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Gibbs drove to his house at his usual insane speed, deep in thought.


He’d known that something was up with his SFA for a few weeks now. Tony had been acting more over-the-top than usual – not by enough of a margin to really raise suspicion amongst most of the team, but enough for Gibbs to pick up on it. Despite what others might think, Gibbs really did pay attention to his subordinates’ lives. He just didn’t show it much. Tony’s movie quotes, inappropriate jokes, pranks, and outrageous stories had definitely increased.


Gibbs didn’t like it.


He knew Tony well enough by now to stay alert when the younger man started acting out. Though his SFA hadn’t crossed any serious lines yet, he was certainly toeing the edge with gusto. Just this week he had glued McGee’s keyboard to the desk with the board’s North-South orientation inverted so everything was backwards, swiped Ziva’s phone and scrolled through her texts before she almost broke his fingers taking it back, deliberately gave Abby too many Caf-Pows to see what would happen, and goaded Ducky into telling even more stories than normal before walking away and letting the ME talk Gibbs’ ear off, grinning manically as he passed his boss on the way out. Gibbs’ hand was still smarting from all the headslaps he’d doled out.


Gibbs’ gut was in an uproar over all the signs he was seeing that not all was as it appeared with Tony. He knew better than to outright ask what was going on; Tony would dodge the questions with a level of skill that frankly amazed the former Marine. Pinning Tony down was almost impossible if one didn’t catch him off-guard or wait for the man to open up first.


Tony had also been avoiding Gibbs’ basement, a fact that had not escaped the older man. Gibbs knew that his basement was Tony’s refuge. The younger man would show up with pizza and beer, plant himself on a stool or the bottom step, and ramble on about nothing and everything while Gibbs worked on his boat (or, lately, a smaller project) and grunted at the appropriate moments. Sometimes, just maybe, Tony would open up a little and say something that actually held meaning, and in those rare moments Gibbs would finally stop whatever he was doing, make eye contact, and say whatever it was his SFA had come there to hear.


Gibbs absolutely refused to admit out loud how much he enjoyed those times together and how much he needed Tony to come to him with his problems. Since his girls had died, he’d lived a tough, lonely life. He didn’t let too many people get close, and even those who did manage to penetrate the stone walls around his heart found it difficult to get to the softer, gentler center that surely existed somewhere inside the gruff, hardened Marine-turned-Agent. Abby had seen it more than most, glimpsed the Holy Grail that was a vulnerable Gibbs a time or two, but even she could not say for sure that she’d ever experienced a pre-loss Gibbs. Sometimes Gibbs felt like the man he had been when his girls were alive had died by the same bullet that killed them; his ghost could be felt, perhaps, but it was an ethereal thing, there and gone again like smoke in a breeze.


Still, just because people didn’t see that side of him anymore didn’t mean the man didn’t care, and care deeply at that. He couldn’t help it; Gibbs had always been fiercely loyal and protective, even possessive; his time in the Corps had only solidified those traits in him that had run deep long before he left his hometown. Gibbs knew he was the kind of man who needed people to take care of and keep safe, and losing his wife and daughter had broken him in a way that he hadn’t thought possible. Not even the death of his mother had hurt like that, and it was her death and the fallout thereof that had sent him running from Stillwater and his father at the earliest opportunity.


It was that well-hidden sense of caring and concern that had driven Gibbs to tail Tony after work earlier. He knew that his SFA was up to something, but not knowing the details was driving his gut wild. He would have felt guilty about it if there hadn’t already been plenty of times where following the man would have prevented a lot of trouble. Besides, Gibbs trusted his gut to an almost insane degree – at least, it would be insane if it wasn’t right 99.9% of the time.


He hadn’t intended to approach the younger man, merely check up on him and see if he couldn’t piece together just what exactly was going on. However, when he saw Tony park at his apartment building, walk a few blocks, and get into a truck that Gibbs had never seen before, Gibbs knew that something big was going down. Was the man undercover again? Gibbs hoped not; he’d have to kill him this time for not telling him what was going on, and hiding a body after the crazy week they’d had sounded like more trouble than it was worth.


When Tony had pulled up to that storage bay and opened up one of the units, Gibbs had felt his stomach drop. He couldn’t make out from where he was on the street what was inside, but he was thinking that it couldn’t be anything good. He had gotten out of his car and made his way to the unit with his typical silent gait, sure that Tony had no idea he was there. The fact that Tony hadn’t spotted his tail – after all, his Challenger didn’t exactly blend in – bothered him. Tony never let his guard down like that. What on earth was going on with his Senior Field Agent?


He had almost laughed when he startled the man with his question; only his years of practice at sneaking up on Tony kept even the faintest hint of a smirk off his lips. He had seen the flash of guilt cross Tony’s face as he turned to face him, there and gone almost before it could be registered. Anybody else would have missed it, but Gibbs was not just anybody.


Gibbs’ worry and concern had slid into confusion and, quite honestly, amusement when he realized what was in the storage unit. Camping gear? A kayak? What the…? The thought of Tony camped out somewhere, cooking over an open fire with a freshly-pitched tent behind him had almost been enough to make Gibbs laugh for the second time that night. His SFA was so green when it came to all things outdoors that he blended in with the treetops. Their little excursion to Arizona last year had proven that!


Still, there was something going on here that Gibbs didn’t yet understand, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it. Gibbs had the feeling, deep in his gut, that perhaps he didn’t know his SFA as well as he thought he did. He knew these were Tony’s things, knew it in a way that he couldn’t explain but trusted anyway, and he could tell that a lot of time and money had gone into the collection of gear hanging on the walls and stacked carefully on the floor.


Something wasn’t tracking right, and Gibbs had the feeling that Tony had been hiding more than a storage unit from him. Could he really have fooled him that well? It was certainly possible – the fiasco that was Jeanne Benoit was just the top entry in a long list of DiNozzoian subterfuges that had slid past Gibbs for at least a little while before their inevitable discovery. Suddenly, Gibbs was wondering what entries on that list he hadn’t yet discovered.


Gibbs’ offer to accompany DiNozzo had surprised them both, but Gibbs’ gut had twanged in agreement so he hadn’t taken it back or said anything to scare his agent off. He just stared, waiting, knowing that DiNozzo would acquiesce. He couldn’t completely hide his smile of satisfaction when DiNozzo agreed, and it wasn’t until after he was in his car and driving away that he realized Tony hadn’t actually said anything about what was going on or answered any of his questions, asked or implied.


Gibbs let out a rueful chuckle at that realization, impressed despite himself at how devious his SFA could be. That brought him out of his woolgathering and into the more practical matter at hand of what to pack and where exactly everything was located. The weather this time of year could still be cool, even this far south, and Gibbs wanted to cover his bases. Hell would freeze over before the former Marine would let himself get caught in the wild unprepared.


Gibbs pulled into his driveway and made his way into his house, his mind already sorting through his gear and making lists. He didn’t notice the eyes watching him, didn’t feel the gaze raise the hairs on the back of his neck.


He didn’t hear the click of the telephoto lens or hear the murmured threats directed his way, nor did he sense the unrelenting hatred pouring out across the street like a black sludge from the car parked discreetly less than a block away.


The driver, satisfied with the photos, set his camera aside and continued to watch. Gibbs was oblivious as the man, a cruel half-smile upon his lips, spoke into the early evening sunlight that shone so at odds with his words:


“I’m coming for you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you and that obnoxious Senior Field Agent of yours. I’ll make you watch as I gut him slowly in front of you. It will be the last thing you ever see before you die, screaming in agony. I swear it!”

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