Tony's habit of looking into his partner's private lives was a survival tactic. No really. In Peoria his snooping had kept him from being taken down in the bust that had sent half of his division to prison. He'd gotten a commendation for turning in the evidence too. Of course, he'd had to leave town for Philly the day after the trial, but it was a habit. In Philly, he'd known where to find his partner when he'd gone missing because he knew the man's habits. He'd managed to save both their careers by getting him into a hospital before anyone else found out about the "accident" with his belt. In Baltimore, he'd kept ahead of his partner's paperwork and caught patterns in the cases that no one else ever had because he was nosy.

Working at NCIS he hadn't given up the habit. If anything Gibbs encouraged it. The man was secretive, but didn't care if Tony knew those secrets. He was tight-lipped and stingy with details, but didn't mind if Tony listened to his messages or read his mail. Even after the strained relations that had grown up between them after Jeanne, Tony had never considered personal lines between them. Gibbs certainly didn't. A locked door or drawer just meant exercise for Gibbs' lock-picks.

So it wasn't much of a shock when he found the letter in his desk drawer at home. He was surprised to find a set of lock-picks there as well. He opened the letter. "DiNozzo, my place. As soon as you find this. Basement storage closet." Gibbs also knew that Tony was a curious as a cat, damn him. He couldn't ignore something like that. Tony grabbed his jacket, backpack, lock-picks and keys.

He walked straight into Gibbs' house. He hung up his jacket and backpack on the rack by the door and went down to the basement. Gibbs glanced up from the sanding he was doing on one of the ribs of the new boat. He didn't say anything, but did raise his brows. He smirked when he saw the lockpicks. "You really don't use your desk do you?" Gibbs asked, laughing. He waved at the storage closet on the other end of the room.

Tony's eyes narrowed. "You sure you don't want to just open the door for me?"

"Nope. I want to see if you can get through the lock."

"There better be something good waiting in there."

"Oh, there is, Tony." There was something like anticipation in Gibbs' voice. That hadn't been there since Tony had gotten back to DC. Tony felt something shift in his gut that felt like ice cracking. It hurt. But he couldn't stop just because of a little emotional pain. He missed this sort of off-handed training exercise. He knelt down and studied the lock. He fell into the rhythm of picking. He wasn't as fast as Gibbs, but he'd been taught by a journeyman burgler who'd made it out of Juvvie and directly into military school. Tony had become his apprentice. That was before he'd decided to become a cop. The lock clicked open and he restrained a yell of triumph. He smirked at Gibbs. Gibbs saluted him with the chipped mug he used for bourbon.

Tony opened the door carefully. There was a wooden box sitting there. The little lock had a key sticking out of it. He unlocked the box and paused, frowning. There was something familiar about it. He peered at the chip-caved top. The rigging of the ship made a stylized T.D. So this was for him, apparently. He still didn't throw open the top. If Gibbs had made this, and there was no way it was a purchased piece, then there was something else going on. He went to Gibbs' workbench and found a slim chisel. The former Marine's kept his face almost painfully neutral. Tony could feel the not-watching gaze on him. He opened the cover of the box with the chisel and didn't get stung by the wooden "snake" that popped out from the side.

Inside there was a different sort of lock. It was a puzzle box. Damn, Gibbs. Damn him to Hell. Tony picked up the box carefully and took it to the stairs. He sat down with his back to Gibbs and studied his puzzle. He turned the dial on the compass carefully until he felt it click into place. He ran his fingers along the side of the box, looking for anything that might have shifted. A small area loosened up and he maneuvered it in and back. Another click loosened a button on the bottom. He pressed it into place. A corner piece inside shifted up. He pulled it out and the top with the compass lifted up. A small channel inside the top held a key. He used the key to open the center section.

Inside the center section was a much smaller box, also handmade. He opened the rosewood box to reveal a white gold ring surrounding a diamond stud earring. He pressed a hand to his chest, trying to slow his heart. He swallowed hard. "You sure about this, boss?" he whispered. He felt Gibbs move closer, suddenly hyper-aware of his smell and his heat. A gentle hand stroked the small of his back through the railing. The touch grounded him. Then, the stairs shifted under Gibbs' weight.

"Look at me, Tony," Gibbs ordered, voice soft.

Tony looked up, afraid now, of what he'd see there.

"Do I look like your boss right now?"

Tony's lips curled up without his conscious permission. "Are you sure, Jethro? I won't let you take it back later."

"I'm positive." Gibbs lifted the diamond stud out of the box. He fit it into Tony's ear. The ring he slipped onto Tony's finger. "I have a matching ring upstairs."

"You're not dying or leaving or retiring are you?" Tony demanded.

Gibbs chuckled. "No. I thought about this for a long time. As you can see."

"You did this a long time ago." Tony traced the carving on the side of the box.

"Started it after the case in Baltimore," Gibbs admitted. "I knew you'd like the puzzle."

"I love the puzzle." Tony stroked the box. He frowned. "Are you telling me that we wasted six years to get here?"

Gibbs shook his head. "No. If we hadn't banged around together for the past six years, we wouldn't be here." He smiled. "I got the ring last week."

Tony smirked. "I've always had good timing." He leaned across the short space and kissed Gibbs. Their mouths fit together perfectly.


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