Cynthia Morton had been the secretary for the Director of NCIS for nearly twenty years now. She patted her perfectly styled frosted blonde hair and prepared herself for the most underhanded trick she'd ever played on an agent. She settled her shoulders, folded the papers to the right page and picked up a pen. She hurried down the hallway to the stairs that would take her into the whirlwind that was Gibbs' team in the middle of a case. "Tony." Her breath was a little fast from the running. "You didn't sign your JAR."

Tony DiNozzo blinked at her from the middle of a pile of photographs he had spread out on the floor. He was sitting like a four year old. That was going to be hell on his knee. "Oh, Cynthia. Sorry." He moved to get up. "I was a million miles away."

"Just sign this and I'll take care of the rest, sweetie."

He gave her one of his best smiles. He signed the paperwork without glancing through it beyond noting it was the standard HR format and properly dated. "I'm so sorry I missed it. Forgive me?"

"Nothing to forgive." She patted his head as if he really were a child and he gave her a wink. "Back to work." She strode up the stairs. She folded the paperwork back into place. She knocked on Director Vance's door.

"Come in."

"I have the paperwork." She narrowed her eyes at him. "You are going to owe me for this. I'll keep him out of your office as best I can, but he learned from Gibbs that that door means nothing. Director Sheppard never made him wait for anything and Director Morrow liked him. He's like a cat. You close a door or a drawer and he's going to find a way to open it." She set the HR file down on the desk. "As soon as you sign this, I'll take it down to HR. He'll be processed into the position within the week. That will cost you a chocolate basket."

He nodded. "You have my credit card number. Keep it reasonable." He switched his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "I'll draft the announcement. As soon as the confirmation from HR comes, send it out."

She nodded firmly. She turned to leave.


"Yes, sir?"

"Do you think he's the right man for the job?"

She laughed merrily. "I think he'll be perfect for the job. However, I would consider wearing a bullet-proof vest and having my affairs in order before telling Agent Gibbs."


Tony stretched. His back popped. His computer chimed its "new message" warning. It was from Vance. He clicked on it and stared at the screen. He started to laugh.

"What is it?" McGee asked. He set his lunch down on the corner of the desk.

"Great joke, Probie." He grinned at the younger man. "Was it you or Abby? It looks official."

"That's because it is official." Gibbs' voice from the stairwell had the same effect as a head-slap. Tony's jaw snapped shut and his eyes focused squarely on his boss. Gibbs' blue eyes were furious. "You could have warned me."

"Warned you? This can't be real. He can't do this without asking me! Can he?" Tony felt like a little kid begging his father to make things make sense.

"I saw the paperwork. You signed it."

"That was just my PAR. Cynthia said I'd missed it."

Gibbs cocked his head to the side. "Did she say JAR or PAR?"


"Are you absolutely positive?"

That stopped him cold. He closed his eyes. "I was working with the photos from the Sanderson case. She hurried down to get my signature on the paperwork. That sneaky, underhanded woman." He stared at Gibbs for a long moment. "So how do we undo this?"

Director Vance chuckled from his position over the railing. He looked like an overly happy gargoyle. "My office, DiNozzo."

Tony put his gun in its holster.

Gibbs caught Tony by the back of the neck as he passed and leaned in to whisper. "Don't shoot him on property. Beg sweetly. And remember that Morton's the one with the power."

Tony nodded. He squared his shoulders. He stopped on the first step. "If I turn in the resignation letter that's on my hard drive?"

"I will personally make sure you never walk again." Gibbs' voice was cold. Tony shivered.

"Right, Boss. Thank you, Boss."


Vance studied the man that was sitting across from him. "You'll start immediately. Finish up whatever notes you're working on for the cold cases and move your things into my old office."

"But I like my desk. It's right in the middle of things."

"Stop pretending you're an idiot. I've seen your file. B average in high-school. Straight A's in college and graduate school. Aced every police exam you've ever taken."

DiNozzo's eyes narrowed. "That file's pure BS."

"And this recommendation letter from Baltimore? The one begging us not to take his best new detective?"

"Believe whatever you want."

"I believe the three commendations from Director Morrow," Leon said mildly. DiNozzo's shoulders tightened.

"Then why are you taking me out of the field?"

"It's a promotion, DiNozzo, not an execution."

"Why are you taking *me* out of the field.? There's plenty of people in this organization who'd be a better pick for AD."

"Such as?"

"Rollins, Cas…" DiNozzo stumbled over the name as he remembered Cassidy was dead. "Toldhouse. Carson. Spinoza. Paul Ho. Schwinn."

"My short list is Gibbs, you, or Stackhouse."

"Then you're an idiot." DiNozzo smirked. "Gibbs said he'd break me if I resign. He didn't say I couldn't get you to fire me."

Vance laughed. "You want to tell Gibbs he's my choice for the position. You want out of the position, you convince Gibbs to take it."

The younger man's eyes focused on Leon's paperweight. They narrowed slightly. "Carte blanche on how I convince him?"

"No, you have to do the work until you get him to agree to it. You cannot shoot him. You cannot blackmail him."

"If you wanted Gibbs in this position, you'd just make it an order. He may not appreciate you, but you're still his commanding officer."

"And now you are."

DiNozzo looked as if he were about to throw up. "So be straight with me. Why are you punishing me?"

Leon blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"One, you're pulling me out of the field. Two, you're taking me off of my team. Three, you're taking me from Gibbs. The only partner I've stuck with for more than two years. Four, you're making Gibbs report to me in some twisted form that will upset the universe. Five, you're promoting me above other agents who have been here longer than I have and have a better idea of how this place runs. Six, you put me on a ship for a damned tour which was contrary to the very explicit letter you will find in my file stating I would not be required to do because I have family in the Navy. Seven, you didn't bother to ask me if I wanted the position; just bribed Cynthia and HR into making it happen. Eight, you're making Gibbs report to me."

"You already said that."

"It bears repeating! How is this not punishment?"

"You'll be getting a raise, responsibility, and an increase in rank. You'll travel the world. I'm failing to see the issue here."

DiNozzo's lips tightened. "And I'll have to watch my team go out without me to watch their backs. I won't be able to do any actual investigation because I'll be too busy doing all the paperwork and jobs you don't want to do anymore now that you're director. I'll be stuck in an office eighty percent of the time. I have to play politics. And I don't care about money."

Vance looked at the young man's suit, his shoes, and the watch on his wrist. He raised his brows.

"Trust. Fund." The words were accompanied by a twisted little smile. "My third step-mother set it up when she sent me away to school. That's also in the pretty little file you didn't read."

"Let's go over your responsibilities."

"What do you want to get me out of this besides serving Gibbs up on a platter?"

The Director of NCIS smirked. "That's the only choice."

"You're not supposed to use my psych reports against me you know."


Tony slumped in his new desk chair. The office was quiet, nicely appointed, had a lovely view, and even a couch and television. It didn't have ambient noise, chaos, teammates to tease, or a boss to please. He hated it. He picked up the tennis ball and threw it at the door as hard as he could. A moment later Cynthia opened the door. "You banged?"

"Sorry, Cynthia. Just playing." He gestured to the tennis ball laying forlornly in the center of the blue carpet.

The older woman raised her brows. "And did no one ever teach you to pick up your toys?"

"I'm setting a booby-trap for Vance. I need to make it look accidental."

She knocked the ball back toward his desk with one sensible black pump with a kitten heel. She closed the door. "Okay, sweetie, let's talk."

"I can't do this, Cynthia. Gibbs won't let me quit. And believe me I tried everything to get him to agree to that."

"That explains the bruised knuckles, I suppose?" She frowned at him. The disapproval made his stomach twist. She cocked her head to the side, studying him like his nanny Rosita might have. She crossed the room and sat in the visitor's chair. "You're perfect for this position. You know everyone. You like everyone. Even the people who don't like you. You've got a good mind for details."

"I can't spell. I hate reading. I hate politics. I hate being responsible for people."

"I watched you lead the Major Crimes Team. Your solve rate never bobbled. You're an excellent trainer. You trained Viv, Eric, Lillian, Kate, Timothy, Ziva, and Michelle. Don't even start with the 'Gibbs trained them' excuse. I've watched you for years. You're the one they go to with questions. It's only when you can't answer them that they turn to Gibbs."

Tony looked at the bulletin board with his impromptu crime scene portraits. "Kate's dead. Paula's dead. Michelle's dead."

"Lillian's alive. Timothy's alive. Ziva's alive. Viv is back with the FBI. Eric is a sheriff in Kansas."

"Jenny's dead."

"Yes, she is." Cynthia's voice was steel. "That was not your fault. She chose to go out in a wave of glory rather than tied to a hospital bed. You'd do the same thing in a heartbeat as long as you could keep anyone else from getting hurt." Tony met the older woman's chocolate eyes. "She was dying, Tony. Would you want to linger in a hospital bed?"

Tony dropped his eyes. He could still feel the desperation of trying to breath into liquid filled lungs. He could feel the IV's in his arms and the cold oxygen across his upper lip. "No."

"Tony, you can do this. I won't let you fall. You'll make mistakes, but everyone does. Trust me. I've seen six AD's through this position."

"I wish I could hate you."

She smiled at him sadly. "You're going to be fine, Tony. And if you really need it, I'll call Gibbs and tell him you need to be smacked at least once a day."

He summoned up a smile for her. "This is the worse undercover role ever."

"But you're one of the best undercover agents. Go over the reports on your desk. If you need clarification from the agents, you can send them back, call them in, or have me take questions to them. You have a staff meeting at one."

"I'm going to shoot myself."

"Now, sweetie, that's a lack of imagination. Turn your attention to the man who got you into this instead."

Now that was a good idea. He smiled broadly at her. "You're the best, Cynthia."


Tony looked around the investigative staff meeting. He gave a little wave to the team leads and independent investigators. Gibbs was thankfully not in the room. He had a kidnapping in Langley to deal with. A Pentagon based Marine and his CIA agent wife were missing three children. "So, you all know me. And, for reasons only known only to his pillow, Vance has forced me into this. I don't like it and I'm sure most of you don't like it either. So, let's try something new at these meetings. Instead of going around in a circle and hoping to not have to tell the AD anything, let's try brainstorming instead. Anyone hit a brick wall lately? Need some fresh eyes? Throw it on the table and we'll throw our collective brains on it."

"No offense, Tony, but why not just let us get out of here and back to work?"

"Because Cynthia threatened to cut off my supply of tea, lock the doors to the conference room, or schedule a sensitivity briefing, depending on what time we leave. We're staying in here at least half-an-hour, so cough something up. Tell me a story about missing money, Brown. Or the lack of forensic evidence on the AWOL sailor from the Roosevelt, Purcell. Give me something to work with, or I'll pick a case at random and let everyone else take a whack at it."

Balboa cleared his throat. "Okay, missing money from the Annapolis endowments. I've got two million missing and only three people who had authorized access. Computer crimes is checking the bank trails for anything else."

"Lay it out for us. Who's who?" Tony leaned forward. Soon enough he'd gotten Patton and Jones going on the possibilities of cons and mismanagement. An hour and a half later, he broke in. "Okay, so Balboa's going to check with the head secretary about who has a beef against the treasurer. Sanderson, you're going to help him out with the accounting. And Jones? You are so going to rent Fight Club this weekend. Next week. Same time, same place. Bring in a current case, or I'll pick a cold one. Let Cynthia know if you need me at any time."

"That sounds suspiciously like, 'let me steal a case' from you," Jones drawled.

"If only they'd let me." Tony sighed. He shook his head. The agents who knew him best laughed. The room cleared out. He stayed, leaning back in the conference room chair.

"Time for your next meeting," Cynthia told him from the door. "Three rooms down. Take these budget sheets. You'll need to learn them, but no one will expect you to know them today."

"I'm calling my father and telling him that I understand why he drinks now." He hauled himself to his feet. He gathered the papers with a smile of thanks and went on to the budget meeting with the head of accounting and all the department heads.


Gibbs ducked the wad of paper that was headed straight for him. He looked up at DiNozzo. "Back to work, Tony," he ordered the young man who stood leaning over the railing with an armful of files.

DiNozzo gave him a pathetic display of puppy-dog eyes. "Gibbs, you have to save me. I've been in meetings all week. I'm going to snap."

The senior agent raised a brow. He smirked. "Gym. Seven."

"Huh. Well, there are worse ways to go. See you then."

McGee looked up from his computer. Ziva looked up at Tony's quickly moving form. "When are we getting him back?" McGee asked.

Gibbs grimaced. "I'm working on it."

Ziva rolled her eyes. "He could ask HR to return him to his previous rank, yes?"


Tony's desk looked forlorn. The computer was developing a layer of dust. The random office supplies were gone. It was as if he'd never sat there. As much as it killed him, Gibbs wasn't enough of a bastard to put someone else in it. Tony still had faith that he'd be going back to the field. That he'd manage to wriggle out of the leash Vance had found for him. Gibbs only saw one way out and he wasn't willing to retire. Ziva frowned at him. "What have you not told us?"

"Where are my reports?" he snapped at his team. The indulgent looks he got from them made him aware that his voice wasn't as sharp as it usually was. They dropped the subject and that was good enough for the moment.


"You hold back and I'll break you," Gibbs warned. Tony gave him a smile full of too many teeth.

"Good." They sparred for nearly ten minutes before the slow congregation of a crowd impinged upon their consciousness. Tony's smile was thin, eyes narrowed. "Stop humoring me, Gibbs. It's not like I have to worry about being field ready."

Gibbs narrowed his eyes. "You sure."

"Hell yes." Tony launched an attack that Gibbs met with a firm block and throw. Tony didn't bother to get up, but rather went for Gibbs' ankle on his way to a nasty strike toward Gibbs' groin. It was a street technique he'd picked up from Ziva. Gibbs reacted instinctively, giving Tony space to make it to his feet. There was no way this could count as technique anymore. It was a fight. Tony wanted blood and bruises.

"Stop pulling your damned punches, DiNozzo," he snapped. "I know you've got a better right than that."

"You're on call tomorrow."

Gibbs shrugged. "You're meeting with Morrow and Vance."

Their eyes met momentarily, then the fight was joined again. A quick strike caught Tony's cheek. The response clipped Gibbs' jaw. The murmuring of the crowd and the discrete exchanging of money didn't bother either of them. The mat shook as Gibbs took DiNozzo to the mats again. Tony didn't kick out Gibbs' bad knee, but it was close. By the time they finished, Tony's black eye was developing nicely and Gibbs was going to be nursing a split lip. "Yield, boss," Tony held up a weary hand. Gibbs offered his own and pulled the younger man to his feet.

"Morrow's going to have me up on charges," Gibbs chuckled.

"Oh, like you're going to be looking your best tomorrow." Tony's smile was easier though. "Hey, I want a cut of that!" he snapped at Pullman. The crowd laughed at them. It was only about ten people, but it made the room seem too small. "Let's get out of here."

"You owe me coffee."


Tony settled down at the small conference room table in Vance's office with two cups of coffee. He took one and set it in front of himself. Vance reached for the other one. Tony didn't look up from his file before smacking his hand. "Not for you. Besides, I wouldn't trust anything I gave you to eat or drink. My mother was a DiMedici."

Tom Morrow, former NCIS director and current director of Homeland Security, chuckled from the doorway. Tony offered him the second coffee. "That's not Gibbs-style?"

"No, you need your stomach lining."

Morrow took the cup with a nod. "Assistant Director, hmm? I thought you'd be working with Gibbs until he retired."

"So did I. Who's your friend?" Tony studied the woman behind Morrow with bright curiosity. His eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute."

The woman cocked her head to the side, studying him in turn.

"Mrs. Hathaway?" he said finally. "Is Mr. H still teaching at Annapolis?"

"Yes. And he'll be thrilled to know that the Navy finally got its hooks into you." They shook hands. Morrow exchanged a glance with Vance.

"I take it you know each other?" Vance's voice was dry.

"I dated her family for three weeks or so when I was with the BPD."

"My daughter. You dated my daughter."

"That would imply that I saw your daughter without you or your husband acting as a chaperone. Besides, you're married and I don't think your husband would have appreciated it if I'd tried dating you instead."

"How old was this daughter?" Morrow raised his brows, a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth.

"Almost twenty."

"Nineteen," Hathaway stated firmly. "Which is why she never dated him alone."

"Every date was an interrogation. Helped me practice being tortured."

"You're the one who let it slip he'd gone to a naval prep-school."

"He yelled 'attention' to wake me up. That wasn't a slip up, it was a conditioned response."

"Should I bring Gibbs up on a domestic?" Morrow settled into his chair. Marina Hathaway settled next to Tony. "That's one hell of a shiner."

"Sparring got a little nasty last night. Not an issue. Although, I think I still owe Gibbs about ten cups of coffee for yielding."

Morrow laughed.

Mrs. Hathaway raised her brows. "Why Tony, is there something I should know?"

"Mr. H still married to you?"

"Thirty-six years this month."

"Then, no, ma'am."

"So, you're afraid of my AD. Good to know." Morrow smirked.

"No, I'm afraid of her husband."

"Now, Tony, you know he won't hurt you. Especially since Angela is now married. He's got a new target."

"Great." Tony's smile twisted a bit. "What's his name? I have to run a background check."

"Oh, no you don't. She's been married for two years now and I've got a grandchild on the way."

"Fine. Would you like something to drink? We even have chai around here."

Hathaway shook her head. "No, gratzie."

"Then let's get to work." Vance flipped the file in front of him open. "We've got intel to share. We'll need to set up a joint operation."

Morrow nodded. "Let's see what you have."


"You're going to Rota?" Gibbs chuckled. "Don't get blown up." He folded half a piece of pizza into his mouth. Tony lounged at his old desk, feet up on the edge and a file open on his lap.

"They're still not letting me out of the office."

"Then don't shoot anyone."

"Can't promise that."

Ducky stood in the entry way to the bullpen, his hat on and umbrella in one hand. He shook his head. "At least you're eating, even if it isn't good for you. No more than once every two weeks. If I see pizza again, I'm throwing it out. Do you understand me?" He glared at each of them in turn.

"Yes, Ducky." Tony offered the box. "Want a slice?"

The doctor laughed. "No. Don't stay up too late, either of you. Security has word to call me if either of you are in this office past midnight tonight."

"You're turning into a hard-ass, Duck." Gibbs nodded. "Good to see."

"Well, if the neighbors from Hell have a party tonight, we'll be here for you."

"I should hope not, Anthony. If you must, his basement is much more acceptable."

"Or maybe the guest room after a cup of that paint thinner he drinks."

Gibbs snorted. "If one mug takes you down, you're not the man I hired."

"I've been good." Tony raised two fingers in a Boy Scout pledge. "I haven't been drinking. Much. Lately. Cynthia took my bottle."

Ducky chuckled. "I hear you're going on a trip?"

"News travels fast. Yes, I'm heading out to Rota for a week or so." The young man shrugged. "I have to do paperwork there too. You're helping Gibbs get me back in the field right?"

The doctor shook his head with a fond smile. "I am not providing blackmail material, no matter how the two of you beg."

"I'll have to ask Abby then. Too bad. You're easier to bribe. She'll demand tribute."

"I'm off then. Do take care and get some rest tonight."

"Yes, Ducky."

When the elevator doors closed behind the medical examiner, Gibbs stood up and surveyed the empty office. There was one other task light on at the other side of the room. "Run it for me."

The tension in Tony's shoulders released. "Okay. It plays like this."


"Assistant Director DiNozzo, I'm SA Green. I don't think we've met yet."

"Not yet. But I know Parsons who tells me you play a mean hand of poker."

Green laughed. He was the most incredibly average man Tony had ever seen. He was probably the only man who'd be able to challenge Tony's informal title as "best undercover agent". He had a firm handshake, brown eyes, brown hair, and a cheap pair of beige suitpants with his Brooks Brothers tie. He looked like a vacationing middle manager, not an agent. "Parsons tells me that you've survived working with Gibbs for eight years. How'd you do that?"

"Invested in Bayer stock," Tony deadpanned. He shrugged as they walked further into the office. "His bark is comforting after awhile."

"Stockholm Syndrome," Qyeun Nguyen called out. "I've seen it before." She flipped her shoulder-length black hair over her shoulder. "Well, hello there, Tony. Never thought I'd see you off your leash."

Green scowled at her. "Qyeun."

"What? It's *Tony*." She rolled her eyes. "He still owes me dinner."

"Not my fault you ran away to Spain."

"Well, technically, it is." She smiled sweetly at him. "It was that or face down Ziva David. I'm not that stupid."

"See, not my fault. It's Ziva's fault. And what was she threatening you about anyway?"

"You still owing me dinner."

"I'll pay up while I'm here. You can show me the best place for tapas."


Tony turned to Green. "So, it's you, Nguyen, Palmyra, Spinoza, and Hernandez." He frowned. "Weren't you supposed to have six people on this rotation?"

"Budget cuts."

"Under Sheppard or under Vance?"


"I'll see what I can do. I distinctly remember her telling me it was a six person team."

Green's brows rose. "You talked to the director about Rota?" He blinked. "She was holding the position for you, wasn't she?"

"She offered me lead, but I refused. I didn't hear anything about there being a position cut here."

"Happened at the end of the budget year. Lost the headcount because it was still open." Green frowned. "Still open because she was waiting for something that everyone knows wouldn't happen. How did Vance convince you to take the job?"

"I was tricked. And according to him, my only way out is to make Gibbs take it."

"Oh, dear God, no!" Nugyen recoiled. She put a hand to her throat and widened her eyes comically. "That's just wrong. So wrong that I cannot even begin to explain it. You're going to protect us, aren't you?" She batted her lashes.

"Oh, stop it. He's not that bad. He'd be excellent in the job. As long as Cynthia locked up his gun. So, show me the op, Green. Don't leave anything out."


Tony settled in front of Vance's desk with a large cup of his favorite tea. There was a second cup in the cardboard carrier. Vance raised his brows. "Not for me, I'm assuming?"

"It's cocoa." The younger man looked at him with a smirk. "But, I've warned you. Never trust anything I bring you to drink."

"I'll risk it." Vance took the cup and sipped it. "How was Rota?"

"Beautiful. Smells of oranges and sea salt. Director Sheppard cut them down to a five man team. They need one more out there. Another Spanish speaker like Corina. Or a bigger budget for training. Only two of them speak the language in any way approaching fluency. It doesn't make it easy."

"And the op?"

"Captured fifteen members of the cell and they're being interrogated as we speak. Last I heard they'd retrieved another member and a stash of weapons."

"No problems?"

"Not one." Tony took a long sip of his own drink. "So, is the plan to send me to the west coast where you were or are you actually going to have two people, like the org chart claims?"

"Two people. That way you two can cover the entire world and I don't have to scramble to find oversight for an operation in China."

"We have operations in China?"


Tony's eyes narrowed. "Ah. I see. Nevermind then. So, who are you putting into place permanently? I want to get back to my desk and real work."

"You are the permanent DD for this coast. I've got Martins for the west coast."

Tony wrinkled his nose. "Martins has a wife and doesn't want to leave his current posting in Hawaii. I heard he had to kill someone for it."

"Martins wants the promotion. His wife wants him to have it. And they can always travel."

"Yes, of course. Silly me. Because living in California is the same as living in Hawaii." Tony shook his head. "I should call him and warn him what you're going to do to him."

"Martins likes me." Leon leaned back in his chair and savored the liquid chocolate. DiNozzo had no fear of him. It was refreshing. "I'll be promoting McGee into the open Senior Field agent position."

DiNozzo's face pinched up for a moment. "He'll be okay. Gibbs has had his eye on Patrick for awhile."

"Patrick's not up for promotion yet."

"You aren't going to just give him a probie are you? That's cruel and unusual punishment."

"Gibbs is not in charge of hiring."

Tony snorted. "He didn't hire Ziva. He took her in because she killed Ari." He paused. "You did know about that whole fluster-cluck right?"

Leon scowled. "Yes. I know. Sheppard crowed about getting Gibbs to accept her."

"He took McGee on because I badgered him and then Abby badgered him. We still had Kate then, though, so that was okay. McGee is good. And he's developing a set of balls. Finally. But you can't just set another one of the current rookies into his spot and expect it to work. You need someone with an outside background. Not another geek."


"Meaning. FBI, CIA, MP's, or a cop. You need a real investigator. Not someone who's just watched a few television shows and read a book or taken a class. You need someone with real experience. Let Gibbs choose."

Leon snorted. "Gibbs is not God."

"No, but Gibbs knows what he really wants. You don't. When's the last time you actively investigated? Three, four years? You're too far away from it right now. Jenny didn't recognize it. I'm doing my best not to lose my edge, but every day I'm behind a desk, I lose a little more of my instincts. Don't do that to your lead team."

Leon studied the young man for a long moment. "You actually mean that."

"I do." Tony looked ill. "If someone has to be out there watching his back and it's not me? I want someone who knows which end of the gun to use and how to tackle a suspect. McGee can find a computer trail faster than I can boot up, but he still doesn't have the physical experience. And it shows."

"I'll consider it."

"Your funeral. Do you know how many probies Gibbs went through in the two years before Kate? Six. In two years."

"I said, I'd consider it. Now, why do you think there needs to be a sixth person in Rota?"


"Gibbs. Wear your goddamned jacket or I will lock you in MTAC and take the lead myself," Tony hissed. He and Gibbs were close enough to breathe each other's air.

Gibbs raised his brows. "And you're going to accomplish that how? Last I checked McGee and Ziva still report to me."

"McGee! Get Gibbs' jacket. It's in the file cabinet."

McGee jumped. He grabbed the jacket, dropped it into Tony's waiting hand and retreated. Gibbs snorted. "You know I don't wear it."

"I don't give a fuck. I'm not there to watch your back today, so you will wear the jacket. If you don't, and you get your stubborn ass killed, I will have the strega that lives with Nonna bring you back from the dead so that I can tear strips off of you before I kill you myself." Tony's voice never got about a loud whisper. He slammed the jacket into Gibbs' chest. "Put it on."

"The power's gone to your head."

Tony's eyes narrowed. "Bullshit. We've had this same conversation five times over the past nine years. Every time you cave. Just buck up and wear the jacket."

"Gonna put me on report?" Gibbs smirked.

The younger man snorted. He tugged Gibbs' suitcoat off. Some part of his mind noted the fact that Ziva was handing cash over to McGee. She must finally have lost a bet. Gibbs shook his head. He pulled on the bullet-proof vest and let Tony fuss over the straps for a moment. "Don't get yourself killed. I refuse to let McGee take the lead for the team."

"I'll be fine, DiNozzo."

"Last time you told me to calm down you ended up with a bullet in your arm. I think I'm allowed to be a little tense." Tony turned to McGee. "You're on his six. Don't let me down, Tim." McGee nodded. "I've got it. And we can dial you in through MTAC."

"No, we won't." Gibbs said calmly. "If I have to listen to him mother-hen me all day, I'll have to shoot him over dinner and that will ruin the mood."

"Is it my birthday already?" Tony glanced at his watch. "Huh. Okay. New rule. No getting shot on my birthday. Go save the world. Don't get shot." Tony stood in the bullpen and watched their retreating backs. He closed his eyes for a long moment.

"I thought I was going to get to see you head-slap him," a voice said from the right. Tony glanced over and saw Melanie Halston leaning there. She gave him a smile. "Mind taking a look at something?"

"Of course not. What have you got?" Tony knew she was just trying to help, but he hated her just a little bit at that moment.


Gibbs looked around Tony's office. "You haven't moved in yet."

"I have my stapler."

"You going to bail on me?"

"I'm still considering it."

The older man dropped into the visitor's chair and sipped his coffee. Tony slumped in his own chair and swung it back and forth like a little boy. He looked perfectly miserable. His pout was exaggerated though, so it wasn't real. Gibbs studied him for a long moment. "It's not that bad is it?"

"It sucks, boss. It just sucks. I'm stuck in this office. I have to go to meetings. I have to make decisions. On the plus side, I get to poke my nose into everyone's business, but it's no fun when I'm allowed or obligated to do it. Oh, before I forget. Either you come to the weekly meeting or McGee does. I'm not picky, but I'm not going to let anyone accuse me of playing favorites."

"You sure you want me at the meeting?"

Tony cocked his head to the side. "Letting me establish my power base first? Send McGee next week. Then week after, you come. That work? It's good to get fresh eyes on things. Even if you aren't stuck on something, you can give your perspective." Tony sighed. "I want to be in the field."

"I know."

"Gym tonight? Need to keep some of my hard-earned skills."

"And let the new probies see you're not Vance?"

Tony smirked. "I think they've noticed. I'd demoralize him, but then I'd be stuck doing his job."

"The look on SecNav's face would be priceless."

"Let's see if maybe we can't keep Vance for a few years. Because you know who the real candidate for his job is?" Tony raised his brows. "To the point that HR's done the paperwork?" Gibbs shuddered.

"Thought you might." Tony ran a hand through his hair. "It's nervewracking, boss. I mean it was bad enough when I had to watch you walking into stupid tricks. Now I have to watch everyone and it's going to drive me insane. Not to mention that MTAC is not just the world's best movie theater. There's so much going on that it gives me a headache."

"Responsibility is good for you."

"Sounds almost like it will build my character. I don't want my character built anymore. Thank you very much." Tony frowned. "Chinese tonight? You can double-check my report for Vance?"

"Trying to bribe me, DiNozzo?"

"No, that would be pointing out that I've got a bottle of Jack Daniels in the cupboard over there with actual crystal glasses to drink it in."

"Chinese is good. And what are you drinking?"

"Nothing. Nothing but tea."

"That tempting?"

Tony grimaced. "Oh yeah. You wouldn't believe how tempting. And if I start, I know I'm not going to stop." His shirt was wrinkled and his tie was askew. Something had gone down today that Gibbs wasn't privy to. That bothered him. He didn't want the position, but he hated being out of the loop. "I'll order. You fix a drink and maybe find out if there's actually and electric teapot in Cynthia's desk."


McGee stared at the man who was sitting behind Tony's desk. "And you are?"

"Patrick Donovan. I'm the new member of the team."

"Tim McGee. Gibbs didn't tell us you were coming."

Ziva glared at the man as she cleaned her gun. Her hands moved in perfect, economical motions. She didn't have to look down at the pieces. Donovan seemed to find that alarming. He had deep brown eyes, a mess of brunette spikes on his head and a department store suit and Rockports. His tie was purple swirls that looked like a Stargate vortex. He cleared his throat. "Gibbs didn't know I was coming. I think Director Vance was going to tell him this morning."

"Ah." Tim settled back. He lifted his chin and considered. "Have you ever met Gibbs?"

"No. I've heard stories."

"Half of them are true."

"Which half?"

Tim grinned at that. He turned to his computer. He IM'd Tony. "New guy?"

"Ex-FBI," Tony informed him. "Not bad. Don't destroy him. Just remember he's Ex-FBI."

"No-fly list candidate?"

"Don't be mean until he crawls back to Fornell."


Tim erased the message chain. Then, he hacked the server and erased it there. He accessed Tony's computer with permission and erased the trail there. He was tempted to poke around on Tony's desktop a bit longer, but he didn't want the computer team to notice. By the time he finished, Donovan was carefully arranging his Post-It notes into their dispenser. They were bright green.

"Green?" Tim couldn't help but ask.

"Caterpiller guts green," Donovan said. He smiled, showing off even white teeth.

This was going to end badly. Tim IM'd Tony again. "Twenty-five that Gibbs gets rid of him by the end of the week."

"Gibbs knows him, even if he doesn't know Gibbs. Twenty-five that it's the end of the month."


"McGee. Stop chatting up Abby and get me my report. You, with me." Gibbs pointed to Donovan and headed for the elevator.


Tony leaned over the railing and watched the Major Crimes Response Team like a GQ version gargoyle. He had a stack of filed held to his chest and a headset and microphone combination. Donovan was picking out his report with two fingers. He was still learning the way the report system worked, so it would be at least anther two weeks before Gibbs started barking at him. He'd put up a cheap calendar with dogs. Hopefully he didn't have a mutt at home. The poor thing would starve to death.

Ziva was leaning back in her chair. She looked good today. Her shirt was a warm rust that picked up the highlights in her hair. She was openly wearing a shoulder holster and there was a suit-coat hanging off of her chair. That was strange. She must have had a court date. It felt strange not to know that sort of thing. She met Tony's eyes. Once she had his gaze she rolled her eyes and then glared in Donovan's direction. Looks like she didn't like the new man much. Tony shrugged and frowned. He hoped she's get the message. He didn't have control of the hiring decisions.

McGee was obviously done with his report. His screen was filled with simple white paper and his fingers were moving the way they did when he'd turned off the filter between his fingers and his brain. It could be an email to the girlfriend he pretended not to have, but he normally kept that out of the office. Tony narrowed his eyes a bit and read over his shoulder. His latest book on the screen. Tommy and Lisa were in the middle of a flirting session. Tony resisted the urge to drop something on the younger man's head. He had more hair these days so it wouldn't hurt as much.

Gibbs glanced up at him. His blue eyes were piercing, trying to see through Tony's brain to read his mind. It wasn't that hard of a trick usually. He and Gibbs were on a shared wavelength and had been since the first case together. After they'd finished snapping at each other like feral dogs over a dinner, that was. Tony felt a small smile curl up his lips. Gibbs raised a brow. Tony shook his head. He didn't need anything really. He just wanted to pretend for a little while that he was doing something useful. At this rate he was going to die from boredom rather than a bullet. Gibbs frowned. Tony sighed and sketched him a two-fingered salute. He knew that look. It was "get back to work, DiNozzo." Gibbs was the master of the speaking frown.

Tony pointed at Ziva. She was watching him watch the team. Her fingers were tapping her keyboard, but he didn't think she was actually typing anything. She cocked her head to the side. He held his hand up in a call-me sign. She nodded.

He felt the heat of someone next to him and heard the soft clinking of a multi-strand pearl necklace. Cynthia cleared her throat at his side. She smelled of Chanel No. 19 and a lemongrass hand-cream. "What meeting am I missing?" He turned his head to see her without taking his eyes completely off of his team.

"You're very close to missing the budget meeting. I know you're looking forward to it. See, you even have the paperwork in your arms." She smiled at him. It was a smile that his nanny had gotten whenever he'd gone and torn a hole in his pants. It was a smile that he thought mothers were supposed to wear.

He put out his arm like a proper gentleman and escorted her to her desk outside of Vance's office. Then, he continued down the hall to the conference room that was the ante-room to Hell.


"DiNozzo, I need you in MTAC," Vance said.

"Right." Tony hung up on him. He made it to MTAC in record time. It was the first time Vance had called him. "What's up?"

"You speak Spanish."


Vance nodded at the screen. There were five feeds streaming on the screen. Two of them were easily ignored -- CNN and the scrolling of the AP feed. Tony picked out the conversation after a little concentration. It was down in the right hand corner, near Billi's station. It ran across the screen in a fuzz of green spoken-word movements that reminded him of an old Disney cartoon. The new tech he hadn't met yet handed him a headset.

He translated on the fly. "Looks like we're a go. You sure about that connection? I don't like trusting little boys.... yes, he's got the goods in the back of his truck. We pick up the weapons and we're gone. Just drop off some money and he never saw us. We never saw him.... Right... You're an nervous mother-fucker. We're getting good weapons and cheap.... It just feels wrong.... Wrong how?... Like we're going to get fucked.... So we kill the gringo and drop him in the water. Who's going to care if a tourist bites it?.... Si..." The feed flickered a bit. "Come on, cocksucker. Your sister still seeing that son-of-a-bitch Dias?... Yeah. Having a kid with him.... Too bad.... Gets her out of the house at least. He's going to marry her." Vance made a cut-off sign. "So?"

"The deal is a trap. We'll call him off."

"Not a real cell then?"

"Not even real arms dealers." Vance scowled. "Charlie, brief him in on the situation in Gitmo. Hank, get me the Mexico team."

Tony leaned against Charlie's station and listened to the latest intelligence. "I'll talk to Pergo on the Regan. Who's leading the interrogation?"

Vance glanced at him across the room. He smiled grimly. "My office." They closed themselves in the office. "I want to send you down."

"To Cuba or over to the Regan?"


"This is usually Gibbs' gig. I'm not in the same league."

"I've seen you work. You'll be fine. Officially, you'll be there to check in on the reports from the MP's on the Marines stationed there. Take care of any issues and pat the back of Rahman. You can give him his Par while you're there. Unofficially, you're interviewing three suspects."

"And the CIA's just going to look away?"

Vance snorted. "They haven't made any headway. Tell them you're a Red Cross worker. Hell, tell them you're from Amnesty International. I don't care." Vance pushed over a thin file. "Some traveling reading. Go pack. There's a transport at 1700 that you can catch."

"Great." Tony sighed. He thought of Paula and the dances he was never going to get from her again. Vance frowned at him. Tony schooled his face. He hadn't slipped up that way in years.


Gibbs looked up from the boat. Tony was settling down on the stairs with a beer and a cup of coffee. He offered the coffee without a word. Gibbs took it. He studied the younger man. He looked like crap. "Guest room's made up."


"You eat yet?"

"They gave me something in Cuba that was supposedly food. Hit turbulence on the way home though. It's been a long day."

"I can see that." Gibbs put one foot up on the stairs. "Can you talk about it?"

Tony bit his lip. The yearning was in his eyes, but he didn't say a word. "Not yet. Let me have a beer. Pizza'll be here in a few."

"You debrief Vance yet?"

"No. Not with a kid at home. It's not that desperate. It's just. Ah, fuck, boss, I didn't want to be him again. They looked at me like I was the fucking second coming."

Gibbs sighed. "You broke him."

"I shattered him. And I didn't even have the decency to put him back together. I just talked."

He stepped up to sit next to Tony. His crumpled suit smelled like recycled air and stale crackers. Tony leaned slowly until they were pressed together at their shoulders. He laid his head on Gibbs' shoulder. "Reason I hired you."

"Thought that was so I could play good cop."

"Nah. Saw too much of myself in you to leave you in Maryland. Voice of reason maybe."

Tony snorted. "No shooting probies."

"Things like that."

The laughter was creaky and wouldn't solve anything. "It was like being under with White. I like him."

"No shame in that."

"Love the sinner, hate the sin? That's bullshit."

"You're human."

"I made myself into someone he could trust and I betrayed him."

"Did you lie?"


"Did you follow the rules of interrogation?"

"All legal. AD in Philly could have run it. Even gave him his rights as if that mattered to anyone down there. Made him relax."

"So, you were a good cop and he trusted you wouldn't hurt him."

Tony took a deep breath and swallowed hard. He drained his beer. "I'm not drunk enough for this feelings talk, boss."

Gibbs didn't even bother to correct him about the 'boss.' Eventually, they'd move beyond that, but comfort and familiarity was more important tonight. The doorbell announced the pizza. "I'll get that," he said softly. "You go get rid of the suit and meet me in the kitchen."

"Yeah. Yeah. I should do that."


Another long day in the office was finally over. Tony slumped on Gibbs' couch and considered whether or not he wanted to go back to his apartment. He didn't even have a fish there. But Gibbs was here. "I think I'm moving into your guest room."

Gibbs grunted, but didn't look away from the book he was reading.

"I'm serious."

"Just let HR know before you do. Think it might interfere with chain of command."

"Technically you report directly to the Director." Tony snarled a little bit. "I checked the org chart. No offense, but I never, never want to have you report to me. It would cause some fault in the universe."

"Then don't kill Leon." Gibbs flipped the page of his book. "Are you calling for dinner or not?"

"If I don't call are you cooking?"

"Your arms broken?"

"I'm calling."


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