Title: Looking in a Mirror
By: Valerie
Rating: FRAO Pairing: Danny/Mac, Nick/Don, Tony/Gibbs
Spoiler: Grave Danger, Boxed In
Note: Sequal to Behind the Mask
Summary: When Mac's team finds a dead Navy soldier, they know that they will have to share this case with the NCIS team.Called to New York to investigate the murder of a soldier, Gibbs and his team soon realize that working with Mac and his CSIs will be a different experience. But they have no idea that this case will change their lives. 

Chapter 1 - Introductions 

*New York* 

Mac had gotten used to watch Danny sleeping peacefully in his arms. Being with him, loving him, had not completely cured Mac from his insomnia, but he knew that the fact that he slept through at least twice a week for six hours was entirely due to his lover. 

And for those nights when he couldn't sleep, when nightmares and memories prevented him from finding any rest, well now that he had Danny he knew that he had at least someone to hold, someone to watch over at night. 

It didn't make those dark nights easier, but it gave them a purpose. 

Danny gave him a purpose. 

Falling in love with Danny had been so easy, admitting it to himself on the other hand incredibly hard; as to admitting it to Danny, Mac shuddered as he thought back to that day when Danny had stormed into his office. His eyes had been blazing with fury and protectiveness. It had been the first time Danny had lost his composure so completely when faced with Mac's disapproving eyes. 

Mac shivered once more as the confrontation played out in front of his memory. He saw himself sit in the office, saw Danny stand in front of his desk and heard once again the harsh words Danny had used when he had found out that Nick had had a panic attack at the underground scene. 

<i>"No, you didn't think, cause all you thought of was that Nick and I were getting along well and you couldn't have it that I might be looking forward to working, that I might actually enjoy my job again. That's why you split us up, that's why you didn't stop to think about Nick, but you know what Mac, it backfired cause I did actually enjoy working with Stella, not as much as I enjoy working with Nick, but still..."</i> 

Danny's words had been so painfully accurate, because he had indeed split the two up on purpose, had indeed forgotten about Nick's ordeal because he had been blinded by something else. It had been just one thing Danny had gotten wrong. It hadn't been his dislike of Danny that had made him do it; it had been his love and his jealousy. He remembered how he had tried to defend himself, how he had tried to put Danny in his place. 

<i>"Danny, you're forgetting yourself here. This is not about you."</i> 

Danny had just smiled at him, but his eyes had been filled with such a cold, that Mac still shivered only thinking about it. 

<i>"You're wrong Mac, it was about me. You didn't want me to work with Nick and didn't stop to think one moment about the repercussion your actions might have. And you know what? The sad thing is that it wasn't me who suffered, cause I could have dealt with that. No, you made Nick suffer, Nick who's been through so much and who's not done anything to you but work hard and well."</i> 

The words had been harsh and had hurt him, how Danny was so ready to attack him in order to defend Nick. But just as he had thought that nothing could be worse than watching Danny like this, Danny had deflated and with a voice, that was full of hurt and sadness he had whispered. 

<i>"You don't trust me; you don't like me, but for some reason you won't fire me. Is it because you don't want them to tell you they knew all along? You know what? You won... I'll leave, cause I won't risk my friends getting hurt because of you wanting to make a point of pushing me around."</i> 

Danny had left after this and even now, lying in his bed, holding Danny close, Mac tensed at the thought of how close he had come to losing someone he loved so much. He would have lost him, he mused silently, had it not been for Stella's picking and prodding... 

"You're thinking loud enough to wake me up" 

Danny's voice was sleep heavy and his eyes still half closed and Mac felt a surge of love in him. 

"I was just remembering how close to losing you I was, and how glad I am that I went to you that night." 

Danny smiled lightly and turned around completely, his arms holding Mac close seeking warmth and yet at the same time giving comfort. Mac reveled in the strength that was his lover and leaned down to kiss him gently. 

"Sleep on, love, I didn't want to wake you." 

But Danny just looked at him. 

"Couldn't sleep?" 

Mac smiled and shook his head, already knowing what would come now. Danny was the only one of his partners who had ever managed to completely relax him and just as he had thought now, his lover moved slightly and picked the scented massage oil from the sideboard. 

"Just relax" 


Gently Danny moved Mac in a comfortable position and kneeled on the bed as he began to massage the tense shoulders. For a moment he felt Mac jerk at the slight pain his hands caused, but within an instant his lover relaxed again letting him work silently. 

When he had done this the first time, Mac had been tense for a long time and it had almost been a fight between his hands and Mac's control. Danny still remembered the moment when Mac had given in, had relinquished control and had showed Danny his complete trust. Since then he had woken up a couple of times to Mac lying awake, looking at him, and watching over him. It was Mac's nature, but since they had gotten together Danny had taught Mac that there were moments, when he could let go too. He smiled as his hands gently kneaded the strong muscles when Mac moaned slightly at the light pain the touch evoked. Danny heard it and leaned in to kiss the spot he had touched soothing away even the last bit of pain and Mac purred deeply. 

"You sound like a big cat, purring like that." 

Mac didn't answer just stretched his body more and surrendered completely to Danny's touch and care. Danny loved these silent moments between him and his lover. For him the silence always seemed to capture their love much better than the sounds and moans of their passion. The fact that those encounters always happened in the middle of the night heightened the surreal, unreal feeling that always accompanied them. Mac sighed again and relaxed even more. Danny sighed too, and then suddenly froze as he saw them in the mirror on the wall. Their silhouettes were standing out in the dark, Danny's darker skin almost merging with the night making him look like a ghost while Mac's skin seemed to glow with the oil that was massaged into it. They both looked incredibly beautiful. 

"Look at us." 

He saw Mac look up, saw his eyes widen at the sight in the mirror and felt the shudder that went through his body. 

"We are beautiful" 

Mac's whisper was full of awe. Keeping their eyes still locked Danny continued to caress Mac's body and for a long time they just watched each other until Danny suddenly spoke again. 

"Yes, we are." 

Mac turned around, his eyes meeting Danny's. Danny shivered as Mac kissed him tenderly and with a glance in the mirror repeated his words. 

"Yes, we are" 

Mac released him and his eyes were clouded as he looked at Danny. Danny smiled at the love in them, and gently pushed his lover back onto the bed. 

"Sleep now love" 

Mac grumbled lightly, but complied with his wish and soon enough Danny felt the regular and deep breaths of his lover against his own body. 

They had come far together and something Nick had once told him flittered through his mind. 

<i>There are some things that are worth fighting for.</i> 

Yes, they had fought... first against then for each other. But in the end they both had won. Snuggling against his lover Danny sighed as he felt Mac's arms go around him in sleep. 

Mac was always protecting him, he was always there. 

Danny sighed happily and snuggled closer to Mac feeling safe and warm in the loving arms. 


<i>*Washington DC*</i> 

Tony groaned as the alarm went off. His head hurt and he felt as if his bed were moving. He remained motionless until the fog around his mind had cleared enough and more carefully this time he stood up again. He felt sick and his body ached all over. Slowly he made his way over to the bathroom and immediately wrapped a warmed towel around his body, before he turned the shower on and waited for the water to heat up. 

"You look like shit." 

His mirror image gave no comment and Tony removed the towel to carefully look at his body. He looked as if he had gone a couple of rounds against Mike Tyson and lost. 

If only it had been Tyson. 

Tony banned all thoughts about their previous case and stepped into the shower. The hot water hit him at first like another blow, increasing the aches and pains in his body before his body reacted and the warmth started to relax the tense muscles. Tony sighed tiredly. 

Yesterday, when it had all been over, he hadn't had the strength to do anything but undress and fall into his bed. The painkillers Ducky had given him had kept him from hurting too badly, but unfortunately had not prevented him from thinking. 

He hadn't slept much. Every time he had closed his eyes, he had seen the bat come down once more, had felt the impact on his body or even worse, he had heard Ziva's comment about his injuries being nothing but a scratch and he had seen Gibbs' grin at her comment. 

<i>Stop playing it up DiNozzo</i> 

The cruel words had almost made him come undone then, but he had bit back both the pain and the anger they had woken in him and instead concentrated on finishing the report. It had taken more time then it should have and he had been surprised to suddenly find Ducky standing next to him. The ME had just looked at him. 

<i>Do I need to look at your injuries?</i> 

It had been on the tip of his tongue to dismiss Ducky with the same words as Gibbs had used, but his body had betrayed him before he could even say anything. Ducky had narrowed his eyes and without a word walked ahead towards the morgue. 

He had looked him over and then sent him home with the painkillers. Tony had taken one yesterday night and normally would have thrown them away, but coming out of the shower, he glanced at the pills warily and decided that it wasn't worth being in constant pain all day just to prove Gibbs that he was strong. Glancing at the mirror, he carelessly brushed his hair and got ready within minutes. 

When he walked into the bullpen, he was the first one as usual and with a small moan he sat down at his desk and powered his computer up. 

Gibbs arrived thirty minutes later and as Tony handed him his report, he barely acknowledged him. Tony sighed and thought of the painkillers in his jacket pocket. He hadn't taken another one so far and if they had a calm day, he might not need another one. The pain in his body was bearable and against the pain in his heart they didn't help. 


Gibbs was tired. He had not slept much and had spent one more night working on his boat. In the end he had fallen asleep on the old couch in the basement only to wake up with a scream still echoing through the room. He didn't remember what he had dreamt, had given up on that long ago, but he didn't need to be a rocket scientist to know what had woken him up in the middle of the night. 

It had been too close yesterday. And if he was honest, then it had been too close for too many times in the last couple of months. How many times had he almost lost Tony? 

Gibbs shivered, but repressed the movement immediately. He watched Tony move and once more a pained looked crossed Tony's face and suddenly concerned Gibbs wondered what made Tony look like this. 

They had found them on time, hadn't they? 

Ziva had confirmed that McGee and him had arrived before their captors had been able to start their ‘questioning'. Dread ran up Gibbs' spine as he remembered his harsh reprimand of Tony yesterday, his comment to stop playing it up. What if something had happened earlier? 

Those weren't easy thoughts and when the phone rang it felt like a rescue. 

"Ducky, what can I do for you?" 

Minutes later he was in the morgue and met an irate Ducky. 

"How come young Anthony was working until midnight yesterday, when he should have been at home resting? And how come you didn't tell him to at least come and see me?" 

Gibbs looked at Ducky confused, but Ducky didn't cut him any slack instead shook his head. 

"Do you know that bruises of such a heavy extend only come from serious blows? Blows that can cause internal damage, internal bleeding? I really am disappointed in you Jethro. You have to take better care of young Anthony." 

Gibbs felt as if he had received a blow himself. Ducky's words flittered through his mind again and again and he reeled from their impact. 

<i>‘Blows like this can cause internal damage, internal bleeding...'</i> 

He didn't turn back to Ducky, instead stormed out of the morgue and back into the bullpen. 


As Tony looked up, he just pointed towards the elevator. He saw how Tony looked confused, then resigned and his heart hurt at the momentary pain that crossed the handsome face. It was hard to remain silent until the elevator started moving and then stopped when he pressed the button. 

"Take your shirt off" 

Tony looked taken aback, but immediately his stance tensed. 

"I'm fine, boss. I'm just playing it up, remember?" 

It hurt having his words thrown back at him like this, but Gibbs didn't give in instead just repeated his words once more. 

"We can stay here until the end of the world, if that's what it takes." 

Tony shook his head in annoyance. 

"Didn't know that you wanted me out of my clothes this much." 

It was said with a leer, but nevertheless Gibbs felt heat pool in his groin at the comment. Losing the staring contest, Tony finally started to unbutton his shirt and as his chest was revealed, Gibbs forgot everything about passion. Tony's upper body was covered in bruises, deep purple bruises. They were too regular for fists, too straight for hands. Gibbs' hands ached to reach out and caress the abused body, but he held himself back. The distance hurt and the pain transformed into anger. 

"Ziva lied." 

There was a hard smile in Tony's face as he closed the shirt once more.  

"No, she said that they hadn't started interrogating us when you arrived. They hadn't." 

Tony's cold demeanor made Gibbs tense, still he gestured at the bruises that now were once more hidden. 

"So what was that?" 

Tony shrugged casually. 

"Just for fun, I guess." 

Gibbs wanted to go over to the cells where their suspects were held and rip them apart for hurting Tony, he wanted to scream at Ziva for not lying but neither telling the truth and he wanted to tell Tony off for not saying anything. But he kept silent, because the one thing that kept running through his head was his reaction to Tony yesterday. 

<i>Stop playing it up, DiNozzo</i> 

Yes, the men had beaten Tony, Ziva had lied, but what he had done was worse. He had probably caused the most damage and looking at Tony he saw wariness and defeat in the hazel eyes and sudden understanding made him reel. 

He had come close to losing Tony a lot of times in the past couple of months, but never closer than right now. 


McGee had watched Tony and Gibbs disappear into the elevator and was fixing Ziva with a hard glare. 

"What did you not tell us?" 

She looked at him coldly and answered blandly. 

"Nothing important" 

He didn't believe her, but deciding to bid his time he kept silent. Patience was a virtue and McGee had plenty of that. 

The ringing of a phone made him turn around, but before he could pick up, Gibbs had already snatched it. He spoke few words and in the tense stance of his muscles, McGee could see that something had happened between him and Tony. Covertly he glanced at Tony only to see him groan a bit as he sat down. 

It raised his concern, but before he could ask, Gibbs barked out his orders. 

"DiNozzo, Ziva, McGee. Get ready, we've got a case." 

"Where we're going?" 

Gibbs didn't spare a glance at Ziva but at least he answered her question. 

"New York" 


Chapter 2 – First Impressions 

*New York* 

There were three people waiting when they got to the crime scene and almost without realizing what he was doing, Tony put himself between Gibbs and the potential threat. The move put him ahead of his boss but he retreated smoothly as soon as he saw that all three wore NYPD badges. With one look, he categorized them with the ease of someone who worked with people and made his living figuring them out. 

Two CSIs and one cop. 

The tall dark haired man with the startling blue eyes was a cop; his entire personality just screamed it. On the other hand, it was just as obvious that he was comfortable around the nerds. He stood almost protectively next to the male CSI which in it self was interesting, because normally one would assume that the woman in the trio would need protection. 

Although, Tony mused with a glance at Ziva, looks could deceive. 

And that was something that fit the second man too. Smaller, more slender than the cop he too had dark hair, but instead of blue eyes his were as dark as chocolate. He had the typical jock looks, strong jaw, clear cut face, the typical all American boy look. Looks but no brain. Tony had heard that stereotype many times, and yet he knew that one did not become a CSI without the necessary degrees. This guy was certainly someone to watch out for. 

The third of their group was the woman, tall slender she had long wonderful hair and the coloring and complexion that revealed some European ancestors. She was beautiful, but there was an air of ‘don't touch' around her. Looking at her made Tony's heart ache. 

She was like Kate. 

"I am Special Agent Gibbs from NCIS; this is my team consisting of Special Agent DiNozzo, Special Agent McGee and Officer David. Thanks for waiting for us, but we'll take it from here." 

It was always interesting to see people reacting to Gibbs' brusque personality. Most of the time the local law enforcement teams reacted pissed off, which then usually ended in a contest of attitude which Gibbs of course always won. This time though, the reaction was different and although the cop bristled at the dismissal, Tony was much more interested in the reaction of the smaller slender dark haired man. The CSI snorted and walked closer to lift the crime scene markings. As Gibbs walked past him, he shook his head and Tony saw real amusement in his eyes for a second before they turned hard. 

"We'll work this case together Agent Gibbs." 

The woman and the cop had subtly moved so that they obscured the door and the entrance and the male CSI walked past Gibbs to stand in front of the two others. 

"I'm Nick Stokes, this is CSI Stella Bonasera and next to her is Detective Don Flack from NYPD. As for you taking the case over, as I said, we'll work together. There are two dead bodies here, and while Private Steller is a member of the US Navy, Maureen Durban and Michelle Owen have lived in this city. They wer killed here, they were citizens of New York and the NYPD owes it to them to find out who did this." 

As passionately Stokes might argue his case for New York, his accent belied any claims he could have in the city being his. Nevertheless Tony was genuinely surprised how Stokes easily met Gibbs' glare. For a moment the two men just looked at each other, then Stokes' phone rang and he broke the staring contest with a smile. Looking at the caller ID he frowned for a moment before he picked it up. 

"Which street are you on?" 

Tony saw the light laughter in Stokes' eyes as he answered the person on the other end easily. 

"Don't worry; we're just about to get cozy." 

Getting bored Tony felt it was time to move things ahead so he looked at Stella and smiled friendly. 

"Look it doesn't seem as if Detective Taylor is arriving any time soon, so why don't you just move away and we'll send you our report?" 

He felt Gibbs' eyes on him as he made the flippant comment, but before Gibbs could say anything another voice from the door commented coldly. 

"There won't be a report sent to anyone. Any analysis will be made in our lab and any interviews in this case will be held in our precincts. I guess that is clear enough, isn't it?" 

The man walking inside the flat could have been Gibbs' brother. Not from their looks but their attitude, the short cut hair which was just shy of a buzz cut. Both men wore perfect sitting suit and Tony grinned at the same brisk curt attitude. Hell, even the blue eyes were just as intense and clear. Worse even the man had the same presence that Gibbs had, the same air of command around him and as he walked up introducing himself as Detective Taylor, Tony suddenly understood why Gibbs' attitude had not thrown, but amused these people. 

They had recognized their boss in Gibbs. 

Behind Taylor a second, younger, man walked inside. He was definitely different with blond spiky wild hair, wearing suit but no tie, glasses and startling green grey eyes. The newcomer looked like a typical CSI if it hadn't been for that edge of danger that seemed to be around him. Tony couldn't define it, but there was just an air of recklessness that surrounded him. Looking at the five NYPD personnel, Tony let his eyes wander from Stokes, to Flack, to Bonasera, then to Taylor and finally to... 

"This is CSI Messer; I assume you have met the rest of my team." 

Messer wasn't that a fitting name. Tony was just about to hum the tune of Mackie Messer, when Gibbs once more introduced his team and added scathingly. 

"It wasn't necessary of you to come out here. I already told your team, we'll take it from here." 

Tony saw how Messer turned around at the harsh words and for a second looked at Gibbs before he looked back at Taylor and then at Stokes. 

"Aren't clones supposed to look alike?" 

There was a quiet horror and awe in the voice and yet also a lot of good humor and gently teasing that Tony couldn't help but laughing. Stokes met his eyes and he saw that there was genuine amusement again, before he smiled at Messer and stepped in before either Gibbs or Taylor could say anything. 

"Look, can't you two go to your office Mac and determine the where and when and who and all the political bs? Cause honestly, I don't mind having some more hands in there, if we only have to go in there once, that's enough for me." 

Mac, or Taylor looked at Stokes and a quick fond smile crossed his face, before he turned back to Flack. 

"Have you already spoken with the neighbors?" 

Flack shook his head and smirked wryly. 

"Was about to start when Nick found the Navy license and everything was put on hold." 

Taylor nodded and looked at Gibbs. 

"Can one of your team help Detective Flack with the questioning? Danny, I want you and Nick to work the scene here with Agent DiNozzo. Stella, I need you on another case, we have another DB out in Queens." 

Tony couldn't help admiring Taylor who had in fact just taken over the command over the case. Looking over at Gibbs he wondered how his boss would react. He found Gibbs looking at Taylor for a long time, before he finally spoke. 

"How long since you left the Marines?" 

Surprised not only at the question but at the way Gibbs had phrased it, Tony saw the quick tightening of Taylor's lips before he answered curtly. 

"I never did." 

The smile that now graced Gibbs' face made his heart clench and silently he wished that his boss would look at him like this only once. Keeping his face carefully schooled, he hoped that Gibbs saw nothing in his face when he turned towards him. 

"You work with CSI Stokes and Messer, DiNozzo, Ziva I want you to go from door to door with Detective Flack and remember he's doing the questioning. McGee you come back to the lab, I want you to set up a line with Abby and do some digging into the victim's background." 

For a moment, Tony was sure that he had misheard. Then slowly the realization trickled in, Gibbs had accepted Taylor as the lead in this case and somehow Tony was sure that the only reason was that Taylor was a Marine too. 

‘Semper fi' really... 


Mac felt Gibbs' eyes on him as they left the building and walked to his car. 

"You realize that if your people fail to bring results, I'll take over and have everything shipped to Washington?" 

Instead of answering, Mac got behind the wheel and pulled into one of the always busy NY streets. Once they were driving towards their lab, Mac turned the radio off and the next time they stopped at a red light, he fixed Gibbs with a clear look. 

"They will bring results and I want to make two things very clear. 

First: Three people are dead, and I don't care if one of them was Navy or not, they were all killed in New York and that makes this a New York case. 

Second: My people, my problems ok? You have any issues with anyone of my team, you come to me. If I see or hear or just feel that you're disturbing the balance in my team or my team feels bothered by you, I'll cease any cooperation with you. 

Did I make myself clear?" 

Gibbs eyes were clear as he looked at him, then a quick smile crossed over his face and he nodded. Mac knew men like Gibbs, hell he had been like him, still probably was in many aspects, but other than Gibbs he had lost some of that tight intensity. 

It had been tempered or maybe that was wrong, maybe it had just been redirected. 

After all Danny was much more fun to focus that intensity on than a crime scene. 

"Why did you leave the active service?" 

Gibbs' question made him clutch the wheel tightly for a moment, the memory of Claire still hurt him sometimes and to be reminded out of the blue was never easy. 

"My wife didn't want me to be away all the time." 

He felt more than saw Gibbs glance at his hand on the wheel and saw the slightly bitter smile that crossed his face. 

"Didn't help, did it?" 

Understanding what Gibbs implied, Mac clamped down on the anger knowing that Gibbs didn't know. Still though he tensed and his voice was harder than before as he answered. 

"It did until 9/11." 


Gibbs rarely felt guilty for being a bastard, now was one of those rare moments. Detective Taylor's voice was hard and clipped and if the way he clung to the steering wheel was any indication, then it was only his discipline that kept him from decking Gibbs. 

He hadn't meant it as an insult, instead had thought that the common experience of the divorce they shared would make their encounter a bit easier and less formal. He had certainly not expected this to happen. 

"I am sorry." 

Gibbs rarely apologized, but this time he felt he needed to. Taylor though just looked at him curiously. 

"Why? Did you fly one of those planes?" 

And somehow that calm question made Gibbs feel even more like a complete bastard. 


Danny watched Tony DiNozzo closely and soon came to the conclusion that he was alright. He might have played up in front of his boss, but as soon as the grey haired man had left, DiNozzo was calmer and more focused. 

"Ok, let's go ask some neighbors." 

Don grinned at Officer Davids and walked through the door. She didn't follow until Agent DiNozzo finally looked at her. 

"Ziva, what's your problem?" 

She sent him a cold look and without caring whether the others present heard her, she hissed at him. 

"You might like playing tag along to another team, but I don't..." 

Exchanging a look with Nick, Danny wanted to say something, but Nick's eyes warned him to stir things up even more. He was still grinning when Don came back into the room. Looking at Ziva Don just raised one eyebrow. 

"Are you coming or not? Cause I've got three dead bodies in that room and maybe some of the neighbors have heard something important." 

He saw how Nick looked pleased and admiringly at his lover, and immediately schooled his face back into the perfect mask. Davids glared at them in general and followed Don outside. Nick took a deep breath and Danny knew that his friend would take the lead in their mini team. Nick was good in this and he was glad for it, knowing that without wanting to he would probably antagonize DiNozzo. 

"Ok, let's have a look at the bodies. Agent DiNozzo can you take pictures of everything and all that?" 

The NCIS agent looked at Nick for a long time and Danny could see how he was assessing Nick, could feel himself already starting to prepare a defense, when DiNozzo smiled and extended his hand. 


Nick smiled and shook the offered hand with a friendly nod. 

"I'm Nick and that's Danny... now let's go to work shall we?" 

Danny grinned as Tony nodded at him and followed Nick into the bed room. The slight gasp made him turn around and he saw how Tony paled at the blood and slaughter inside. 

"Oh fuck" 

Danny felt for him and sighed. 

"Told you, that it isn't a nice sight. You ok though?" 

Tony took a deep breath through his mouth and looked at Danny. All happiness and cheekiness had disappeared from his eyes and been replaced with a serious look.  

"Yeah, just sometimes hate this part of the job." 

Danny sighed, walked over and started to swab and to dust the back of the room. Nick though just nodded and smiled once more at Tony before he too started to search the room. 


Don sighed as he knocked at the last neighbor's door. Davids next to him was silent, but he could feel contempt almost rolling off her in waves. For some reason she disliked him and he wondered if it had something to do with him taking the lead in the interrogation, something her boss had asked him to do or if it was more. Maybe she just felt it was beneath her to be listening to a mere cop. Shrugging he knocked once more, before calling out his identification, but as nothing moved behind the door, he shrugged again and turned away. 

"Wait, are you just going to walk away?" 

Her voice was sharp, and he grinned lightly before he schooled his features and answered her all the while walking back towards the crime scene. 

"It's two in the afternoon, she'll be at work. We'll come back later tonight." 

She ignored him instead looked at her colleague with clear distrust in her eyes as Agent DiNozzo, Nick and Danny walked out of the room. 

"Got your things?" 

Don locked his eyes with his lover for a moment, saw how Nick smiled for a moment, then turned serious again. 

"Yeah, Jane won't be happy about the amount of DNA analysis we bring her, but..." 

Nick shrugged, but trailed off when DiNozzo suddenly turned towards him. 

"Why don't you have it sent up to our lab? Abby can help you with it..." 

Don watched as Nick was seriously considering the offer, and then shrugged. 

"I'll run it by Mac. He's a bit possessive if it comes to evidence." 

DiNozzo just grinned and shrugged. 

"Aren't we all?" 

Clear hazel eyes fell on him then and DiNozzo suddenly smiled a bit brighter. 

"Sorry mate forgot that I hadn't introduced myself yet. I'm Tony." 

Shaking the hand, Don appreciated the firm grip and smiled. 


"If you are done making friends and wasting time, can we move on and report to Gibbs?" 

The sniping sound of Agent Davids voice made him look confused at her, but her glare wasn't directed at him or Nick. Instead she looked at Tony with a cold anger that made him tense. Don had felt the tension and the rifts that went through the NCIS team right from the start. It had made him cringe at the uniformed front they presented and now as he exchanged a look with Nick he realized that his lover had felt it too. He wondered though if Nick had any idea that only a couple of months back, their own team had been similar. Don glanced at Danny and he saw how his friend was looking at DiNozzo and Davids, and then looked down with a frown. Don smiled lightly. Danny had understood and seen it too; looking at the NCIS team was seeing their own team before Nick had arrived. 

It was eerily like looking into a mirror. 


*Chapter 3: Cooperation 

Jethro was surprised how easy it was to work with Mac Taylor or at least how easy it was once he had acknowledged that Taylor and his team had just as much jurisdiction as NCIS had. Normally he hated cases like this, joined operations tended to get messy and annoying, this time however he worked with someone who had his mindset. The fact that Taylor didn't hold his blundering in the car against him, well Jethro was honest enough to admit that he would not have been able to do this. 

"Once the others are back, we'll start processing the evidence. Has your techie set up the connection to your lab?" 

He looked down and saw McGee typing away furiously on the keyboard. He looked concentrated at the screen and Jethro could see that he was still working on contacting Abby. 

"Working on it" 

Taylor nodded and Jethro could see how he was thinking quickly, then apparently coming to a decision looked at him again. 

"Can you leave us one of your team to help Nick and Danny process the scene? Then you and the rest and Flack can do the door to door and the rest of the cop stuff." 

There was a light grin on Taylor's face as he spoke of cop stuff and Jethro suddenly understood that he was purposely goading him. Taylor was testing the limits, trying out how far he could push before Jethro would retaliate and he immediately stepped up to the silent challenge in the blue eyes. 

"If they bring enough for three people to process." 

Taylor smiled a bit, but before he could answer, there was a commotion at the other side of the lab and both men turned around. Seeing the three younger men walk into the lab, Taylor smirked a bit. 

"That we'll see soon enough, I guess." 

Jethro knew that he was supposed to give a snarky answer back, but couldn't. His eyes were glued to the picture of the three young men walking towards them. They looked good together, comfortable around each other, and with a bitter smile he realized that Tony had once more managed to immediately connect with other people.  

He should be proud, he thought as he watched Nick Stokes banter with Tony, but instead of pride at the social skills of his second in command, his eyes involuntarily narrowed a bit. No there was no pride; instead it was hurt as he saw how Tony lightly pushed Stokes after he had made some comment. Jethro clamped down on the feelings, and tried to concentrate on the case. He couldn't allow himself to think of anything else. Anything but the way Tony moved, the way his eyes sparkled as he laughed at something Stokes had said, and least of all of the cold feeling that clutched at his heart at the thought that he hadn't heard Tony laugh like this for too long. 

And still he couldn't make himself turn away, couldn't take his eyes off the three men that walked up towards him. Without conscious thought, he memorized every detail of the two men, he suddenly saw as competition. 

Dark haired, dark eyed with a jock's built, Stokes walked with the ease of a man who was at home in the lab, comfortable in his skin. From afar he did indeed look like the proverbial jock, but Jethro had seen him close and knew that the dark eyes held intelligence and depth, but also humor and a deep love of life.  

Less groomed, less jock like and yet still stunningly handsome with the spiky hair, the captivating eyes and the slender body, Messer was equally confident in the lab, but on the whole he looked younger, more insecure and yet also more dangerous. There was something about Danny Messer that made Jethro feel almost uneasy around him. Messer looked at him with knowing eyes as if he could read him perfectly. 

Jethro's eyes wandered from Messer to Stokes to the one person he knew, and still couldn't look at enough. Tony. Tony whose eyes still sparkled after laughing about a joke that Stokes had made. It hurt how young Tony suddenly looked, how this one laughter seemed to have taken away so much of the pain and hurt that had enveloped the other man until then. And with a shiver Jethro realized that Tony felt comfortable here. 

<i>He might like it enough to stay.</i> 

He pushed the thought away with vengeance and turned around not ready to look anymore. He shivered inwardly and looked up only to see knowing blue eyes resting on him. 

"You should tell him." 

The casual words made him freeze, but the understanding in the blue eyes stopped him from lashing out at Taylor. Instead he heard himself admit something he had never admitted loudly. 

"He would leave, if he knew. This way, at least I can watch over him. I don't want to risk..." 

He broke off, suddenly realizing how much of himself he had revealed with those few words. The understanding in Taylor's eyes had not changed, but still Jethro wondered if he hadn't just made the worst mistake in his life. If Taylor reported him, he tensed a bit not so much because of ‘don't ask, don't tell', but if he were fired, who would look out for Tony? 

His inner voice laughed at that comment, mocked him about how well he had looked out for Tony, reminded him of the near deaths Tony had survived, showed him pictures of pale blue lights and a sickly pale face, reminded him of... A shiver ran through him, but before he could say anything else, Taylor spoke softly. 

"I know, but believe me; sometimes the rewards are worth the risk." 

Once more, Jethro looked at him and this time he knew that Taylor would never report him, understood the compassion in Taylor's eyes and suddenly knew. 

Taylor had been there too... and somehow he made the right choice. 

<i>The reward can be worth the risk...</i> 

The question was if he was ready to take the risk and ever able to survive the loss. 


"You should tell him." 

Gibbs' eyes turned hard and Mac groaned. Since he'd gotten together with Danny he'd taken on some traits of his lover's character and speaking before thinking obviously was one of those. He was about to apologize, when Gibbs shook his head and sighed. 

"He would leave, if he knew. This way, at least I can watch over him." 

Voice trailing off, Gibbs seemed to get lost in memories and if the expression in his face was any proof those memories weren't happy once. The pain and resignation in the blue eyes hurt Mac and he spoke more quietly but not less insistent. 

"I know, but believe me; sometimes the rewards are worth the risk." 

Mac knew that he couldn't hide the compassion he felt and as Gibbs first tensed then visibly relaxed; he realized that Gibbs had seen the emotions in his eyes. He saw understanding dawn in Gibbs' own blue eyes and wondered if the question would come, but instead Gibbs turned away from him, back straight and tense and Mac sighed slightly. 

Been there, done that, he thought silently and smiled as he remembered Danny's usual add on to the saying got a t-shirt. 

Only that he had not gotten a t-shirt, but Danny, and this time his smile was open as his eyes fell on the group of men that made their way up to his office. Danny saw him and for a second their eyes met and locked. It was only a moment, before there eyes disconnected and Mac turned to look at Gibbs once more. Gibbs was still looking out of the window and Mac studied him silently. 

He was surprised to realize that he liked Gibbs, and wanted to help him. Then a light smile crossed Mac's face and he wondered what Danny would think of playing match maker. Turning back and looking at the men now entering his office, he thought back to the few moments when he had realized what was in Gibbs' heart. 

From one moment to the other Gibbs had stopped listening to him and for a second he had been surprised, but as he saw the barely concealed longing in Gibbs' face, he had understood. Keeping silent he had watched Gibbs watch Danny and the other guys come up to his office. There had been so many emotions in the calm face, so many emotions and yet so completely carefully hidden, few people would have recognized the longing, the desire and the love in the hard glare Gibbs sent towards Agent DiNozzo, but Mac understood how a man like Jethro Gibbs ticked. He had ticked alike for a long time. 

Nick had said something and as DiNozzo laughed in response, Mac had watched how Gibbs' hand had balled into fists, had watched the conscious effort he made to uncurl his fingers again. And yes Mac could understand that jealousy so well too. 

Drawing back from the memories and back to reality, Mac smiled lightly as his eyes fell on Danny who right now walked into the office still joking and smiling. His heart tightened at the thought that Danny loved him, that he had woken up this morning with his arms around Danny and that he would go to bed tonight and be able to hold him. 

<i>The rewards can be worth the risk…</i> 

His reward had changed his life. 

"Got anything usable?" 

Gibbs' voice was gruff. Nick didn't seem to notice though and his face was serious, his voice all business as he started to rely their preliminary findings from the crime scene. Mac listened carefully to each and every detail and was once more impressed by Nick's ability to summarize and yet never lose the important points. 

"You're going to need help processing?" 

He made his words sound like a cross between a statement and a question and Nick quickly looked at him. His eyes were confused first then quickly flickered between Tony and Gibbs and Mac smiled as recognition dawned in the chocolate eyes. 

"Yeah, that would help. Mac, Tony suggested that we should send some of the DNA samples to their lab. Jane is pretty much backed up as you know." 

Mac saw that Gibbs was surprised at the question and thought about it. He didn't particularly like the idea of giving away any kind of evidence for analysis, however he knew that Jane was indeed backed up and the NCIS team working with them. He made up his mind quickly. 

"Talk with Jane and if she doesn't have time, organize the samples to be sent up." 

Nick nodded and was about to leave, when Mac called him back. 

"And Nick? Agent DiNozzo will continue working with you, if that's ok with you." 

He saw how Gibbs tightened his hands once more, but he made no comment just glared at Mac. 

"We'll meet at noon for a discussion of all the findings." 


Tony felt as if his entire body was one big hurting bone. 

When he had gotten out of bed this morning he had hoped for a quiet day at the office doing not much more but finishing the paperwork from their last case, but then Gibbs had ambushed him and forced him into the elevator and now he was in New York once more investigating some murder. 

Normally he would have loved it. He preferred field work to the office and desk work any day. If he was honest, he still did especially now that he was working with two guys that were both fun and easy going but complete professionals in what they were doing. If only his body wouldn't hurt this much. A soft moan escaped him as he moved a bit too and he saw how Nick tensed immediately and turned around. 

"You alright?" 

Tony hated himself for his immediate reaction which was to tense up and snap at Nick that he was fine and he could just prevent the words from slipping out when he saw the honest concern in the dark eyes. 

"Yeah, got a bit banged up in our last case, so I'm still a bit sore." 

Frowning, Nick looked at him and Tony suddenly understood how an insect under the microscope had to feel under the intense eyes. 

"Were you injured?" 

It was a casual sounding question, but Nick's eyes once again showed his true concern and against his will, Tony felt himself relax a bit. 

"No, our ME checked me out after, said I was fine." 

A shiver went through Nick's body, but before Tony could ask, Danny interrupted them. 

"You let your ME check you out?" 

He sounded completely bewildered and Tony shrugged. 

"Well, I hate hospitals and Ducky, he's good and he's an original." 

A faint smile played around Nick's face as he turned back to the clothing he was examining. 

"I have a feeling that all ME's are originals in a way. I loved the guy we had in Vegas." 

Tony perked up at that tidbit and he looked more closely at the other man. 

"You're from Vegas?" 

Nick shook his head, but instead of answering, he put something under the microscope and brought it onto the larger screen. 

"Creepy crawlers seem to follow you around." 

The comment came from the door and as Tony turned around he saw that Ziva and Don Flack had returned. Flack was leaning against the door, his face a smirk, his words casual. Tony however looked closer and saw that although he looked casual there was a tension in his body and that the smirk might be in his face, but his eyes were concerned. 

"Creepy crawlers help us more than anything in this case, Flack." 

Nick's voice was easy and casual and Tony could literally see how Flack relaxed and once more he wondered about the two men. There was a history between them and maybe even more. 

"And how so Detective Stokes?" 

Ziva had obviously calmed down enough to be civil. Nick turned around surprised and offered her his hand and with a friendly smile told her to call him Nick. Tony had to silently congratulate the man as she hesitantly smiled. Nick turned back to the screen and slowly began to explain. 

"This nice little or creepy crawler as Detective Flack likes to call it, tells us that whoever killed the three victims has been somewhere in this area before." 

Nick flicked on the next screen which showed a large map of New York and slowly zoomed in onto a smaller area on the north east side of central park. 

"It's feeding on some very specific plants and the only place in New York where they are growing is up here." 

Tony saw the smile that Danny threw Nick, saw the pride Danny felt for Nick's findings. Something inside him broke and he suddenly wished to be a part of this team, a team where people cared for each other and a team that consisted of friends not just colleagues. 

"Why are you so sure that the one bringing them in was the one who killed them?" 

Taylor's voice was calm, but still Tony heard the challenge behind the words smiled, some things obviously never changed. He looked up to see Taylor, but instead he met Gibbs' eyes. Gibbs wasn't looking at the screen or even at Nick, instead he was looking straight at Tony. The look in the blue eyes was unreadable but still Tony felt it almost like a physical touch and without wanting to he shivered lightly. 

"Cause we tested their other clothing, but found nothing. And we found traces of dirt mixed in the bloody footprints that led to the fire exit. Dirt which contained the same insects..." 

Tony heard Nick's explanation, but the words didn't really register, his eyes still captivated by Gibbs' stare, those cold and yet curiously burning eyes. 

"Nick, you take Officer Davids and get to Central Park and have a look around the area. Flack, can you go with them?" 

Nick looked up and nodded. His eyes and movements were all business as he printed the map and grabbed his kit. Tony saw him quickly look at Ziva, and then a smile crossed his face as he let her walk ahead with a friendly gesture. 

"We'll take Flack's car, Don that ok?" 

Flack nodded and followed Nick out of the office. The attention inside the lab turned back to the evidence spread out on the table. Tony's eyes followed them and his breath caught as he saw how Flack quickly murmured something to Nick and at Nick's answer put a comforting hand on his lower back. It was a gentle, tender gesture, an intimate one and one that confirmed the suspicions that Tony had had. There was something between the two men. A shiver of longing ran through Tony and he forced himself to turn back towards the lab and the table. 

Staring at the bloody clothing he felt eyes on him and found Danny Messer looking at him with an assessing gaze. For a long time Messer held his eyes, then casually spoke. 

"You want to grab something for lunch?" 

It wasn't an offer, Tony realized. It was an order. 


Danny watched as Tony sat down opposite him and involuntarily he was reminded of the first time he went for lunch with Nick. They had gone to the same deli, but unlike this time, they had just bought sandwiches and brought them back to the lab. A smile crossed his face as he remembered their walk back to the lab and the ensuing conversation. 

<i>"Getting used to New York?"</i> 

Nick had grinned at him and then just shrugged. 

<i>"Getting used to a lot of things, working days again, working in a city like this..."</i> 

Danny hadn't known Nick very well then after all it had been Nick's first day in the lab. Certainly a remarkable day, Danny had liked the older man instantly and Flack, well Flack's reaction had been special. Danny had been curious about their new team member. 

<i>"You were on nightshift?"</i> 

Nick had nodded and explained easily. 

<i>"Vegas is a night city, not too much happening during the day and when I applied for a transfer to Vegas there was an opening on the nightshift. So I applied and got the job."</i> 

It had been the start, Danny thought now as he looked at Special Agent DiNozzo. The start of his friendship with Nick, the start of something special that had in the end mended the rift that had threatened to break their team apart, had changed his own life as much as it had Nick's. 

"What's up with Nick and Flack?" 

For a second, Danny looked at DiNozzo and watched him closely. He didn't think that DiNozzo would either mind or would turn out to be a bigot and yet he needed to be sure. Nick had had too much shit thrown at him in his life and Danny knew only too well, that if he misjudged DiNozzo, then not only Nick, but also Don would be in danger. 

"What do you think is?" 

He looked straight in DiNozzo's eyes and was surprised to see a longing in the hazel depth, a longing which was mirrored in the wistful expression on DiNozzo's face. 

"I think they are lucky to have found something special and be surrounded by people that respect and protect them." 

Just one sentence and yet, the few words told Danny so much. Once more looking at DiNozzo, no he corrected himself mentally, Tony, Danny wondered if Tony realized how much he had just revealed. 

"Yeah, they are." 

Memories of how Nick and Don had gotten together made him smile, but the smile faded as he thought of the reason why Nick had come to New York in the first place. 

"And I can't think of anyone who deserves this more than Nick." 

He trailed off and for a moment hesitated to say the next thing, but remembering his friend, he steeled himself. 

"Don't dare to hurt them in anyway." 

To his surprise, Tony wasn't angry instead he chuckled lightly. 

"Cause you know how to hide a body, don't you?" 

The easy banter took Danny by surprise but after a second he started to laugh too and shook his head. 

"So what's the deal with your team? I mean no offense, but Officer David seems to have a special attitude." 

Tony tensed visibly and Danny could almost see how protective shields came up around him, sighing lightly, he reached out without thinking and bumped his fist lightly against Tony's forehead causing Tony to startle back and look at him crossed. 

"I'm not going to pry or to judge Tony, it was just. The way you guys interact with each other, the hostility between you and David, the tension between you and Gibbs; it just all reminds me so much of our team a couple of months ago." 

Tony didn't let him finish, instead he shook his head and laughed, but unlike before it was a bitter laugh, bitter and hard and yet so full of pain that it made Danny shiver. 

"Your team? Shit Danny, your team is a family. I mean, I can see how much you guys care for each other, gosh, you almost shot me before because you thought I could be a threat to Nick." 

Danny saw the light trembling in Tony's hand as he reached for his coke, then at least outwardly calmer, Tony started to speak again. 

"We had a great team. But then Kate... she was killed... one shot to the head... we, Gibbs and I were right next to her and it..." 

He broke off harshly and Danny could see that Tony was forcing himself to keep something back, he had an idea what it was, but didn't speak instead remained silent waiting for Tony to continue. 

"Ziva joined us afterwards. She's new, trying to prove herself, and I... I don't know. We have a new boss, a former girlfriend of Gibbs' and she's got it in for me for some reason. McGee's too shy and timid to say anything and Abby. I don't know what it is Danny, why we're suddenly so fractured, but it feels as if everything is off..." 

Tony shrugged and immediately groaned lightly and Danny remembered what Tony had told him about being undercover and getting beaten. He filed the information away, but remained quiet. 

"Gibbs's not easy to work for. He says that the second ‘b' is for bastard and sometimes it really is, but you know, I never had a better job, and despite the bastard thing never had a boss I trusted more, but I don't fit with the team anymore. We have a computer genius, a top trained Mossad agent and Gibbs with his credentials and there's me; the former cop from Baltimore, the screw up who couldn't keep a job for longer than two years before joining NCIS, the idiot who gets his co worker killed and..." 

When Tony had started to speak, Danny had not been prepared for the rush of words, this unloading of deep rooted pain, but he didn't stop Tony. He just listened to him while he watched Tony. He wasn't telling everything, but Danny didn't have a hard time figuring out what Tony omitted. He had been right there too and he knew how everything looked black in that place. 

"... you know sometimes I wonder why he hasn't kicked me out yet." 

Tony fell silent after the last sentence, then looked up and Danny gasped at the pain in his eyes. 

"It should have been me, Danny, on that roof, it should have been me..." 

There was so much pain, such an amount of despair in those words that Danny wanted to weep for Tony, but instead he closed his eyes for a moment, because he knew only too well what Tony was feeling could understand the words he spoke and with a shiver he remembered the talk he had had with Flack right after Aiden had been fired. 

<i>"I don't understand it, Don why her? Why never me? Why did he never kick me out, I mean after Tanglewood, after the shooting and everything..."</i> 

Flack had grabbed him by the shoulder and looked closely at him. 

<i>"Danny, he didn't kick you out, cause you didn't do nothing wrong!"</i> 

But back then Danny had not believed him and had answered with words that were eerily similar to those Tony had just uttered. 

<i>"Sometimes, I think it would have been better."</i> 

Coming back to reality, Danny looked at Tony who had composed himself again and without saying something just took his hand. Tony looked surprised, but Danny shrugged and smiled. 

"I for one am glad it wasn't you." 

For a moment Tony stiffened, then an almost shy smile crossed his face and as he relaxed visibly, Danny remembered his thought of before. 

He was looking into a mirror. 


*Chapter 4 – Communication* 

Mac's eyes followed Gibbs's body as he walked down to talk to his agent. He had seen the jealousy and the pain and it irked him that Gibbs wouldn't listen to him and yet. A wry smile crossed his face at the thought that he himself wouldn't have listened to anyone a couple of months back. 

Focusing back on the case, Mac walked briskly along the corridor towards Jane's lab intent on finding out whether or not she could handle the DNA or if they would need to send some samples to NCIS. Everything in him objected to the idea of sending evidence to another lab, although he knew that it might be the best solution. He smiled ruefully as he remembered something Stella had told Danny only weeks ago. 

<i>‘If he's as possessive with you as he is with evidence, you are in for a ride.'</i> 

Danny had only grinned. Mac smiled again, but the smile turned into a gasp as two hands grabbed him, dragged him into the bathroom and the first stall. He tensed, and all his instincts were screaming at him to fight, but before he could even move, he felt soft lips on his. A hard body pressed against him and Mac relaxed immediately him. His arms went around Danny by their own accord and a low moan escaped him as his lower lip was nibbled tenderly. 

"I love you." 

Danny's eyes were bright with love and passion and Mac shivered at the thought of how much it meant to him to had Danny in his arms. Shivered at the thought of almost having lost any chance to hold him like this... 

"And I you! Danny, don't think I'm complaining, but what happened?" 

Danny's eyes were still locked on his and Mac could see the change in them as they turned more distant and sad, afraid of having made a mistake, he drew a breath but before he could even start to speak, Danny beat him to it. 

"I had lunch with Tony and he's so, god Mac he's so sad, so desperate." 

Danny's voice shook a bit as he retold the conversation with Tony and Mac understood why this had affected his lover so much. He wanted to kick Gibbs' ass for hurting Tony, but at the same time he knew that he'd been guilty of the same crime. 

"Gibbs loves him." 

And in his mind he once more saw the pain and the longing in the blue eyes as Gibbs had watched Tony. 


Danny looked at him and Mac saw how his lover understood and shook his head with a smile. 

"But he's a Marine and would never do anything to endanger their friendship or Tony's career." 

Soft hands caressed Mac's face and instinctively Mac leaned into the caress. 

"You are like twins aren't you?" 

Once more a smile crossed over Danny's face, and then though the smile changed into a smirk and the compassion in the grey-green eyes changed to a sparkle of mischief that made Mac shiver lightly. This was a Danny that he loved and yet had learned to fear. 

"What do you think, Mac, have you ever played matchmaker?" 

A low groan escaped him at the thought and he shook his head only to be stopped when his lover glared at him. 

"If you don't help me, I'll ask Stella." 

And just like this Mac was defeated. 


Ziva sat in the back and watched how Stokes and Flack in the front quickly decided on the best way to drive towards their destination in the ever busy NY traffic. They hadn't asked her and while some part of her was annoyed, there was another just as large part that understood. Unlike Don Flack and Nick Stokes, she wasn't from New, so why would they ask a foreigner for directions and still it irked her. It felt as if she was dismissed, yet before she could dwell on the feeling, Stokes turned towards her. 

"Where about are you from?" 

Surprised and immediately suspicious she looked at him crossly causing him to explain with a smile. 

"You have an accent that I can't place." 

There was nothing but honest curiosity in the dark eyes, no deception, no hidden agenda and giving into the question she answered with a smile. 


Nick's eyes grew bigger then he grinned. 


Confused and somehow surprised by the easy comment she looked at him questioningly until he shrugged and explained. 

"Never met anyone from there. " 

It was such an easy answer, such a logical one and once more Ziva realized that her upbringing and subsequent stay with the Mossad had tainted her perception of people. She had learned once long ago, that everyone had an agenda, everyone was out to best the other and most of the time her experiences had shown that that her teachings were the truth. Now though, the longer she worked with Gibbs' team the more she started to doubt and it shook her to her core and unbalanced her entire view of the world. 

"You aren't from New York yourself, are you?" 

It was just conversation she told herself, nothing but conversation and a way to find out more about Stokes who had been friendly from the start yet had defied Gibbs with an ease that she had never seen before. 


He would have said more, she realized but his cell phone buzzed, he took it out and answered it cheerfully. Ziva leaned back and watched him talk. He was so open she thought and with the thought came bitterness, bitterness and envy; it was easy to be open if nothing bad ever happened to someone, easy to leave the job in the lab when he could go home to a perfect life. She had never had that life, never had that choice. 

"Here we are." 

Flack had stopped the car and getting out she followed them to a secluded area in the park where Nick started to kneel down and examine the soil. Flack waited at the edge of the area, his eyes scanning the surroundings and for a moment she wasn't sure what to do, then though she walked towards Nick only to have Flack stop her. 

"He's better at this stuff than we are, we'd just disturb some vital things." 

He didn't say it in any kind of patronizing voice and yet annoyance ripped through her at being faulted once more, looking straight into the blue eyes she hissed quietly at him. 

"Don't dare to hold me back; I've got more experience in dangers and observation than you could ever dream of." 

He just looked at her closely, and then his eyes narrowed a bit before he spoke again. 

"Feel free to go and embarrass yourself, but you know, despite my limited experience, I learned one thing fast, don't try to do a CSI's job cause they're doing it better anyway." 

Ziva couldn't stand the smugness in his face and walked down towards where Nick kneeled in the ground carefully making a cast of a footprint. 

"Watch where you're going, will you?" 

His voice was still friendly but serious and without wanting to Ziva obeyed and stepped back a bit. She watched as he removed the cast from the mold and made several pictures before he collected some dirt, some flowers and finally got up and straightened his back. For a moment he just stood there looking at the garden without moving, then slowly he turned around and his eyes fell on her. 

"Why are you so hostile with us, with your team?" 

Shocked at the sudden and personal question, she glared at him, but still answered coldly. 

"I don't trust you or them." 

Dark, deep eyes held hers captive as Stokes studied her for a long time, then he averted his gaze and once more sweeping the area for something he had missed, he spoke softly almost inaudibly. 

"If you don't trust your team, then who do you trust to watch your back Ziva?" 

His eyes fixed her again as he continued to speak still quietly, but much more intense now. 

"If you lost and in need of help, who do you trust to find you?" 

She could see dark memories rising in his eyes and saw how Stokes' hand trembled slightly as he put everything back into his kit. Once more he straightened and slowly began to walk back to where Flack had been watching them silently. 

"Who do you trust to save you, if not your team?" 

It was then that she realized that her first assessment of him had been false. Nick Stokes was not untouched by evil, but somehow his experience had not turned him bitter. 

<i>Who do you trust to save you, if you don't trust your team?</i> 

The question echoed in her mind on the entire drive back to the lab, and she shivered a bit as she understood the answer to the question. 

"No one" 

Her whispered answer echoed through the empty hallway and once more a shiver ran through her. 


Nick could see that he had rattled Ziva with his question, but before he could even think about the implications of it, he was ambushed by Danny who grabbed his arm and dragged him towards one of the storage rooms. 

"Danny, I honestly don't think Mac would appreciate it if you had your wicked ways with me in some random storage room." 

His friend grinned at the comment and locked the door behind them.  

"He ordered me to do it." 

Looking at Danny, Nick just raised an eyebrow and waited for an explanation and as none came shook his head. 

"Well, that's a new kink of his." 

Danny grinned but immediately turned serious again. 

"We have to do something, he's really hurting badly." 

Ok, now he was confused and with a patient gesture he raised his hands to calm Danny a bit down. 

"Slow down, who's hurting whom and why and what do we have to do?" 

Sometimes, Nick mused as he questioned Danny, he felt so much older than his friend. It was a scary feeling to realize that he sounded like Grissom sometimes and with a grin he looked at Danny's sparkling eyes. 

"Tony, he's so in love with Gibbs and gosh he's so unhappy, feels..." 

Danny trailed off and looked away from Nick, then with a deep sigh, he finished. 

"He feels like I did before you joined the team." 

Nick reacted out of instinct and grasped Danny by his shoulders forcing his friend to look at him. 

"Danny, are you ok?" 

The smile he got was blinding in its happiness and it made him feel lighter and happier, then though he thought about Tony and with Danny's words to make him understand some of the things that had happened, he could see what Danny had meant. 

"Ok and what do you expect us or me to do?" 

Danny looked at him and Nick groaned at the mischief he saw in the greenish eyes. 

"Lock them in a closet?" 

Barely able to suppress a grin at the clichéd answer, Nick grew serious and shook his head. 

"What would have happened had they locked you and Mac into a storage room back then?" 

Seeing Danny suppress a shudder he knew that he had made a point and with a smile he unlocked the door. 

"Mac thinks Gibbs is in love with him and was jealous of you. So, we have to talk to Don and then have Mac assign you and Tony a bit more and if you look at Tony with those dark eyes of yours..." 

Danny grinned at the thought as they walked along the hallway and turned towards his boss' and lover's office. 

"You talk to Don and I'll talk to Mac." 

Nick's eyes followed him but soon enough he turned back and walked towards the lab. His mind was spinning and he shook his head. 

"I'll talk with Don. Now that will go well..." 

He loved Don. Their shifts had not given them much time together lately and Nick felt the effect of having to sleep alone. He was tired and his defenses were stretched thin. The detection of the insects had not made him shiver or panic, but when he had seen the ants crawling over the grass right next to him in Central Park, he had needed all his strength to not run away. Taking a deep breath, Nick leaned against the wall and closed his eyes against the memories but still his body tingled. His fingers, no his entire body felt as if those little animals were once again crawling over him and with a desperate sigh he wrapped his arms around himself to stop his hands from scratching and clawing at his skin. 

"Damn it..." 

But no matter how often he cursed himself for being weak, no matter how often he told himself to be strong, the panic stayed with him and he fought through it with closed eyes. He had done so before and he did it now again, he tool deep breaths and pictured a perfect moment in his mind, the moment when he woke and saw Don next to him, imagined Don's face, his eyes. 

"Nick, love it's alright, you're ok, and you are safe. I am here." 

Soft hands were on his face, soft words cut through the haze of memories and panic and slowly Nick relaxed and looked up to meet Don's concerned eyes. 

"I'm fine again, sorry." 

Don straightened immediately, his entire behavior changing back from the lover to the fellow cop, but his hands still lingered on Nick's shoulder and his eyes were still full of concern. 


Don shook his head, but before Nick could say anything, another person made their presence known and immediately Don stepped back an inch. 

"Nick, are you ok?" 

Tony's voice was hesitant almost as if he wasn't sure whether he was welcome and Nick felt himself tense at the thought. Then though he met the concerned hazel eyes and smiled at Tony. 

"I'm fine, don't worry. I was just on the way to the lab, what have you guys found so far?" 


It was the sound of someone crying softly, the sound of suppressed whimpers that made Tony walk faster. He turned instinctively towards the source of the sounds which were so full of fear and despair. He almost ran around the corner and froze as if he had walked into a wall at the picture he faced. 

Nick was standing or more leaning against the wall, his body shaking with tremors, his hands clawing at his arms while he visibly tried to keep them still. Tony shivered at the expression in Nick's face. It was a mask of terror, his eyes were closed, his features distorted. The fear in the handsome face tore at his heart, but before he could move, Don Flack appeared from behind him and without even looking at him he rushed to Nick's side. 

"Nick, love it's alright, you're ok, and you're safe. I am here now." 

Don's words were soft, tender and with an incredible gentleness he leaned towards Nick. He caressed Nick's face with soft hands and shielded him from Tony's eyes while he mumbled soft words that obviously cut through Nick's panic as the tremors slowly subsided. Tony watched as Nick looked up and he saw the love in the dark eyes even from the distance he was standing. 

"I'm fine again, sorry." 

Nick's voice still trembled, but obviously something he had said made Don straighten immediately, his entire behavior changing back from the lover to the fellow cop. And yet Tony could see that his hands still lingered on Nick's body, still offered strength and comfort. 

Looking at them made Tony hurt in a way he had never known he could hurt. Longing cursed through him, longing to have what they had. How often had he wished for someone to just hold him and tell him that he was safe? How long since someone had wanted more than just his body? 

It almost physically hurt to look at them and maybe that was what made him announce his presence. 

"Nick, are you ok?" 

He could see how Nick tensed and as he followed him towards the lab he felt Don's eyes on him the entire way. Tony knew that he had to make them understand that he wasn't the enemy and would never do anything to threaten them and without thinking much, he stopped walking until Don had caught up with him. 

"You don't have to worry; I would never endanger you." 

Don's eyes rested on him for a long time and Tony felt as if he were stripping him with his eyes. Then suddenly a smile broke out and Don reached out with his hand. 


So simple, so honest and once more Tony felt the longing return, the longing to belong to someone or no not someone, to belong to Gibbs. 

"What did you find in the park?" 

He forced himself to concentrate on the evidence Nick had found and soon the connections between the background searches he had made and the evidence Nick had found made sense. 

"She was a volunteer." 

Nick turned around and looked at him confused, but Tony saw the moment when he understood and immediately reached for the office phone. 

"Mac, Gibbs can you join us, we might have found a connection." 


"Mac, Gibbs can you join us, we might have found a connection." 

Standing in the lab, watching Tony and Nick explaining their findings, Gibbs couldn't help but clenching his fists. Nick and Tony complemented each other perfectly. Nick had a strong analytical mind, had a scientific outlook in everything and Tony supplied the insight and the knowledge of human behavior. They were a strong pair and he growled lightly as he once more realized that Tony obviously felt incredibly comfortable working with the New York team. 

"Good work guys, I've just talked to Jane, she will have the DNA results by tomorrow morning, same with trace results. Nick, Tony can you go through the employee lists first thing tomorrow morning and check who was working at the site yesterday and the day before?" 

Mac's words made Gibbs look up sharply, but Mac didn't even look at him instead he was already assigning Ziva and Danny to both look into the other victims' backgrounds and ensure all evidence had been processed. 

"Call it a day ok?" 

Gibbs watched with envy as Mac walked over to Messer and quickly talked to him. Messer nodded at once and looking over to Tony invited him to join them for dinner. Before Tony could even answer, Nick added something that made Gibbs tense completely for a moment. 

"We'll be going for some basketball first, but with your injuries you might wanna skip that." 

The fact that Nick knew about Tony's bruises was bad enough, but the care and concern behind the simple statement made Gibbs clench his jaw. Nick knew Tony less than twelve hours and yet he already included him in his considerations. And what had Gibbs done? 

Gibbs was the bastard who knew Tony for over four years and still didn't allow himself to care for him. 

"Dinner would be great; you going to join us, boss?" 

It took him a while to realize that Tony had asked him something. The words filtered through his brain and with it the truth. 

Tony wanted him to join. Joy raced through him, when another thought dampened it. Was it just politeness, was it just the ingrained friendliness that made Tony ask? 

He wanted to decline, when he felt Mac's eyes on him. Mac didn't say anything, but his eyes gave him a clear message. 

‘If you say no now, I'll kick your ass.' 

Gibbs wasn't sure if Mac actually could kick his ass, but he didn't feel like trying out. 


*Chapter 5 – Rest and Recuperation* 

Don watched Nick as he played one on one against Danny, enjoying the sight of the beautiful body in motion, of the joy in the dark eyes and the happiness in the angular face. 

Nick's break down today had scared him more than he would ever admit to anyone. He had hoped for those sudden moments of complete helplessness to be over and yet he knew that he had not believed it. He knew that his fear for Nick showed every time his lover came in contact with something that might trigger his memories. 

Angrily shaking his head, Don pushed the thought of memories and triggers away, he refused to deal with them right now and just concentrated on watching his lover. Nick was up six points against Danny and right as Don looked up, he dribbled around Danny once more and scored the final two points. Teasing friendly they left the playground and walked back to Nick's flat to get changed and showered. Once there, Don let himself fall into the couch. 

"20-12, Danny you're getting old." 

Danny grinned at Nick's teasing words as his friend came back from the shower and snuggled up against Don on the couch. 

"Not old, but more focused." 

Sharing an amused glance with Nick, Don prompted Danny with a grin. 

"More focused?" 

The grin that now crossed Danny's face made him look like that cat that had gotten the canary and the milk on top of it. Don smiled as he recalled the perpetual sadness and depression that had hung around his friend only months ago and without thinking about it he pulled Nick a bit closer to him and started to caress his arm absently. 

"Well you know it's great to beat Nick in basket ball, but hey, I need my strength for Mac." 

The leer and the suggestive voice that accompanied the statement made Nick shudder and Don laughed as Nick made a face at the thought of his boss and Danny. 

"You know, it's great you're together but I don't need a visual of Mac naked and with you. He's my boss." 

Don grinned, but the grin faded when Danny suddenly turned serious. 

"Speaking of bosses, did Nick tell you Don?" 

He knew what Danny was talking about and although he understood his friend's motive and reasoning, he still didn't like the idea of Nick flirting with Tony. Don felt Nick lean into his caress and met the dark eyes that he loved so much. 

"I'm a jealous idiot; but you know that, don't you?" 

Nick smiled and nodded gently. 

"It won't work anyway; because Tony knows about us. So I won't flirt with him, anyway if this Gibbs is like Mac then he'll be boiling ,if I just talk to him nicely." 

He should be embarrassed at the relief that flooded him when Nick dismissed Danny's idea. But then dark eyes met his and he saw his own possessiveness reflected back and with a smile he leaned down and kissed Nick quickly, hard on the lips. 

"No flirting." 

Danny grinned and got up from the chair. 

"And on that note I'll go and take a shower." 

Don grinned and watched from the corner of his eyes as Danny disappeared, then his lips once more covered Nick's when Danny's shouted his advice to him. 

"Don, remember, don't do anything I wouldn't do ok?" 

Famous last words, Don thought before he covered Nick's slender body, inhaling the intoxicating scent of soap and Nick, because of course there was very little Danny wouldn't do with Mac. Nick groaned lightly under him and all thoughts about Danny or Tony fled from Don's mind as he nibbled at the exposed throat. 


Nick shuddered at that statement, but didn't disagree instead just moaned and twisted so that his hands could caress Don's back. 


Don sighed contently. He had Nick in his arms, a nice dinner to look forward to and a nasty case pretty much solved. Life didn't get much better than this. 


Tony stretched out on the bed with a sigh. Part of him was disappointed about not being able to join the others for a round of basketball. He was pretty sure that all three were great players and that they would have had great fun playing. Still though, his body wouldn't have been able to take it and the idea of soaking in a hot bath, soothing his muscles and the various aches in his bones was incredibly appealing. If only he wouldn't have to get up in order to prepare a bath. 


He groaned at the knock, but tensed when he heard who it was. No, he didn't want to face Gibbs, didn't want to talk to him not when he was this tired and still as if pulled by invisible strings he got up and opened the door. Gibbs leaned against his door post and watched him carefully. 

"Are you ok?" 

The question was so unexpected that Tony tensed before he made a conscious effort to relax. Not wanting to stand in the door with Gibbs, he moved back into his room and watched Gibbs as he closed and locked the door behind him. 

"I am fine boss, all peachy." 

Gibbs' eyes fixed him and Tony found it hard not to squirm under the almost heated gaze. What was going on here? 

"No you're not." 

The finality in Gibbs' voice made him angry but he took a deep breath and forced himself to stay calm. 

"First you don't believe me, when I tell you that I am hurt, and then you don't believe me when I tell you that I am fine. Do you think I'm constantly lying to you? And if you are, then why am I still on your team?" 

His voice hadn't risen while he had spoken those words, but he could hear the bitterness and berated himself for showing Gibbs how his distrust hurt. 

"You are on my team because I want you to be. I saw your bruises this morning, so tell me if you're ok or not." 

Something was out of place. The thought flashed unbidden through his mind and made Tony stop. He froze and turned to look at Gibbs, really look at him and not just glance like he usually did when faced with his boss. 

Something was out of place and suddenly it hit him. Gibbs' words were harsh, his voice gruff and on the surface his boss seemed to be his usual bastard self, but his eyes, his body spoke a different language. Gibbs was tense, his eyes concerned and Tony shuddered as he understood. Gibbs cared, Gibbs really wanted to know if he was fine or not. Another shiver ran through him and he felt his mind starting to spin. It didn't matter why Gibbs cared, if it was only because he worked for him or because of something deeper. The fact that he did was enough to turn his world upside down. 


He swayed and he saw how Gibbs immediately reached out, but before he could touch him, he sat down on the bed. 

"Ok, I'm not fine. I hurt and I'm dizzy, but it's nothing that a bath and dinner won't cure." 

Gibbs tensed at the mentioning of the dinner, he looked away and then met Tony's eyes again. 

"This dinner with Stokes and Messer, where are you going?" 

Surprised by the thinly veiled hostility in the way Gibbs spoke Nick and Danny's names, Tony searched for the address and finally found it. 

"Some place called ‘Fletcher's Tavern'. Are you coming too?" 

Gibbs nodded, then turning towards the door he looked back at Tony with an unreadable expression in his eyes. 

"McGee will come too, Ziva declined. Leave at 8pm?" 

Tony watched as Gibbs left his room and sat down heavily on the bed. His body still hurt, but the pain was dulled by the revelation that made his mind spin. 

Gibbs cared. 

Cared if he was hurt or not, maybe even if he was alive or not. 

Sighing deeply, Tony thought back to the conversation with Danny. 

<i>"I for one am glad it wasn't you."</i> 

What would he give for Gibbs to tell him this. 


Thirty minutes after they had all sat down at the table, ten minutes after they had ordered and about eight minutes after their drinks had arrived, Stella had figured it all out. 

Her eyes swept over the seven men and with a mental sigh landed on the oldest in their round. Jethro Gibbs clearly felt like an outsider in their group. He had deliberately chosen this role and enforced it by taking the seat at the end of the table opposite her and next to Mac. It was as if he needed Mac to create a shield between him and the group of young men that chatted easily. 

Danny sat next to her, and she was almost hundred percent positive that his feet weren't on the floor but playing some teasing game with Mac's legs. At least, it was either that or Mac had caught too much sun during the day. Nick and Don sitting next to each other, talking and conversing with everyone in a way good friends would and Stella felt both joy at the sight of Nick being so happy and sadness because they had to hide their feelings. 

Her eyes moved to the two NCIS agents and she sighed lightly. On the outside, Tony DiNozzo looked fine, chatting happily with Nick or Don or Danny, teasing the young man at his side Tim, if she remembered correctly, and munching his starter with obvious appetite. 

Yeah, Stella thought sadly, Tony DiNozzo had his image perfected and somehow she doubted that anyone had ever seen behind it. 

She was a CSI though and even more, she had worked with Danny and Mac for several years now, so she knew what to look for. She saw the quick glances Tony stole at Gibbs, saw the moments of hurt in his eyes when Gibbs dismissed him or his comments, heard the plea for recognition in the teasing words and the bitterness when his teasing was rudely rejected. 

Men were such stupid creatures. She sighed a bit louder and Danny looked at her. 

"You alright?" 

There was knowledge in his eyes that surprised her and as she met Mac's eyes she saw the same knowledge in the clear blue gaze.  

Oh, well, ok... It seemed as if not all men were stupid or maybe it was just that they got wiser and wiser with age and a little help. 

And suddenly the seating order made much more sense to her and a little smirk crossed her face as Danny's eyes lit up with something she could only call mischief, before he addressed Tony. 

"You know when this is all over and you have a weekend off, you've got to come down. Have a night out in the big town, go dancing, have fun." 

Stella saw how Gibbs tensed at the suggestion, saw how his hand clenched to a fist, but before he could say anything, Nick chipped in his ten cents. 

"Sure man, you can stay at my place, got room enough." 

Nick shared a smile and a wink with Tony and Stella understood that Tony somehow had found out about Nick and Don and obviously didn't mind. It was then when her eyes fell onto Gibbs once more. 

She suppressed a gasp at the barely controlled fury and deep rooted pain that was suddenly in his eyes, but before she could do anything, he blinked and the calm, slightly annoyed mask replaced the display of emotions. 

For a moment she wanted to slap him and tore a piece of her bread instead. 


Mac's eyes met hers and she saw a smile in his. He knew she thought he knew so well how Gibbs felt right this moment. Mac knew how much it hurt to watch and long, but never have and as warmth replaced the knowledge in his eyes, she realized that Mac understood that hadn't it been for her pushing him, he wouldn't be playing footsie with Danny under the table. Smiling at him with all the love she felt for her friend, she answered. 


Smiling that special, half smile Mac ginned lightly. 

"Don't worry; we've taken you into account when planning this." 

And although it was meant to calm her, the slightly evil glint in his eyes made her shudder and glare at Danny. These two definitely spent too much time together. 


Gibbs knew that he would not be able to sleep tonight, not after this dinner, after watching Tony flirt with Nick. Had he been at home, he would have gone down to the basement and worked on his boat, as it was though, he did the next best thing and went to the office. 

The lab was dark and empty as he entered, and he sighed as he sat down and powered his laptop, opened the task list and started to work through the long due reports and administrative crap. 

"Excuse me, sir" 

He looked up surprised and annoyed that he hadn't heard the man approach and growling lightly he looked up to meet intelligent dark eyes. The man standing at the door was slender, almost fragile looking with dark skin, dark eyes and handsome face. 

"Can I help you?" 

A quick smile crossed the other man's face, before he pushed himself away from the door and walked inside the room. 

"No offence, but who are you and what are you doing in Mac's office?" 

The voice was still friendly, but Gibbs could clearly see how the man's entire body was tense almost as if anticipating an attack. He got up slowly and showed his visitor badge. 

"Jethro Gibbs, Special agent NCIS" 

Immediately the other man relaxed and extended his hand. 

"Sheldon Hawkes, I'm the ME." 

Hawkes certainly didn't look like Ducky. Jethro nodded and went back to his files when Sheldon spoke again. 

"Fletcher's not your thing?" 

Surprised Gibbs looked up again; Hawkes though dismissed the glare and just shrugged casually. 

"Normally the restaurants Don chooses are pretty good, which is of course why he's the only one allowed to choose one." 

Intrigued almost against his will, Gibbs silently asked for more information but raising his eyebrow and Hawkes sat down opposite him and laughed. 

"Well, Mac and Danny don't know any restaurants unless you count the billions of take away shops and Stella's taste is, well let's say it's eclectic." 

Remembering the passionate and funny female CSI, Jethro wondered what Hawkes meant when he said eclectic, but before he could ask, Hawkes continued. 

"A place where fried scorpions are on the menu isn't everybody's thing." 

The thought alone made him shudder, but his mind and his heart showed him pictures of Nick and Tony and before he could stop himself, he asked. 

"What about Nick?" 

Sheldon shrugged once more. 

"He knows a couple of places, but he's only been in NY for a couple of months. So the one's he knows Don probably showed him." 

Mac had mentioned something about Nick being new too, but at that time Gibbs hadn't cared too much about him. Now though that had changed, he saw a rival in Nick Stokes, someone who could potentially take Tony away from him and suddenly knowledge was incredibly important. 

"Where's he been before?" 

Looking at him for a long time, Hawkes seemed to consider his words carefully almost as if he were sensing that Gibbs' question didn't stem from pure curiosity. Finally he answered slowly. 

"He was with the crime lab in Vegas." 

Las Vegas was the number two lab in the country. Against his will, Gibbs' respect of Nick grew and with it the need to know more. 

"Why did he come here?" 

Hawkes's eyes turned hard for a moment, but with a smooth smile he overheard the question and answered with a question of his own. 

"So why are you here in the middle of the night?" 

He had smoothly deflected Gibbs' question and for a second Gibbs felt offended, maybe that was the reason why he reacted harsher than intended. 

"Working on some old reports and paper work if you allow me." 

Smiling lightly, Hawkes was silent for a long time and then though slowly and almost tentatively he asked. 

"Do you already have a lead in the case?" 

Nodding Jethro got up and started to draw the case with his words, until he finally came to the final remark 

"He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time." 

Sheldon's face was grave and sad; he shook his head and got up to get his jacket.  

"It's getting late, you coming too?" 

Gibbs felt exhaustion in his bones and with a sigh; he followed Hawkes silently. Finally the elevator was at their floor and still silent they entered. In the end it was Hawkes who broke the silence. 

"I always wonder what's worse if somehow you love is specifically targeted or if someone's just at the wrong place in the wrong time." 

Jethro didn't answer, but much later as he woke once more sweating and not remembering the dream yet knowing what it had been about; he knew that it didn't matter. 

Loosing someone always hurt, but being the one to blame for a loved one's death, was even worse. 

A shiver ran through him and suddenly he longed for something he hadn't wished for in a long, long time. He longed to be held. Another shiver ran through him as he turned in his bed so that he faced the wall that separated his room from Tony's. 

Tony was so close and yet so far. 

The longing was now even stronger only that the person holding him had now a face. 

How would it be, he wondered, how would it be to be held in Tony's arms? 

Groaning and pushing the unwanted thoughts away, Gibbs turned on the light and grabbed the book that he had brought with him. 

Sleep would be a long time coming this night. 


Danny moaned and trashed his head from one side to the other. His hands were twisted into the sheets and he desperately grasped at the thin and yet strong material. His body was glistening with sweat, his blood boiling and his world had narrowed down to Mac who was slowly driving him insane. 


His lover looked up and Danny could see how Mac's eyes roamed over his body in a possessive and yet tender way. Mac was claiming him, he realized and groaned at the heat that realization brought with it. 

"Something you wanted Danny?" 

Smirking lightly, Mac curled his fingers deep in Danny's body and at the same time leaned down to gently bite one of the tender nipples. 


Danny had pretty much lost any coherence, but still managed that one single word. 

"Please Mac... please" 

It was wonderful to be loved by Mac; wonderful be claimed by him, but right now the wonderful feeling was close to torture. He needed Mac inside his body, needed to feel the love and the passion that Mac hid away so well during the day. 

"You will get me in time Danny. But first I want to make love to you, want to love you so completely that you never forget whom you belong to." 

As if he could. Danny wanted to tell Mac that, but before he could form the sentence in his mind, Mac swallowed him whole. A scream died on his lips as his entire body surged up and whimpering he trust into the heat of his lover's mouth. Mac let him move freely for a moment, then his hands held him down and Danny's whimper elevated in a yelp as clever fingers prevented him from coming. 

His body twisted even more on the bed and moaning constantly now, he begged Mac with his body, begged and hoped that Mac understood. 

"I love you." 

Blue eyes locked with his and with a sigh that was close to a moan, Mac slid into his body. Danny screamed at the feeling of being finally one with his lover. 

Soothing hands cleaned him and with a content smile, Danny turned around to snuggle into Mac's arms. 

"Not that I mind, but what brought that on?" 

Mac's left hand moved through his hair, caressing him softly while the right arm pressed him close to his lover. For a long time Mac was just silent, until suddenly he spoke. 

"I realized today how close I cam to losing you." 

It was then that Danny understood. Mac had seen himself in Gibbs, just as Danny had to a certain degree seen himself mirrored in Tony. He smiled softly and looking up he kissed Mac's lips. 

"You didn't." 

Now the possessive light was back in Mac's eyes and to his surprise Danny felt a shiver running through him. 

"No, I didn't and now you're mine." 

Normally he would protest such a declaration, but tonight he just felt another shiver at the claim. 

He was Mac's. 


The TV was on, but silent as Don walked into the living room and sat down next to Nick. The moon was shining into the room, the flicker of the TV and the silver light of the stars the only light source, the street outside was deserted and the city that never slept was eerily silent and still. For a moment, Nick was didn't move then he smiled and leaned against Don's body. 

They were alone, and sitting with Don like this, Nick felt as if they were the only people in the world. 

For a long time they sat together in silence, watching the silent images on the screen, listening to each other breathing, enjoying the closeness and the love that flowed between them. After a while Nick reached out and clasped Don's hand, connecting them. 

It was peaceful, Nick thought. 

Without thinking much his thumb began to caress Don's hand and his lover made a sound that came close to purring and Nick smiled. 


Don's question broke the silence and yet didn't shatter it. The words spoken so calmly seemed to merge with the atmosphere and the concern and love behind them enveloped Nick in warmth. 

"No, just couldn't sleep." 

Nick felt Don relax against him and sighed lightly. Don had helped him heal; his love had made him heal. But sometimes Nick forgot that by taking care of him, Don had inherited some of his demons. 

"I am fine." 

Don squeezed his hand. 

"I know, but I still can't help being concern. I care." 

Nick remembered the first time, Don had told him that, remembered how good it had felt to hear it, how good it still felt and with a smile he caressed the handsome face. 

"Yeah, me too" 


Ziva smiled as she opened the email. She had asked for some background information on the New York team and opening the attachment she studied the files that her contact had sent her with a hard smile. It contained information about five men and one woman, but in the end it was only four men that interested her. 

Four men whom she had worked with all day without knowing anything about them, four men that had struck up an immediate friendship with Tony, but most of all, one of them had shaken her to her core and she shivered as she remembered Stokes' words. 

<i>Who do you trust to save you, if you don't trust your team?</i> 

She had let her guard down around Stokes, had allowed herself to become vulnerable. Vulnerable meant expendable, she had learned that long ago. Hardening her eyes, she once more promised herself never to become expendable, not only for the director but even more important for Gibbs. Only if he started to rely on her and no one else, she would ever be able to reach her goal. Another shiver ran through her, if Gibbs wanted it, she'd be out immediately. Expendable, squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath. Never again, she promised. No matter what cost, she would never again be expendable. 

She opened the file labeled with Stokes' name and started to read. Tomorrow she would have all the information she needed in order to deal with the New York team, tomorrow it wouldn't be Stokes who had an advantage but her. 


*Chapter 6 – Confrontation* 

"Nick, you and Tony follow up on the gardener. Find out who was working at the site, and go talk to them. If they're not objecting, collect samples and trace evidence." 

Mac smiled at Tony and seeing the surprised, almost shy responding smile, he mentally shook his head and with a quick glance at Danny decided to jump into the game head first. 

"Hope that's ok with you Tony, working with one of us I mean?" 

Once more he saw surprise in the hazel eyes, but this time it disappeared immediately and Tony shook his head vehemently. 

"Sure it is, although working with Nick..." 

He trailed off leaving and plastered a painful grimace on his face. Mac laughed and shook his head in open amusement. From the corner of his eyes he saw Danny smile, saw love and something else in the beloved blue grey eyes, but before he could say anything Danny interrupted and grinned. 

"Yeah, working with Nick really is a hardship." 

Nick reacted and looked at them with a feigned hurt in his eyes. Then he turned towards Mac and shook his head with a fond smile. 


He walked towards the door and Mac saw how Tony immediately reached out and grabbed Nick at his arm. Tony was serious as he looked at Nick and his apology was equally serious. 

"Sorry Nick, I mean it's great working with you, really. So, you gonna show me NY?" 

Nick laughed, but Mac could see that his eyes were serious as he turned around to look at Mac. 

"We're off then; call me if there's anything new." 

They left, but just as they walked away, Mac heard Nick tell Tony. 

"I'll show you Central Park and hey it's good to work with you too." 

Gibbs face was hard. His face a hard mask, his body tense and seeing it made Mac feel bad for the charade that he and Danny had started. His conscience was suddenly very much awake and demanded to know how he would have felt his and Gibbs' role were reversed. 

The thought of watching Danny flirt with someone, watching him being lured away from him, it made Mac cringe and he felt like a heel. He had given into Danny and now he knew that he shouldn't have. And yet the damage was done; now he had to fix it. 

"Danny, Officer David can you dig further into the background of our victims and check with Jane about DNA?" 

His lover nodded and was about to leave with Ziva in tow, when Mac called him back. 

"Danny, I need to talk to you in a minute ok?" 

Danny looked at him concerned, but waited right outside the office. Mac took a deep breath and turned towards Gibbs and McGee. 

"McGee will set up the line and check with Abby and then go over the computers we found in the flat." 

Gibbs voice was cold and hard and Mac had to force himself not to flinch. Still though he met Gibbs' eyes and once more felt like an ass at the barely hidden pain in the blue eyes. 

"I've got to talk with Danny for a second, but then I would like your opinion on something. Can you give us a minute?" 

Gibbs nodded curtly and walked outside without as much as a word. Looking warily Danny came inside instead and Mac instantly knew that Danny felt guilty for something. 

"I'm sorry Mac; I thought it would make him act." 

Surprised and yet not, Mac smiled at the honest apology and quickly brushed his hand over Danny's. Then though he met his lover's eyes and shook his head. 

"You didn't do anything wrong, I should have thought about it more. It's just when Tony left, I suddenly understood that Gibbs will never do anything." 

Anger and confusion but also understanding and love were mirrored in the small smile that Danny gave him. 

"You did, when you thought that you had lost me, you came to me." 

It was true, but Mac knew that it were different things that had held him back and walking towards the window he looked to where once two towers had stood proudly. He felt Danny step closer, not touching but offering comfort nevertheless. 

"Gibbs is afraid. I was too, but more than fear it was my blindness that held me back. Gibbs though, he truly believes that loving him could kill Tony." 

Danny's hand on his shoulder was warm, grounded him in ways Mac hadn't known before and as he turned around he saw only love. 

"Talk to him then." 

A quick grin crossed over the younger face. 

"Marine to Marine." 

Mac couldn't help the glare and the chuckle at the statement and yet he knew that it was true. He would have to talk to Gibbs from one Marine to another and still smiling lightly he wondered if he was the only one to see the irony of him having to employ the ingrained training he'd received in the army to make Gibbs understand he loved and needed Tony. 

He turned back from the window and saw Danny smiling as he grabbed his kit. 

"Semper fi, but please ignore the don' tell and tell me ok?." 


Nick had watched the byplay in the office and had seen both the emotions in Gibbs' face and the moment of hurt that had flashed over Tony's. Most of all though he had been surprised when he had realized that Tony was genuinely afraid of having insulted him and shaking his head as he maneuvered the car through the busy NY traffic 

"Calm down Tony, I know you didn't mean it seriously." 

Tony sighed and expected him to say something, but to his surprise Tony remained silent. Smiling lightly, he stopped in front of yet another red light and spontaneously turned towards Tony. 

"Thanks for covering for me and Don." 

For a moment Nick could clearly see envy in Tony's eyes as he shrugged and answered honestly. 

"Look, you and Don have the connection and love that I've always longed to find. I'm not going to destroy something as beautiful, besides I'm no bigot." 

Nick smiled and quickly taking his hand from the steering wheel, he grasped Tony's and clasped it thankfully. 


He found a parking spot and got his kit while Tony explained to a rather grumpy looking man who they were and why they were here. 

"We know that usually volunteers work together with professional gardeners. Can you tell me who was working with Maureen Durban last weekend?" 

The older man who had introduced himself as Stanley Smith pointed towards a younger taller man who was eyeing the CSIs with suspicion. 

"Frank Kraft" 

Nick smiled at Tony and walked straight towards Kraft introducing himself in his usual friendly manner. 

"Hello, I'm Nick Stokes from the crime lab, Mr. Smith told us that you worked with Maureen Durban last weekend, is that correct?" 

Before Nick saw the knife and could react, Kraft slashed at him and instinctively Nick jumped back. Kraft pushed him away and turned on his heel ready to run away, when a hard voice made him and Nick freeze. 

"Freeze or I shoot!" 

Tony's voice was completely different from the friendly and easy going voice he had used when he had spoken with Nick and Nick felt himself react to the command in the harsh tone. Unfortunately Frank Kraft didn't have the same reaction and even as Tony shot close to him their suspect kept on running. Cursing loudly, Tony threw a look at Nick. 

"You ok?" 

Nick smiled at the honest concern and nodded before he followed Tony in his pursuit of Frank Kraft. He didn't like to run after someone but if he were completely honest he had to admit that the feeling of adrenaline pumping through his veins was a good one and silently he made a note to encourage Don for another gym visit tonight. 

"Got you." 

Tony launched himself at Kraft and with a tackle that would have made an NFL player proud he tore the gardener down onto the grass. Nick was there immediately, his gun trained on the suspect that had tried to stab him and while Tony read him his rights, Nick called for back up and let the PD know that they had a man in custody. 

Kraft was sitting cuffed on the side and ignoring them completely, so Nick took a moment to look at Tony. He hadn't forgotten that Tony had been injured on a job only days ago and promptly he saw how the handsome face was twisted into a grimace of pain. 

"Tony, are you ok?" 

Tony looked at him and nodded, but his eyes and his face were still showing the pain he felt and Nick cursed Kraft silently before he loudly wondered where their back up was. 

"Just here, don't go mouthing off good detectives, just cause they are fighting NY traffic." 

Don's voice made him smile, but he composed himself enough to look casually as he pointed towards Kraft. 

"Can you bring him in for the attempted attack on a NYPD member and for questioning in the Maureen Durban case?" 

Nick cursed himself as soon as he had uttered the words. Don paled and instinctively reached out, but caught himself in time. Don's hand trembled as he pointed towards Kraft and his voice was harder than usual. 

"He attacked you." 

Nick tried to find words that didn't make it sound as bad as it had been, but before he could say anything, Tony interrupted him. 

"He tried to stab him." 

Meeting Tony's eyes Nick saw the challenge in the hazel orbs and glared at him. Tony just grinned back. 

"It's ok Don, I moved back fast enough, so he didn't hurt me." 

Don's eyes promised him a thorough inspection as soon as they were off the clock and with a soft smile, Nick conceded defeat in that point. It was after all not such a bad thing to have Don check every spot on his body in order to make sure he wasn't hurt. 

"Let him cool down a bit, we'll come in after we've analyzed the samples." 

Nick saw the moment of anger in Don's eyes as he looked at Kraft, and silently hoped that he would still be in one piece when they had time to interrogate him. 

"Ok, I'll see you around." 

Don quickly reached out and clasped Nick's shoulder, then he was gone and Nick turned towards Tony. 

"Not necessary." 

Tony shrugged, but his eyes were serious. 

"Look, I would want to know if my partner had been attacked. I know you didn't want to scare him, but Don's strong." 

Seeing the honesty, the concern in Tony's eyes, Nick's anger faded, but he still sighed and looking away from Tony, sweeping his eyes over the lawn he shivered lightly. 

"Let's grab some lunch ok?" 

If Tony was surprised by the offer, he didn't show and soon enough they sat in a quiet diner that Nick had found about a month after he'd moved to NY. It was close to the lab and had a homey feeling that made you forget that you were in Manhattan and that outside the life moved on in a different speed than in the rest of the world. 

"It's a while since I had lunch sitting down." 

Nick grinned at Tony's comment and nodded. 

"I remember when I was with graveyard in Vegas; our eating habits were completely screwed. It's definitely one thing I don't miss." 

He felt Tony's eyes on him and sighed lightly he knew that he had set himself up for questions. He liked Tony though and the key word in any kind of friendship that deserved the name was sharing and with Tony obviously being hurt more than once, Nick understood that sharing secrets would probably go a long way to a friendship with him. 

"So what do you miss then?" 

Tony's voice was curious but it was an honest curiosity and not the kind of curiosity that came from being noisy, but from caring. 

"Small things, the craziness of the fight nights, the lights when you're further away outside the city and watch it glittering at night, my friends, being able to drive outside and being in the middle of nowhere within two hours..." 

Speaking about Las Vegas brought memories and with a slightly melancholic smile Nick took a sip of his coke before he continued to speak. 

"I miss working with Grissom, I mean Mac is a great supervisor, but Grissom, he's one of his kind." 

Tony smiled, but Nick could already see the next question forming in Tony's mind. 

"Why did you leave?" 

He'd known the question would come, knew Tony was smart and had expected it and still he had to steel himself from flinching, but he did what he always did when faced with that specific question. He decided on whether or not the person asking was ready to hear the truth. 

Several hadn't been. 

Tony was. 

"I was abducted on a scene and woke up buried alive. My team found me just in time to save me, but in the end the aftermath was too much. I had to leave." 

He didn't say anything else, didn't mention that the final decision had been made when Warrick had walked into the lab announcing his marriage. He didn't say that he still missed his friend sometimes, didn't speak about the terrible moments in the box, about the ants that had invaded his prison or about the gun he had almost used. And yet while he used those brief words, he suddenly realized how much easier it was to talk about it now than when he had told Mac all those months ago. 

Tony's hand on his brought him back from the memories and as he met the hazel eyes, he saw deep compassion in them. A almost shy smile appeared on Tony's face as he confessed quietly. 

"I really don't know what to say." 

Nick appreciated the honesty much more than any empty words and with a smile he changed the topic to the one he actually wanted to talk about, but before he could Tony's eyes lit up with understanding. 

"That's why you deflected Don's concern isn't it?" 

Surprised at the understanding and yet not, Nick nodded. 

"Don worries too much already and sometimes I feel bad that I pulled him into the entire nightmare." 

A shiver ran through him as he remembered how he had woken up only a few weeks ago to find Don in the throws of a nightmare. His lover had whispered his name over and over again and Nick's heart had broken as he had realized that Don was dreaming of his ordeal. 

Strong hands once more brought him back to reality and Tony met his eyes head on strong, clear and full of conviction. 

"It's what lovers do, Nick, they worry about each other, they are part of each others nightmares and just that being part makes them easier to bear." 

A shadow crossed over Tony's face and Nick clasped his hand encouragingly. 

"What about you?" 

The shadow fell completely and Tony sighed. 

"I've had a shitty year. Got infected with the pest, shot at and finally had a colleague killed right in front of my eyes." 

Tony spoke calmly, he stated facts and that more than anything made Nick want to reach out and him. He remained silent though and waited whether or not he would continue. When Tony stayed silent, Nick looked at him questioningly. 

"But that's not why you are so sad, is it?" 

Surprised Tony looked up and Nick couldn't hide a smile. 

"I'm an investigator by profession Tony; I saw how you look at Gibbs. You could survive anything if you had him at your side, wouldn't you?" 

Tony's eyes darkened for a moment, and then he shivered. 

"Even if I don't have him, even if he doesn't love me, he is the main reason I fought so hard when I was in the hospital, why every time I am shot down I come back." 

Nick heard what Tony didn't say, heard the exhaustion in the calm, sad voice and he understood it better than Tony probably thought. Taking his mind off the current topic, he waved at the waitress and paid their lunch, but as they walked back into the lab, Nick stopped Tony once more. 

"Tony, you said you survived for him, but do you realize that he would die for you?" 


Danny grinned as he and Ziva walked back from Jane's lab. The blond DNA expert had a wicked sense of humor which was matching his and he genuinely liked her. With the results in his hands, he looked at Ziva. 

"Ok, so what do you suggest next?" 

It wasn't meant as a test, just a question, nothing bad, just trying to pick someone's brain but to his surprise her eyes darkened and her face hardened at the question. 

"Isn't this your investigation Detective Messer?" 

Surprised and a bit taken aback at the venom in her voice, Danny stopped for a second, then though recovered and shook his head. 

"Actually I think it's our investigation. Cool down Ziva, I am not after you or your job ok?" 

The topic was closed for him and he grabbed his phone to call Nick, when he saw that he had one missed call from Don and frowning he listened to the message. The few words Don said were all about business, but the light trembling in his voice was more telling than anything else. He pressed the recall button and impatiently waited for his friend to pick up. 

"Don, it's Danny." 

He felt Ziva's eyes on him, saw her frown and walk away and waved at her to stay, before he told Don that he would call him from the star phone in the office. She looked surprised at the comment, but her body language still spoke of distrust and contempt as she came back to the desk. Wondering about her attitude, Danny called Don and let his friend know that he was not alone. 

"Don, Danny and Ziva here, what have you got for us?" 

Don was considerably calmer than when he had left a message and nothing in his voice spoke of the scare he had gotten when he had met Nick and Tony. 

"Nick and Tony found a suspect; he took a stab at Nick, but failed. He's in custody now, so if you need DNA for comparison, then just come down ok?" 

Looking at their DNA samples, Danny saw that there was indeed a third source and nodding, he agreed with Don. 

"We'll come down; do you know who is going to interrogate him?" 

Ziva stared at him as if he was mad, but Don didn't find the question unusual. 

"Don't know Mac probably or Nick and I guess Gibbs or Tony will take part too, so I'll probably stay out of it. It's better anyway." 

Danny heard what Don didn't say, their suspect had attacked Don's lover. His nerves were thin and the thirst for vengeance was definitely there. Yeah, Danny thought with a grin, it probably was better. 

"Nick is ok, isn't he?" 

There was silence on the other side of the phone for a moment, but then Don spoke again. 

"He is, apparently he was fast enough, not a scratch, but it could have been different." 

And once more Danny heard all that Don didn't say and he understood it perfectly. The fear was with him constantly, the knowledge that their jobs were dangerous and that one day Mac might not be fast enough or a scene not cleared. The fear was always there, but Danny knew just as Don did that they had to live with it. It was who they were. 

"We'll come over in ten ok?" 

They ended the call and Danny sat down for a moment, only now realizing that his legs were weak. 

"Damn it." 

Ziva, who had not moved, looked at him and once more Danny wondered what her problem was as her eyes swept over him assessing. He was tired of her attitude and catching her eyes he held the look and just calmly asked. 


Her eyes narrowed and throwing her hair back, she replied scathingly cold. 

"One of your team gets a scare and you have a break down? Not very professional." 

For a moment, Danny wondered if it was worth getting angry, but then he shrugged it off. He had heard worse over the time. Instead he got up and picking up the DNA results, he simply answered with the truth. 

"Nick's not just one of my team, he's a friend." 

She threw him a look and Danny saw that there was as much surprise as confusion and distrust in the dark eyes. Shaking his head and he wondered if the concept of being friends with her team mates really was that foreign to her, then though he remembered her treatment of Tony and figured that it probably was. 

"Great, just whom I've been waiting for." 

Don grinned at them and pointed towards the man in the holding cell. 

"I've got the warrant for the DNA so knock yourself out." 

Danny grinned and then turning over to Ziva smiled at her too. 

"Can you check his hands for injuries?" 

She nodded and without any further conversation they started to process Frank Kraft. They took pictures and DNA and brought the latter to Jane who promised them to treat their sample with priority. 

Coming back to the lab, Danny set the equipment up to develop the pictures. He put the things together and developed the pictures while Ziva researched the knife. Finally he was done and with a glance at Ziva, he pointed towards the break room. 

"Up for a coffee?" 

She looked up and nodded with the first smile Danny had ever seen on her. Feeling on better ground, now that they had worked together, Danny felt safe enough to ask her about her team especially Tony. 

"So what's with you and Tony? I mean you are like cats and dogs." 

Danny felt her tense next to him and knew immediately that he had made a mistake, but even knowing that he was not prepared for the cold anger in her eyes and her voice. 

"Why are you so concerned with him? You know if I think about it, Tony does seem very much at home here and wouldn't he fit in perfectly with your team?" 

Wary now, but not backing down, Danny shrugged casually. 

"He's a great investigator and yes, I think he would fit in well. 

She turned around as if he had slapped her and her burning eyes kept him captive as she got up and towered over him. 

"Tony is nothing but a big talking screw up, but then that's right up your alley isn't it? After all you're a screw up yourself. Worse even you're a gang runner and cop killer?" 

Danny froze at the last words, unable too defend himself as guilt once more crashed over him and memories of Tanglewood were raised by the way she stood over him. He saw triumph in her eyes, but before she could attack him again a sharp voice from the door interrupted her. 

"Officer David" 

Mac and Gibbs stood in the door. Danny felt himself relax immediately and when Mac came to stand next to him, softly putting a hand on his shoulder the memories retreated back into the dark corner of his mind. For a moment Mac locked his eyes with him and Danny saw love and reassurance in the blue eyes and relaxed further. 

"Officer David, can you explain to me why you are attacking a member of my team?"


Gibbs had long ago learned that the worst kind of pain wasn't physical, but mental. It wasn't getting shot but watching his comrades dying next to him. It wasn't feeling the impact of a hit, but watching a friend crumble under the blows. And yet few things he had ever experienced had hurt as much as watching Tony walk away with Nick Stokes. 

It felt so final as if Tony was not just walking out of Taylor's office in order to do his job, but was also walking out of Gibbs' life. He wanted to reach out, to call Tony back, but he kept himself in check just in time. When Taylor assigned Ziva and Messer to the background research he saw his cue to leave, but one look from Taylor made him wait. 

"I've got to talk with Danny for a second, but then I would like your opinion on something. Can you give us a minute?" 

Wondering once more about Taylor's relationship with Messer, Gibbs stepped outside and watched the busy going-on in the lab. When Messer walked out of Taylor's office, Gibbs was about to go back in, but to his surprise, Taylor came outside too and walked ahead of Gibbs along the hallway. 

"Where are we going?" 

Taylor looked at him and to Gibbs' surprise there was something akin to remorse in the pale blue eyes, before he averted his eyes and pointed to the stairs. 

"Up onto the roof" 

Following Taylor in silence, Gibbs once more cursed himself for having deferred to the New Yorker right at the beginning and yet he knew who Mac Taylor was and to respect a higher ranking Marine was something that was deeply ingrained into him. 

Taylor waited for him as they stepped out into the sun and stood next to him. Gibbs was silently watching the scenery below, the city lying beneath their feet. It was then when he realized which direction they were looking and with a shiver he glanced at Taylor who looked at him and for a long time they locked eyes until Gibbs conceded defeat and looked away. 

"I wanted to apologize." 

The words came as a surprise and made Gibbs jerk his eyes back to Taylor. Serious, concerned eyes met his and once more Gibbs couldn't hold the look instead opted to look at the New York skyline. 

"What for?" 

Taylor stepped next to him and from the corner of his eyes Gibbs saw him smile a bit. 

"For playing with your feelings, for flirting with Tony or more accurately for setting Nick up to flirt with Tony." 

Anger exploded behind Gibbs' skull and he turned towards Taylor ready to rip into him when one look from the blue eyes had him silenced. 

"Danny and Nick hoped that it would make you act on your feelings and I foolishly agreed." 

Gibbs didn't know what stunned him more, the fact that three men had seen through his masks within one day or that they had tried to get him and Tony together. Still though he felt anger curse through him and his voice was hard as he questioned the other man. 

"And now you feel bad because Nick and Tony really hooked up?" 

The bitterness in his voice surprised him, but he managed to keep a straight face although it was difficult. 

"Tony and Nick are not together, they are friends. Nick has someone." 

For a moment Gibbs didn't know what to say or think, but before he could even come to his senses, Taylor spoke again. 

"Danny wanted to help Tony because he saw how close to breaking he is." 

The words registered but Gibbs didn't allow himself to believe them. How could Taylor know that? Why would Messer see something like that? 

"He's had a hard couple of months. We all had." 

Gibbs felt bad about the way he dismissed Tony but he couldn't have this talk now, could not have it ever. He couldn't endanger Tony. 

"Do you know that Tony wishes that he would have been the one killed on the day you lost your other agent?" 

This time the words hit him like bullets and Gibbs felt himself sway. The thought that Tony was this desperate that he wished of being in Kate's place made him shiver and his heart clench painfully. Memories rose, memories of holding his baby's dead body, memories of holding too many of his men but all those images were overwhelmed by the image of Tony lying on that cursed roof, blood pooling next to his head, eyes open unseeing, broken. 


He heard Taylor's voice but didn't, no couldn't react until he felt strong hands grip his shoulders hard and a harsh voice made him snap back to reality. 


He blinked and saw Taylor stand opposite him. 

"You are not responsible for their deaths." 

He saw understanding in Taylor's eyes and still he didn't want to believe it, couldn't believe it and once again he felt the hard grip of strong hands. 

"You are not a danger to Tony." 

Seeing the truth in Taylor's eyes, Gibbs felt a shiver through his body as something snapped and some of his fears dissolved. Meeting Taylor's eyes again he saw nothing but understanding there and finally understood the relationship between Mac Taylor and Danny Messer and as if he had read his mind, Taylor smiled lightly. 

"Talk with Tony, tell him that you need him in your life. Take the risk and tell him." 

Feeling relieved and yet somehow angry at Taylor, Gibbs' voice was harsher than he intended. 

"Was that what you did with Messer?" 

The smile suddenly spreading over Taylor's face answered all his questions and with a nod he acknowledged that he had understood. 

Some risks were worth taking. 


Tony and Nick were bantering back and forth, when they heard raised voices from the break room as soon as they walked into the lab. Looking at each other, Tony and Nick hurried towards the source of the noise confused and concerned. Tony had recognized one voice as Ziva's, but Tony was unprepared to hear Gibbs speaking in the deadly voice he usually used with suspects. 

Almost against his will, he slowed down and stopped in the door when he heard his name being spoken. 

"Are you going to tell me that you'd rather had Tony with you that night? Are you really going to tell me that even though we both know that it was me you asked? Even though we both know it is me and not him you trust with your life?" 

It was almost like watching a train wreck, Tony could only watch as Gibbs' back got even more rigid, could only watch as Ziva saw him standing there and even the effect of Gibbs' answer was as devastating as a train wreck was. 

"No I'm not going to tell you that..." 

He couldn't help the gasp that escaped him, couldn't refrain from flinching back as if he had been hit when Gibbs jerked around and saw him. And then he had only one thought; he needed to get out of there. 

Nick was calling his name, he heard Gibbs' command to stop and wait, but he didn't care and although he had once, long ago promised himself to never run away again, he knew that right at this moment he had not other choice. 

And so he ran. 


*Chapter 7 – Escalation* 

Tony didn't see where he was running, didn't notice that he was getting lost in the labyrinth that the New York lab was and yet even if he had, he would not have cared. It didn't matter, nothing did apart from the scene he had just witnessed, the few words he had just heard and although he tried to stop remembering he heard those damning words over and over again. 

Gibbs didn't trust him didn't trust Tony to watch his back. 

It shouldn't hurt this much and yet it did. Tony shivered as he finally slowed down and leaned against the wall. He had always thought that not matter what Gibbs thought of him personally he at least respected him in the field, respected him enough to trust him. He had been wrong. 

And once more he wished that Ari had chosen a different target on that day. 


Tony froze. He wanted to run again, but despite everything he couldn't prevent himself from obeying the voice, the command in it. Gibbs had been his boss for too long and he reacted instinctively as he turned towards the source of the voice. Gibbs was running towards him but as their eyes met, Gibbs suddenly slowed down. It was, Tony thought surprised, as if his boss didn't want to scare him and the thought stayed with him as he watched Gibbs walk towards him slowly, hands extended and Tony had a flash of Gibbs trying to soothe a frightened animal. 

Finally Gibbs stood right in front of him, his eyes burning with intensity. They unsettled Tony more than he would ever admit. Their eyes met and locked, but despite the wish to squirm Tony remained motionless and silent. 

"You ran off in the middle of a case." 

The silent words made Tony shake his head and then he laughed harshly. He noticed how Gibbs flinched at the sound, but it wasn't until he heard the echo of it resonating through the empty corridor that he heard the bitterness in it. 

"You don't think I care do you?" 

Gibbs tensed at the answer, and Tony braced himself for the scathing words that were likely to follow his comment. But instead of telling him off, Gibbs reacted differently. He looked at him for a long time, almost as if he had never seen him before and then silently asked. 

"What do you mean Tony?" 

For a moment Tony was surprised at Gibbs' use of his first name, then though the pain and the hurt pride overwhelmed him and with a sarcastic smile he answered angrily. 

"Well, I guess you will accept my letter of notice gratefully won't you?" 

He pushed Gibbs aside as soon as he had spoken those words, knowing that he couldn't face him any longer. He couldn't see the satisfaction in the blue eyes. It would destroy him. He walked past Gibbs only to be stopped by a hand gripping his shoulder hard. He saw the shock in Gibbs' face and laughed once more the bitter laughter that hurt his ears. 

"What? I would think you'd be happy to get rid of me, you don't trust me after all do you?" 

The hand on his shoulder tightened when he spoke and it was the only warning he got before he was spun around and pushed against the wall. The swiftness of the movement made his head spin and for a moment he lost control over his body only to find himself trapped between Gibbs and the wall. His boss was leaning against him, holding him captive with his body and for a second Tony was too stunned by the fact that Gibbs held him like this to say anything. Thought soon returned though and Tony drew a deep breath to start talking, but before he could get a word out, Gibbs covered him completely with his body. 

Rational thoughts fled his mind as he felt steel hard muscles press against him, felt strong arms right next to his head and almost like in slow motion he watched as Gibbs' face came closer and closer until their lips met. His boss kissed like Tony had always known he would intent and completely focused on him, full of dominance and without any doubt that Tony would let him. 

Complete control, demanding complete surrender from Tony, Gibbs' kiss asked for nothing but that and melting into the body against his, bones liquid with desire Tony surrendered. His body woke and he felt everything, every detail of Gibbs' kiss, felt every contour of the hard lean body pressed against his. A moan echoed through the thankfully still empty corridor and Tony was sure that it had been him. Gibbs pressed even closer and another moan escaped Tony as he felt his cock touch Gibbs' fully erect one. They were still separated by layers of clothing and still Tony felt as if he had been burnt, branded. 

It was heaven, but soon, too soon the need for air became too big and Gibbs released him slowly. The fresh air in his lungs brought awareness with it and with the spell broken rational thoughts penetrated his mind and another shiver ran through Tony. 


He had merely whispered the word, but before he could repeat it Gibbs spoke softly, but none less sincere. 

"Because this is the true reason, why I asked Ziva to come with me. Why I wanted you far away when I hunted Ari down." 

Tony didn't understand what Gibbs tried to tell him. The wound of not having been trusted was still too fresh and he was about to argue again, when Gibbs reached out and tenderly cupped his face with one hand. The gesture shook Tony more than the heated kiss had. He had known Gibbs had a tender side, but had never expected to be on the receiving side of such a caress. Gibbs looked up and Tony felt as if he had fallen into a twilight zone. The blue eyes he knew so well were dark with an emotion he had never seen in Gibbs until now, fear. 

The emotion made him shiver and suddenly Tony understood what Gibbs hadn't said. 

"I can live without Ziva, but I can't live without you. If Ari had killed you, I would not have been able to go on. It wasn't a choice of trust Tony, it was a choice of fear that I made. I didn't leave you behind because I don't trust you, but because I couldn't bear losing you." 

The last words seemed to echo in the corridor and for a long time the sound of Gibbs' voice resonated in the halls. But then even the last bit of sound disappeared and silence fell. 

Gibbs' eyes were locked with Tony's and Tony saw the love and the fear in his boss' eyes. 

Love and fear for him. 

It floored him, it shocked him, it made him the happiest person on the planet., but right now he was frozen. 

And so he was silent and slowly, slowly the light in Gibbs' eyes dimmed and Tony saw how a shiver ran through his boss' body. Gibbs still looked at him, but when another shiver ran through him Gibbs closed his eyes and as he opened them again Tony saw something else in the blue depth. 


"I'm sorry Tony. I misunderstood." 


Mac's eyes followed Gibbs as he walked from the room and followed the path Tony had taken. Then though his eyes hardened and he turned towards Ziva ready to read her the riot act and tell her exactly what he thought of her, when Flack entered the room. 

Whether or not he registered the tension in the room was not clear, but the bland mask in his face spoke volumes of the fact that Don Flack despite being a mere detective as he sometimes put it, had indeed noticed the uncomfortable atmosphere in the normally relaxed break room. 

"Mac, your suspect is waiting." 

He had forgotten about the man Don had in custody, the man who had attacked Nick and for a second Mac's eyes wandered from Don to Nick then to Danny to Ziva and finally back to Nick. Nick could obviously see his dilemma and smiled. It was a forced smile, one that didn't reach Nick's eyes, but still Mac was grateful for the effort Nick took to diffuse the situation. 

"I think you and Danny should sit in with Don. He's already gotten our results." 

Mac felt Danny relax next to him and only now did he really realize how tense his lover had been and how much he had feared of being alone with Officer David. He made a mental note to talk to Gibbs about her, but as he looked at Nick he saw him glancing at her coldly. A smile crossed his face as he understood that maybe it wouldn't be necessary, Nick could be hard and almost cruel if someone he loved was hurt and Danny was high on the list of people that woke Nick's protective instinct. Mac knew that personally, he had felt the wrath more than once. 

"I'll see you afterwards." 

Nick smiled again, this time though the smile was real and not meant for Mac. It was a smile only meant for Don and Mac had the feeling that the two were holding an entire conversation just with this one short smile. 

The walk towards the interrogation room was short, but Mac still needed to talk to Danny before they faced Kraft. He gestured to Don that he should go ahead and stopped Danny with a hand on his shoulder. His lover turned around and Mac's heart broke at the anguish and pain in the grayish eyes. Since they had become lovers, Danny had come a long way in regards to accepting his past and still the wounds were there and some of them were barely healed. The pain of his past was still close to the surface and Ziva's words and actions had brought them up to the forefront with a vengeance.  

Holding Danny with both his hands on his shoulders Mac spoke slowly and softly. 

"Don't listen to her! She's angry and she's lashing out at you to get away from her own pain." 

Danny shook his head but before he could say anything derogatory about himself, Mac stopped him again. 

"Don't Danny, I know the truth and I love you. Nick and Don know the truth and they love you too. She doesn't know you, doesn't know the truth and most of all she doesn't matter." 

Slowly the tense muscles under his hands relaxed and Mac wished more than anything to be able to hold his lover, to just pull Danny against him and chase away the ghosts of his past, to just give him the safety of his arms even if it were for a mere second. But it was too dangerous and so he just tightened his hands and tried to convey his love with his eyes. 

A slow smile spread over Danny's face and quickly caressing the hands on his shoulders, he straightened and took a deep breath. Transforming back to the CSI, Mac nodded with a smile and opened the door to the interrogation room. Flack looked up concerned, but relaxed seeing the smiles on their faces. His own face hardened Mac sat down and looked at the burly man sitting opposite the desk. 

"Frank Kraft" 

The suspect just glared at him and Mac smiled as Danny saw down and shook his head. 

"You made a mistake buddy when you attacked Detective Stokes." 

Danny shook his head once more and Mac saw how Kraft had lost his cold demeanor and he nodded satisfied. Danny was back. 


Nick watched as Mac and Danny left the room. He knew Mac would make sure that his friend was alright. He himself turned around and looked at Ziva. She was looking at him with hard cold eyes. Her arms were crossed in front of her body and her entire body screamed about her defensive state of mind. 

"What are you trying to do?" 

She looked at him as if he didn't matter at all, but Nick didn't buy her act instead he just locked his eyes with her and forced her to see the accusation in his eyes. He wondered whether she would react by fight or flight and expected the first be more likely than the latter, but one never knew. He didn't have to wait for long though as he answer came swift and hard. 

"Your precious Danny is nothing but a fraud and obviously just as much as screw up as Tony." 

Nick didn't understand her wrath against Danny, but he knew that it was futile to talk any sense into her and so he just replied quietly but coldly. 

"Danny is my friend and that's all I need to know." 

Thinking of how pale Danny had been, woke his anger and he allowed some of it to show as he continued to speak. 

"Why do you even care? Hopefully by tomorrow this case is closed and you are on your way back to Washington. Our team is not your concern." 

She glared at him but didn't respond and suddenly her last words registered in Nick's mind and his brain made the connection between himself, Tony and Danny. The puzzle pieces fell into place and Nick frowned at the image they created but instinctively knew that he was right. Shaking his head he stepped closer towards her and slowly began to talk. 

<i>Draw it out for me</i> 

Grissom had used to tell him that when they had worked on a scene together and for a second Nick felt transported back, felt as if he were drawing a scene for his former supervisor. 

"It never was about Danny wasn't it? It always was about Tony and about us forming a friendship with him so fast. Gibbs is working closely with Mac and relegating you to do lower work. It made you feel even more like an outsider than you normally feel. You're the new girl, the one still searching her place and you think that you deserve Tony's place, that he doesn't deserve the status he has. He's in your way, isn't he? 

You've gone a long way to discredit him with his team mates, to make him look stupid and weak in their eyes, in Gibbs' eyes. 

And then you come here and we become friends with the screw up and Gibbs tells you to do work you consider beneath your experience. And so you lash out first at Danny then through Gibbs at Tony. I bet you cheered at our timing and the fact that Tony heard the last statement." 

Ziva had paled when Nick had started to speak and he could almost feel her withdraw from him. He felt bad for attacking her like he did, but he had the feeling that it was the only way to get through to her and if he wanted anything good to come out of this mess, then it would be her understanding that neither Tony nor Danny nor anyone else was her enemy. 

She took a deep breath and Nick wondered if she was just preparing herself for a second attack. For a moment silence rang loudly through the room, then though she smiled coldly and walked up to him coming closer and closer finally invading his private space. Nick swallowed and forced himself not to step back knowing that she would correctly perceive it as a sign of weakness. Meeting her eyes instead he braced himself for an attack. 

"How long have you practiced this speech Nick?" 

Her voice was close to him, her tone sultry and still she moved closer and seeing her eyes glitter with something like disgust Nick felt dread running over his body. She couldn't know, could she? 

"Did you practice it when you cried in the dark? When the monster came at night and tortured you? When you screamed for your mommy and she never came to help you?" 

No, she couldn't know. There was nothing in his file even if she had gotten access to it somehow, only a handful of people knew about this and yet Nick felt that the woman looking at him right now knew exactly what she was talking about. Taking a deep breath he forced himself to look at her before he deliberately took a step back and fixed her with a hard glare. 

"You don't understand a team, don't understand how people work. That's why you didn't manage to push Tony out, because you don't understand Gibbs motivation for taking you with him." 

Nick didn't know what kind of mission Ziva had been on with Gibbs, but he understood how Gibbs worked. He knew that Gibbs cared for Tony and he knew that Gibbs had the same protective streak when it came to Tony that Mac had when it came to Danny. 

"He had just lost someone from his team and he couldn't bear the thought of losing yet another member. That's why he took you with him, because you were expendable." 

Her eyes were shooting daggers at him, but behind the anger and the rage, Nick could see a deep rooted fear and silently he wondered what had turned her into this scared and yet hard person. His concern though was pushed aside by shock when she almost slammed him against the wall and hissed at him with a suddenly heavily accented voice. 

"When I am done with you, you will cry for your mom once again and once again there will be no one there to help you. No one will believe you just as no one would have believed you then." 

It wasn't the threat that made Nick tense, it was the confirmation that she did indeed know. He was shocked and in such a daze that he didn't notice her hand on his body until she slid it over his crotch and squeezed hard. He reacted immediately then and pushed her away violently. She stumbled but she smiled and advanced him again only to be halted by a hard, cold voice. 

"Nick, Officer David" 

Stella stood in the door. Her face was neutral, but Nick realized that she had read the scene correctly as she looked at him with sad eyes. Her eyes hardened though when she looked at Ziva and  her voice was hard enough to cut glass with as she addressed her. 

"I was looking for you Officer David, would you please come with me?" 

It wasn't a question, it was a command and even Ziva dared to disobey. Nick watched her leave the room and only then realized that he was shivering violently and that his knees were barely holding him up. He leaned against the wall as the shivers got stronger and finally unable to stand upright he slid down until he sat on the floor. He was nine again and his soul screamed in anguish. 


Soft hands on his shoulders made him flinch instinctively, but as he looked up he didn't see mocking or laughter instead he met Sheldon's concerned eyes. 

"Oh god, Nick what has happened to you?" 


Sheldon shivered when Nick looked up and he saw the unfocused eyes, the fear and terror in the dark depth and in the taught face. Gently he grasped his hand and made him look at him. 

"Nick, where are you?" 

His voice seemed to bring Nick back to reality and slowly Sheldon felt the body under his hands shudder once, then Nick moved back and rubbed his hands over his face. 

"Thanks Sheldon." 

Nick had not answered any of his questions, but Sheldon knew that if he felt the need to talk he would do so and right now it was enough that Nick seemed to have found a semblance of control. 

Sheldon would talk to Don and tell him about Nick's break down, but first he would talk to Stella because Sheldon knew once thing for sure. Don would want the reason for it. 

And Don would make sure that whoever was the reason understood that bothering Nick was a mistake. 


Gibbs felt as if the world was slowly collapsing around him. He saw Tony stare at him frozen, watched as he seemed to take in everything he had said and saw the moment understanding hit him. Tony's eyes opened a bit more and Gibbs was sure, that he could see shock and disgust in the hazel depths. Silently cursing himself and Mac, he took a step back. He had taken the risk and now all he could do was trying to salvage what little of his friendship with Tony remained. 

"Tony, I am sorry. I misunderstood." 

The words seemed to jolt Tony back to reality and before Gibbs could even think of anything else to say, Tony was in front of him, close enough that he could feel the heat of his body. He swallowed at the sudden flare of lust and inwardly wept that the one kiss they had shared would remain the first and last one. 

"No Jethro, you didn't misunderstand." 

Tony's hand was on his face now, forcing him to look up and meet his eyes. What he saw in them made him shiver and woke his hopes. Tony's eyes were kind and loving, caring and burning with a fire he had never seen. 

"I didn't?" 

He knew that it was dumb to repeat this, but his mind was in a jumble and there was nothing he could do against it. Tony smiled and immediately Gibbs realized that he had never seen that particular smile. Once more the strong, yet soft hand moved over his face in a caressing gesture, and then Tony nodded. 


Gibbs leaned forward wanting to kiss Tony again; needing the security of the kiss, but to his disappointment Tony straightened and shook his head. 

"Someone is coming." 

Surprised and yet not at the accurate hearing, Gibbs smiled for a moment and locked his eyes with Tony. 


A shiver ran through Tony and Gibbs could see how lust darkened the hazel eyes for a second, before Tony had himself under control again. Tony ran his hand through his hair, and smiled looking for everyone like the professional agent he was. His eyes though moved over Gibbs in an almost tangible caress that made Gibbs shiver. 


Gibbs felt a tremor in his body at the dark voice and without wanting to he glanced at his watch and bit back a curse. 

Tonight was a long way away. 


*Chapter 8 – Twilight Zone* 

Don was smiling as he walked out of the interrogation room. They had nailed their killer, Frank Kraft and that alone made his day worthwhile. It would not bring Maureen Durban and her husband back and neither would it soothe the pain of the young soldier's mother, but at least they could find relief in the fact that the killer had been found. 


Sheldon's voice made him stop, there was something akin to dread in the usually cultivated voice and he tensed slightly before he turned around and looked at the ME. 

"What's wrong?" 

Sheldon smiled a bit, but immediately turned serious, before he could explain though Mac and Danny stepped out of the room and stood next to Don. Don looked questioningly at Sheldon and finally Sheldon sighed. 

"It's Nick." 

Don tensed and felt dread forming in his body, a glance towards Danny showed him the same tension in his friend's frame, but it was Mac's eyes that threw him. Mac looked at Sheldon with eyes that were suddenly burning with anger. 

"What happened?" 

Even Don flinched at the ice cold voice Mac used when he pressed Sheldon for details and he felt bad for Shel who obviously only was the messenger. Looking at Danny, he glanced at Mac and then calmly waited for Shel to gather his courage. It killed him to wait and not being able to run through the hallway towards his lover. 

"I don't know, but I saw Stella practically dragging Ziva down the corridor and when I went into the break room, I saw Nick and..." 

Sheldon trailed off and turned towards Don. His dark eyes bore into the Don's blue ones and Don felt slow terror in his belly at the fear and pain he saw in Sheldon's eyes. 

"Don, I have never seen him like this. He was sitting on the floor, shaking and when I touched him, he looked at me with such a horror in his eyes." 

It was hard to keep himself steady, to not run immediately towards the break room and his lover, but Don could see that Sheldon was not yet done with his tale. 

"It was as if he were somewhere else, as if he were trapped in a nightmare." 

Trapped in a nightmare. 

Don's mind flashed back to the scene he had worked with Nick shortly after he had come to New York. They had found a dead body in a underground tunnel and Nick had been weirdly reluctant to go into the dark tunnel, Don had teased him, but when the light had gone out and Nick had panicked his teasing had changed into panic. 

Now, all those months later the moments when he had held Nick, when he had tried to bring him back were still edged in his memory. 

<i>"Let me out, get me out" 

Don was shaking with fear as he struggled to keep Nick still and make sure that the CSI wasn't hurting himself or disturbing the evidence. Somehow he knew that Nick would never forgive himself if he contaminated the scene with this panic attack. The tears and the fear, no terror in the dark eyes tore at his heart, but it were the desperate pleas to ‘get me out' that broke it. 

"Nick, everything is ok." 

And still Nick fought against him, until he suddenly deflated and all fight went out of him. For just a second Don was relieved until he saw Nick's face and froze. There still was utter terror in every cell, but where there had been fight and spirit before they had been replaced by a complete defeat and hopelessness. Without thinking he pressed Nick against his body, caressing his back and repeated again and again. 

"It's alright Nick, you are safe, I am here." 

He had dreamed of this, had dreamed of having Nick in his arms, and of caressing him, but this was a cruel perversion of all his fantasies. The man he held now was not the strong, thoughtful and intelligent man he fallen in love with. No, Nick was a quivering mess and the sheer terror in his eyes made Don want to hold him close and never let him go. All pretence of not liking Nick or just wanting him was gone. Instead all he concentrated on was to soothe the other man, tear him back to reality and out of the nightmare that held him captive.</i> 

He had realized that he loved Nick that day and in the same night, he and Nick had made their first tentative step into their relationship. A shiver ran through Don, Nick had been doing so well, no nightmares, no screams at night, he had even conquered his fear of insects with the help of letters and books from his former boss. 

What had Ziva done? 

Anger rose in him, but he quenched it quickly knowing that Ziva could wait, Nick on the other hand couldn't. A hand on his shoulder tore him from his thoughts and he met Danny's concerned eyes. 

"Go to him, he needs you now." 

He didn't think about anything, not about the fact that Sheldon had come to him of all people or that anyone would consider it weird if he comforted Nick and almost ran through the hallway towards the room Hawkes had pointed him. 

What he saw made his heart break, Nick was bent over a microscope and to the entire world he looked as if he were diligently studying some evidence. Don however saw the tension in his lover's shoulders; saw the tremors that seemed to run through his body. Sighing inaudibly, he walked into the lab and called out to his partner. 


Nick flinched at the words and Don felt himself tense even more as he looked into his lover's eyes for the first time. They were dark with remembered pain, haunted in a way he had only seen them once before and immediately he knew that it wasn't the memory of the burial that had made Nick panic, but the memory of a much older, much deeper wound and once more he had to bury his rage. 

How could Ziva use something like this against Nick? 

Another thought hit him hard and he felt himself sway. 

How had Ziva found out? 

"Sheldon told you." 

Nick's voice was flat and for a second Don closed his eyes, and then opening them again he nodded and looked straight at his lover. He could easily see how Nick withdrew behind invisible walls and without thinking he reached out and touched Nick's face. 

"Please, love, don't shut me out." 

Once more Nick flinched and this time the movement felt like a tangible slap to Don, he removed his hand, but could not mask the hurt that flashed in his eyes and immediately Nick reached out and grasped his hand. 

"Sorry, but, not here" 

Glancing around, Don noticed the openness of the lab and nodding slowly; he moved his head and walked towards one of the meeting rooms. He entered it and shut the blinds while he waited for Nick to close the door. When he heard the click of the lock, he turned around and simply opened his arms. Something akin to a sob escaped his lover and then Nick was in his arms, his body shaking with sobs so desperate that Don wanted to go out and kill Ziva for putting his lover through this. 

"She knew." 

It was a mere whisper, but Nick's entire body seemed to scream his pain and confusion and Don sighed. 

"It's not in a file. I only told Catherine and Grissom and you. How... how could she know?" 

It was a question Don had asked himself already, but he too had not come to a conclusion apart from one that he didn't like at all. He didn't want to disturb Nick though and so he simply made a mental note to talk to Tony and concentrated on holding his lover close and safe in his arms. 

"I'm taking you home." 

Nick tensed at his whispered words and stubbornly shook his head. 

"I leave, she wins." 

It made him smile to see the Nick he knew and loved behind the broken man he held in his arms, on the other hand he knew that what Nick needed now was going home and rest. He wanted to make sure that his lover forgot all about Ziva's attack and thinking of Ziva made him think of Stella and suddenly he smiled. 

"Stella caught her harassing you. Would you call that winning?" 

Nick's eyes met his and to his joy and surprise he saw a smile play in the dark pools before Nick shook his head and raised his head to quickly brush his lips against Don's. 

"No, I guess I don't." 


Danny had never seen Mac like this, had never seen such a cold, controlled rage in his lover and as much as it frightened him, he had to admit that it turned him on. Mac was in full protective Marine mode and it was a sight to behold. 

Tentatively, and certainly not sure if it was a good idea, he followed his boss as Mac strode down the hallway only to stop short as he saw Gibbs and Tony come towards them. Tony's eyes were slightly dazed and Gibbs' hair was in a bit of disarray which was enough to both clue Danny in and make him grin. 

Tony blushed but before Danny could say anything, Mac's voice sounded through the hallway. 


There was nothing of the former friendliness that Mac had displayed in that one word, instead it was pissed off Mac at his best and Danny could literally see how Tony and Gibbs tensed. For a moment there was complete silence in the hall, while Mac strode towards them and fixed Gibbs with a cold look. 

"I told you not to mess with my team." 

There was an underlying threat in the words and Danny could see how Tony subtly moved so that he would be able to protect his boss and partner should Mac resort to violence. Gibbs however, although he seemed thrown by the hostility displayed by Mac, recovered fast and shaking his head he glared at Mac. They locked eyes and almost against his will, Danny took a step back only to see Tony look at him and do the same. 

Soon though Tony was forgotten and Danny focused on the stand off in the middle of the lab. It was the correct name, he realized suddenly. 

Gibbs and Mac both exuded power and for a long time Danny was enthralled watching them despite the situation, then though to his and Tony's surprise, Gibbs took a step back and still glaring at Mac coldly asked. 

"What is the matter?" 

Mac still looked as if he was ready to blow up, but before he could say anything, Danny jumped in. He knew that Mac might end up saying too much and he didn't want Nick or his dark secrets spilled even though he trusted Tony. 

"Ziva attacked Nick." 

His blunt words had the impact of a bomb exploding with the sickening silence right before the mayhem broke out. Tony tensed completely before he turned around and hit the wall with his fist. 

"Damn bitch!" 

Gibbs on the other hand had gone completely still and Danny understood suddenly how some people would cave immediately when those cold intense eyes were focused on them. He was used to it though, thanks to Mac and so he stood calmly until Gibbs barked out. 

"Explain ‘attacked'." 

No, he couldn't... or more accurately wouldn't. It was not his story to tell and almost helplessly he looked at Mac, but then steeled himself and looked back at Gibbs. 

"I can't." 

Gibbs' glare got worse, but Danny simply shook his head. 

"All I can tell you is, that she must have confronted him with something from his past that made him freak out. I have an idea what, but it is not my story to tell." 

From the corner of his eyes, he saw Tony pale and knew that he understood. Gibbs still stared hard at Danny, but Tony calmly put a hand on his shoulder making his boss turn towards him. 

"Leave it Gibbs, it's ok." 

Danny could see him hesitate for a moment, and then though he continued. 

"I think I know." 

Gibbs tensed at the silent comment and Danny could almost see how jealousy was tying Gibbs' stomach in knots. He had to admire his self control though as Gibbs just nodded curtly and turned towards Mac. 

"What do you want me to do?" 

Mac had not relaxed during the entire conversation and if Danny hadn't been so sure of Mac's love and so confident about their relationship, the protectiveness he displayed in connection with Nick might have made him jealous. As it was, he found it endearing and hot. 

"I want her officially reprimanded and I want her source. But most of all, I want to talk to her." 

It was not a suggestion, but an order and Danny could see how Gibbs wasn't sure for a moment what to say. 

"I promise you can talk to her, but it will be in my presence. And I will make sure that she gets reprimanded, I can't promise about her source though." 

Danny saw how Mac tensed even more and how a dark light appeared in his partner's blue eyes. 

"Not within your jurisdiction?" 

Gibbs looked away at Mac's question and Danny understood that this was as much an answer as he could give. 


Stella had to reign herself in else she would do or say something she would only regret later. But the image of Nick trembling and terrified would not leave her and so she gave into her rage and walked into an empty meeting room. 

"How can I help you?" 

Ziva's voice was cold and composed as she looked at Stella and sat down in one of the chairs. It made her rage boil even harder, but once more she calmed herself down remembering something Mac had told her long ago. 

<i>You make mistakes if you act in rage. But if you can turn that rage into cold minded focus, then you're deadly.</i> 

It was correct and from what she had observed about Ziva, it would be that cold minded focus that she would need in dealing with her. 

"Care to tell me what happened in the break room?" 

Instead of sitting down opposite Ziva, Stella sat sideways onto the table which gave her the advantage of being able to look down at Ziva who looked at her and shrugged. 

"Just a bit of a misunderstanding." 

The casual dismissal of the attack made her want to shoot Ziva, but instead she smiled just as coldly as she leaned towards her. 

"I see Officer David." 

Fixing her with her coldest look, Stella could see that she had Ziva's full attention, but also that she had not made an impression on her. Not yet. 

"Now I want to make sure that there are no misunderstandings about what I am going to tell you next, so listen carefully." 

Her voice was low, intent and yet she was surprised how easy it was to keep her composure to not let the hatred fade through and the calm had the desired effect on Ziva as she could see some signs of uncertainty in her body language. 

"Threaten one of my team again, and not even your team will find you." 

She once again said it calmly using the same casualness that Ziva had displayed as she discounted Nick's break down as a misunderstanding. She saw how Ziva's eyes got larger, before they narrowed. 

"Are you trying to threaten me, Detective Bonasera?" 

She smiled at the haughtily tone that Ziva used and shook her head. 

"No, Officer David, I am not trying to threaten you, I am threatening you." 

She kept her eyes fixed on Ziva and forced herself to keep smiling. 

"I will do anything to protect those that are mine, those that are my friends and my team." 

She had seen it before in Ziva's eyes, this moment of shock and pain and she saw it again. There was something deeply hidden in the dark eyes and without any hesitation she used the emotion she saw. 

"You hurt Nick, and you hurt Danny. So I'll tell you once more, hurt one of my team and I will find you, hunt you and hurt you." 

Ziva trembled a bit at the clear threat in Stella's voice, but at the same time Stella saw confusion and disbelief in the dark eyes. It confused her in turn until she understood the reason behind it. Slower, calmer she spoke on. 

"You don't understand what a team is; you don't understand what a family is, do you?" 

Ziva had tensed, but before she could reply, Stella talked again. 

"You always had to fend for yourself. How far would you go to protect yourself, to ensure that you are needed?" 

For a moment pain flashed through Ziva's eyes and Stella hesitated to continue, but when Nick's image flashed through her mind her mind was made up. 

"How far have you gone Ziva?" 

Ziva paled and Stella nodded darkly. 

"Too far" 

She left the room then, and she didn't look back. 


Tony watched as Taylor sighed. He felt for him, understood that he hated the fact that one of his own had been hurt and that there was nothing he could do. Thinking of Nick made him want to vomit and looking from Danny to Mac and back he asked. 

"Where's Nick?" 

Mac and Danny exchanged a quick glance, and then Danny smiled lightly. 

"Don is with him." 

Of course, Tony smiled lightly. He had seen how protective Don was, had seen how he had calmed Nick down, but most of all he had seen the deep and strong love between him and Nick. Looking at Gibbs for a second, he felt the familiar longing curse through his body, but unlike before it was not followed by a pang of pain. No, this time it was anticipation that made his body tense momentarily, before he tore himself back to reality. 


Danny gave him a half smile and nodded, Gibbs on the other hand just looked at him surprised and Tony realized that Gibbs was not privy to the real relationship between Don and Nick. 

"Did Kraft confess?" 

Taylor's entire attitude changed back from protective boss to efficient CSI and he pointed through the door where two guards were leading Frank Kraft away in shackles. 

"We can go to my office and I'll update you." 

He turned around and Tony couldn't do anything but follow as he walked through the hallway until he reached his glass walled office. Closing the door behind him, Tony only realized now that he was alone, that neither Danny nor Gibbs had followed him. Turning to look for his boss, Tony stopped when Mac shook his head. 

"It's ok; Danny's just going to show him the final lab results and everything. You can update Gibbs then afterwards, after all you captured Kraft. I need your statement too." 

Tony nodded and for the next twenty minutes they documented the arrest, Kraft's attack on Nick and finally the murderer's confession. 

"He was at the wrong place in the wrong time." 

Taylor's words trailed off and his face showed the sadness that Tony often felt when he found out how utterly cruel life could be, how much just one single decision could change everything. It always made him think of a movie and he smiled sadly. 

"Sliding doors..." 

Taylor looked up and to Tony's surprise there was a twinkle in his eyes. 

"One way or the other decided by the train doors in the underground..." 

Taylor knew the movie and for a moment Tony just stared at him. One way or the other, the words repeated themselves in his mind and with it came many, many images where he had been standing in front of those proverbial sliding doors. What would have happened, had he not opened the envelope with its deadly ‘gift'? Would it have been Gibbs who'd suffered from the infection? What if Ari had not chosen Kate as a target? What if he had never come home early that night all those years ago? What if his father had not... No! Tony shivered as he pushed those thoughts away forcefully, he had not thought about it for a long time and he would not think about it now. 

‘Think nice thoughts' 

His friend had told him that once, as he had woken him up with his nightmares and he followed his advice now. It was easy, so easy to think nice thoughts, Gibbs, no Jethro in his arms, kissing him, looking at him with desire and love. 

"Tony, are you alright?" 

Taylor was looking at him concerned and blushing, Tony got up. 

"Sorry, I was lost in thoughts. I'll tell Gibbs that you want to talk to him." 

His hand already at the handle, Taylor's voice called him back. 

"Wait Tony, it's not Gibbs I wanted to talk to. It's you." 

Now he tensed, because that did not sound good. Taylor saw his reaction and laughed lightly. 

"Don't worry, I am not going to read you the riot act or ask about your intentions with Jethro." 

That comment surprised him even more and suddenly feeling sheepish, Tony shrugged almost helplessly. 

"Maybe you should, because right now I am in the dark about what is going on." 

Taylor... no Mac, cause this was not the CSI but the friend, Mac looked at him with kind eyes and something akin to compassion in his eyes. 

"I think you do know." 

And yes, if Tony was honest, he did. He knew that Gibbs would never have kissed him, unless he felt deeply for him. Just as Tony would have never kissed him back. Rule twelve was there for a reason and Tony had always respected it, no matter how good looking a fellow police officer or team member was, he had never played around. 

‘Don't shit, were you eat.' 

A crude but true comment that his first partner had made when an affair between two other members of their unit had gone sour and the entire unit had suffered in the ensuing war. 

Gibbs though, Gibbs was different. 

Gibbs was not an affair, was not some entanglement. Gibbs was so much more. 

"You're right, I know." 

Mac smiled lightly, but turned serious again soon. 

"You were never in the army, weren't you?" 

Surprised at what he perceived a sudden change of topic, Tony shook his head, only to see Mac sigh silently. 

"Don't misunderstand me, Tony, I know you love Gibbs, but do you know what it means to love him?" 

Confused and slightly annoyed, Tony got up and turned to leave, but Taylor's next words made him freeze. 

"Do you think you can handle being Jethro's lover?" 

Slowly he turned around and saw that there was an equal amount of understanding and pain in Taylor's eyes and just as slowly as before he walked back to his chair and sat down. 

"What do you mean?" 

Taylor looked at him intently. 

"You know Jethro as Gibbs, you know his intensity, his drive, his manners, his good and bad sides, but you know him only as your boss. You can live with the second ‘b' as his agent, but can you live with it as his lover?" 

Tony wasn't sure what to feel. Anger and shock warred in him, but at the same time he listened carefully and the rational part of his mind understood that Taylor was right. 

"Can you live with Jethro?" 

Taylor's eyes were fixed on him and for a second Tony wondered if the cold, intent stare was something the men got when they joined their Marine unit, then though he lifted his head proudly. 

"I think I can, yes." 

But Taylor shook his head. 

"Don't think Tony. If you start something with Jethro tonight, be sure, because he would not survive losing you after knowing how it was to have your love." 

A quick smile crossed Taylor's face. 

"There is no try, do or don't." 

Tony was too shocked to note the movie reference. He sat almost in a stupor until Taylor nudged him softly. 


He jerked back and turned around swiftly. 

"Why are you telling me this? How do you know how he feels?" 

Another smile crossed Taylor's face, but his eyes were sad for a moment as he stood next to Tony and watched how Danny and Gibbs made their way up to his office. 

"Because I am him Tony, and I am there. Because I know that Danny can live with me, can handle me and still I dread the day when something I do will be too much for him." 

It was Tony's turn to smile and slowly he squeezed Mac's shoulder. 

"Don't underestimate him, if he loves you as much as his eyes say, then this day will never come." 

He saw the surprise and joy in Mac's face but before either of them could say something the door opened and Danny walked in. His face lit up as soon as his eyes fell on Mac and Tony smiled. 

"The paperwork is done; the results are filed, the statements taken, Stella just left a meeting room with gleaming eyes and Don and Nick are at home. What do you say to some drinks?" 


*Chapter 9 – Lovers* 

"Don, I can do things on my own." 

Nick shook his head as Don mothered around him and very nearly started to cut his food before he blushed and looked at his hands. 

"I know, sorry, it's just..." 

Don trailed off, but Nick understood the desperate need his partner had and slowly scooted over so that Don could hold him close. He felt the tremors that ran through Don and slowly started to understand that this was as hard on Don as it had been on him. 

"Do you want to talk?" 

It was an offer, not a command and Nick knew that Don would not judge him if he declined the offer and still there was a part in him that told him it would be good to speak, good to bring it all in the open not only because of him but also for Don's sake. He sighed silently and leaned closer into Don, seeking the safety and warmth of the strong arms. 

"I was nine and she was a last minute baby sitter..." 

Once the first sentence was out, it got easier and he continued to talk, to tell Don what had happened that night and several others. 

"She had somehow managed to convince my parents that she was a great babysitter. She told them how much she cared for their beautiful boy..." 

He could feel how Don tensed and then suddenly almost violently crushed him against his own body. 

"It's over now." 

Don was right, and Nick had long ago stopped dreaming about it or even thinking about it consciously, and still those evenings had changed his childhood. They had been a part of what made him into who he was today. Sometimes he had wondered about it, but then he pushed the memories back behind the walls he had built, the same walls that were now in shambles after Ziva had broken through and torn them down. 

"It is, I know." 

Still it had shattered him when Ziva had attacked him like this and now calmer and in the safety of his lover's arms, Nick understood that she had indeed managed to tear down the walls and almost destroyed them. He would have to rebuild them again, but maybe with Don's help, they would be stronger this time. 

"It wasn't that I was scared of her, cause I knew she would never attack me physically. She's too careful." 

Don growled lightly and as Nick looked at him confused he just gritted his teeth. 

"She will get hers in time, don't worry. I am not done with her yet." 

There was something dark in Don's voice, something that should have bothered Nick, but instead just made him shiver. Possessiveness had always freaked him out until Don, he thought, until he found this man and suddenly understood that possessive didn't necessarily mean controlling and with a sigh he leaned back against the taller man. 

"No, she's not worth it." 

Thinking about the scene in the break room was like watching a movie; he didn't want to see. It was like watching himself on those damned tapes that Crane had made; liberating and scaring at the same time. But it was more, just as he had been able to watch the tape in an almost clinical mode, he was now able to analyze what had really happened and he gasped as he understood finally. 

"She knew exactly which buttons to press in order to send me back there." 

Once more Don tensed, but this time Nick didn't even wait for the promise of revenge to come. 

"No, Don! If she uses her knowledge about my past to gain an advantage, what do you think she would do if she knew about us?" 

Don growled once more, but didn't argue and slowly Nick could feel the hard muscles relax. His lover hated the fact that he was right, but he acknowledged it although silently. 

"I want to talk to her." 

As soon as he had said it, Don tensed again and this time just glared at Nick. 


Nick could see that his partner's mind was made up. He didn't want to fight with him, but he felt it was important that he could talk to her. 

"Don, I have to make her understand..." 

Now Don twisted away from him and forced him to look at him. 

"What do you have to make her understand Nick? What could possibly be worth talking to that woman again? Why?" 

Nick saw the worry behind Don's eyes, heard the concern behind his anger and yet his own temper flared for a second before he clamped down on it. 

"She's a victim too." 

Don slumped back as if he had hit him and looked at him. 


He could see the shock in Don's eyes and slowly, calmer continued. 

"It was in the way she spoke, the words she used. The way she... It's not something you can learn, not something... unless you've experienced it yourself." 

A shiver ran through Nick as he looked at Don and shrugged. 

"I can't explain it, but I am almost sure that I am right." 

Don looked at him closely and then slowly moved his hand over Nick's face, the tender caress mirrored by the love in the blue eyes. 

"But if she has gone through this herself, why use it against you?" 

Thinking back to the anger he had battled with when he had finally come to terms with what had happened to him, remembering the darkness and the desire to lash out that had festered in him until he had built those walls, Nick shivered. 

"How often do we see people with abuse histories to turn into abusers themselves?" 

Don was silent and Nick could see that he was thinking about his words. Slowly though a smile crossed over his lover's face and as Don leaned down, Nick met him half way for the expected kiss. Their lips almost touching, Don whispered finally. 

"I love you" 

And Nick knew what Don meant with those three words. 

I am proud that you have not turned into an abusive person yourself. 

I am sorry for not having been there. 

I will never let you down. 

But most of all Nick knew that Don meant those words as he said it and with a smile he cupped Don's face with his hand. 

"I love you." 


"What did you do?" 

Danny's eyes were clear and fixed on his partner. Mac held the gaze for a moment, then sighed and looked away. 


Danny grinned as he walked around the desk and stood so that he was once again in Mac's line of sight. 

"Then why would Tony look at you with this equally wary and understanding look?" 

He could be as stubborn and as thorough as Mac and his lover knew it. Danny was a CSI and if he followed evidence to conclusion, then he usually found the correct answer. Mac knew that too and swallowing for a moment, he nodded and then quietly spoke. 

"I just warned him to be sure before he starts anything with Jethro." 

Danny frowned. 

"To be sure of what Mac?" 

Mac's silence worried Danny; it wasn't like his lover to be so silent, so tentative. Mac seemed almost insecure and the image only got stronger, when Mac got up and walked towards the window to look outside. Danny frowned once more and slowly walked over to stand behind his partner. 

"He has to be sure that he can handle being Jethro's lover." 

There was an undercurrent here, that Danny didn't understand and warily he rubbed his hand over his forehead, before he continued to question Mac. 


Mac still didn't acknowledge him and continued to stare outside, his voice quiet but intense as he spoke. 

"You have seen him. You saw his intensity, his drive, his manners, but also the way he treated Tony at the beginning. Tony could barely live with the second ‘b' as Gibbs' agent, so how is he going to live with it as his lover?" 

There was so much more between the lines and Danny swallowed hard as he understood that Mac was not only talking about Tony and Gibbs. Shaking his head with a soft smile, he put his arms around his lover and pulled him away from the window and towards his body. 

"Tony loves Gibbs and that's what almost broke him. He can live with the bastard but not if he thinks that said bastard hates him or does not trust him." 

For a moment Danny's voice wavered and immediately Mac turned around. There was guilt and love in the blue eyes and Danny smiled. 

"I always trusted you." 

Holding Mac's eyes for a long time, Danny wondered if Mac was really honest with him, but in the end he knew that it didn't matter. Whether or not Mac had lost his trust in him after Sonny, it didn't matter anymore. Mac loved and trusted him now. 

And that was all that counted. 

"I can handle being your lover." 

He said it with such a conviction that Mac shivered and he could see the blue eyes darken for a moment. There was a spark of something in the depth of his eyes and although Danny could not decipher it, the emotion made him shiver with an equal amount of desire and fear. 

"I can take what you give me." 

Again this spark and suddenly Mac was pressing Danny against the wall. They had moved so fast that Danny's head spun and for a moment his breath stopped. Mac's face was close to his. 

"Can you really?" 

Desire pooled in his belly and made him shiver. 


Mac smiled, but a shiver ran through him and for a moment he closed his eyes. Danny could see how his partner seemed to gather himself, to calm himself down. Mac leaned in to kiss him gently before he released him. The gentleness contrasted sharply with the possessive and controlling man he'd seen before. Danny swallowed as some more of the mystery of Mac Taylor began to unravel and he began to understand. 


His question was met with silence, and then Mac turned around and kissed his hands before he gently pushed him down on the bed. It was an efficient way of silencing him, Danny realized as he forgot all questions and protests under the caresses and kisses. 

"Let me love you." 

Danny shivered as the words were whispered in his ear. 

"Tonight is all about love." 


The drinks had lasted forever in Jethro's opinion and with every beer; every joke Tony's promise of ‘tonight' had seemed to move even farther away. 


Tony's voice drew him from his thoughts and he saw the same insecurity he felt, mirrored in Tony's eyes. It relieved him to see that he was not alone in this and instinctively he took Tony's hand and lifted it to his lips. 


Tony's eyes sparkled for a moment, and then turned almost black as he swallowed hard and nodded. Jethro would have smiled at the way Tony squirmed in his seat, would have, had he not felt like squirming too. Tony was so close, he could almost feel the heat of his body and yet he knew that he could not touch, could not kiss, not yet, he told himself and swallowed as a shiver ran through him. 

And with nothing to do but to wait until the cab had navigated its way through the busy New Yorker streets, he leaned back and looked at Tony. He was beautiful. Jethro smiled at the thought and knew immediately that Tony would argue the term beautiful and yet it was true. Even now in the dim light of the cab, his hair had this light shimmer that made people turn around and look at him a second time, the features of a strong person, strong minded and strong willed. He focused a moment on Tony's chest hidden behind shirt and jacket and yet even in the business attire there was no doubt that this was a man who knew how to work his body, a man used to move and to excel in physical exercises. 

"Stop it, please" 

Tony's voice was low enough that their driver didn't hear them, but still its hoarse quality made him shiver and as he looked into the hazel eyes he noticed how the pupils had widened. 

"You keep looking at me like this and I'll come." 

There was an equal amount of surprise and pleading in the words almost as if Tony was surprised to be on the edge so fast without even a touch. It surprised Jethro too, but when Tony turned the tables and let his eyes run over his entire body like a tangible caress, he understood. It was the knowledge that Tony wanted him that drove him almost to the brink and with a shudder he leaned back in his seat. 

When they finally arrived at their hotel, Jethro paid the driver and forced himself to walk to the elevator calmly instead of running towards it. He could feel Tony next to him and wished for a moment to be alone with him in the cabin, but in the end he was glad he wasn't. Hotel elevators tended to have video monitoring and he didn't want to be caught on camera. 

And then they were standing in front of Jethro's door and suddenly it was awkward, suddenly he was not sure whether or not this was a good idea, but as he turned around he met Tony's eyes and drowned. He had never believed others when they had told him about losing oneself in someone else's eyes. Still here he was in the middle of a hotel hallway and lost any thoughts he'd had as for a long time they just stood there until finally, Tony averted his eyes and gently lifted Jethro's hand up guiding it so that he could slide the card through the lock. 

Jethro's body had started to come alive once again as soon as Tony had touched him and once the door was closed behind them, he turned them around and for the second time in his life covered Tony's taller frame with his own, pressing him against the wall. 

"I need you." 

Tony shivered at the hoarse words, but when his eyes met Jethro's there was the same passion and love there. 

"I've always been there." 

And he had been; Jethro understood that now. 


Don shivered as Nick's fingers moved from his jaw to his chest, clever, strong and yet tender hands that had mapped every inch of his skin that now knew every pleasure point, every hot spot his body had. 

"God, you're so beautiful." 

The words were whispered in the room, they were the only sound next to their low moans and harsh breathing, and Don shivered once more as yet again Nick sucked at his collar bone. 

"Need you." 

His plea was met with a chuckle and Nick's eyes met his briefly. 

"Patience is a virtue." 

It was and he was the first to agree on that and yet, no, not today, not now. Now he needed to be claimed, now he needed to be needed and with a growl he turned them around so that he was on top. Nick looked up at him with eyes so full of love and Don swallowed hard. He loved Nick so much, and he felt as if he could see how his lover was creating walls again, walls that prevented him from remembering, but also prevented Don from really reaching him and instinctively he reached out and touched Nick's face. 

"Not tonight, tonight I need you, need to know you're here." 

Nick's eyes narrowed for a moment, and silently Don braced himself for questions only to be surprised by his lover once again as Nick twisted them around and bit playfully into his shoulder. 

"Believe me, when we're done, you'll know where I've been." 

The moment of insecurity had passed and Don shivered at the promise in the dark eyes and moaned as he felt clever fingers slip behind his balls, caressing his entrance. 


Nick smiled and nipped at his stomach. 

"Soon, love, soon" 

Don could hear rustling and soon Nick was back caressing him, this time though with fingers slick with lube, cold at first but warming quickly as Nick's hands started to draw a map of his body in- und outside. Don heard himself moaning and was once again surprised how fast Nick could reduce him to this mass of quivering nerves. 


A soft hand rubbing gently over his chest calmed him down and he opened his eyes to see his lover look at him. Nick's eyes were glowing and his body was glistening with sweat, his lips red from the kisses, he was stunning. 

"Take me." 

A smile ran over the beautiful face and a moan escaped Nick, and then Don felt the slow, deep thrust and instinctively arched his back to welcome his partner. For a moment all movement stopped as they rested deep in each other and then almost as if a wall had been broken down, Nick sobbed once. Just once, but it worked better than a bucket of water and looking at his lover, Don saw that Nick had his eyes pressed shut while his hands were trembling. 

"She has no power over you anymore." 

Don felt Nick tense inside him, but continued to speak nevertheless. 

"You could have gone the same way as Ziva, but you didn't. Instead you became the man you are. You are an amazing person Nick." 

Still his lover didn't move and for a second Don wondered what a psychologist would make of them. Talking about the sexual abuse of his lover while said lover was buried deep inside his body? It sounded screwed up and weird, but something in his heart told Don that it was the only way to really get through to Nick. 

"You are strong, so incredibly strong and sometimes I wonder what you see in me." 

That got a reaction and Don moaned as Nick jerked and moved even deeper into his body. Shaking his head, Nick stared at him with eyes full of love and pain. 

"You are all I want Nick. Don't ever doubt that." 

Another shiver ran through his lover and seeing that while Nick's body and mind did believe him, his heart didn't, Don grabbed his lover's hand and led it towards his erection. 

"I love you and I want you. Despite what you have been through, because of what you have been through, it does not matter Nick. I love you." 

Nick gasped as his fingers touched the burning erection of his partner and once again it seemed as if a damn had broken as he suddenly leaned down and devoured Don's lips. 

"I need you." 

He started to move and Don forgot everything, every word he had wanted to say, every movement he had wanted to make, everything except Nick. Nick's eyes were fixed on him, brown eyes locked with his and they moved closer and closer to this fire until Don couldn't hold back anymore. He screamed and heard Nick's echoing scream, shook and saw the shivers that ran through his lovers, felt his release splatter over his body and the proof of Nick's passion deep inside him. 

Nick collapsed onto him and he held him gently until the last tremors had subsided. 

"I love you." 

Nick's declaration was mumbled sleepily and Don smiled tenderly as he reached for the wet wipes and cleaned himself and Nick. By the time he came back to bed, Nick was asleep, but as soon as he lay down next to him, he turned around and snuggled up against him. 

Don grinned in the dark. 

They were going to be alright. 


"You wanted to tie me down, to bind me to the bed and have me at your mercy." 

Danny's voice was so sure, so confident that Mac tensed for a moment. Yesterday he had revealed a part of himself that he had not wanted Danny to see so soon. Not with what his lover had been through with Tanglewood and Sonny Sassone... He had wanted to keep the almost obsessive part in himself hidden, but when they had talked yesterday some voice in him had gotten louder and louder until he had finally snapped. 

‘Claim him before he leaves. Make him yours...' 

Mac sighed. 

He had listened to the voice in his head and now he had to face the consequences. 


Danny turned around and pushed himself up on his elbow. Mac saw curiosity and love in the intelligent eyes, but to his surprise there was no fear, no anger or even shock there.  

"Why did you stop?" 

The question itself didn't shock him as much as the shiver that ran through Danny, a shiver that had nothing to do with fear and a lot with desire. His body reacted to the desire and he swallowed hard, could it be that Danny would not run? Could it be that Danny really could live with his intensity, his need to possess? 

"I didn't want to scare you." 

Danny frowned and shook his head. 


Mac didn't know how to explain it, how to say it to Danny without sounding rude or even worse reopening wounds that had just started to heal. Seeking Danny's eyes he swallowed the lump that always took residence in his throat, when he thought about the torture Danny had experienced at Sonny's hands. 

"Because of Sonny" 

Danny tensed for a second, then though relaxed again and leaned over so that he half covered Mac. His green-grey eyes were serious as they met Mac's and once again Mac felt himself praying that he would not lose Danny because of his mistake. Danny though just continued looking at him and until Mac swallowed hard. 

"It's a long time ago Mac. I am over it." 

Still his eyes were incredibly serious as he leaned down and kissed Mac's eyes, his lips and finally put his head down so that he was lying close to his lover, his head resting against Mac's neck. Mac could not see his eyes anymore, but the tender caresses relaxed him and he understood once more, that Danny was so much stronger than he gave him credit for. 

"I want to be yours." 

The words were mumbled against his skin, but he heard them as if Danny had shouted out loud. His body tensed immediately and his voice almost failed him. 

"I mean it, Mac." 

And he did, Mac could hear it in the clear voice and another shiver went through his body. Danny was offering everything he had ever dreamt off, all he had to do was reach out and grab it. Slowly, almost hesitantly Mac put his arms around his lover and pressed him close. 

"Thank you" 

Danny chuckled and Mac felt the rumble against his chest. It made him smile and finally he could relax completely. 

"You're an idiot you know? I won't run from you, not today and not tomorrow." 

Mac was silent, then slowly shrugged but Danny just shook his head. 

"I love you, you get that don't you?" 

Yes, Danny loved him. Mac knew that, but there had been others that had loved him and hadn't been able to live with his intensity. Sometimes, he had learned, sometimes love wasn't enough. 

But then Danny had always been different. 



Tony didn't recognize his voice hoarse and quivering as it was. He had never experienced such an intense desire, never felt so much and drawing air in, he suddenly wondered if it was too much. 


The word was mumbled against his skin and Tony shuddered as he struggled to understand what his lover meant. 


Gibbs laughed lightly and released his neck, still held him close though and with a shiver Tony noticed how dark Gibbs' eyes had become. A rush of pride made his body tighten at the thought that he had caused this, that being with him had turned Gibbs on like that. 

"Call me Jethro" 

Surprised he looked up and slowly tried the name in his head. It sounded strange, almost foreign to him and he knew immediately that it would take some time getting used to. Gibbs', no Jethro's eyes were locked with his and Tony smiled as he spoke the name out loud. 


The shudder that went through Jethro was unexpected and yet deeply satisfying. Jethro leaned in and captured Tony's lips again and for a long time Tony forgot everything apart from that hot tongue that seemed to map out his mouth so thoroughly that he shivered. 

"I will take you to places that you have never been before." 

Gibbs' voice was dark and full of promises and Tony almost melted against him. For a second he tensed at the reaction of his body, this complete surrender and submission towards Jethro. It was scaring him and yet at the same time he once more felt that incredible rush that made him tremble.  


As soon as he had whispered the one single word, Jethro he traced his hand over Tony's pants and once again Tony trembled violently. It had been nothing but a ghostly caress, one that he could more see than feel and yet it had left him shaking and trembling with desire. He had always accepted Gibbs as his boss, had been used to do as he told him and yet it was different now. Their roles were the same and yet changed, and although Tony had been with men before and had been in the submissive role before he still realized that this was the first time he let himself being seduced. 

Tony followed Jethro's hands with his eyes as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt. Once open he didn't remove it instead just took one step back and looked at Tony. 

"You have no idea how long I wanted this." 

His voice was hoarse and Tony took it as a cue and moved slowly towards his lover. He shrugged a bit and let the shirt literally fall from his shoulders onto the floor. He almost felt Jethro's eyes on his chest as Jethro groaned. 


It was nothing but a whisper that escaped Tony, but the light that appeared in Gibbs' eyes showed that he had heard very well. He pulled Tony towards him and the contact between the soft linen and his bare skin made Tony moan. They stumbled and walked the short way towards the bed until Tony felt the mattress at his knees and fell backwards onto the bed. Gibbs braced himself on his arms and Tony swallowed as his wrists were grabbed and his lover held them above his head with one hand. 

"Stay still" 

Tony swallowed, but the intensity in Jethro's eyes and voice made any thought of not surrendering obsolete. Gibbs moved back a bit and started to draw lines of fire of Tony's chest, he shivered at the tender caresses until he suddenly realized that Gibbs wasn't just idly drawing lines. He was writing and Tony's heart began to beat fast, very fast and when he could make out the words that Gibbs wrote, he moaned. It was a word he had never craved before, that had never been said to him before and yet, he had somehow longed for it. 


The truth of that single word ran through his blood like fire and suddenly he ached for Gibbs' touch and arched into the fiery caresses. His lover looked up and a possessive, yet tender smile crossed his face, before he leaned down and whispered only inches from Tony away. 


They kissed again and Tony could feel the strength of Jethro's arms as he held him tight, almost lifting him up with one arm. He could feel his erection press into his legs and suddenly the clothes between them became an unbearable barrier.  

"Clothes off... Now" 

Ok, he was not able to form sentences anymore, but he didn't care and simply started tugging at Gibbs' shirt only to be stopped by his lover's hands. 

"Let me" 

Laying back on the bed Tony watched Jethro as he slowly undressed and he couldn't help the moan that escaped him as the muscled, yet slender body was revealed slowly. Jethro undressed to his boxers then stopped and leaned over tugging at Tony's shoes and pants until they were both clothed in just underwear and then the next minute even that was gone. Jethro's eyes slid up and down Tony's body, feasting on ever angle until Tony started to tremble under that scrutinizing gaze. He couldn't control his body anymore, had never felt so much and with one last whimper he surrendered completely and let Jethro control him. Jethro hadn't touched him yet and already it felt like the heaviest experience Tony had ever had. 

"You are incredible Tony. I've wanted you like this for so long. Wanted to see you spread out for me, aching for my touch..." 

He wanted to answer but he couldn't because Jethro's lips once again covered his while his hands finally began their journey over his body. He touched him with the confidence that spoke of experience and with the reverence that spoke of love. Jethro seemed to know almost instinctively how to touch Tony, where his secret points were and with a shout Tony arched into him as he finally stroked hard over his cock. 

"Just feel" 

A quick kiss on the tip of my cock caused him to arch up. Jethro suddenly looked up and with a quick glance; Tony located the hand lotion on his night stand and tossed it towards his lover. 

"Take me" 

Gentle fingers brushed over his entrance and for a moment Tony tensed, then looked up and forced his body to relax. Jethro prepared him with care slipping one finger in, then two and finally bending down and kissing the place he had just stretched. Tony moaned at the contact and let his head fall back, offering his neck to his lover. Rough hands stroked his flanks, then disappeared while Jethro put a condom on himself and returned their stroking as he slid into Tony with one measured stroke. Tony gasped at the feeling of being stretched and filled to the limit, but before he could think about it, Jethro leaned in and kissed his bared neck. 

"I love you." 

Pleasure made his head spin and his eyes couldn't focus anymore but he still heard Jethro's voice as he spoke those magical words and with a voice that didn't seem to belong to him, he repeated them. 

"I love you, Jethro." 

A low growl was his answer and then Jethro started to move. For a moment it hurt, but then the burn became heat, and he pressed back against Jethro, who was shuddering with pleasure and changing his angle only to have Tony see stars as the pounding continued now as a constant assault to his prostate. Jethro looked up, locked his eyes with him and then said slowly. 

"Come for me" 

He had never been able to defy Jethro's orders and now was not different. Pleasure and pain came together as Jethro leaned down and bit him right at that one spot above his collar bone and he dimly realized that he was screaming Jethro's name, believed that he had heard his lover's answering shout, but then everything was just burning heat, flames and pleasure. 

"Hey there" 

Tony opened his eyes and saw Jethro looking at him. 


The older man smiled and reached out to caress Tony's face. 

"Wow indeed" 


*Chapter 10 – Debriefing* 

Tony woke slowly, heat registered first in his still sleep fogged mind, then came the feeling of being restrained and for a second he almost panicked. 

"Shhh, it's me" 

Gibbs voice next to his ear was soothing and gentle. It was a novel experience, but he didn't question it, just soaked in the feeling of being safe and snuggled closer into the hard body of his lover. Strong arms came around him, caressed his back and once more he heard the soft voice. 

"Sleep on love, it's still early." 

Tony had learned to trust that voice instinctively and he did it now like he always had in the office. Smiling in his sleep, he burrowed closer and drifted off once again. 


Gibbs watched Tony while he was asleep in his arms. He couldn't help the feeling of protectiveness that swamped him as he looked into Tony's face. Tony was younger than him and yet there were lines in his face, that didn't belong there, lines that should have never been there. The fine lines around his eyes spoke of experiences that no one should ever have to make, least of all the beautiful man he loved so much. Tony had been through too much lately, and with a sigh, Gibbs pulled him closer towards him. 

"I won't lose you." 

It was a silent promise, and almost as if he had heard it, Tony reached for him in his sleep. Gibbs took the hand and pulled him close, watching as the eyelids began to flutter a bit. For a second time seemed suspended, and then Tony tensed and a look of panic crossed over his face. 

"It's ok. It's just me." 

He didn't know what had made Tony tense, but it obviously had been the right thing to say. Tony relaxed again, his entire body going lax and pliant and as if in response to it, Jethro could feel Tony move closer. 

"Sleep on love, it's still early." 

He half expected a smart assed comment about why he wasn't sleeping, but instead a content smile passed over Tony's features and only seconds later, the deep breaths told him that his lover was indeed back to sleep. 

"I won't lose him." 

Once more he whispered the silent promise, but this time it was meant as a challenge and as he stared at the ceiling he silently challenged the powers to be. He would not lose Tony. 

<i>You took my family from me, but you won't take him.</i> 

He couldn't compare what he had had with Sharon and Kelly to what he felt for Tony. It was too different, he was too different. But he knew one thing although he would never admit it to anyone. 

Loosing Tony was not an option, living without him not a possibility. 

Sighing at his dark thoughts, he pushed them away and focused on happier things. Things like last night for example. He shivered with remembered and reawakened lust. Gibbs had been with guys before, but all his encounters had been brief, had been about release and nothing else. 

Last night though; another shiver ran through him at the memory. Tony had never denied that he liked sex, that he loved making love not because of the release but because of the act itself. Gibbs groaned as he remembered how Tony's hands and lips had moved over his body; how his lover had mapped him out like a crime scene. He remembered the gentle teasing, the love in the hazel eyes every time they had met his. Tony had made him laugh and moan. 

Looking at Tony again, Gibbs decided he wanted to make Tony moan, wanted to hear that desperate sound again when his lover lost control. Smiling lightly he shifted so that Tony was no longer pressed against his body and started to explore the pliant body under his hands. Soft skin and muscles stretched over the chest which was only lightly covered with hair. Gibbs remembered Tony's reaction to having his nipples played and gently began to manipulate the tiny knobs until they were hard and visibly aching to be touched. 

He moved his hands lower while his lips began to kiss their way down towards his destination. A sharp bite into the left nipple drew a moan from Tony and as he reached down, he could feel that he was already completely aroused. 


Hearing his name in that breathy and hoarse voice made him shiver, but as he looked up, he saw that Tony was still asleep. 

Nothing had prepared him for the rush of power and possessiveness as he understood that Tony was dreaming of him. 

"Yes, it's me Tony, it will always be me." 

Another moan fell from Tony's lips and as Gibbs touched Tony's hips he let his legs fall open granting Gibbs complete access to his body. Staring at the incredible, hot and yet vulnerable picture that Tony gave, Jethro swallowed hard. Legs opened wide, chest glistening with sweat, cock hard and face drawn in pleasure, Tony was the epitome of passion and Gibbs had to force himself to calm down and grab the lube to prepare his partner instead of just sinking into the wonderful body. 

Two slick fingers probed the entrance and he was shocked as another moan was drawn from his lover and his fingers were taken into the dark hot cavern. 


Once more Gibbs looked up and shivered as he saw the expression of need in Tony's face. He could just plunge into him, fill him completely and Tony would probably not wake up. It was tempting, but he needed Tony with him, needed his lover to know who brought him over the edge and so he gently caressed Tony's face with one hand, while the other was still buried deep inside him. 


The eyelids once more began to flutter, but this time Tony didn't tense up. He opened his eyes and Gibbs reveled in the love he saw there. It took Tony thirty seconds to realize that three of Gibbs' fingers were buried deep inside his body. Jethro saw the exact moment when the fact registered and brushed his fingers over Tony's pleasure point. Tony gasped and spread his legs further. 

"Take me" 

Jethro shivered at the command and plea, but he couldn't hold back any longer and before Tony could even blink, he had replaced his fingers with his cock and was inside him. 


Tony felt Gibbs' fingers inside him as he woke and there was something so deliciously perverted about waking up with your lover's fingers in your ass that Tony moaned. It made him feel owned and for some reason that turned him on even further. This was something he had never done before, he had never given his male partners so much trust, but it was no question how deeply he trusted Gibbs. 

"Take me" 

Gibbs' eyes flashed at the plea and Tony could barely suppress a whimper when the fingers left his body. The empty feeling was short lived and soon enough he was filled again only this time it was larger, hotter and like yesterday night he felt claimed, owned and marked. 


Gibbs smiled and leaned down to kiss him and somehow that small movement brought him even deeper into Tony. Tony moaned. His head was spinning, unable to make the transition from sleeping to lucent with the amount of stimulation he got. And like he had last night, Tony surrendered control and gave his body over to Gibbs. 

"Come for me." 

The light command made him shiver and then he felt rough, gun calloused fingers on his cock and he screamed as everything just exploded around him. 


Danny grinned as he watched Tony shift in his seat. Their closing meeting would be short but it seemed that even those 15 minutes of sitting down were hard for Tony. 

"Someone's sore." 

Nick's comment was whispered and Danny smirked at his friend. Then looking around his eyes fell on Don who leaned against the wall in a casual pose. There were plenty of chairs, but Don had declined seat and kept his position. Danny smirked as he glanced between Nick and Don. 

"Looks like he isn't the only one." 

Nick blushed a bit and quickly covered it by studying the files Mac had given him. Danny grinned once more; he was relieved that Nick had recovered from the break down so well. His eyes swept the room and landed on Ziva. She had come in last and it had been obvious that McGee had been told to keep her away from Don. She was pale, but her eyes were hard and mocking as they met his. Sighing silently Danny wondered if she would ever understand. 

"Ok, let's start and make this quick." 

Mac spoke in curt sentences, quickly summarizing the case and Kraft's confession ending with the explanation that the DA would ask for the maximum sentence for their killer. His body language had been relaxed and open so far, but Danny could see him tense before he relaxed again. 

"The corporation with your lab was excellent, Agent Gibbs, please give my regards to Ms. Scioutto and let her know that I really appreciated her help..." 

A quick grin crossed over Mac's face before he continued. 

"... and let her know that that about half of our lab techs are interested in her phone number." 

McGee looked angry at the comment, but Tony laughed. 

"You got competition Probie, you better make your move." 

Danny met Tony's eyes then and for a second he was stunned to see them sparkling with live and joy. Tony was happy, he realized, and it made him feel elated especially as he remembered his formerly dull and broken eyes. Mac coughed once and immediately Danny's attention was back on his lover. 

"As to the corporation with yourself, Agents DiNozzo and McGee, I would like to express my thanks to all of you. It really has been a pleasure to work with you and I am sure that we would not have found the responsible as fast without your help." 

Danny watched Gibbs and admired him for not showing any emotions. He was sure that while the praise of Tony must have made him happy, the entire meeting must feel humiliating for someone who was used to be in charge. 

"Officer Davids, as for your corporation, I would like to say a couple of things." 

Danny saw how Don tensed at those words and how his entire body seemed ready for an attack, he saw how Nick reached out and secretly touched his partner. They held an entire conversation by simply looking at each other until Don relaxed again. Sheldon had his hands balled into fists so strongly that the knuckles almost seemed white, while Stella was looking at Ziva with nothing but contempt. Finally though he saw how Mac's jaw had clenched before he almost forcefully relaxed. The temperature in the room seemed to have dropped within seconds and all he hoped was that the tension in the room would disappear without an explosion. 

"You attacked two of my team members verbally, using information that at least in one case is classified. Your corporation during the investigation was minimal, your behavior not becoming an NCIS officer. Your contribution to the successful outcome of the case is not existent. I do not want to go into any further detail, but I will file a complaint with both your supervisor and the NCIS supervisory board." 

Danny felt Nick tense next to him and saw he wanted to say something. Mac though looked at Nick with hard eyes and then at Ziva who had paled and glared angrily at him. 

"I will not discuss this." 

Mac picked up two sealed envelopes and handed them to Gibbs. 

"These contain copies of all our reports, lab work and findings. Should you need anything else, do not hesitate to contact me." 

The two men stood there for a moment and Danny was reminded of the first time he had met Gibbs. He had found the similarities between Mac and Gibbs striking then, but now he could see the differences more than what they had in common. 

Mac was younger for the lack of a better word. He was much more aware of the world and lived in it despite being a Marine and holding onto those values. It almost seemed to him that Mac had found a way to combine the reality of living and working in a city like New York, the reality of loving a man with the values and beliefs of the Marines. Gibbs had not found such a balance, but as Danny looked at Tony, he silently added ‘not yet'. 

He was pretty sure that with Tony, Gibbs soon would find the same way that Mac had found. 


Mac saw a lot in the short moment Gibbs and his eyes met. Gratefulness and hurt pride, deference and revolution, relief and anger, he understood, knew that it had to be hard for Gibbs to let Mac talk to Ziva like he just had in front of the entire team. Gibbs saw her behavior as his own failure and Mac knew that he would feel the same. 

"Thank you Detective Taylor, I think I can give all thanks back. It certainly was an experience to work with you and your team." 

Mac saw the teasing light in Gibbs' eyes and smiled. It was a veiled compliment at its best, but he was sure that it was more than Gibbs had ever given another agency. 

"Have a safe trip home." 

There was a general sliding of chairs and looking around, Mac saw Don walk towards Ziva. He caught the alarm in Nick's eyes and called out Don's name stopping him cold. 

"Don, Nick, can you please stay for a moment?" 

With an angry look, Don waited with his arms crossed while Nick looked at Mac gratefully. He smiled back and then turned towards Tony and Gibbs. 

"Do you have five minutes afterwards?" 

Gibbs nodded and left the room closing the door behind his back. Mac was grateful as Don immediately started pacing the room and demanded an explanation. 

"Why did you stop me? Are we just going to let her walk off, just like that?" 

Don's face was a mask of frustration and Mac understood him only too well. Ziva had attacked Danny too and for that alone he wanted to hurt her, but he knew that he couldn't. 

"Hurting her would only make matters worse." 

Don glared at him and shook his head. 

"So all she gets is a slap on her wrist?" 

Nick had been silent so far, but now he stepped forward and put a hand on Don's shoulder. It always fascinated Mac how fast Nick could calm Don down and sometimes he wondered if he reacted the same way with Danny. A wry smile crossed his face, of course he did... 

"Let it go Don, it's over." 

Nick's eyes were dark and full of shadows and Mac shook his head. No, this was far from over for them, but nothing they did to Ziva would change that. 

"I promise you, Ziva won't get away with it just like this. Gibbs gave me his word." 

For a moment he could see that Don still fought with himself, battles with the desire to protect his partner and the understanding that he could quite possibly hurt Nick worse if he did act. Then though he nodded and stepped up, Mac shivered as Don locked his eyes with him and those blue eyes seemed to look on the bottom of his soul. 

"He's given you his word." 

Mac nodded and Don relaxed. Turning towards Nick, the two lovers shared a long look, and then Don turned around and left the office. Nick however stayed. 

"Mac, do you really want to file a complaint against her?" 

Mac looked at Nick and sighed.  


Nick shook his head, but before he could say anything Mac stopped him. 

"No Nick, she has made a mistake. She attacked you, she attacked Danny and she has not conducted herself in a professional manner. I don't care why she did it, I don't care who she is. She has crossed a line here and that needs to be brought to attention." 

Nick bit his lip and Mac saw that he too struggled to accept his decision, and then though a quick smile crossed over the handsome face. 

"I guess I can't save them all, can I?" 

Mac smiled too, wondering why Nick would even want to save her, but his eyes were firm as he agreed. 

"No, you can't." 


Gibbs waited until Stokes was down in the lab, before he stepped into Mac's office. Tony waited outside, but with an impatient wave of his hand, Gibbs called him in too. 

"Just wanted to say good bye a bit less formally not from team to team but from friend to friend." 

Mac smiled and shook Tony's hand, Gibbs saw the fond smile in Mac's face and felt jealousy wake in him. He squashed it ruthlessly; Mac was a friend, had made him see what was right in front of him and with a smirk he took Mac's hand and surprised him by pulling him towards his body. 

"Thanks for setting some things straight in my head." 

Tony chuckled at the Freudian slip and Mac laughed lightly. 

"Not too straight I hope" 

Gibbs grinned and nodded. He was strangely reluctant to say goodbye and with a start he realized that Mac had indeed become a friend. 

"We'll stay in contact." 

Mac smiled. 

"Yeah, we will." 


Down at the lab, Nick groaned as he stretched his back. For a second he felt dizzy as his eyes adjusted to the new difference and he grabbed the chair for help. 

"You alright?" 

Stella was watching him and for a moment, Nick was annoyed. Everyone treated him as if he was fragile and he couldn't stand it anymore. He wasn't broken, wasn't breakable that easy, cause if he were he would have broken long ago. He knew that his annoyance had a lot to do with the inability to act and do something himself, but he still was annoyed and shivered lightly. 

"I am fine." 

He had meant to say it casually, but it came out clipped and his voice had been much colder than intended. Stella looked at him and shook her head. She walked up and sat down in a chair next to him. 

"Nick we can't help but worry about you." 

He shook his head and turned his chair so that he could look at her and see her eyes. 

"I am not a weak, poor abused boy who needs shelter and a shrink. I worked through it years ago. Stella, you, can't you all just simply forget it happened?" 

He felt like an idiot for asking this, but Stella smiled at him gently. 

"Nick, no one sees you as weak, but we care for you." 

She trailed off, searching for words to express what she meant and Nick was surprised to see the ever eloquent woman struggling to find words. 

"You changed so many things when you came here, not yourself thank god, but us. Since you came here we're a team again, Mac laughs so much more and so does Danny. Danny's eyes are free of shadows and I go home at night and sleep because I know I don't have to worry about him or my best friend breaking down and burning out instead of talking to each other. Sheldon comes from the morgue just to take a coffee with you; Don had finally found someone who loves him." 

Nick felt as if she had slapped him. Not in a bad way, more in a wake up call one. He remembered something Danny had told him a while ago. 

<i>We were fractured and limping, barely a team and the gaps between us were growing larger every day.</i> 

He hadn't really understood then, but found that he did now. 

"So I am your mascot?" 

Stella laughed and shook her head. 

"No Nick, you're our glue and that's why we worry, that's why we react like this when something happens, it's because we care for you." 

He hated it, but at the same time had gotten used to the fact that strong emotions always resulted in tears for him. Not even bothering to hide them, he got up and hugged her close. 

"Thanks Stella, thanks for caring" 

She chuckled and shook her head. 

"As if we could do anything but." 

With a slight slap on his arm she walked outside when Nick called her back. 


He saw that she too had teary eyes and smiled inwardly, they were all saps weren't they? 

"It goes two ways, you know that don't you? If you ever need anything..." 

She smiled again and nodded. 

"I know Nick, I know." 


*Chapter 11: Home sweet home* 


Abby ran up and hugged her friend. He laughed, but she could feel him keep her at a certain distance and with a frown she looked at him. 

"Are you hurt?" 

He shrugged and just mumbled something about bruises, when she remembered the broken ribs. She immediately felt bad about assaulting him like that, but his smile was happy and full of joy and she knew that he didn't take it the wrong way. 

"It's good to see you Abs." 

She smiled at the name, his special name for her and looked at him, and then looked again. He looked good, not that Tony ever didn't look good. He was a master in disguising what he felt and often when he might look good, he didn't feel as good. Today though was different and there was something else, something deeper and with a frown she looked at him once more. 

"Something wrong with my pants?" 

She grinned then and shook her head. She would find the source of it, don't worry. 

"How was the Big Apple?" 

He grinned, but then shrugged. 


She loved this, loved and hated it, but mostly she was overjoyed that the teasing, playing side of Tony was back again. She hadn't seen much of it lately; he had closed himself off after the incident with the plague and Kate's death. Still, she wanted an answer and reaching for her scissors, she playfully threatened him. 

"Tell me all about it or you get a new hairstyle a la Abby." 

Tony looked horrified, but the expression of shock was well faked and it made her smile once more. 

"No threatening my agents please." 

She had seen Gibbs come in, but Tony hadn't and so he couldn't mask the moment of complete joy at hearing Gibbs' voice. It was just a moment, but Abby had been looking for it and once more she sighed, only to stare and gasp. She had seen the joy and longing in Tony's eyes whenever Gibbs was around many times, but it had always been followed by a deep-rooted sadness and pain. Today Tony just schooled his features back to normal and got up almost casually. 

"Thanks for intervening boss, wouldn't want to ruin my chances with the Ladies by getting an Abby styled hair cut." 

Abby was watching closely now, she could almost sense the change in their relationship, but maybe it was just her wishful...wow... No, it wasn't.  

She had seen Gibbs slap Tony what must be hundreds of times, but never like this. This wasn't a slap, even if it looked like one, instead, Gibbs' fingers caressed Tony's scalp and combed through his hair before they finally released him again. 

Abby blinked. 

"Back to work, DiNozzo." 

Tony threw her a grin and walked towards the elevator. Gibbs' eyes followed him, before he turned towards her. 

"Detective Taylor asked me to thank you for your outstanding work and that he will ask for a recommendation for you." 

She grinned and looked at Gibbs. 

"He asked? Gibbs, don't tell me you weren't really working with him, were you?" 

Gibbs shrugged. 

"It was his investigation, not mine." 

He left the lab and Abby who stood there gaping at the door. For a moment, she just stood there and then went over to grab a soda. 

What the hell had happened in New York? 


Don grinned as he watched Nick squirm in his seat. Unbelievable as it was, but even after meeting his parents several times, his lover was still nervous when they drove over to meet them. 

"So it's going to be your entire family." 

Nick made it sound as if he were on the way to his funeral and Don shook his head smiling lightly. 

"Just my sisters, my parents and some random aunts and uncles... It's going to be fun." 

But Nick's hand was cold as he grabbed it and Don looked at his lover concerned. This wasn't Nick's normal anxiety; this was something far more serious. He hesitated for a second, then indicated right and stopped the car on the side of the street. 

"Nick, you're shivering, what is wrong?" 

Nick sighed and Don grew even more concerned as he watched how Nick worried his lip with his teeth, before he started to speak. 

"Does your entire family know and approve?" 

The question surprised him and yet it shouldn't have. He scolded himself at his thoughtlessness, but he had indeed forgotten about Nick's unwillingness to be out. His lover was far more cautious about other people's reactions to being gay, than he was. Don was aware that it would make his life as a cop hard were he outed, but he trusted in his abilities and his friends to watch his back. Nick on the other hand, Don frowned remembering a talk they had had a long time ago. 

<i>"Texas isn't a good place to be gay, especially not if you happen to be a cop too.'</i> 

Swallowing his anger at the bigots that had hurt Nick and at himself for never pressing his partner about what really had happened in Dallas, Don turned his attention back to his lover and shrugged. 

"One of my sisters has found Jesus a while ago, and now believes that she has to safe me from my mortal sin of being gay, but apart from that, they are cool with it." 

He had seen the flinch that Nick tried to hide and continued as if nothing had happened. 

"If she starts talking about it, just stay quiet, cause normally either my aunt Roberta or my dad will shut her up." 

Don reached out and clasped both of Nick's hands in his. 

"They love you Nick, they met you and loved you. They liked you even before, because they could see how happy you made me." 

He leaned over and brushed his lips over Nick's. 

"Don't worry, this is not Dallas." 

Nick smiled and Don saw that he had regained some color in his cheeks and then with a shake of his head, Nick sighed. 

"Sorry, I know they aren't like that. It's just; you know that I am comfortable with who I am, what I am and whom I love. I am pretty much out to all of my friends and if some call me a fag, then it's their loss, it's just somehow harder with family." 

Don understood him; it was different when family was involved. He was glad to see his father stand outside as he drove up, Don Flack Sr. turned around and with watched his son and his son's partner get out of the car and waved at them. 

"Donnie, Nick great to see you!" 

And walking over, he hugged Don and then Nick. Seeing the tension flow out of Nick's body, Don shot his father a grateful look and got a wide smile back in return. 


"So, you're Don's boyfriend." 

Nick smiled at the question, but it felt forced to him. No one had made any snide remarks; instead they had all welcomed him into the family after some probing questions which clearly were asked in order to find out whether he was good enough for Don. Still he felt as if he were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

"Yes I am" 

The older lady looked at him and grinned. 

"He's got good taste, that boy, who would have guessed by the way he chooses his ties." 

She sat down next to him and patted his knee. 

"I am Roberta, I'm his sister." 

She gestured towards Don Sr. and Nick could indeed see the family resemblance in the movements, the way she just caught the attention of everyone if she wanted so. His head was already swimming with names, but he was sure, that he would not forget her name. Chatting with her about his job and some other small talk, he was surprised to note that he had relaxed and was actually enjoying himself. Roberta was a funny lady to speak to and he could only shake his head at some of the insightful, yet very cynical comments she made. 

"40 years at the congress' staff office and you loose every belief in democracy." 

She shrugged and laughed again. 

"But now that I'm older than the furniture, I can speak my mind and they don't dare to say anything back. I tell you Nick, age does have its advantages." 

Nick wanted to reply when he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Don's voice next to his ear. 

"She telling you national secrets?" 

Don laughed at his aunt and pulled a chair next to Nick to sit down. His hand easily came to rest on Nick's shoulder and soon the three were laughing and talking merrily. Nick relaxed even more and smiled when Don's hand trailed from his shoulder to his neck, caressing him softly. 

"You lovebirds are so cute." 

Roberta's comment made him blush, but Don just grinned at him and leaned over and brushed a kiss over Nick's cheek. 

"That's disgusting behavior, how can you dare tainting father's party like this?" 

Nick felt Don tense, tensed himself and silently braced himself for the sniping comments and the hushed agreement to the accusations. It felt eerily like the last time he had gone to a party of his own family, only that he would have never dared to bring a boyfriend. No he had just been there and that had been enough. 


Don's voice was cold as he acknowledged his sister, but before either of them could say anything, Roberta spoke. 

"Unless you have something constructive to say Sarah, something like ‘hi Nick I am Sarah, nice to meet you', I suggest you stay silent. Nick has been invited by your parents. He is their guest." 

But Nick saw the glare in Sarah's eyes and knew that she would not be deterred. 

"What he is doing is an adnominal sin against God! How can you expect me to be silent when I see my brother on the path to hell?" 

She threw Nick a look so full of hatred and disgust that he flinched instinctively. Don's arm around him got tighter and his partner looked at him with love. 

"Don't listen to her, believe me I'd much rather be in hell than in her kind of heaven." 

It had meant to be a joke, but it only made her angrier and ignoring her was not easy. 

"You seduced him, you are the reason my brother succumbed to those sins." 

Don looked at her coldly but before he could say anything, his father walked over until he stood next to Nick and Don. Nick tensed and flinched when he felt a strong hand on his shoulder, looking up he met Don's mother's eyes and saw the reassurance in the dark orbs. It calmed him enough to look at Don Sr.. The older man stood straight next to his son and the blue eyes were blazing with fire. 

"Don't you dare speaking of sins and sinners in this house." 

His voice was even, cold almost calm and somehow that shocked Nick almost more than his words. Don Sr. was the mirror image of Don when he was so angry that he was afraid of punching something. 

"Don't speak of sinners when you speak about your brother and his partner. Sins? You have no idea what kind of sins mankind can commit, but let me tell you one thing Sarah, loving someone is not a sin, not in my eyes nor in the eyes of the God I believe in, the God your mother believes in, the God we taught you to believe in." 

The other guests had fallen silent as Don Sr. had started to speak and Nick saw many nods at the last words. 

"If you cannot behave the way we taught you, if it is asked too much of you to be open-minded about other people's lives and beliefs, you should leave now." 

Don Sr.'s voice wavered at the last words, but his eyes met those of his daughter coldly. For a long time there was nothing but silence, and then Sarah turned around and left the garden without saying a word. Nick shook and looked at Don horrified. 

"This is not right, she shouldn't be the one forced to leave, this is not my home, and it is hers." 

Don took his hand, started to explain, but his father beat him to it. 

"No Nick, it is not her home anymore, she herself rejects everything we taught her while she was growing up." 

There was a sad smile on the weathered face, but Nick also saw acceptance underneath the sadness. 

"When Sarah told us that she had found a new life with God, we accepted her decision. We raised our kids to be independent, to find their own destiny and to think about their actions and the consequences. So we would have been hypocrites had we not accepted our daughter's decision." 

Nick couldn't help compare his own father to Don Sr., they both were similar men, both strong minded, but rocks for their families, but where Don Sr. had his principles based on the constitution and the right of choice and freedom, his father's principles were from the Old Testament. And once more, he wondered if it was only what every one called the North-South divide or if it was something else too. 

"When Don came out to us, I am not going to lie to you, I had a hard time accepting it." 

Don Sr. looked at his son and Nick saw the look of love and understanding that passed between them. 

"I feared for Don, but I saw that it was who he was and I realized that it didn't change that I was incredibly proud of him, that it didn't change the fact that I love him." 

Don's arm around him tightened and Nick could feel that the open declaration meant a lot to his lover. 

"Sarah couldn't accept it. She has forgotten everything we taught her. We taught our kids to be critical and to question black and white solutions, but she now denies the existence of grey. The woman you just saw leave was once my daughter Sarah, but I do not recognize her anymore." 

Nick's heart broke at the sadness in the older man's words, but before he could answer, Flack Sr. looked up and smiled. 

"But I got another son now, someone who makes my Donnie happy and helps keeping my city safe. I think that makes me a lucky man." 

He clasped Nick's shoulder, got up and walked away. Nick was still speechless, but Roberta chuckled. 

"Big old softie" 

She grinned at them, but her eyes were serious. 

"Sarah knew what was going to happen; she knew her father would not let her get away with it." 

Nick nodded, but a question kept nagging him and later that day, when they drove back, he voiced it. 

"Do you think, my father talks the same way about me?" 


"So how is the New York team?" 

Tony grinned at Abby's question, knowing that she was dying to get some gossip. 

"Well their ME once was a veritable medical prodigy." 

Ducky's comment made them turn around and smile him as joined them in the break room for lunch. 

"Was he?" 

He was surprised, but then he hadn't really talked to Sheldon Hawkes. Ducky nodded. 

"Yeah, I remember reading some articles from him, one of the youngest ever to finish medical school, get papers published, but then he was not able to cope with the pressure of deciding over life and death. So he chose the ME profession, I find it fascinating really how the human mind works, this man is too afraid of killing someone and then becomes an ME..." 

Abby rolled her eyes, but she did it with an amused glance and a fond smile. 

"So who else is on the team?" 

Tony smiled as he remembered the team and thought of the four men he had become friends with. 

"Mac Taylor is the boss, he's a Marine too, apparently higher ranked than Gibbs, whatever that means, and then there are Danny Messer, Stella Bonasera, Nick Stokes and Don Flack from the police forces as their usual link to the uniforms." 

The door opened and McGee came in, Tony smiled at him and continued. 

"Messer's a cool guy; kind of got a punk attitude, but boy he's smart. Think of a cross between Abby and Probie with some gang mentality thrown in. Stella on the other hand, well she's a class of her own, think Kate but with a Mediterranean temper, Abby's open-mindedness and Gibbs' protective instincts." 

He saw Ducky chuckle and Abby shudder, and he nodded. Yeah, Stella was a scary lady, but a wonderful friend. 

"Right, not someone I want to cross." 

Abby looked around then and frowned suddenly. 

"Where's the boss man?" 

Tony sighed; he didn't want to think about where Jethro was right now or what he was doing. 

"He's got a meeting with Ziva." 

Abby wanted to ask more, but Ducky beat her to it. 

"Why does the name Stokes sound familiar?" 

Tony shrugged, he guessed why, but he didn't want to talk about Nick's ordeal and so he remained silent. 

"He was abducted at a crime scene in Las Vegas about a year ago. Almost died when the perp buried him alive..." 

Tony stared at McGee, but didn't say anything, instead watched as Ducky processed the information and saw Abby pale. 

"If I ever meet him, remind me not to tell him that I sleep in a coffin." 

He grinned at that and shook his head. 

"Don't think that would freak him out or at least not more than normally." 

She punched him lightly, and he grinned while his eyes checked the watch. Gibbs was already gone for 40 minutes, how long could it take? 

"I remember reading about him. Did you know that in ancient Rome, it was the traditional punishment for the vestal virgins when they broke their oath of chastity? They were buried in an underground chamber for 28 days and given nothing but a piece of bread and a candle. Stories say that before the cages were closed, they were advised not to eat the bread because it would only lengthen their suffering and to light the candle as this would shorten it." 

Tony shivered at Ducky's rambling and looked at him. 

"Do me a favor, Ducky? If you ever meet Nick, don't tell him this story ok?" 

Ducky looked confused then shocked. 

"Of course not, that poor boy" 

They went back to work a few minutes later and Tony's anxious gaze to the watch told him that almost an hour had passed. 

Where was Gibbs? 


"Why are we here?" 

Gibbs saw that Ziva was both confused and annoyed. Her eyes swept over the empty gym as if to find a trap. He shook his head as he remembered Mac's parting words. 

<i>"You have to deal with her before she turns that aggression against you. She has already hurt Tony once, don't let her do it again."</i> 

He knew Mac was right, Ziva only knew one side, her own. It was what she had been taught; it was what she did to survive. What had it been that Mac had said? 

<i>"She only understands the law of the jungle."</i> 

Mac's words echoed through him, he had placed her correctly and had laughed at Gibbs surprised face. 

<i>"I was in Beirut. Believe me I know the Mossad and you know them too, there are no teams in that world only alliances of convenience."</i> 

Gibbs looked at Ziva now and could see how she started to fidget lightly under his hard gaze. 

"I told you I would tolerate three mistakes. You made two now, one more and I cut you lose." 

She paled but lifted her head in defiance. 

"Two, oh I see, Messer and Stokes. What's wrong with you that those pretty boys get under your skin this much?" 

Gibbs smiled and noted with satisfaction that she paled even more. 

"Attacking two detectives of the NYPD was mistake two Ziva, mistake one was endangering a fellow agent." 

He had to keep a tight rope around his anger and emotions in this, because he wanted to scream at her for putting Tony's life at risk. 

"Tony was severely hurt and beaten and you knew it. Still you played it down, pretended it was nothing. What if he had gone onto another undercover mission? What if he had had internal bleeding?" 

Gibbs saw that she wanted to dismiss the incident, but he stopped her with a look. 

"Don't you dare telling me that the life of one of my agents is not worth bothering about. That, Ziva, that would be strike three." 

She shook now, but he didn't feel remorse, instead he stepped up close to her and looked her in the eyes. 

"Don't misunderstand me Ziva, if I say I cut you lose, I mean it. There will be no protection from NCIS and no more lies from me." 

He didn't have to say anything else, he knew she understood. When he turned and walked out, she called him. 

"What are you going to do now?" 

He looked at her coldly. 

"I am going to make sure that Jenny dear doesn't misplace those complaints." 

He didn't look back as he left the gym and the NCIS building. He needed to make a call and he couldn't do that inside the office. Jen Sheppard was likely going to dispute the complaints and he needed to make sure that they were filed. 

But there was another reason why he needed to call someone. Since he had lost Sharon and Kelly, he had never again cared about playing by the rules; they couldn't hurt him because he had nothing left to lose. Now the game had changed again and he needed to make sure, that no matter what Jen Sheppard plans were, someone higher up had their backs. He would not lose Tony to office politics. 

"Tom? Nice to hear you, listen I need your help." 


"Catherine? It's Nick" 

For a moment she thought she was dreaming, and then joy raced through her. She had missed Nick, had missed his smiles, his up beat and kind personality. They all had. It was more than a year since he had left and still she felt like something was missing every time she walked into the lab. There had been six new CSIs and none of them had stayed longer than two months. The last one had told her clearly: 

<i>I can't become another person. I can't become Nick Stokes.</i> 

It was unfair, she knew and yet she couldn't help it. Maybe if Nick had stayed in contact with them, but he had never called or written. She knew that Grissom talked to him on a regular base, knew that Greg and he exchanged emails every once in a while, but for the rest of the team Nick Stokes had vanished. 

"Cat, you there?" 

Anxious and with a smile she answered. 

"I am! God, Nicky it's wonderful to hear from you. How are you? How is NY?" 

She wanted to ask him about the boyfriend that Greg had been talking about, but she didn't know if it was something she wasn't supposed to know and so she stayed quiet. 

"I am fine and so is NY. Cat, I need to know something." 

His voice was different, she noted. Colder, harder, more businesslike and frowning she asked again. 

"Are you sure you are fine? Cause you don't sound like it, don't sound like the Nick I know." 

He laughed and something cold formed in her stomach. Nick was not alright, no something was wrong, terribly wrong. 

"When I told you about my experiences as a kid, the Dylan Buckley case, you remember? Did you ever write any of it down or talk to someone about it?" 

The question shocked her and for a second she almost got angry, then her answer was spontaneous. 

"How can you think that? I never told anyone, this was your secret!" 

He interrupted her and this time his voice was warmer and much more like the old Nick. 

"I didn't think you had, but someone knew about it and you are the only person next to Don that I told in my entire life." 

Don, that had to be the name of the boyfriend, but before she could ask anything Nick spoke again. 

"Cat, can you do me a favor? After the abduction I had several sessions with Dr. Kane, can you try and get his notes? Maybe he wrote something down, maybe I let something slip then." 

It was a possibility, but she knew that Kane would never give her his file on Nick. 

"I'll send him a signed request to release my file and hand it to you, but I fax you a copy first and I want you to be there when he puts it in a folder." 

She agreed and they chatted for a bit longer about Vegas and Lindsey, when she put the phone down, she stared at it for a long time. He had changed she mused, had grown up, wasn't so trusting anymore. Was it an after effect of his abduction? It had surprised her to hear him use the word so easily, to hear him mention the night so calmly. It was something neither she nor anyone else in the lab could, they all were still skirting around that night. Something Grissom had said lately came to her mind. 

<i>Nick is no longer here, he has moved on in order to live, and maybe it is time we do the same.</i> 

It had sounded harsh at the moment, but maybe he had been right. The Nick she had spoken to just minutes ago had talked about NY and had called the city his home. He had been more distant, but also more mature than she had ever experienced him in Vegas. 

"Sorry Catherine, but there is a fax for you." 

She looked up and smiled at their newest CSI. Eric was more promising than all his predecessors, but then she and Warrick had already known him from their case in Miami a couple of years ago. It always helped a new start if some people were familiar and he certainly was good in his job. 


He smiled tentatively, but couldn't quite hide the sadness in the dark eyes. She saw sadness and a pain that was deeply rooted and had been there already when he had started with the team. Sometimes she was tempted to ask, but then she had never interfered with other team members lives and she would not start now. There was however something she had to start again and that was the tradition of breakfast. 

"Eric, we should get the team together for lunch what do you think? I'll call Grissom and Warrick; can you grab Greg and Sara?" 

For a moment he looked surprised then he smiled and nodded. Her eyes followed him as he left her office, Grissom had been right, she realized with a start. It was time to move on and with another start she realized something else. 

Moving on, didn't mean that she had to leave Nick behind. 


*Chapter 12 Home sweet home* 

The call came fifteen minutes before lunch and Gibbs growled lightly. Talking curtly, he shook his head after finishing the call, growled once more and then called his team. 

"McGee, Ziva get down and get the car, Tony can you call Ducky and give him the coordinates? We've got a case." 

Tony snagged the sheet from his fingers and called Ducky with the details while he simultaneously strapped on his gun, tie and jacket. Gibbs admired the fluent, graceful movements for a moment then caught himself doing it and shook his head. Since they had become lovers, those moments of absence had increased instead of lessened. He often found himself looking at Tony, remembering how he had looked early in the morning, just waking up, eyes still clouded with sleep. Weird, how he found those moments so much more intimate, so much more precious than any of the same moments with is ex-wives. 

"Ah... boss?" 

Tony's voice brought him back to reality and he glared as he saw the grin on his face. Tony seemed to know exactly where his mind just had drifted off to. 

"Let's go DiNozzo" 

He strode out of the room and noticed how Tony automatically fell in step with him. The warmth that spread through him now, had nothing to do with desire and everything with love. He hid it until they were in the elevator. Safe from prying eyes, he looked up and at Tony. 

"You always have my six, don't you?" 

Surprised at the comment Tony frowned and Gibbs saw the confusion in the hazel eyes. 

"You know that I do, boss." 

Gibbs smiled and walked closer towards him. Gently he cupped Tony's face with his hand and smiled. 

"I do Tony, but I'm still grateful for it." 

He could see the tiny shiver that ran through Tony at his answer and cursed their case. He didn't want to drive to some airbase where a dead man had been found; he wanted to stop the elevator and kiss Tony, hold his lover close and never let him go. He couldn't though and as they arrived at the garage, they both looked as if nothing had happened. 

"Ziva, McGee you take that car, Tony you're with me." 

McGee and Tony exchanged looks and Gibbs knew that although neither man appreciated their respective drivers, the looks were still all for show. The drive was silent until Tony started to speak and from the way Tony fidgeted in the car, Gibbs could tell that the next few words were important to Tony. 

"What are you doing on the weekend?" 

Surprised he looked at Tony for a moment, but turned his concentration back to the road immediately. Weekend? So far he and Tony had spent only a few nights together and of course never twice in a row. He hated it, but he knew about the importance of secrecy as Tom's words came back to him. 

<i>I can suppress rumors and accusations, but I can't manipulate pictures.</i> 

He had been silent for too long, and he realized it as soon as Tony seemed to withdraw. 

"I mean, it's not that I don't have plans, just you know, just wanted to give you a heads up..." 

Tony was babbling and as they stopped at the next red light Gibbs took a deep breath, held Tony by the neck and made him look at him. He saw the shiver that ran through his lover and silently wondered if Tony had any idea how naturally submissive and instinctive he reacted to Gibbs. Locking his eyes with Tony's Gibbs spoke slowly and intently. 

"You don't have plans for the weekend, and if you have any then cancel them. Because you will be with me and it won't be here." 

Color rose in Tony's face and Gibbs watched with a silent thrill how Tony shivered again. His lover's reactions fed something inside him, something he kept buried and carefully repressed. He knew that he was possessive, close to bordering on obsession when it came to a lover, knew that he had a dominant streak, but he had never let that out in a sexual way, never until now. 

"Where will we be then?" 

Gibbs smiled at the curiosity and trust in Tony's voice. It had been a spur of the moment idea to go somewhere with his partner, but the longer he thought about it, the better it sounded. 


Tony wanted to ask more, but Gibbs prevented any questions when he stopped the car in front of a non-descript house. Not waiting for his lover, he got out and showed his ID to the man standing at the door. 

"NCIS, this is our case, I presume?" 


"Nick, Danny you got a homicide in Tribeca, Stella there's a robbery with a shooting in Brooklyn. So that's it, let's move." 

Looking at each other, Nick saw the question in Danny's eyes, but it was Stella who asked it. 

"What are you on Mac?" 

Mac shrugged. 

"Preparing for the annual budget meeting tomorrow, finishing paperwork at least until something else comes in." 

Nick grinned but kept his mouth shut until they were outside. 

"That must be the first time that Mac hopes for a crime to happen." 

Danny chuckled and fell into step with Nick; they went to the car in silence, and had just started to drive when Nick suddenly remembered something. 

"Tony says hi and asked how you're doing. I think he'll probably call you later this week." 

He could see that Danny was getting worried and grinned at his friend. 

"Nothing wrong, don't worry. Tony just needs some advice on how to deal with a slightly overprotective, very possessive older Marine lover. So I told him that he should ask you, I mean Don's intense, but no where near Mac's level." 

Danny blushed at those words and Nick looked at his friend from the corner of his eyes while he mainly concentrated on the street. Danny sighed and Nick suddenly wondered if he had hit a nerve and unknowingly opened a wound. 

"Hey, you and Mac are alright, aren't you?" 

The reaction was immediate; and Nick couldn't help to be relieved at the surprise and light amusement in Danny's eyes. He wanted his friends to be happy and Danny and Mac certainly were a lot happier together than apart. 

"Yeah, we are, don't worry. He's just, he's. We're here; I'll explain it at lunch ok?" 

Nick nodded and got out of the car, grabbed his kit and showed his badge to the uniformed officer at the door. 

"Seventh floor" 

Thanking the cop, he waited next to Danny for the elevator and after a short ride walked into the apartment. A couple of uniforms were standing around while a man and a woman in civilian clothes were looking at various things. Nick groaned lightly as he watched both man and woman pick up random things, putting them back again. 

"Well at least they are wearing gloves." 

Danny grinned at the comment and Nick had a sudden flashback to Vegas and how he'd always grinned when Grissom had given some poor officer a lesson about crime scenes and proper behavior. The memory made him smile and yet feel slightly gloomy, sometimes he missed working with Grissom, missed being able to learn from his friend and soak up his knowledge. 

"Gentlemen, would you all please leave this flat so that we can start processing?" 

The uniformed officers looked at him and Nick smiled friendly, but without giving in an inch as his eyes followed each man as they walked out. Finally he and Danny were alone with the two detectives. Walking up to them, he smiled and introduced himself and Danny. 

"Detectives Messer and Stokes from the crime lab, what do we have?" 

The man stepped forward and Nick saw the muscled body underneath the shirt and suit, noted the short cut hair, the alert blue eyes and he smiled. Another Mac-clone, they seemed to be rampant in law enforcement. 

"I'm Detective Stabler and this is my partner Detective Benson, we're from SVU. We've got a dead man and a dead woman, shot during a potential rape." 

Nick nodded and walked over to the bedroom. Blinking once he looked at the woman, who was tied to the bed, gagged with a band of cloth and had a blind fold over her eyes. On top of her was a man who had had sex with her when he had been shot. 

"Husband returned home, saw his wife getting raped and shot the rapist." 

Nick looked Detective Benson and then back at the corpses. 

"Thought he was saving his wife, but instead the bullet went through the bastard and killed her too." 

Stabler was speaking now and his voice was full of disgust as he mentioned the rapist and Nick silently raised an eyebrow. He didn't comment on it thought, just continued to look at the tableau. He trusted Stabler and Benson's assessment, but what they told him didn't fit what he saw. 

"You got the weapon, I assume." 

Detective Benson nodded and Nick looked at Danny. 

"Can you take pictures?" 

Danny started snapping away, while Nick slowly approached the bed. 

"Does the husband know whether his wife was into bondage?" 

Danny looked up and Nick could see how Stabler glared at him. He obviously wanted to say something but was stopped by Detective Benson. 

"No, why?" 

Snapping on his gloves, Nick nodded at Sheldon with a smile and pointed towards the body. 

"You're done?" 

Sheldon stepped back and waved at the paramedics, but Nick shook his head. 

"Can you give me a minute?" 

Sheldon shrugged. 

"Take as many as you want, neither of them will ever be late for a meeting." 

Sheldon's soft melancholic voice made Nick smile softly too, but then he leaned down and looked at the cuffs tying the woman to the bed. 

"These cuffs are high quality leather, see that?" 

He waved at Stabler and Benson and showed them the closing and opening mechanism. 

"They are designed in a way that she could have gotten out, had she wanted." 

Benson frowned and Nick could see that she was making the connection. 

"What if she was drugged?" 

He nodded and smiled at Sheldon. 

"Tox screen will show that, but until then there's another thing, look at the clothes." 

He pointed towards the carefully folded pants and undershirt lying on a chair, and then to the shirt hanging neatly on a coat hanger. 

"How many rapists have you seen in your career that took the time to undress completely, fold their clothes and hang up their shirts?" 

Stabler frowned, but it was Danny who played the devil's advocate role as he always did when they worked together and Nick formulated a theory. It was one reason they were so good together the fact that they challenged each other. 

"If he had her drugged and tied up, might have heightened his arousal." 

His friend had a point, but still the setting was too clean and shrugging silently Nick began to untie the woman and carefully labeled every piece of evidence before he put it away. Once they had untied the woman, the paramedics brought the corpses away and Sheldon looked at Nick. 

"I'll call you when I'm done ok?" 

Nick nodded absently while he dusted the side table for prints; he was engrossed in his job, focused on finding even the smallest bit of evidence. Danny watched his friend for a moment, then left the room and started to process the bathroom. 


Olivia watched as the two CSIs slowly but surely took over the investigation. She had seen how Elliot had tensed as the ME told Stokes and not them that he would call and something Fin had said about Taylor's team flittered through her head. 

<i>They are the best in NY, if not the country, but they expect you to support them and not the other way round.</i> 

It seemed to be true and still she couldn't begrudge Stokes. He had called them on their prejudices without saying anything. Elliot still stared at Stokes and Olivia shook her head. She loved her partner, but sometimes he was too damn stubborn for his own good. 

"Nick, take a look at this." 

She followed Messer's call and saw him show Stokes some receipts. 

"Seems she liked to live dangerously and her husband didn't know." 

Stokes frowned at the comment, but nodded after he had looked at the receipts which he handed to Olivia as she walked in. Looking at the papers, she nodded thoughtfully. 

"Receipts for the ‘Bondage Cellar', down in Soho, we'll check it out. Can you give us a call if something comes up?" 

Stokes looked up and for a quick moment their eyes met. She could see nothing but professional curtsey in the dark eyes, but as they moved over to Elliot, she saw how fond amusement lit them up for a second.  

"Sure will, sure will." 

She left them doing their job and waited for Elliot to follow her. 

"Arrogant prick" 

Surprised at her partner's outburst, she threw him a look. Normally he wasn't so easily rattled and it shocked her to see this animosity against someone he didn't know at all. 

"What's wrong? He was just doing his job." 

Elliot sighed and she could see him deflate with exhaustion. 

"We should have seen it Olivia, why did we just believe the husband? I mean for goodness sake, Stokes walks into that room, looks around for not even a minute and tells us something we should have seen. We are SVU and still haven't seen it." 

It wasn't Stokes; she understood and put a comforting hand on Elliot's shoulder. 

"Maybe we didn't see it because we're SVU, because we have seen too many scenes just like that and know how easily something can go wrong. And you know, it's why we work with CSIs and other specialists, so that they see what we do not." 

But Elliot shook his head. 

"Cragen was right when he told me that I am letting my emotions blind me." 

She was deeply worried by now, but they had arrived at their destination and Elliot got out immediately. Her eyes followed him as she walked into the store after him. Something was wrong with her partner, but she didn't know what. 

"Hi Detective Stabler and Benson, do you remember if you have seen this woman in here?" 


"I am seriously getting too old for this." 

Tony groaned as he tried to stand up and his body protested painfully. Every bone hurt from the chase, the fall and the fight with their suspect. He groaned once more and shot McGee a pleading look. 

"Can you get me some coffee please?" 

McGee just shook his head and threw a paper ball at him. 

"Stop whining please, I'll even get you a coffee." 

He grinned at the comment, but as he got up his back protested and he grabbed the table for support as dizziness swept through him. Sitting down again he couldn't help a tiny gasp of real pain. 


Gibbs' voice made him look up and he saw his boss looking at him impatiently. 

"Do your job or go home and take the rest of the day as sick leave, but don't hang around here doing nothing ok?" 

From the corner of his eyes, Tony saw Ziva grin at the reprimand and only two weeks ago the very same words would have hurt him deeply. Now though he saw the concern in Gibbs' blue eyes, the fear heavily veiled but still there and most of all he saw love. 

Had those emotions always been there? 

The question made him swallow hard and a shiver went through him. Had Gibbs always looked at him with concern and love and had he just been too blind to see it? 

"Ok that's it, you're going home." 

Gibbs was standing in front of him and Tony blinked. When had he walked over to his desk? 

"It's ok boss, I'm fine, just sore." 

But Gibbs just kept looking at him until he bowed his head and confessed. 

"Ok, I'm a little dizzy, but that's going to pass soon." 

"Did Ducky check you out?" 

Tony grimaced knowing that Gibbs would call Ducky if he said yes. He also knew that lying to his boss and lover was not a good idea and giving in he shook his head. 

"No, look it really isn't anything; it was just a tumble." 

Gibbs' eyes darkened and he hauled Tony out of his chair and dragged him to the elevator. 


But even inside the elevator, Gibbs didn't release him, instead pressed the stop button and pulled Tony tight against him. Reveling in the closeness, the heat and the feeling of safety, Tony moaned lightly. 

"You have no idea what I felt, when I saw you fall down those stairs, and then later he was banging your head against the steps and we were still to far away to do anything. What in hell possessed you to jump after him like that?" 

The shivers that accompanied Gibbs' words told Tony more than any word ever could about what had gone through his lover right at that moment. 

"I wasn't thinking much boss; I just didn't want him to get away." 

Gibbs pushed him away slightly and forced him to meet his eyes. 

"Don't play with your life like this Tony. Our job is dangerous enough as it is, I don't need you to be careless with your health. I can't lose you Tony, you got that?" 

For a moment they both froze as the truth of Gibbs' confession sank in. Can't, not won't, so far Gibbs' statement always had been that he wouldn't lose Tony, but those words had been a lie. It wasn't a matter of won't, it was a matter of can't. Tony stared at his lover and saw how Gibbs' face closed off and he reacted instantly. 

"No, you can't lose me, because I'll be with you. You can't make me leave, got that?" 

Gibbs' face was a mask and Tony wanted to scream as Gibbs pressed the stop button again. 

"Ok, so get yourself checked out by Ducky and then go home. I'll be with you in a couple of hours." 

The elevator moved again and Tony remained silent until they reached Ducky's morgue. Gibbs didn't come in just squeezed his hand and turned around. Tony entered and let himself get prodded by Ducky while explained what had happened. 

"So he was running down the stairs and I thought that if I tackled him, I'd get him. I just hadn't expected him to fight so hard and we ended up tumbling down the stairs while trading blows..." 

Ducky shook his head, but declined to comment something Tony was grateful about. Carefully probing a rather large bump on Tony's head, he shook his own head. 

"How did you get that?" 

Tony growled lightly. 

"He got the upper hand and slammed my head against the stairs a couple of times." 

Jethro had screamed at the other man then, told him to freeze or being shot. And when Tony had looked up, he had seen his lover standing over them, his gun pointed at their suspect's head, his eyes full of anger, promising death to anyone who hurt Tony. 

"You have a hard head Anthony, but I agree with Jethro, you should go home and take things slow for today. Did you get a head ache or feel dizzy?" 

Tony nodded and while he dressed, Ducky called Jethro. 

"Jethro, I am sending Tony home." 

He fell silent and shook his head. 

"No nothing serious, just a light concussion which means that he shouldn't be alone. Abby? Ok, I'll ask her and tonight? You're around ok, great." 

Ducky smiled and Tony groaned. 

"Abby's going to baby-sit me? Ducky you know that I will get no rest then." 

But Ducky was already on the phone with the lab tech and soon enough Abby was driving them home. 

"Don't worry Tony, I'll let you sleep." 

She grinned as he lay down on the bed and he saw how she counted the seconds before she delivered the punch line. 

"After all Gibbs will probably want to check personally that you are alright." 

He tensed but a soft hand on his shoulder made him relax again. 

"It's ok Tony; your secret is safe with me. I think it's sexy, would love to watch!" 

He laughed then, because of course she was Abby. Soon enough though, Ducky's drugs made him sleepy and he drifted off with the feeling of a hand in his hair and gentle words in his ears. 

"You two deserve to be happy." 


Stella smiled as she watched Mac bent over some figures, his hair was disordered as if he had been running his fingers through it a lot and he wore an expression of frustration on his face. 

"Something wrong?" 

He looked up and waved her in before pointing at the reports in disgust. 


She knew he hated the administrative side of his job and that he felt as if it took too much time, time he'd rather spend looking for evidence. Still looking at his face right now, she guessed that today was worse than normal. 

"You know if I had wanted to become an accountant, I would have become one." 

Another smile ran over her face, before she turned serious again. 

"Do you need a hand?" 

He looked up and a smile played around his eyes. 

"I thought you would never ask." 


"Ok spill it." 

Danny groaned, he had really hoped that Nick would have forgotten about his comment regarding Mac. He should have known better though, his friend was worried and wanted to know what was wrong. And if he was honest, it wasn't that he didn't want to talk to Nick, it just was, Danny blushed and immediately saw Nick grin. 

"You remember what you said about Mac being really intense? Well I think he is actually toning it down around us, especially around me." 

Nick frowned and shook his head. 

"What do you mean, especially around you?" 

A shiver ran through Danny as he recalled the night when Mac had pinned him to the wall and held him captive and although he blushed he told Nick about the events of that night. 

"I could see it then, he wants me, I mean I knew that before, but there was more. He really, really wants me, wants to claim me, wants me to surrender to him." 

Nick too had blushed by now and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. Danny chuckled knowingly as it suddenly occurred to him, that Nick probably wondered how work with Mac in the future and not think about the image Danny had just painted of their boss. He recovered quickly though and there was a teasing light in his eyes as he shook his head. 

"So basically you're telling me that you want to get kinky with Mac." 

Danny blushed but still stood his ground and nodded; he too grinned but turned serious again soon. 

"More than that Nick, I mean when he held me there I wanted to go on my knees for him. It just felt right and that's when I realized that I want to give myself over to him, want him to hurt me, to own me and I know he wants it too." 

His head was probably red enough to warrant for a fire alarm, but Nick's face wasn't any paler and in many ways it felt good to talk to his friend and find out how Nick thought about those fantasies that somehow scared and turned Danny on at the same time. 

"He's not doing anything though, I mean he loves me and the sex we have is great, but sometimes I can almost feel that he's holding some part of him locked inside." 

There was a contemplative look on Nick's face, and then he shrugged. 

"Don't you think Mac's reaction is kind of normal? He knows about Sonny and he's probably terrified of scaring you or even worse of hurting you the way Sonny did." 

Nick's answer mirrored Mac's so much that Danny wanted to scream in frustration. Didn't they see that this was different? He shook his head and forced himself to calm down and keep his voice quiet. 

"But it's Mac and that's why it will be different. I trust him like I never trusted anyone in my life. Do you really think that I would ask for this if I were afraid? I love Mac and I..." 

A hand on his arm stopped his tirade and he met Nick's smiling eyes. 

"You don't have to persuade me, it's Mac and I think he needs to hear what you've just told me." 

Danny knew that Nick was right, but it was a lot easier to explain everything to Nick who despite being intense in his own way was never as intense as Mac was. Even more though, he wouldn't lose Nick because of his fantasies and he was terrified of losing Mac. Looking down at his plate, he played with his food and ate some of it without much appetite when Nick's phone rang. 

"He did, ok, yeah sure we will. Where? Ok we're on our way." 

Danny looked questioningly and Nick explained the call. 

"Benson and Stabler, they were at the bondage shop and the clerk recognized our victim, said she'd come here several times with the guy who was shot too. He also saw another guy lurking around while they were here; they are currently preparing the surveillance tapes." 

This time Danny drove and the entire time he felt Nick look at him until his friend suddenly grinned. 

"Maybe talking really is overrated. Maybe you should just show Mac what you want from him..." 

He was still blushing as they entered the shop. A short look at the items displayed made him blush even more, but at the same time he could see the point of Nick's comment and with a spontaneous decision, he stepped back and nodded at Nick who had just identified himself. For a moment his friend frowned, then made the thumbs up sign and disappeared into another room with one of the clerks. 

"Hey I'm Carl, can I help you?" 

The man asking him was about forty, tall and well built. Danny blushed a bit, but was determined to go through with this. 

"I want to surprise my boyfriend. He's mentioned some of this, so I think he would like something." 

Boyfriend, how weird was that? Calling Mac his boyfriend? And yet it also made feel warm and fuzzy and he almost missed the guy's next question. 

"So you two never played before?" 

He shrugged and looking anywhere but at Carl he hazarded a guess. 

"He has, I haven't." 

Carl looked at him critically and then narrowed his eyes. 

"He's the top?" 

The thought of Mac being the one submitting made him smile for a second, then though he remembered all those nights when Mac couldn't sleep and willingly surrendered control to Danny and let himself be comforted by the younger man. Mac did submit to him, he realized, it was just a different way of submitting, a different setting. Noticing the look Carl gave him, he nodded. 

"Yeah, he is." 

Carl's eyes narrowed even further as he frowned. 

"Then he should be here and not you." 

Shaking his head annoyed, Danny wanted to say something, as Carl calmly stopped him. 

"It's how it works, boy. Toys, collars, all those things are the Dom's responsibility. He chooses them and he keeps them in good condition. It's not a Sub's decision which collar or plug to wear. All a Sub has to do is to follow his master's orders." 

The words made Danny shiver as they woke images of him tied to the bed and Mac selecting yet another item to torture and please him. Fixing Carl with eyes, he gave in and explained a bit more of his situation. 

"Once I get it through to him, that I want that, he can do all that, but first of all I need him to understand that I am serious about this." 

Carl looked thoughtful now, then walked over and grabbed some items from the selection. 

"Cuffs, a cockring and a plug" 

He took the leather cuffs from their box and put them around Danny's wrists. 

"Are they ok?" 

Danny shivered at the feeling, but they felt good and as he nodded Carl smiled. 

"Prepare yourself, put the ring on you, use the plug to open yourself, hand your lover the cuffs and tell him that you are prepared and waiting for him in bed." 

Danny could feel himself blush once more, but at the same time his body tensed and hardened at the thought of Mac's reaction to such an announcement. 

"And if he doesn't react, you might have to call an ambulance or an undertaker." 

There was a smile in Carl's eyes and Danny was glad that he didn't make any lewd comments. Neither did Nick, but his friend grinned and looked at him with a raised eyebrow. 

"Not a word" 

And Nick kept silent, but somehow his grin spoke volumes anyway. 


Tony woke slowly, then shivered as he felt Jethro next to him and opened his eyes to meet his lover's. 


A hand caressed his face lovingly and Jethro smiled. 

"You still feeling dizzy?" 

Sitting up, Tony waited for the dizziness to set in, but it didn't come back, even as he carefully shook his head. His muscles protested though and he groaned. 

"Not dizzy, but sore." 

Gently, Jethro urged him to lie down onto his stomach and then Tony felt the strong hands start to knead his back. His lover took his time, interrupting the gentle massage with soft kisses to his neck and back. 

"You scared me today." 

He was almost too tired to answer, but he could feel the tension in Jethro's body and remembered the concern and fear he'd seen in the blue eyes. 

"Won't leave you." 

Once more a kiss was pressed to his neck, this time though it was followed by a sharp bite, Tony yelped but immediately started purring again when Jethro soothed the bite with his tongue. 

"Damn right Tony, you won't leave me, cause I won't let you go." 

It should have scared him, but Jethro's hands were so tender, his lips so loving that he didn't even think twice, instead he just smiled and mumbled. 



Danny was up to something. Mac was sure of that. All afternoon his lover had been especially bouncy, almost hyper, adding a sheer constant blush and it was enough to make him suspicious. 

On the other hand, maybe he was overcompensating. Maybe he was disturbed by the evidence he and Nick were processing. Mac stood in front of the lab table and looked at the leather cuffs, the ball gag and the whip Nick and Danny had found at their victim's home. The items seemed to mock him, seemed to laugh at him. Every time he had watched Danny touch them his body had tightened while his mind had flashed back to another case where bondage had been involved. 

Danny had almost broken down back then; he had seen the whips and clamps and had paled. Mac had found him retching over a toilet and had held his shivering lover while Danny had talked about the abuse he'd endured at Sonny's hands. A shiver ran through Mac at the memory and he turned away from the evidence with a pained expression. Just seeing Danny handle such items had made him tense with longing. 

How could he feel like this, after he had witnessed what seeing the real thing did to his lover, after he had dried Danny's tears? How sick did it make him to still get turned on by the thought of Danny at his mercy? How perverted was he that he still dreamed of tying his lover up and make him lose control? 

The questions hurt him, shook his belief in who he was and he walked back to the office, closing the door behind himself grateful about the silence. Sitting down, Danny's words suddenly resonated through his mind. 

<i>"I can handle being your lover. I can take what you give me."</i> 

Danny had looked at him full of confidence and trust, but Mac's heart squeezed painfully and his mind projected other pictures in front of his eyes. They were pictures of a much younger Danny, a young man tied to a bed, tears in his eyes and streaming over his face. Mac had never told Danny about the photos, he had told his lover about the threats from Sonny and his lawyer, but he had never mentioned that he had been given terrible proof of his abuse. 

"Mac? Are you ok?" 

Nick's voice brought him back to reality and he saw him standing in the door looking concerned. 

"I'm fine, just tired. How's the case going?" 

How's Danny doing? But he didn't ask knowing that Danny hated being patronized, still though he could see that Nick heard the silent question underneath the asked one. 

"Going well, it certainly wasn't rape but consensual although rough play... Now we have to find out if the husband thought it was a rape or if he knew what it was. My guess is on the latter though." 

Mac nodded and Nick hesitated for a moment, finally walked into his office and closed the door. 

"Do you and the SVU have some history? Stabler almost bit my head off when I dared to question his assessment." 

Thinking back to the few times, he had worked with Benson and Stabler, Mac didn't come up with something that would warrant a lasting grudge. Nick shrugged and smiled easily. 

"Olivia is a sweetheart though, so it works out well." 

Mac saw him walk towards the door and for a moment, he wanted to ask him about Danny when Nick turned around once more. 

"Danny's alright Mac. And he knows that he can trust you." 


*Chapter 13 - Changes * 

Elliot watched as the husband was cuffed and led away. He had killed his wife and her lover. They didn't have a confession yet, but with the evidence they had found, they wouldn't even need one, they already had enough to convict him. Nick Stokes had been present during the interrogation, had in fact led the questioning to a certain degree and although Elliot hated admitting it, Stokes had done a great job. Now though, that the killer was out of the room, the calm mask had fallen and Stokes looked exhausted. 


Stokes smiled at Olivia and nodded. 

"Hard case" 

Elliot looked closer and saw the signs of stress, the fine lines of worry but Stokes seemed to notice his look and straightened. 

"Not this though, another one." 

A light shudder went through him and Elliot couldn't help asking. 

"What's it about?" 

Stokes' eyes were haunted as he turned around. 

"Dead boy found in his bed, beaten to death, the boy was eleven, his brother twelve." 

Elliot had heard of the case and had been relieved that SVU hadn't gotten it. From what he had heard, it had sounded like a nightmare and Stokes' eyes told him that his assessment had been right. Stokes sighed and stretched. 

"Well, I wanted to thank you. I know we participate more than you are used to." 

The small smile was teasing, but Elliot had learned his lesson and was man enough to say if he was wrong. 

"You did a great job, sorry for my behavior in the beginning." 

Now Stokes laughed openly and offered Elliot his hand. Elliot took it gratefully and Stokes grinned. 

"Don't worry about it. You know what they say, this could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship and anyway your partner is such a sweet heart, she easily makes up for one grumpy detective." 

Elliot grinned as he saw Olivia blush, but before he could formulate a response, Stokes' phone rang. He answered and nodded twice. 

"See you there in twenty." 

He sighed and took his jacket, then seeing Elliot's look, he explained without humor. 

"Double homicide, work never really stops in a city that never sleeps, does it?" 

He left and Elliot grinned at Olivia. 

"My partner is a sweet heart, now there's something I haven't heard before." 

She punched him playfully and he grinned. Olivia was a sweet heart, but like him she had her hard, rough side. Still she and Stokes would be a nice couple, maybe he should try and arrange something. 

"Forget about it" 

Her voice made him look up sharply, and even though he tried to look innocent, he knew that he had failed when she shook her head. 

"He's taken." 

He looked at her and frowned. 

"How do you know?" 

She gave him a look and turned back to her desk. 

"I asked him." 

Oh... well okay... 


"You wanted to see me?" 

Gibbs knew that the tone of his voice was not appropriate for addressing his boss, but he had a hard time seeing Jen as his boss. It wasn't because she was a woman, or because he had once trained her, no it simply was her way of mixing private and business, her non existent managerial skills and her treatment of his team that made him disregard her. 

"What is this?" 

She held Mac's complaint in her hands and he smiled friendly. 

"That is a complaint from Detective Mac Taylor, head of the CSI team we worked with in NY." 

His answer got him a cold and hard look, but she didn't put the complaint down. 

"I know what it is, but how dare this guy making such a complaint and even more send a copy to the supervisory board?" 

Well done Mac, he congratulated him silently, but kept himself under control as he answered the question. 

"Ziva verbally attacked two members of his team, I was there during one attack, didn't see the second one, but enough people did. She was out of control Jen, and Taylor has every right to file a complaint." 

She regarded him coldly and then took the paper and carelessly put it in a drawer. 

"Her version is quite different. She says he discriminated her right from the start based on the fact that she is a woman and Jewish." 

He couldn't believe it and slapped his hand hard onto the table, making Jen jump a bit. 

"He couldn't discriminate her, because he didn't give her any orders. She got them from me, so either I am the racist here or she is lying. Take your pick, I don't care." 

Shrugging casually, she reached for another paper while she answered him calm but with obvious glee, that the complaint had already been filed with the NYPD. Gibbs felt as if someone had slapped him. Mac had done everything to help him. He had seen how Mac had held himself back when he had wanted to hurt Ziva for attacking Danny and now that? Glaring at Jen, he leaned forward prepared to threaten her, when her phone rang. She smiled at him and answered, for a long time there was silence, then though she swallowed hard. 

"I understand Sir." 

Her face got pale, then red with an amazing speed and she swallowed once again. 

"No Sir, of course not... yes, I understand... no, I will call him immediately. Thank you Sir..." 

Her hand trembled as she put the phone down, but her eyes were shooting daggers at Gibbs. 

"You called Morrow." 

Gibbs returned her glare calmly, evenly. 

"I knew you would try to bury this." 

Still glaring at him, she calmed herself down and Gibbs knew that she would try to get back at him. He would have to watch his back around her, his and Tony's because he knew that Jen was smart enough to know that as his second in command Tony was important to him. He simply prayed that she would never find out just how important. 

"If that is all, then I'll go back to work." 

He got up, but she shook her head. 

"Tell Abby, that we hired an assistant for her." 

Blinking twice, he sat down again and shook his head. 

"Abby doesn't need an assistant." 

Her eyes were cold and hard, as she looked at him and something in her attitude made him shiver. 

"She does need one. Her reports are rarely finished on time, her analyses often come in late, and her overtime is always reaching the maximum." 

Fuming at the way she put Abby's work down, he wanted to tell Jen another piece of his mind, when she interrupted him before he could say anything. 

"This is not your call Jethro; you are not the one who decides this. This is my call and he will start in two weeks." 

Knowing better than to fight a losing battle, he shrugged and got up. 

"Well then, but I can tell you one thing for sure; I won't tell her. It's your call isn't it?" 

He left the office with a bad feeling, knowing that something was wrong; he just couldn't put his finger at it. Pushing his thoughts aside, he instinctively looked for his lover as he walked into the office and smiled as he saw Tony chew on a pen. It was irrational he knew, but sometimes he still felt as if he would lose Tony if he let him out of sight for any longer than a couple of minutes. 

"Reports in your inbox" 

Smiling at Tony's words, he opened his email and reached for his coffee. The first gulp made him look at his cup surprised and his smile had nothing to do with the coffee. He took another swig and savored the rich strong taste of his favorite roast. 

"Thanks DiNozzo" 

Tony nodded, but Gibbs saw the answering smile. Tony knew that he was thanked for the coffee and not for the report. 


"Mac, can you stay for a moment?" 

Looking at his supervisor, Mac felt a knot in his stomach. The budget meeting had gone well, he'd gotten the money he needed, but as he sat in Ralph Denton's office, he couldn't help feeling apprehensive. 

"How can I help?" 

Denton smiled and shook his head and the obvious amusement in his eyes made Mac relax a bit. The white complaint letter Denton handed over caught him by surprise. 

"Mac, Mac, you really know how to shake things up." 

Reading the letter, Mac swallowed hard. He was angry, but as he read the accusations, he started to feel a sliver of dread. 

"Do you take this serious?" 

Denton smiled and then casually shrugged. 

"The complaint was sent straight to the chief of police." 

The answer came as a shock, but again Denton's casual behavior didn't seem to fit the gravity of the situation. 

"No offence but I am being accused of discriminating someone and you find it amusing?" 

His boss smiled once more and handed him another letter. It had been faxed three hours after the complaint and contained an apology for the first complaint and the expressed wish to withdraw it. He read the signature and saw that it was signed by a Jennifer Sheppard, the same woman who had filed the complaint in the first place. 

"Ok, now what has really happened?" 

Taking a deep breath, Mac told Denton everything that had occurred from the point they had found the dead Navy Officer to the moment when the NCIS team had left again. Denton was silent and then sighed. 

"The chief of police wants to talk to you, but don't worry. He never really considered the complaint, still it helped that a second letter was faxed, someone at NCIS must like you." 

Mentally Mac made a note to thank Gibbs, but Denton wasn't finished yet. 

"But I actually called you because of something else. Your team has constantly exceeded the allowed overtime, and I know that you don't write down all your hours." 

It was an ongoing argument between them and Mac was immediately ready to defend his team, but before he could say anything, Denton handed him a paper with an organizational chart on it. Looking at the sheet, he could feel himself tense. His team was divided into two groups one led by Stella and one led by Nick. Danny would report to Stella, while two open head counts were marked under Nick's team. Trying to make sense of the change, Mac looked at Denton. 

"You're splitting my team up?" 

Denton frowned and shook his head. 

"No, we're adding two new CSIs and want to relieve you of some administrative duties." 

Mac was shocked to see that his hand was trembling as he put the sheet down. 

"So what? I am the one who writes the reports and oversees the lab? Ralph you know that I am not cut for this..." 

He trailed off when Denton looked at him sternly. Ralph Denton was over twenty years older than he was and he managed to make him feel like a school kid. Mac sighed and with a light glare he waited silently. 

"Believe me, I know that you are not an administrative person, but Mac you can't lead a team of six CSIs, oversee two laboratory functions with ten techs and still work on your own cases. You only manage because you don't sleep." 

Biting his lip, Mac kept silent knowing that Denton wasn't done yet. 

"This way you'll have to supervise two CSIs and manage the general overall administrative roles for the labs while Messer reports to Bonasera who will also oversee the lab personnel and the two new hires will report to Stokes. The three of you will have to coordinate regarding cases, but there is nothing that stops you from still working with your team." 

It made sense and now that he looked at it more rationally he could see that Denton was right and that the new set up would not change the day-to-day work too much. Smiling he looked up and met Denton's smiling eyes. 

"I overreacted..." 

A wry smile crossed Denton's face and Mac grinned. 

"You have been known to do so every once in a while." 

Mac blushed, but before he could say anything else, Denton looked at him seriously. 

"I know you want Messer to report to you, but Mac he can't and you know that." 

Mac froze and knew that this time his fear was visible in his face, but once more he forced himself to meet Denton's eyes and relaxed at the friendly smile. 

"I got a call a couple of weeks ago, the caller said that he'd take it to Hillbourn or even higher up, if I wouldn't act. Now I have acted and they can't touch either you or Danny." 

Denton had acted, but surely not in the way the anonymous caller had expected. Mac smiled lightly and closed his eyes in relief. 

"Thanks Ralph" 

Denton smiled and shrugged. 

"I told you when I hired you, that I would have your back." 

Denton had indeed told him that, but until now Mac had not been sure if he would follow up on the promise. Now he knew. 

"Now here, I have three applications. Have a look at them and talk to Stokes, see what he thinks." 

Mac took the three files and looked at the names. 

Lindsey Monroe, Travis Turnham and... 

"Sheldon Hawkes?" 

Denton shrugged. 

"It seems like our doctor has had enough of cutting through corpses." 

Mac shook his head, and then looked at the file once again. 

"He knows that such a transfer entails a pay cut and that he has to work for Nick?" 

He saw Denton nod and listened to his explanation that he had talked with Sheldon and that Sheldon had spoken about needing a new challenge. 

"He's a done deal, I guess." 

Mac nodded, he knew that Nick would love to work with Sheldon, hell they all would. Hawkes was a fun guy to be around and dedicated to what he did, handing Shel's file back to Denton, he held the two other up. 

"I'll go through them and discuss them with Nick." 

He was already at the door, when Denton called him back. 

"The new structure will be announced on Friday, but I congratulate you already Lieutenant." 

Lieutenant, Mac's head was spinning with the changes and revelations from the meeting. He knew that it would take time to sink in, but as he sat back at his desk he realized that he shivered with relief. Only now did he realize how close he had come to lose his job and Danny. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the two files then stopped and called Stella and Nick into his office, he wanted to tell them himself. 


"Yeah well, I had a hunch." 

Tony listened to the one sided conversation while reading his book at the same time. Didn't matter what Kate had always said, men could multitask too. 

"Wow, congrats then and tell Nick and Stella that I wish them well... Sheldon? Ok... well no, but I just had the mental image of Ducky... one word: long winded..." 

Tony sniggered and watched Jethro while he was talking to Mac. He felt silly, but the open and carefree laughter from Jethro made him feel warm and fuzzy. Waving at his lover he indicated that he said ‘hi', Jethro nodded and related his message before hanging up. Tony moved as Jethro sat down next to him and gently guided him so that his head was in Tony's lap. 

"They ok?" 

Jethro tensed and growled lightly. 

"Ziva filed a complaint against Mac. Jen of course sent it... The complaint was accusing him of racial and gender discrimination." 

Tony stopped the rhythmic strokes on Jethro's head and stared at him. 

"She what? What happened? Is Mac ok?" 

Jethro smiled and moved his head against Tony's hand. Tony grinned at the silent demand to keep caressing him, and he felt Jethro relax again as soon as he started the touches again. For a moment Tony forgot about being worried. 

"He got a promotion." 

Ok, somehow he had missed a few things, because he was pretty sure that no one got promoted in New York because they accused someone of discrimination. Jethro looked at him and smiled. 

"Jen had to withdraw the complaint so that cleared him, but his boss thinks he works too much. He's got two more CSIs and their team has been remodeled." 

Tony saw that Jethro hesitated and waited until he continued. 

"Danny isn't reporting to him anymore." 

He tensed and a shiver ran through him as he felt Gibbs' eyes on him. Not able to stand the look he turned his eyes away and forced himself to ask his lover the question he dreaded. 

"That is what you hope for us too? Do want me to get onto another team?" 

Jethro sat up so fast that Tony almost collided with him. The strong hands on his jaw forced him to look at Jethro and he relaxed as he saw the conviction in the blue eyes. 

"No, I don't want you anywhere else but right with me watching my back and me being able to watch yours." 

He felt like drowning in the blue gaze and instinctively leaned against Jethro. 

"Love you." 

Jethro smiled before capturing his lips with a kiss. Tony smiled and leaned against Jethro's body, this was nice. 

"Tom has our backs." 

The words took a second to register but as they did Tony reacted as if Jethro had slapped him. 

"You told who? What?" 

Tony was once more pressed against Jethro and he felt himself relax almost against his will while Jethro explained his reasons. 

"I told you I could not lose you, but believe me love; I can't protect you against Jen. Tom can." 

Shaking his head, Tony looked up and kissed Jethro's nose playfully. 

"I'm fine with it, just next time you out me, can you tell me before?" 


Nick left the office in a daze, Mac's words and their implications were still going trough his head. He had just been promoted. Not even a year since coming to New York, he had already reached a position he would never have gotten in Las Vegas. 

"Earth to Nick Stokes?" 

A hand waved in front of his face and he smiled at Stella. Her face was as shocked and confused as Nick's, but she also had a proud look on her face. 


She grinned and shook her head. 

"Do you always look like someone shot your best friend when you get promoted?" 

Her eyes twinkled and Nick laughed openly, but as he remembered his last promotion his laughter died, the day he had been promoted to level three, Holly had been killed. He shook his head, pushed the negative thoughts away and smiled as he took his coat from his locker. 

"That calls for a celebration." 

Stella nodded and then frowned. 

"Yeah, but Mac has to be a part too, let's discuss it with him ok? Now I'm going home to celebrate with my man." 

Smiling at her enthusiasm, Nick took his cell phone out and sent Don a quick text asking his lover whether or not he was done already. 

"So will I, I hope. Say hi to Frank and tell him he had to spoil you tonight." 

She laughed again and her happiness was infectious. 

"Oh, he will, don't worry." 

Nick was already at the car when his phone beeped and Don told him that he would be leaving work in an hour. Thinking for a second, Nick punched in the speed dial and grinned at the thought of Don's display now showing the name ‘Nicky'. It wasn't a lie, just some camouflage. 

"You are coming over?" 

Don hesitated and Nick knew the reason. They had been together almost every evening this week. In some ways it was a miracle that no one had caught on yet, but Nick knew that with every night they spent together, they put themselves more at risk. And still they needed the closeness, the connection and that was the reason, why Don's reply surprised him. 

"I can't actually, but can you meet me at the corner of 105 and Branson?" 

Holding his phone at his ear with his shoulder, Nick steered his car out of the station parking and smiled as Don suddenly growled. 

"No driving while talking on the phone, especially not while talking to a police officer ok?" 

It was an ongoing argument between them, one that was fought without passion but with much pleasure. 

"When shall I be there?" 

They agreed to meet in two hours and Nick drove back to his place to get showered and changed. His flat was small compared to the condo he had lived in while working in Las Vegas, but it felt so much more like home. Taking his jacket, his badge and his gun off was almost standard procedure for him by now and with a smile he walked over and pressed the answering machine. 

"Hi Nick, Tony here... just wanted to say congrats to the promotion... drinks on you next time, call me ok?" 

An amused chuckle escaped Nick as he realized that Tony had called to congratulate him before he himself had even known about it. 

"News travel fast." 

The tape beeped again and Greg's voice came through. 

"Hey bro... Got 260 points, beat that or I am the man!" 

260 points, not bad, but a glance at his watch told him that he had no time to start the game and try and beat the record. Don would not be happy if he explained that he was late for their meeting because he was trying to beat Greg at the playstation. Still he had time for a quick chat with Tony and he relaxed on the couch as he reached for the phone. 


Nick smiled and suddenly wondered if Tony came up as a girl on Gibbs' caller ID too. 

"Tony how are you?" 


Don was nervous as he waited for Nick. He wasn't sure if Nick would like the idea or not and so he just hoped that at least his lover would not be angry. Slowly his eyes trailed over the object he'd been searching for so long. It was nice, but what made it even better was, it was not only nice, but also perfect for them. 

"Hey there." 

Nick had taken the subway, something he had started doing only recently. It was another proof how far Nick had come since he'd moved to New York, how much he had healed and with a smile of love, Don nodded at his lover. 

"Hey yourself" 

Nick looked around and Don saw his eyes sweep over the area. Nick was assessing the neighbour hood in the same way everyone working in law enforcement automatically did. The subtle relaxing of muscles made Don smile, the area had obviously passed Nick's test. 

"Why are we here?" 

Now or never, Don swallowed hard and pointed towards the building next to them. 

"Looking at apartments" 

Nick froze and Don cursed himself, before he could say anything though, Nick frowned. 

"I didn't know you wanted to move." 

He had to come clear now, but his throat was dry and all that came out was. 

"It's not for me." 

Nick stared at him and then slowly asked again. 

"Who is it for?" 

His lover's eyes told him, that Nick had already guessed and taking a deep breath Don confirmed what Nick had thought. 


He saw Nick's eyes widen, but before he could say anything, Don caught his hand and squeezed it gently. 

"Don't say no right away ok? Let's look at it and then go home and talk, please?" 

He knew that he was damn close to begging, but he wanted this, had wanted it since his father had told him about the empty apartments. Don knew that Nick and he were in for the long haul and he had already talked with his parents about the possibility of getting a loan. He wanted to stop pretending and be together with his partner despite the added risk for his job and that had been when his father had told him about the house. Nick was still looking at him, and then a smile crossed his face. 

"Let's take a look." 

The agent had waited at the door and smiled friendly as she showed them around while explaining the unique setting of the flats. They had been built for a separated couple that had remained friends and although two separate flats with separate entries, it had a connecting door which basically turned it into one big apartment if the tenants wished so. Don watched Nick as they walked around and he could see how his lover started to show more and more interest. 

Finally they sat down at the table in what would be the living room, the agent explained about the cost and the payment structure while Nick nodded and asked several questions. Don just sat there and tried to imagine how the flat would look like after he and Nick had moved it. It was perfect for them, two entrances on different streets; they would even have different addresses and still one big apartment where they would live together. 

"We'll contact you, thank you very much!" 

The agent left and on the way home, Nick looked as if he were in deep thoughts until he finally looked up and at Don. 

"You planned this long ago, didn't you?" 

There was a smile in his face and love shone from his eyes. Don felt something inside him relax as he understood that Nick wasn't angry. 

"Do you want it?" 

Don stopped in front of Nick's house, but didn't get out instead fixed Nick with a serious look. Nick nodded but his eyes were unreadable. 

"Yeah, I do, but we have to talk it through first." 

His eyes changed and revealed a deep longing. 

"God Don, you have no idea how often I dreamed of this. How often I wished..." 

Nick trailed of and Don understood him only too well, their eyes met and suddenly they were out of the car and almost raced each other up to Nick's flat. As soon as Don had closed the door behind him, Nick's lips were on his, the fast and hard kiss took his breath away and made his knees buckle. Gasping lightly, he looked at Nick. 

"I got promoted today." 

Don really wanted to congratulate his lover properly, but Nick batted his hands away and slowly slid down along his body until he was on his knees. 

"Do I get a reward?" 

Batting his eyes playfully, Nick grinned as he opened Don's fly and Don moaned as cool, sure hands stroked him. His hands formed fists and his head fell back against the wall as Nick's lips closed over him. 

"Nick... love you..." 

The words were intelligible and Nick moaned in answer as he slowly took Don's hands, pried them open and put them on his head. Don didn't need any more encouragement and as he looked down and saw Nick's hand stroking himself furiously, he cried out once more and spilled into his lover's mouth. Nick groaned then gasped and Don watched as he shuddered in the throws of orgasm. Sliding down along the wall, Don wrapped his arms around his lover. 

"Congratulations to the promotion" 


*Chapter 14 – Beginnings and Ends* 

"So you are selling the house in Vegas?" 

Nick nodded at Danny's question. His friend's hair was mussed and his eyes had that glitter that spoke of a heavy make out session, but his hand and voice were steady. Nick wondered how Mac and Danny had managed to escape for five or ten minutes without anyone noticing. Looking around he noticed the slightly inebriated state of most people and smiled, ok maybe it hadn't been that hard. 

"Yeah, it's not like I'll ever need it anymore and I need the money for the new place." 

He still couldn't believe that he and Don would soon be living together and Danny's smile told him that his friend was thinking somewhere along his line. 

"Maybe I'll have to start house hunting and Mac will get the hint." 

The man in question smiled and gently cuffed Danny in the back of his head. Danny yelped and turned to glare at his lover, Nick saw Mac's smile as he answered the unspoken complaint. 

"I've got my eyes and ears open. I want this as much as you do." 

Mac had spoken quietly, but now he stepped back from Danny and cleared his voice. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to say a few words..." 

Nick watched as Mac once more welcomed everyone to the party, explained the new structure and promised that nothing would change. The last was something Nick hoped too and leading Danny away from the noise, he looked at his friend. 

"Danny, are you fine with this? I feel like I stole your promotion." 

Danny laughed and shook his head. 

"No, you didn't. I did that myself when I didn't trust Mac to have my ass. Don't worry Nick, I'm not jealous, we're good, believe me." 

That was it and once more Nick was glad that he had met Danny, and out of an impulse, he clasped Danny's shoulder. 

"Thanks Danny" 

His friend smiled and as their eyes met, Nick saw that Danny understood what he really meant. 



Danny's eyes followed Nick's as his friend left the room. He had been surprised about Nick's question, but he had answered honestly. He wasn't jealous that Nick had gotten promoted. Nick had more experience and a better knowledge than he had and if he was honest, he had absolutely no interest in all the administrative work that came with a promotion. 

"You look edible." 

Mac spoke low, his voice was not carrying further than his ears and Danny shivered in response to it. Turning around he smiled at his lover, his boss and partner. 

"So do you." 

And Mac really did in the more casual clothing he wore for the promotion drinks and Danny had to force himself not to touch him. 

"Leave in an hour?" 

Mac nodded and walked over to greet Jane. Danny's eyes swept over the crowd and he smiled as he watched Sheldon talking animatedly with his replacement Dr. Sid Hammerback. Sheldon had started as a CSI three weeks ago and a girl called Lindsey Monroe would start next Wednesday. There were many changes, but Danny wasn't afraid of them anymore. He had found his place and he grinned as his eyes met Don's who pointed towards Stella. She had gotten stuck with an IAB guy and she growled lightly and exchanged a glare with both Danny and Don, before politely excusing herself. Danny checked his watch and made his exit. Mac would come home thirty minutes later unless they got another case. 

Danny smiled; he hoped that no causes would come up, because he had a surprise planned for Mac. 


The first thing Mac noticed was that Danny had cleaned his apartment. His lover wasn't generally messy, but his flat tended to be cluttered with things. Tonight though everything was neat and clean, and Mac smiled, he looked forward to a nice evening with his lover. 

"Danny, you want a beer?" 

There was a noise from the bedroom and Danny's voice sounded through the flat. 

"I'll get you one in a minute." 

Smiling again, Mac groaned as he sat down onto the couch and stretched his legs. He was tired but not exhausted, just pleasantly drained. 


Something in Danny's voice alerted him, but he still gasped as he stared at his lover. Danny wore a pair of tight black boxer shorts and nothing else. Any sleepiness disappeared as Danny stalked towards Mac and Mac swallowed hard as his body tensed and all blood rushed south. Danny looked very much like a hunter stalking his prey and right now, Mac very much felt like said prey. Finally Danny was standing right in front of him, but to Mac's shock he didn't sit down instead gracefully kneeled down next to the couch. 

"Danny what is..." 

His words trailed off as Danny pulled a box from under the couch. He recognized the brand and knew what it was. Shaking his head, he wanted to back away, but Danny took one of his hands and guided it towards his cock. His lover was hard and hot, the heat scalding even with the shorts between his hand and the skin and Mac groaned at the look of passion in Danny's face. He tensed as his hand reached something hard. 

"I told you before, that I want you to do it. But you never did, are you still going to hold back now? Please Mac, I am prepared, I ache for you, please take these..." 

For a second Mac hesitated, but his own desire had flared up strongly as he listened to Danny's pleas and looking once more deep into the blue eyes, he made his decision. 

"Go to the bedroom, take of your clothes and lie down on your back." 

Danny almost ran towards the bedroom. Mac's eyes followed him; somehow he had always known that one day it would come to this, that one day he would claim Danny completely. 

And today would only be the start. 


Don woke to find the bed next to him empty. Frowning he got up and finally found Nick in the living room. 

"You ok?" 

Nick nodded, and turning around showed him a CD. 

"What is it?" 

Nick's face was in the shadows, but Don saw the tension in his lover's body. He thought about it, but couldn't think of anything that would have driven Nick away from their bed. 

"It's the feed from the camera in the box... I... I asked Grissom to send me a copy." 

Don was at Nick's side as his voice wavered and pulled him close to his body. Tiny shivers ran through Nick as he continued speaking. 

"I thought that I needed to see it, you know, to really make an end. But somehow I don't think that anymore. I think I got closure long ago." 

He hadn't known he had been holding his breath until Nick finished, but the deep sigh came from his heart and he pulled Nick even closer. 

"Then don't look at it. Keep it locked somewhere, but don't watch it unless you feel you need to. And if that ever happens, I will watch it with you." 

Nick turned in his arms and smiled at him. 


Don watched as Nick put the CD away and held his hand out. 

"Let's go to bed." 


Gibbs watched from the door as Abby and Tony bantered back and forth. They had not yet noticed him and he allowed himself a couple of moment of just looking at his lover. 

"You two fit." 

Ducky's voice was calm and friendly as he patted Gibbs' arm and stepped up next to him. 

"Don't lose him." 

Gibbs tensed for a moment, but his voice was sure as he answered.