Kin and Kindred

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: A note from the author on AUness: For those of you who are familiar with the crossover fandom that appears in this story, you're going to notice near the end that I've changed something significant. To that, I have only this to say: It's an AU. With centaurs. Accept the change and move on. *g*

The package arrived with its typical precision timing on June 14th. Any other year and Tony would have signed for it, opened it, and tossed it onto the top shelf in the closet with all the rest. But this year June 14th wasn't just his birthday, it was the first birthday he'd had since he and Gibbs had started...whatever it was they'd started. Okay, so he knew what it was, he just wasn't sure what to call it.

Regardless, when six months together had gone by unmarked Tony had thought that Gibbs wasn't the anniversary, milestone, special event type. Or maybe three marriages had just beaten it out of him. So Tony hadn't expected them to do anything special for his birthday. It wasn't like thirty-four was much of a milestone, anyway.

But Gibbs had surprised him. When Tony had woken up that morning he'd found his alarm turned off and Gibbs stretched out on the bed next to him, waiting for him to wake up. Apparently, they both had the day off and Gibbs had...plans.

By the time they bothered to leave the bed to eat lunch Tony had completely forgotten that he was expecting the package, despite the fact that Gibbs had produced a couple of presents of his own for Tony. They'd finished eating and Tony was feeling relaxed and mellow and Gibbs was laughing...and then the doorbell rang.

Tony knew what it was before the tone even faded. He could feel his face fall and his shoulders and tighten up. He usually wasn't home when it came. He usually picked it up from the post office after he'd had a few minutes to deal with the fact that it had arrived. Just this once, he thought, couldn't they have been just one day late? Reluctantly, he pushed his chair back from the table.

"Tony?" Gibbs asked, his voice laced with concern.

Tony didn't answer, just got up and answered the door.

"Package for Anthony DiNozzo?" said the bored delivery guy on the other side.

"Yeah, that's me," Tony said woodenly. The guy handed over an electronic tablet and Tony scrawled his name onto the appropriate area. The computerized version of it didn't look anything like his real signature. He and the delivery guy exchanged tablet for package and Tony shut the door.

Tony couldn't quite move away from the door. He just stood there, staring down at the package in his hands. Whatever it was this year, it was heavy.

"Tony?" Gibbs asked quietly, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"It's from my parents," Tony said at last. "They like to be prompt. Exact. My birthday present always arrives exactly on my birthday." As he spoke he tore off the plain brown paper that the box was wrapped in. His parents hadn't bothered with wrapping the present in shiny, colored birthday paper. Why bother? He was already going to have to tear off one layer of paper. Wrapping it again would be redundant and pointless.

The box within was plain brown cardboard. Not something they'd gotten from a typical shop, then. They wouldn't have bothered to unpack and repack something that came in its own packaging. So either it was custom made--unlikely--or it was from an antique shop. Even as he carried the box to the kitchen table and lifted his dirty knife to slit the tape, Tony was running through the possibilities. By the weight, it was pretty solid. Probably a sculpture. He folded back the flaps of the box, not really thinking about Gibbs where he stood just behind Tony's shoulder.

He was right. It was a sculpture, done in bronze. The detail was incredible and the piece showed the distinct patina of age. Tony knew enough about antiques to know that this was one. It was beautiful and undoubtedly very valuable. He might, possibly, even have liked it, if the subject of the sculpture had been anything else. He just didn't have much use for a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, Christ child in her arms.

The contrast of the warmth of Gibbs at his back and the cool weight of the sculpture in his hands slowly began to seem more and more ridiculous to Tony. Here he was, celebrating with his male lover, and his parents sent him a classically Catholic bit of sculpture as a present. For a moment he wasn't sure how the shaking climbing up from inside him would emerge, but when it reached his lips he started laughing.

He laughed until he had to set the sculpture down to wipe tears out of his eyes. Gibbs put a hand on the small of his back, and somehow that just made Tony laugh harder. "This," he gasped out at last, "this is even better than the power sander. I wonder if they even know how long it's been since I went to church."

Gibbs reached around him and plucked a white envelope out of the box that had sheltered the Virgin Mary and babe. Tony's full name was inscribed on the front in spiky, narrow handwriting. "What's this?" Gibbs asked quietly.

"That's 'The Letter,'" Tony made air quotes with his hands. He sighed and leaned back against Gibbs a little. "It's the same every year." He took the envelope out of Gibbs's hands and tore it open. The single sheet of paper within was thick and expensive. His father's personal letterhead adorned the top, metallic and embossed.

Tony scanned it quickly, checking for all the usual phrases. "Dear Anthony, blah blah blah," he said, handing the letter to Gibbs. "We see you've survived another year in your ill advised occupation. We're sure you'll appreciate this token of our affection," he snorted. "We want you to know that we'd still like to remake you into the image of your father so that his financial empire can go on unchanged past his death and ensure his immortality. If you give up this law enforcement foolishness and come home, we're still willing to grease you into an appropriate, high paying career more in line with the DiNozzo name, set you up with a pre-approved wife, and wait for you to produce the next generation."

After a moment, Gibbs tossed the letter back into the box and slid his arm all the way around Tony's waist. "I take it they do this every year?" he said, hooking his chin over Tony's shoulder.

"Like clockwork," Tony confirmed. He reached out and picked up the letter again, rubbing his thumb over the fancy letterhead. "I bet he has his secretary write it out by now." It was neatly typed, his father's signature the only handwritten line. Hell, it could have been a template with the dates filled in fresh every year. For a moment Tony was struck with the perverse urge to compare it with one of the old letters, but he'd thrown them all away.

"You ever call him?"

Tony dropped the letter. "What for?" He covered Gibbs's hand with his own and leaned back a little more, just to feel the solidity of he man behind him. "I won't leave NCIS. I'm not going to crawl back to him with my tail between my legs. And I'm sure as hell not interested in having a trophy wife."

"How about closure?" Gibbs suggested.

Tony's eyebrows shot up. He turned around and stepped back a little, Gibbs's hand sliding across his body to rest on his hip. "Closure?" Tony asked teasingly.

Gibbs swatted him on the ass. "After three divorces I'm allowed to pick up a few buzzwords."

Tony snickered. "I thought your wives tended more towards leaving knots on your skull than they did couples counseling."

"I think you're trying to change the subject."

Sighing, Tony wandered over to the couch and dropped down onto it. He leaned back until he was staring at the ceiling. There were no tiles to count, just the near-ubiquitous popcorn texture that characterized so many ceilings. "Maybe I am," he admitted, "but it's not like there's anything more to say."

Out of the corner of his eye Tony was aware of Gibbs sitting on the coffee table facing the couch. "Maybe not to me," Gibbs said, "but I get the feeling there's a few things you could say to them."

"You playing shrink now?"

"You need me to?"

Tony lifted his head and glared at his lover. Gibbs met his gaze with equanimity. Stubbornly, Tony kept it up for a few moments before he finally rolled his eyes and dropped his head back on the couch. He was never going to win a staring contest with Gibbs. "I don't need to give them another chance to tell me how I'm throwing my life away and that cops are stupid grunts and that I'm going to regret it and maybe if I was a little smarter none of this would have happened." Hearing the words coming out of his own mouth, Tony closed his eyes and cursed quietly.

"Hey." Gibbs tapped him on the thigh, prompting Tony to open his eyes. "None of what would have happened?"

Nothing, Tony thought, but he knew his lover well enough to know he wouldn't accept that. "Not right now, Gibbs," Tony said instead. "I don't want to talk about it now."

"Later, then."

Tony snorted. Stubborn as a mule. Must be the equine heritage, he thought wryly. "Yeah, sure," he said aloud. Much, much later.

Gibbs closed his hand around Tony's and stood, drawing the younger man to his feet as well. "Well, if we're going to be talking 'later'," he said, "we'd better go back to bed now."

Grinning, Tony slipped a knee between Gibbs's legs. "Haven't I worn you out yet?" he asked, eyes twinkling.

Gibbs cupped Tony's face in one hand and leaned in to nibble at his jaw line. "I've had a couple hours rest and a good meal. You telling me a young stud like you needs more than that?"

Already Tony could feel himself responding, his cock slowly filling. "Apparently not," he replied, rubbing up against Gibbs. "But you know, I've always been told no strenuous exercise for two hours after eating."

Gibbs chuckled, the sound so low and dirty it sent a hot pulse through Tony's body and made him catch a moan behind his teeth. "You let me worry about that," he murmured. "I'll make sure you're taken care of."

Tony just hummed softly and leaned in for a kiss, slow and sweet, lips sealed together and tongues tangling slickly. Broad hands spread wide on Tony's back, holding him close against Gibbs's body as they tasted each other. Tony's eyelids drooped as he let himself drink in the scent and touch and taste of his lover. He sucked breath in through his nose, unwilling to break the kiss. Shared body heat quickly warmed him just shy of sweating where they touched.

When Gibbs pulled back, Tony swayed after him for a moment before blinking his eyes open again. "C'mon," Gibbs said roughly, "let's go to bed."

Nodding silently, Tony tangled his fingers with Gibbs's and led him down the hall by the hand, as if he hadn't already been there dozens of times already, forwards and backwards and in the dark.

They undressed each other standing at the end of the bed, their hands sliding against each other's skin as they pushed clothing out of the way. When both of them were bare-chested Tony found himself leaning in, pressing himself against the warmth of Gibbs's skin, and turning his face into the hollow of Gibbs's neck.

Once he got settled in, Tony found it hard to pull away. Not because he didn't want to--they both still had their pants on and God knew he wanted to get rid of those--but because he had the embarrassing suspicion he was being very...clingy. But before he could steel himself to pull back and look at Gibbs again, Gibbs withdrew himself, just enough to bring their lips together. His hand slid into Tony's hair and held him still for a long, exploratory kiss that made getting their pants off much more urgent.

Between their bodies Gibbs's free hand and both of Tony's fumbled at buttons and zippers, the two men never breaking the kiss. At last the garments were pushed and tugged down and left to puddle around their bare feet, forgotten the moment their bodies came together again.

Gibbs's hands played slowly over Tony's back before he wrapped the younger man in his arms and pulled him close, the embrace a hug as much as a caress. Tony moaned softly into the unbroken kiss. It seemed as though Gibbs was everywhere around him, encompassing him.

"Gibbs," Tony whispered, hardly pulling away. His lips brushed against Gibbs's as he spoke, almost a kiss themselves. "Take me to bed. I want you on top of me. I want your weight and your heat and your skin and your dick trapped next to mine."

"You can have it," Gibbs said thickly. "You can have everything." His hands slid down to grasp Tony's hips and curled around the sharp points of them, but he didn't push. Instead he backed Tony up a step or two, just until his calves bumped the edge of the bed. Tony took the hint and climbed backwards on the bed, kneeling and holding his hands out for Gibbs.

Gibbs followed quickly, kneeling opposite Tony and taking him back into his arms. Finding Gibbs's mouth with his own once more, Tony hung onto Gibbs's shoulders as the man bore him down onto the bed. Sprawled on his back, Tony spread his legs to let Gibbs settle between them. He sighed softly with pleasure as their bodies fit themselves together.

"Good?" Gibbs asked. He'd braced himself up on one elbow and looked down at Tony now.

The weight pressing down on Tony made him feel a little short of breath and they were both growing sticky with sweat, but something hard and uncomfortable eased inside Tony at the contact. Gibbs was real and he was here and he was hard and slick, his hips moving in tiny unconscious movements.

Tony reached up and took Gibbs's head in his hands. "Very good," he breathed, and pulled Gibbs down into a kiss. Gibbs's arm folded, dropping the last of his weight down on Tony. Tony gasped into the kiss but didn't break it, instead sucking Gibbs's tongue deeper into his mouth.

They moved together slow and steady, their hands holding rather than stroking, letting the slide of skin over skin be all the caresses they needed. Tony couldn't seem to stop kissing Gibbs, as if the wet, deep kisses were a drug and he an addict. He didn't care. He needed and Gibbs gave.

Completion came on a slow, intense swell of pleasure that tightened every muscle in Tony's body. He arched up against Gibbs and pulled him down with his hands, grinding their bodies together, and when he came Tony gasped one quiet word:


Gibbs audibly caught his breath and then another surge of wet heat spilled between their bodies as he, too, reached his peak. For a long moment Gibbs simply lay atop Tony, his face turned into the curve of Tony's throat. He was heavy and their bodies were slowly cooling to an uncomfortable stickiness, but Tony held back any request for him to move. Instead he slowly stroked his hands up and down Gibbs's back, fingers occasionally pausing to explore the rough outline of a scar.

Finally Gibbs let out a long sigh and shifted off of Tony. Tony half expected him to linger in the bed, but instead he left the room, returning a moment later with a damp washcloth, which he tossed to Tony on his way back to the bed. Tony cleaned up quickly and wormed his way under the sheets with Gibbs. He didn't care if it was the middle of the afternoon. Lying around in bed sounded just about perfect.

"So," Gibbs said, his head propped up on one hand. "You have a good birthday?"

Tony considered for a long moment. Despite the present and its unpleasant reminders he felt like he'd actually celebrated. Like he'd had something to celebrate. And here was Gibbs, settled in and not going anywhere soon, looking at him like there was nothing he'd rather be seeing. "Yeah, I did," Tony answered at last. He paused and shook his head. "I've got to tell you, Gibbs, you surprised me today. After six months went by, I figured you weren't the special event type."

"I was married to each of my wives for years," Gibbs said dryly. "After that, the longevity of a relationship doesn't seem so important. Birthdays, on the other hand, are about you...existing. Being here. Being alive. That's worth celebrating."

For a long moment Tony just stared at Gibbs. Long enough that Gibbs started to look a little concerned...and then Tony felt a grin stretch his lips and he couldn't help the gleeful chortles that welled up.

Gibbs's look of worry transformed into a scowl. "What?" he demanded.

"I can't believe it!" Tony chuckled. "You're a romantic!"

Gibbs snorted. "Yeah, well, you seem to like it just fine," he said, rolling onto his back.

Tony scooted over to drape himself over Gibbs. "I like you just fine," he said silkily.

"If you think I'm ready to go again so soon--"

"But you've had a couple of hours rest and a good meal," Tony teased. "Let's see how much fuel's left in the tanks, shall we?"

Gibbs moaned.


Sometimes, Tony forgot that working at NCIS didn't always mean tracking down murderers or kidnappers. Sometimes it meant hours at his desk, staring at his computer screen and trying to weave a thousand threads of information into a coherent picture. The violent crimes just tended to overwhelm his memory.

And to be honest, while he hated that working those cases meant good men and women had died or been terribly hurt, Tony preferred them. The streets were his turf, his area of expertise, just like Gibbs had the interrogation room and Kate had the people and McGee had the computers, the hardware.

Hunched down in the office all day like this, following a crime that was more about administration than action, Tony knew he was doing half what McGee was doing. Less, even. It made his contribution feel like busy work, even though he knew that Gibbs would never waste time like that.

"DiNozzo! Kate! McGee!"

Speak of the Devil and he shall appear, Tony thought wryly, rising to his feet as he saw Gibbs descending the stairs from the Director's office. He was scowling, but Tony knew by now that he wasn't actually pissed, just considering the angles. Of what, Tony didn't know.

"What's up, boss?" he asked curiously.

"You three committed to anything Thursday through Monday?" Gibbs asked, rather than answering Tony's question.

"I'm supposed to give a presentation on the Caldarone case on Friday, boss," McGee said, clearly hoping Gibbs had something in mind that was more urgent. Unfortunately for him, the request for the presentation had come straight from Director Morrow; Captain Caldarone had used some complicated sort of electronic and administrative shell game to arrange for personnel to ship out to the post of their choice--for a price. Tony hadn't been able to make heads or tails of that case, but McGee had distinguished himself, and the Director had noticed. Hence the presentation--McGee would be filling in other NCIS personnel on the tricks the Captain has used and how he'd countered them.

All of which Gibbs knew, which made it a little strange that he'd asked. Tony watched curiously to see where this was going. Kate didn't seem to think anything was odd, though she might be distracted by her own response. She looked uncharacteristically uncertain. "I...have a date on Saturday," she said reluctantly. Tony sympathized inwardly, though outwardly he only grinned. Gibbs didn't usually consider a date a conflict--as far as he was concerned, work trumped all.

But this time he just nodded and turned to Tony expectantly. Tony leaned back in his chair and thought fast. Normally he'd never admit that he didn't have any plans for a weekend, despite the fact that he hadn't been out with anybody but Gibbs since the centaur had first transformed for him. The sudden change in his social life might have attracted the wrong kind of attention if it hadn't been for the fact that said social life had been mostly just talk to begin with. Neither Kate nor McGee seemed to notice now that it was all talk.

But Gibbs knew just as much about Tony's plans as he did about McGee's and he was still asking. So... "No plans, boss," Tony said, leaning back in his chair and tossing Gibbs a look. Ball's in your court now.

"Good," Gibbs said briskly. "The Director is sending me to a LEO conference in New York. You're coming with me."

Tony narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "New York State or New York City?"


Coming just days after Tony's birthday and the accompanying discussion of his relationship with his parents--who just happened to live on Long Island--this was just a little too coincidental. Tony leaned back in his chair. "You know, normally I'd love the chance to indulge in the New York nightlife on the company dime," he drawled, "but I've just remembered, I'm supposed to meet up with a friend on Saturday and meet up with his Boy Scout troop."

It didn't even have to be a lie--a friend of Tony's from his Baltimore PD days had been trying to get him to come out and play Federal Agent for his boys for weeks now. Tony had been resisting. There was nothing quite so awkward as thirty little boys who wanted to know what NCIS was and why couldn't he have joined one of the cool agencies, like the FBI or CIA. But if it got him out of Gibbs's plan to drag him into a confrontation with his parents, it'd be worth it.

Unfortunately for Tony, Gibbs was all too aware of the fact that no such plans had actually been made, as yet. Tony was banking on him not risking calling attention to that in the office.

"I'm sure the Boy Scouts can reschedule," Gibbs said evenly.

"Hmmmm," Tony pretended to consider. "I'm not so sure about that. Summer is busy time of year for them."

Gibbs's glare grew positively flinty. "Do we need to talk about this in private, DiNozzo?" he asked coolly.

Tony managed to meet the glare, though something in the back of his mind quailed. "I don't know. Do we?"

"Elevator. Now."

Rising, Tony sauntered slowly after Gibbs. As he passed Kate's desk she leaned over and hissed, "What's going on?"

"Gibbs is in the mood for a pissing contest, I guess," Tony said dismissively. "But Kate--a date? Anyone I know?"

She scowled. "No."

Tony waggled his eyebrows. "Are you sure?"

Kate opened her mouth to response, but was cut off by Gibbs's sharp, "DiNozzo!"

Grimacing, not entirely for Kate's benefit, Tony turned and made for the elevators where Gibbs waited. As expected, Gibbs stopped the elevator between floors. "You know," Tony said, "one of these days someone is going to bug this elevator and then you're going to be fucked."

Gibbs ignored the remark. "You going to explain that little scene?" he demanded.

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you going to explain why you're suddenly playing nice with Director Morrow over this conference when you've always weaseled out of it before?" he countered. "It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that it's conveniently close to my parents, would it?"

"Of course it would," Gibbs said irritably. "This way I can go with you. We talked about this."

"We talked about my parents being out of touch assholes," Tony said incredulously. "You told me that I ought to go confront them, but I sure as hell didn't agree to actually do it."

"You need to do this, Tony," Gibbs insisted.

"That's funny, I seem to have done just fine up until now."

Gibbs lifted his eyebrows. "You call it 'just fine' when your parents can make you freeze up with just a package?"

"I didn't--"

"I was there, Tony," Gibbs interrupted. "You were upset. They don't have any right to do that to you, and you need to stop letting them."

"If I need this so much," Tony said tightly, "why haven't I done it myself?"

"I didn't say you wanted to. Just that you needed to. We can put off doing things that we need to do for a long time when we don't want to them."

"Speaking from personal experience?" Tony asked, running one hand through his hair and leaning back against the elevator wall with a sigh.

Gibbs smiled wryly. "Yeah." He didn't elaborate, but then, he didn't really have to.

"I really don't want to do this, boss," Tony muttered, his eyes dropping to study his shoes. "It's one day a year. I can deal."

"Tony." A hand landed on Tony's shoulder and squeezed. Looking up, Tony found Gibbs standing close enough to kiss. "Can you honestly tell me that it's just the one day?" Gibbs asked softly. "That you only ever think of them when that package arrives?"

Tony wanted to be able to say yes. He was tempted to say it anyway in spite of the Christmases and Thanksgivings when he worked because the rest of the guys had families that demanded their time. In spite of the dozens of times he'd been injured and there'd been no one at the hospital when he woke up except, occasionally, his partner.

He was tempted, but this was Gibbs, who had put an end to all that crap long before they'd been anything more to each other than supervisor and subordinate. When someone had to work the holidays, it had been the two of them--if not the whole team. Tony hadn't woken up alone in the hospital since he started with Gibbs. He'd been on the other side of the bed rails, too, taking his turn keeping an eye on a downed agent.

Besides which, Gibbs would smack him if he lied.

"Yeah, okay, so maybe it's not just one day," Tony admitted, "but you went ahead and arranged this without even asking to me about it. And that little talk we had on my birthday does not count."

Gibbs moved his hand from Tony's shoulder to the back of his neck, massaging the tense muscles there. Tony had to resist the urge to let his eyes slide shut. "You need this," Gibbs said simply, "and you needed me to start it, because you wouldn't do it on your own."

"I swear, one of these days I'll get my head screwed on straight enough that you won't have to worry about this shit."

The corner of Gibbs's mouth turned up a little. "And here I thought you were putting up with me."

Tony chuckled at that and pushed back into the hand that was still rubbing his neck and shoulders. "We better get back to work," he said, but didn't move away from Gibbs's touch.

"Yeah," Gibbs agreed. He caught Tony's eye and gave the nape of his neck one last, hard squeeze.

A shiver ran through Tony, but it left him warm and a little flushed, not cold.


Tony dragged his suitcase into the hotel room and contemplated the two queen size beds. If it had been Kate accompanying Gibbs on this trip, the agency would undoubtedly have sprung for two rooms, but since it was Tony, budgetary constraints outweighed propriety. He snorted at the irony.

But it was going to be nice to be able to wake up with Gibbs for four nights all in a row. They'd never managed more than two before, not even up at Jameson's place. They'd have to mess up the other bed, of course. Just in case. But still, four nights in a row. Tony felt like he'd been given a gift.

Hopefully, it would be enough to make up for five days of panels. At least this time it wasn't dried up old academics talking theory or overly perky enthusiasts pushing 'team building' exercises. This conference was largely attended and run by actual law enforcement officers of all stripes. FBI, CIA, PD, some military and, of course, NCIS. Gibbs himself was sitting on nearly a dozen panels.

Tony was planning on making it to every single one of those, even if it did mean he was technically wasting time because they could cover more panels if they split up. The idea of Gibbs actually being forced to explain his methods to people who didn't know better than to argue with him was too good to miss.

"Just leave your luggage somewhere," Gibbs directed, coming into the room behind Tony. "We have to go back downstairs and register."

"Gee, Gibbs, it almost sounds like you've been to one of these things before," Tony teased, laying his suitcase down in one corner of the room.

Gibbs shot him a mild glare as he deposited his own luggage at the end of one of the beds. "I have been to one of these before," he said. "I wasn't always in a position to get out of the damn things."

"Oh, they're not so bad," Tony said, patting his pockets to make sure he had his ID and registration confirmation before he followed Gibbs out of the hotel room and back towards the elevators. "A little boring maybe, but otherwise we get room service, access to a pool, and a hot tub, all on the NCIS tab. What's to complain about?"

As they stepped into the elevator Gibbs gave him a sardonic look. "Obviously you've never sat on the panels," he said dryly. "Hour after hour of idiotic questions from virtual rookies who are all convinced they're better than you just because they ended up in the CIA or FBI or hell, some taskforce in some police department somewhere instead of in an agency half of them haven't even heard of. You'd think that LEOs would have more respect for the armed services than the rest of the population, but once you're in the spotlight you discover pretty fast that there are just as many LEO assholes ready to pile all kinds of blame on loyal soldiers as there are civilian assholes. Whether or not you're happy with the current administration, men and women who sign up to put their lives on the line for their country deserve more fucking respect than that."

With eerie timing, the elevator stopped just then and Gibbs stalked out of it. Tony jogged a couple of steps to catch up with him and fell into step next to the former Marine. "Sorry, boss," he muttered, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Gibbs's eyebrows rose and his agitated stride slowed. "You've got nothing to apologize for, Tony. You're a hell of a lot more like those soldiers than you are like the assholes."

"Me?" Tony snorted. "I'd never have made it in the military, Gibbs."

"I didn't say you would have." A half smile took the sting out of the words. "But just because your personality isn't suited to it doesn't mean your heart isn't."

Tony couldn't meet his eyes, instead watching the marble tiles of the hotel lobby give way to carpeted hallways under his feet as they found their way into the convention center. "How do you know?"

"Because a man with an investment portfolio like the one your aunt left you doesn't take up law enforcement to keep busy. You could get by on the interest alone if you didn't have to keep replacing $400 pairs of shoes."

Tony could feel his cheeks flush with heat. "I didn't think you knew about that."

Gibbs shot him an amused glance. "An NCIS agent, particularly a new NCIS agent, doesn't make enough money to wear Armani to work, DiNozzo. For a few days there, I thought I'd been wrong about you. Fortunately, it didn't take much digging to turn up the extra source of income."

"Makes refusing to crawl back home to my parents a lot less noble, doesn't it?" Tony muttered. His shoulders hunched a little at the reminder of the real reason they were in New York.

The smack upside the head caught Tony completely by surprise. Automatically he straightened up indignantly and put a hand up to rub the back of his head, scowling at Gibbs. "What was that for?"

"For being an idiot," Gibbs answered sharply. "There's a difference between getting by and the kind of wealth that makes people fall all over themselves to open doors for you. And they're your family. It's hard to stick to your guns when family is pushing hard for you to fall into line with their plans."

"Speaking of which, when are we taking our little side trip?"

Gibbs started to answer, then stopped as they rounded a corner and found themselves in the middle of the conference registration area. Men and women milled around, canvas bags bearing the convention's name and logo in their hands, or stood in lines of varying lengths, all of them eyeing the shorter lines with envy.

Frustrated, Tony nevertheless joined the line under the "A-D" sign and settled in for the wait. Gibbs bypassed the vast majority of the lines, instead coming to stand behind just one other person in the "Panelists" line.

Finally it was Tony's turn to present his ID and accept a name badge and canvas bag of his own. Weaving his way back out of the thickest part of the crowd, Tony glanced around, expecting to find Gibbs waiting for him in the nearest clear spot, but the other man was nowhere within sight.

Frowning, Tony slowed his step and scanned the crowd again, but Gibbs was definitely gone. Uneasiness infected Tony and he found himself glancing into every niche as he made his way back to the hotel lobby and the elevators that would take him back to their room.

He heard Gibbs before he saw him. He was speaking quietly enough that Tony couldn't quite make out the words, but there was an intensity to his tone that was very familiar. That was a herd stallion talking. Easing up to an alcove with a couple of seats and a plant in it, Tony found Gibbs facing another man, both of them standing in an openly aggressive posture.

Not that Gibbs wasn't usually pretty aggressive, but now he had his shoulders squared and his jaw set, his hands clenched into fists down by his thighs and his chin raised. Just his body language made Tony duck his head a little instinctively. He had no idea how the other guy, a man with black hair and a solid, compact body under his suit, was not only facing up to Gibbs, but actually leaning forward a little.

Warily, Tony started to back away from the two men, not wanting to get into the middle of whatever the hell this was. If necessary, Gibbs was more than capable of handling himself against a younger opponent, even a well trained one, and Tony didn't want to become a distraction. He'd just be a couple of steps away if Gibbs needed backup.

At least, that was the plan--right up until Gibbs's hand shot out, caught Tony by the wrist, and yanked him roughly behind Gibbs's body. Instinctively, Tony steadied himself with a hand on Gibbs's shoulder, then quickly let go, not wanting to get in the way if Gibbs needed to move.

For a long moment, they simply held the new tableau. The stranger's flickered from Gibbs to Tony only for a moment, though a puzzled wrinkle formed between his eyes.

"Boss?" Tony asked. "What's going on?"

"He's like me," Gibbs said tightly.

It took a moment for that to process. Like Gibbs. Like Gibbs as in, another centaur, Tony realized with a shock. Not just another centaur. Obviously another stallion. Memory assaulted Tony suddenly, a possibility that had seemed unlikely suddenly flashing into new urgency.

Stallions fight to the death for control of the herd.

"He's human," the other centaur said, his eyebrows drawing down in confusion.

"He's mine," Gibbs snarled. The hand he still had around Tony's wrist tightened painfully, but Tony swallowed his reaction.

"That kind of hurts, boss," he whispered as meekly as he could manage. The grip on his wrist eased up, but that was all. Carefully, Tony tilted his head to look at the stranger over Gibbs's shoulder. Since introductions didn't seem to be a priority, it was a relief to see that the man had already registered and was wearing his name tag. Don Eppes. FBI.

Should have figured he was a Fed, with that suit, Tony thought, amused.

"I'm not looking to move in on your territory," Eppes said, "but you have no claim on this conference or this hotel or," he paused, eyes going to Tony again, "almost anyone in it."

"Neither do you."

"You keep out of my way, I'll keep out of your way."

Gibbs stiffened more, if that was even possible. "This isn't a negotiation."

Eppes's lips went white, he pressed them together so hard. "I wasn't trying to order you around. I just don't think that we want to try to settle things properly in a building full of agents, special agents, and cops of all stripes."

After a moment, a tiny fraction of the tension in Gibbs's shoulders eased. "No," he agreed. "It's a big conference. We don't need to run into each other again."

Despite having reached this agreement, neither centaur moved. Eventually it dawned on Tony that neither of them was going to concede a point in the confrontation by retreating first. "Boss?" he said tentatively.

Instantly half of Gibbs's attention was fixed on Tony. "Problem?" he asked, his tone so soft and concerned that Tony had to bite back an automatic reassurance.

"Not an immediate problem, but...remember what we were talking about before we got to registration?"

Another fraction of Gibbs's attention eased away from Eppes. "You want to go back to the room?"

"Please," Tony murmured, stroking his hand over Gibbs's hip and thigh. Not the best idea when they were more or less in public, but Gibbs's body pretty much blocked the touch from any accidental glances, and he needed to get Gibbs away from Eppes.

Gibbs stepped carefully away from Eppes and back out into the hallway proper, drawing Tony after him with the grip on his wrist. He didn't let go until they were several steps away. Tony found himself wishing he could take Gibbs's hand in his own, but they were more or less surrounded by people now. Not a good idea.

Instead Tony watched Gibbs, half afraid that he'd explode even now that he was away from Eppes. There certainly didn't seem to be any relaxation of the tension that the encounter had generated. But they got all the way to the elevators and up to their floor and into their room safely.

At which point he promptly burst into a round of swearing that reminded Tony vividly and graphically that Gibbs had been a Marine for years before he was ever an NCIS special agent. Tony couldn't help but grin at some of the more creative phrases.

Gibbs caught sight of the smile. "What?"

Tony tried, unsuccessfully, to rein in his amusement. "Sorry, boss," he said, "but you've got a hell of a vocabulary. I'm gonna have to remember some of those."

Gibbs glared at him, then snorted and shook his head sharply. "This is fucking everything up. I didn't expect to meet another centaur here." He scowled to himself. "I should have, though. Most unattached stallions are pretty aggressive. They fit right into law enforcement."

"Hey," Tony said. He wanted to reach out, but he was a little afraid that, as tense as he was, Gibbs would hurt himself if Tony startled him. "So things didn't exactly get started on the right foot. You steer clear of him, he steers clear of you, it'll all work out."

"I'm..." Gibbs ground to a halt, then pushed onward. "I'm supposed to be here for you. It's the only reason I came to this damn thing, and now I've got another stallion distracting me when you need me." He pounded his clenched hand on his thigh and dropped down to sit on one of the beds.

Biting back his automatic response--that he could take care of himself very well, thank you--Tony sat down next to Gibbs and turned his head to look at the centaur, though Gibbs was only glaring at the floor. "You're still here," he said, as lightly as he could. He let a smile creep into his voice and waggled his eyebrows. "You want to take the edge off?"

"Is sex your answer to everything?" Gibbs asked wryly, finally looking up at Tony.

"Um. Yes?" Tony said, blinking innocently. He grinned suddenly. "Hey, it's your answer to quite a few things, too. And look! All these new walls to shove me up against."

A smile tugged at the corner of Gibbs's mouth. "I'm very tempted, but I get the feeling I'm going to need you a whole lot more later than I do right now."

"Oh." Still, Tony couldn't really be disappointed, not when Gibbs was looking at him like that and he knew that as wound up as Gibbs was now, he'd probably be far worse in a couple of days. It made Tony swallow heavily to think of the intensity Gibbs would undoubtedly bring to bed with him. His ass would certainly get a work out...which meant it probably was better if he wasn't already sore. "I think I see what you mean," Tony conceded aloud.

Gibbs cupped his hand around the nape of Tony's neck and drew him in for a long, slow kiss. "Doesn't mean I don't want you," he murmured against Tony's lips. "Doesn't mean I'm not going to have you some other way."

"Yeah?" Tony said. He leaned in for another kiss, but Gibbs drew back.


Tony groaned and flopped back on the bed. "Tease," he accused.

Gibbs just laughed and patted him on the thigh. "Enjoy the anticipation," he advised. "We still have five days of conference to get through."

"Right, that," Tony sighed. "I assume you registered before your run in with Eppes."


Tony propped himself up on his elbows and looked at Gibbs, puzzled. "Special Agent Don Eppes, FBI, also known as the centaur you had a staring contest with just now."

"Ah. We didn't exactly stop for introductions," Gibbs explained.

"He was wearing his name tag, boss."

"I wasn't worried about his name tag. Speaking of which," Gibbs paused and fished his own out of his pocket, "yes, I did remember to register."

Tony frowned. "Why is yours red?" he asked, holding up his own name badge. The plastic frame was white.

"Presumably because I'm a panelist."

Oh, shit, Tony thought to himself. He all but lunged off the bed and snatched up the programming book that had come in the canvas bag of information and advertising pamphlets. He didn't bother to return to the bed to sit, just started flipping through it where he crouched on the floor.

"Problem, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked briskly.

Tony didn't look up. "Eppes's badge was red, too," he said, still paging through the booklet to get to the panel details. There were four streams of programming: Terrorism and Homeland Security, Administration, Personnel, and Forensics. Gibbs was sitting on something like a dozen of them, apparently the best the Director could do at the last minute. "Aw, shit," he muttered.

"Tony," Gibbs prompted impatiently.

Sitting heavily on the floor, Tony looked up to find Gibbs leaning forward, his elbows braced on his thighs. "You're sitting on three panels with Eppes. As if that wasn't bad enough, he's moderating two of them."

"Shit." Gibbs frowned heavily, considering. "When's the first one?"

"Where's your own package?" Tony countered.

"I left it downstairs," Gibbs said impatiently. "I was a little distracted. Now when's the first one?"

"You're sitting on a panel this evening." Tony checked his watch. They still had a couple of hours before that. "But the first one you're sharing with Eppes is tomorrow at 10:00am. You're clear of him Saturday, but both of the other two panels are on Sunday."

"Less than twelve hours to learn to suppress hundreds of years of instinct," Gibbs said dryly. "This is going to be fun."


That afternoon and evening went as well as Tony supposed they could. The conference hadn't really shifted into high gear yet; attendees were still arriving and Tony guessed that many of them were crashing in their rooms and gleefully charging room service to their varying organizations rather than diving right into the conference. Perhaps a dozen people showed up at Gibbs's panel and one of the other panelists didn't appear at all.

Despite that, discussion was lively and the audience around Tony seemed interested, even if none of them risked interrupting Gibbs and the other two panelists with a question. The panel came to a close promptly and Gibbs was up and out of his seat before anyone in the audience could think to approach him.

Tony knew they ought to have split up after that, but Gibbs didn't show any inclination to let him wander off on his own. To be honest, he wasn't too comfortable letting Gibbs out of his sight either. He couldn't stop remembering stallions fight to the death. It echoed through his mind whenever he wasn't forcing his concentration somewhere else. By the time they got out of the last panel they had an interest in seeing that day, Tony was as tense as Gibbs and both of them were looking over their shoulders like criminals on the run. Given the crowd they were in, it was making them more noticeable than either of them wanted.

Returning to the room and getting a locked door between them and the rest of the world was enough to make Tony release an audible breath of relief. Gibbs, shrugging out of his jacket, shot him an understanding look. "I'm grabbing a shower," he announced, toeing out of his dress shoes.

"You going to be long?" Tony asked, pouting a little. He'd been looking forward to a shower of his own.

"I don't know," Gibbs said easily, "you going to join me?"

Tony scrambled out of bed and pulled his shirt off over his head. "I like the way you think," he said, voice momentarily muffled by the fabric, and tossed the garment aside.

The water pressure in the bathroom was terrible and they had to turn the tap almost all the way around to get water that was reasonably hot, but Tony didn't really care. Gibbs was naked and wet and apparently determined to wash Tony thoroughly. Leaning back against Gibbs, Tony let his eyes close and just enjoyed the firm, steady strokes of the washcloth over his neck and chest, down the lengths of his arms and, strangely gentle, between his fingers.

Gibbs pressed his cheek against Tony's as he reached down to massage Tony's belly with the soap slick cloth. Tony sighed softly, unconsciously, and only reluctantly straightened up when Gibbs knelt to wash his legs. As he was systematically scrubbed, Tony felt the sudden, soft touch of lips at the small of his back. Even against water-warmed skin Gibbs's mouth was hot. The silent, sucking kisses stole Tony's attention, distracting him so that he was surprised when Gibbs straightened up and turned him so that they stood face to face.

Water poured down Tony's back, erasing the lingering echo of Gibbs's lips, but it was okay. He could cover those lips with his own now and did, parting them with the pressure of his own mouth and sliding his tongue inside. Gibbs kissed back, sucking on Tony's tongue and drawing him even deeper, but he never stopped the motions of the washcloth. The slow circling motions were almost a massage as he covered Tony's shoulders and back, and they drove out the tension just as thoroughly.

And then the nubbly, soapy cloth swept over Tony's ass and he moaned into their kiss, arousal finally rising high enough to make Tony thicken and grow hard. Gibbs stroked each cheek just as he had the rest of Tony's body, but when that was over, when there was no more washing to be done, he rubbed the rough, wet cloth over Tony's hole again and again. Tony moaned and kissed him harder, pulled their bodies together and rubbed himself over Gibbs's wet, smooth skin.

Finally Gibbs dropped the cloth and just filled his hands with Tony's ass instead, kneading heavily. He was, Tony discovered as he pushed his belly against Gibbs, just as hard as Tony was. There was a slickness to him, too, that couldn't be water alone.

Hunger snaked through Tony and he pulled away from the kiss, instead dropping carefully to his knees, using Gibbs's body to steady himself lest he lose his balance on the slippery, sloping bottom of the bathtub. But he got down eventually and then he was there, on a level with Gibbs's cock, dark with hunger and standing out eagerly from Gibbs's belly.

Tony wrapped his hand around Gibbs's cock, his mouth already watering in anticipation, and took a moment to enjoy the way it twitched and swelled in his hand before he leaned in and wrapped his lips around the head. Above him Gibbs cursed and moaned, but Tony was paying more attention to the tight, hot flesh in his mouth. The salt-bitter taste of precome exploded on his tongue and he swallowed involuntarily, a spike of heat running through him.

Moaning, it took Tony a moment to scrape enough of his brain together to remember to jack the length of Gibbs's cock as he sucked. The trembling in Gibbs's hips as he struggled to hold still was Tony's reward. Dropping his free hand between his legs, Tony fisted his own cock and moaned again.

There was something about having Gibbs in his mouth that Tony could never get enough of. Maybe it was the tiny, desperately reined in little thrusts as Gibbs's hunger for more warred with his need not to choke Tony. Maybe it was the taste of his come, slick and welcome on Tony's tongue. Maybe it was the thickness of him, stretching Tony's lips, or the heat or the gasps and cries Gibbs made as he got closer to coming.

Whatever the reason, Tony sucked eagerly on Gibbs's cock, trying not to work either of them too fast, to end this moment too soon. Water pattered against Tony's back, cooling his skin or heating it, he wasn't sure which. One of Gibbs's hands palmed the curve of his head, fingers stroking over hair plastered down wet. Tony answered the touch by sliding down a little deeper, letting his lips meet his hand.

"Oh, God," Gibbs muttered, his thumb rubbing over Tony's scalp, a restless little movement that betrayed some buried wish to pull Tony down on his cock, to fill his throat with its thickness.

Tony's hips jerked into his hand at that thought. It would have to end soon, he knew. As much as he wanted to hold Gibbs inside himself like this forever, his jaw was aching and his knees protesting the hardness of the bathtub in which he knelt, and he was so close that Tony felt like one little squeeze of his hand or one word from Gibbs might undo him completely.

So he let go of Gibbs's cock, curling his hand around the man's hip instead, and drew a breath in through his nose and relaxed and swallowed Gibbs down. All the way down, letting the length of him slip past Tony's lips and into his throat, filling himself up with Gibbs until he couldn't even breathe around the whole of him.

With a sudden, choked "Fuck" Gibbs came, shaking with the effort of holding still, his breath stuttering and catching roughly.

Eyes closed, Tony held still, letting his throat work Gibbs's cock as he swallowed. For a long moment there was nothing but the weight of Gibbs's cock on his tongue and the thickness of him in Tony's throat and the taste of him as he came. Unconsciously, Tony fucked his own fist, driving himself closer to his own completion.

Finally he had to pull back, but just enough to pull a breath in through his nose. With just the head of Gibbs's cock between his lips again, Tony sucked hard, tasted a last little burst of come, and spilled his own release over his hand. He let Gibbs's cock fall from his mouth reluctantly and leaned his forehead against Gibbs's hip as the last shivers of completion wracked his body.

"Come up here," Gibbs said at last, tugging on Tony's arm.

Tony climbed to his feet carefully and fell into the kiss Gibbs demanded from him. When he pulled black he smiled lazily. "I love the way you taste."

Gibbs smiled back. "I love the way you taste me," he returned, and Tony laughed.

They rinsed quickly before stepping out of the shower. Gibbs insisted on drying Tony off, just as he'd washed him. Tony let him, feeling slightly bemused. Gibbs wasn't usually so insistent on doing everything.

Only later, after they'd eaten, checked over their schedule for the next day, and crawled into bed, did Tony figure out what was going on. It was the possessive way that Gibbs tugged Tony into the curve of his body and held him there that gave him away. Gibbs might feel he needed to resist fucking Tony into the mattress, for tonight at least, but he still needed to know, to feel that Tony belonged to him.


As 10:00am the next morning inexorably approached, the calm with which Gibbs had woken that morning steadily, rapidly, and visibly diminished. Tony settled into a chair in the third row of the audience. Normally he was a back of the classroom kind of guy, but if Gibbs lunged for Eppes's throat, he wanted to be close enough to see and intercept.

He wasn't entirely sure he was speaking metaphorically.

Gibbs had arrived a bare couple of minutes before the FBI agent and had staked out a chair at the far end of the table. This, Tony had decided, was both a good and bad sign. Gibbs's insistence on arriving first suggested that he was definitely trying to score points off of Eppes. On the other hand, he'd at least thought to leave two seats between them. Tony didn't envy the panelists who would be sitting between the two centaurs.

When Eppes arrived he took a very deliberate look at Gibbs and the empty chairs before slowly sinking into the seat Gibbs had intended for him. Tony breathed a silent sigh of relief--he'd been a little worried that Eppes would take a seat closer to Gibbs just to thwart Gibbs's intended strategy. So far, so good.

The other two panelists arrived, greeted Gibbs and Eppes cheerfully, and took the seats left for them. One of them picked up the tension immediately. She glanced uneasily at Eppes, sitting on her left. His smile was probably intended to be reassuring, but the tightness of it made Tony wince. The last panelist was apparently oblivious. How, Tony didn't know, not when he was sitting next to Gibbs.

The audience, slowly trickling in as the clock ticked over from 9:58 to 9:59, unconsciously gravitated towards the back of the room. The first row was completely deserted, the second held only two people, and Tony was one of only a handful in the third. Cops have good instincts, Tony thought wryly. Even when they're more or less off duty.

At 10:00am precisely, Eppes straightened up and caught the eye of someone sitting near door. "If you could close the doors, please?" he asked. "It's time to get started."

The doors thumped closed with a disturbing finality. Tony had to resist the urge to check his gun. One of the people in the second row actually reached up and patted his own weapon before freezing and lowering his hand casually.

"This panel is Recognizing and Intercepting Terrorist Strikes on Domestic Targets," Eppes began. "If you're in the wrong panel, please take a moment now to leave." He paused, but no one rose to depart. "All right, then, if we're all in the right place, I'd like the panelists to introduce themselves. We'll start on my far right." He looked expectantly over at Gibbs.

Gibbs's jaw tightened, but although his tone was clipped, he kept to his introduction. "Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. I have twenty-one years in service with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service."

The man next to Gibbs turned out to be a Ph.D. in political science with some administrative, non-field position which, Tony figured, accounted for his cluelessness when it came to his fellow panelists. The woman was FBI, like Eppes, but assigned specifically to one of the many terrorism task forces that had sprung up in the wake of 9/11. Eppes himself simply introduced himself as, "Special Agent Don Eppes, from the L.A. office of the FBI."

Tony could see Gibbs's eyes narrow at that. Who was Eppes and why was he moderating this panel? Tony suspected Eppes had simply registered early enough to get the inside track on the conference programming, but he was equally sure that Gibbs wasn't thinking along those lines. Not when his instincts were screaming at him that this man was dangerous.

But somehow, he managed to hold his tongue. Tony was impressed. Gibbs was not known for restraining his honest opinion, regardless of who he was speaking to. Or maybe, Tony realized, he just never encountered a situation in which he really believed it was necessary.

Eppes got the discussion going, his prerogative as moderator, and Gibbs ground his teeth and said nothing. Things slowly gained momentum and Tony dared to relax a little and hope that the two centaurs would simply continue to ignore one another. And if they ignored each other to the point of cutting each other off and interrupting trains of thought...well, the alternative was worse.

They were just minutes away from making it out of the panel without casualties--literal or figurative--when disaster struck. It would have been such an innocent comment, if only it hadn't touched on one of the central issues in a case that had sent Gibbs on a months-long, ultimately frustrated vendetta. Tony was certain that Eppes hadn't meant to provoke Gibbs when he finished off a discussion with the comment:

"As long as personnel actually follow set security protocols, it shouldn't be a problem. It's breaches of proper procedure that most often lead to successful attacks."

Gibbs's snort was loud and pointed.

Eppes's back stiffened visibly. "You disagree, Special Agent Gibbs?" he prompted coolly.

"Anyone with a shred of good sense would disagree," Gibbs said. He leaned forward a little and stared at Eppes across the other two panelists. "We wouldn't have terrorist attacks at all if existing security protocols were sufficient."

"They're only sufficient if people actually obey them," Eppes countered. "If you'd been listening, maybe you would have absorbed that."

"If you had any significant experience with attempted terrorist attacks, maybe you'd have learned to think outside the box," Gibbs shot back. "My team has dealt with a terrorist who took hostages in NCIS headquarters itself by the simple expedient of zipping himself into a body bag. Of course, he was only the damage control for a second terrorist who very nearly started a smallpox epidemic with a bottle of nose spray and a job at McDonald's."

"Apparently FBI security protocol is a little ahead of NCIS protocol."

"And if the L.A. area were half the terrorist target that D.C. is, it might actually be possible to test that theory," Gibbs drawled. "Perhaps your confidence in your...protocols is a result of the fact that they've never been seriously tested."

"The intentional release of a deadly virus, a dirty bomb threat, a sniper who picks off victims at random...these don't qualify as terrorist acts?" Eppes asked incredulously.

"Technically." Gibbs leaned back in his seat, the picture of confidence. "But on top of several such...borderline cases, my team has also dealt with a weapons smuggling ring and not one, but two attempts on the life of the President of the United States."

Eppes's eyes narrowed. "I suppose it's only reasonable to expect your people to have more experience. After all, who's going to be dealing with breaches in security more than a pack of glorified internal affairs cops?"

"I suppose I shouldn't surprised by your blind naivete," Gibbs snarled back. "You must need it just to function, given how many corrupt Feds I've taken down."

Tony moaned softly and covered his face with one hand. Fifty minutes. They couldn't even hold out for fifty minutes. I have to get Gibbs out of here before they go for each other's throats. He hesitated to get in between the two centaurs, but he was more afraid of what the next thing to come out of Eppes's mouth might be.

Gripping his courage in both metaphorical hands, Tony forced himself to his feet. "Gibbs!" Gibbs and Eppes broke their mutual glare and pinned Tony with furious gazes instead. He swallowed an uncertain laugh and tried to ignore Eppes. "We have another panel to get to," Tony said weakly, tapping his watch.

"We're not done here," Gibbs bit out.

"Actually, we are." Eppes all but smirked. "It's five to eleven. We were supposed to be out of here five minutes ago."

The other panelists and the audience rose and made for the doors with a speed Tony envied. He was stuck in this room with two riled up centaurs, neither of whom seemed inclined to retreat first. Tony heaved an internal sigh and waited. He didn't want to play the "I need to go" card too many times too soon.

Finally Eppes rose, gathered his things together and headed for the door. Gibbs smiled in momentary satisfaction, but Eppes paused in the doorway with a smile of his own. "See you on Sunday," he said pointedly.

Gibbs was left glaring at an empty doorway.

Hesitantly, Tony made his way up to the panelists' table and waited. Eventually Gibbs snorted to himself and rose. He came around the end of the table and put a hand on Tony's back, steering him out into the hallway and past the clot of people who'd gathered, waiting for Gibbs's panel to finish so that theirs could begin. No one gave them any odd looks, despite the possessive touch, for which Tony was distantly grateful.

"Well, that was a disaster," Gibbs said grimly once they'd made their way into one of the quieter parts of the convention center.

"Look on the bright side," Tony offered. "If this keeps up, Director Morrow will never send you to one of these again."

Gibbs managed a short laugh at that. In the small of Tony's back, his thumb rubbed a tiny little circle. "Let's go for lunch."

"It's barely eleven o'clock," Tony protested.

"Lunch," Gibbs repeated.

Okay, so maybe it would be a good idea to get out of the building for awhile, Tony conceded silently.

They drove around for a few minutes, just keeping an eye on the restaurants they passed, until they found a likely looking place. Gibbs relaxed visibly when they got out of sight of the hotel. Tony was both relieved and a little disappointed. It was nice to know Gibbs was a little further from snapping and going on some sort of rampage, but it did deprive Tony of an excuse to actually ask questions about centaurs. Most of the time he just didn't know where to start.

But there'd be other chances to ask questions like that, and they didn't get too many opportunities to go out to lunch when it was just the two of them. It was nice enough hanging out with Ducky and Kate and occasionally Abby and McGee, but Tony couldn't flirt with his lover or play footsie under the table when they were along for the ride.

"Tony," Gibbs said warningly...but he didn't move his leg away from Tony's questing, sock-clad foot.

Tony just grinned and stroked Gibbs's calf with his toes while he contemplated the menu. In his peripheral vision he could see Gibbs turn the page on the menu, pause, and then turn it back to reread the first set of options. When they weren't on the job, Tony mused, Gibbs was surprisingly easy to distract.

Lunch was good and there was a football game playing on the TVs set into brackets on the walls of the restaurant. Gibbs didn't seem to mind Tony's wandering attention, though he barely glanced at the sets himself. "I don't know how a red-blooded American male like you managed to avoid developing any interest in sports at all," Tony said, looking away from the set as it went to commercial.

Gibbs shrugged. "A lot of us find sports boring." Mentally, Tony translated 'us' to mean 'centaurs'. "They're just too simple. When you've got a nearly perfect memory, the more complex a game is, the better."

"So what games do you play?" Tony asked, leaning forward, a bite of food forgotten his fork.

A warm, firm touch along Tony's ankle startled a laugh out of him. "Aside from that one," he said, waggling his eyebrows. The touch vanished. "I didn't mean you should stop."

Gibbs just shook his head, smiling. "Tag," he said.

Tony blinked. "You play tag?" he asked skeptically. "How is tag complex?"

"Depends on how many rules you set and where you play, doesn't it?" Gibbs paused, as if lost in memory. "Before I was fostered out, I played one version with nearly a hundred rules. I think we spent as much time arguing about who won as we did actually playing."

Tony tried desperately to imagine Gibbs as an awkward, long-legged centaur colt, chasing other youngsters through a field and arguing fiercely when he was caught. The vision hovered just out of reach of his imagination, a victim of too little information. Tony gave up, dropping his gaze to his meal. "I wish you had pictures," he sighed.

They both knew why there were none. The safety of thousands of centaurs depended almost entirely on the fact that no one really believed they existed. Pictures, video, any real record was too dangerous for the herds to tolerate. Maybe it didn't matter to the centaurs themselves, but Tony had to wonder if there were any other humans out there struggling to piece together bits of history like this.

"There are some things I'm never going to be able to give you, Tony," Gibbs said. He set down his own fork with a clink. "That doesn't mean I wouldn't if I could."

Tony managed a smile. "Yeah, I know. And the fact that there are things I still wish for doesn't mean I don't love what I have." Even as he said it, Tony could see a calculating look come into Gibbs's eyes and he knew the centaur had just started plotting a way to give him those things. It both exasperated Tony and made him fall in love all over again. Gibbs just couldn't let things rest; he wanted everything to be right, to be good, and he drove himself crazy trying for it sometimes.

It was a good thing Tony was there to distract him.

"So, what's the plan for tonight?" Tony asked, raising his eyebrows hopefully. Hotel room, two beds, both of which they were required to mess up. Oh, the possibilities.

But Gibbs's expression took on a serious cast. "I thought we'd visit your parents. Get it out of the way sooner rather than later."

Shit. Tony pushed his food away from himself and leaned back in his chair. "Then I'd better call ahead," he said reluctantly.

"Call ahead? Why? I know your father is in town." Of course Gibbs would have checked. He wouldn't risk enduring this conference on the mere chance that Tony's parents would be around.

Tony got his cell phone out of his pocket and looked up the number he'd programmed into it for his father. He'd had to look it up before they left. "To make sure he's at home and is willing to see me," he answered the question.

Gibbs frowned. "What about your stepmother?"

Tony smiled sourly. "She'll be home, but I doubt we'll see her."

The phone rang twice before being answered by a woman who spoke in a brisk, businesslike tone. "DiNozzo residence."

"This is Tony. Is Mr. DiNozzo going to be available this evening?"

There was a pause on the line. "Could I have your full name, sir?" the secretary asked after a moment.

Tony sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "Anthony Michael DiNozzo. Mr. DiNozzo's son."

Another pause. "I'll be with you in a moment, sir." Looking up at Gibbs, Tony grimaced and shrugged as he waited. There was no real reason for his father's secretary to recognize his voice, or his nickname, even if she was the one who most likely picked out the presents that arrived with such precision. She wasn't the same secretary who'd been working with his father when Tony had left home. "He will be in this evening. If you could plan your arrival for 6:30pm, that would be most convenient."

"6:30 it is," Tony agreed.

"Good day, Mr. DiNozzo."

She hung up before he could say goodbye in return.

Tony flipped the cell phone shut and dropped it back into his jacket pocket. "So, off to the executioner at 6:30 tonight," he said glibly. "Too bad midnight was taken. It seems so much more appropriate."

Gibbs leaned forward on table. Their waitress appeared and he paused to let her clear the table and drop off the check. When she left his eyes followed her for a moment, returning to Tony only when he judged her out of ear shot. "It's a confrontation, not an execution, Tony. Don't let yourself get into that mindset before you even get there."

"You're not being very reassuring," Tony said dryly.

"Reassuring isn't exactly my specialty."

"Oh, I don't know," Tony said, peeking at the check before Gibbs laid the NCIS expense card on top of it. Far too reasonable, he thought to himself. He needed to work harder to break Gibbs of his frugal tendencies. "I'm always pretty reassured when you're backing me up."

The sudden silence across the table prompted Tony to look up. Gibbs had a strange expression on his face. After a moment it passed and he looked away from Tony, apparently trying to catch their server's attention. "I'm glad you feel that way," Gibbs said, giving the waitress a small signal.

Tony suddenly realized just what that expression had been. He grinned and bumped Gibbs's foot with his own. "Hey. Life is good, yeah?"

Gibbs met his gaze and the smile he gave Tony was so unexpectedly warm that Tony's breath caught in his throat. "Yeah."


The house was a mansion. Tony knew this. He'd always known this, but somehow he'd never really thought of it that way until this moment. When he'd lived there it has just been home. Even when he'd been away during prep school and later during college it had only been his parents' place. But after being gone for ten years solid, it was a mansion, and it was intimidating as hell.

"Didn't figure the trappings would throw you off," Gibbs murmured as they approached the front door.

"Neither did I." Tony tried to work up a little anger that they had. "I've been away a long time."

Gibbs placed a hand briefly in the small of Tony's back, just a quick touch, as if to remind Tony he was there. Tony let out a breath and felt some of the nerves go with it. By the time they reached the front door he was feeling more or less steady. Enough to ring the doorbell, anyway.

The door was opened promptly and crisply by an older man in a dark, conservative suit. Unlike the secretary, Tony recognized him and found himself smiling. "George. Still holding the fort after all this time?"

George stepped back from the door and invited them in with a small smile. "Tony. It has been a long time. May I take your coats?" His eyes flickered curiously to Gibbs, but the question went unvoiced.

"I don't think we'll be staying long enough for it to be worth it," Tony said wryly. "This is my boss, by the way. Jethro Gibbs, meet George Birch. He's been keeping this place running almost since before I was born."

"Half of this place," George corrected, returning Gibbs's nod of greeting. "The other half is Mrs. Herbert's domain."

"I stand corrected," Tony said, smiling.

"Your father has asked me to have you wait in the sitting room," George said, a touch apologetically. "He will be down shortly."

Tony could feel his shoulders start to knot up. "Sure, George. Lead the way."

The sitting room had been redecorated since the last time Tony saw it. He supposed that shouldn't surprise him. Even before he'd left his stepmother had seemed convinced she was losing her purpose in life if a single room in the house remained unchanged for much for than a year. The current configuration of the sitting room was probably a concession to his father--it was done in dark leather and green, everything obviously expensive and virtually uncreased. Tony couldn't bring himself to sit down in any of the immaculate chairs. He studied one of the tasteful but bland pieces of art on the walls instead.

"Anthony. I take it you received our gift."

Tony turned to face the man who stood in the doorway to the sitting room. His father. He smiled tightly. "I did. Sorry to say it doesn't really go with my decor, though."

"Antiques are meant to inspire decor, not to slot into it," the older DiNozzo said dismissively. "Won't you introduce me to your guest, Anthony?" he said pointedly.

Tony shoved his hands into his pockets. "This is my supervisor, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs, this is my father, Salvatore DiNozzo."

The two men nodded warily at each other, but neither offered a hand to shake. At length Salvatore broke the gaze and turned a curious look on Tony. "I was under the impression this was a personal visit. Was Andrea mistaken?"

Tony could only assume that Andrea was the secretary. "No," he said. "It is a personal visit."

"Then may I ask why you've brought your supervisor with you?"

"I'm a reference," Gibbs interjected dryly.

"A reference?" Salvatore asked, arching an eloquent eyebrow.

Tony sighed and resisted the urge to run a hand through his hair. "I came to ask you to stop sending the presents."

Salvatore frowned, as if honestly puzzled by this request. "You don't want birthday gifts from your parents?"

"It's not the gifts that are the problem, really." Tony hesitated and forced himself not to look over at Gibbs. "It's the letters. The same letter, pretty much. Every year, the same letter."

A hard edge crept into Salvatore's expression. "Anthony. Despite everything, you are my son. I'm not going to give up on you. You're young. You still have a chance to build a real life for yourself."

"I have a real life!" Tony burst out. "I was a good cop and I'm a good NCIS agent. Damn it, I like what I do. I'm proud of it. That's worth something to me, even if it isn't worth anything to you. I want you to stop trying to convince me to throw away the life I built for myself!"

"You didn't build anything," Salvatore said derisively. "A business is something you build. Even an investment portfolio is something you build. The police force is just something into. You didn't even do that. You made a stupid mistake and it shook you up and threw off your judgment and you just fell into being a cop. I've put up with that for years, waiting for you to work it out of your system. Grow up already, Anthony."

Out of the corner of his eye Tony could see the glare Gibbs had turned on Salvatore. It was one of his best, the kind of look that set suspects shaking in their boots and inspired more than one to give in and confess. But Tony's father wasn't paying any attention to Gibbs. He'd dismissed him as inconsequential the moment he knew Gibbs was NCIS. 'Just a cop,' as far as Salvatore DiNozzo was concerned. One of the best men Tony had ever known, ignored because 'all' he did was put his life on the line to protect people.

That, as much as Salvatore's words, lit a fire inside Tony. "Getting the shit beaten out of you isn't a 'stupid mistake,'" Tony ground out, his hands clenching into his fists at his sides. "And I didn't just 'fall into being a cop.' I had a week in the hospital and a couple of months of seriously restricted activity to think about it. People don't need more businessmen and they don't need more investment portfolios, but they sure as hell need protecting. I was prepared to scrape by, just doing what I could, but you know what? I turned out to be good at being a cop. It ended up being something I wanted to do, not just something I felt I needed to."

Tony took a step towards his father and was gratified when the man's chin came up, almost defensively, though he didn't step back even a single a pace. "I stuck it out as a beat cop," Tony went on, "and I made detective and I got chosen to join NCIS. I've seen the kind of shit it hasn't even occurred to you to imagine and I've stopped the people who were doing it and I've helped the people who were hurt. I've got a hell of a lot to be proud of, and that fact that you think all that adds up to some kind of immaturity just proves to me now narrow-minded you are."


"No. Shut up." Tony took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down a little. "If it isn't an apology, I don't want to hear it. And I don't want get any more of those goddamn letters. And if you're going to send me any more guilt gifts, at least go to the modicum of effort it would take to find something that isn't just going to gather dust in my closet." Salvatore looked at Tony long and hard, but said nothing. Tony snorted harshly and shook his head. "There we go, then."

He stepped around his father and out of the sitting room, only distantly aware of Gibbs following him. The anger seemed to drain out of him the further he got from his father. By the time Tony stepped out the front door, passing George in a kind of haze, he felt chilled and shaky. The car felt impossibly far away, though it was only parked on the other side of the circular drive. Tony had to resist the urge to cross his arms over his chest. His steps slowed.

A sudden, firm grip on his shoulder propelled Tony forward again. Glancing over, he found Gibbs at his side, jaw clenched and eyes flinty with anger. The heat of his hand seeped through Tony and eased some of the shakiness he felt. He wanted to wrap himself in that heat, to use it to drive away the sick feeling that had taken root in his stomach, but they were still within sight of the house. They were still in public.

Gibbs paused before he let go of Tony at the car. Tony could feel his lover's eyes on him as he circled around and opened the passenger door. He didn't look back, but he drank in the feeling nevertheless. They slid into their seats and Tony leaned back, closing his eyes as the engine stuttered to live. "Drive fast," he said, as if Gibbs ever needed such instructions.

The drive back was torturously long, but instead of calming down as one hour stretched into two, then nearly three, Tony only grew more impatient, hungrier for Gibbs's touch. The elevator ride, so close to relief, was agony. If Gibbs hadn't wrapped a hand around his arm Tony thought he might have run to their room and to hell with who was in the halls to see him. But the touch was there and he held himself back and he was glad Gibbs had their room key out because he didn't think he could manage even a card lock at this point.

Finally, finally the door snicked shut behind them and the chain rattled into place. Tony turned to face Gibbs and found he didn't have to say anything. Strong, callused hands came up to cup Tony's face and Gibbs drew him into deep, intense kiss. No preliminaries, just mouths pressed together so hard it might have hurt if Tony hadn't needed it so badly, and Gibbs's tongue sliding into his mouth.

Tony moaned into the kiss and pushed impatiently at Gibbs's clothes. At least one button snapped and went flying in his desperate search for skin. Tony didn't care; Gibbs was stripping him with brutal efficiency, slow and seductive touches abandoned in favor of speed. Socks were clumsily toed off as they stumbled toward one of the beds, Gibbs driving Tony before him and yet somehow never letting go of the kiss.

They tumbled down on top of the bedspread together. Tony scrambled backwards just enough to get his heels back from over his edge and then he was reaching for Gibbs. Gibbs seized Tony's outstretched hands by the wrists and pinned them roughly to the bed over Tony's head. Looking up into Gibbs's fierce gaze, Tony's breath came short in his chest and his cock went from half hard to achingly aroused in seconds.

"You're mine," Gibbs growled, squeezing Tony's wrists in emphasis. "They haven't got any claim on you, not anymore. You're mine and I'm not letting you go."

Tony spread his legs and wrapped them around Gibbs's waist and struggled to pull him closer, to seal their hips together, but Gibbs held firm. As much as Tony wanted Gibbs's skin against his own, that display of strength and control only made him harder. "Then take me already," he demanded harshly, straining up against Gibbs's grip just to feel the man holding him down.

Gibbs leaned down and claimed his mouth in another kiss, this one just as rough, just as demanding as before. Tony lifted his head up off the bed to kiss back, his tongue sliding against Gibbs's, sucking and tasting until he was all but breathless with it. The sudden release of his hands was a shock and Tony fell back on the bed, panting for a moment, legs splayed and wondering where the fuck Gibbs had gone.

He didn't have to wonder for long; Gibbs was back in moments, condom and lube in one hand. He wrapped the other around Tony's crossed wrists and pressed them down again, pushing his way between Tony's legs until they were stretched so wide he could feel the strain in his thighs. Holding up the wrapped condom, Gibbs caught Tony's eye. "You want this?" he asked, his voice so low and rough with hunger it sent a whole new flush of heat through Tony.

He hardly needed to think about the question. They'd both been clean for months now and there had been no one else. There never would be anyone else. "No," he said hoarsely. "I just want you. I need you."

Gibbs's eyes flashed with satisfaction in the moment before he kissed Tony again. This time when the deep, possessive caress ended Gibbs didn't pull away, instead running his lips along Tony's until they brushed the lobe of his ear. "Mine, Tony," he breathed, pressing Tony's wrists harder against the bedspread. "Mine."

Tony's eyes slid shut. "More," he begged softly, pressing his head back and baring his throat for Gibbs's touch. More.

A slick hand pressed Tony's thighs apart, fingers brushing past his cock to find the hole beyond. Tony moaned low in his throat and bent his legs, pushing back against Gibbs's hand. "This is where you belong," Gibbs said. He pushed two fingers into Tony's body, forcing him open, and Tony shuddered heavily. His ass burned and his wrists ached with the strength of Gibbs's grip, but the more he pushed against them and found himself still here, still held, the more Gibbs twisted his fingers inside Tony, opening him up for Gibbs's cock, the more something tight and knotted and cold inside Tony eased.

"Please," Tony said, and even with his eyes clenched shut he could feel them burn, tears an eye blink away. "God, Gibbs, please, give it to me." He felt more lube, momentarily cold against his ass. A choked sound caught in Tony's throat and he lifted his hips, begging with his whole body.

Wet, blunt heat touched the opening of Tony's body. He caught his breath, waiting, every muscle straining with anticipation.

"Open your eyes," Gibbs demanded roughly.

Tony blinked rapidly, clearing away a renegade pair of tears, and fixed his gaze on his lover. "Please. Please, boss. Take me. I need it. God." He swallowed heavily. "I need you."

"So beautiful," Gibbs said, his eyes raking over Tony's body. He pushed into Tony slowly, his thick shaft filling Tony up in one slow, inexorable slide. Tony's eyes rolled back in his head and he panted for breath, struggling to relax his body, to let Gibbs in. Christ, but it almost felt like the first time he'd ever been fucked. He remembered that, remembered how important it had felt, how no matter how much he'd told himself it was just sex, different sex but just sex, it had still felt like he was changing. Remade from the inside.


Gibbs felt heavy and hot inside him, hotter even than Tony's own body. Tony forced himself to focus and God, Gibbs was flushed and damp with sweat, but it took nothing away from the intensity in his eyes. Tony drank it in hungrily, tightening his legs where they were wrapped around Gibbs's waist. Meeting Gibbs's eyes, Tony wanted... Fuck, he wanted. He licked his lips. "More."

Eyes darkening, Gibbs let go of his hands. Tony barely had time to acknowledge the swell of disappointment before Gibbs curled them around his shoulders instead and thrust against him, pushing deeper for all that they were already sealed together. A low, harsh moan tore itself from Tony's lips. "More," he gasped again.

Gibbs shuddered heavily. His hands tightened on Tony's shoulders and that was the only warning Tony had before Gibbs started driving into him so hard and fast that it drove the breath from his body. It was all Tony could do not to just shut his eyes and lose himself in the ache of his cock and the burn of his ass and the slap of their flesh coming together, but he couldn't lose the sight of Gibbs looking at him like that. Hot and hungry and yet somehow satisfied, like he was everything Gibbs wanted.

"Tony," Gibbs rasped out his name. "God, Tony. Mine."

Tony moaned wordlessly and arched his back, pushing into the Gibbs's thrusts. So good, the heat and the strength and the brilliant flashes of pleasure that washed through him every time Gibbs found that spot inside him. "More," he panted, hardly aware of what he was saying, only knowing the thick weight of Gibbs moving inside him. His own cock was achingly full, so close to coming that he knew a single touch to his dick would send him tumbling over the edge.

A touch that he wasn't getting. Tony became distantly aware that he was keening, a high, desperate sound that would have embarrassed him if he hadn't felt so desperate.

One of Gibbs's hands left Tony's shoulders and drifted across his chest, brushing one of his nipples. Tony's breath hitched momentarily. Gibbs rolled his nipple between his fingers. His tongue flickered out to moisten his lips before he spoke. "Let go, Tony," he commanded. "My Tony."

Tony gasped, air stopping in his throat, and froze. His legs clamped tight around Gibbs as he came, holding his lover deep inside even as climax rolled through him. He shuddered, muscles slowly relaxing, and moved one of his arms from over his head to slide it gently around the nape of Gibbs's neck. "Yours," Tony said softly.

Gibbs moaned, low and deep in his throat, and thrust hard into Tony's body. Liquid heat spilled into Tony's ass and he gasped, his cock giving one last pulse at the sensation.

Slowly, Tony unwound his legs from around Gibbs's waist and Gibbs eased himself down to lie on top of Tony, covering him with his body. Tony turned his face into the curve of Gibbs's neck and let his breathing slow back to normal. Inevitably, Gibbs's cock softened and slipped from his body; Tony couldn't help the small, disappointed sound that escaped him.

"I'm not too heavy?" Gibbs asked eventually. Tony could hear in his voice that he didn't want to move. It was okay--he didn't want Gibbs to move either.

"It's good."

It was a long time before either of them could gather the energy to pull back the bedspread so that they could get between the sheets. When cooling sweat finally motivated them they moved as quickly as they could manage. With the weight of the blankets over him instead of Gibbs's body, Tony burrowed into the centaur's arms of his own accord. And slept.


The first sensation that seeped into Tony's awareness was warmth. The sensation coalesced into bands of warmth across his body. Warmth and weight. An arm around his waist and a leg thrown over his hip. Scent came next: skin and breath and musk. Tony smiled to himself and squirmed a little in Gibbs's embrace, just enjoying the touch of the sheets and the press of Gibbs's skin against his own.

"You trying to wake me up?" Gibbs's voice was rough and thick with sleep.

Tony grinned to himself. "Nope," he said cheerfully. "Just enjoying being able to lie around in bed for once."

"You aren't just lying around," Gibbs muttered. "You're wiggling. And we have panels to go to."

Tony scooted his head over on the pillow and bumped Gibbs's nose with his own. "You don't like it when I wiggle?"

"Not when I'm sleeping."

"You aren't sleeping," Tony pointed out.

Gibbs cracked his eyes open and tried for a glare, but the bed head and the pillow creases on his face kind of ruined the effect. Tony could feel his grin soften involuntarily. The partial glare vanished and Gibbs shifted over to kiss Tony instead. It was soft and light and Tony didn't care that they both had morning breath.

They parted slowly, lips clinging together for a moment. "What was that for?" Tony asked lazily.

A smile tugged at the corner of Gibbs's mouth. "I need a reason to kiss you?"

"Mmmm. Nope." Tony shared another kiss with him and sighed happily when it was done. "Do we really have to get up?"

Gibbs's smile took on a decidedly wicked slant. "Aren't you itchy?" he asked.

The minute he asked the question Tony become viscerally aware of the dried sweat and come on his body and suddenly itchy seemed far too mild a word. "Bastard," he accused, rolling out of bed. "You did that on purpose."

"Got you out of bed, didn't it?" Gibbs grinned and sat up among the rumpled sheets.

"Got me the first shower, too," Tony shot back.

Gibbs waved him off. "I have to make a phone call anyway."

Tony shook his head as he stepped into the bathroom and shut the door behind himself. It figured that Gibbs would have all the angles covered.

Somehow, Tony had forgotten just how the shitty the water pressure was. His lips curved as he remembered. He had been pretty thoroughly distracted during his only other shower in this hotel. Unfortunately, it looked like Gibbs wouldn't be joining him in this shower. He scrubbed himself with the face cloth and took a couple of extra minutes to do his hair, too. Still, it was a short shower and Gibbs was still on the phone when he wandered back into the main room, one of the tiny hotel towels wrapped around his hips.

"...the L.A. office," Gibbs was saying. Tony sighed internally. The specter of the other centaur returned. "Eppes," Gibbs went on. He paused and frowned suddenly. "No, Don. Why? Who's Charlie Eppes?" Another, longer pause. "Hm. Yeah, you better give the whole run down. On both of them."

Tony shook his head and gave up on distracting Gibbs with the limited coverage of the towel. He might as well be on a case now--the most Tony would get would be an appreciative look and a quick grope, and that would only get Tony frustrated.


With a whole day free of the prospect of being trapped in a room with another stallion, Gibbs actually managed to relax on Saturday. More or less. He still couldn't seem to let Tony out of his sight. The one time Tony ducked into the washroom to relieve himself without warning the centaur first, he emerged to find Gibbs waiting for him and was promptly hauled into an alcove and kissed within an inch of his life. Not that Tony minded being kissed within an inch of his life, but doing it in the middle of a LEO conference was a little dicey, even with a decorative plant in the nook for camouflage.

Tony suspected he was learning more by sticking with Gibbs than he would have by splitting up, anyway, even if they could have covered more of the conference between the two of them. Gibbs might not have wanted to come to the damn thing, but once he committed himself he wasn't inclined to do things in a half assed way, which meant that for once Tony got the things Gibbs expected them to learn by doing explained in detail. A lot of detail. He almost wished he could take notes. Over lunch, he actually managed to talk himself into asking Gibbs about that.

"Why don't you ever explain this shit to me and Kate and McGee?" Tony concentrated on picking up his burger without letting it fall to pieces as he spoke, almost as much because he really needed to as because he wasn't sure he wanted to see Gibbs's expression.

Gibbs snorted with such contempt that Tony had to look up. "How many of those people do you think are really going to remember a word I told them, much less put any of it into practice?" Gibbs asked. "Even the ones taking notes."

"Why wouldn't they?"

Gibbs shot him a wry look and ate a couple of fries before he answered. "You went to this thing last year, right?" Tony nodded. "All right, then. Share one of the gems of wisdom you absorbed from that experience."

Tony opened his mouth to answer, paused, and frowned. He couldn't actually remember anything--at least, not anything that he hadn't been reminded of over the past couple of days. "Okay, point taken," he conceded. "But that doesn't mean that we wouldn't like to know why we're doing what we're doing."

"Because it works. I'm happy to leave why it works up to the academics. I'm interested in results, not theories."

Tony raised his eyebrows. "You don't think knowing the theory behind something helps produce results?"

There was a short pause while Gibbs swallowed the bite of burger he was chewing. "Depends on the results you want, doesn't it? Knowing the theory behind ballistics helps Abby match up bullets for us, but it doesn't do a damn thing to improve your aim."

"Well, now I know why my academic background didn't put you off," Tony said.

"Why should it have?"

Tony gave him a skeptical look. "A Phys Ed degree? From Ohio State? Why shouldn't it have?"

"Sport and Leisure Studies," Gibbs corrected casually. "Ohio State doesn't call it Physical Education."

Tony blinked, momentarily surprised. "I know. Says so on the diploma. But it always sounded like kind of a pretty euphemism for a waste of time."

"Then why take the degree?"

Tony shrugged and worked on his burger while he got his thoughts in order. Gibbs didn't seem inclined to redirect the conversation, instead just eating and watching him patiently, so Tony eventually swallowed and answered the question. "I was the son of a rich business tycoon who had an eye on building a dynasty. Getting a job was never going to be a problem, no matter what program I took. Why lock myself into something I wasn't really interested in and stress myself out over grades that weren't going to mean much anyway? I took something I figured I could spend four years enjoying. As long as I had the degree, dear old Dad didn't care what it was in."

"I'm guessing you got the shit beaten out of you after college, then," Gibbs said calmly, though his eyes were sharp.

"You been waiting since yesterday to spring that one on me?" Tony asked wryly.

"Been waiting to ask. Didn't think that'd count as springing it on you." Gibbs sipped at his drink and waited.

Pushing his plate away from himself, Tony took a moment to be glad he'd just about finished lunch anyway. "About six months after I graduated," he confirmed. "I was 22, almost 23. Rich, young, popular, and completely convinced that those three things made me invincible. I liked nice things then just as much as I do now and I wasn't shy about showing them off, either." He snorted softly, thinking of his past self. "Rich, showy college kid takes a short cut through a not so nice part of town and gets jumped. It'd be a lot more embarrassing if it weren't so fucking common."

"It sounded to me like you got a lot more than just rolled for your cash."

"Yeah, well, I was in good shape. I've never lost a fight before and it didn't occur to me how badly I could lose this one." Tony grimaced. "If they'd had anything worse than a baseball bat, I'd probably have ended up dead. I'm still not sure how I got to the payphone to call the ambulance. I was unconscious by the time they got there."

There was a retroactively protective glint in Gibbs's eye, but all he said was, "That's what made you decide to be a cop."

Tony nodded. "It was like a revelation, you know? If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. It does happen to anyone."

"Does it make me a bastard to be glad it did, just this once?"

Tony snorted and stole a French fry off of Gibbs's plate, despite the fact that there were still a few lying around on his own. "Yeah, but I forgive you."

The rest of the panels that day were actually more fun that the first few had been, now that Tony wasn't worrying about remembering any of this later. It was tempting to try and truly absorb something, just to prove Gibbs wrong for once, but it wasn't like he hadn't been trying last year and it obviously hadn't helped. So he just sat back and tried to contain his snickers as he watched Gibbs interrogate people on the interrogations panel. From the confused and amused glances he was getting from the rest of the audience, depending on how bright they were, he wasn't succeeding too well.

The panels wound down around 8:00pm, by which time Tony was starving and Gibbs was so irritable Tony caught himself actively praying they wouldn't bump into one Don Eppes. He had a feeling they'd end up with guns drawn--or worse, the centaur equivalent. His prayers were answered, for once. They made it all the way to their room without incident. Tony flopped down onto one of the beds and plucked the room service menu off of the nightstand with relish.

Gibbs shot him an amused look as he unhooked his gun holster and put it in one of the dresser drawers. "You'd better call them and check the waiting time before you invest yourself in actually getting anything off that menu," he advised. "This hotel is full of cops on expense accounts."

"Party pooper," Tony groused, but he dialed and asked. And dropped the receiver back onto the cradle with a moan. "Two hours. By the time it got here, if it ever did, everything'd be cold. What's the point?"

"The point is to get you out of the hotel," Gibbs said dryly. "Room service is more of a pain in the ass than it is a profit."

"If we're getting out of the hotel, I'm not just going for dinner. Let's do something."

Gibbs stopped in the act of removing his socks. "If you think I'm going clubbing--"

"I'm not stupid, boss," Tony laughed. "But could I talk you into a movie?"

He could, as it turned out.

They were halfway through dinner when Tony realized that, for all intents and purposes, he and Gibbs were on an actual date. After that he couldn't stop grinning, but he refused to explain. He didn't want Gibbs to laugh at the idea, or snort and give him one of those tolerant looks, even if the idea of the two of them dating seemed a little silly. Tony kind of liked it.

He liked it and he couldn't help playing it up, flirting and walking a little closer to Gibbs than usual on their way to the movie theatre and ordering a single bag of popcorn when they got there. By that time Gibbs was shooting him amused glances anyway, but he didn't object to the shared popcorn.

Later, in the dark of the theatre after the lights had gone down and the previews had started, when their hands met amongst the kernels, Gibbs tangled his fingers with Tony's, and maybe it wasn't quite so silly after all.


Sunday morning Tony woke with Gibbs's mouth wrapped around his cock, hot and wet and so good that he had to pull a pillow over his face to muffle the moans that he was sure had been entertaining the housekeeping staff for a few minutes now. At which point the sweet suction vanished. Tony tossed the pillow aside and glared down his body at his lover. "Why'd you stop?" he demanded.

Gibbs grinned up at him. "Well, you didn't seem very interested."

"This doesn't look interested?" Tony lifted his hips, as if his hard, darkly flushed cock, slick with saliva and pre-come, needed any emphasis.

Crawling up Tony's body, Gibbs lay down next to Tony pulled him onto his side. "Maybe it's me who's not interested," he said, and licked at Tony's lips before covering them for a lazy kiss.

Tony opening his mouth to it, sucking on Gibbs's tongue and tasting hints of himself there. He trailed a hand up Gibbs's thigh, wrapped it around his cock, and grinned against Gibbs's lips. "You seem pretty interested to me."

"Did I say in what?" Gibbs asked wickedly. He rolled Tony onto his back and straddled his thighs. "Maybe I'd rather jerk off, just like this. Come all over you and rub it into your skin, make you smell like me." His voice lowered a little and rubbed his hands over Tony's chest. "You think you could get off on that? You think you could come just from seeing me getting hot for you? Losing it for you?"

"I think you ought to try it and see," Tony said, reaching up to slide his hands around Gibbs's hips. He palmed the older man's ass, fingers trailing teasingly over the smooth skin.

Gibbs chuckled. "I said maybe." He tweaked Tony's nipple sharply, sending a jolt of pleasure through Tony. Biting his lip, Tony still couldn't help an eager little cry. "Maybe," Gibbs went on, "I'd like to turn you over on your belly and tongue your hole until you beg me for more. Are you sore, Tony? Sore from me taking you and taking you and you still begging for more?"

Tony moaned and gripped Gibbs's ass to keep himself from reaching for his cock. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "I am, a little. Every time I move it makes me think of you sliding inside me, slick and hard, just like you are now." He undulated a little, pushing his hips up against Gibbs's thighs, and caught his breath when Gibbs responded by reaching down to slowly, almost thoughtfully, stroke his own cock.

"Just like this, huh?" Gibbs asked, eyes glittering. "I could fuck you again. I'd have to open you up nice and slow, of course. I'd stretch out that sore hole of yours gently, just easing my fingers inside you, stroking you and touching you so that you just relaxed and let me in. You'd let me, wouldn't you? Even now, still aching from the other night, you'd let me fuck you if I wanted."

"Let you?" Tony laughed, a little breathlessly. "I'd want you to. Hell, I do want you to. C'mon, Gibbs." Tony reached for Gibbs's cock, but Gibbs caught his hands and held them away. Squeezing his eyes shut, Tony moaned in mingled desire and frustration. His own dick was achingly hard, but it was Gibbs that Tony wanted to touch. He was so close and the length of him was gorgeous, dark with arousal and standing out proudly from his belly, and fuck, but Tony wanted him.

The bed shifted and Tony's eyes opened find that Gibbs had moved to kneel next to him instead of astride him. "Hands and knees," Gibbs said, stroking Tony's thigh.

Tony scrambled eagerly into position and looked back over his shoulder to see what Gibbs would do. He only caught a glimpse of the man before strong hands spread the cheeks of his ass and a hot, wet touch against his hole overwhelmed Tony. He moaned loudly and dropped his head, eyes falling shut as he concentrated on the incredible feeling of Gibbs sucking at the opening of his body.

"Jesus, fuck," Tony gasped, struggling not to push back. "Oh, God." He panted and whimpered. No matter how many times Gibbs did this to him, he never got used to it. It was like liquid pleasure pouring through him. Little tremors wracked his limbs, threatening to spill Tony face first onto the bed. "Gibbs," Tony choked out, "please...oh god...please..."

Gibbs pulled away and Tony panted and caught his breath, shaking. He loved getting rimmed, fuck did he love it, but he never could come from it and Gibbs knew it. He obviously also knew the second Tony was feeling a little steadier, because he covered Tony with his body, pressing his cheek into Tony's shoulder and wrapping one arm around his waist. His cock pressed hotly against Tony's ass, but he didn't seem inclined to slide inside.

Instead he nuzzled at the nape of Tony's neck and licked briefly at the lobe of his ear before whispering, "Close your thighs around me. Nice and tight."

It took Tony a minute to figure out what he meant, but then a little rush of curiosity and anticipation went through him and he shifted until he had Gibbs's cock squeezed between his thighs, the slick head nudging at his balls, and the base of it just barely rubbing over his hole.

"Yeah, just like that," Gibbs said approvingly. Tony flushed with embarrassed pride and rocked back against Gibbs a little, encouraging him to move.

Gibbs thrust into the tunnel Tony had made of his legs slowly but steadily. Tony's skin soon grew slippery with Gibbs's pre-come, letting them move together a little more smoothly, a little faster. While Gibbs built his rhythm his hands moved over Tony's body, free to stroke and tease and touch while Tony could only kneel there and take it, elbows locked as he struggled to hold them up, his cock tight and hard against his belly.

"You feel so good, Tony," Gibbs murmured, rubbing his hands across Tony's chest. "Strong. Solid." Gibbs's hands drifted down Tony's chest and over his belly, so close to his cock that Tony caught his breath, body straining towards the touch.

"Please don't tease me, boss," Tony begged. "I want you. So much."

"Not teasing," Gibbs said, fingertips ghosting over the tight flesh of Tony's cock. "Just enjoying you."

Tony just moaned and closed his eyes, the better to enjoy the slick touch of Gibbs's cock against his balls as Gibbs rubbed himself off between Tony's legs. The barely-there touches to his hole and balls were a tease, but Tony didn't want it to stop. He just wanted more.

Strong fingers closed firmly around Tony's cock and he gasped, eyes flying open, hips jerking eagerly into the touch. "Gibbs!"

A soft chuckle answered him. "Couldn't leave you hanging too long." Gibbs's voice, low and hoarse with his own arousal, washed over Tony like a physical thing, a caress in its own right. Tony gasped and squirmed in the embrace of Gibbs's body. Surrounded. His cock, the touch of his hands. Tony couldn't figure out which way to move, what was better, it was all so good. "Please. Please...oh god..."

Gibbs nuzzled at the curve of Tony's neck, his hand moving faster over Tony's cock. "The scent of you, Tony," he muttered distractedly. "God, the scent of you." He licked Tony's neck, tongue hot and wet and sliding over sensitive skin.

Tony heard a strange, desperate, choked noise and realized he was making it and then he came, his cock swelling in Gibbs's hand, come painting his abs. It was all Tony could do to not to just collapse onto the bed. His limbs trembled with the effort of holding up both himself and Gibbs. Weak with his release, Tony struggled to squeeze his thighs tight around Gibbs's cock.

"Tony," Gibbs gasped and froze. Wet heat bathed Tony's balls. Shuddering, Tony moaned as Gibbs's come coated him.

The tension went out of Gibbs's muscles and he slumped against Tony's back. Tony's arms gave out, but he managed to control their collapse onto the bed. Gibbs hardly moved. After a moment Tony tried to talk, then had to moisten his lips and clear his throat for a second attempt. "Gibbs," he said at last. "We need to get up. I think." He really had no idea what time it was.

Gibbs grunted and rolled off of him, but made no move to get up for the moment. Tony propped himself up on his elbows and looked over at his lover. "You going to be okay?"

"Contrary to popular belief, older men are capable of having sex without killing themselves," Gibbs said, not opening his eyes.

Tony couldn't help laughing at that, but when he calmed down he poked Gibbs in the leg. "Not what I meant and you know it. You have two panels with Eppes today."

Gibbs visibly tensed up and Tony sighed internally, wondering if maybe he shouldn't have mentioned it. But...centaurs fight to the death, Gibbs had told him once. Tony had to ask. He needed to be sure Gibbs would be able to hold it together. Just for one more day.

"I can handle it," Gibbs said, sitting up. "Even if what I really want to do is plant a good, solid kick on him. But do me a favor."


Gibbs looked over at Tony, running his eyes slowly over his body. "Don't shower."

Tony blinked. "Boss, if I don't shower, I'm going to stink like sex. And itch. Not exactly the professional image I thought we were supposed to present at these things."

"You can wipe down," Gibbs allowed. "Enough so that most people won't be able to smell it. But don't shower. Don't use soap. I want to be able to smell myself on you."

"You mean you want Eppes to be able to smell you on me," Tony guessed, but he couldn't help the little surge of arousal the thought sent through him. They were always so careful. Gibbs was normally so discreet about when they touched and what they said. Tony couldn't help but be stirred by the thought that Gibbs wanted Eppes to know about them, that he'd deliberately covered Tony in his own scent, knowing the other centaur would smell it. He might as well have tattooed his name on Tony's forehead.

"Yeah," Gibbs said unrepentantly.

Another little lick of heat went through Tony. "Okay."


Tony hardly heard a word that was said in the first panels of the day. His mind was too focused on Gibbs's one o'clock: Interagency Cooperation and Dealing with Ambiguous Jurisdiction. It was unbearably ironic even aside from the fact that Gibbs was sitting on the damn thing with a man he'd wanted to attack--kill--on sight. Tony could just imagine Director Morrow laughing as he signed Gibbs up for the damn thing.

Lunch was strained, both of them too nervous to really relax. Tony was beginning to wish he hadn't eaten at all; the way his stomach clenched around the food was making him nauseous.

When he and Gibbs arrived in the appropriate room, the only panelist aside from Gibbs and Eppes was already there and seated--in the far left hand seat, leaving two chairs next to each other free for his fellow panelists. Tony swallowed his pained groan with effort and seated himself in the first row. Third just wasn't going to cut it today.

At least Eppes isn't the moderator, Tony tried to reassure himself. Unfortunately, Tony's instincts were telling him that it would have been better if he had been. Better now, when he and Gibbs hadn't yet had a chance to fray each other's control, than later in the day, after they'd already been at it for a while.

Gibbs seated himself in the center chair and Tony could see he was making a point of not watching the door. Ignoring Eppes hadn't seemed to work very well the first time, but Tony couldn't think of anything better, either.

When the FBI agent did arrive he paused for a long moment, observing the configuration at the table for a long moment before carefully sinking into the seat left for him. Tony caught himself holding his breath and had to consciously exhale. Eppes opened a briefcase and took out a notepad and a couple of loose papers, all the while intently not looking to his right. So far, so good.

According to Tony's watch, it was nearly ten past one o'clock when the third panelist seemed to remember he was moderating and abruptly straightened up. Tony was actually a little disappointed. Gibbs and Eppes had been doing so well at tolerating each other in silence.

"Welcome, everyone," the moderator said cheerfully. "I'm sorry for the short delay there. Just wanted to make sure everyone who was interested had a chance to get to the panel. This is Interagency Cooperation and Dealing with Ambiguous Jurisdiction. My name is Jeff Elliott and I'm a lieutenant with the New York City police department. I'm on this panel because in a city like New York jurisdiction gets messy fast more often than not--or so it seems sometimes." He chuckled a little. Some of the audience joined in, but Gibbs and Eppes were stony faced. "I'll be your moderator for the next fifty minutes, so I'd like to ask my fellow panelists to introduce themselves." Elliott looked expectantly over at Gibbs.

"Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, Naval Criminal Investigative Service," Gibbs said shortly.

"And why are you on this panel?" Elliott prompted.

Gibbs shot him a withering glare. "NCIS jurisdiction is determined by the people and property involved, not by geographical location. As a result, virtually every case we investigate requires us to interact with civilian authorities."

Elliott frowned a little at Gibbs's abrupt attitude, but just nodded at him and turned his attention to Eppes.

The FBI agent seemed marginally more relaxed than Gibbs as he introduced himself. "I'm Special Agent Don Eppes with the FBI and I figure I'm on this panel because, kind of like with NCIS, FBI jurisdiction is determined by the nature of the crime, rather than where it took place."

"Well, it seems like we've got a good spread of people for the discussion," Elliott said. "Let's get started. I figure that we're here to educate you folks," he nodded at the audience, "so why don't we just go straight to your questions. Anyone?"

Several hands went up in the audience. Elliott selected one of them and most of the audience turned a little towards the chosen man. Tony kept his eyes on Gibbs and Eppes.

"My question is for Special Agent Gibbs," the man began. "You said that your jurisdiction depends on the people and property involved in a crime, but I'm sure most of us here would agree that there are often cases in which you don't know one or both of those things before you get started investigating. So what happens if the naval connection turns up in middle of the investigation?"

"Then the investigation automatically becomes an NCIS case and all files, notes, evidence and interrogations should be turned over to the NCIS agents assigned," Gibbs answered firmly.

"You don't even offer a joint investigation?"

"No," Gibbs said. "There's a reason that agencies argue over jurisdiction and it isn't just a matter of credit. NCIS rarely gets credit for the cases we solve, regardless of jurisdictional issues. The point is that joint investigations tie up twice as many personnel in a single case than are necessary. As a result, other investigations suffer from a lack of manpower and the joint investigation suffers from an excessive amount of time spent in communication, coordination, and duplication of effort. The best thing to do is to establish your claim on the case clearly and unarguably as soon as possible."

"Don't you find that taking over investigations like that creates resentment?" another audience member asked.

"Occasionally, but for the most part everyone from the PD to the FBI," Gibbs didn't even glance at Eppes, but Tony didn't doubt that the mention was deliberate, "seem relieved. There are aspects of Naval and Marine Corps investigations that civilians find confusing."

"Are implying that civilian agencies are somehow less competent than your own?" Eppes asked, his spine stiffening.

Gibbs sat back in his seat a little and cast Eppes a glance. "Of course not, but there has to be some reason they come to us so frequently for help."

"I think we're venturing a little off topic here," Elliott jumped in quickly. Tony could literally see Eppes swallowing whatever retort he'd been about to make. "Could we have another question?"

It didn't get any better from there.

By the time the panel was due to start winding down, Elliott's nerves had been so badly tried by attempting to rein in the constant sniping that he was snapping at the two centaurs himself. The audience had been steadily leaking out the doors in the rear of the room for almost ten minutes.

Tony desperately checked his watch for the hundredth time. Still not time. He looked up in time to catch Gibbs leaning forward to say, "Refusing to share information with an intervening organization is irresponsible and, in some cases, illegal. It could--"

"Oh please," Eppes interrupted. "That comment is incredibly hypocritical. In fact, I find your presence on this entire panel hypocritical."

"Really," Gibbs said darkly.

"You don't think advising sharing information is hypocritical when you yourself are notorious for withholding it?" Eppes asked, raising his eyebrows. "If I recall correctly, in the past you have instructed your employees to impersonate personnel from other departments in order to retrieve records and interview suspects, you've stolen evidence--on one memorable occasion, an entire corpse from the Secret Service--and you have persisted in investigations even when specifically instructed by your superiors to hand them over."

Tony was momentarily startled at the litany, but only momentarily. Gibbs had investigated Eppes; of course Eppes would do the same.

"And on those occasions NCIS was the intervening organization," Gibbs replied. "More importantly, we solved all of those cases."

"I never said you didn't, but that isn't the point. To tell these people to cooperate when you have no history of following your own advice is grossly inappropriate. You have no respect for other agencies at all."

"No, I just value results over playing politics with a bunch of suits."

Tony gave into the urge to cover his face with one hand.

"Thank you, Special Agent Gibbs," Eppes shot back, "for so eloquently demonstrating my point."

"You're welcome. I can demonstrate a few other things, if you need a refresher."

Elliott shot out of his chair and planted his hands on the top of the panelists' table. "All right, that's enough!" he barked. "I'm sick of hearing you two snipe at each other like children. Calm down or get the hell out of here."

There was a long, silent beat. The two centaurs each very deliberately checked the time--1:48pm--before standing and heading for the door. Tony followed quickly, the panel already breaking up into little knots of gossip behind him.

The hallway was nearly deserted, all the other attendees being in panels at the moment. In just a couple of minutes they'd start trickling into the hallways on their way to other panels. Tony couldn't decide if that would be good, as a motivation for discretion, or bad, given that they could turn into witnesses.

Gibbs and Eppes didn't go far, just around the corner. Tony stuck close to his lover, keeping a wary eye on Eppes, and hoped that he was enough of a reminder to Gibbs to keep things from getting physical. He wasn't expecting Eppes to take a long, considering look at him. Gibbs noticed, his whole body stiffening and his eyes narrowing.

Then Eppes snorted and shook his head. "You didn't have to mark him quite so thoroughly," he told Gibbs. "Even if I was interested, you made yourself pretty clear on Thursday. I'm not after yours."

"Then keep the hell away from me," Gibbs snarled.

Eppes's eyes flashed. "I don't take orders from you. I'm moderating the 5:00pm panel. You want to avoid a confrontation, you stay the hell away." He turned on his heel and stalked off down the hallway.

Gibbs actually took a step after him before Tony got an arm around his lover. "Gibbs, please, not here," he hissed. Tony couldn't think of a worse place than a convention centre full of cops for a pair of centaurs to try and take each other down. He swallowed heavily, fighting down the fear that thought stirred in his gut.

When he and Gibbs had first talked about what it would mean for Gibbs to be challenged by another stallion it had been frightening but abstract. Tony hadn't really thought it would happen. Now that it was a very real possibility, it was all Tony could do not to haul Gibbs back to their room to hide. Hell, he would have, if he thought he could have gotten away with it.

Fortunately, for the moment, Gibbs seemed willing to let Tony come between him and another encounter with Eppes. "Do we have to go to the panel?" Tony asked quietly, knowing the answer but needing to ask nevertheless.

"I have to go," Gibbs said. "If I don't go, I'm backing down. Conceding. I can't do that. Not to him. But if you wanted to stay in the room instead--"

"No," Tony shook his head. "It's just one more hour. We can get through it."


The other two panelists didn't show to the five o'clock panel.

Tony didn't know if they'd gotten their scheduling wrong or if they'd been called away or if they'd heard how Gibbs and Eppes had been going at each other earlier in the day. He only knew that his only hope of insulation between the two stallions had just vanished.

"This subject of this panel is Integrating Specialists into a Team," Eppes began at precisely five. "I'm Special Agent Don Eppes of the FBI and I'll be your moderator."

"Excuse me, Special Agent Eppes," Gibbs broke in, "but with just the two of us, do we really need a moderator?"

Eppes glared openly at Gibbs. "As a former military man, Special Agent Gibbs, I'd expect you to understand the need for a clear chain of command."

"This isn't a military operation, just a discussion," Gibbs countered. "With just two panelists, I can't see how designating one of us moderator is going to anything other than turn it into a kind of interview. Surely that wouldn't benefit our audience."

"Why do I get the feeling you wouldn't be making that argument if you were the assigned moderator?"

"Couldn't say," Gibbs said blandly.

A muscle in Eppes's jaw jumped. "Care to explain what qualifies you for this panel?"

"I lead a team drawn from three different agencies and draw on the skills of two forensic specialists. And yourself, Special Agent Eppes?"

"In addition to the wide variety of training that FBI agents receive, I also regularly employ an independent contractor to analyze our cases," Eppes said, almost warily.

"Your brother, I believe," Gibbs added.

Eppes bristled a little. "That isn't relevant."

Silently, Tony moaned to himself. He didn't know how most centaurs treated their immediate family when it came to the dominance thing, though he had wondered, but it was clear that Eppes, at least, was very protective of this brother of his. Which meant that Gibbs had finally found a subject that was as sensitive for Eppes as the subject of Tony himself was for Gibbs. Ordinarily Tony might have been pleased that Gibbs had found the upper hand, but this time all he could think was, This can't be a good thing.

"Not relevant?" Gibbs asked, raising his eyebrows. "You don't think that the fact that the independent contractor you work with most often and most closely is family is applicable to a panel on team integration? Frankly, I can't help but wonder if your assignment to this panel is appropriate. If you can't work productively with anyone other than your own family--"

"Charlie is not the only person I work with," Eppes snapped.

"You'd hardly know it, from your case reports." Gibbs turned to face Eppes directly across the two empty chairs between them and leaned forward, elbows braced on his knees. "In fact, you don't seem to solve too many cases without him."

Tony could have sworn he saw a flicker of pain touch Eppes's features at that, but if it had been there at all it vanished instantly. "I don't think there's anything wrong with employing all the tools at my disposal to solve my cases. Charlie is a PhD, a world renowned expert in applied mathematics, and a regular consultant for the NSA as well as the FBI. Frankly, it would be irresponsible not to make use of a resource like that."

"Of course," Gibbs said easily. "But it does make one wonder if you have any other resources."

"Excuse me?" an audience member broke in. Tony had to look and see who would risk attracting Gibbs's attention at a moment like this. The young man--even younger than Tony--looked pretty ordinary, with floppy brown hair and a slender build. Tony had to admire him for interrupting the argument. He even looked calm. "Special Agent Gibbs, you mentioned that your people are drawn from three different agencies. I was wondering which agencies those were."

"The secret service, NCIS Norfolk, and the Baltimore PD," Gibbs said. His eyes briefly went to Tony, warming for a moment.

"A secret service agent who resigned in advance of being fired, an NCIS computer geek so green he squeaked, and a cop who bounced between three precincts in six years," Eppes elaborated. Tony couldn't help the flinch, even knowing it would only fuel Gibbs's anger. Four and a half years at NCIS and his itchy feet still came back to haunt him. "At least my consultant is the best in his field."

"My people think outside the box, Eppes," Gibbs said, his voice so cool and clipped that Tony shivered, even knowing it wasn't directed at him. "If that got them into trouble at conventional agencies, all it proves is that they needed someone capable of managing them properly. I know with absolute certainty that I can trust them in the field."

"Are you implying that I can't trust Charlie?"

Gibbs snorted. "I don't need to imply it. He nearly got himself and several other agents killed on at least one occasion. Can't say that speaks well for building skills."

Given the way Eppes flushed with anger, Tony was betting that he was hearing something other an insult to his 'team building skills' in Gibbs's comment. If Charlie was his brother and Eppes was the dominant one--which seemed pretty clear--then Charlie was part of his herd. And Gibbs just insulted his ability to protect them, Tony realized suddenly.

Eppes, opened his mouth, glanced quickly at Tony, and abruptly shut it again. Tony's blood went momentarily cold as he realized Eppes had almost certainly been about to comment on Gibbs's team building skills. Specifically, as applied to the fact that he was sleeping with one of his subordinates. It was too obvious a shot not to take...but he hadn't.

Instead, Eppes's jaw worked for a moment before he managed to speak again. "You can't tell me that you don't put your...people in the line of fire on a regular basis, Gibbs. The fact that Charlie did the same, despite not being trained for it, is a testament to his dedication."

"His dedication, or his complete inability to follow orders or to think logically about anything other than mathematics," Gibbs said flatly. "Tell me, is this why FBI agents all go through a standardized academy? To hammer a little common sense into them? It seems they need it, given the quality of management they're likely to get."

"The FBI gets too many applications to support the kind of on the job training NCIS makes do with," Eppes returned sharply. "People are actually interested in training specifically for the FBI. But I don't expect that to mean anything to a man whose agency has to scavenge from others."

Gibbs shot to his feet and glared down at Eppes. "I've had enough of this bullshit," he snapped. "You and I are going to settle this. Now."

Tony froze, his heart leaping into his throat. In that moment of sudden terror, the two centaurs got past him, heading for the back of the room and the doors at a brisk walk. Leaping to his own feet belatedly, Tony called out to Gibbs, but the man didn't even slow down. Moving into the aisle to follow them, Tony abruptly found his way blocked by the rest of the audience, most of whom were now standing and milling around. "Get out of my way," he snarled, heart pounding in his chest. Startled glances were cast in his direction, but people cleared out of his way with agonizing slowness.

How long did a fight between centaurs last? No time at all if they use their guns, Tony thought a little hysterically. He finally fought his way free of the panel room, but Gibbs and Eppes, predictably, were nowhere in sight. But guns at ten paces wouldn't settle anything, right? Gibbs said he wanted to plant a good solid kick on him. That means they'd be in centaur form, right? Right.

That narrowed down where they could be. If he was right.

Tony pelted through the hotel, ducking quickly into the unused ballrooms, the only places that seemed large enough for a pair of battling centaurs. Large enough, but not private enough. Not even if they blocked the doors somehow, Tony realized suddenly. Neither Gibbs nor, he presumed, Eppes were stupid. If they locked themselves into a room together and one of them ended up dead it wouldn't take a hotel full of cops to figure out who was responsible. Assuming they're even thinking that rationally. Tony just didn't know. He'd never met a stallion aside from Gibbs and Gibbs, the most controlled man he knew, hadn't been able to control his hostility towards Eppes.

Don't second guess yourself, Tony told himself desperately. Large and private, but not completely sealed. Think!


The parking garage.

Reversing course, Tony ran towards the stairs, throwing open the door and clattering down the concrete steps. How long had it been? Five minutes? Ten? He forced himself not to check his watch, not sure if he even wanted to know.

The first level of the garage was quiet. Tony had to hope that he'd have heard the sounds of the fight from just a few feet away from the stairwell; he didn't have time to run through the entire level, looking for them.

The second level was also deserted.

By the time he arrived at the third level, the lowest level, Tony was soaked with nervous sweat and his heart was thundering so hard in his chest he was half afraid he wouldn't be able to hear the sounds he was looking for over the its pounding.

Opening the metal door set into the rough concrete of the stairwell, Tony jerked to a halt just past the threshold. He didn't have to listen long or hard. The clatter of what had to be hooves on concrete echoed through the garage. This level was almost deserted, only a few cars scattered here and there among the pillars.

Tony forced himself back into motion, following the sound. He found them in the corner of the garage furthest from both the stairwell and the vehicle ramp.

Gibbs and Eppes faced each other, faces hard and intent. For a moment Tony was stunned by the sight of Eppes in centaur form. He was shorter than Gibbs, though not by much, but his coat and tail were solid black and his centaur body was powerfully muscled.

Not that Gibbs was any slouch in that department, but Eppes's frame, which had seemed merely marginally stockier in human form, was visibly more developed in this form. On top of that, he seemed somehow more comfortable on four feet. Tony was struck with the sudden conviction that Eppes took on centaur form a lot more often than maybe once a month.

The thought dropped into Tony's mind unbidden: What if Gibbs can't win this fight?

Their hands were clenched into fists, but instead of holding them at the ready both centaurs had them lowered, down by their withers. Before Tony could wonder why, before he could even really process the thought that Gibbs could end up dead here, Gibbs lunged at Eppes, knocked him off balance with a body blow just below his withers, and spun around to lash out with his hind legs.

The blow landed with a thick, loud thud. Eppes stumbled, hooves skittering on the concrete floor before he got his feet under him again and backed away with a little more control. Gibbs stalked after him, determined to press his advantage despite the fact that his silvery coat was dark with sweat in places.

Jaw clenched and eyes narrowed, Eppes braced himself and reared up, striking at Gibbs's belly and withers. Gibbs grunted, his breath whooshing out audibly as at least one blow landed, but he held his ground and reared in return. The two centaurs collided, chest to chest, hooves scrabbling at each other's flanks before they crashed back down to the concrete.

But they were in close now. Gibbs punched Eppes hard in the side, forcing a cry out of the other centaur. Eppes sidestepped quickly, his sweaty torso sliding out from under Gibbs's attempt to hold him within range.

"Gibbs!" Tony called out, heart in his mouth, not sure what interrupting would do. God, if he distracted Gibbs...but he had to try. He couldn't just let this go, couldn't risk losing Gibbs altogether.

Both centaurs froze, spun, and transformed almost in the same instant. "Tony!" Gibbs shouted, startled. He turned his back on Eppes, hurrying towards Tony.

Which was when more than a dozen cops and agents of all stripes skidded into view, many of them with guns drawn.

Gibbs and Tony stilled once again. Tony closed his eyes in mortification. God only knew what those cops and agents thought was going on, finding two of their number stark naked in the parking garage. Especially given that their clothes were folded and piled neatly up against the wall, guns securely on top.

"What the hell are you doing down here?" Gibbs barked.

Tony cracked open one eye. One of the cops eased uncertainly out of his ready position. "Uh. We saw him," he pointed at Tony, "running through the hotel hell bent for leather. We figured there might trouble and...well, thought back up might be needed."

"Everything's under control," Gibb said, for all the world as if he weren't standing there in his birthday suit. "Get out of here."

Several of the agents looked like they badly wanted to ask why Gibbs and Eppes were naked, but Gibbs leveled his best glare at them and they shut their mouths and turned to leave. One or two glanced backwards a few times, but eventually Tony was alone with the two centaurs again.

When they'd gone Gibbs cast a look in Eppes's direction. "You can get dressed," he told Eppes briskly and turned back to Tony, apparently in no rush to dress himself. "Tony. What did you think you were doing, leading them all down here?"

Tony flushed. "Stallions fight to the death," he managed quietly, dropping his eyes. "That's what you told me. I couldn't just...even if you won, we're in the middle of a convention of cops. I just couldn't see you getting out of this. One way or another."

"Oh, Tony," Gibbs said softly. He cupped Tony's face in his hands and made him look up. "For the herd, I said. Stallions fight to death for the herd. Eppes and I weren't trying to kill each other--we couldn't take each other's people if we wanted to, not when they're part of teams in two completely different agencies. We just needed to settle who got to dictate things between the two of us."

"Oh." Tony shrank into himself a little and wished the floor would just open up and swallow him. God. He'd very nearly exposed both of them. He had embarrassed both of them. What would Morrow say about this when word got back to him? He swallowed heavily. "So what happens now? You two still need to go somewhere and...settle things?"

"Nope," Eppes said. Tony looked up, surprised, to find Eppes fully dressed and waiting politely for Gibbs and Tony to finish their conversation. He nodded at Tony and turned to Gibbs. "Sorry for the trouble. You know how it is."

Tony's jaw dropped. Gibbs, on the other hand, just smiled and shook his head a little ruefully. "Yeah. Listen, why don't you grab a coffee with us. I don't think it would be a good idea to go back to the conference right now."

"Hold on now, wait a second here!" Tony said, holding up his hands. "Half an hour ago you two hated each other so much you were practically ready to tear each other's throats out and now you want to go for coffee? What the hell happened?"

"We never hated each other," Gibbs explained, walking over to his clothes. Tony trailed after him. "We'd only just met. Neither of us knows the other well enough to hate him."

"But you acted like--"

"Like two stallions who hadn't settled on who was dominant yet," Gibbs cut him off. He cast a glance at Eppes as he dressed. "Particularly two stallions with people of their own. It wouldn't have been so bad if one of us had been completely unattached, but as it was...well, we both needed to defend a position of strength."

"And now?" Tony asked uncertainly.

Gibbs cupped the back of Tony's neck in his hand and gave it a reassuring little squeeze. "Now that we've settled things, we'll be fine around each other. At least for the weekend." He turned and headed back to where Eppes stood waiting for them. "We'd probably butt heads more than a few times if we had to deal with each other for long; Special Agent Eppes hasn't given anything up, he's just backed down for the moment."

"But you didn't even finish the fight," Tony protested.

"We didn't need to," Eppes said as they rejoined him, shrugging. "When those agents burst in here after you, I froze up and Gibbs took care of things. I had to concede that he was more capable of handling things. Here."

Gibbs shot Eppes an amused look at the qualification, but didn't argue it. "So. Coffee?"

"Sounds good," Eppes agreed.

Tony sighed. As much as he wanted to curl up with Gibbs in their room right now, he wasn't about to leave the two centaurs alone together. Even if they had settled things. Besides, who knew when he'd next have the chance to meet and talk to any centaur but Gibbs?

They went for coffee at a small shop within a couple blocks of the hotel. Tony wasn't surprised that Gibbs led them straight to it--he would have scouted out all the coffee available within a five block radius.

When they'd settled down at one of the little tables with their drinks--black coffee for Gibbs, black with sugar for Eppes, and a latte for Tony, despite Gibbs's snort--Eppes visibly gathered himself before speaking. "Can I ask you two a personal question?"

"If it's the questions I think it is, I've pretty much been expecting you to bring it up," Gibbs said.

Tony shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but if Gibbs is good with it, go ahead."

Eppes paused for a moment, visibly gathering his thoughts. "How do you two make it work?" he asked at last. "Together, I mean."

Gibbs and Tony traded a glance. After a moment, Tony gestured for Gibbs to answer. He sighed. "How does anyone make a relationship work?" Gibbs said. "We compromise."

"But you can't compromise when it comes to dominance!" Eppes burst out, his voice quiet despite the vehemence. They were in public, after all. "No centaur can."

"Voice of experience?" Gibbs asked.

Eppes grimaced. "I tried once. Moved a couple of states away. Even got engaged. But the minute I heard my family needed me, I was on a plane back."

"Your family?" Gibbs asked, eyebrows drawing together. "Not the herd."

Eppes shook his head. "No, my foster family. Alan and Charlie Eppes."

"I take it that means you're not an Eppes by blood," Tony put in. Gibbs had told him that centaur colts were fostered out when they started getting old enough to think about challenging the herd stallion, but he'd been under the impression that such families acted almost like halfway houses. Just a transitional home between the herd and independence out in the human world.

"No," Eppes confirmed. "Look, I know it's a little odd, but I was fostered out pretty early and Charlie had just started showing how unusual he was and mom and dad needed a lot of help... I bonded with them pretty thoroughly. I asked them to adopt me officially. I wanted that family to belong to me."

"I'm not making any judgments, Eppes," Gibbs said quietly.

Eppes blew a harsh sigh though his lips. "Call me Don," he said. "I feel weird having this conversation with someone I'm not on a first name basis with."

"Jethro, then," Gibbs said.

"Tony," Tony chimed in. "And I have to ask, does your family know that they belong to you? Because it kind of sounds like they think it's the other way around."

"That's part of the problem," Don confessed. "I've tried very hard not to make an issue of it. It helps that Charlie is so internally focused."

"The woman you got engaged to," Gibbs said, "did she know about you? And about dominance?"

Don shook his head. "Everything was going so well, up until dad called me. I didn't want to ruin it." He paused and snorted at himself. "She sent me the ring in the mail."

"Be glad it happened before you actually got married," Gibbs said bluntly. "I was married and divorced three times before I finally got my head out of my ass."

"Stubborn," Don commented, smiling a little. "So what made you decide to do things differently?"

Tony snickered. "He didn't," he said. "An old friend kind of set him up."

Gibbs glared at Tony. "And you jumped in with both feet before you know what the hell you were getting into."

"Stuck it out, though, didn't I?" Tony said smugly.

Gibbs's gaze softened around the edges. "Yeah. You did."

Don cleared his throat, obviously reluctant to interrupt. Gibbs sipped his coffee and nodded at him. "So you didn't know about the dominance thing when you got together?" Don asked, looking at Tony.

"Nope, and I was kind of pissed when I found out," Tony said. He cast a sidelong look at Gibbs. "But...not enough for me to walk away. I figured, I already deferred to Gibbs at work, how much different could this be?" Don gave him a skeptical look and Tony laughed. "Yeah, pretty different," he admitted. "But it was enough to give me a chance to get used to it. Even like it." He dropped his eyes to his coffee. "Sometimes...there are even times when I guess I need it."

A light touch on his wrist prompted Tony to look up and meet Gibbs's eyes. Given the warmth there, he knew he'd have gotten a lot more than a touch on the wrist if they weren't in public.

After a moment Tony managed to tear his gaze away from Gibbs to look back at Don. The centaur was watching them with naked envy on his face. "I don't know how I'm ever going to find someone who can do that for me," he said softly. "Who can accept that part of me."

Tony couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he just sipped his latte and let Gibbs pick up the conversation.


Back at the hotel they parted ways with Don on the elevator and went back to their room. It was only the middle of the afternoon and the convention was still running, but discretion seemed the best route at the moment. They needed to let the story of naked men in the parking garage die down.

Tony settled himself on the bed and turned on the TV, but he found his eyes kept straying back to Gibbs while he made coffee and settled himself at the room's desk with files he'd brought with him. Restless, Tony rolled off of the bed and wandered over to read over Gibbs's shoulder. He didn't even realize what he'd done until he tasted coffee and realized that he'd picked up Gibbs's cup and actually sipped from it.

Gibbs tilted his head back and looked up at him. "Tony."

Tony froze. "Um. Sorry?" he offered. "I just...I need to feel..." Close to you, he thought, but it sounded too stupid to actually say.

Gibbs stood, turned to face Tony, took the cup of coffee out of his hand and set it down on the desk. Tony was confused until Gibbs wrapped his arms around him and hugged him. "I'm fine," Gibbs said. "You haven't lost me."

Shuddering, Tony hugged back and buried his face in Gibbs's neck. I was so scared, he thought, but didn't say anything, just breathed in the scent of his lover and held on.


For all that things had pretty much worked out in the end in New York--at the conference, at least--Tony couldn't deny the surge of relief he felt at returning to NCIS head quarters on Tuesday morning. The last day of the convention had been...interesting.

Skepticism and pragmatism had won out over gossip, in public anyway, because no one actually said anything about the incident in the parking garage. But Tony could see the glances and the speculative looks that were directed at them.

Director Morrow was definitely not ever going to send Gibbs to another one of those.

"Tony!" McGee said, sitting up in his desk as Tony dropped his things in his own cubicle. Gibbs was already ensconced behind a pile of files, cup coffee in hand.

"McGee," Tony acknowledged, dropping into his desk chair. "Miss me?"

"No," McGee said blithely, "but I have to ask you, did you hear what happened at the conference you were at?"

"I was there, McGee," Tony said. "Lots happened."

"Sure, but I hear that two agents were found stark naked in the parking garage," McGee reported, almost smug with the apparently new gossip.

Tony closed his eyes and dropped his head onto his desk.

"McGee," Gibbs barked. "Shut up and get back to work before I have you cleaning the head for a month."

Tony looked up to find McGee looking honestly bewildered. "What'd I say?" he hissed.

Kate sighed and pointed a discreet finger at Gibbs, mouthing, 'He was one of the naked guys.'

McGee's mouth rounded into a startled 'oh'.

All Tony could do was shake his head. Prime teasing material and he'd bet anything that McGee wouldn't even use it. Tony would, of course, but...he grinned to himself.

Not in public.