, her thighs are so wet.

He sweeps his fingers down, into the dark-pink petals of her, and up again, slick this time, frictionless, and now he rubs just underneath, in the silk-smooth skin right below, the too-sharp sensation dulled just enough that all the pinpricks of almost pain just keep building.  Toni knows she's not breathing, that she can't possibly be paying attention to the fucking op if she's about to sob out an orgasm, but then Gibbs noses his way down between her breasts, uses his mouth to push away one cup of her bra and sucks her nipple, fierce, the same time he slips his thumb inside her.  Toni shouts, thighs slamming closed around him, pussy clutching at his finger and her heart racing and lungs shutting down for a vertigo-inducing second, staring at the ceiling of the hotel suite and thinking about McGee and Director Shepard, watching her like a fucking headlining pornstar on MTAC's high-def screen.

Gibbs grunts, "Fuck, fuck," and slams into her hard enough to bruise, to make the woozy blush of post-orgasm painful, and Toni  can feel his dick jerking in his pants, and it's all she can do not to stick her hand down his slacks, to rub him the rest of the way through it.  But this is Gibbs, and this is her, and this is a job, no matter what lines they're crossing all over the fucking place, and so she keeps her hands tightly fisted in the back of his shirt, whispers in a gasp, "Well?  Was that enough of a distraction?"

"Yes," McGee says, sounding very strangled in her ear.  "We got them."

"Where's the director?" Toni pants, because she can't resist, and she ignores the huff of knowing laughter coming from where Gibbs has collapsed over her, breathing hard.

"She left," McGee says, sounding pained.  "She told me to stay."

"Sucks to be you, Probie," Toni sympathizes, and because she can't think about this, about Gibbs's thumb still wet and sunken inside her, about the weight of him, reassuring over her, she asks, teasing, "Like the show?"

There's a long silence before McGee shoots back, "Sure — almost as much as the FBI."

"What?" Gibbs growls, at McGee but close to Toni's ear.  "Sitrep.  Five minutes, McGee."

"On it, Boss," McGee promises, sounding terrified, and Toni just covers her face with a free hand and laughs and laughs.


They're cleaned up by the time they get a note from the front desk, couriered by someone other than McGee, and so Toni takes care of the tip for real this time, since fake assassins or not, she sees no point in defaming the dead by letting Gibbs mark them as cheap.  She perches on the edge of the hotel bed and unfolds the note — heavy card stock, typewritten, and Toni bets there aren't any fingerprints, either — running her fingertip along the edge.

"Sweetheart," she calls, listens to Gibbs shuffling through the newspaper on the couch, "looks like we got our lunch reservation after all."

Gibbs peers out over the sports page.  "Did we?"

Toni holds up the card and grins.  "Hotel restaurant, lunch, 1 p.m.?"

"Sounds good," Gibbs says mildly, and over their earwigs Toni hears Abby say:


Toni glances at the vase of sunflowers.  "Yeah, Abby?" she says, and walks over to Gibbs, holding up the card to him.  Gibbs acknowledges it with a nod when Toni lays the card in his hand, fingertips skittering over Gibbs's palm.

"For the record, you two could make good money selling sex tapes on the internet," Abby laughs.  "That was impressive for a man your age, Gibbs!"

Toni bites her lip as hard as she can, but she can feel her shoulders shaking.

"Abby, I swear to God," Gibbs warns, under his breath, and Toni can't help it, she curls up next to him on the couch, drawing her knees up and laughing into the tops of her thighs.  They're pretending to be assassins and Gibbs fingerfucked her and she's going to have to find a new job as soon as this is over but it's all so fucking ridiculous and hilarious that she can't help it.

"I'm just saying, Gibbs, anyway, all right, guys, three things.  Number one, the guys watching you from across the street were FBI."

Gibbs's growl of, "Jesus Christ," is interrupted by knocking on the door.

"And that should be them coming in to take away their own cameras and bugs now," Abby reports cheerfully.  Toni, because Gibbs is too busy being struck dumb and livid, gets up and lets in a disgruntled looking Asian woman in a hideous, peach-colored housekeeping uniform and a greasy looking man.

"FBI?" she asks.

"Agent Parker," the man says, and tipping his chin at at the woman, says, "Wang."

"Agents," Toni says, as pleasant as possible, and Wang only gives her a dirty look before making a beeline for the bed frame, the hideous painting that didn't seem to match the room, the other vase of flowers in the suite as Parker hangs back, eats Toni up with his eyes.  Toni's conversational in leering, even if she doesn't like it, and she freezes all her muscles, keeps herself from squirming.  

Over the comm, Abby says, "Anyways, before you totally blow up, Gibbs, the director and Fornell already came in and screamed at each other a lot in MTAC, but the conclusion is this: the FBI got a tip that our lovebirds would be in town, but they don't know why, and thus, they set up surveillance."

Toni hazards a look at Parker, who winks at her.

"Nice underpants," he leers.  "Victoria Secret?"

She glares, because her lingerie is Agent Provocateur, and it's one thing to taunt McGee or tease Gibbs, but she doesn't like fucking FBI clowns staring at her like they know what's under her twill suit.  Before she can say anything, Gibbs is saying, "Hey," like he could rip this guy's balls out through his shredded throat, and Abby cuts in with, "And number two, the blood tests came back — congratulations, guys, Sophie, well, Toni's pregnant."

"I'm pregnant?" Toni chokes.

"Right," Parker says, and zips after Wang, still sorting through the room.

"About three months, Ducky estimates," Abby chirps.  "What are you going to name it?"

"Abby!" Gibbs barks, and Toni drops down onto the couch again, feeling Gibbs's thigh warm against her own as she stares blankly out across the room.

"You need to work on that temper, Gibbs," Abby scolds, her voice tinny in the earpieces.  "Even crazier, Ducky found this tiny tiny little gold heart in Sophie's eye — never would have found it if you weren't really looking for it.  It was computer chip, two files: one with lots of bank account information, a deed to a house in Maine, information for false identities, the other a list of all their targets."

Gibbs sighs.  "Insurance policy."

"They wanted to start over — they were running," Toni murmurs, closing her eyes.  

Toni's never said, "I can't imagine" and meant it, because she can — can imagine Sophie missing her period two months in a row and the shitty visit to the shitty pharmacy and buying four different kinds of pregnancy tests, because nobody ever just buys one.  She can remember that low nausea, sitting on the closed toilet lid and staring at the row of sticks on her bathroom counter while the egg timer ticks, but she does wonder what it'd be like to look at the quartet of positives and plus signs and feel anything but sick.  Maybe Sophie had felt a great whoop of joy.  

She knows Sophie Ranier was an assassin, that she and her husband killed people for a living, but Toni can't help but ache for her, for whatever house they'd bought in Maine, the life they had wanted to lead.  She puts a hand over her stomach, feels the twill of her dress and the silk slide of the slip underneath, and wonders what Sophie had thought just before she'd died, if she'd worried for her baby or if it had all happened too fast.  Toni hopes it happened too fast.

"So this contact today," Gibbs prompts, "maybe not about the Marines at all."

"Maybe not," Abby agrees.  "I don't get the impression assassin-ing is something you're particularly allowed to walk away from."

Toni glances over at Parker and Wang.  "What did the FBI say about that?"

"Fornell says the Raniers got flagged coming in through customs in SeaTac, but that it took them this long to find them again, and when they popped up on the web crawlers again, they were booking one-way tickets to Maine," Abby tells them both.  

"One last job, then," Gibbs murmurs.

"My guess," Abby says, and asks, "Also, Toni?  Agent Provocateur?"

"Yes," Toni sighs, grateful someone can recognize good haberdashery when they see it.

Glancing at Toni, Gibbs says, "Then this lunch meeting has a strong chance of being a total set-up."

Toni feels a spike of tension in her gut, like a fist to the diaphragm, and she thinks about the fact that this isn't a common street thug or a scared kid running drugs, some asshole marines or idiot squids, these are professional killers out for them.  She could die; this could go wrong; they're going in mostly blind, still, but she feels Gibbs's knee warm against her own and she thinks it's going to be okay.

"Well, then," Toni declares, getting to her feet and stretching her toes — painted red and white in a fit of Buckeye pride last weekend — glancing down at her twill skirt and pumps, and Gibbs's grin is like the sun coming out after a long God damn winter when she says, "I better change into flats, at least then."


She changes into a pair of $14 slip-on polka-dot skimmers from Target.  Gibbs bought them for her, one wretched, unendingly horrible weekend in Reston, when she'd turned her ankle four times on an undercover sting and he'd found her icing her left foot with a six pack of dented Coors in the back of the NCIS van.  He'd disappeared for burgers and coffee and come back with a plastic bag and shoes for Toni, polka-dots in a red that exactly clashed with her dress, but she'd put them on and touched up her lipstick and she hadn't fallen over anymore, and when she heard Gibbs's voice warm in hear ear the rest of that night, she'd felt it like a hand on the small of her back.

Toni has spent her entire life hopelessly in love with people: her mother, who'd died when she was eight; her father, who forgot her in hotel rooms; boys in college who were exhausting to be around; Gibbs, who knows it and uses it against her.  Toni wouldn't even know what to do with herself if she were loved back, if it wouldn't scare the shit out of her — but if she had been, then maybe she and Sophie could share something in common other than a tendency for living dangerously.  She touches her belly again, low, beneath the naval, and thinks that if she were pregnant, she'd run, too, no matter the consequences.

In the mirror, over her shoulder, Toni can see Gibbs fretting at his cuffs, the top button of his shirt still undone and the tie loose and crooked, and Toni feels a smile creep over her face and she calls him over and says, "Jean-Paul, come here."

Gibbs does, giving her one of those lazy, What Now, DiNozzo? looks Toni gets only when Gibbs thinks she's dying or he's in a ridiculously good mood.  "Sophie?" he asks.

She turns him toward her, buttoning the shirt button, tightening the Windsor knot at Gibbs's throat, smoothing her palms down the front of his shirt.  Toni has done this for her father and friends and fuckbuddies in the past, and just before Kate's funeral, Toni had found McGee obviously sobbing, and done this for him, too, without saying a word about his bright red eyes or the gleaming line of snot under his nose.  She finds the ritual soothing, and when Gibbs is fit for public consumption, she smiles, steps back, says, "There.  Perfect."

He arches a brow at her.  "It's lunch, Sophie, not a state visit."

"That's no reason to be sloppy," Toni reminds him, and grabs her clutch.  It's got a beretta in it, pepper spray, a bug, a GPS tracker, her Dior lipstick and mascara.  "Ready to go?"

Gibbs looks at her for a long time.  "Yeah, Sophie," he says.  "Ready."

He offers his arm, and this time it's Toni's turn to arch a brow, but you know, gift horse, so she takes it with all the grace she learned against her will in cotillion classes, and they step out the door into the hallway.  She gets to enjoy it all of forty-five seconds until she feels the muzzle of a gun digging into her spine as they stand in the moving elevator and a voice says, "Press three, Mrs. Ranier — your guests are waiting."


The first thing Toni notices about room 307 is that it's significantly smaller and shittier than her own suite upstairs, and then she's too busy biting back a hiss of pain when someone nearly jerks her arm out of its socket, dragging her over the threshold.

"You could have just told us to meet you here instead of the restaurant, you know," Gibbs says mildly, too easy.  

The thug in the waiter's outfit, the one who'd been lurking in the back of the elevator, just shuts the door behind them, waves them toward a pair of chairs settled back to back in the center of the room.  "Sit down," he instructs, and when Toni and Gibbs do, another man steps out of the bathroom, hands still wet and slick like his dark hair, and he pauses a moment, takes a measure of Gibbs before his gaze lingers on Toni.

"You, Miss Ranier, are more beautiful than they say," he says.

"It's Mrs," Toni spits at him.

The waiter is locking her hands together with a plastic zip-tie behind her back, and if Toni reaches out with her fingers, she can lock them into Gibbs's.  She doesn't, because there's no reason to do it and he probably needs his hands, so she's shocked momentarily stupid when she feels Gibbs's fingers curl around hers.

"That attitude though," the new man laughs, sliding his hands into the pockets of his slate-gray suit, "that attitude is fairly famous — Mrs. Ranier."

"It's why I like her," Gibbs cuts in.  "What's this about?"

The suit glances at Gibbs a beat before nodding at the door, saying, "While my associates return to your room and check to make sure you haven't left any inconvenient backup there, I thought you two and I could have a heart-to-heart."

"I'm sorry," Toni can't help but say, feeling her heart thudding wildly, that sudden lack of oxygen she's gotten sometimes, ever since the plague, "was I mistaken?  I thought we were hired to take out a client — not listen to your innermost thoughts."

Smiling at her, the suit says, "Mrs. Ranier, let's let this little charade go now, shall we?"  

He circles them, and now Toni can't see him, can only feel him standing facing Gibbs behind her, and involuntary, Toni's fingers tighten around Gibbs's where they're curled together, and she wishes she could pull a Spock and telegraph things through the skin: I'm sorry; don't do anything stupid; be careful; I'm worried.

"Word of your decision to...withdraw from our field has circulated," Suit informs them, and Toni closes her eyes, but not before she sees the second thug stepping into the room, carefully locking the door behind himself and joining his boss before Gibbs.  "You must know that our profession isn't one you can leave lightly, Mr. Ranier."

"Who says we're leaving?" Gibbs asks, and there's a sickening thud of knuckles against skin that has Toni squeezing her eyes shut, fingers tight around Gibbs's in the half beat before he coughs and wheezes, "All right — said we were doing it lightly?" and then the hit falls again, and Toni can feel the chair move, a little, behind her when it does.

"I can see why you like him, Mrs. Ranier, he's funny," Suit says.

"Please stop hitting his face," Toni manages, somehow.  "I have to look at that all day."

"That's not a long-term issue you need to be concerned with," Suit assures her, and now he walks around again, looking impeccable except for a single fleck of blood near the third button down on his shirt.  Bespoke, Toni bets, and she wants to scratch his eyeballs out of his skull.  "There's a client list, Mrs. Ranier — tell us where it is."

She grits her teeth at him in a smile.  "I don't know what you're talking about," she says, and feels the thug punch Gibbs again.  His lip's split for sure, and maybe his nose is broken (again), and Toni can't help but think of Ducky's disapproving face.  

Suit leans in, too close, and whispers, lips moving against her ear, "Mrs. Ranier, there're much more unpleasant ways we can do this, no?  Ways we can make Mr. Ranier watch — before his eyes are too swollen to do so."

Yeah, Toni fucking bets there are.  She swallows hard.  "Give us a minute to talk?"

"There," Suit says, agreeable, and pats her cheek, affectionate, "that wasn't so hard."

"Privately," Toni snarls at him, and Suit nods, all genteel manners.

"Of course, as the lady wishes.  You have five minutes," he promises, and ushers himself and his thug — knuckles bloody but unsplit, and Toni hates this job, sometimes — out the door of the hotel room, closing it quietly behind them.

She hangs her head a minute before asking, "Got any bright ideas, Boss?"

"Yeah — how about you get the guy to stop hitting on you, DiNozzo?" Gibbs coughs.

"It's my naturally magnetic charm, Boss," Toni mourns.  She tries her wrists.  "I got no give, Gibbs.  What about you?"

Gibbs doesn't even try the wrists.  "Go with them to the room.  McGee should be in there."

Toni has been trying not to think about that for a number of reasons.

"If McGee was in the room, then he's probably incapacitated at the moment, Boss," Toni says, quiet, because she likes bugging McGee — especially after he called her a fucking trollop in his book, and who the hell even uses that word anymore? — but she doesn't like anybody else doing it, and the last time she saw McGee hurt she'd felt her stomach turn.  "And I'm not leaving you in here alone."

"That's an order, DiNozzo," Gibbs snarls at her.

"Fine," Toni snaps back, feeling panic welling up in her throat.  "I quit."

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs shouts.

"Nope," Toni says.  "You can't order me around anymore, I quit."

"Toni," Gibbs warns, "I swear — "

"Look, Boss," Toni tells him, as gently as she can given the circumstances, "the truth is, I was going to quit anyway, once this op was done.  Just consider this me moving up the timeline a little.  This job is terrible.  Nobody's ever heard of NCIS before; I'm trapped on a shitty government pay scale; you keep telling me I'm not allowed to make any of the squids put on their dress whites and dance to sexy music for me — I'm just not seeing any upside here."

Gibbs is actually laughing, Toni can tell, when he says, "Toni," but then the door to the room opens, way, way too early for it being five minutes, but hell, this guy is clearly downmarket.  Toni thinks that if it were Sophie and Jean-Paul running this job, they would have been very polite about it.

"Have you had time to think?" Suit asks, and before Toni can invite him to go straight to hell, Gibbs growls:

"The client list is in our room — she has to show you where it is."

"Oh, I don't think so," the suit laughs, and the thug behind him is giving Toni the type of speculative look she'd invited when she'd gone out clubbing in Ohio during her less-than -stellar youth.  "You'll tell us where it is."

"Jean-Paul," Toni grinds out, "shut up."

"I couldn't if I wanted to tell you," Gibbs says.  "She has to show you.  Take her."

Suit grins.  "How very altruistic of you, Jean-Paul.  So many surprises today."

"She's pregnant," Gibbs retorts from behind Toni's head, and she could kill him, in fact, she digs her nails into his hand just to let him know how pissed she is, but in front of her, Suit is giving her an entirely new look, with soft eyes, even.

"Ah, it all begins to make sense," he murmurs, and turns to his thug.  "Untie her?"

He does, but Toni comes away with fist-shaped bruises on her wrists for the effort, cuts from the plastic ties, and she stands with as much dignity as she can muster, rubbing at her hands and walking sedately toward the door.  Gibbs made this bed and she'll sleep in it, but if he's dead at the end of this he's going to be so sorry, Toni vows.

"How far along, Mrs. Ranier?" Suit asks.

Toni blinks at him.  "Three months."

"Congratulations.  Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?" Suit goes on, and Toni suddenly wants to hit him, because that's fucked up, asking if the nursery is going to be pink or blue when they're going to kill her husband as soon as she leaves the room, if they're going to put a bullet through her head once they get what they want.  

She grips her own wrist too hard, adding to the bruises.  "We wanted to be surprised."

Suit looks faraway and fond.  "There's nothing like it," he says.  "Once you see your child — well, nothing else compares."

"So you're going to let us live?" Toni asks.

The Suit actually looks rueful at that.  "You know that's not how it works."

"Right," Toni says, and she slants a look at Gibbs.  She can see the blood now, an ugly, messy smear on the side of his face, feels her heart slamming wild against her rib cage.  She thinks of a half-dozen suicidally stupid ideas that might give Gibbs a fighting chance, but she's done this long enough that she knows they can't make it at all in the field unless she trusts Gibbs.  She swallows hard, and calls out, over to Gibbs, letting her voice shake, "Don't make me feel like an idiot for trusting you, okay?"

Gibbs turns a little, just enough so that Toni can see the glint in his eye, and says, "Yeah, got it," and Toni is stupidly grateful, so stupidly grateful her knees go a little weak.

"Touching, Mrs. Ranier," the suite says, admiring, and motioning toward the thug, says, "Now, if you please, Hugo will escort you to your room upstairs to retrieve the file."

"Of course," she says, and lets the thug hustle her out the door, just hears the beginning of whatever conversation is going on in the room now, with Suit and Gibbs and the unmistakeable metal tang of a blade being drawn.

She comes up with and discards another dozen ideas by the time they get back to the suite, the thug's gun still snug against the small of her back, but any ideas she imagines in the last yards to her room go flying out of her head when she opens the door to find McGee sprawled face down on the carpet.  Toni rushes over, but she doesn't see blood, no immediate and obvious injuries on the way, and when she presses her fingers to his neck — a slight two o'clock peach fuzz, go McGee — his heart is beating, steady and fast, and Toni feels a smile creeping over her face.

"Sorry about your back-up," the thug jeers from behind her.

"Oh," Toni says, turning to catch his eye, "I don't think he was my backup."
And that's when Ziva kicks the hotel room door shut and pistol-whips the thug across the back of his head.  She kneels on his spine, digging out her handcuffs, asking, "You okay?" while Toni rolls McGee over, sees him grinning up at her.

"You're impressed," McGee says.  "Admit it."

"Probie: I'm impressed," Toni laughs, shaky, and pushes back to her feet, cheap fabric on her flats creaking, and says, "We've gotta go downstairs — Gibbs is there, the guy had a fucking knife or a sword or something," before blowing back out the door.

Toni doesn't remember running down the flights of stairs, skidding down steps three and four at a time, blood rushing in her ears so loudly she could barely hear the patter of her feet against the painted concrete.  Behind her, she can hear McGee and Ziva following, shouting for backup on walkie talkies and two floors down, a bunch of fibbies in blue jackets with yellow FBI lettering burst out into the stairwell as they turn the corner and join in pursuit, following Toni's lead.

The fibbies are bursting into room 307 when she gets there, and she finds herself frozen in the doorway, watching Gibbs — still tied to the fucking chair — kicking Suit in the head where he's trapped, torso crushed under the legs, in between the double beds, shouting, " — and that's for fucking whispering in her ear!"

McGee comes up short next to her, panting.  "Wow," he says.

"Word," Toni agrees.

Ziva says something warmly impressed in Hebrew.

"We should stop him," McGee suggests, and Toni blinks, twice.

"Oh, right, sure," she agrees, and goes over to Gibbs, putting a hand on his shoulder, saying, "Boss?  Boss — I think your plausible case for self-defense is wearing thin here."

Gibbs does, but only after kicking the guy once — okay, three times — more, and he looks over his shoulder at Toni.  "You okay?"

"Hey, great," Toni promises, and nods at her feet.  "I had shoes I could run in."

Gibbs's face is a mess of bruises, blood running from his noise and making his all-American bright-white smile pink and his chin is gleaming red, too, but he grins, wide and painless, and he says, "Good," and Toni's glad she's quitting anyway, because there's absolutely no fucking way she can resist leaning down and kissing him on the forehead — lingering and fearful and so glad, her thumb on the unbruised corner of his mouth.

The moment is ruined, as most moments are, by the FBI.

"Jesus Christ, Gibbs," Fornell says, striding into the room, "will you tell your future ex-wife number four to cut it the fuck out so the EMTs can take a look at you?"


Toni hangs around until a paramedic who looks significantly meaner than Toni herself shows up and begins badgering Gibbs, at which point she allows herself to be shouted back to the NCIS offices and up the stairs to MTAC.

She's still in her skimmers, in her sand-and-gray twill dress, and Toni tries not to think about the ugly, dark-red smear of darkening blood over one hip where Gibbs had turned his face into her stomach and she'd stroked his head, wordless as McGee had cut the tie off Gibbs's hands. Her hair is a wreck and her mouth feels slack with exhaustion, her whole body sinking downward, but she makes herself stand there and report to Director Shepard, to the deputy director of the FBI, representatives from the NSA and CIA, a D.C.-based liason for Interpol as they come on the MTAC screen, one by one. She talks until her throat is parched, until her voice cracks, and she clutches her hands together behind her back.

The woman from the NSA has just asked her another question that implies Toni should have done something different when the director cuts in, stepping in front of Toni and drawing all eyes.

"Folks — my agent's had a long day," Shepard says, smooth and sharp and brooking no argument. "She hasn't even been able to get medical attention — I'm sure whatever other questions you can have, you can route them through me."
Toni stares at the back of the director's head and wishes she could like the woman more, that her hair wasn't so fucking red.  Toni wishes Gibbs hadn't colored everything she feels, that day to day, Toni could go about her business without her petulance and all her gnawing hunger bleeding through.

"Director Shepard," the Interpol liaison protests, but then Shepard is glancing at the MTAC engineers and giving them the nod, plunging the room into sudden, blessed darkness, sudden quiet.

Toni stands there weaving for a minute before she blinks twice, feeling a hand on her shoulder.  

"Toni," the director says. "Go see Ducky."

"I'm fine," she mumbles, because she is, nothing that hurts is on the outside; she's just tired.  She wants to know how Gibbs is doing, if that EMT was mean enough for him, if all the assassins have been corralled together and put away. She wants to go home and take a shower and crawl into bed for a week.

"Do it for me, then," Shepard suggests. "You don't go to Ducky, he yells at me."
Toni gives her a jaundiced look. "Ducky wouldn't yell at you."
"He has knives, Toni," the director says, and gives her a shove to the door, nodding at the probie that's suddenly hovering in the back of MTAC.  "Johnson, will you escort Agent DiNozzo to autopsy, please?"

Johnson trails her meekly, since he's probably — on balance — more scared of the director than of Toni, and he wisely doesn't say anything in the elevator and makes a beeline for the stairs as soon as doors slide open to Ducky's stricken face.

"My dear girl," Ducky says, and draws her into Autopsy, sits her down on his nicest stool, situated already next to a unfurled box of first aid supplies. Toni frowns at all of it and relents with a sigh, because she's never won an argument with Ducky — more to the point, neither has Gibbs.

"I'm fine, really," Toni tells him, which Ducky ignores, and starts inspecting the narrow and sluggishly bleeding cuts on her wrists — rubbed raw from the plastic zip ties.

"I'll be the judge of that, Antonia," he murmurs, and reaches for some sort of antibacterial spray that hurts like a motherfucker, looking a little too pleased with himself when she yelps and hisses at the sting. "Still fine?"

Toni glowers at him. "You took an oath, Ducky."

"This is not harm, my dear, just a wake-up call," Ducky corrects, and then does it again to her other wrist, wrapping both gently in snowy white gauze. Toni makes a note to wear a button-down shirt with slightly long cuffs when she tenders her resignation, or else she's going to look like a Lifetime, Television for Women heroine who's struggling with feelings of self-worth.

Ducky's hands are soft on her forearms, and Toni wonders why Gibbs, why out of everybody it's Gibbs. McGee is, although Toni will go to her grave before saying it to his face, handsome enough, with an honest smile and a mostly good heart and he would be fun and easy to handle; and Ducky is still regal and handsome and Toni bets he'd recognize the sartorial elegance of her lingerie. Why fucking Gibbs, of all people.

"I'm glad you're safe and home, Antonia," Ducky tells her, and setting the little metal clasps to keep the gauze and bandages in place, he sits back a bit and says, "You'll be happy to know that Gibbs — mostly calmly — surrendered himself to medical intervention, and is now probably terrorizing the residents at Georgetown Medical."
"Oh," Toni says, wooden. "Good."

Ducky looks and looks and looks at her for a long time before he rises to his feet, taking her hand along with him, and she stands, automatic, and follows him as he grabs his coat and car keys and wends them out of the building into the parking lot, saying, "Come along, Toni, I promised Gibbs I'd get you home."

Toni's too tired for any particularly good comments when Ducky does get her back to her apartment, but she manages a few half-assed attempts at accusing Ducky of sneaking a grope while he helps her shuck off her dress, pulls a t-shirt over her head.

He tucks her in, strokes her bangs back away from her face and says, "Sleep, Toni, I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Okay, but I'm reporting you," Toni says blearily, "you barely even hit on me. I'm so insulted."

"Just because Gibbs has a concussion and three cracked ribs does not mean he won't attempt to shoot me from his cubicle, Toni," Ducky says, turns off her bedside light, and maybe he leaves, maybe he doesn't, Toni's not sure, because she's already asleep.


Toni wakes up the next morning restless and terrified that something horrible has happened, and she exercises superhuman restraint by not pulling on a pair of sweatpants and Uggs and driving straight to Georgetown Medical.

She forces herself to take a long, too-hot shower, letting the water scald her shoulders, the line of her back, eddying along the curve of her belly and down her legs, to her red and white toes, sluicing down the inside of her thighs and along her wrists.

Toni spends way too long picking her outfit. She wants to leave a good last impression, which she's never wanted before, and only makes this more nerve-wracking.

She mulls her comfort blankets: the clean lines of her Calvin Klein suits, the bitchy, navy blue suit with a gleaming black belt, her little black dress, snatched off a sale rack at Ann Taylor after being drenched in mud on a case in Baltimore.

She chooses the Jil Sander dress instead: for its stark whiteness, its simple scoop neck and flaring, swishy a-line skirt, its riotous, Flaming June-orange lining that peeps out with every step she takes. She toes on a pair of bone-colored snakeskin heels and pauses at her breakfast counter to write her resignation letter longhand on a yellow legal pad.

She doesn't actually know what to write, because where she usually errs toward easily palatable lies, Toni wants to write a God damn erotic tome about Gibbs and his thumb and how when he looms over her or smacks her she gets wet and hot and desperate. Still, she's giving this to one of Gibbs's 4,000 ex-redheads, so she makes herself go through the motions, thanks Shepard for her time and guidance, the opportunity to work with NCIS.

Toni resists the urge to do something ridiculous, like heap Badgley Mischka on top of Jil Sander — madness, she sighs — and very maturely puts on her favorite camel-colored Michael Kors trench, grabs her resignation letter and car keys and goes.

Somehow, quitting becomes more arduous than selecting the proper wardrobe for it.

"No," Shepard says.
Toni stares at her, holding out her shit-sad sheet of yellow legal paper, which does, in retrospect, seem a bit wanting. "I could...go downstairs and type it?" she offers.

The director glowers at her over a pair of downmarket sexy librarian frames. "Toni, I'm not accepting your resignation," she clarifies, and returns to frowning at something on her computer monitor.

"I don't understand," Toni admits, because she doesn't, and she's tired, and her wrists hurt, because in a fit of stupid pride this morning she'd ripped off all of Ducky's careful dressing for them, and now she just looks like a victim out of Saw XVII: Torture Porn.
Shepard takes pity on her. "Why are you trying to quit your job, Toni?"

"Um," Toni starts, and under the director's laser-eyed gaze, she blurts out, "I can't work with Gibbs anymore."

Shepard arches a brow. "Oh, really?" she queries. "Funny, you've already worked with him for five years — what brings this on?"

"He's gotten more terrible than usual," Toni says, both because it's true and because, "I totally had sex with him while you watched us — stop pretending you didn't treat MTAC like a live peep show, asshole," is an unacceptable answer, even if one is quitting one's job.

Sighing, Shepard pushes away from her desk, leaning back in her chair and looking Toni up and down like she's got an entire lecture series of things to say and isn't planning on saying any of it. Toni has mostly gotten along with the director, and would even like her as a person if she didn't automatically hate everybody who's gotten a chance to fuck Gibbs and get it out of their systems, and it makes her squirm to be deconstructed like this.

"Toni, you're one of the finest agents I've ever worked with," Shepard starts.
"Hey, save that for when people start calling for references," Toni laughs, but Shepard just plows on.

"NCIS can't afford to lose you," the director says.

Toni swallows hard, because that's not true. She's got experience in this sort of thing, has left a lot of jobs and a lot of people and a lot of lived-in apartments and towns and favorite restaurants and dry-cleaners. She's good at this part.
"I'm sure you guys will somehow soldier on," Toni says, trying to hem the bitterness in between all the vowels. "Look, Madam Director — "

"I'll give you your own team," Shepard decides, leaning forward. "It's about time anyway.  You're being wasted in a senior agent position at this point, and — " Shepard slants Toni a look " — that'll solve your personnel issue, too."
Saying, "nothing will solve my personnel issue," and "everything is crap," and "I hate you, I want to go home and drink vodka in bed," would be much more satisfying than saying, "Madam Director, I'm really not — "

"The subject is closed, DiNozzo," Shepard tells her blithely. "I'm not letting you quit. You have 48 hours to mull over the proposition: you can either keep working under Gibbs — "

Jesus fucking Christ, Toni thinks.

" — or you can take the team," the director concludes. "Now, get out of my office, I have a videoconference with Interpol in three minutes and I told them you were bedridden and couldn't possibly be expected to speak with them."

Toni goes, and after wandering around the bullpen looking stunned for a few minutes — nobody else is there; apparently in Gibbs's absence, the director has given them all the day off — before she takes the elevator down to the basement.

Toni gives Autopsy a pass, because she doesn't need Ducky seeing her wrists and pitching a shitfit, and meanders until she finds Abby's lab, the door open and music blaring.  Abby's dressed down, for Abby: black tights, big black steel-toed boots, a black miniskirt and a huge leather belt. Her t-shirt has a massive skull and crossbones on the back, and at the base of her neck, her collar of the day has an O-ring attached, and Toni represses a laugh. She's always loved Abby to pieces, envied her easy, unworried and undisguised nature. Everybody knows Abby, and most people like her; it's a chance that Toni's never been willing to take.

She watches Abby dance around the lab to something tone deaf and terrible, and thinks about Abby's shitty history with boyfriends and how the windows over the lab got shot out that one time — Abby's timing-inappropriate disclosure she would totally cross the street for Toni if she were into it sometime.

And of course, Toni had told McGee — mostly to fuck with him — and McGee had stuttered it at Jimmy Palmer who'd blabbed it to Ducky who'd told Toni gently that if she and Abby were serious, then he wished her every felicitation.

That's the fucking problem with this job, isn't it, Toni reflects. The one time she took a week off to go to the DR and work on her tan and remind herself she knew how to have sex with people without being interrupted by one of Gibbs's ill-timed phone calls, she spent half the time sending her coworkers emails and then wasted her entire last day there searching for appropriately hideous vacation t-shirts to bring back as souvenirs. She's too invested in these people, their lives.  She knows all their shit and they know more of hers than she's entirely comfortable admitting, and too late now to dial it down or renegotiate any boundaries.

Toni's down to two options, really: stay and nut it out, or cut and run. She's only ever had practice with the latter.

She wants to tell herself that Gibbs has the subtlety of a semi, that if he cared about her as anything other than a subordinate she'd know it by now, that if, in the aftermath of this stupid operation, they spend a weekend rolling around in bed while Toni begs for it like the slut she knows she can be, it'll be flushed out of her system.  

But it's not true, and Toni doesn't know how to defuse her suffocating hope, ticking away in the background all these years. She feels like all those people who are missing family members, who just want to know one way or the other, who recognize after years of wondering that the quick devastation of loss can be cauterized, but anything else will fester.

"I can't," Toni says to herself. "I can't," she repeats, and backs away from Abby's lab, watching her black braids bouncing as the music pulses.  Toni spares a second to think that she'll miss this, she really will, but she's dying here. It's like having the plague; she's drowning in her own body, five years feeling water welling up in her scarred lungs, and Toni takes off for the stairs thinking she has to breathe, she has to, she has to.
Toni hides for the rest of the day, cocooning herself in massive sweatshirts and t-shirts she'd stolen from boys she'd slept with in college. Depressingly, she has most of the Big Ten represented. She bought a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on her way home and eats it watching His Girl Friday, trying not to overly sympathize.

It's not working, though, Toni knows, stuffing another spoonful of terrible, grainy KFC mashed potatoes in her mouth, because she keeps yelling shit at the TV.  Awful shit, horrible shit, utterly humiliating shit, and that doesn't include the empty slaw container she'd thrown across the room and how it'd hit Cary Grant's face with a splat as she shouted, "Fucking fuck fuck you very fucking much, Jethro Fucking Gibbs!"

She eats more chicken, and watches with increasing despair as Rosalind Russell tries to leave her asshole ex-husband, that stupid newspaper that seems to grow more octopus arms to draw her in than the God damn mob. Toni wonders why she put in this of all movies, and figures it's subliminal masochism and that she's always just been about seven seconds and a slight suggestion away from offering to let Gibbs tie her to the boat his in basement and beat her with a sackful of hand tools.

She puts away the chicken and buries her face in Mike's old OSU t-shirt, the one she'd won fair and square after she'd bonged a beer and sucked him off in 5 minutes flat, and reconsiders the trajectory of her life.

At no point, during her illustrious career as a proud member of Phi Alpha or later as the Alpha Chi Delta Sweetheart did Toni think she'd be reduced to this shit: eating KFC alone in her living room, weeping because Rosalind Russell couldn't leave Cary Grant and her boss didn't want to fuck her savagely.
She yells another, "Fuck you!" into her sweatshirt, but that's mostly muffled, and she's definitely not expecting it when she hears:
"In my defense, I did tell you I was a bastard, right from the start."

Toni's head rockets up so fast she gives herself fucking whiplash, at which point she finds herself staring, through bleary eyes, at Gibbs, looking beat to shit — good, Toni thinks meanly — and like he's just mugged a surgeon and is on the lam, standing in her living room.

"Did you break into my apartment?" she demands, because she's not yet ready to address the issue of her clothing or her total lack of mascara or the decimated chicken bones littering her coffee table or the forties screwball on her TV.
Gibbs shrugs, wincing. "You need a deadbolt, DiNozzo."
She narrows her eyes at him. "How do you know I was talking about you, even?"
"Trying to pick your lock on morphine takes me about ten times longer," Gibbs admits. "I heard a lot of that, earlier."

Toni nods at his face. "Are you in pain?" she asks.
"Oh, yeah," Gibbs says.  "Cab ride over was interesting."

"Good," Toni chirps, and gets up. "Stand there — don't sit on anything."

She steps around him, circles around her couch, heart thrashing in her chest, and she retreats to the bathroom. In the vanity mirror, her face is red and blotchy and her mouth is greasy and her eyes are swollen, and she can't decide what to reach for first — the concealer or the handgun.
"I hear you tried to quit, DiNozzo," Gibbs calls from the living room.

Toni closes her eyes. "Your information's shit, Gibbs — I did quit."

"Director tells me she didn't accept your resignation, Toni," Gibbs replies mildly. "Said she gave you some options."
Toni leans out the doorway of the bathroom and glares at Gibbs, only slightly mollified by the fact that he's listing slightly to the left and leaning heavily on the arm of her wingback chair for support.

"You can add total lack of respect for professional confidentiality to the list of reasons I tendered my resignation, effective immediately," she snaps at him. "Go away, Gibbs."

Gibbs shrugs, unashamed, but when has he ever felt bad about any of the shit he's pulled?

"She said she gave you the opportunity to lead your own team," Gibbs pushes on.

Toni has a sudden, crystal clear understanding of how he's been divorced so many times. It's fucking amazing that she hadn't totally understood it before now.

"You should take the team leader job, DiNozzo," Gibbs says to her, and he looks like he's considering sitting down until she narrows her eyes at him. "You'd be good at it."

Gibbs may actually be trying to say that in a genuinely kind way, which is so fucking weird and cognitively dissonant Toni can't handle it.

She sighs and leans back against the doorframe of her bathroom, watching Gibbs watch with a shaky sort of wariness.  The last time Gibbs was nice(ish) to her, she was dying of the plague.

"Gibbs, my leaving NCIS is just as — if not more — effective in getting rid of me," she says to him, and watches his jaw tighten.

He takes a step forward, and Toni calculates the distance between them is about five feet now. "Hell, DiNozzo, have I ever said I wanted to get rid of you?"

"Many, many times," Toni quips, because Gibbs has, sometimes joking but always often, when Toni's obsessing over which pair of stylish but sensible work heels to wear when she knows there'll be walking, when she accidentally spritzed Clinique Happy in his face, that time an ex-boyfriend slashed all the tires on Gibbs's car thinking it was hers, as if she would be caught dead driving that soulless American sedan.

Gibbs, red-faced, snaps, "When I meant it, DiNozzo!"

Toni just looks away, stares at the five feet between them, and tries not to think.

"You're good, Toni, maybe one of the best young agents I've ever worked with," Gibbs tells her, and there's something soft and crooning and imploring in his voice, miles away from appropriate.  Gibbs has always known he could play her, but this is more than teasing her at work, double-dog daring her to be better: this is ripping her heart out by inches.  "Don't let this fuck it up."

"Not 'this,'" Toni snaps, knee-jerk and furious, because oh my God, the things she would have done to hear those words before, to know he meant it.  She would have crawled over broken glass; part of her still wants to.  A long childhood of fatherly neglect may have trained Toni to respond with excessive gratitude to older male authority figures but a bunch of psych classes in college had at least educated her enough to recognize it.  "You.  It's not this fucking me up, it's you fucking me up!"

Gibbs's eyes, when he stares in shock like that, are very blue, Toni thinks stupidly.

"I just don't think we can work together effectively any more going forward," she says, her tongue feeling huge in her mouth and her arms and legs feeling wooden.  "I don't see the point of inflicting ourselves on other people."

"Fine!" Gibbs shouts at her, knocked out of silence, waving one of his arms and then looking immediately like he regrets it.  "Don't work with me!  Work on the opposite end of the room.  Work with your own God damn team, DiNozzo!  Just don't run away looking like a kicked dog when that's not what's happening here!"

Toni's never been reduced to throwing things and sobbing and screaming for men to get out, but she's always wanted to, and even though her hand is fisted tight around a bottle of eye-makeup remover and there's a jar of Ponds cold cream within reach, she can't do it.  It's not in her.  

She just closes her eyes, steels herself, says, "Gibbs, seriously — get out of my house."

There's a long enough silence that if Toni didn't know the weight of Gibbs's body in the empty spaces of a room, she'd think he'd left.  

"Think about it, Toni," he says, because Gibbs always has to have the last word, and he staggers out, limping into the late afternoon sun.


Toni's watched a lot of movies, and it's not often that she sees the aftermath of the emotional roller coaster, that awkward numbness that comes after you're done crying and fighting and ordering concussed, bleeding people out of your apartment.

She feels disconnected from her fingers and toes, shuffling around the hardwood floors of her apartment in thick woolen socks with a trash bag and the wrists of her sweatshirt half-covering her hands, stuffing in used tissues and half-decimated family-sized buckets of fried chicken and empty containers of beer and juice and Starbucks cups and a bunch of unread newspapers.  She feels wrung-out, empty on the inside, and whenever Toni thinks about picking up all the pieces she wants to keep from this latest incarnation of her life — the power suits, her car, the latest DVDs — and shifting them somewhere else, all she feels is cheated, furious.

Toni left behind three precincts, where she went by whatever consensus wanted to call her — sometimes it was Antonia, one time, Annie, for whatever the fuck reason, and who cares, Toni's flexible — and went away because she became inconvenient.  Toni knows she acts out, that if you go around fucking beat cops it'll come back and bite you in the ass with the commissioner, that at some point it's too hard to untangle if the sexual harassment is directed at her or if she's starting it or if it's just one massive shitshow.  And then there was Baltimore, where Gibbs had sauntered up to her desk, put down her work ethic and talked up her smile, asked her wasn't she bored in Maryland?  Chasing idiot crack dealers and always being asked by vice to work undercover stings as a trick?

"I don't know," she'd told him, kicking her heels up on the desk and looking at him speculatively.  "I think I look okay in a miniskirt."

Gibbs had grinned at her, sideways, inviting.  "I think you'd look even better at my beck and call."

"Agent Gibbs," Toni had laughed, surprised, because he'd just been such an unrelenting asshole the entire time they'd been working together, "why, I never."

"Naw, you'd always," Gibbs had corrected, and set a cup of coffee on the edge of her desk, near her phone.  "That'd be key."

"I'm not that good with authority, Gibbs," Toni had told him, teasing, and when she'd taken the cup in her hands, she'd realized that scrawled across the side, underneath the order boxes, was a phone number with a Virginia area code, and slanting handwriting reading, WHEN YOU GET SICK OF IT HERE.  "Presumptuous," she'd scolded.

And Gibbs had laughed at that, unembarrassed, and started to walk away, saying over his shoulder, "You know what they say, DiNozzo: nothing ventured."

Toni always goes places because of people, leaves places because of people, stays places because of people.  For as long as she can remember, she's been at boarding school and summer camps because of her father, left Peoria because of Jack and went to Philadelphia for Charlie, who'd asked her to leave in not so many words not so many months later.  She went to Baltimore after she'd met Larry, and he'd fought with her about Gibbs after that case, long after he had a right to have an opinion on any of the things she did, and so she'd gone to NCIS because Gibbs had been waiting, and fuck it, what was there to lose?

She'd always been generically fond of the places she lived before but unattached, maintained a healthy emotional distance. At NCIS, she can get bent out of shape if Li Yong at the dry cleaners isn't at the register when she shows up to drop off her coat, because nobody else gets her winters just right or white enough.  She has a favorite parking space; she has favorite people; she has keys to McGee and Abby's apartments, and she painted her apartment walls without wondering if she's going to have to paint them back and what a huge pain in the ass it is.  

Toni's accidentally made a life of her own here, with or without Gibbs, and the thought of leaving it — standing in her hallway with a half-filled trash bag and puffy eyes — makes something horrible well up in her throat.  She likes it here; she doesn't want to go, but she's not sure she knows how to navigate these spaces if she still shares them with Gibbs.  Toni's always been a fan of desertion in struggles of the heart, but she can't do that this time, she doesn't even know where she'd go.

She washes her dishes and does a load of laundry, puts on real clothes and goes out to restock her fridge, and when she comes back, she calls and leaves a message at NCIS.

"Madam Director," she says, and Toni thinks she still sounds hoarse, ripped up, "I'd like to take you up on that offer of a new team."


Toni's new agents are adorable.  She loves them.  

It's like that webcam that shows the puppies, only they're probies and they're hers, and between the four of them, they know enough movie trivia that they can manage almost four hours on a stakeout without being glaringly hostile to one another.  

They're on the opposite end of the bullpen from where Gibbs is terrorizing McGee and Ziva and Lee full-time now, and he seems meaner, but maybe that's just what comes from forced perspective, Toni thinks fondly.  Her own agents have a tendency to adhere to her side like barnacles in the office, but they drift off in the field — curious and terribly bright, and it's a daily fucking struggle not to give them actual God damn gold stars, they tickle her so much — and when Toni calls campfires, they all cluster around her, apple-cheeked in cheap department store suits and scuffed shoes.

There's Gerry Hoover, who communicates by rattling off stats, details, numbers, addresses, because he's emotionally tone deaf but a magician with statistics, with logical inconsistencies and minute trends no one else sees.  Paige Ortez comes to Toni's team via the Philly PD, and had reported at her interview that Charlie was still an asshole; during their first case, she'd made a SEAL cry in five minutes flat.  Youngest, clocking in at just twenty-seven, is Rick Nesbit, tow-headed and doe-eyed and so sweet that Toni almost feels bad about pimping him out to the supply clerks so that she can embezzle a top-of-the-line whiteboard and markers, only the sweetest fineliner pens, successfully acquire reporter's notebooks — that slip easily into jacket and jeans pockets and everywhere else — instead the awkward Stenos everybody else is forced to endure.  Almost.

Toni tries to teach her team everything she knows, both by example and through judicious application of yelling, but whenever she feels herself leaning too heavily on Gibbs's example, she forces herself to take a step back.  Toni doesn't want Paige and Gerry and Rick to look at her the way she'd looked at Gibbs: with blind, unquestioning devotion, but never sure of where they stood.

She wants better for them — they deserve better.

Paige, for all her tough-girl exterior, has a tendency to be sloppy, to rely overly much on her charm rather than trusting her good detective work.  Rick is afraid of most people other than Toni, and hasn't ever managed to speak an actual human sentence to Gibbs, and Toni and Paige and Abby have an active theory (and subsequent bet) going that Rick has never known the touch of another human.  Gerry is a robot.  

When Toni consults the notes she's made on her team — she keeps little folders for each of them with a growth plan and shit that is so fucking embarrassing she can't even — it's pretty clear that Shepard gave them to her as a social experiment.  

But Toni's seen so many underdog movies she wouldn't actually know what to do with a winning team, and anyway, she loves them.  It's hard not to burst into the office every morning and tell them how hilarious and earnest and great they are.  She thinks this is probably how new mothers fall in love with hideous, bloody, screaming babies: without hesitation or logic.


As for the other thing: Toni's nowhere near all right enough to get through the day without faking it, and every morning she gets up and puts on her armor, picks her most stunningly red lipstick and most dramatic smokey eyeshadow, looks impeccable.  On her worst days, when she needs it the most, she wears her stark black Michael Kors pantsuit and lets it carry her when all her bones go soft underneath the construction.

Toni still sees Abby almost every day and Ducky and Jimmy all the time, and after years of feeling like it would betray Kate, she's instituted weekly lunch again.

"What's it like having your own team?" McGee asks, plucking all the hard-boiled eggs out of his Cobb salad.  They've been to this restaurant close to eight bajillion times, but he never remembers to tell the server to exclude them.  Toni guesses it works, because as soon as McGee puts a piece of yolk or white onto his napkin, Ziva snatches it up.

"Power is heady, McGee," Toni says, stirring mustard and ketchup together for her fries.

McGee makes a face.  "Right."

"She is telling the truth, McGee," Ziva agrees.  "She tortures them."

Toni thinks about the seven years of cold cases she'd left for her team to sort before she'd stepped out to meet with McGee and Ziva and smiles affectionately.  "With love."

"Lucky," McGee mutters.

"Probie!" Toni laughs in a bright peal.  "Do you miss me?  I could easily mete out some torture for you, too!  I'm a generous soul."

With dignity, and scowling, McGee says, "I meant that when Gibbs tortures us, I don't think he does it with affection, Toni."

"Oh, well," Toni says, and she doesn't turn ashen or shake or anything, and she gives herself a mental thumbs up for it.  "Gibbs and I come from very different schools of team leadership, Probalicious."

McGee sobers.  "Toni, seriously, if — "

"Oh God, no," Toni pleads.  "I told you, McGee, I'm fine."

"And if you hypothetically weren't, I just want to remind you it would be okay if you wanted to talk to us about it," McGee says, just shy of smooth.  "Hypothetically."

Ziva just smiles at her, thoughtful, and stays quiet.  McGee and Ziva saw most of the undercover op, and even though Toni's managed to convince McGee — through some seriously Oscar-worthy bullshitting, by the way — that nothing inappropriate happened, she hasn't convinced Ziva yet, and Toni doubts she ever will.  Toni's not worried, though; Ziva knows all about fucked up shit people don't want to talk about.

It turns out — despite all the melodrama and her worst fears — Toni has a whole, huge life that doesn't intersect with Gibbs at all.  She's glad she didn't cede this territory, that she can watch Ziva and McGee argue over the lunch check and bring Abby Caf-Pows and have tea with Ducky and Palmer every once in a while.   She's glad she still has her apartment and that everybody still calls her Toni, that she didn't have to get used to another stupid nickname and pretend that's what she's always gone by.  

She's not stupid enough to think that Gibbs hasn't changed her, hasn't left her covered in his tell-tale fingerprints, but that's not all of her, and though she's marked, that's not all she is, and the realization is deep and sharp, like the bite of Ducky's Earl Grey.

Sometimes Toni will go an entire week without having to talk to Gibbs, and those are great, and even more delightful, sometimes she'll go entire days without seeing him, and Toni can feel herself getting closer to the point where she can just smile at him, easy, uncomplicated, and keep walking down the hall.

"I'm sure Toni is fine," Ziva says.  "Aren't you, Toni?"

She flashes a million watt smile.  "Perfectly," she cheers.  "And Jesus, Probie, chill out — it's a promotion for Christ's sake."

McGee's mouth knits itself into something annoyed, like maybe he's unconvinced, too, but it's a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably warm, and Toni decides they need to order a bottle of lunchtime prosecco and not talk about how she was stupid enough to fall in love with someone whose marital resume announces them as a walking, talking trainwreck.

"We shouldn't be drinking at lunch," McGee sighs, but he holds up his wine glass.

Toni just grins up at the waiter — he's got gray eyes, big smile, Georgetown master's student written all over him, and Toni thinks she'll take his phone number — watches him grin back as he tops off her glass, the prosecco babbling, sunny and sighs, "Ask me if I give a fuck, McGee."


Ben — he's actually in Georgetown law — is fun, and in between juggling hours at McGee's favorite restaurant and classes, he fucks like a champ and likes pinning Toni to walls, laughing kisses into her mouth.  And also, making her sort of late for work.

She scoots into NCIS a little after 7:30 in the morning, lipstick mussed and smiling like a moron in Diane Von Furstenberg and Prada shoes, humming Ella under her breath.  Springtime is creeping into D.C., coloring all the buds of leaves green, sucking all the gray out of the sky, and Toni had driven into work with the top down, her hair flaring out behind her.  Duane at security gives her an appreciative whistle, and she gives him a kiss on the cheek in reward, spends two shakes exchanging gossip with Lilly in the elevator, and steps out into the bullpen to see Rick looking bleakly at her.

"Boss," he pleads.  "Boss, please."

Toni raises her eyebrows at him.  Rick looks even more pink-cheeked and delicate than usual.  She winds around him, past the empty bank of desks belonging to Gibbs and Ziva and McGee, to her whiteboard and her team, her team.  

"Richard, you look perturbed," she calls over her shoulder.

Actually, Rick looks watery-eyed, like he's going to burst into tears.  "The director."

"Okay?" she prompts, dropping her bag on her desk.

"You have to save me," Rick begs.

"Richard, please, sweetheart, would I let something happen to you?" Toni says, and reaching over, she puts a hand on each of Rick's slim shoulders and shakes him a little.  "Now — get ahold of yourself and tell me what's going on."

Rick almost looks like he's gathered up enough testosterone to nut up and actually choke out some useable information, except instead Rick squeaks like a fucking chipmunk and points behind her saying, "Um, Boss."

Toni glances over her shoulder, right into bright blue eyes, shockingly warm and wryly amused, and her heart only flips once, twice.

"DiNozzo," Gibbs murmurs, so close Toni can almost feel his words against the back of her neck, and she resists the urge to throw something at him and run away to work for the FBI.

When Toni turns back to Rick, her junior-est probie has gone from being pale to puce, and she rolls her eyes, saying, "Flee.  We'll talk about the director later," which Rick does, without any dignity and avoiding eye contact with Gibbs, who watches him scram.

"That kid needs another year of eighth grade, DiNozzo," he says.

Toni glares at him.  "Rick's none of your business, Gibbs.  What do you want?"

Gibbs holds up his hands, palms open and up.  "No offense meant, Toni."

"It never is," Toni tells him sweetly.  "Again: what do you want?"

"A minute of your time," Gibbs answers, easy, and starts to walk away, tipping his head, drawing her with him, saying, "Come on, DiNozzo."

It's probably step eleven or something for Toni to tell Gibbs to go fuck himself when he makes requests like this, but because Toni's journey of self-actualization and discovery has only extended so far, she seethes and follows him into the elevator again.  In her defense, she's still wearing the armor of her favorite spring trench, and if everything goes totally whiskey tango, she's prepared to sacrifice her pumps and stab Gibbs to death.

Gibbs takes up too much room in the elevator, and Toni finds herself shoved into the back left corner, glaring as she watches him hit the emergency brake.

"Relax, DiNozzo," Gibbs instructs, and Toni wrinkles her nose at him.

"Talk fast, Gibbs, I have things to do," she says.

"Plus," Gibbs drawls, "you were late this morning."

"Ben's thorough," Toni snaps, and regrets it immediately when Gibbs shoots back:

"That his name?  Looked like a Leslie to me."

Toni wants to claw at her own face, but that would fuck up her eyeliner.  "Gibbs."

"I need someone I can trust," he says, breaking the tension all of a sudden.

When Toni brings herself to catch Gibbs's gaze, his eyes are intense and honest and searching her face.  Toni's never been able to say 'no' to Gibbs, about anything, despite everything, and she swallows hard and tries to stand her ground.

"Okay," she allows, wary, to aware of her body, how close Gibbs is to her.

"I've got a mole on my team," Gibbs tells her, and Toni says, reflexive:

"There's no way it's — "

And Gibbs cuts in, gentle, "I know, Toni."

"Good," Toni tells him, hearing her voice shake.  Toni doesn't have biological family she talks to anymore, but she still has a Christmas list, and McGee and Ziva are the reason why.  "Then — ?"

"It's Lee," Gibbs interrupts.

Toni frowns at him.  Agent Lee looks like an eleventh grader and voluntarily has sex with Jimmy Palmer — there's no way.  "Lee?  Come on, Gibbs."  

"It's her, Toni," Gibbs says, still low.  "I need your help on this one."

Toni's got five years of conditioning tugging at her under the skin, telling her to say yes, yes, anything, but she swallows hard and asks, "If you don't think it's Ziva and McGee, then why can't you — ?"

"They don't know about the mole," Gibbs interrupts again, and Toni remembers suddenly why she instituted a "no interrupting" policy for her own team, and why the punishment involves wearing a hideous, boiling-hot NCIS jumpsuit on routine cases, in heavily-populous areas, where tourists are liable to take photographs.  "It's safer for them not to know — that's why I need you."

"Don't fucking say that," Toni bites out, before she can stop herself, fake cool, and she ignores the surprise that's sharp in Gibbs's face to ask, staring down at the pointed toes of her heels, "What do you need me to do?"

Gibbs is quiet for a beat, and Toni's terrified he's actually going to push the subject, that he's going to shove her up against the wall of the elevator, box her in with his arms, but he only says, "I need you to be the bait."

Toni raises an eyebrow.  "You said no more streetwalking for me, Gibbs," she quips.

It makes Gibbs smile, and Toni can't help but smile back.  "Someone's leaking top secret military defense plans — Vance has it narrowed down to someone on my team."

"But not McGee and Ziva," Toni insists, just to be clear.

"Exactly," Gibbs agrees, and his eyes wander now, away from her face, sweeping up over her brow line, her bangs, then down again, and Toni can feel the heat of his gaze over the line of her throat, the wings of her collarbones.  She still wants him; her hands still itch to clutch him close to her, to feel the reassuring weight of him on her, and if she goes any further with this line of thought she's going to start sounding like Anais Nin and then Toni would have to shoot herself in the fucking face.

She squares her shoulders, clears her throat.  "So?"

"So I need you to look guilty," Gibbs tells her, but he doesn't stop inspecting her, and now he's sliding a finger down the inside of one arm, just a distant touch through Toni's coat and her dress, but she feels it everywhere.

"Of selling state secrets?" Toni laughs.  "I mean, the spring ready-to-wear lines haven't even been that compelling."

Gibbs almost smiles again.  "Nah — but you'd have reason to want to fuck NCIS."

Toni feels three tartly funny quips die on her tongue, because at the heart of that is an ugly truth, and it's the closest that Gibbs has come to exploring the cartography of an apology, of an admission of guilt.  If this was an interrogation, if Toni had the bulwark of a table between them and any sort of leverage over Gibbs at all, she would dig in, hammer that point, push and push and push until Gibbs's last thread of self-control snapped and he roared at her, threw a chair, was broken out of his inertia.

It makes the coiled snake deep in her belly shift a little, hungry for a fight, and she can see Gibbs waiting, waiting her out, and Toni thinks that she's not going to give him the satisfaction of her reaction.

"Well, you know, the 401(k) matching is for shit," Toni grits out, and she reaches over and flips off the emergency brake.  "So what do I do?"

Gibbs grins at her, the gears in the elevator grinding back into life.  "You're one of the most senior agents in NCIS, have more access to the rest of the building than most of the staff — surprise me."

The smile Toni gives him in response is savage, all teeth.  "Game on," she says, and bursts out of the elevator in a huff, desperate to get away from him.

Toni knows, too, in the back of her head, that was probably the plan all along, to set this up, whatever charade this is.  She ignores the way McGee and Ziva's eyes bore into her back, her side, her shoulder, slams past Hoover, sitting startled and clutching and envelope to his chest, and Paige, who goes white-knuckled around a ballpoint pen when Toni sits at her own with a thud.

"Everything okay, Toni?" Paige asks, hesitant.

"Great," Toni bites out.  "Fucking perfect," she adds, and in the background, she sees Rick and Hoover make dramatic u-turns, away from her desk, the pansies.


It's shockingly, embarrassingly easy to draw suspicion to herself, and Toni spends a lot of time issuing silent apologies when she catches Ziva's gaze from across the bullpen, sees McGee frowning down at his computer too hard to be doing anything other than digging up dirt on her.  

It would be fun, even, if Probie didn't look so fucked up about it, like it's on the tip of his tongue to corner her somewhere and demand to know the truth.  Ziva's less likely to snap, but Ziva's half android anyway, Toni's convinced.  She keeps on laying in spy movie soundtracks in her head as she makes preposterously sloppy gestures.  She lets McGee catch her in Abby's lab, pecking away at a restricted terminal; let's Ziva see her slipping into the director's office.  Just for shits and giggles, Toni steals Gibbs's security card, tucks it safe between her tits and sticks it back in his pocket, passing him in the hall, so that when he goes to snatch it up for his wallet it'll still be warm, still smell like her perfume.

She knows it has to be upsetting for McGee and Ziva, the way it was upsetting to her that they might be traitors, to consider she might be fucking over the agency, engaging in treason.  But maybe Gibbs was right about her appearing to have motivation, because most of the time when McGee or Ziva glance at her, worried, they glance at Gibbs after.

Toni's expecting it, when Gibbs orders her to interrogation and all chaos breaks out in the bullpen.  Toni's also expecting it — even though it still makes her sad — to see Lee is the only one who isn't paying attention, who takes the opportunity and slips away.

"You were right," Toni breathes, warm and close to Gibbs's ear when she lets herself get hustled down the hallway, past McGee and Ziva's despairing faces and Abby, too, in the hallway hugging herself.

Gibbs smirks, too small for anybody but her to see.  "I'm always right," he says, and hands her into the interrogation room.  

There's a folded-up newspaper on the table, a cup of coffee next to it, and Toni wants to beam at him, say, "Gibbs!  I never knew you cared!" but to be open and joyful and delighted by something like that feels shameless now, mortifying, where she would have been happy just to have something to be open and joyful and delighted by in the past.

"No, you're not, Gibbs," Toni disagrees, catching his gaze.  

Somewhere in NCIS, right now, Lee is trying to make a break for it, seize her opportunity to run.  McGee and Ziva and Abby are probably plotting treason to break her out of here, and Shepard is waiting in MTAC, fingers steepled.  Everybody's probably conspicuously spying, distracted, trading in gossip, nobody's even on the other side of the disengaged one-way glass, Toni can see.  It's just her and Gibbs alone down here, nobody watching, all of their shared history like a chasm between them.

Gibbs sobers.  "No, I'm not."

Toni looks away, takes the coffee — still hot — in hand.  "Are they chasing her down now?"

"Probably," Gibbs says, sliding a finger over the folded edge of the newspaper, and Toni tries hard not to think about Gibbs's fingers in general, the way they'd felt on her skin: lavish, rough, possessing.  "Director said she had teams staked out at every exit, warrants already came in to search Lee's home.  It's all but a done deal."

She nods, out of things to say, and takes a sip of the coffee only to find it's not coffee at all, really: dirty chai.  "I didn't think you knew how to order anything else but black."

"It's your favorite, isn't it?" Gibbs asks, in that way that means it's not a question.

"I didn't think you were paying attention," Toni admits, because what the hell.

"I always pay attention," Gibbs chuckles, "'S what makes me a good investigator."

"Oh, Gibbs," Toni says, clucking, "talking yourself up to someone who fled the bitter, abusive embrace of your leadership — so declasse."

But Gibbs doesn't banter back, or smack her upside the head or glare or anything Toni's prepared to deal with.  He just asks, "Are you happier now?  With your own team?"

Yes and no, Toni wants to say.  "Sure," Toni quips.  "They're sweet."

Gibbs sighs.  "They're green.  All of them."

Toni shrugs.  "Well, you know, secretly, the director's always hated me."

"Actually, I think she likes you," Gibbs contradicts.

But Toni just looks at him for a long time, the silver-gray hair and blue eyes and the wry smile on his face, and says, soft, "No, no, don't think so."

Gibbs is quiet for a minute before he says, "Hell, Toni, you know I'm in love with you."

She chokes on her coffee.  "What," she says.

"Stop being mad at me," Gibbs asks, almost nicely.

Toni's still choking, actually choking now, which is one of those fucking asshole bonus presents left over from catching a slight case of the plague, and Gibbs catches on soon enough because he comes over and takes the coffee away from her and runs a hand down her back, soothing, more gentle than anything's that's ever come out of his mouth.

"Breathe," Gibbs instructs.

"You motherfucker," Toni says, when she finally catches some air, and shoves him away from her.  "You asshole."

She can't even leave.  They're stuck in here until they get the thumbs up from Shepard telling them Lee's been apprehended, that the op's been successful, and Jesus fucking Christ, Toni's such a moron: why else would Gibbs have volunteered for this instead of sending McGee or Ziva to do it?  Why else would he pass on the opportunity to find Lee himself but to trap Toni in a room neither of them can walk out of?

"I knew this was stupid," Gibbs says to himself.

Toni actually feels the beginnings of a brain hemorrhage start.  "Excuse me?"

"Ducky said just to tell you," Gibbs says, defensive, and takes a strategic position on the other side of the interrogation room table like that's going to keep Toni from vaulting over it and snatching all the hair out of his head.

"You — what is wrong with you?" Toni shrieks at him.  She's so fucking glad this room is soundproof; she sounds like all the the bad movies she secretly loves.

"I don't know if you noticed from the three divorces but I'm not really good that this," Gibbs tells her, sarcastic, as if he's got a right to be sarcastic in these trying times.  Toni decides death by hair-snatching is too good for him.  She thinks about taking off one of her heels and stabbing him with it until he bleeds to death.  They're only Kenneth Coles.

"So years, fucking years of putting me down, playing me," Toni asks, too mad to do anything embarrassing like cry, thank God, "that was what, foreplay?  Flirting?"

Gibbs winces but stays quiet.

"What's your fucking excuse, Gibbs?" Toni shouts at him.  She's never been this angry before.  Not at her father, not at herself.  Not at Kate for dying.  "Where's your brilliant but inscrutable reasoning?  Where's the addendum to Rule 12?"

The huge silence of his total lack of reply is deafening, and so is the crackle of the room intercom when it finally breaks the moment, Shepard's voice floating through the air as she says, "You two can come out now — congratulations, the target's been secured."

Toni blows out of the interrogation room, bypasses the awe-struck looks on her probies's faces, snatches her purse, and goes straight home.  She picks a stupid fight with Ben that night in the middle of 30 Rock — which she knows is petty; it's his favorite show, she should let him enjoy it — and makes him dump her, and afterward she takes Gibbs's box of medals and commendations and throws them into the bushes behind her apartment in a fury after finishing off half a bottle of SKYY at two in the morning.

Which is how Gibbs finds her just past dawn, barefoot in her plaid flannel robe, padding around the grass behind her building with a plastic bag.

"Fuck you, leave me alone," she mutters at him.

He holds up a commendation for valor, the metal gleaming even more brightly covered with morning dew.  "You missed one," he says mildly.

She snatches it out of his hand and stuffs it in the plastic bag.  

"I'm missing like eight more," Toni mutters, and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, going back to poring through the grass.  

She remembers every single award Gibbs has won, each of his medals from active duty and from civilian, and went and accepted each he'd received in the past five years, locked them away for safekeeping.  Toni's not sure why, it started probably even before whatever she felt for Gibbs was anything more than a curiously burning crush, but they've always been important to her: concrete symbols that the man she'd thrown her chips in with was good, good in a way she's not used to.

"Are you going to quit again?" Gibbs asks, and when Toni looks up at him, he's hunched over now, too, peering down into the grass along with her, and this would be really funny if it wasn't so completely fucked up.

"Don't talk to me," Toni snaps at him, reaching around a stray dandelion to grab a tiny pin, copper colored, for outstanding civilian service.  

Gibbs hands her a small plaque: outstanding service to the city.  "The director would kill me if I made you quit after all the fast-talking she had to do to keep you here the first time."

"If you weren't such an asshole I wouldn't keep quitting," Toni snarls back, and takes the plaque.

"If I weren't such an asshole you wouldn't have stayed in the first place," Gibbs points out, not unreasonably, and asks, "You wanna get dinner sometime?"

Toni grits her teeth and keeps glaring at the grass.  "I seriously fucking hate you."

"I know a great Italian place in Crystal City," Gibbs says, trying to sound tempting.

"I showed you that place," Toni yells at him, and upstairs, second floor, third window to the left, Dr. Polanski opens his window and shouts down at them:

"For fuck's sake, Toni, will you keep it down?  It's like five-thirty in the morning!"

"Hey!" Toni yells back at him, straightening up.  "I'm being a federal agent here!"

Polanski's disgruntled look goes bright red and he ducks back inside without another word.  For a split-second, Toni's baffled, because that "federal agent" line has worked all of never, and then Gibbs reaches around her front and drags the delicate, scalloped cup of her nightgown back over her breast, and Toni would be revolted by this entire set of circumstances except this is really par for the fucking course for her.

"Go away," she tells Gibbs, smacking his hand away from her nipple.  

She should have been a gym teacher at a French finishing school or married Hollister Agaston III when she'd had the chance; she could be sipping champagne cocktails and fucking the indoor pool boy right now.

But Gibbs just grins at her.  "Come on, Toni.  It's just dinner."

"You heard the man," Toni mutters, scooping up two more medals hidden behind a stray rock.  "It's five-thirty in the morning."

"So come get breakfast with me," Gibbs offers.  "I know a great place."

Toni throws the entire bag of medals at him, but she ends up sitting opposite him in the hideous dark interior of McLean Family Restaurant anyway.

"This is not a great place," Toni tells him, sipping fretfully at the horrible burnt coffee.  

"I like it," Gibbs says, almost pouting, and Toni clutches at her mug until it burns her palm to remind herself she doesn't find that cute at all.

Toni gives him a despairing look.  "Gibbs, you shop at Sears."

"You keep saying that like it's a bad thing," Gibbs volleys back, taking a lingering sip of his coffee, and when their sturdy, western German waitress comes to the table, he orders them both fried eggs and sausages and gets Toni a bowl of oatmeal like he's still allowed to order her breakfasts and tell people to bring her grapefruit juice.  

Toni gives Gibbs her most poisonous look, but he just says, "What?"

She makes him drive her home first, both because one, there's no way she's showing up at work in a busted OSU t-shirt and her fat jeans and two, it'll make Gibbs late.  He looks like he's about to offer to stay and drive her in to work, but Toni figures if she lets him, she'll probably wander out of her bedroom naked and invite him to call in too-busy-eating-out-my-ex-senior-agent, so she glares at him until Gibbs leaves.

Just to be safe, Toni dresses like a slut that day, since she knows Gibbs fucking hates that: gray silk shirt unbuttoned down to there, tight, tight pencil skirt, a double-strand of ash-colored pearls and matching teardrop earrings, black stockings with a seam up the back.  The advent of KFC-induced fat jeans means the introduction of Spanx to make such an outfit work, but Toni figures it's worth it when she watches Gibbs glaring at her all over the NCIS bullpen and Rick drops his coffee twice.

Gibbs must spend the next two nights masturbating angrily and sanding his boat — the two are interchangeable, Toni determined a long time ago — but then on Sunday night, while Toni's waxing in rage, Gibbs shows up at her door again.  This time, he knocks.

"Who is it?" Toni asks, walking to and opening the door gingerly.

Gibbs stares at her from the other side of the threshold.  "What is that smell?"

"Burning," Toni answers.  "What are you doing here?"

"What are you burning?" Gibbs asks, pushing his way into the apartment without an invitation, and Toni tilts a look at her spackled ceiling and sighs as she shuts her apartment door.  "Jesus, DiNozzo — what the hell is this stuff?"

By the time she gets to the bathroom, Gibbs is already — of course — inspecting the discarded instructions from the honey creme wax pot and futzing with her muslin strips.  She has two choices here: be humiliated and angry, or be humiliated and angry and get back at him at the same time.

"Here," she says sweetly, "let me show you."

Gibbs frowns at her, and Toni bats her eyelashes at him until his pupils dilate, because Gibbs might be full of shit, but he does want her.  He'd probably let her, if she just sank down to her knees in her tiled bathroom right now and closed her mouth around the head of his dick, sucked him off like he was candy — stupidly, Toni's always wanted more than that from him.

"This won't hurt a bit," Toni says, and before Gibbs's upstairs brain can re-engage, she slaps a piece of muslin — already covered in wax — on the side of his face, holding it there with her palm while Gibbs is still trying to gather his wits, and rips it off again.

"Motherfucker!" Gibbs barks.  "Jesus Christ."

"Oh, look," Toni says.  "Now your sideburns are uneven."

"DiNozzo, I swear to God," Gibbs warns.

"Now," Toni says, businesslike as she hustles him and his stinging cheek out of her apartment again, "you should probably go get that fixed by someone who charges more than $5 a haircut before you have to show up at work Monday," and closes the door in his face.

Out of what is probably spite, Gibbs's haircut is more hideous than ever on Monday, and Toni spends a significant portion of the day cowering at its fierce ugliness behind her desk as she works to catch up on midterm performance review shenanigans.  

"Toni, is it as terrible as McGee says it is?" Abby whispers through the phone, when she calls midway through lunch.  "I asked Ziva but she said she didn't see what was wrong with it."

Typical Ziva.  "It's sort of exquisite in its awfulness," Toni concedes.

At the same time, an email pops up on her client from Probie, and all it says is, "What the hell did you do to him?"

"Hold on, let me conference in McGeek," Toni says, and she does, and when Probie answers the phone, he says, "Ah, Detective Mulder, good to speak to you again."

"One day, Tim, Gibbs is going to watch the X-Files, and that won't work anymore," Abby says.

"But not for a long time, how can I help you?" Probie asks smoothly.

"I just wanted to ask what do you mean, what did I do to Gibbs," Toni demands.

Across the bullpen, McGee looks up from his computer and gives Toni a dirty look.  This is a major trial of his undercover phone skills, as Gibbs is only a few feet away, sporting that horrible miscarriage of justice on his head, but Toni feels a spike of pride when McProbie says:

"Just that when questioned, witness statements indicate she had something to do with the crime scene.  Any idea why they'd make that claim?"

Toni laughs, tickled.  "Smooth, McGee!  Ten point to Ravenclaw."

"Slytherin applauds their worthy adversary," Abby laughs.  "Seriously, is it really that horrible?  Is it asymmetrical?  Do you think he cut it himself?"

"Oh my God," Toni says, freezing in horror at the thought.  "What if he cut it himself?"

Over the phone line, Toni hears McGee's protests of, "uh, Boss!" and then muffled noises, and Gibbs saying, "So what if I cut it myself?" at which point Abby squeaks and hangs up, and Toni considers it a real sign that she's grown up that she doesn't shriek and hang up herself, forces herself to stay on the line and say, "Seriously, Gibbs, if you're going to cut it yourself, at least use a mirror."

"Yeah, well, my arm's still buggin' me," Gibbs mutters over the phone, and hangs up.

Toni is a team player and a patriot, and it's wrong to subject the good and loyal men and women of NCIS to Gibbs's hair.  Which is what she'll tell herself until the day she dies as an explanation for how she ends up at Gibbs's house that night with a pair of scissors, a trimmer, and a thousand good reasons why she should get the hell out of dodge before she ever makes her way to the basement.

"You liar!" she gasps, from the staircase, watching him scrape away at his stupid boat — with both arms.  Toni feels like she just caught him in bed with a Thai ladyboy and a poodle.  "Your arm is fine!"

Gibbs rubs the sweat off his forehead with one gloved hand and slants his eyes up at her.

"My arm is bugging me," Gibbs grumbles.  "This isn't exactly detail work, Toni."

She pouts at him, taking a seat on the middle stair, tapping the rounded toe of her chunk heels in suspicion.  She'd felt very Gillian Anderson circa 1998 this morning, and she'd gone so far as to shine up her lower lid with white eyeliner and dig out her lip pencil.  

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Gibbs asks, finally.  "I thought you hated me."

"Oh, I do," Toni tells him easily.  "But I was going to fix your hair.  For America."

"For America," Gibbs repeats, rolling his eyes, and slanting her another look, he asks, "Is it fixable?  Abby didn't seem to think so when I went down for my blood spatter results."

"Abby doesn't work with as many hopeless cases as I have," Toni says, and leaves her trench and her heels on the stairs, picks her way over to Gibbs in her stockings, clutching her plastic zip-up of tools.  "Do you have a chair?"

Gibbs pulls up a stool, and says, "Should you be walking around barefoot like that?"

"Gibbs, this is going to take time, and just because I can stand in three-inch heels for four hours if I have to, doesn't mean I want to stand in three-inch heels," Toni explains, setting her tools down on a flat, smooth sheet of wood nearest to her and frowning at Gibbs's head, tilted slightly downward, and if this were anybody but Gibbs, Toni would swear he was having trouble looking her in the eyes.

"Why the hell do you wear the damn things then?" Gibbs asks, and submits himself to Toni's prodding, and it's weird — electric — to be touching him again, to so easily cup her hands around his face and move him side to side.  Gibbs, like this, is so easy, and Toni never thought Gibbs could be anything approaching easy.

She shrugs, deciding that short and razor-sharp is better than hideous and lopsided.

"They make me feel better," she murmurs, and reaches for her scissors.  She'll go very short up the sides, trim the top, get rid of that wretched silver cap that sags in the back.  

Gibbs tries to look at her from under his lashes; he's not as good at it as she is.  "You look fine without them, DiNozzo."

"I don't really wear them for spectators, Gibbs," Toni tells him, absent, and combs a part down the middle of Gibbs's fine, silver hair.  She wishes he'd use conditioner, but honestly, Toni also wants world peace and the secret to renewable energy.  

"How is torturing yourself with crippling footwear for you?" Gibbs asks, holding mostly still when Toni starts to snip away at the worst of the damage.  She's sorry to see the hair go, she's always liked it.  Maybe he'll be merciful after this misstep and let it grow out more, long enough so that someone could get a handful of it.  

"It's too hot to layer," Toni says easily, because most men she's known don't get it, never will.  The clothes are for her; the shoes are for her; that anybody else ever sees them is purely incidental.  It's not something she knows how to explain well.  "So my other options are exquisite tailoring and a dangerously sharp heel — Gibbs!"

He freezes.  "What?"

"What are you — ?"  

She looks down to where he's been shuffling his feet, kicking and kicking and making it dangerously tempting to stab him in the skull with the scissors and pretend she slipped — and then she sees that he's using the toe of his boot to push away the worst of the boat scrapings and sawdust, kick away the stray nails and chunks of clean, blond-colored wood.  He's cleared out  mostly-empty circle around her feet — toenails dark blue now, the color of scarab beetle shells — and he looks sheepish about it when Toni looks back up at him.

"Oh," Toni says.  "Thanks."

Gibbs shrugs, keeps his eyes down, and Toni lets that go without comment, lets it hang there for a long minute before she goes back to cutting his hair.  

His skin and the short fringe of hair near his ears are wet from sweat, and Toni tries very hard not to think about what it'd be like to be pushed down on top of the sawdust under the boat.  What it would be like for Gibbs to ignore all her protestations about how gorgeous the stitching is on her Donna Karen skirt and to be careful with her chosen-for-whimsy man's Tom Ford shirt and fuck her?  To cash all the checks he's been making with the weight of his gaze and the heaviness of his hands all these years.  She likes to think about him hovering over her, all solid lines of muscle and reassurances and promises — because Gibbs doesn't make promises easily and never breaks them — sweat rolling down his cheek until he can't hold himself up anymore and puts his face in her shoulder.  Toni sometimes likes to think that she deserves better than a rough fuck under a boat, but Toni's fluent in the art of getting what she wants, if not what she needs, so she'd take it.  

"Tell me about your new team," Gibbs prompts, and reflexive, Toni does, and after a few stops and starts, it feels almost like giving a sitrep in the bullpen again, only there're no wrong answers, and she relaxes into it, hands busy.

"...And anyway, so I told Paige that even though she doesn't think she's being a cocktease doesn't mean that to Rick she's not being a cocktease," Toni concludes, and takes a step back, admiring her work.  "There.  I think we're done."

Gibbs just grins up at her.  "Thanks."

Toni coughs, shimmies a bit, safe on this spot of floor.  "Want me to go find a mirror?"

"Naw," Gibbs says, and then he cups her elbow, warm in his hand, warm through her shirt and through the glove.  "I trust you."

"Right," Toni says, and beats it out of the house like a bat out of hell.  

She leaves her kit, her scissors, and her trench, but it's tossed over the back of her chair the next morning when she gets to work, so Toni figures no harm no foul, and in compensation for Gibbs's good behavior she leaves him coffee from the new Stumptown that opened down the street.

"Good coffee," Gibbs says, settling next to her, when the director calls a meeting with all the team leaders in MTAC, while her assistant is handing out packets and Shepard is yelling at someone on the phone.

Toni wishes she could stab herself in the face.  Why is she so fourteen around Gibbs?

"Thanks for my coat," Toni whispers back.

"Thanks for the haircut," Gibbs murmurs in reply.  

"Yeah?" Toni can't help but ask.  "Getting a good response so far?"

"Oh yeah," Gibbs answers, wry, and lips at his coffee cup.  "Got hit on by four male hookers today."

Toni barks out a laugh so sharp she's completely incapable of concealing it as a cough, and when Shepard gives her a dirty look, she passes it straight on down the line to Gibbs, who only shrugs and continues Frenching his coffee.

Two hours and four terrible and completely pointless leadership exercises later, Shepard frees them on their own recognizance, and Gibbs stops her at the top of the stairs, team leaders streaming all around them, and asks, "Hey, how about that dinner?"

Toni narrows her eyes at him.

"I made reservations," Gibbs wheedles, grinning.  

"Presumptuous," Toni sighs, and tries to walk around him until Gibbs steps around her, cutting off her path of escape, and Toni can feel a lot of eyes on her, making her hot under the collar.  "Gibbs, seriously."

Gibbs tilts his head to one side, grinning.  "Come on, DiNozzo."

"I can't, Gibbs," Toni tells him, "I have a very busy and pressing couple of hours blocked off and reserved for hating you tonight."

"Aw, come out with me," Gibbs says.  "Otherwise you know I'm just going to eat beef jerky in the basement."

"I'm only doing this to save your arteries," Toni warns, sitting in the passenger seat of Gibbs's car.  "And I don't see why I can't just follow you in my own car."

As per usual, Toni doesn't get an answer, and she settles into the jumps and fits and starts of Gibbs's driving, familiar, the car quiet but for the low murmur of NPR in the background.  She's half-asleep after a while, the city lights of D.C. and more populous areas fading out into dark and treelined highway, and Toni blinks, shaken out of her trance, only to find herself in bumfuck absolutely nowhere.

"Gibbs," she says.

"Sleep well?" he asks, mild.

"Where the hell are we?" Toni asks, digging into her pocket for her phone: low signal, sluggish GPS.  She has a brief flash of her early days at NCIS, when Gibbs's fast u-turns and generalized batshit maladjustment had made him seem like a guy two ticks away from showing up on the evening news splattered in blood and brain matter.

Gibbs glances at her phone.  "Great Falls."

"Great Fa — Gibbs, seriously, there're closer places to kill me and dump the body."

That earns her a laugh.  "Man, you try to do something nice," he says, and Toni glances up when the headlights catch the a patch of garish Christmas lights.

"You have got to be kidding me," Toni says, mostly to herself, as the car creeps up the driveway to L’Auberge Chez François, lights lining the eaves of the building.  But the hits just keep coming, because when the car pulls to a stop, Gibbs puts a hand on her wrist, arresting, and emphasizes, "wait," before he gets out of the car and comes around to her side to open the door.  He pulls the chair out for her at the table, and by the time he settles opposite her at their window seat, curled close and cozy over a candle, Toni can't help but blurt out:

"Are you dying?  Is this some sort of deathbed guilt thing?"

"You are so untrusting," Gibbs laughs.

"Honestly, Gibbs," Toni says, and she knows right then she's about to admit something she doesn't want to, shouldn't, should know better, needs to lock down right the fuck now, but it just comes tumbling out anyway, "when it comes to this sort of shit, you've never really given me much reason to trust you."

Toni's starting to hate that stunned look on Gibbs's face, wide-eyed and hurt, like she landed a punch somewhere he hadn't anticipated, somewhere he can't block.  She wants to apologize, to stuff it all back into the closet — they're at fucking L’Auberge Chez François, for fuck's sake, and there's a long-ass car ride to get back to civilization — but she can't, not if Gibbs is going to fucking take her on dates and open car doors for her.  

"I trust you in the field," Toni babbles.  Oh Jesus, it's all going to come out.  "I trust you implicitly in the field.  But historically — " she stutters a little here, God, so fucking embarrassing " — you're not very nice to me."  

Gibbs watches her a moment.  "You done?"

"And you've been divorced.  Three times," Toni finishes in a fast burst.

"Now are you done?" Gibbs asks.

Toni waits to see if anything else mortifying comes out of her mouth.  "Yeah.  Done."

"Good," Gibbs says, and waves the waiter over.

It's later, much later, after a multi-course dinner of things Gibbs finds suspicious and awkward and wine he also finds suspicious and awkward and an 'Alsatian feast,' which Gibbs finds most suspicious and awkward of all, that Toni is sort of drunk from fortifying glasses of good merlot, and heady on Gibbs's undivided attention, the way his eyes gleam when he laughs with her, the warm tease of his fingers over hers, skittering over the table linens.

"You totally hate it here, don't you?" Toni asks, laughing, and Gibbs joins in.  Maybe he's had too much to drink, too.  Fuck, who's going to drive them home?  They're going to have to sleep in Gibbs's car.  In Great Falls.  In the dark.  In the forest.  Maybe they should fuck before they're eaten by bears.

"Oh, yeah," Gibbs admits.

"You didn't have to do this, Gibbs," Toni tells him, and her words are still curled up around a laugh.  She can't help it.  She doesn't know if this bubbly giddiness in her belly is just the Riesling she'd ordered with their desert or if it's something else.  

He shrugs, easy and handsome and Toni keeps thinking that if she reaches over, if she touches him, he'd let her.

"I always knew you could be nice," Toni murmurs, distant.

"Hey, I'm nice," Gibbs protests.

"To other people," Toni argues.

Gibbs looks away, at the table, concedes the point.  "You never complained before."

"Oh, Gibbs," Toni laughs, and this time, she knows it's the Riesling.  "Have you not figured that out yet?"

"What's that, Toni?" he asks, and the gravel of his tone is so easy that Toni just says:

"You don't have to be nice to me.  You never have to be nice to me.  You can be as terrible and shitty and as badly behaved as you ever were and I'm never ever going to be able to say 'no' to you."

Gibbs's eyes are a lot colder than she remembers, all of a sudden.  "You say 'no' to me a lot," he says, but he doesn't sound sure of it.

"I never say no to you," Toni laughs, leaning back in her seat and taking her wine glass with her.  "All you ever need to do is ask — maybe push me, just a little bit — I'll always give in."  She eyes him over the rim of the wine glass.  "Anything you want Gibbs, and I'm on it, Boss."

Except Gibbs has got that look on his face again, gobsmacked and hurt and revelatory, and it's starting to piss Toni off, because it's not like she's said anything that isn't common knowledge here.  Everybody fucking knows it.  You look up "desperate to please" in the dictionary and there's a picture of her next to it, cross-referenced with "gagging for it" and "should know better."  This is like Gibbs freaking out because the Earth's round and circles the sun, and Toni feels obligated to clarify.

"Don't worry about it, Gibbs," Toni assures him, and finishes off her glass.  "Look, I am not one of those people you need to be careful with, and — "

"Toni!" Gibbs interrupts, catching her wrist with his hand, making her Riesling splash.  

She stares at him, wide-eyed.  

"Tell me that's not how you think about this," Gibbs asks her.

Toni opens her mouth, but she doesn't know what to say.  "Gibbs?"

"I should be careful with you," Gibbs tells her, and his grip around her wrist loosens, enough so that if Toni wanted to, she could pull away, but that's just the point, she doesn't, so she keeps her hand in Gibbs's possession, keeps her eyes level with his.

"Don't make me any promises you can't keep, Gibbs," Toni says to him, quiet, and feels Gibbs's fingers tighten on her skin again, can't quite keep the shiver from running down her spine at that.

And Gibbs only looks at her more intently, says low and just for her, "Toni, I promise."

It's so ridiculous, it's open-ended.  He didn't even specify.  That could mean anything, that could mean nothing, Toni hears herself gibbering in her head, but louder than all of it, running together in breathless, disbelieving words, over and over again is: it could mean everything, it could mean all of it, it could mean everything.

The ride home from Great Falls takes forever, and when Toni sees Gibbs about to signal for the exit toward NCIS, toward her car and an easy denouement, she stills his hand on the wheel and says, "Let's go back to your place."

To his credit, Gibbs doesn't ask any asshole questions or treat her like some nineteen year-old trading her cherry for a nice dinner, he just drives, and when they get to his house, she lets herself in through the garage, leaves her shoes in the hall and her bra on the stairs and feels the heat of Gibbs's eyes between her shoulder blades, eating her up.

Of all the things Toni has loved about Gibbs in all the years she's loved him, maybe she loves this the most: the way he sees things.  Gibbs's vision is by no means comprehensive, immediately omniscient, and he doesn't take photographs in his head, but he takes note of everything, old fashioned, and Toni can almost see the pen and paper checklist behind his eyes as he takes in a scene.  So she can feel his gaze on her skin, the sway of her hips, the curving lines of her arms and dip of her spine, the long, sandy tumble of her hair down her back.  

Toni has always loved attention, but nothing's ever been so addictive as Gibbs's attention, and Toni remembers working narcotics in Baltimore before she worked vice, the way she used to collect people who died trying just to get a little bit higher and thinking what fucking idiots they were — she gets them now.  

She's down to her stockings — thigh highs, with an exquisite black silk band at the tops — and the dreamy, black and gray silk slip of her panties by the time she makes it to Gibbs's bedroom, settles herself on the edge of the mattress, fingers stroking down the hospital corners.  He just stands in the doorway to his bedroom, backlit from the hall light, still watching her, hands clutching the doorframe and blocking the exit, like Gibbs thinks she'd possibly walk away from this.

"Second thoughts?" Gibbs asks, and Toni can't help but laugh.

"Only if you have them," she lies.  

Toni already has second thoughts and third thoughts and fourth recriminations.  It's stupid to finally lead her people out of fucking Egypt only to come crawling back in Chantelle, with perfume on the backs of her knees, to capitulate after so few little gestures.  But those little gestures still seep into the cracked surface of her, soak into the needfulness of her.  Toni is only human, and completely aware of her limitations, her ceaseless hunger after years of famine.

Gibbs leans forward in the doorway, like he wants to swing into the room and touch her, but he hangs back, hesitating like she hasn't seen before, and he says — and when he says it, sounds scraped out of his throat — he says, "You don't have to do this — this isn't something I'm going to push you on."

"Gibbs," Toni says, as kindly as she can, sitting mostly-naked on the man's bed, "I'm not being coerced here.  This isn't work."

"Yeah, well," Gibbs barks, looking hard-faced and angry at something indeterminate, "apparently I'm not good at noticing when I'm being a fuckface to you, Toni."

Toni wouldn't actually know what to do with a real apology if he issued one, and this is skating dangerously close to that territory, so she slides off the edge of the bed, pads over to Gibbs, frozen in the doorway.  All his muscles are corded and hot with tension underneath his clothes, and this part is easy, any friction smoothed away by how much she wants him, all the ways she loves him, and Toni sighs, feeling something in her chest unfurl like a leaf when she slides her hands up his chest, under his sports coat.

"So I'll start telling you," Toni says to him.

Toni's always had a type: bossy, smart, sort of a shit.  She's never been particularly good at differentiating people who can take her, and people who'll crush her, and she's not even sure that before Gibbs, she's cared one way or the other.  But Toni wants to be alive and awake and aware and engaged for every fucking second of this, however long Gibbs is willing to give her.

Gibbs's hands, when he touches her finally, are careful as promised.  He cups her face, both sides of her jaw, and kisses her delicately, licking his way into her mouth without rush and undemanding.  Toni finds herself on her tip toes, suspended against the solid heat of him pressed along her front.  He threads his fingers through her hair, tilts her back, and slides one palm down the naked line of her spine, sweeps her into him, against his chest, and when Toni gasps, Gibbs says into her mouth, into her bottom lip, "I'm holding you to that," and just like that, foot's off the break, and it feels like going zero to sixty in 2.5, the gravitational scream of the Bugatti Veyron.

Toni has about a half-dozen dirty retorts to that sort of thing, but Gibbs is less witty verbal foreplay and more hands-on action.  After she says, "Sure, I like being mean to you," he laughs, five o'clock shadow rough against her throat, and derails any jokes about his age she was planning on making by pressing her into the bed, rough, careless here where she wants him to be careless, and delight burns up her spine like a flashfire.  

His hands are huge on her skin, cupped around her sides, sliding down to her hips, and Toni purrs into the warmth of it, the way he handles her, the way Gibbs has always handled her, and she stretches her arms out over her head, curls her fingers into the sheets.  

"What do you want?" Gibbs asks her, raspy, pupils blown, pulling off his shirt and peeling away the tee underneath.  "What do you like?"

"I've spent five years reading your mind," Toni sighs at him, arching her back, because she knows the way she looks when she does it, has watched it in mirrors out of the corner of her eyes from disturbed bedsheets since she was sixteen, and the arc is as gorgeous as she wants to be all the time.  "Your turn."

Gibbs laughs, and this time, when he presses up against her breasts, the graying hair on his chest scratches at her nipples, pink and swollen like Toni's mouth, and he says, "Fair enough," before grinding himself between her legs, no finesse, just the sharp edges of his belt buckle and the cold kiss of his zipper, and Toni hisses at that, a shivery noise.

"Like that?" Gibbs asks, teasing, and Toni pouts at him until he says, "Okay, so not so much," and reaches down, loosens the belt and looses the pants and Toni can't help but laugh at his beat-up gray boxers, the total lack of pretension in him.

Sometimes she can get so mad at him or so wrapped up in him or so mired in the mystery of him that she forgets the reality of him.  Gibbs is an asshole ex-marine who drinks bottom-shelf bourbon and wears old boxers and he's good, under the skin, and she can feel it in every once of his looks and in the whorls of his fingerprints, so she takes the time to kiss the flat, hard skin of his thumb to thank him, and when his blue eyes catch hers, Toni thinks he gets it, too, even though she has no idea what he sees when he looks at her.

Gibbs doesn't kiss her fingertips, waste time mouthing at the wings of her collarbones.  He kisses her mouth, takes it away from her, sucks the breath out of her body until she's rolling herself up into him, desperate for oxygen and sobbing for it, Gibbs's palm huge against the middle of her back, holding her against him.

Toni can almost feel Gibbs telling her, "easy, easy," through the skin, with the wet, lavish heat of his mouth, but she's so far past discretion, it's easier for her to throw one leg over Gibbs's hip, rub her cunt against him, pleading, until Gibbs gasps out, "fuck," like he's desperate, too, and lets them drop down to the mattress together.  

When Toni feels the weight of him and the protest of the springs and every time the muscle of his leg presses up against her clit, a jagged edge of pleasure shoots through her like vertigo, punches a ripped-up noise out of her throat.  She's wet through her panties, thighs slick already, she wants him so badly, and she keeps saying, "please, please," and she doesn't even know what she's asking for, just that Gibbs keeps hushing assurances into her skin, dropping kisses along her jawline, the soft white of her throat, down her sternum.

"Where are you going?" Toni asks, when Gibbs's mouth slides down her belly.  She sounds breathless and mournful and young, way too young to be her, because Antonia DiNozzo is thirty-four and six months, and she grew out of that reedy youngness she always hated so much in her voice.

"Right here, Toni," Gibbs promises into her naval, lingers a moment to navigate that territory with a swipe of his tongue before sliding further down, moving a hand up at the same time to catch Toni's, to lace their fingers together like she needs the reassurance.

Gibbs strips her out of her panties, slides the silk down her thighs without hesitation, and he presses a kiss, strangely innocent, to the top of one of her thighs, and then his mouth slides down, down the shiny-wet path she's laid in for him there.

There's nothing delicate about Gibbs, ever, and so Toni's expecting it, bracing for it, has the hiss ready for it, when she feels the hot, rough muscle of his tongue slick down the seam of her pussy, top to bottom and back again.  She grinds her heels into the mattress to keep herself from grinding them into Gibbs's back, and she's rewarded when Gibbs sucks her clit into his mouth, sliding two of his thick fingers through the soaking wet of her and inside her, frictionless.  

Toni says stuff, a bunch of stuff, content unclear, but she can't really move, all she can do is roll her hips up into Gibbs's mouth as he sucks her off.  He keeps her clit hot and throbbing and oversensitized between the wet, wet insides of his lips and licks delicately at her, fucking her open with his fingers, and Toni feels like Gibbs is unfurling an orgasm inside of her, keeping it clutched in one fist and making it last until she's blackout-dizzy, until the pleasure is indistinguishable from the pain and she's swearing at him in her grandmother's Italian.

She's down to begging, "doro sesso" and "Gibbs please you fuck fuck," before he sucks hard, once, on her clit and that's it, that's all she needed, that tiny electric push, and Toni probably boxes his ears, her thighs squeeze together so fast, and Gibbs's fingers in her cunt are huge — but not enough — but still so good, to have something to grip and rub and grab.  

"Gibbs, Gibbs, if you don't — " Toni gets to start, but thank fucking Christ she doesn't have to stop, because he's already cut her off, taken his fingers out of her and rubbed his dick inside her and every inch lights up all her nerve endings.

Gibbs feels huge and fat and like a fist stretching her open, and Toni loves the alchemy of fucking, how every ache and hurt filters in so good it's like the first addictive burst of ecstasy across her brain.  And Toni laughs and gasps and holds Gibbs close, wraps her long legs around his middle so she can moan total filth into his ear.  She tells him how much she loves his cock, how long she's wanted it.  Can he feel how wet she is for him?  Fucking sopping, drenched, and doesn't he like sliding into the greedy hot clutch of her pussy?  Filling her up?  Toni likes it, "I like it, I fucking love it," she confesses, and she digs her nails into Gibbs's shoulder when he shouts, "Fuck, Toni, Jesus Christ," and slips his hand down between them, puts his thumb just under her clit — like he did before, like he did in the hotel room when it was Sophie and Jean-Paul but maybe not — and Gibbs says, "Come on, Toni, come for me," and Toni does.


Apparently Gibbs can be a gentleman after sex, and after he politely gets a warm towel to wipe them both off, he politely eats her out some more and Toni politely lets him.  They've endured a long courtship; it seems only fair.  

And then it's half past one in the morning and they're both God damn tired and there's work the next morning, about which Gibbs is a total fucking killjoy.  He reminds Toni she's left clothes at his house before, that there's no way in hell she's showing up at work looking like she spent the night getting her brains fucked out, like he doesn't know that's one of her primary sources of happiness in life.

Toni frowns at him, probably ineffectively, given how Gibbs is thumbing one of her nipples idly.  "Gibbs, that's not fair."

"I have active cases, DiNozzo," Gibbs argues, but he draws in a little closer to her on the bed.  He's still trapped on the wet spot though, which Toni has decided he's going to sleep on in perpetuity.  "I need McGee paying attention, not sobbing in the bathroom."

"So this executive decision has nothing to do with the fact that you'd have to sit at your desk all and watch me walk around in rumpled, day-old clothes and think about me being stuffed up with your dick and getting your thighs slick I'm so hot for it, just to be clear," Toni asks, because she's a trained investigator and knows that it's always good to be specific, at which point Gibbs's idle groping turns into a pinch and she shrieks laughing loudly enough that Gibbs's neighbors have to have figured out he's either getting a life or fucking his boat.

They settle like this, informal, and sleep, because most of Toni's post-coital considerations are off the table here.  She knows about Gibbs's last sexual partner, about his last physical exam, and how his tests came back clean.  Even if Gibbs didn't know exactly when her period was, he'd know she was on the pill, low hormone, the other stuff gives her migraines, and Toni weirdly remembers he'd left her a peppermint tea, once, when she was trying out a different prescription years ago and that when he'd busted her out of Bethesda, he'd delivered her food and Ortho Tricyclen without a blink.  Toni doesn't want to talk about when they'll see each other again, or if they'll do this again, whether there's another date to set up or should she be sorry they didn't use a condom.  

She's never over-thought anything the way she's over-thought Gibbs, and it's late, she's sore, and Gibbs's hand is warm and soothing where he's palming her left breast, but it's his mouth on the back of her neck that finally convinces Toni that she's keeping herself up wondering if there's anything that should be keeping herself up.

"Go to sleep, DiNozzo," Gibbs suggests, and Toni tilts her head, presses a blurry kiss into Gibbs's shoulder and says:

"Shut up, Gibbs.  You don't get to tell me what to do anymore."

Gibbs laughs, and she falls asleep hearing, "God help us all."



Toni's just drifting off to sleep — chest hurts, back hurts, everything fucking hurts, and she hasn't been able to take a deep breath in a week — when McGee busts through the unlocked front door and stands there, staring, looking look a mentally retarded sheep.

"Um," he says, looking queasy, his trenchcoat flapping in the bitter cold of a Virginia December, and then he says, "Uh."

Gibbs, to his credit, doesn't yell or shoot him or throw one of the mugs on the coffee table at his head, just sighs, long-suffering, and pulls the blanket up more tightly around Toni's chest and says, "Yeah, McGee?"

McGee totally fails to stop staring at Toni, and she'll kill him for this.  She knows how she looks: rheumy-eyed, her lips are pale and chapped.  She'd open her mouth and threaten his life, but to do so would tempt fate, and her entire fucking respiratory system hurts, and after two years of Gibbs yelling at her for trying to talk through her now-annual bought of bronchitis, she knows better than to try.

"Uh, is she okay, Boss?" McGee asks, finally, at which point Toni feels her eyes bug out.

"She's peachy, McGee, s'why she's wrapped in eight blankets on my couch with no voice and like twelve prescriptions around her," Gibbs snaps, and removing himself from the couch, where Toni had been using his back as her nearest heat source — she's going to kill McGee for certain now, she'll set his stupid typewriter on fire — Gibbs asks, "McGee — why are you barging into my house?"

"Uh, case," McGee stutters, and finally, finally comes all the way inside, and Gibbs steps around him and shuts the door, throws the lock.  "Home invasion, we've got a missing kid.  Your house was on the way to the scene so…" he trails off and keeps glancing at Toni before concluding, "Sorry."

Gibbs nods, looks at Toni over his shoulder.  "You going to be okay?"

She waves him off, reaching for the yellow legal pad she's been carrying around this week for yelling at Gibbs in her messy all-caps scrawl or for leaving him extremely detailed notes about all the sex they could be having.  From the corner of her eye, she can see Gibbs jogging upstairs to get dressed and grab his kit, leaving McGee frozen in the living room, in serious danger of exploding from all the questions he's holding in.

OKAY, she writes, holding up the legal pad so Probie can see, ASK AWAY.

And that seems to be just the spark McGee needs to glance left and right, dash over to her.  He takes a seat on the coffee table and hisses, "Are — are you and Gibbs doing it?"

Toni figures her revolted look is answer enough to that, but she can't help writing, OH, YEAH.  BIG TIME.  ALL OVER THE PLACE.  YOU'D BE AMAZED, PROBE-STER.  FOR AN OLD GUY, GIBBS HAS STAMINA.  

McGee looks sick.

OH, SORRY IF THAT COFFEE TABLE IS A LITTLE STICKY, I WAS BEING PARTICULARLY BADLY BEHAVED AND HE JUST HAD TO HAVE ME, Toni adds, because she's an asshole, and it's just too easy, and she can still hear Gibbs creaking around upstairs looking for his favorite pants.  She cut them up for his new boat rags a week ago.  

Probie rockets to his feet so fast he knocks over one of the coffee cups, and Toni can't help it, she starts laughing, and then she starts coughing, and it's a totally hideous, completely unattractive honking noise she's making — plus, excruciatingly painful — but holy shit, it's so good.  

"Toni, that is not funny," McGee hisses at her, except he's wrong, it's totally funny.  

This is the funniest, best thing ever, and okay, so Toni hasn't exactly been papering NCIS with notices that she's moved into Gibbs's house six months ago, but in these things Toni's always been happy to take Gibbs's lead, and he'd been closed-mouthed, and so had she.  And anyway, explaining anything about being with Gibbs always feels like a lead-in to explaining why she's going to be the fourth ex-Mrs. Gibbs, and Toni doesn't feel like pre-emptively dooming herself.

SORRY, PROBIE, WANTED TO KEEP IT LOW KEY, Toni writes, finally, because Probie is still her first probie, and no matter how many other shiny and intriguing and extremely pretty and fun-to-fuck-with probies come through NCIS, none of them will be her Probie quite the way McGeek is.

Probie glowers at her.  "Right, because that undercover assignment you and Gibbs did just before you suddenly had to stop being on his team was so subtle."


"Toni, gross!" McGee whines, right in time for Gibbs to come clattering down the stairs again, dressed for warmth, and — Toni is pleased to see — in the smoke-colored sweater she bought for him earlier that month.  He makes a beeline for the gun safe, and McGee does his level best to stop turning eight colors of red designed by Crayola while Toni writes stuff like, HEY, YOU KNOW THAT THING WE SAW IN THAT ONE HUSTLER THAT PETTY OFFICER HAD IN WVA?  GIBBS CAN TOTALLY DO THAT, and OH, PROBIE, I'M REALLY SORRY ABOUT WHAT WE DID TO YOUR DESK AT THE OFFICE, IT'S JUST THE ONLY CAMERA-BLIND SPOT IN THE BULLPEN.

"McGee, are you going to stop falling for her messing with your head and get a move on anytime soon?" Gibbs barks, sliding his service weapon into his holster, and McGee gives Toni one more dirty look before dashing off toward the front door, muttering, "Yes, Boss," as he crosses Gibbs.


And Gibbs pauses at the side of the couch, long enough to cup her cheek, affectionate, say, "Will do, Toni — you'll be all right here?"

She nods, and McGee says, "I'll...go get the car started," when Gibbs bends over, catches her in a kiss: sweet, lingering, and Toni fists one hand in his sweater, and wishes he'd stay here with her on the couch, that he'd climb back under the blanket and she could go back to sleep on his shoulder.  

"Be careful, okay?" Toni rasps out, very carefully.

Gibbs raises his eyebrows at her.  "Sure," he promises, and close to her ear, asks, "You wouldn't happen to know what happened to my favorite pants, would you?"

Toni bats her eyelashes at him.

"I'm gonna get you for that, Toni," Gibbs says, and sealing another quick kiss over her mouth, rushes off, shutting the door behind him and locking it with a click.

Toni grabs her legal pad, rushes to write: NO YOU WON'T, and slams it against the living room window, where if Gibbs is watching her as he goes — and he is, she bets he is, because Gibbs is historically a shitty husband and sort of a terrible boss but he loves her and he totally is — he'll see it as they drive away.