by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: I'm not at all sure that everything--or anything--that I was thinking of ended up coming through in this story, or even that I ended it properly. I probably ought to put considerably more time into it. But I'm impatient and I do like it, even if most of the layers never quite got out of my head.

Not betaed.

Tony squinted into the early morning light, his gaze following the line of his gun down the length of the shooting range to the paper target that hung in the distance. He could have worn tinted glasses to take the strain off his eyes, but that would have defeated the point. It wouldn't help him in the field if he coddled himself here. Strictly speaking, he shouldn't have been taking so long to aim, either, but...well, he'd get the skills ingrained and then he'd work on speed.

Tuning out the sharp sounds of gunfire from the rest of the range, muffled but still audible through the ear protection, Tony narrowed his focus to the target and the gun and his hand. The butt of the gun pressed firmly into his palm, warm with stolen body heat. He took up the slack in the trigger, paused, and squeezed off a shot. Allowing himself only a moment to double check his aim, he fired again. And again.

Just over halfway through the clip a flicker of movement in the corner of his eye caught Tony's attention. He paused an extra fraction of a second and glanced toward it, barely moving his head. Gibbs. Returning his attention to the target, Tony finished emptying his weapon. When he was done he lowered his arms from the shooting position, released the clip, and reached for a reload, ignoring his audience. Not that he really expected Gibbs to let himself be ignored.

Tony had to shake his head at the sharp tap on his shoulder. He looked over at Gibbs and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. Gibbs pointed toward the exit. Tony countered by pointing at his empty clip and holding up three fingers. A sharp headshake was Gibbs's response, as if Tony had asked a question. Then he turned and headed for the door, not even looking to see if Tony was following.

Sighing, Tony loaded his gun with a fresh clip, flicked the safety on, holstered it, and headed for the door. Gibbs was waiting for him. When the door had shut behind Tony he removed his ear muffs and glasses, hung them up, and dug out the soft ear plugs.

"Problem, boss?" Tony asked easily, as if he didn't know very well why Gibbs was here. He'd kind of hoped that if he got the extra hours in quickly he could duck the chewing out, though.

"You want to explain to me why you've been out there for more than two hours every day, including weekends?" Gibbs demanded, nodding towards the range.

Tony blinked. That wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting. "My aim is slipping," he said, half shrugging. "I wanted to get it back up to standard."

"Your score on your six month review was within seven points of your score six months ago. And six months before that," Gibbs countered.

And he'd gotten lazy, decided that was good enough. Prioritized other things over improving. "It's not as good as it should be."

"I decide how good it should be." Gibbs looked pissed and he sounded pissed, but he wasn't talking pissed. Tony couldn't figure it out. "And you have better things to be doing than wasting bullets looking for ten more points on the range."

Tony bristled. "I haven't taken a fucking minute out of work for this. I'm on my own time."

"No, you've--"

The door from reception swung open and another agent stepped into the room. Tony and Gibbs maintained a strained silence while the man fit himself with ear muffs and glasses and crossed between them to get to the range.

"You've been taking time out of sleep instead," Gibbs continued when the agent had gone. "It doesn't do me any good having a senior field agent who's damn near falling asleep at his desk."

Tony could feel his ears go hot. 'Damn near' wasn't quite right. He'd actually dozed off yesterday, though he was sure that Gibbs didn't know. Pretty sure, anyway. "It doesn't do you any good to have a senior field agent with worse aim than anyone else on the team, either," he said. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Tony couldn't help but look away from Gibbs.

God, had McGee been proud of his score. Their six month reviews were confidential, but that didn't mean you couldn't share if you wanted to, and with a score that high McGee had definitely won bragging rights. It was only natural that Ziva should chime in with her score. They'd both looked at Tony expectantly and he'd bullshitted as well as he could, but holding off sharing had been like blood in the water for a shark. They'd crowed when they finally managed to drag his score out of him.

"Ziva's had years of sharpshooter's training," Gibbs said.

"And McGee?" Tony shot back. Gibbs paused just a little too long. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Tony muttered. He reached out to take the ear muffs he'd hung up back down from the hook.

Gibbs's hand covered Tony's before he could even close his fingers around the ear muffs.

Tony just looked at their hands for a moment. "I've got half an hour before I have to be in the squad room, boss."

The sense of Gibbs stepping closer to him was almost tangible. This close he could smell the man even over the range's usual scent of hot metal and gunpowder. There was nothing special about how Gibbs smelled. It was just soap and skin and deodorant. But for all that, Tony's nostrils flared, dragging it in.

The door to the firing range swung open, letting in a brief burst of noise. Tony could feel his spine stiffen, but Gibbs didn't step away from him. He just waited until whoever was leaving the range had stepped around them and out into the reception area.

When they were alone again, Gibbs spoke quietly, directly into Tony's ear. "Don't let shit like your score in here get to you," he ordered. "This isn't where it really counts."

"Depends on who's counting," Tony said. He swallowed heavily. His hand felt hot under Gibbs's and the man still hadn't moved away. Not an inch.

"I'm the only one you should be worrying about impressing."

After another moment Gibbs let his hand drop from Tony's and stepped away from him. "You've got the day off, DiNozzo. Go home. Get some sleep."

Tony looked up and squared his shoulders. "Got it, Boss."

Gibbs nodded once and patted Tony on the cheek before turning and leaving the room.

Shaking his head, Tony smiled ruefully. God, he was tired. Climbing back into bed and catching up on his sleep sounded about perfect.