Gifts and Gallantry

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Tony rode comfortably on Gibbs's back, legs curved firmly but not too tightly around his body and arms wrapped around his waist. Body swaying with the natural gait of the centaur's walk, Tony tried to fight down his nervousness and just enjoy the ride. They'd gone for a run that morning, but every moment on Gibbs's back was to be treasured.

Still, he couldn't help the way his stomach flip flopped. It was just so damn hard to know which of his little surprises would please Gibbs and which would piss him off. Okay, so he would never really be pissed off, not when Tony was trying to do something for him, especially something centaur-specific, but he might be amused and when he was amused Gibbs tended to get a little...patronizing. He could be offended, even, although so far Tony had managed not to trigger than particular response.

Given how much work he'd put into this surprise, Tony desperately wanted Gibbs to be pleased. It didn't matter how much Jameson assured him it was a good idea--and John had given those assurances a hundred times while he helped Tony build the damn thing--Tony was still worried.

"I thought Jameson had this area roped off for planting or weeding or some crap like that," Gibbs said suddenly.

They were just cresting a gentle hill into the far corner of Jameson's land. Despite being close to the property line, it was probably the most private part of the ranch. Tony had double and triple checked it himself before even starting his project.

"Yeah," he said, answering the implied question. "That was a bit of a lie. He was helping me put together my surprise."

"Which is?" Gibbs prompted impatiently.

Tony's stomach roiled. "You should see it in a second."

Just past the crest of the hill Tony's obsession of the last three months came into view. It had been damn hard to scrape up the time to put it together. Tony had gotten into the habit of spending all his off time with Gibbs now; explaining why he suddenly needed whole weekends to himself had been a bitch. Knowing the blood and sweat that went into it, it wasn't much to look at. Just a few ditches and fences, a pond and some deep, steep steps, overhanging branches and unfinished wooden poles.

Gibbs stopped dead in his tracks and stared.

"It's, uh, an obstacle course," Tony said hesitently. "I wasn't sure what kind of things would work for a centaur, but I looked up the stuff they use in competitive horseback riding and steeple chases and when I asked John if we could use the land he had some ideas. You, um, probably won't have it to yourself. I mean, you'll have it to yourself when we're here, but you know that other centaurs use this place sometimes and John made it a condition of using the space and even though I designed it, some of them helped build it--not while I was here, while they were here on their own--so it only seems--"

"Tony." Gibbs's tone was firm but gentle.

"Yeah?" Tony asked in small voice.

"This is incredible." Gibbs twisted around to look him in the eye. "How long have you been working on this?"

Tony flushed with pleasure, the knot in his stomach finally untwisting. "Three months. Well, I've been building it for three months. It took a few weeks before that to design it." The design would have gone faster, but he hadn't dared talk about the project with John over the phone or by e-mail. Those discussions had happened during snatches of time stolen in the middle of weekends up here with Gibbs.

"I wondered what happened to those weekends," Gibbs teased. He was smiling a little, but Tony got the feeling that he really had been wondering.

"Didn't mean to worry you," Tony said, tightening his arms in a little hug. "I just wanted it to be a surprise."

Gibbs turned back to look at the obstacle course. "I'm surprised," he said, shaking his head.

Seeing the light of pleasure in Gibbs's eyes, Tony couldn't help but grin. "So what do you say we go down and have a look at this thing before you try it out for me?" he suggested.

"Try it out for you?" Gibbs asked, raising his eyebrows. "What makes you think you aren't going to try it out yourself?"

"Hurdles aren't my thing, boss," Tony said dryly. The tallest of the fences on the course was three feet high, though it could be raised. He hadn't wanted to push Gibbs too hard on his first time over.

"I meant with me, DiNozzo. On my back."

Tony gaped silently for a moment. "I think you'd better try it out on your own before you saddle yourself with a 200 pound handicap," he managed finally.

"Hmmm." Gibbs considered the course. "Maybe. But I think maybe you should get used to hanging on."

There was a gut dropping lurch and Gibbs was rearing and Tony was sliding down the smooth slope of his back. Adrenaline slammed into Tony's system and his arms and legs clamped hard around Gibbs's waist and body. His heart was pounding in his chest by the time the centaur's front hooves came back to Earth.

"Jesus, boss!" Tony gasped. "I just about pissed myself! Don't do that!"

Gibbs just laughed at him and patted Tony's hands where they still had a death grip around his waist. "You just wait until we get over those fences."

Tony smiled weakly. "I don't suppose you'd consider a saddle?" The glare Gibbs tossed over his shoulder was answer enough.

After a moment, when all of Gibbs's hooves remained securely on the ground, Tony loosened his grip. Taking this as a signal, Gibbs started over to the beginning of the obstable course at a gentle walk. They paced the length of it twice, Gibbs asking questions all the time and taking a few moments to circle some of the elements of the course. Tony half expected him to change and go crawling over the fences and through the series of posts--a forest of them, really, made for dodging around--in human form, just to get a closer look and maybe get his hands on things. But Gibbs seemed content to examine them with his eyes alone.

Well, he's going to be going over it in this shape, Tony reasoned to himself. Maybe changing would seem too much like cheating. Besides, there weren't any hidden traps. It wasn't supposed to be dangerous. Just challenging.

Finally Gibbs backed away from the course and stood staring at it intently. "Time for me to let you have a go at it?" Tony asked quietly, not wanting to interrupt if Gibbs was concentrating.

Eventually the centaur nodded. "Yeah."

Tony swung his leg across Gibbs's back and dropped smoothly to the ground. He already had his vantage point all picked out. He jogged over to the spot and settled down in the grass. Looking up, he caught Gibbs watching him and responded with a thumbs up to indicate that he was ready for the show.

Gibbs shook his head--a movement suddenly strangely reminiscent of a horse tossing theirs--and trotted over to the beginning of the course. He stopped far enough before the first fence to give himself a second to get up to speed and...paused.

Tony held his breath as Gibbs broke into a trot, then quickly moved into a canter. He vaulted the first fence, his back hooves knocking loudly against the rail. Tony bit his lip, but Gibbs landed solidly and kept going, ducking under the overhanging branch that confronted him next. He cleared another fence and a series of ditches cleanly, though his leaps looked a little awkward to Tony.

There were a couple of clear stretches in the course, partly intended to give the centaurs who would be using it a chance to get back up to speed and partly intended to give them a chance to stop if they needed to. Gibbs broke out of the course at the first of these and for a moment Tony wondered if he'd done something wrong in designing it, made some sort of mistake that wasn't obvious until you tried to ride over it. But instead of heading over to where Tony sat, Gibbs returned to the beginning of the course.

He made two more tries at it before he finished navigating it all in one go. Through it all, Tony was transfixed, watching Gibbs's body bunch powerfully before launching him into the air over each of the barriers, seeing the way he twisted agilely between the dodging posts. A sheen of sweat made his torso shine and his coat darken until he seemed black in spots. And when he cleared the last obstacle cleanly and came around to where Tony sat, Gibbs grinned at him, broad and unrestrained. Tony's heart thudded in his chest and all his blood rushed to his groin at the sight of that brilliant smile.

"I need a shower," Gibbs said when he got close enough. His coat twitched violently, trying to shake off the dust and grass bits thrown up by his use of the course.

Tony swallowed. "How about a shower and a brush down after?" he suggested.

Gibbs's eyes darkened. "I think you'd better get up on my back, because I'm sure as hell not walking back."

Tony scrambled into place and put his arms around Gibbs's waist, vibrantly aware of the heady scent of the centaur and the way his groin pressed into Gibbs's back. "You got enough left in you for a run after that work out?"

"I've got incentive," Gibbs growled. He launched straight into a canter.

The smooth rhythm of Gibbs's hooves striking the ground rocked Tony steadily against the centaur's torso. Grinning to himself, he turned his head and lay his cheek against Gibbs's shoulder, his nose buried in the curve of Gibbs's neck.