Questions and Quirks

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Thanks go out to rebecca, who betaed this for me, and James, who let me play in her world.

This series is set in the same universe as the Horses of Different Colors series by James Walkswithwind and Wolfling, which you can find at -- I have, however, written it with the intention that it will still make complete sense to people who haven't read that series.

Tony took a deep breath and pulled the doors to NCIS headquarters open. After three weeks of medical leave, imposed on him after the pair of snake bites he'd suffered, it felt almost strange to be back in the building. Especially after being wrapped in Gibbs's protective bubble, Tony thought wryly.

The centaur would never admit to coddling him in the slightest, but somehow Tony had ended up staying with Gibbs for the first two weeks. He had still been very weak, after all; it had made sense to have someone around in case of emergency. After that, during week three, Gibbs had appeared more than regularly to 'check on' Tony. And that had been on top of his determination to see that Tony went to every one of his physical therapy sessions and ate properly and didn't overexert himself and wasn't aggravated during his recovery.

That last had been the excuse for keeping the visits from Abby down to a minimum and the visits from Kate and McGee down to...well, none. At least, Tony was pretty sure they would have visited if it hadn't been for Gibbs's temporary overprotectiveness. Tony's lips tightened as he paused to get his badge out to display to security.

Be honest with yourself, DiNozzo, Tony rebuked himself. If Kate and McGee had really wanted to see you, they'd have managed it just like Abby did.

He had to hope that they'd just needed the time to get used the idea. Ideas, plural, Tony reminded himself. Finding out about him and Gibbs was shock enough by itself, but finding out that Gibbs wasn't human... Talk about a one-two punch. Worse, Gibbs was forced into spilling the beans. Kate and McGee can't even reassure themselves that at least we trusted them enough to share the secret willingly.

Tony resisted the urge to rub a hand over his face as he passed through security. He wished, a little guiltily, that he could just be satisfied with his fellow agents' willingness to keep the secrets and to Hell with how they felt about Gibbs's revelations. But he couldn't.

Nothing motivates sensitivity to the feelings of others like rampant self-interest, Tony thought wryly. If... Tony swallowed heavily. If he was going to get the most out of the years that Gibbs had left in his centaur's limited lifespan, Tony was going to need all the help he could get. He needed more from Kate and McGee than their willingness to not talk. He needed them to actively support the fiction of his social life. He needed them to cover when he or Gibbs or both of them eventually slipped, because on a time scale of years they were going to slip.

He needed Kate and McGee to be his allies, and judging from their lack of visits, Tony was going to have to do the reaching out. It wasn't like Gibbs was going to do it.

Here's hoping they don't expire of shock once I start talking, Tony thought, the corner of his mouth twitching up into a smile. Frankness was one tool in his verbal arsenal that he'd always used...sparingly, to say the least. But he couldn't think of anything that would work better in this particular case. Hell, his prior reluctance to be serious would only up the oomph of this effort.

Tony shook himself out of his thoughts as he approached the main elevator and focused back on the world just in time to see the doors start to slide shut. "Hold the elevator!" he called out, breaking into a jog. A hand appeared, interrupting the slide of the doors. They retracted again, revealing McGee. "Hey, McGee," Tony greeted him and smiled brightly. No time like the present. "Miss me?"

"You were gone?" McGee asked, deadpan.

Tony snickered internally. Yup, he was definitely making progress. "Oh, that hurts," he said aloud, placing a hand over his heart as the elevator doors closed and the car started moving. "I'd have thought you'd want to grill me on the whole centaur thing, at least."

There was a long, pregnant pause.

Affecting a sigh, Tony reached out and flicked the stop button. McGee turned to him, brow wrinkled. "Why'd you do that?"

"Because you really do want to grill me," Tony said, "and I'd rather just get it over with than put up with your eyes drilling holes into the back of my head all day."

"You don't mind?"

Tony shot McGee a wry look. "If I mind anything you ask, I just won't answer. So go for it. Shoot. What questions are burning a hole in your brain?" He waited for a long moment. "Today, McGee."

"Are there more than just centaurs out there?" McGee blurted at last. "More races out of mythology, I mean."

Not exactly the first thing I expected him to ask, Tony thought, surprised. Although maybe I should have. But definitely a good start. "I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "I mean, Gibbs is pretty close mouthed about his own people unless I ask or something comes up and he has to tell me. I don't think he'd say anything even if there were other 'mythical' races out there. He'd think it wasn't his secret to tell." Tony shrugged. "And that's assuming that he'd know. If there are others, maybe they hide themselves from humans and centaurs." Tony quirked an eyebrow. "Hoping for elves, were you?"

McGee blew out an exasperated breath. "If you didn't want me to ask--"

"No, no, go ahead," Tony said, waving him onward.

McGee watched him warily for a moment before speaking again. "Is it hard for Gibbs to hold human form?"

Tony frowned. "Hard? What do you mean?"

"Well, if his real shape is--"

"Hang on a second," Tony interrupted. "Faulty assumption there, McGee. Neither of Gibbs's shapes is any more 'real' than the other. They're both him and, as far as I know, he's been switching between them since he was born. Having two shapes is as natural to him as having just one is to us."

"So his parents were centaurs?" McGee asked, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning forward a little.

"Yup," Tony answered, though it seemed like an odd question to him. How on Earth would Gibbs have ended up a centaur if his parents were human? "He grew up in a whole herd of them. Hardly ever even saw any humans."

"A whole herd," McGee said softly. He shook his head. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and the world will be ordinary again."

Tony smiled at that, letting a little of his genuine sympathy leak out to color the expression. He'd had the same feeling for the first couple of months, although his own wonderment had had more to do with the knowledge that Gibbs wanted him, that they were together, than it did with Gibbs's nature.

McGee shook himself visibly. "If there's a whole herd out there, why isn't Gibbs with them?" he asked curiously.

And now to skirt the subject of dominance, because that sure isn't likely to win Gibbs any fans. Tony shrugged. "Centaurs have a lot in common with horses. There can only be one adult stallion per herd. The rest of them make lives for themselves in the human world." He grinned suddenly. "A lot of them end up in law enforcement."

McGee shot him a suspicious look. "And you'd know that how?"

"I might have run into one or two lone stallions in the past year," Tony said with studied casualness.

"Now you're bragging," McGee said, shaking his head. "Can't you even give your ego a rest over something like this?"

"An active ego is a healthy ego," Tony quipped. "Come on, McGee. You can't tell me you wouldn't be smug as Hell if you were in my place."

A long pause. "Okay, maybe," McGee conceded. "So how did you get to be in your place? Knowing about Gibbs and centaurs, I mean."

Tony wished he could just say that Gibbs had taken him into his confidence, but...well, McGee would be more sympathetic to the truth anyway. "Ducky set Gibbs up," Tony admitted. "Got him to say some suspicious things while I was listening just outside of autopsy."

McGee's eyes widened. "Gibbs must have been pissed."

"He was." Tony grimaced. "Fortunately, by the time I showed up at his place for an explanation, he'd calmed down a lot." Tony tilted his head and looked at McGee curiously. "You haven't asked how Gibbs and I got together."

McGee shrugged. "It didn't really seem to matter."

Didn't seem to matter? Tony frowned internally. McGee was being way too blasť about this. Tony would almost rather he freaked out so that they could get it over with. He was curious enough about the centaur thing. Why temper his reaction to the one and not the other? "How can the way I found out about the centaur thing be important when how I got together with Gibbs isn't?" Tony asked. The two events were inextricably linked in his mind.

"Relationships are all pretty ordinary," McGee said, shrugging. "You meet, you realize there's a mutual interest there, you get together, it works or it doesn't. There are only so many variations on the theme and I already know how you and Gibbs met. There's nothing dramatic about realizing a mutual interest and it's obviously working. What else is there to know? But finding out about Gibbs being a centaur..." He trailed off and shook his head. "I mean, completely aside from the fact that Gibbs is an incredibly private person, he was trusting you with the safety of an entire species. I can't help but wonder how that moment went."

"Okay, I grant you that that was a Hell of a moment," Tony conceded. "But how can you say there's nothing dramatic about realizing a mutual interest?" He shook his head. "Haven't you ever done the unrequited lust thing, McGee?"

McGee scowled. "As you constantly remind me, I'm a geek. Of course I have. Ever since high school. Heck, since before high school."

"Then you ought to know that finding out whether or not your interest is mutual feels pretty dramatic," Tony said.

"The fact that it feels dramatic doesn't mean it was dramatic," McGee pointed out stubbornly.

"Doesn't meant it wasn't, either," Tony argued stubbornly.

McGee lifted his chin and folded his arms across his chest. "All right, then. Fill me in on the drama."

Tony opened his mouth to comply and paused as he considered his words. Nothing much had actually happened, had it? "Okay," Tony admitted reluctantly, "so maybe all the drama was on the inside."

"Told you so."

"You just couldn't resist, could you?"

"Would you have?" McGee asked skeptically.

"Nope," Tony said cheerfully, "but aren't you supposed to be trying to be the better man?"

"Not just trying." McGee smirked a little.

Tony laughed. "Hey, I'm good enough for Gibbs." He waggled his eyebrows and grinned as McGee flushed a little.

"Speaking of which..." The younger agent paused uncomfortably before continuing. Tony actually relaxed a little at that. There was the discomfort showing at last. "It's not just physical, right?"

"Well. No, it's not" Tony admitted, leaning against the wall of the elevator. "Not anymore, at least. If it ever was."

McGee's postured eased. "Okay then."

Tony raised his eyebrows. "Would there have been a problem if it was just sex?"

"Not a problem," McGee said. "It's just that it's risky for coworkers to be together even when they're straight. I'd hate to think you and Gibbs were putting it on the line just for sex."

A grin crept onto Tony's lips. "But for love, all risks are justified, is that it?" McGee shot him a dirty look and Tony chortled. "I should have figured an author would be a romantic."

"There's something wrong with that?"

Tony couldn't help but think of Gibbs's carefully hidden romantic streak. "Nope," he said easily.

McGee watched him suspiciously, obviously wary of the easy capitulation. "That's it? Just 'nope'?"

"It's serious, McGee. Romance kind of goes with the territory." As light as Tony intended the words to be, they came out edged with unexpected sincerity and he found himself fighting down a blush. Successfully, thank God. There was frankness and then there was frankness.

"You know," McGee said, "I honestly never thought I'd see the day you settled down with someone."

Tony leaned back against the wall of the elevator. "Caught me by surprise, too." He laughed a little. "Just like Gibbs to be sneaky about it."

"I bet he'd have been direct if he thought it'd work with you," McGee commented.

Tony's eyebrows flew up. "I'm not--I wasn't--exactly a difficult catch, McGee."

"I wasn't talking about getting together," McGee shot back. "I was talking about getting you settled. You're as well known for your dislike of commitment as Gibbs is for his penchant for it. Knowing Gibbs, he was careful not to scare you off."

Still is, Tony thought. "I guess learning about what he was made for a pretty good distraction," Tony said wryly.

"I wish I could really see a centaur," McGee's voice was wistful. "Things went so fast when Kate and I found out..." Tony kept his silence. That, unfortunately for his little campaign, was not something he was about to promise. Eventually McGee sighed. "We'd better get to work. People are bound to be waiting for the elevator at this time of the morning."

Tony snorted. "People ought to know better by now." He reached for the switch that would put the elevator back into motion.


Pausing, Tony glanced back at McGee. "Yeah?"

"If you ever need to talk about it...Gibbs, I mean. Either the centaur thing or your relationship. You can talk to me." McGee looked a little awkward, but sincere. "I mean, Gibbs has had Ducky all this time and you haven't had anyone."

A little thrill of triumph went through Tony. "I did okay," he said aloud. Embarrassment started to color McGee's expression, so Tony quickly cut him off before he could say anything. "But thanks. I'll do that."

McGee's expression eased. "Well?" He nodded to the switch. "What're you waiting for?"

"So eager to get back to the salt mines, McGeek?" Tony teased, flicking the switch.

"Don't call me that," McGee said automatically, shooting Tony a dirty look. The doors opened and he stepped out.

Tony followed. "But it's so perfect."

"It's not my name."

"'Probie' wasn't your name, either."

"And I disliked it just as much."

"You need to grow a thicker skin, McGeek."