An Exchange of Favors

by Juli

December 2004


FBI Agent T.C. Fornell stared down into his glass before taking a large gulp of the liquid it contained. His grimace wasn’t only due to the burn of the alcohol, but also for the reminder that the drink itself represented.

Bourbon. Jethro Gibbs had reminded him of its existence some months back; yet one more thing he owed the NCIS agent.

Damn.

Fornell hated owing anyone, but he especially hated owing Gibbs, the most honorable, but insufferable, man it’d been Fornell’s misfortune to meet. Of course, if he hadn’t met Gibbs, Fornell knew he’d currently be in a shitload of trouble, so maybe “misfortune” wasn’t the best word choice. Still… it was Gibbs, for God’s sake, the man who would steal bullets and bodies to keep jurisdiction on a case. The word “insufferable” came to mind again and, suddenly, “misfortune” seemed a perfectly logical word choice after all.

When Fornell had become convinced that one of his own FBI agents was dirty, it had been serendipity that his case had dove-tailed with a NCIS investigation. It’d wounded his pride something awful, but he’d immediately latched on to Gibbs as his one hope of catching the bastard that had caused undercover FBI agents to be murdered. Gibbs might be a bastard, but he was an honest bastard and Fornell knew that he needed someone he could trust to bring down both his dirty agent and Napalitano, a criminal he’d been fruitlessly chasing for months.

And Gibbs had done it. Helped Fornell clear his own name and nab some of the bad guys involved. Not all of them, but enough to appease both Fornell’s pride and his superiors. Of course, Gibbs had accomplished it by faking Fornell’s own death, but since it was a temporary situation, the FBI agent could deal with it.

What Fornell couldn’t deal with was the aftermath. The paperwork was a necessary evil, but one he was used to. No, it was the owing that was killing him. Specifically, owing the insufferable Leroy Jethro Gibbs a favor. Not only a favor, but a favor of monumental proportions.

Fornell swirled the remnants of his bourbon in his glass before he downed it. He grimaced again, but this time, he let the bite of the alcohol stimulate his thinking processes. He’d established that he hated owing Gibbs a favor. All right, then. If he didn’t want it hanging over him for the foreseeable future, the logical next step would be to return the favor in a proactive way. All he had to do was think of something Gibbs wanted. Given the size of the favor that the NCIS agent had done him, whatever it was had better be something Gibbs wanted badly. Very, very badly.

Fornell tilted his head to the side as he considered that last thought. Maybe, it wasn’t some*thing* Gibbs wanted, after all...

Tony DiNozzo glared at the offending file folder. If it wasn’t bad enough that Gibbs had rushed off on his own with that FBI agent, T.C. F-ing Fornell, now he was expecting Tony and Kate to file the resultant paperwork. It wasn’t fair.

“I can’t believe he expects us to take care of this,” Kate grumbled. “We weren’t even there.”

Predictably, hearing Kate give voice to the same complaint he’d just been thinking made Tony immediately leap to Gibbs’ defense.

“He’s meeting with the director,” DiNozzo said. “Besides, Gibbs couldn’t have either one of us at the exchange with Napalitano. He needed to flush out the bad FBI agent and that wouldn’t have happened with us tagging along.”

“I know that, Tony,” Kate responded, annoyance coloring her voice. “But he didn’t have back-up people he knew and trusted. I guess that’s bothering me more than this paperwork.”

Since Tony had been worried about exactly the same thing, he merely shrugged. Normally, he would have said something glib about how Gibbs was so good that he didn’t need back-up, but he couldn’t deny he’d been hurt not to be asked. Or, apparently, even missed.

Tony turned his attention back to the form he’d been trying to fill out. Interagency competition wasn’t the real reason that NCIS, FBI, and the CIA didn’t cooperate more often; bureaucracy was. With all the paperwork it generated, who’d want to work together?

“Well, speak of the devil,” Kate muttered softly.

Tony looked up to see Agent T.C. F-ing Fornell himself stepping off the NCIS elevator.

“Great,” he said softly, shoving the files he was working on away from him and leaning back in his chair. Things were looking up. FBI baiting was always fun and, after recent events, there was no other FBI agent Tony would rather mock than Fornell.

DiNozzo watched the other agent walk through the office towards him. There was no doubt what Fornell’s destination was; the FBI agent’s gaze never wavered as he crossed the room.

“What’s the matter, Fornell?” Tony called out when the other man was still several steps away. He raised his voice to be heard, not at all unhappy that his co-workers would easily overhear. “Got some more dirty Feds you need help bringing down? Gibbs isn’t here at the moment, but he’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Kate snickered, for once encouraging DiNozzo’s antics. Tony flashed her a quick grin before turning to enjoy Fornell’s reaction.

The FBI agent disappointed him. Fornell was leaning against Gibbs’ desk, relaxed and even smiling. Instead of being angry, Fornell gave every appearance of having enjoyed Tony’s quip.

“It’s good to see you in fine form, Special Agent DiNozzo,” Fornell drawled. “But I’m not here to see Gibbs.”

Tony’s smile faltered. “You’re not?”

Fornell shifted until he was all but sitting on Gibbs’ desk. “No. As you so ably pointed out, the FBI is currently short a couple of agents.”

Kate and Tony shared a surprised look before Kate asked, “You’re recruiting? Here?”

“I don’t think of it as ‘recruiting,’” Fornell explained. “I like to think of it as giving a fellow civil servant the opportunity to trade up.”

”Ooooh, better not let Gibbs hear you say that,” Tony warned.

Fornell shrugged. “Special Agent Gibbs has my utmost respect. Knowing him as I do, I’m sure the members of his team receive a steady stream of verbal praise, to let them know how much he *personally* appreciates their skill and dedication.” Fornell dropped the sarcasm and looked directly at Tony. “You especially, Agent DiNozzo.”

Maybe it was the intensity of Fornell’s gaze or the way he’d leaned as far forward into Tony’s space as he could, but the odd inflection the FBI agent used with the pronunciation of Tony’s last name made him shiver. If he didn’t know better, he’d think that Fornell was flirting with him.

“*Especially* Tony?” Kate asked. She seemed torn between disbelief and laughter.

Fornell glanced briefly beyond Tony’s shoulder and smiled slightly before answering. “Unfortunately, Agent Todd, the FBI is currently hip deep in profilers. What we really need are creative thinkers who have unquestionable loyalty. So, yes, especially I’d love to be able to recruit Tony.”

The FBI were not Tony’s favorite people. He’d disliked them as a former cop and found even more not to like as NCIS. As for T.C. F-ing Fornell personally, other than his recent pique over Fornell’s usurping of Gibbs’ time, Tony hadn’t thought of him at all. Now, however, was a different story. The FBI agent was older, but certainly not past his prime – not unlike a certain NCIS senior agent that Tony lusted after. There was no question that Fornell was no Gibbs, but he was right in front of Tony and was being frank with his appreciation. Despite what he’d told Kate earlier, Tony was still stinging from Gibbs’ refusal to confide in him on the Napalitano case. Although Tony had absolutely no intention of jumping ship to join the FBI, he couldn’t help but lap up the attention.

“Really,” Tony said, leaning forward in his chair. “Tell me more.”

Fornell looked Tony up and down slowly, as if the younger man were an ice cream cone he had every intention of licking. “The FBI could certainly use a man of your talents and considerable… attributes.”

“Do tell.”

Both Tony and Kate jumped. It was Gibbs who had responded. The older agent had come up behind them without being noticed, presumably finished with his meeting. Tony flushed, wondering how much the senior agent had overheard.

“Can’t blame a man for trying,” Fornell said, not the least bit embarrassed.

“You do your recruiting or your ‘trading up,’ whatever the hell you want to call it, on your own time,” Gibbs growled. “Leave my people alone to get their work done. Work, I might add, that included saving your ass.”

“Okay, I can take a hint,” Fornell said. He turned to leave, but at the last minute, handed Tony a business card. “If you decide you want to find out more, here’s how to reach me.” His hand lingered just a fraction too long on Tony’s. “Call me any time.”

DiNozzo took the card, not knowing what else to do to make the man leave faster. What he really wanted was for the floor to open up and swallow him. It didn’t cooperate, however, remaining distressingly solid as Fornell sauntered back to elevator and left. Kate, smart coward that she was, had already conspicuously returned to her own work.

Pasting a sickly smile on his face, Tony turned to Gibbs. “Hey there, Boss. You’re back early.”

“I’d say I’m back just in time,” Gibbs replied.

“This?” Tony held up the card. “I was just sizing up the competition, Boss. I wouldn’t be caught dead joining the Feds, honest. I was just toying with him.” He ripped up the business card and tossed it like confetti.

The action seemed to mollify the older man. Gibbs nodded brusquely and sat down behind his desk, glaring at the spot where Fornell had so recently been leaning.

With a sigh and a shrug at Kate’s muffled laughter, Tony sat back down himself. That had *not* gone well, but at least Gibbs had only tuned in to the supposed job offer. There’d definitely been something more personal layered in Fornell’s pitch, but luckily that seemed to have gone completely over Gibbs’ head.

At least, Tony hoped it had.

Glancing over at Gibbs, DiNozzo was startled to see two very blue, very angry eyes focused directly on him. He gulped. Seeing that he had Tony’s attention, Gibbs mouthed something, words that Tony had no trouble understanding and that made him gulp for an entirely new reason.

For the words that Leroy Jethro Gibbs had mouthed had been, “You’re mine.”

T.C. Fornell sat back in his armchair, with a warm glass of milk. His bed was beckoning, but he needed to wait for an important phone call. That he’d waited so long was actually a good sign.

About twenty minutes later, the phone obliged him. He looked at the number on his call waiting display and grinned. Insufferable, honorable AND predictable – at least in this situation - that was Gibbs.

He picked up the receiver and wasn’t entirely surprised when the man on the other end of the line didn’t give him a chance to speak before launching into a diatribe.

“Fornell, what the hell did you think you were doing?” Gibbs barked at him. “I lay it on the line to clear your name and sweep up the FBI’s crap and you come into my office and try to recruit one of my people? I didn’t expect flowers and a pretty speech, but I expected more gratitude than that.”

“There’s gratitude and then there’s gratitude,” Fornell responded, not at all intimidated. In fact, he was laughing as he spoke. “I got you something much better than flowers and a speech. Although, I do have to admit that he’s pretty.”

There was a brief moment of silence before Gibbs responded. “You want to try talking sense, Fornell? What do you mean?”

Fornell wasn’t through playing with Gibbs yet. The NCIS agent wasn’t the only one who could be a bastard, after all. There was a definite tone of smugness in his voice when he spoke next.

“Please tell me that the reason you’re calling so late is that you were… busy… with Special Agent DiNozzo. In fact, if you’re not calling from the bed you’re now sharing with him, or at least from the next room, I’ll be deeply disappointed.” Fornell realized that he was only half teasing. “In fact, if you’re not, I might actually recruit him, because obviously you wouldn’t be deserving of him.”

He wished that he had a video phone, so he could see the look on Gibbs’ face.

“You mean, that crap about recruiting DiNozzo was all a ploy?” Gibbs finally asked when he was through sputtering.

“It wasn’t crap. Your Anthony is a hell of an agent, any agency would be happy to get him. But… I owed you,” Fornell explained, settling back in his chair. “For helping me with Charles and Napalitano. I tried to think of something you wanted and all I could think of was DiNozzo.”

“You manipulative little….“

Fornell cut him off. “And knowing you, I figured you wouldn’t make the first move on a subordinate without a damn good reason, so I publicly moved into your territory to *give* you that reason. I hope you like your gift, Gibbs, I all but wrapped him in a bow for you.”

“Fornell….” For the first time in their acquaintance, Gibbs seemed to be at a loss for words.

“This is your last chance to tell me that you finally made a move on DiNozzo,” the FBI agent warned. “Because if not, I swear to God that I’ll be back tomorrow, recruiting for real.”

“Tony and I…” Gibbs said hesitantly, “Reached an understanding. That’s all I’m gonna say. I don’t kiss and tell.”

Fornell was surprised to realize that he was slightly disappointed. He’d noticed Tony the very first time he’d crossed paths with Gibbs, of course, but never really *noticed* him until recently. He would have enjoyed ‘recruiting’ Tony, enjoyed it a lot.

He was about to say as much to Gibbs when a sleepy voice could be heard in the background.

“Jethro, come back to bed. My feet are getting cold.”

Fornell laughed. “That says it all, Gibbs.”

There was a muffled sound as a hand covered the receiver on the other end. Fornell could hear male voices, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. It didn’t matter, he could practically see Gibbs’ blush, all the way through the telephone lines.

“Fornell,” the NCIS agent said when he got back on the phone. “I don’t know what to say.”

“That favor you did me with the Napalitano case?” Fornell responded. “I officially no longer owe you for your help.”

Gibbs laughed softly. “No, I guess not. Matter of fact, I might owe you now.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve got another Anthony DiNozzo in your pocket, do you?” Fornell asked, the forlorn note in his voice only partly pretend.

“No,” Gibbs laughed again. “But I’ve got three ex-wives I could introduce you to.”

“Thanks but no thanks,” the FBI agent snorted. “We’ll just call it even. Good night.”

“Good night,” Gibbs responded, then he added, “By the way, Fornell, come sniffing around Tony again for *any* reason and we’re gonna have words.”

Fornell grinned. Yes, in some aspects, Jethro Gibbs *was* perfectly predictable. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Good.” Gibbs replied with characteristic brevity. “And, Fornell? Thanks.”

The line went dead before Fornell could respond. He shook his head at the genuine gratitude that had been in Gibbs’ voice and lifted his milk glass in a salute to the NCIS agent. “You’re welcome, Gibbs.”

Satisfied, Fornell stretched and got up. If he ever got tired of the FBI, apparently he had a future ahead of him as a matchmaker. He snorted as soon as he thought it. Who was he kidding? Jethro Gibbs was an exception to many rules. Only Gibbs’ own sense of honor had kept him from doing what so obviously needed to be done with DiNozzo. All he’d required was a little push. Fornell couldn’t expect another matchmaking endeavor to have the same kind of success.

As he made his way to his solitary bed, Fornell hoped that Gibbs would take care of Tony. Surprisingly, he even hoped that DiNozzo would take care of Gibbs. On a more personal note, the mental pictures that arose at the thought of the two other men ‘taking care’ of each other probably would be fodder for keeping Fornell in sweet dreams for the foreseeable future. And why not? Gibbs *did* say that he owed Fornell a favor now. A little fantasizing would pay that off nicely.

Even if Fornell went to great lengths to make sure that Gibbs never found out about it.

~the end~

 

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