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by: Xanthe (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 006 Word Count: 135758
Rating: ADULT
Warning(s): Disturbing Imagery or Content, Other (See Author's Note)
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo
Summary: When Gibbs investigates a minor robbery, he uncovers something much more sinister. The resulting investigation has unexpected and far-reaching consequences.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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Damage - Part Three: Disintegration

McGee got into the office early and had the report Gibbs had asked for ready and waiting on his desk by the time Ziva arrived. He felt uncomfortable being around her, working on this case and not being able to speak to her about it. He longed to talk to someone. Gibbs had ordered him not to say anything though, and he could understand why – this wasn't his secret to tell. Tony would either tell people himself, or Gibbs would do it for him if he thought they needed to know.

It had been hard for McGee to get that image of Boy 43 out of his head all night, and he hadn't slept much. Every time he closed his eyes he saw those photographs, and it was impossible for him to reconcile the scared child in those pictures with the man he'd been working alongside these past six years. Tony was so self-assured, so confident, and so…annoying. There was no getting around the fact that Tony could irritate them all when he was in one of his bored moods, but now McGee regretted every harsh word he'd ever said to him.

"Tony is late. Gibbs will not be happy," Ziva commented, breaking into his train of thought. McGee doubted Gibbs would care in the circumstances. "Gibbs is also late," Ziva added, with a frown. "Now that is much more unusual. Do you know what is going on, McGee?"

He glanced up, unwilling to tell an outright lie.

"Yes," he said, and then he looked back at what he was working on, reviewing a list of missing persons dating back to the 1970s, checking through all the boys aged under eighteen.

"Well?" Ziva raised an eyebrow.

"I can't say," McGee told her. That was like a red rag to a bull. She got up, came over, and perched on the side of his desk, her eyes sparkling with mischief.

"A mystery? Hmmm - I like mysteries," she said, twirling some of her dark hair between her fingers.

"It's not that kind of mystery, Ziva," he told her firmly, pushing her off his desk.

"What does that mean?" She looked surprised that her joking tone had been so comprehensively rebuffed.

"It means it's not something to be ferreted out – it's not funny, it's not a practical joke, or something we can all laugh about. It's serious, and it's not…it's not something I can talk about. Maybe Gibbs or Tony will tell you, but I can't."

"Very well. My apologies. I will not ask any more questions." She went and sat back down at her desk.

"Ziva – I'm sorry," McGee sighed. "But I really can't talk about this."

She looked up at him, her dark eyes understanding. "It is fine, McGee. I understand secrets. I have kept many myself."

The elevator pinged, and McGee looked up in alarm, his heart beating a little too fast. He didn't like himself for it, but he dreaded seeing Tony again. Hearing that testimony last night had changed his view of the other agent, and he didn't know how to behave around him now.

He was relieved when Gibbs strode into the squad room.

"What do you have for me, McGee?" Gibbs demanded, sitting down at his desk. He looked as supremely focussed as ever – and just as tightly wound up as he had been last night. McGee doubted that was going to change any time soon.

"I've left that file you asked for on your desk," McGee replied.

"Good." Gibbs picked it up and began reading it.

"Uh, how's Tony?" McGee asked. Gibbs raised his head slowly and gave him an indecipherable look.

"He'll be in later," he said tersely, which McGee was pretty sure hadn't answered his question.

Gibbs was quiet for half an hour as he read. McGee peeked at him surreptitiously every so often, but Gibbs, as always, was giving nothing away. When he finished, he got up and handed the file to Ziva.

"I want a warrant for this man's arrest, Ziva, and a search warrant for his house," he ordered.

She began flicking through the file. "Roy Quinn. On what charge?"

"Possession of child pornography for starters," Gibbs replied curtly. Her eyes widened.

"Do we have probable cause?"

"Oh yeah," Gibbs growled. "We definitely have that."

"Uh, Boss – there's one problem," McGee said, getting to his feet. "I did some digging, and Quinn is away on vacation right now – in Thailand - perhaps not an altogether surprising choice of holiday destination. He isn't due back until next week."

Gibbs gave him a glare that caused him to sit back down on his chair again.

"We could still go and check out his house," McGee suggested tentatively.

"And run the risk of someone warning him, so he decides never to come back? I don't think so, McGee. No way am I letting this bastard slip through my fingers!" Gibbs roared. "Okay – he'll wait. Ziva – get the warrants ready anyway. In fact – get me a warrant to search his business premises too."

She nodded and turned back to the file, then paused, and glanced up again.

"Gibbs – it says here that Roy Quinn is CEO of DQ Enterprises," she said. "Is that not the name of the company Tony's father owns?"

"Yes it is, Ziva," Gibbs replied tersely. "Now get me those warrants."

"Yes, Gibbs." She nodded, her eyes wide.

"McGee – we clearly can't move on Quinn for a few days, so let's turn our attention back to Admiral Parrish. Did you check the surveillance logs for him this morning?"

"Yes, Boss, I did." McGee was glad that he'd got in early and gone through everything he thought Gibbs might ask him. This case was like a powder keg – and that meant Gibbs was liable to explode if any of them made the slightest mistake. Even leaving aside his boss’s temperament, McGee wanted to do his best work in any case – for Tony's sake.

"And?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow. McGee shook his head.

"Admiral Parrish didn't call anyone – on his landline or cell phone – all night. He didn't send any emails, either. He also didn't leave the house. He's still there."

"He's a slippery bastard," Gibbs muttered. "I thought he'd be too smart to warn his fellow perverts that he's under suspicion. What about the housekeeper?"

"No, Boss. She didn't make any calls, either."

"But has she left the house?" Gibbs demanded. "He could have asked her to mail some letters."

"She's still there, Boss. You gave orders that she was to be followed and apprehended if she tried to mail anything," McGee reminded him. Gibbs slammed his fist down hard on his desk, making both McGee and Ziva jump.

"Damn it. I was hoping we'd get something."

"We could leave it a little longer, Boss," McGee suggested. "Give him a few days – he might contact them when he thinks we're not watching any more."

"And leave him out there with the potential to abuse another child?" Gibbs growled. "I don't think so."

Privately, McGee thought that unlikely given that they were following Parrish's every move, but he understood Gibbs's feelings on the subject.

"I want the other men in that ring, but I'm not prepared to risk a child's safety to get them," Gibbs said. "There are other ways in any case. Parrish is a slick bastard, but my gut tells me that Quinn will be easier to break."

"If we can get our hands on him," McGee murmured.

"Oh, we will, McGee," Gibbs said, in a grimly determined tone of voice. McGee glanced up; Gibbs's eyes were dark, and McGee felt a shiver go up his spine. "We will," Gibbs repeated, and McGee knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that there was no place in the world where Quinn would be safe from his boss.

Dozens of children had been abused, including one of his own agents, and Gibbs wouldn't allow these men to get away with that. McGee knew that his boss would do everything within the law to bring the abusers to justice. He also knew that if the only justice Gibbs could get was the rough kind then he'd take it, as a last resort.

McGee waited until Ziva had left the squad room, and then he got up and went over to Gibbs's desk.

"Boss – I was wondering, supposing we can't get Parrish, Quinn and Marco through the courts? Are they going to turn up in dumpsters with bullets through their heads one day?" he asked quietly.

Gibbs sat back in his chair and gazed at him speculatively.

"Would you have a problem with that, Tim?" he asked, just as quietly.

McGee shook his head. "No, Boss," he said firmly. "I just want to be clear what the end game is here."

"I won't ask you to get involved," Gibbs told him sharply. "If anything needs to be done, I'll do it alone."

"I understand," McGee said thoughtfully. "But, Boss, I want you to know that if that's what you end up having to do, then I'll have your six."

"It could get ugly," Gibbs warned.

"It already got ugly – twenty-five years ago.”

Gibbs nodded. "Noted and understood, Tim."

McGee nodded back at him, both of them understanding each other, and then he returned to his desk where he continued with his work as if nothing had happened.

Gibbs gave it a couple of hours, but when there was still no sign of Parrish contacting anyone, he gave the order for his agents to arrest the admiral again. McGee was right – he could leave it a few days, and keep Parrish under tight surveillance, but his gut felt uneasy about doing that. He suspected Parrish had a contingency plan for just this eventuality, and with his military training, he might have a well-designed escape route waiting for him.

In addition, Gibbs had no doubt that a successful man like Parrish had plenty of favours he could call in. Gibbs was sure the admiral's friends wouldn’t help him if they knew what he'd done, but it was unlikely that they knew about the admiral’s dark side. They'd think they were helping a friend who had been falsely accused, and Parrish might end up getting away as a result.

The admiral was seething when Gibbs's agents brought him into the squad room, hands cuffed behind his back.

"I thought I told you yesterday, Gibbs – I'm the wrong man to piss off."

"And I thought I told you – so am I."

Gibbs got up, went over to the admiral, and looked him in the eye. He remembered everything he'd heard about this man from Tony last night and felt his entire body stiffen in disgust. He knew he could take out his gun, shoot this bastard between the eyes while his hands were in cuffs, and not feel even a twinge of remorse about it.

"You couldn't make this stick yesterday – what's changed today? I told you Justin planted those pictures on my laptop himself!" Parrish protested.

"I know that's what you told us," Gibbs growled. "But we’ve had another complaint against you that backs up Justin’s story."

"What?" Parrish narrowed his eyes. "You're lying. I don't believe you."

"I'm not, and you should. I took a statement from another of your victims last night. Different boy," Gibbs said, gazing at Parrish intently as he spoke, interested in the other man's reaction.

He saw the briefest flicker of something in Parrish's eyes as he took in that news. Was Parrish trying to figure out who it was? Was he going through a mental list of all the boys he'd abused and trying to figure out which one was the most likely to have reported him? Well, Gibbs doubted that Tony DiNozzo was on that list, so he still had the element of surprise on his side.

Parrish was probably already thinking on his feet and concocting some convincing story like the one he'd made up about Justin yesterday. Gibbs was almost looking forward to playing his trump card on the admiral – because there was no way Parrish could talk himself out of what he’d done to Tony.

"Take him to interrogation room one, McGee," Gibbs ordered, with a flick of his head.

He decided to let Parrish sweat for awhile. He had told Tony he could sit in on the interrogation, but he regretted that promise now. It was all very well his senior agent being present during the questioning of a suspect, but Tony wouldn't be there in that capacity, and Gibbs was pretty sure that it wasn't a good idea to put Tony and his abuser in a room together. On the other hand, he had promised – and the shock factor of confronting Parrish with one of his victims might be enough to prompt a confession out of the man.

Gibbs felt uneasy all the same. Tony's mental state was clearly fragile, judging by what had happened last night. Supposing Tony went into one of his fugues while in the interrogation room?

He turned the problem over in his head and had just decided to proceed alone when Tony arrived, with Ducky in attendance. Gibbs gave his agent a searching look; Tony wasn't dressed in one of his usual sharp suits. Instead, he was dressed casually, in jeans and a loose green shirt, and, while paler than usual, he looked a hell of a lot better than he had last night. All the same, something about him seemed different. Gibbs wasn't sure what it was – maybe the expression on his face, or the way he carried himself - or maybe it was the haunted look in his eyes.

"You are late," Ziva said to Tony. "Very late."

"Dentist," he replied, throwing his bag down behind his desk. He patted his jaw as if he'd had some work done and then glanced at Ducky. "They gave me a sedative – man those things really knock you out."

"The dentist…" Ziva mused. "You have not had to visit the dentist since…oh, I do not know, maybe it was when you were dating Jeanne," she said meaningfully. Gibbs saw a flicker of a wince cross Tony's face – saying he had a dental appointment had been Tony's lie of choice during his undercover work with Jeanne.

"Well that was a couple of years ago, Zeeevah!" Tony replied with a grin, taking her comment entirely at face value. "Been awhile – so it’s hardly surprising I needed some work done today."

Gibbs beckoned Ducky over to his desk. "He okay?" he asked quietly.

"He insists that he is," Ducky replied. "But I'm not sure I'm convinced. He did at least sleep well – even if it was a highly medicated kind of sleep. Did *you* sleep well, Jethro?"

"Sure, Duck," Gibbs shrugged. Ducky's sharp blue eyes saw right through him.

"Ah, I suspect you are both lying to me," he said ruefully.

Gibbs glanced at Tony, who was busy regaling Ziva with a long and frankly unlikely story about how he'd got the dental nurse's phone number.

"He well enough to work, Ducky?" he asked.

Ducky gazed at Tony thoughtfully. "I think it would be cruel to refuse him the distraction that work affords," he replied meaningfully.

"Think he'll go into a fugue in the office?"

Ducky sighed. "Hopefully not – if you keep him busy enough, Jethro, and, knowing you, I'm sure that won't be too much of a problem. But the human brain is a sensitive and complex thing, and there are no guarantees. Just keep a close eye on him."

"Intended to, Duck," Gibbs grunted.

Ducky nodded and patted his arm. "Well, I've delivered him into your capable hands, Jethro. I will be in Autopsy if you require my services any further."

"Take Ziva with you," Gibbs told him. "I want to talk to Tony."

"Very well. She will have to know at some point though, Jethro," Ducky pointed out. "As will Abigail – if they're going to work on the case then you have to tell them."

"Yeah, I know – but not right now. I have enough on my hands right now."

Ducky nodded and stopped by Ziva's desk to ask her to accompany him down to Autopsy on some pretext or other. Gibbs looked up to find Tony standing in front of his desk.

"So, I hear you have Parrish in interrogation room one," he said quietly. "You weren't going to start without me, were you, Boss?"

There was something hard-edged about him, Gibbs thought; something unlike the usual eager-to-please Tony. This Tony was more brittle.

"Are you sure you want to be in there?" Gibbs asked. "It might be tough."

"You promised," Tony said, in a hard tone of voice.

Gibbs gazed at him thoughtfully. Tony was right – he had promised, and the last thing he wanted to do was betray Tony's trust right now. He had a feeling that would be a move he would live to regret.

"Okay," he said with a curt nod. "But I do all the talking."

"Boss…" Tony began, a hint of protest in his voice.

"I do *all* the talking," Gibbs repeated. "Or you don't get to sit in there. Take it or leave it, Tony."

Tony nodded, grudgingly. "Okay."

"You sit – that's all you do. You just sit," Gibbs said. "I'm hoping your presence will provoke a confession out of him, but if it doesn't, then we just live with that. We have enough to charge him, and we'll keep on digging – see if we can find some more."

Gibbs stood up and looked his agent straight in the eye. "This might be harder than you think."

"I have to do this," Tony said. Then his gaze faltered, and he looked suddenly like a scared child. Gibbs felt his stomach flip – he had definitely *never* seen Tony look like this before. "He's in my head, Boss," Tony whispered. "If I can just face him – face him now as an adult, knowing he can't hurt me any more, then maybe I can get him out."

It made a kind of sense. Gibbs nodded. "I understand."

"He used to scare the crap out of me," Tony added. "I can still feel the fear, Gibbs. I need to…need to…"

"Pull out the monster's teeth?" Gibbs suggested.

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "That's exactly what I need to do."

Gibbs swept into interrogation room one a few minutes later with Tony behind him. He sat down opposite Parrish and gestured Tony to sit beside him. This was going to be harder than usual because he had to be aware of the reactions of two people instead of one, so Gibbs knew he had to keep his wits about him. He had installed McGee in the observation room to be another pair of eyes for him, so they could compare notes later.

“I see you’ve brought back-up this time,” Parrish said, gazing at Tony stonily across the table. “Why, Agent Gibbs? Do you think you can intimidate me into admitting to something I didn’t do?”

“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “I don’t think anyone could intimidate you, Parrish. I think it’s more likely that you do the intimidating.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Parrish replied. He linked his hands together and rested them on the table, looking calm and untroubled.

“This is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo,” Gibbs said, with a nod in Tony’s direction. “You spoke to him on the phone yesterday.”

“I remember.” Parrish nodded.

“He remembers too,” Gibbs said. “Although he remembers you better as someone called Luke.”

Parrish went very still, and his gaze flickered searchingly over Tony’s face as if looking for clues. Gibbs watched him closely. He was glad they were taping this, so he could play it back later, because Parrish wasn’t giving much away.

“I don’t understand what that means,” Parrish said, clearing his throat. Gibbs noticed that he was still looking at Tony though.

“I can see that you’re not sure who he is,” Gibbs said. “So I’m going to refresh your memory.”

He opened up the laptop and brought up a picture of Boy 43.

“He knew you as Luke – you knew him as Tony. Circa 1984. Recognise this shot? You should - it’s in your favourites file.”

“Is this some kind of joke?” Parrish asked, but Gibbs noticed the flash of recognition in his eyes as he glanced at the photo. “I don’t know who the poor boy in this photograph is, Agent Gibbs, but you can’t possibly try and set me up using one of your own agents.”

“I’m not trying to set you up, Parrish,” Gibbs said with a shrug. “Agent DiNozzo is the boy in that photograph, and he says you raped him when he was twelve years old.”

Gibbs noticed Parrish glancing at Tony again, and Gibbs could almost see the cogs in his mind turning as he tried to figure out if Tony really was the boy in the picture. Gibbs turned to glance at Tony as well. Tony wasn’t saying anything, but his entire body was wound up tight and there was an anxious, vulnerable expression in his eyes that made him look exactly like the child in the picture. Even Parrish had to be able to see that they weren’t playing a trick on him, and Tony really was who Gibbs said he was.

“Do you know a man called Roy Quinn?” Gibbs asked Parrish suddenly. Parrish’s eyes flickered just a tiny amount at the unexpected question, and then he recovered.

“I once knew a marine by that name when I was serving in Vietnam,” he replied. Gibbs had to admire him for how coolly he was playing this – he was completely deadpan.

“He a friend of yours?” Gibbs asked.

“I knew him. I haven’t seen him in a long time.”

“Did you share boys with him?” Gibbs asked. “Did you and he groom underage boys for sex? Did you bully and coerce them to the point where they agreed to sex and then share them with each other?”

“No, and I resent the implication.”

“Wasn’t an implication, Parrish – it was an accusation.”

“Where’s your evidence?” Parrish demanded.

“Tony gave me a statement last night.”

“How old is Agent DiNozzo now?” Parrish asked, glancing at Tony dismissively. “In his mid-thirties? You say I knew him in 1984? Are you seriously saying this accusation against me is based on a child who was twelve at the time remembering someone he hasn’t seen in twenty-five years and making an accurate identification of him? I don’t think so, Agent Gibbs. If your agent really was sexually abused as a child then I’m very sorry for him, but he wasn’t abused by me. This is a case of mistaken identity.”

“Agent DiNozzo identified a scar on your inner thigh,” Gibbs told him.

“I was injured in Vietnam. It’s on my service record which you have access to. Of course I have a scar on my thigh! You wouldn’t have to see it to know it’s there – you don’t get hospitalised with a shrapnel wound and have it magically disappear!” Parrish shook his head. “This is pathetic, Gibbs. Do you seriously think any of this will stand up in court?”

“Yes, I do.” Gibbs nodded. “Tony’s a very reliable witness – he’s a federal agent.”

Parrish glanced at Tony speculatively, his eyes icy cold, like a snake considering its prey. His tongue protruded through his lips slightly, wetting them as he surveyed Tony. There was a streak of pure, cold-blooded evil in Parrish, and as Gibbs watched him watching Tony he had a sudden sense of what it must have been like for a twelve year old boy to be trapped in a hotel room with this man. No wonder Tony had been so scared of ‘Luke’.

Tony reached up and began stroking the back of his head. Gibbs moved his foot sideways and surreptitiously nudged Tony’s shoe with it under the table. Tony made a little sound in the back of his throat, but he nodded and moved his hand down to his lap. It was out of Parrish’s sight, but Gibbs could see that Tony’s hand was shaking. He wished he could give his agent more verbal reassurance – the point of bringing him in here was that he got to face down Parrish as an adult, but instead it looked as if being in Parrish's presence was simply reawakening his childhood fears.

Parrish was still giving Tony that cold, deadly, speculative look. Then suddenly he looked straight at Gibbs and smiled – and Gibbs felt a cold shiver run down his spine.

“I’m sorry for Agent DiNozzo, Gibbs. It’s terrible for him if he really is the boy in this photograph.” Parrish nodded his head towards the laptop where the photo was still displayed. “He’s so young – barely more than a child. So young, so innocent.” He shook his head sadly.

Gibbs frowned, wondering what the hell kind of game Parrish was playing.

“Fresh and innocent, like a lamb,” Parrish murmured softly. “Or…” He glanced straight at Tony as he spoke, a malicious gleam in his eyes. “A little piglet.”

Tony’s reaction took Gibbs completely by surprise. One minute he was sitting silently in the chair beside him, holding his shaking hand in his lap, mutely watching the interrogation, and the next he went ballistic. He was like a different person, someone Gibbs had never seen before, as he exploded across the room. He was making a low, keening sound in the back of his throat as he grabbed Parrish and threw him bodily out of his chair, then jumped on top of him. He pinned Parrish to the floor, one hand wrapped around his neck, and then pounded his fist into the man’s face – once, twice, three times - before Gibbs managed to pull him off, and McGee burst into the room to help.

“Tony…what the hell…? DiNozzo - back off!” Gibbs yelled, holding Tony’s arms behind his back, using all his strength to contain his struggling agent. Tony was like a bomb, exploding all over the place, and even Gibbs, with all his experience and training, was finding it hard to hold him. Eventually he managed to shove him back against the wall, and then he stood in front of him, one arm pressed across Tony’s chest to keep him there, and looked into his eyes. A stranger looked back at him; a stranger whose gaze flickered over his shoulder and stared with a blind, blank hatred at the man lying on the floor.

“Tony!” Gibbs grabbed hold of Tony’s jaw and forced him to look at him. "Snap out of it! Now!"

Tony looked at him as if he didn't even know who he was, and then, slowly, the stranger disappeared, and Tony was back again. Gibbs cautiously relaxed his hold but still kept his own body between Tony and Parrish.

“He assaulted me,” Parrish hissed. Gibbs glanced at him over his shoulder. McGee was helping him to his feet, and Parrish was wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “He’s unstable – he went for me with no provocation. I didn’t say anything - *anything* - to provoke that, Agent Gibbs. You saw me. You heard me. You have the tape to prove it! He just went crazy. He’s out of his mind, Gibbs – and hardly what I’d call a reliable witness.”

Gibbs could have kicked himself; Parrish had laid a trap for him, and he’d just walked straight into it.

“Boss?” Tony said, in a shaky voice.

“It’s okay, Tony,” Gibbs told him softly. “Come with me – I'm going to get you out of here. You should never have been in here in the first place. McGee – take care of Parrish.”

He took hold of Tony’s arm and led him out of the door. Tony followed him blindly, like a child, looking completely out of it.

“What did I do?” Tony whispered as they got into the elevator. He crouched down on the floor, his back against the wall, covered his head with his arms, and began rocking. “What did I do, Boss? What did I just do?”

“It’s okay.” Gibbs flicked the emergency switch, stopping the elevator, and knelt down in front of him. “It’s okay. I should never have taken you in there.”

Tony just kept on rocking. Gibbs wasn't sure what to do. He'd never seen Tony like this. He reached out a tentative hand to touch his hair, which was the only bit of his head visible right now. Tony relaxed a fraction, so Gibbs began to stroke with more confidence. That seemed to work - Tony uncurled and gazed at him from shocked eyes.

“This was my fault, not yours, Tony,” Gibbs said firmly, removing his hand. “Okay? It’s not your fault.”

“I did something bad,” Tony muttered.

“No – you did something understandable. Tony…what was the trigger? One minute you were fine, if a little shaky, and the next you just lost it.”

Tony flinched and reached up to stroke his hair. Gibbs grabbed his hand and stopped it before it got there. He kept hold of Tony's hand to prevent him doing it again.

“Don’t go there, Tony. Stay with me,” he said. He grabbed Tony’s jaw with his free hand and made him look at him. “Don't zone out on me. Talk to me instead – don’t go back into the memory alone – share it with me.”

Tony didn't reply – he just kept on rocking.

“Can you do that, Tony?” Gibbs asked him insistently. “Can you talk it out instead of zoning out?”

“I don’t know. It's in my head. I can see it. I can hear it. I can feel it. It seems pretty real." His eyes started to glaze over; Gibbs tapped his jaw firmly, and his eyes came back into focus.

"Try," Gibbs ordered.

Tony grimaced. "Squeal, little piglet, squeal,” he muttered.

Gibbs gazed at him blankly, and then the realisation hit him. “That’s what he used to say to you?”

Tony nodded. “He kept asking me if I was scared of him. He wanted me to be scared of him. He wanted me to squeal when he…he kept saying it…I used to curl into a ball…'Are you scared of me, Tony? You should be. Roy said you were a good boy, but you aren’t being good right now. I saw those pictures of you, you little slut, you can do better than this…open up for me...that’s better…Does it hurt when I stick it in you? You can cry if you like. Cry for me. Squeal. I like it when you squeal, Tony…you're like a piglet, a juicy little piglet…so squeal like one, you little slut…”

The litany went on and on until Tony’s voice became hoarse, and eventually he stopped talking. He was shaking visibly, so Gibbs put his arms around Tony’s shoulders, pulled him against his chest, and held him tight. Tony rocked against him, and Gibbs didn’t know what to do except hold him. He didn't have a clue how to deal with this, so he just worked on instinct. He stroked Tony's hair soothingly, and gradually, slowly, Tony began to calm down.

Gibbs continued to hold him until the shaking stopped, and then he drew back. Tony was gazing at him from eyes that were embarrassed and scared at one and the same time. He looked like both a frightened child and a grown man, a mixture of emotions etched onto his face.

“Sorry, Boss,” he muttered with a wince. He was white with humiliation.

“It’s okay, Tony. I asked you to talk it out instead of zoning out, and that’s what you did. At least we managed to stop you going into a fugue.”

“Fuck it.” Tony got up, unsteadily, holding onto the rail in the elevator. Gibbs went with him, putting a hand under his elbow to steady him. “I feel like such an idiot. I know it was years ago, and Parrish can't hurt me now, but still something inside me just snapped. I had to protect him, keep him safe.”

“Keep who safe?” Gibbs frowned.

“The kid…me…it’s hard to explain. He’s inside me, Gibbs, and I have to look out for him.”

“I can understand that,” Gibbs said. “Nobody else looked out for him – for you – back then. You had to do it all by yourself.”

“When I went away to boarding school, I told myself I could be someone different,” Tony explained. “Someone this didn’t happen to. The kind of person nobody hurt. Nobody knew me at boarding school – they didn’t know what I was like before, and I damn well wasn’t going to let them know, either. So I had to hide him away – nobody was ever supposed to see him, and nobody has until now." A flicker of anger passed over Tony's face. "I didn’t want you to see him, Boss,” he growled. “Not you, of all people. That’s why I’m so fucking embarrassed right now. I’m…kind of protective of him.”

“Ya think, DiNozzo?” Gibbs commented dryly, remembering how hard it had been to restrain Tony back in the interrogation room. “But it's okay to let him out, Tony. I think you're gonna have to let him out more often if you're going to get better.”

“Fuck no. Never again. That was bad enough.” Tony ran a shaky hand through his hair.

“You can’t hide him any more. And he might surprise you. He might be stronger than you think.”

“He's a basket case. And I don’t want you thinking of me like that. I’ll lose my job.”

“You won’t lose your damn job, Tony! I won’t let that happen.”

“I don’t want you, or anyone else, seeing me that way,” Tony hissed. “He’s weak, damaged. He’s not lo…” He broke off. “Likeable,” he finished, but that hadn’t been what he’d intended to say.

“You can’t divide yourself in two,” Gibbs told him sensibly. “You can’t split yourself up and reject the bits you don’t like. You have to find a way to accept them, or they’ll come back and bite you like they did today.”

“Yeah, well, that's easier said than done. Did you ever see the movie ‘Deliverance’?”

Gibbs frowned. Much as he knew Tony liked his movie references, he couldn’t see how one could possibly be appropriate right now. He shook his head.

“Well, 'Deliverance' is a pretty famous movie from the 70's, Boss. Parrish had clearly seen it when he fucked me as a kid. I didn’t know it at the time, but there's a scene in the movie where this guy is raped and gets told to squeal like a pig. I’m guessing Parrish liked the way that sounded. I rented the movie when I was a freshman at college, not realising what was in it, and lost about three hours. Woke up to find I’d pissed myself and thrown up. Whole place was a mess. Christ that guy is sick.”

"I will make Parrish pay for what he did to you, Tony,” Gibbs vowed grimly. “I promise you that."

"You don't know who you're dealing with," Tony said. "He's smart, Boss – and he still scares the shit out of me. I don't mind admitting that." Tony dropped his gaze to the floor like he wanted to sink into it. Gibbs lifted his chin with his fingers and made him meet his eyes.

"I made you a promise, and I'll damn well keep it," he hissed. "Parrish will go to jail for what he's done. I'll work night and day to make that happen. Hell, I have to, because if I fail I won't be able to look you in the eye like this again, Tony. Understood?"

Tony seemed surprised by his intensity. He gazed at Gibbs searchingly, and then he nodded.

"Understood, Boss," he said quietly. "If anyone can take that bastard down, it's you."

He straightened up his shirt, which had become torn in the fracas back in the interrogation room, and then he reached out and flicked the switch on the elevator again.

“And now we’re going to see Ducky I assume,” Tony sighed.

“Oh yeah,” Gibbs growled. “Now we are definitely going to see Ducky.”

It had been a busy day in Autopsy, so by the time he was able to take a break Ducky decided to treat himself to a nice cup of tea and one of the fine Scottish shortbread biscuits that his cousin had sent him for his birthday. He had to abandon any thought of putting his feet up for a quiet half hour though, when he saw a grim-faced Gibbs usher a frankly pallid Tony out of the elevator and into his domain. Ducky took in Tony's torn shirt, and the pent-up fury in the way Gibbs was moving, and sighed.

"Mr. Palmer, would you be so kind as to go out and find some real Twinings English Breakfast tea for me," he said. "I fear someone has substituted Liptons, and it just isn't the same at all." He put his cup down with a theatrical grimace.

"Of course, Dr. Mallard," Jimmy said eagerly, always happy to run errands for him.

"Thank you – and do take your time, Mr. Palmer. No need to rush." Jimmy took off out of the door, nearly knocking into Gibbs on his way in.

"There an emergency somewhere, Ducky?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

"I'm afraid Mr. Palmer will be gone some time." Ducky shook his head sadly. "I sent him looking for tea."

"Shouldn't take him more than ten minutes."

"Real English Breakfast Tea, Jethro," Ducky told him with a chuckle. "That will take him a tad longer, I warrant. Now, what can I do for you two gentlemen? Tony - did you hurt your hand?" He glanced at Tony's right fist, which was streaked with blood.

"The blood isn’t mine, Ducky," Tony said.

"All the same – if you'd like to sit down." Ducky gestured him onto one of his autopsy tables, and Tony sat on the side of it and held out his hand for Ducky to clean off the blood. He was right about it not being his – the knuckles underneath were reddened, but that was all. "You and Jethro are as bad as each other," Ducky admonished. "I never see young Timothy in here with bruised fists, and dear Ziva's methods of fighting are, I fear, too subtle to leave a mark. Yet with you and Jethro it's always the same. You two are more alike than I think either of you realises."

Tony grinned at him, looking delighted by that comment.

"Are you going to tell me which poor unfortunate was on the receiving end of your fists on this occasion, Anthony?" Ducky asked, and then wished he hadn't as Tony's grin faded, and he reached up with his free hand to smooth down the hair on the back of his head. Ducky frowned and glanced at Gibbs, who grasped his arm and led him away out of earshot.

"I need you to keep an eye on him for a couple of hours, Duck."

"He's not a parcel, Jethro. You can't just pass him around," Ducky remonstrated.

"I'm not passing him around. I just can't leave him alone right now. You can see what kind of a state he's in." He nodded in Tony's direction. Tony wasn't in the fugue-like state he'd been in the previous night, but he was still smoothing his hair down with repetitive movements of his hand. "Why does he do that weird stroking thing, Duck?" Gibbs asked. "I thought it caused the fugue, but he's still with us right now, so that can't be it."

"It's a self-comforting mechanism, Jethro," Ducky replied. "He's trying to calm himself down and make himself feel better. And no, it doesn't cause the fugues – it's his attempt to head them off – one of them anyway. I've noticed he has several – the humming for example. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work, as we've seen."

"He just had a total meltdown," Gibbs grunted. "I'm not surprised he needs to comfort himself right now."

"You know, this might all be more than we can deal with," Ducky told him quietly. "He might need proper psychiatric help, Jethro."

Gibbs shook his head. "You know Tony – there's no way you'll be able to talk him into seeing a shrink, Ducky."

"Me? Oh, I wouldn't even try," Ducky replied with a wry chuckle. "You're the only one he listens to, Jethro, as you well know."

"I doubt he'd hear it, even from me. And I don't think we're there yet. This has all happened so suddenly – give him a few days, and he might settle down."

"He might – with some help." Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "*Your* help, Jethro," Ducky clarified. "He's dealing with something extraordinarily distressing right now. You can't expect him to be the same Anthony DiNozzo you've worked with these past eight years - your capable, if sometimes wayward, second-in-command. You have to handle him differently."

"Ducky - I just spent the past ten minutes holding him in the elevator while he shook like a scared kid in my arms," Gibbs growled. "Trust me, that's not the way I usually handle Tony."

"But can you work the case and be there to give him what he needs as well, Jethro?"

"I'm not giving up the case, Ducky," Gibbs snapped. "Not while those bastards are still out there."

Ducky sighed. "I thought you'd say that."

Gibbs ran a hand through his hair, looking more troubled than Ducky was used to seeing him.

"I'm not sure I'm getting this right, Duck," he admitted. "I just made a big mistake – I allowed him to sit in on an interrogation with one of his abusers."

Ducky gazed at him, horrified. "I'm presuming that was where the blood came from?"

"Yeah. The bastard said something deliberately to push Tony over the edge, and he lost it. He went ballistic. I've never seen him like that before, Ducky. You know Tony – if anything ever gets to him, he never lets it show. And he sure as hell never loses it like he did back there."

"Well, he's under extreme duress at the moment."

"I know. Thing is, I wouldn't usually have agreed to his request to be there – I knew it was a mistake. I just don't know the best way to handle him right now, and I don’t want to say or do anything to make any of this worse for him than it already is."

"Ah." Ducky nodded. "You're second-guessing yourself, my dear Jethro – and that isn't like you at all."

"It's something he said yesterday about how Parrish had conditioned Justin to respond to older, male, authority figures. Made me wonder if that's how he sees himself and me."

Ducky glanced over at Tony, who was still sitting on the side of the autopsy table, stroking his hair absently. "You know, this reminds me of a book I'm very fond of. Have you ever read 'The Little Prince', Jethro?"

Gibbs looked at him as if he'd gone insane.

"No, well, I thought not. It's an enchanting tale, but perhaps a little too whimsical for your tastes. It's full of wise little insights into the human condition. I'll spare you all the details, but at one point in the book the little prince of the title tames a fox, and the fox tells him that he is responsible forever for what he has tamed."

Gibbs glared at him. "He isn’t a fox, Ducky, and I haven't 'tamed' him."

"Except that you have, Jethro, in your own way," Ducky told him softly. "I know that boy's history. He didn't get on well at any of those places where he worked before you found him, did he? I was never exactly sure why, but you do, I think. You saw something in him, something he needed, and you picked him up, dusted him down, whipped him into shape, kicked him around a little, to be sure, but he needed that – and, most importantly, you gave him a place to belong. Everyone knows that boy worships the ground you walk on, Jethro, and now you've drawn all his darkest secrets out of him right when he's at his most vulnerable. If that doesn't make him your responsibility, then I don't know what does."

"I told him I'd be there for him through this, and I will," Gibbs growled.

"Then you may have to give some thought as to what, exactly, that will entail," Ducky said, patting his arm. "What exactly are you prepared to give, Jethro? Because…forgive me, you're a good man, but you're not someone who is comfortable in the emotional arena. I know why," he added hurriedly, seeing a familiar dark look creep into Gibbs's eyes. "And I sympathise, I really do. But that boy over there is just as damaged as you are – and, in fact, that actually makes you uniquely qualified to help him if you're prepared to try. Are you, Jethro?"

Gibbs stared at him, and Ducky wondered if he'd gone too far. His friend *was* a good man, but Ducky wasn't sure that he'd yet woken up to the scale of the task on his hands. He could see the conflicted look in Gibbs's eyes.

"The damage inflicted on you both – you and him – for the most part isn't visible," Ducky said softly. “It's in here." He patted Gibbs's chest. "You hide behind the walls you've built to keep yourself safe, and he's done the same. But as his come crashing down, you might find that you need to venture out from behind yours if you are going to help him. Are you ready for that, Jethro?"

Gibbs glanced over at Tony and then back at Ducky. A muscle in his jaw twitched violently. "Just take care of him, Ducky," he said in a terse voice. "I'll be a couple of hours." Then he turned on his heel and left. Ducky sighed, and glanced back at Tony.

"Well, I did my best, Anthony," he said sadly.
Gibbs left Autopsy in a furious mood. He returned to interrogation room one and found McGee sitting in the chair opposite Parrish, neither of them speaking.

Parrish looked up as Gibbs entered the room.

"Ah, Agent Gibbs – I'm glad you've finally returned. I want you to know…" he began.

"Shut it," Gibbs interrupted him savagely. "Listen up, Parrish, and listen well. I'm sure you've made plenty of mistakes in your life, but there are two that you will live to regret. The first is the day you laid a finger on a kid called Tony DiNozzo twenty-five years ago…."

"I never touched him, but leaving that aside – the second?" Parrish raised an eyebrow, his cold, grey eyes assessing Gibbs carefully.

"The second is what you said to him today," Gibbs told him.

"I didn't say anything to provoke such an extreme reaction," the admiral protested, gesturing to his bruised face.

"Oh, we both know that you did," Gibbs growled. "I'm not going to waste any more time on you, Parrish. I'll see you in court."

"Whatever flimsy case you have against me won't stand up to any scrutiny, Gibbs.”

"You'd better hope for your sake that it does - because you'll find prison a much safer place than anywhere else on this planet, believe me."

"Another one of your threats, Agent Gibbs?" Parrish said derisively.

"Did you hear me threaten the admiral, Agent McGee?" Gibbs asked, turning to his agent. McGee shook his head.

"No, Boss. I didn't hear any threats. Agent Gibbs doesn't make threats, Admiral Parrish – he makes promises."

"And I always keep my promises, Admiral," Gibbs told him grimly. “So, like I said, you’d better hope you get sent somewhere safe, out of my way – because if you walk free, I will come after you. And trust me, when I catch up with you I’ll definitely make you squeal like…what was it, Parrish? A piglet?”

Parrish’s jaw settled into a tight line, and he quirked an eyebrow at Gibbs, a hint of malicious glee in his eyes. It was all Gibbs could do not to punch the man. Even after all these years he was still enjoying the control he had over Tony and taking a sick kind of pleasure in his ability to scare him.

“Do we understand each other, Parrish?” Gibbs asked quietly.

“Oh, we understand each other perfectly, Agent Gibbs,” Parrish replied smoothly.

“Good. Then I’ll see you in court.” Gibbs turned on his heel and left. He went straight to the squad room and made a phone call.

"Walt? It's Gibbs. I need a favour."

Forty-five minutes later, Gibbs walked into the NCIS gym to find Walter Silberman waiting for him. Walt was an old buddy going back to his marine days. He was six feet five of solid, packed muscle, as fit now as he'd been at boot camp all those years ago.

"Hey, Jethro," Walt said, pulling on a pair of boxing gloves.

"Walt," Gibbs replied shortly. He taped up the torn, bruised skin on his knuckles, aware that Walt was watching, and then pulled on his own pair of gloves.

"Not a day for talking, huh?" Walt muttered, stepping into the ring.

"No. Just fighting. Don't go easy on me, Walt."

"Wouldn't dare, Jethro," Walt replied with a chuckle.

Gibbs went at him with every single ounce of pent-up fury in his body, and Walt pummelled him back relentlessly, neither of them giving an inch.

This was what he needed – what he'd needed since this nightmare had first begun. Gibbs thought of Tony, huddled on the floor of the elevator with his hands over his head, re-living an experience so appalling that it made hot, bitter bile rise in the back of Gibbs's throat. How could any man hurt a child like that? Gibbs lashed out, grunting as his fists connected with flesh, needing to feel the pain in his hands, the shockwaves in his wrists and shoulders, and the raw, panting urgency of his own fury.

Walt could take everything he threw at him - always had, always would. Gibbs was transported back seventeen years, to another time and a different kind of pain, and there was Walt, big and steady, taking his punches and handing out his own, never holding back, a rock in the storm.

Gibbs was aware that a little circle of NCIS staff was forming around the outside of the ring, watching silently as the two ex-marines gave a master-class in hand-to-hand combat, and still they fought on. His fury went slowly from being red hot to white cold as they fought; the heat gradually cooling as he threw himself around the ring, exhausting himself.

Walt caught him a glancing blow on the jaw, and Gibbs landed a punch to his old friend's solar plexus. Walt grunted, barely seeming to notice it, and wrong-footed him, landing him on the floor. Gibbs rolled over and was back on his feet again in a second. Walt lumbered after him, slower now but still as unstoppable as a steamroller.

Gibbs fought until his arms ached, and his own sweat was blinding him. He fought until his breathing was a rasping sound in the back of his throat. He fought until he couldn't see the scared face of a twelve year old boy every time he closed his eyes. He fought out his sense of impotence at not being able to help Tony. He fought out his anger at not being there twenty-five years ago when a boy was taken to a hotel room and raped repeatedly by a man he’d trusted and then handed around to others to do the same. It was the same anger he felt at not being there seventeen years ago when his family had been killed.

He fought out his inability to protect the people he loved - and then he fought even harder to try and come to terms with the fact that he classed Tony with Shannon and Kelly, in the category of people he loved. Even though he’d known that for some time, he’d never really faced the truth of it before. So he fought it out, all of it, until finally he was spent.

Then he stopped. Walt gazed at him.

"We done?" he asked.

"We're done."

"You heard him – beat it," Walt growled at their audience, and they all scuttled off.

Gibbs got out of the ring, and Walt followed him into the locker room.

"Want to talk about it?" Walt asked.

Gibbs hesitated. Walt had seen him at his lowest point, after Shannon and Kelly had been killed, and he'd stuck with him through everything. He had never once been judgemental about any of the ways Gibbs had found to cope with their loss. He was one of his closest friends.

"I fucked up. I can't fuck up again. Something big is going down. I have to get it right," Gibbs told him.

"This work or personal?" Walt asked. Gibbs hesitated again.

"Both," he said finally. Walt sighed.

"The work thing you'll get right – you always do," he said. "The personal thing – that's the shit you're lousy at, and I'm guessing that's the real reason I'm here right now." He ran a rueful hand over his solar plexus. "And feeling like I've gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson," he added.

Gibbs glanced at him, saw how sweaty, battered, and exhausted he looked, and gave a little wince. "Thanks, Walt," he said quietly.

"You're welcome, Jethro," Walt replied. "Did it help?"

Gibbs nodded as he unwrapped the tape from around his knuckles. "For now," he said. Walt put a hand on his shoulder.

"You need me – you call me," he said. Gibbs looked into his friend's concerned brown eyes and nodded.

"I will."

Gibbs headed for the showers and the welcome relief of the warm water pounding on his aching body. His two closest friends, Ducky and Walt, the people who knew him best, had both said the same thing: You get the work stuff right but the personal stuff – anything involving emotions – you’re crap at that, old friend.

Well, then he’d just have to figure out how to be better at it, because Tony was relying on him. Ducky was right – Tony needed his time and attention right now, and he had to find a way to give it to him. Parrish wasn’t going anywhere, and their next lead, Quinn, wasn’t due back in the country for a few days. That gave him some time to try and get into Tony’s head and turn him around. He had to get him ready to face the next big ordeal that was coming his way. Gibbs was sure the next few weeks would be one ordeal after another for Tony, and it was his job to get him through them.

His team were good – he’d let McGee run lead agent during any absences he took while he put Tony back together again. He’d been impressed with that conversation they’d had earlier, and his handling of Parrish. McGee had been turning from a boy into a man over the past year, and he was ready for this.

Gibbs exited the shower feeling better than he had all day. The fighting had cleared his mind, the way it always did; now he could see the simple truths shining through the complexity of the situation.

He would stop second-guessing himself. He’d be no use to Tony if he let his sympathy for him over-ride his own gut instincts. Tony needed him to be *Gibbs*, the man he knew and trusted, and not some stranger tip-toeing around him on eggshells.

Gibbs got dressed, grabbed his bag, and left the gym.

Tony was his priority right now, and he’d be damned if he let him down.
Tony looked up in relief when Gibbs strode through the door.

"Oh thank God! Ducky’s been making me rummage around in internal organs, Boss."

"Not your own, I hope, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

Tony studied him – Gibbs's hair was damp, and he smelled freshly showered. He also had a number of bruises on his jaw that hadn't been there earlier and a small cut above his left eye.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with your agents learning about basic anatomy, Jethro," Ducky said, glancing up. His eyes darkened as he took in Gibbs’s battered appearance, but he didn’t draw attention to it. "It appals me how little the average member of the human race seems to know about their own body. Take Anthony here – he seems to think that the spleen is located in the pelvic region."

"In my defence, I didn't actually think that *was* a spleen when I first stuck my hand into it," Tony muttered. "All dead squishy things feel the same, Boss."

"Well you're done here," Gibbs told him.

"Hallelujah," Tony muttered in a heart-felt tone. "Uh, no offence, Ducky."

"None taken, my dear boy." Ducky beamed at him. "It's been a pleasure to have your company. I don't think Mr. Palmer needs to worry about you replacing him though. You don't really have a rapport with the dead, Anthony."

"You know – I think I'll take that as a compliment, Ducky," Tony grinned. "Where are we going, Boss?" he asked, as Gibbs gestured with his head that he follow him out of Autopsy.

"Home," Gibbs replied.

Tony hesitated. It hadn't been a great day, but he didn’t want to go home and be alone with his thoughts right now.

"You know – I think I'd prefer to stay with the dead bodies," he muttered, pausing in the elevator doorway. Gibbs made an impatient gesture with his head. Tony got into the elevator reluctantly.

"We'll go to your apartment first," Gibbs said. "So you can get what you need. Then back to my place. You're staying with me."

"Don't I get a say in this?" Tony asked.

Gibbs gazed at him, his expression as unreadable as ever. "No," he replied.

That felt oddly comforting. "Okay then," Tony said with a nod. "Just as long as we're clear."

He had been wondering, in light of Gibbs's absence all afternoon, whether his boss was tired of dealing with him. He had screwed up in interrogation and then completely lost it in the elevator, and Gibbs didn’t like his agents screwing up. His boss seemed to read his thoughts.

"I told you I'd see you through this, and I meant it, Tony," he said firmly. "But if you want to keep out of the clutches of a shrink, then you have to let me in. Any time you feel yourself going off into a fugue then you talk to me about it, like you did in the elevator."

"Yes, Boss," Tony lied. He had no intention of losing it in front of Gibbs again. It was bad enough that it had happened once. He needed to keep a much tighter grip on himself. He wasn't sure why he was struggling with this so much. He'd kept these thoughts and feelings under control for the past twenty-five years, so why the hell were they causing him so much hassle now? What was wrong with him?

He was grateful at least that he'd managed to evade most of the rest of the team all day. Abby had come to Autopsy once while he'd been there, but she didn't seem to think it was strange that he was assisting Ducky. Then again, Abby was Abby – she slept in a coffin for God's sake! Who knew what her definition of ‘strange’ was? He hadn’t seen either McGee or Ziva though, and he was thankful for that.

Gibbs drove them to his apartment in silence, and Tony packed some things. He wasn't sure how long he’d be staying with his boss, and he wished the invitation had been made under different circumstances. He wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the thought of sleeping under Gibbs's roof. The last thing he wanted was for the man to take him in because he felt sorry for him, but it did mean that he got to spend time alone with Gibbs, and that was something he always relished.

They returned to Gibbs's house, and Tony dumped his clothes in the spare room. Then he went downstairs and hooked up the TV and DVD player he'd insisted on bringing with him.

"No offence, Boss, but I'm not going down to that drafty basement every time I want to watch something," Tony had told Gibbs. “Also – that TV you’ve got down there is ancient. I don’t think you even *can* hook a DVD player up to it.”

His boss had just grunted, and Tony had taken that as permission to bring them both along. How Gibbs got by with just one tiny TV and no DVD player was beyond Tony, but he knew he couldn't. His distractions came in many forms, and this was an important one.

Being with Gibbs was another one – and a good one. Tony threw everything into making Gibbs forget about his meltdown in the elevator earlier. It felt good to be back on familiar ground, assuming his identity as Tony DiNozzo, over-active frat-boy, talking too much, clowning around, and generally getting in Gibbs’s way as his boss fixed them something to eat.

Tony launched into a long-winded lecture on the history of film from its invention to the modern era, barely pausing for breath as he covered various different styles and gave potted filmographies of all the major directors. Gibbs sat opposite him as they ate, hardly saying a word, that sharp gaze of his fixed on Tony in a way that made him uneasy.

Tony started speaking twice as fast to prevent Gibbs interrupting him. He didn’t want his boss to draw attention to the massive elephant that was currently sitting quietly in the corner of the room. Tony was done talking about what had happened to him as a kid. He'd spilled his guts out last night, and he wasn't going there again. He'd given Gibbs the information he wanted and now it was over. Done. Time to move on.

They finished eating, and Tony leaned against the glass kitchen door, still talking as Gibbs put their plates in the dishwasher. It wasn’t a conversation as such – Gibbs just moved around the kitchen while Tony talked. He hoped he was being lively, entertaining and amusing – but even to his own ears his voice had a hint of desperation to it.

“Why don’t you show me?” Gibbs asked. It was the first thing he’d said in about half an hour. Tony blinked. He had been talking so fast that he wasn’t actually sure what he’d been saying. “One of these movies you’re talking about. Show me,” Gibbs prompted.

Tony felt a rush of relief. This was good! He was on familiar ground here. They went into the living room, and he chose a classic war movie that he thought Gibbs would like.

Gibbs sat down on the couch, and Tony sat down beside him. It was an old, saggy couch, and they both sank down towards the centre of it, thighs and upper arms touching. Tony wished he could let go, and sink into Gibbs the way he was sinking into the couch. He wanted to give it all up and let Gibbs take over. If he did that, maybe Gibbs could make it all go away.

Tony needed his distractions: movies, music, sex, joking around, working too hard, talking too much…and Gibbs. It took a lot of energy to keep moving from one to the other, but he had to because the effects of each one always waned eventually. Then the only option was to move onto the next. Sometimes he got so tired of it. He wished he had a safe haven for when it all got too much, and he couldn’t shut out the memories any more. He wished he could take Gibbs up on his offer to share them with him, but he hated the thought of his boss seeing him like that again.

Tony talked through the movie, although now he was just gabbling, and he wasn’t sure he was saying anything that made any sense. Every so often Gibbs would turn and look at him, a quizzical expression on his face, and Tony knew that Gibbs knew exactly what he was doing. That made him talk even faster; distraction…he needed a distraction, so that he didn’t have to stare into a pair of cold grey eyes, or feel a pair of cold hands on his body; cruel, demanding, and invasive.

“Are you scared of me, Boy?”

“Hmm?” Tony stopped in mid-sentence and turned to Gibbs.

“I didn’t say anything,” Gibbs told him with a wry grunt, as if he’d be lucky to get a word in edgeways.

“Oh, right. Anyway, the thing about all the movies from this era is…”

“I’ve killed men with my bare hands. It’s one of the first things they taught us in training. It’s much easier to kill a child of course – the neck is smaller. I could snap it easily with just one hand – like a matchstick.” One cold hand slid around his neck to illustrate the point. He felt his breathing hitch in panic.

“Tony? You okay? You’re stroking your hair,” Gibbs told him. Tony blinked. He realised his hand was on the back of his head and moved it, quickly, down to his side.

“I’m just tired. I think I’ll go to bed now, Boss.”

He leaned forward to get up and a hand reached out and touched his arm. He flinched and went very still. That had been stupid of him. He knew he wasn't allowed to leave. He was locked in here. He had to stay still. If he didn’t, Luke would snap his neck the way he’d been taught in training. He had to do what Luke said because it was easy to kill a child and even easier to get rid of the body.

“It’s safe to remember it, Tony,” Gibbs said. Tony blinked. Gibbs's fingers were warm. They were curled around Tony’s wrist, drawing him back to the present.

“A child’s neck is small,” Tony told him. Gibbs nodded, as if what he’d said made total sense. “I wasn’t big at twelve. I shot up around fourteen, but at twelve I was small.” He reached up and touched his own neck. “Hands are cold,” he muttered. “Big and cold. A child’s neck breaks easily. Like a matchstick.” He made a hard clicking sound with his thumb and fingers. Gibbs didn’t move.

Tony placed his hand loosely around Gibbs’s throat. Still Gibbs didn’t move. Blue eyes gazed at him, radiating trust. Gibbs’s neck was warm, the skin stubbly beneath his fingertips.

“I want you to do exactly what I say…” Tony’s hand tightened around Gibbs’s neck. “Did you know that you can put a child’s body in a suitcase and carry it out of a hotel? Nobody thinks anything of people carrying suitcases in and out of hotels. Then, later, you can throw it in a dumpster or set fire to it in your yard. Nobody ever finds out.”

He stroked his thumb over Gibbs’s adam’s apple, and up and down his throat.

“It’s quick. No time to scream,” he said. Gibbs’s gaze never faltered. Tony put his head on one side. “You don’t scream though, do you? You squeal, Tony. Like a piglet. I like that sound. Are you scared of me right now? You should be.”

He tightened his grasp and leaned in close.

“Go and kneel on the bed for me, you little slut,” he said coldly, straight into Gibbs’s ear.

He blinked. Gibbs was unmoving, his eyes appalled.

“Tell him no,” Gibbs growled.

Tony swallowed hard, angry with himself. He’d told himself he wouldn’t do this in front of Gibbs again, but he had. Christ, what the hell must Gibbs think of him right now?

“Tony?” Gibbs said quietly. “Did you hear me?”


“Next time – tell the bastard no.”

"But that's not what happened!" Tony snapped.

“I know that, Tony. Look, you can’t change the reality of what he said to you and what he did to you, but you can change the power the memory has over you. Tell him to fuck off. Tell him that you’re in control now, and he can’t hurt you any more. Hell, tell him that I’m here if it'll help. Tell him that if he touches you, I’ll kick his sorry ass. Just make it stop.”

“It didn’t stop though,” Tony said helplessly.

“I know – but you can stop the power these memories have over you if you take control of them. It’s worth a try.”

Tony nodded. “Okay then, I’ll try. Next time.”

"Good," Gibbs said firmly.

Tony gazed at the floor, berating himself for his own weakness. Gibbs must think he was so pathetic, allowing this to get to him after all this time. He was angry with himself. He'd been twelve, not six - why hadn't he fought back? Why had he believed Parrish? Why hadn't he seen that he was playing him? He'd been an idiot – a stupid, weak idiot.

“He’s still in my head,” Tony explained. “When I saw him today, I thought it was my chance to get him out, but he still scares me. I don’t know why. I’m too big for him to hurt any more. I can take care of myself, and I know I could beat him in a fight. So, why is he still in my head, Boss?”

“Because he’s an evil bastard who played mind games on you when you were too young to fight back,” Gibbs told him. “But you do now. You’re safe here – next time he’s in your head, stand up to him. Tell him where to go. I’ll be here with you. He won’t be able to hurt you.”

Tony nodded. He wasn’t convinced, but if Gibbs thought it was worth a try, then he’d do it. Then, feeling that he’d made enough of an idiot of himself for one evening, he got up.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’m going to bed.”

“You need anything, or if you start remembering any of this again – you wake me,” Gibbs ordered. Tony nodded.

No way, he thought to himself as he walked wearily up the stairs to the spare bedroom. No fucking way.
Gibbs sat on the couch after Tony left, staring blankly at the movie still playing on the TV screen without taking any of it in. He felt chilled to the bone. What he had witnessed had been so ugly, so evil, that it made total sense of Tony’s current fragility.

Tony had mimicked Parrish’s clipped way of talking, every inflection and intonation sounding just like him, but his eyes had been those of a petrified child hearing those words for the first time. Gibbs had known Parrish was a ruthless bastard, but knowing it and being confronted with the reality of how he worked on his prey were two entirely different things.

Where had Tony's father been in all this? How could he not *see* what was happening to his son right under his nose? Were these men that clever? Or had Tony’s father been that neglectful? Or maybe it had been a combination of the two.

What if it had been Kelly? He couldn’t stop himself asking the question. Supposing it had been her – would he have noticed? Would he have seen the shadows in her eyes? Would she have suffered in silence, too scared to tell him what was happening? Would she have found it easier to come to him than Tony had found going to his father? Would he have listened to her, or dismissed her out of hand and accused her of lying?

Hell, of course he would have listened to her! He was her father. So what kind of a father had Tony’s dad been? Gibbs felt angry with the man without even knowing him, and yet Tony had said he was a good man. An awkward man, admittedly, someone who didn’t find it easy talking to people, and, from everything Tony had said, a heavy drinker. Maybe that explained it.

What kind of a child had Tony been that his father hadn’t noticed him becoming quieter and more withdrawn though? Tony had said he wasn’t the kind of kid Gibbs might expect. He’d also admitted constructing a new identity to hide behind when he went to boarding school. Gibbs wondered if he was witnessing the cracks starting to show in that identity. If tonight was anything to go by, that was exactly what was happening. Tony had been frenetic all evening, talking incessantly like he was on some kind of drug. He had been every inch the Tony DiNozzo Gibbs had known these past few years but more so, like he was playing a part, and there had been a kind of desperate intensity to his performance.

Gibbs snapped off the TV and got up, unable to shake the events of the evening from his mind. He hadn’t felt in danger himself at any point – the memory had been powerful, but Tony had been lucid throughout. Gibbs had known he wouldn’t hurt him. No, what had been so distressing was hearing the words, feeling Tony’s hand around his throat, seeing the terror in his eyes, and knowing that this had actually happened to him.

He had witnessed, at first hand, a man scaring a child into sexual compliance, and the image haunted him. Gibbs went down to his basement and reached, automatically, for his bourbon. Then he hesitated. If he started drinking he might not stop, and he had to stay sober in case Tony needed him. He put the bourbon back and turned towards his boat instead.

“I guess we all need our distractions,” he murmured, as he began working.

Tony got undressed, pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and a tee shirt to sleep in, and then got into bed. He lay there, looking up at the ceiling blankly. He was trapped in a nightmare, and he couldn't see a way out. The choices he'd made as a child, which had seemed like such a good idea at the time, were coming back to bite him. He felt so damn helpless.

He wasn't used to feeling like this. He'd done a good job, over the years, of creating a strong, robust personality, the kind of guy who could handle anything. Nothing ever touched Tony DiNozzo – even if bad things happened, they just rolled off him, leaving him – the real him – untouched and unscathed underneath. He didn't let people get close enough to use him, or make him feel weak, or small, or afraid. He didn't stay too long in one job, or get into relationships that lasted more than a few weeks. Beyond the occasional phone call, he didn't keep in touch with his family, and nobody ever got to see inside him. He kept his co-workers at a distance, laughing and joking with them but never allowing them to see beneath the surface.

For years it had worked, but then he'd slipped up; he'd stayed too long in his current job. He'd grown attached to the place and the people – or, more to the point, to one person in particular. That was weakness. He should have been ruthless about it and cut and run years ago. He'd meant to, but somehow he'd never got around to it, or he hadn't wanted to get around to it. So he'd taken the easy way out, and he was paying for that right now.

If it hadn't been for those photos, those stupid, damn photos, and if Gibbs wasn’t such an observant son of a bitch, then maybe none of this would have happened. Nobody should have seen those photos…nobody should have seen him looking like that - so weak and pathetic. That was a part of his life that he'd put behind him. He'd wrapped it up carefully and stored it out of sight, and he'd been so diligent about making sure that nobody got so much as a glimpse of it. It didn't seem fair that after all his hard work it had blown up in his face like this.

He heard footsteps on the stairs, and then, a second later, his bedroom door opened. He closed his eyes and feigned sleep.

"You okay, Tony?" Gibbs asked.

Tony turned and mumbled something incoherent, and Gibbs went away, closing the door silently behind him.

Tony heard him go into the bathroom, saw a light go on under his bedroom door, and heard running water. Then it stopped. The light went off, and he heard footsteps again. There was a series of moving around noises and then silence.

Tony lay awake for a long time, unable to switch off. He could leave – run away – but he knew that there was no place on this earth where he'd be able to hide from Gibbs. The man would track him down wherever he went. Gibbs wanted his conviction – he wanted Parrish behind bars, and Tony couldn't blame him for that. He sensed that Gibbs was affronted by the admiral. Gibbs, who idolised the honest, decent, military man, must be cut up inside about that bastard reaching such a high rank.

"Semper fi, Gibbs," Tony muttered. "They're not all like you."

So, running away wasn't an option, but staying here was equally unthinkable. If only he could do something that would piss off Gibbs so much that he’d wash his hands of him and throw him out – but what? He couldn’t think straight right now, but there had to be something.

There was another way out of course… Tony pounded his fist into his pillow, trying to get comfortable. He wouldn't take that other way out. He couldn't. He was too much of a coward. All the same, he was glad Gibbs had taken his gun away, so he wouldn't have the temptation.

"Come here, Boy," a cold voice whispered. "Come to me."

Tony turned onto his back. He needed a distraction – and quickly. Maybe he could go downstairs, turn the TV on low, and watch something…but he didn't want Gibbs to wake up and find him. If only he could go out, go to some club, and find some willing person to bring back for sex…

"Because that worked so well last time, DiNozzo," he told himself, shuddering as he remembered the events of the previous night. Besides, that was out of the question while he was staying with Gibbs.

He did still have his right hand. He slid it down the front of his boxers, took hold of his cock, and closed his eyes, trying to summon up his favourite jerk-off fantasies. There was the one where he was at an orgy with his favourite movie stars from the past. He liked glamour, and that certain cool, untouchable quality. He was unbuttoning Gene Tierney's silk blouse, fingers slipping onto her porcelain skin, skimming her beautiful breasts… No, that wasn't working; his cock remained soft in his hand.

Okay, so he was sharing a beer with Humphrey Bogart. They were on a yacht, both of them leaning on the rail, watching the sunset. Bogey was dressed in loose flannel pants and a white linen shirt. Tony leaned over and kissed Bogey's stubbled cheek. Bogey turned towards him with a crooked smile, challenging him. Tony accepted the challenge and trailed a line of kisses down Bogey's neck until he reached the hollow of his throat, and then…Bogey turned into Gibbs in front of his eyes and pushed him away.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, DiNozzo?" he growled.

"Trying to have sex with a screen legend, Boss, if you'd get out of the damn way," Tony muttered irritably.

His cock remained soft in his hand. His thoughts turned to Gibbs. Gibbs was one of his favourite jerk-off fantasies, but not one he gave into that often because the reality of working so close to the man and wanting him so much hurt like hell. Still, all else had failed, and he had to have some distraction, some release, or…

"I told you to come here, Boy. Don't make me wait."

Tony sat up. He was sure there was someone in the room – a shadow, over there, in the corner. He turned on the light quickly, his heart pounding, but the room was empty.

Tony sat on the side of the bed and rubbed the back of his head anxiously. Nothing was working, and he had to do something. His throat was dry, and he wished he had brought a glass of water up with him when he'd come to bed. He could go downstairs to the kitchen to get one, and hope he didn't wake Gibbs in the process.

"That's better. On your knees." An icy fist slipped into his hair and pulled back his head. He knew what was coming next…

Tony got up, quickly, and left the room. He tiptoed down the stairs, wincing when he trod on a stair that squeaked. Why couldn't he move silently, like Gibbs?

"Always creeping up on people, taking them by surprise," Tony muttered. He reached the bottom of the stairs and hesitated. It was dark in the downstairs hallway, but he didn't want to turn on the light in case that woke Gibbs. The kitchen door opened off the living room, so he fumbled his way into the living room in the darkness. He'd feel better if he could just get a drink of water. His throat was parched.

"Open your mouth, Boy."

He hesitated. It was hard to see in here, but there was a shadow over by the far wall, next to the TV. Was someone there? He hurried towards the closed glass kitchen door. Just a few more steps…

The room changed, and he found himself staring at the brown swirly pattern on the carpet.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

He looked up. Luke towered over him, glaring down on him.

"I told you to open your mouth."

"I don't like it," he muttered.

The hand in his hair tightened, making him squeal. Luke gave a cold, malicious smile.

"I'll do anything else," Tony said. "Just not that. I get scared when I can't breathe…"

The fingers of Luke's other hand fastened around his throat. Tony panted in fright.

"Please don't."

He blinked. He could hear the rasp of his own breathing, shallow and scared. His throat was dry. He'd been going to get a glass of water. The kitchen door was just in front of him. If he could make it into the kitchen and get the water, he'd be fine. Just a couple more steps…

He paused…he was sure there was a shadow here, in the room with him. He reached up a hand to smooth down his hair and glanced around, humming softly to himself. The room flickered and then disappeared.

"Do you know," Luke said, holding him there, one hand in his hair, the other around his throat. "That Roy is your legal guardian? If anything happened to your father, then you would have to go and live with Roy."

Tony felt his breath catch in the back of his throat, and he took a deep gulp of air. Luke stroked his neck with his thumb.

"Of course, Roy would be too busy to look after you all the time, but I've said you can come and stay with me when he gets tired of you. Now open up."

"Tell him to fuck off, DiNozzo," a terse voice said. "Say no. "

"No," he whimpered.

Luke's hand tightened in his hair. "Your father could be killed in an accident," he said. "Plenty of people have accidents."

Tony gazed up at Luke, horrified.

"Do you want your father to have an accident, Tony? Is that what you want?"

"Tell him I'm here," that voice said in his ear. He recognised the voice, but he didn't know who it belonged to. He just knew that it was someone he had to obey. "Tell him to go away," the voice insisted.

"Go away," he said obediently, and then he flinched expectantly.

"Don't make me angry, Tony!" Luke snapped.

"Tell him to leave you alone."

Tony didn't know what to do. He didn't know which of them he should obey – the man standing in front of him, or the voice in his ear. Both were demanding and imperative.

"It's easy to kill someone and make it look like an accident," Luke told him. "It's a shame your father has such a bad son. Now open your mouth and take it."

He didn't want his father hurt because of him. He opened his mouth and almost gagged as Luke thrust himself into it. Luke grabbed his head in both his hands and began moving his thighs against his face. Tony tried to pull back, only to find he was held fast.

Where was the voice now? Where had it gone? He tried to call for help, but Luke was pushing away in his mouth, and he couldn't even talk, let alone scream.

He struggled in Luke's grasp, trying to get away, but Luke was too big for him. Luke held him in place, making him take it. He couldn't breathe. There was a buzzing sound overhead, like a swarm of bees. He struggled furiously, pushing and squirming, fighting for breath. In sheer desperation, he flung out his arm and…

There was a loud crashing sound and then silence.

Tony found that he could breathe again.

Gibbs was out of bed, wide awake, gun in hand, the second he heard the noise. He ran down the stairs three at a time, stormed into the living room, turned on the light, and then stopped. There wasn't an intruder. There was just Tony, standing there, arm outstretched, blinking.

Tony glanced at him over his shoulder. "Hey Boss," he said cheerfully, his green eyes dazed but his voice standard DiNozzo, sounding as if nothing was wrong.

"Tony," Gibbs said quietly. "Stand very still. Don't move."

Tony looked confused by the order, but he didn't move. "I came down to get a glass of water, Boss. Didn't mean to wake you."

"Okay. That's fine, Tony but just don't move," Gibbs warned, putting down the gun. He went over to the couch, found the discarded pair of boots he'd left there earlier, and pulled them on.

Tony remained exactly where he was, unmoving, as ordered. "My hand hurts, Boss," he said, still looking dazed.

"I know. Hold on, Tony."

Gibbs found a pair of his own battered leather slippers under the coffee table. He picked them up and went over to Tony. His boots crunched on the shattered glass of the kitchen door which was strewn all over the floor. The dazed look faded from Tony's eyes. He looked down at his hand, which was sticking through what remained of the door, blood running down his wrist. Tony seemed to see it for the first time.

"Oh shit," he muttered.

"Yeah. That about sums it up," Gibbs commented wryly, kneeling down beside Tony and sliding the slippers onto his bare feet. He got up and gently took hold of Tony's arm. There was a big hole in the kitchen door – and a large, jagged piece of glass pointing up directly at the soft underside of Tony's wrist. Gibbs carefully pulled Tony's arm back, through the hole in the door, taking care that the glass didn't rip into any more of his skin on the way back out.

Gibbs walked Tony over the broken glass on the floor and deposited him on the couch. Then he sat down on the coffee table in front of Tony, took his injured hand onto his knees, and examined the damage. There were several small cuts and a couple of much larger ones – both of which were bleeding copiously. Gibbs could see a few pieces of glass still sticking into the wound. He removed them, and then he took hold of Tony's other hand and clamped it down firmly on the biggest cut.

"Hold it there," he ordered.

He got up and crossed the room, crunching on glass as he went, and opened what remained of the now shattered kitchen door. He filled a bowl with water, grabbed his first aid kit and a couple of kitchen towels, and returned to where Tony was sitting, his hand still clamped down hard on the bleeding cuts.

"There are less messy and less noisy ways of trying to kill yourself, DiNozzo," Gibbs joked, taking hold of Tony's hand again. Then he looked up into Tony's pale face and wished he hadn't said that.

"I wasn't," Tony muttered.

Gibbs bathed the cuts gently, washing the blood away so he could see how bad the injury was.

"I couldn't breathe," Tony explained.

"Was it Parrish again?"

Tony nodded. "Yeah."

"I told you to wake me." Gibbs pressed a towel over the largest cut to see if he could stop the bleeding.

"Yeah. Right," Tony grunted. Gibbs looked up sharply.

"Tony – I told you to wake me, and I meant it."

"I can't be like this!" Tony told him angrily. "I can't be this fucking pathetic, Gibbs! You got called out of bed last night by my lousy fucking one night stand for God's sake. Then you had Ducky nurse-maid me at work all day, and now you've got me staying in your fucking house! I'm trying to keep it together, trying to get it back under control, but it just…it slips away from me, Gibbs. It takes over my head. I can't put it back."

"Then stop trying," Gibbs told him. "That whole thing you had going – keeping it in a box in your head? That's not working any more. Give up on it, Tony. Did you try fighting back instead, like I told you?"

"Yeah." Tony shook his head. "Didn't work. I’m not strong enough. I’m so fucking weak. I thought you were there, in my head, but it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Again. Ow…damn it…" He winced as Gibbs pressed down harder on the wound to stem the bleeding.

"Hold on, DiNozzo. I just need to see if this is going to stop by itself, or if you're going to need stitches," Gibbs told him. He sat there, holding Tony's hand in his lap, wrapped up in a towel. Tony looked pale and upset, and as unlike DiNozzo as he'd ever seen him. They were silent for a moment, just gazing at each other.

"It might have worked, if I'd tried harder," Tony said eventually. "I got scared. I couldn't breathe. He…" He flinched, and reached up his good hand to rub the back of his head.

"What did he do, Tony?" Gibbs asked, trying to head off another fugue.

"Doesn't matter," Tony muttered. "I struggled because I couldn't breathe – that must have been when my hand went through the door.

"Why couldn't you breathe?"

Gibbs opened the towel and examined the wound again. It was still seeping blood but not as much as before. Tony wasn't in any immediate danger, so he decided to bandage his hand and get Ducky to look at it tomorrow to see if he needed to go to the ER.

"Tony?" He glanced up. "Why couldn't you breathe?"

Tony's eyes were dark. "There was something in my mouth," he said. Realisation hit Gibbs, and he worked hard to fight down the surge of anger. "And he had his hand in my hair, so I couldn't pull back. I couldn't breathe." He took a few deep gulps of air.

"You're okay now," Gibbs told him firmly.

He worked on, gently, quietly, and efficiently, wrapping the bandage around Tony's hand, using skills he’d acquired as a soldier applying field dressings in combat. Tony leaned back on the couch and ran an angry hand through his hair.

"I should have moved on years ago," he said quietly.

Gibbs glanced up, frowning.

"I can take care of myself," Tony told him. "I don't need anyone looking out for me."

"I know that, DiNozzo. But everyone needs help occasionally."

"You don't," Tony muttered. “I don’t, either. I’ve always taken care of myself, Gibbs. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.”

“You shouldn’t have had to do it before,” Gibbs growled. “You were only twelve, Tony. You shouldn’t have had to handle that all alone.”

“I did though – and I did just fine,” Tony snapped at him. "I don't like authority, Gibbs," he said, suddenly and unexpectedly.

"Ya think, DiNozzo?" Gibbs grinned at him.

"No – I mean, I don't like these older guys; military, police captains – authority figures – I don't like them telling me what to do. I can't trust them."

"No. I can understand that," Gibbs said quietly.

"You don't understand shit," Tony growled.

"Then tell me."

"There's something in me – wants to please them, wants them to like me, wants to roll over and die if they tell me to, so I have to be careful. They sense it – think they can use me, play me. They always do, even when they don't know it. That's why I left Peoria. The captain there…he was playing me. I lost it with him, told him where to shove his fucking job – that's why he gave me such a lousy reference - but I had to protect myself."

"And you've done that," Gibbs told him. "You've done a great job with that, Tony."

"Yeah – by moving on, by not sticking around and letting anyone get close to me. I ran out of Philly and Baltimore before I could screw up that way again. And then, idiot that I am, I ended up doing it anyway. With you. You were a mistake, Gibbs. You were a mistake I shouldn’t have made."

Gibbs finished making one circuit of Tony's hand with the bandage. He sat back and looked at Tony, puzzled by what was going on in Tony's head. Tony's expression was dark and intense. Gibbs started wrapping the bandage around his hand again.

"You played me too," Tony said. Gibbs paused, hands in mid-air. "It's okay. I let you do it because I trusted you. And I liked it," he added. "It made me feel safe. Being around you made me feel safe. I knew you wouldn't let anyone else get to me, or play me, and I knew you wouldn't betray me. So I felt safe."

"That why you stayed?"

"No." Tony shook his head. "I stayed because I'm in love with you."

Gibbs paused again. Tony's eyes were deadly serious.

Tony leaned forward, cupped the back of his neck in his good hand, pulled him towards him, and pressed his lips against Gibbs's mouth. His lips were soft and warm, agile and seductive, the kiss tentative but firm. Gibbs sat there, still cradling Tony's other hand in his lap. Tony drew back, and grinned at him.

"Now you can throw me out," he said, and there was a satisfied, bitterly triumphant look in his eyes.

"No." Gibbs shook his head and continued bandaging Tony's hand as if the kiss hadn't happened.

"No?" Tony looked angry and confused.

"No," Gibbs told him firmly. "That the best you can do, DiNozzo?"

"What the hell do you mean?"

"You think I don't know how much you want to run out? The only reason you haven't is because you know I'll damn well track you down wherever you go, and you're right – I will. Easier to get me to throw you out but that's not gonna happen – and trust me, kissing me sure as hell isn't the best way to go about it."

There was a shocked expression on Tony's face, and his mouth was slightly open in an unasked question.

"You think I don't know that place you're in now? You're wrong. I do," Gibbs told him firmly. "I was there once myself, after Shannon and Kelly died. That first year after they were killed I drank myself stupid every night and went out looking for fights. Every night. Night after night. My friend Walt used to wade in after me and drag me out, but he couldn't stop me. Nobody could. Drinking and fighting were the only things that kept me going. That stopped after about a year when I found a new distraction. You think you sleep around, DiNozzo? Trust me, I know all about that as well."

"Never figured you for someone who did one night-stands, Boss."

Gibbs snorted. "Hell yeah. Too many to count. For about six months I slept with any warm body that would have me. I'd wake up in strange apartments, in hotel rooms, even in my own bed occasionally but always with some stranger lying beside me. And never the same one twice. My friend Walt had to rescue me from a couple of bad situations there, too."

Tony winced. "Yeah, been there, done that," he muttered. "Why are you telling me this, Boss?"

"So you know I'm not going to give up on you, no matter what," Gibbs told him. "And because not all the people I woke up with were women."

Tony's eyes flashed. He looked so totally dumbstruck by this piece of information that Gibbs had to bite back a chuckle.

"Which is another reason why I'm not shocked, pissed off, or whatever the hell reaction you wanted out of me when you kissed me," Gibbs told him. “And Tony? There is nothing you can do that will make me throw you out, so forget it.”

He finished bandaging Tony's hand and then removed it from his own lap and put it back in Tony's.

“Nothing?” Tony asked. He looked like a kid who had been pushing boundaries and wanted the reassurance of knowing they would always hold firm.

“Nothing,” Gibbs repeated, in the firmest tone he possessed. He leaned forward. “Nothing,” he said again. “I told you I’d be here for you, Tony, and I meant it - no matter what you do to my house.” He gave a little grin at that, his gaze flickering over to the shattered glass on the carpet by the door. Tony’s lips quirked up in return, but the smile was barely there.

"You need to get some rest," Gibbs told him. "Seriously, Tony – you look like shit. Let me get you some painkillers, and then you can go back to bed."

"I can't." Tony shook his head. "Gibbs, every time I close my eyes I'm back in that hotel room. I can't go to bed."

"Then we'll stay here, but you will damn well get some sleep."

He got up, took the stuff he'd used to bathe and dress Tony's cut hand back into the kitchen, and returned with a glass of water and the painkillers. Tony swallowed down the tablets in one gulp and then emptied the glass thirstily. Gibbs turned on the lamp on the coffee table and turned off the main light. Then he sat down on the couch beside him. Tony looked at him miserably.

"I won't sleep," he said. "After what happened, I'm too scared to even try."

"You'll sleep," Gibbs predicted confidently.

He put a cushion on his lap, then wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulder and pulled him down so that he was lying with his head on the cushion, his bandaged hand nestled carefully in front of him.

“Put your legs up on the couch,” Gibbs told him.

Tony looked up at him quizzically, as if he’d gone insane. Gibbs was reminded of that fox analogy of Ducky’s; Tony’s green eyes shone with a hesitant kind of light, like an animal that wanted to come into the house and rest beside the fire but was too scared to cross the threshold.

“Do it, Tony.”

Tony moved his legs up onto the couch, and Gibbs pulled the comforter off the back of the couch and covered Tony with it.

"This won't work," Tony told him, his body stiff and tense.

"Try," Gibbs said, and then he leaned over and turned out the light.

He sat back on the couch, and then slowly, carefully, like petting a wild animal, he began combing his fingers through Tony's hair, smoothing it. Tony stiffened at first, but Gibbs didn’t say anything, he just kept stroking. He knew this was Tony’s self-comforting mechanism, and he suspected that it really did help to calm him down when he was distressed.

Tony gradually started to loosen up under his hand, his body losing its stiffness. Gibbs kept rhythmically moving his fingers through Tony’s thick, short hair, and slowly, very slowly, Tony relaxed, his body becoming heavier as he sank into the couch.

Gibbs closed his eyes. Ducky had said that he was uniquely qualified to help Tony precisely because he was damaged too, but Gibbs couldn't help but wonder if this was just a case of the blind leading the lame, both of them groping their way along and neither of them knowing where the hell they were going.

He heard Tony's breathing deepen, and then he gave a little snore. Gibbs grinned.

He fell asleep still stroking Tony's hair.
Tony wondered where he was when he woke up. His hand was throbbing, but he felt like he’d been sleeping for hours. He was warm and safe. There was something resting on the side of his head, heavy and reassuring. He lay there, trying to figure out what it was and where he was. Then the events of the previous night came flooding back in, and he stiffened.

Christ, he’d made a fool of himself; first by smashing up Gibbs’s house and then with that stupid, humiliating kiss. He’d been so sure that Gibbs would think he’d crossed a line and throw him out. But his boss’s lips had been surprisingly receptive, and while Gibbs hadn’t responded as such, he hadn’t shoved him away, either.

Tony hated that Gibbs was seeing everything he’d tried so hard to keep hidden all these years. Nobody had ever seen who he really was before, and he'd always wanted to keep it that way. Now he was unravelling, and he was stuck here, and he didn't know how to deal with it.

Tony slid out from under Gibbs’s hand and rolled off the couch. He paused for a moment and glanced at his boss. A thin strip of light shone in from a chink in the drapes, and Tony could see that Gibbs was still asleep, his head back, his mouth slightly open.

Tony saw the broken glass on the floor and winced. He found a newspaper on a nearby chair and began picking up the larger shards of glass and placing them on the paper, as quietly as he could, using his good hand. His other hand continued to throb, and he could see some blood seeping through the bandage.

“Basket case,” he muttered as he surveyed the all too obvious remains of last night’s meltdown. “Idiot.”

He thought he’d got this weak, needy side of himself under control. He remembered those first few weeks at boarding school, and the intoxicating realisation that he could be someone else. Nobody knew him here. He wasn’t the shy kid here – he wasn’t someone who got taken to a hotel room and fucked because he was too weak to say no. Here he could be loud and noisy, the centre of attention, always goofing around. It was exhilarating exploring his new personality. He loved this Tony DiNozzo – he was strong, brave, and fearless. Nothing and nobody could ever hurt this Tony DiNozzo; he wouldn't let anyone get that close.

When he shot up in height a year or two later, he found he was good at sports. All kinds – football, basketball, hockey, soccer. He threw himself around, took risks, and relished this new, agile body. This body was one that *he* got to control, nobody else. He could almost forget about the boy he’d put in a box, but sometimes, just occasionally, there were moments when he lost time.

There had been that occasion in the locker room when the coach, a big, heavy guy, had come up behind him and wrapped an arm around his neck, intending to congratulate him on an outstanding performance on the pitch. Tony had instinctively gone very still, and had only just managed to resist an impulse to get on his hands and knees for Luke to fuck. Later, when he was alone, he’d lost about half an hour.

Then there had been that time at Peoria, when the bastard captain had put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, threateningly.

“What’s the matter, DiNozzo – you won’t take one for the team? You not a team player? We don’t like guys who aren’t team players around here. They find their lockers get broken into, and their stuff gets pissed on.”

He didn’t like being threatened, and he didn’t like the way the captain was looking at him, like he was just a kid who could be made to do whatever he was told. He knew where that ended. Later, at home, he lost twenty minutes. That was when he knew he had to get out. He’d handed in his notice the next day.

There had been other times – moments here and there - but nothing too serious. As long as he kept moving and didn’t let anyone get too close, then he was okay. Once he started working with Gibbs he stopped losing time altogether. Gibbs made him feel safe – and that was why he should have got away from the man years ago. He didn’t need protection, he could take care of himself – hadn’t he proved that, over and over again? Yet he’d been seduced by Gibbs’s strength, certainty, and fierce protective instincts. The boy in the box needed taking care of and that was tiring. Sometimes, if he was honest, Tony resented that kid, draining all his energy. He wanted someone to take care of him sometimes, and that was why he was attracted to Gibbs. Not that the man ever took much notice of him, but he was there; solid, strong, and reassuring, and that was enough.

Tony finished picking up the biggest pieces of glass and wrapped the newspaper carefully around them. He took the paper into the kitchen.

“I fucking hate you,” he said, as he threw the glass in the trash. It was all too tangible evidence that the boy in the box had got out and was now running amok and ruining his life. "You fucking little shit. I fucking hate you," he seethed.

“Who are you talking to?” a quiet voice behind him asked. Gibbs had managed to sneak up on him, as usual.

“Him,” Tony replied, turning. Somehow, Gibbs still managed to look sexy, even when dressed in boxer shorts, a tee shirt, and a pair of unlaced boots.

“Who is ‘him’?” Gibbs asked.

“Him. Tonio.” Tony pointed a finger at his head. “He got out and smashed up your house. That’s kind of embarrassing.”

“He’s you, Tony,” Gibbs told him, in an exasperated tone.

“Well, I don’t want him, Gibbs. I wish he’d go away. I’ve looked after the snivelling little brat all these years – I protected him so nobody got to hurt him again, and now he does this.”
He pointed at the shattered kitchen door.

“He’s scared. You’re scared, Tony,” Gibbs told him quietly. “He’s just a part of you. I’m guessing that as long as you keep ignoring him he’s going to keep on trying to get your attention.”

“Yeah, well, you’d know all about that,” Tony said shortly, pushing past him on his way back into the living room. Gibbs grabbed his arm.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You. Me. Eight years of it,” Tony replied.

Gibbs released his arm. “You’ve got my attention now, Tony,” he said softly.

“No, *he* has,” Tony growled. “Is it possible to be jealous of your own sub-personality? Because if it is, I am.”

Gibbs gave a little grunt of laughter, and Tony relaxed and grinned.

“You’re the one who makes me laugh, Tony,” Gibbs told him. “You always have.” He glanced around. “You cleaned up?”

“Yeah – the mess was embarrassing me.”

“How’s your hand?”

“Throbs.” Tony held it up.

“I’ll call Ducky. It probably needs medical attention.”

“Yeah. Figures. First I lose it in an interrogation, and now I’ll walk into the squad room with a big white bandage on my hand. There’s no way Ziva will let that one drop.” Tony leaned against the wall and watched Gibbs fill the kettle and put it on the hob.

“Then tell her the truth."

“No.” Tony shook his head.

Gibbs glanced up. "Nobody is going to judge you."

"No. They're going to *pity* me. That's worse. All anyone will see when they look at me is that stupid fucking kid who didn't know how to say no."

Gibbs turned around to face him. “Tony, this kid you talk about - I don’t know him. I do know that he’s a kid, and he’s hurting right now, but that's not the only reason why I care about him. I care about him because, whether you accept it or not, he's also you.”

“No, you care about him because he's a kid, and you hate it when kids are hurt,” Tony pointed out. “Any kid.”

“Yeah, but I don’t bring them all home with me,” Gibbs told him. “And I sure as hell don’t sit up on the couch all night so they can get some sleep.”

Tony flushed. “Yeah, sorry about that. It won’t happen again.”

“You can’t promise that,” Gibbs replied with an impatient flick of his head. “And it doesn’t matter. You know, when we were first married, before Kelly was born, sometimes I’d come home late at night from a training exercise to find Shannon sitting on the couch with a blanket wrapped around her. She used to like staying up late to watch these stupid horror movies in the dark, but then she’d be too scared to get up and turn on the light, so she’d just stay sitting on the couch until I got home.”

He smiled at the memory, and Tony watched him, transfixed. Gibbs never talked about anything personal. He never let his guard down, or let any of them in, and he never, ever talked about Shannon and Kelly. Now, as he reminisced about his first wife, he looked relaxed and there was that easy smile on his face - and Gibbs had never been a man for whom smiling came easy. Tony wished he could bottle the moment and keep it. It was the first time Gibbs had ever opened up to him about anything personal, and he felt honoured.

“Sometimes,” Gibbs continued, “I was so tired I’d just throw myself down on the couch beside her, and she’d snuggle up against me, and we’d both fall asleep. Sometimes...sometimes, if she was really scared, I’d get a cushion and put it on my lap. Then she’d put her head on it, and I’d stroke her hair until she fell asleep.”

Tony gazed at him with a shocked sense of realisation. Last night on the couch hadn’t been some random act of kindness towards a fucked up and unwanted houseguest. It had been something intimate, the kind of moment Gibbs had only shared with one other person before, and she had been the love of his life.

“You still miss her,” Tony said quietly, and it wasn’t a question. He had caught a glimpse of the damage that Gibbs usually kept so well-hidden, and it was humbling. He forgot all his own problems for a moment, as his well-developed sense of empathy kicked in. Gibbs didn’t let anyone see those raw wounds in his heart, but they were still there. They’d never healed over, not even a little bit, and he still ached for what he'd lost.

“Every single day,” Gibbs replied softly. There was something so obviously broken about him that Tony wondered how he’d never seen it before, and then he realised that he’d never seen it because Gibbs never let anyone see it, just as Tony never let anyone see the boy in the box.

“You want coffee?” Gibbs asked, and in an instant he was back to normal.

Tony cleared his throat. “Yeah. I’ll just go take a shower and get dressed if Ducky is coming over."

Ducky arrived half an hour later, unwrapped Tony’s now soggy bandage, took one look at the cuts underneath, and immediately proclaimed that he had to be whisked off to the ER.

“I would suture it myself, Anthony,” he said, as he peered at Tony’s cut hand through his glasses. Gibbs leaned against the wall, watching. “But since that unfortunate incident, I’m not as confident operating on the living as I am on the dead.” He gestured to his own hand, where he’d been stabbed not so long ago.

“Great. You know how I just love hospitals.” Tony made a face.

“Ah, yes,” Ducky chuckled, glancing over at Gibbs. “You and Jethro both. It always amuses me how two such very macho men can become positively green-faced at the thought of a visit to the hospital. Although, frankly, in your line of work and with the way you both throw yourselves into the path of danger at the drop of a hat, I’d think you’d be used to it by now.”

“Might be used to it - don’t have to like it, Duck,” Gibbs commented. “Do you want me to come with you, Tony?”

“No.” Tony shook his head, looking straight at him. “Ducky can take me. I know you have to work, and frankly I’ve taken up enough of your time, Boss.”

Gibbs nodded. It didn’t take two of them to drive Tony to the hospital, and Ducky was best placed to make sure Tony got the treatment he needed in any case.

He watched them leave, and then he reached for his cell phone.
Walter Silberman sat reading his newspaper, surrounded by three dogs, two cats, and his wife, Cyndi. He had hired someone to take care of his successful business and was semi-retired these days, just doing the rounds when necessary.

The phone rang; Cyndi answered and then handed it to him, with a stern look.

“It’s Jethro. Tell him no,” she mouthed, and he grinned and ran his hand over his sore abdomen. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, and Cyndi had given him hell for allowing Gibbs to use him as a punching bag yesterday.

“Hey, Jethro,” he said, taking the phone. “Look, could we skip the sparring part, and maybe go for a coffee instead? I know you prefer talking with your fists, but after yesterday I get the feeling that actual talking might be more help to you right now.”

He heard Gibbs grunt on the other end of the line. “Cyndi tore you a new one, didn’t she?” he said. Walt laughed out loud.

“Yes she did, old friend, and she’s right. Give me a few days recovery time, and I’ll knock your puny little ass around again, but for now – I’m beat.”

“Wuss,” Gibbs accused.

“Yeah,” Walt chuckled. “Seriously though, Jethro – I can meet you at that FHC place you like so much in about twenty minutes.”

“See you then.”

The line went dead, and Walt clicked off the phone with a sigh.

“He okay?” Cyndi asked. She was as fond of Gibbs as he was – she and Shannon had been close. Cyndi hadn’t been able to have kids, and Kelly had been like a surrogate child to them. They had both been devastated when she'd been killed.

“I’m not sure. You know Jethro. Something’s got to him, but it’s like pulling teeth finding out what. I knew yesterday was just the start of it though.”

“He needs someone in his life. Someone who cares about him,” Cyndi said firmly.

“Yeah, well, you saw the way those marriages of his all ended,” Walt sighed. “And when I say ‘ended’ I mean ‘crashed and burned’.”

“He’s too nice a man to be alone.” Cyndi fed a piece of bacon from her plate to one of the dogs. “Well, maybe ‘nice’ is the wrong word,” she grinned. “He’s a cussed S.O.B, but he’s a good man, and he’s been through so much. He deserves to find someone.”

“There isn’t a woman alive who’ll measure up to Shannon,” Walt told her, getting up and planting a kiss on her cheek.

“Not a woman, no,” Cyndi said softly. Walt raised an eyebrow at her. “No *woman* stands a chance,” Cyndi said pointedly.

Walt remembered a time when Gibbs had played the field like a man trying desperately to convince himself that he loved being single again and was going to enjoy everything on offer. At a rough estimate seventy per cent of his conquests had been women, but the rest had been men. Walt hadn't been judgemental. Gibbs and Shannon had got together young, and Walt figured that Gibbs had missed out on a certain amount of experimentation in his youth and was making up for it. That had been a long time ago though, and Walt was pretty sure he'd only dated women since then.

“You trying to tell me something, Cyndi?” he asked, as he reached for his keys, put a baseball cap on his bald head, and walked towards the door.

“Would I?” she grinned at him, and he laughed out loud and patted one of the dogs that had followed him hopefully to the door.
Walt was waiting for Gibbs when he arrived at the coffee house, long legs stretched out in front of him, baseball cap perched on his head.

“Here you go.” Walt pushed a cup of coffee towards him. Gibbs took a sip – it was hot and strong, just the way he liked it.

“Cyndi still got you on decaf?” Gibbs asked, gesturing with his head towards the cup Walt was cradling. “I don’t know how you can drink that swill, Walt.”

“It’s either that, or I sleep on the floor.” Walt grinned at him.

Gibbs gave a wry little chuckle. Cyndi was five foot nothing of pure steel. She and Walt might look comical together, Walt towering over his diminutive wife, but Cyndi was definitely the one in charge in that relationship. Walt was more of a gentle giant kind of guy – except in a fight. Gibbs could only think of one other person he’d prefer to have by his side in a fight, and he was having his hand sewn up in the hospital right now.

“So, I kicked your ass yesterday, and you wanted me to kick it again today,” Walt said, taking a sip of his coffee. “What’s eating you, Jethro?”

“You didn’t kick my ass. You’re getting fat and slow, Walt,” Gibbs retorted. “Too much fine living. I don't know why the hell a man your ages retires.”

“I'm semi-retired – and am I hearing this from the same Leroy Jethro Gibbs who took off to Mexico a few years ago and swore he wasn’t coming back?”

Gibbs grinned at him and gulped down some of his coffee.

“And you haven’t answered my question,” Walt said, leaning back in his chair. “What’s going on, Jethro?”

Gibbs swung the coffee around in the cup, wondering where the hell to start.

“You said yesterday that it was both work related and personal,” Walt prompted.

“Yeah.” Gibbs wondered how anyone found this talking stuff through shit easy.

“She a redhead?” Walt asked.

Gibbs shook his head. “Not this time.”

“Thank God for that,” Walt said in a heartfelt tone. “No offence, Jethro, but I’ve watched you climb into and out of marriage with too many Shannon clones to know that it never works out.”

“Well, this one isn’t anything like my last three wives,” Gibbs growled.

“Good. What is she like?”

“Fucked up.” Gibbs took another gulp of his coffee. “Hurting. Scared. Vulnerable.”

“Jesus.” Walt shook his head. “How long have you known her?”

“Eight years.”

“Eight?” Walt echoed, in disbelief. “How come you never mentioned her before?”

“I was trying not to, you know, give into it.”

Gibbs watched as Walt took off his baseball cap and scratched his bald head thoughtfully.

“Why?” Walt asked. “There something wrong with her?”

“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “Just – we work together and that never works out.”

“Well it didn’t work out once, with Jenny, but that doesn’t mean it never works out,” Walt sighed. “Although trust you to extrapolate a whole life lesson from one failure. I bet you even have a rule for it, don’t ya?”

“Rule number twelve,” Gibbs said promptly. “Never date a co-worker.”

“Stupid dumb rule. If I’d followed that rule I’d never have married Cyndi – she was my secretary,” Walt pointed out.

“I know. This is more complicated than that though."


“There’s a case,” Gibbs said, unsure where to begin. “Bad case – the kind that makes me want to pound my fist into the wall.”

“Knowing you, I suspect you did actually pound your fist into a wall,” Walt sighed. “That why you were taping your knuckles before we sparred yesterday?”

“Trust you to notice. I never could hide anything from you, Walt.”

“Well, you’ve hidden this woman from me for eight years,” Walt grunted. Gibbs winced.

“It isn’t a woman, Walt,” he said softly, and then he waited. Walt gazed at him steadily for a few seconds and then rolled his eyes.

“Damn it – why the hell is Cyndi always right about everything?” he muttered.


“Never mind. Does this guy have a name?”


“He your second in command at NCIS? The one who took over when you went to Mexico?”


“And you’ve been pretending not to like him for eight years?” Walt asked incredulously.

“It’s easily done,” Gibbs grunted. “Look, I can’t tell you the details, but Tony is mixed up in this case I’m working on. Something bad happened to him – and I mean really bad, pretty much as bad as it gets - and I told him I’d see him through it. He’s counting on me, Walt, but I keep thinking I’ll fuck him up even worse than he already is. He’s staying at my place at the moment and Christ, this morning I even found myself telling him some stuff about Shannon – stuff I’ve never told anyone.”

Walt gazed at him steadily. “You want to know what I think?” he asked.

“That’s why I’m here.” Gibbs braced himself. Walt had that no-nonsense look in his eyes. The same one he’d had sixteen years ago when he’d told Gibbs he was done with pulling him out of bar fights, and he had to get his act together.

“I think you’re scared, Jethro,” Walt said. Gibbs felt himself bristling. He knew himself to be many things, but he wasn’t a coward. “I’ve watched you,” Walt told him. “I’ve watched you all these years. I understood all the drinking and fighting after Shannon and Kelly died, and I sure as hell understood all the one night stands. Then I thought you’d got your shit together, but you hadn’t – not really. You just replaced the drinking, fighting, and fucking with working instead. You work like other people breathe, Jethro.”

“I like my job, Walt,” Gibbs growled.

“I liked mine – didn’t make me want to do it eighteen hours a day,” Walt retorted. “And I watched those Shannon clones. They wanted you, and they made all the moves. They pursued you, and you let them. They climbed into bed with you, and you let them. They moved in with you, and you let them. They married you, and hell, you even let them do that. Then they left you – and you let them, because the truth was you didn’t really give a damn. They never touched you – not any of them. You were safe, Jethro, because you never let yourself care. I bet the people you work with think you have a heart made out of pure stone, and I can see why.”

“You know, this isn’t helping me yet, Walt,” Gibbs muttered.

“Yeah, well, the truth isn’t always pretty,” Walt replied briskly. “You walled up that heart of yours after Shannon died because you’re just too chicken to let anyone else in, Jethro. That’s why you’re freaked out right now.”

“Freaked out?” Gibbs frowned. “Do I look freaked out?”

Walt grinned. “Judging by that cut above your eye that I gave you yesterday, and those torn knuckles you gave yourself – yeah. This is how Leroy Jethro Gibbs looks when he’s freaked out. And do you know why?”

“I know you’re going to tell me.” Gibbs sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Too right I am. You’re freaked out because this Tony person is as fucked up as you are, so you can't hold him at arm's length like you did all those ex-wives of yours. You lowered your guard and gave him a tiny peek inside your soul, and now you’ve let him in you don’t know how to get him out again. You’re not scared of fucking him up, Jethro; you’re scared of loving him. You remember how much it hurt when Shannon died, and you don’t want to go through that again.”

“You done?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“No. It does fucking hurt, Jethro. It hurts for all of us. Love is like that. So get your head out of your ass and join the human race. Eight years. Eight goddamn years.” Walt shook his head.

Gibbs swallowed down the last of his coffee. “See, this is why I prefer fighting to talking,” he growled.

“Yeah. I know.” Walt gave him a rueful grin. “Look, Jethro – is the fact that he’s a guy holding you back?”

Gibbs thought about it for a moment. “I’ve never had a relationship with a guy, only sex,” he said finally. “Never even considered it. But is it holding me back? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably.”

“Well don’t let it,” Walt told him firmly. “Because there isn’t a woman in the world who’ll ever be good enough for you after Shannon. At least with a guy you stand a chance.”

“Maybe.” Gibbs nodded, thinking Walt did have a point there.

“What’s he like?” Walt leaned forward, his brown eyes curious. "I mean really like – not the fucked up stuff, the other stuff. Why do you like him?"

“He talks a lot. He likes movies. He’s strong, intelligent, independent, and capable. He can be an idiot. He goofs off and gets himself into trouble, but he can be surprisingly serious just when you least expect it. He's got a sensitive side he never lets anyone get close enough to see, and he empathises with people far more than you'd expect from someone like him. And he’s funny. He makes me laugh.”

“Sounds a lot like Shannon,” Walt grunted, finishing his own coffee.

Gibbs smiled. “Yeah.”

“Does he feel the same way? Does he like you?”

“Yes.” Gibbs nodded.

“So what’s the problem?” Walt asked. Gibbs glared at him. Walt always did have a way of simplifying everything down to nothing. “Except for the fact you’re chicken,” Walt added, with a grin.

“I told you, he’s fucked up…”

“So are you.” Walt shrugged. “So what? Does that mean that neither of you is allowed to be happy? Just take it one day at a time.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Gibbs grunted.

“It’s as complicated as you make it. Look, Jethro – don’t screw this one up. He sounds like he might actually be good for you. Besides, Cyndi wants you to find someone, so I’d take it as a personal favour to me if you’d get on and do just that, so she’ll stop bending my ear about it.”

Gibbs laughed out loud and then glanced at his watch. “I gotta go. Next time can we make it the gym instead of the coffee place, Walt?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Walt sighed, rubbing his solar plexus absently. “And you’re welcome, Jethro.”

“I didn’t say thanks,” Gibbs growled.

Walt grinned. “You will. One day.”
Abby glanced up hopefully when she heard footsteps outside her lab and then sighed when McGee entered the room.

“Problem?” He raised an eyebrow.

“No – I just thought you might be Gibbs,” she said, turning back to her screen. “Where *is* Gibbs, McGee?”

“Well, I don’t know,” McGee shrugged. “Doing, uh, case-related stuff I expect. He left me in charge.”

“Yeah, right.”

“He did!” McGee protested.

“McGee, there is no way Gibbs left you in charge of a case this big. If he had to go somewhere he’d have left Tony in charge.” She frowned. “Where *is* Tony, McGee?”

“Uh…I don’t know that either,” he said evasively, sitting down beside her and opening up the laptop he’d brought with him.

“You do!” She turned on him. “What’s going on, Timmy? Spill!”

“Nothing. I mean…look, I really don’t know where Tony is, but Gibbs definitely did leave me in charge of this case.”

“Something is hinky,” she said. McGee flushed. “And you know what it is! Come on, Tim, tell me!”

“I can’t,” he said earnestly, flushing up to the tips of his ears. “Seriously, Abby - I just can’t.”

“Yesterday I found Tony helping Ducky with dead people,” Abby mused. “Why?”

“I really have no idea – honestly.”

"And Tony and Ducky both came in really late yesterday. Together." Abby raised an intrigued eyebrow at McGee.

"Maybe they're having an affair?" he said, rolling his eyes.

"Don't be stupid, McGee!" She thwapped his arm. "There's no way Tony and Ducky are having an affair because Tony is crazy in love with…" She stopped herself just in time.

"Tony is crazy in love with who?" McGee questioned.

"Himself!" She grinned. "Talking of Ducky - where is he, Tim? He isn’t here, either.”

“I’m here, and as I’m in charge I’d like you to get on with some work please,” McGee told her, pointing at her screen. She smiled at him happily.

“I do like a man who takes charge. That sounded almost Gibbsian, McGee!”

“Gibbsian?” McGee raised an eyebrow.

“It’s definitely a word. Like hinky.”

“Hinky isn’t a word, Abby.”

“McGee! How can you say that?”

McGee sighed. “Okay, hinky’s a word.”

“Okay then. Back down the salt mines.” She clicked her mouse and brought up a photograph. “You ever hate your job, McGee?” she sighed, looking at yet another picture of a boy with sad eyes.

“At the moment? Every single day.”
Gibbs had just returned from the cold case filing room and sat down at his desk when Tony walked through the door. He had a massive white bandage on his hand that stretched half-way up his forearm.

“Tony! What on earth happened to you?” Ziva exclaimed.

“I walked into a door,” Tony said with a grin.

“I do not believe you.” She perched on the side of his desk and examined the bandage. “That sounds like the kind of thing women say when they are being beaten by their husbands.”

“You’re right, Ziva,” Tony agreed. “I was beaten by my husband.”

“No – you are still lying,” she said, rolling her eyes. “What really happened?”

“He walked into a door, Ziva, like he said,” Gibbs growled. “How did it go at the hospital, Tony?”

“Fine. I’ll need the dressing changed every day until the stitches can come out though.”

“Me or Ducky can do that,” Gibbs said, getting up. He picked up the massive pile of files on his desk, walked over to Tony’s desk, and dumped them on it. “Cold cases,” he said. “All for you, DiNozzo.”

“Aw, Boss!” Tony protested. “C’mon! There has to be a dozen of them!”

“Then the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done,” Gibbs said pleasantly.

“Yes, Boss,” Tony sighed.

“Tony is not working on the Parrish case?” Ziva asked, in a surprised voice. “But there is so much to do, Gibbs. We need all the help we can get. The cold case files can surely wait?”

“Not Tony,” Gibbs told her. “He’s not working this one.”

“But Gibbs…”

“Tony is not working this case,” Gibbs repeated icily. He glanced at Tony, who had picked up one of the files and was burying his nose in it studiously, pretending he wasn’t listening. Gibbs’s phone rang, and he picked it up.

“Uh, Boss?” McGee’s voice. “Abby’s had a breakthrough down here, and I think you should come down and see it.”

“On my way.”

He stopped off for a Caf-Pow and took it along to Abby’s lab. She took it and lifted her cheek in anticipation of a kiss.

“Not yet, Abs. I want to see what you’ve got first,” he told her, with a little smile.

“Gibbs!” she protested. “I’ve hardly seen you in days!”

“You saw me yesterday, Abby,” he pointed out.

“For about ten minutes!”

“Well you’re seeing me now. What have you got for me?” Gibbs glanced at McGee.

“I went through all the missing persons data but didn’t find a match on any of our boys,” McGee told him. “Abby sent all the photos to the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children but so far we’ve had no matches there, either. Then Abby had a great idea. Abby?” He gestured with his head. Abby grinned.

“It *is* a great idea,” she said. “Even if I do say so myself! I picked the clearest photo of each boy, and I began ageing them.”

Gibbs glanced at McGee, who made a little movement with his eyes.

“Then I ran them through the facial recognition software and matched them against pictures in the criminal database,” Abby said proudly. “I thought that some of our boys might have grown up a bit hinky after what happened to them, and that they might have criminal records.”

“Good thinking, Abs,” Gibbs said. “What did you come up with?”

“Oh…I’m not done yet. I’m taking it one boy at a time.”

“She’s up to Boy 41 now,” McGee told him meaningfully. “That’s why I called you down. So you could…uh, see for yourself.”

“And – we have four matches,” she said triumphantly. “So I started a spreadsheet.” She pulled it up onscreen. “Boy One – Justin Merrells. We know about him already. Boy Fourteen – Ben Parkes.” She brought up the picture of round-faced, blond boy. “Lots of minor drugs charges. He’s in prison right now. Boy 34: Leo Baranski. He died a few years ago in a car accident. He had a few convictions for DUI though, so I’m thinking it’s related. And Boy 39: Xavier Ramirez. He’s currently doing ten years for aggravated assault and battery.”

“Good work, Abs.” Gibbs leaned over and kissed her expectant cheek. “McGee – go and interview Parkes and Ramirez. See if they’ll talk about these photos and confirm they were forced into underage sex. Find out if they know the names of any of their abusers.”

“On it, Boss!”

“And do some digging - see if Baranski had any connection to Quinn or Parrish,” Gibbs added.

“We’ve got a first name for Boy 32 as well,” Abby said, pointing with her mouse at her spreadsheet. “He’s wearing an identity bracelet. I managed to blow it up and his name is Ryan. Not much – but it’s something.”

“I have one more name for your spreadsheet, Abs,” Gibbs told her quietly. “Boy 43.”

“Yeah? Cool!” She put her fingers on the keyboard and waited expectantly.

“Anthony DiNozzo,” he told her quietly. She looked up, confused.


“Boy 43.” He nodded at her spreadsheet. “Anthony DiNozzo.”

“Gibbs!” she protested. “That’s not funny.”

“No. It’s really not,” Gibbs agreed.

“It’s true, Abby,” McGee said quietly. “Tony is Boy 43. That’s why he hasn’t been around much lately.”

“But Boy 43…he’s the one who looks so scared,” she whispered. “Whenever I see him I always want to reach in there, scoop him up, and take him home with me.”

“Well I’ve done that,” Gibbs muttered.

“Tony is staying with you?”


“Good! I hate to think of him being alone in his apartment while this is going on. I’m so glad he’s got you, Gibbs.”

“Yeah, well, this is tough for him, Abs, as I’m sure you can understand.”

“Is he okay?” Her pale green eyes were wide and worried.

“Not really.” Gibbs shrugged.

"Boy 43 is one of the younger kids in those photos." Abby twirled one of her pigtails anxiously in her fingers. "I mean, he looks really young."

"He was twelve," Gibbs told her quietly.

That took a moment to sink in. “Twelve? And did Parrish…?” She broke off, looking horrified.

“Uh-huh.” Gibbs nodded. “That’s why Tony can’t work on the case, Abs. You can’t let him touch any of the evidence. Understand?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “Where is he?”

“Upstairs. Working on cold cases.”

“He’ll be hating that.” Abby made a face. “Is that why he was helping Ducky yesterday?”


“Who else knows?”

“You, me, McGee, Ducky. That’s all.”


“Not yet. She’ll have to know at some point, but at the moment he’s really uncomfortable with people finding out,” Gibbs explained. “I wouldn’t have told you, but you’re on Boy 41. In another half an hour you’d have been ageing up Boy 43, and then you’d have found out the hard way.”

“There isn’t really an easy way to find out something like this, Gibbs.”

“No,” he agreed. “There really isn’t.”

“I need to see him.”

“Well, he’s upstairs. Just don’t…you know, make it any worse for him than it already is,” Gibbs told her.

“I won’t, I promise,” she said quietly.


Abby accompanied Gibbs and McGee upstairs in the elevator, still reeling. She couldn’t even begin to get her head around this, but she hurt inside just thinking about it.

She ran into the squad room and found Tony sitting at his desk with a big white bandage wrapped around his hand. He was nose deep in a file and surrounded by dozens of others, almost as if he was hiding.


She was glad of the bandage because it gave her an excuse to hug him. He looked surprised as she ran over to him, pushed him back from his desk, sat down on his knee, and threw her arms around him.

“Your hand! I didn’t know you’d been hurt!” she exclaimed, burying her face in his neck, so he wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes. She hugged him tight, unwilling to let go. She felt his hands go uncertainly to her back, and he patted her feebly.

“Okay, Abs, let me breathe!” he joked, panting in an exaggerated way, sounding just like the same old Tony DiNozzo.

She drew back and looked into his eyes, seeing shadows in them that she hadn’t seen before. Or maybe she’d seen them but just not registered them. There had been times when she’d caught him off guard, in an unexpected moment, and seen a glimpse of a stranger in his eyes. Then he’d always smiled at her and the stranger had disappeared, and she’d forgotten all about it. Now she remembered all the times that had happened, and she wondered who that stranger was.

“What happened to your hand?” she asked, taking hold of his hand and examining the bandage carefully, more for something to do to stop herself crying than anything else.

“He *says* that he walked into a door,” Ziva told her.

“He *did* walk into a door,” Gibbs growled.

“How do you know?” Ziva frowned.

“Because it was my kitchen door, Ziva!”

“Oh.” Ziva looked completely confused. “So you really did walk into a door, Tony?”

“Yes, Ziva, I really did,” Tony grinned.

Abby felt sorry for Ziva, but she understood why Tony was uncomfortable with people knowing about this. She felt guilty that *she* knew. She felt bad that she’d spent the past two days sitting downstairs in her lab looking at such intimate, shocking photographs of him. She couldn’t begin to know how he must feel about that.

“Ziva, would you like to come with me? I’m uh, going to prison,” McGee said. Ziva’s eyes widened.

“Now that is an invitation I cannot refuse,” she replied, with a little grin.

Abby waited until the two of them had left, and then she turned back to Tony and hugged him again, burying her face in his neck, never wanting to let go.

“You know, don’t you?” Tony said in a quiet voice in her ear.

“Yes. I’m sorry, it’s just I was ageing up all the photos, and I was on the boy in file 41 and you're Boy 43, so Gibbs had to tell me, or I’d have found out anyway,” she replied into his neck.

“It’s okay, Abby,” he said softly. “I’d have told you myself, but it’s – you know – hard.”

He sounded strange, kind of small and childlike. She drew back and looked into his eyes again, and for one strange, dislocated second, found that she was looking into the eyes of Boy 43. It was the same scared, desperate, trapped look; the same lost expression; the same sense of sadness. Now she knew, she wondered how she could ever not have known. It seemed so obvious now.

Then the look was gone, and the old, familiar, joking Tony was back.

“Abby, your studded bracelet is kind of digging into my neck,” he said with a grin, and she laughed and moved her arm.

“What really happened to your hand?” she asked him.

“He really did walk into a damn door!” Gibbs roared behind her.

“Oops.” She and Tony shared a little ‘Gibbs is mad’ grimace, and then they both laughed.

She rested her forehead against Tony’s, and he put his arms around her and held on tight.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry, Tony. I hate that this happened to you. You’re one of my closest friends – you’re *family* - and I love you so much.”

“Love you too, Abs,” he whispered into her ear. “Don’t treat me any differently though, will you?”

“Uh…I’ll try. I might need to hug you a lot though – for awhile at least.”

“Okay. I can live with that,” he chuckled into her neck.

She drew back. “Oh wait! I have a cool idea!” she exclaimed. “I’m going bowling with the sisters tonight. How about you and Gibbs come along?”

“Uh…” Tony held up his bandaged hand. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Abby. Do you, Boss?” he called across the room to Gibbs. Gibbs shrugged.

“I don’t see why not. You’re always telling us you could beat us at any given ball sport with one hand tied behind your back, DiNozzo.”

Abby laughed.

“Yeah, but not my right hand, Boss!” Tony complained. “I mean, this here is my bowling hand!” He surveyed his bandaged hand sadly. Abby leaned forward and kissed it.

“You’ll have to be a southpaw for the evening, Tony,” she told him. “Because I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“Boss!” Tony called frantically across the room. Gibbs looked up again, with a grin.

“You heard her, DiNozzo. What’s the matter? Afraid the nuns will kick your ass?”

“No, I’m just afraid of them period,” Tony muttered. “Well come on! Bowling nuns? It’s freaky!”

“Tony! These are some of my best friends. You’ll love Sister Rosita.”

“Why?” Tony looked intrigued. “Is she hot?” Abby thumped him gently in the ribs. “Ow!” he complained with a grin.

“She’s not hot – but she *is* totally cool,” Abby told him. She kissed his cheek and then got up off his lap. “And I will see you both tonight.”

She gazed at him again, but Boy 43 wasn’t there any more and just Tony gazed back, with the usual hint of mischief in his glowing green eyes. She wondered where Boy 43 had gone, and whether she’d ever get a glimpse of him again.

“Problem, Abs?” Tony asked, and she realised that she was still gazing at him.

“No,” she frowned. “Just…” She leaned forward. “It’s Boy 43. He’s okay. I like him. You don’t always have to hide him.” Then she ran back down to her lab before he could reply.

Tony gazed at himself in the bathroom mirror. He felt tired, much more tired than he had any right to be after sitting on his butt all day going through those damn boring files. True, his throbbing hand had made things harder than usual – simple things he did every day like pissing and typing now took twice as long - and the painkillers zonked him out a little. Even so, he didn’t think he should feel *this* tired. He’d been injured far worse during his time at NCIS, and it hadn’t affected him this much.

He was dreading going to bed later. Today had been okay – the cold case files, boring though they were, had been a distraction. Knowing Gibbs was watching him with that laser-sharp gaze of his had helped keep him on track, even though the compulsion to zone out had been there a couple of times during the day. Tonight though… He went cold every time he thought of lying in bed in Gibbs’s spare room. Luke lurked in the shadows everywhere, and Tony felt as defenceless against the man now as he had been when he was a kid.

“C’mon!” he muttered to his reflection, trying to access his usual levels of high-octane energy. “There are only so many things you can smash or break in Gibbs’s house.”

His reflection gazed back at him, green eyes completely stony.

“Your problem is you have no sense of humour,” he told the man in the mirror. “Lighten up! We’re going bowling. At least that’s one place Roy never took you as a bribe to keep you from telling anyone about him fucking your underage ass. Whore.” He grinned at himself. “Remember all that stuff you got for keeping your mouth shut, Tonio? All the roller skates, sneakers, skateboards, trips to the movies, burgers and all that shit? Boy, you were cheap.”

The door opened, and Gibbs appeared behind him.

“You gonna be in here all night, DiNozzo?”

“Sorry, Boss - everything just takes longer with only one hand,” Tony explained, holding up his bandaged hand.

“You okay with going bowling?”

“Didn’t know I had a choice,” Tony muttered.

“I’m not trying to run your life for you,” Gibbs growled. “You don’t want to go, we don’t have to.”

Tony sighed. “No, it’s fine. At least if we go out, then there’s no danger of me subjecting you to another lecture on the history of film.”

Gibbs gave a quirk of a grin. “Actually, it was pretty interesting." Then he shrugged. "Well, the bits of it that made any sense.”

Tony grimaced, remembering the verbal diarrhoea of the previous evening. He finished drying his hands, ran his fingers through his hair, and then walked over to the door. Gibbs stopped him as he passed and put his hands on Tony’s shoulders.

“You did good today, Tony,” he said, looking straight into Tony’s eyes.

“Yeah, I didn’t attack anyone, or fall apart in an elevator, or smash up any of the fixtures and fittings,” Tony joked, looking away.

Gibbs put a hand on the side of his face to make him look at him again. “You did good,” Gibbs repeated firmly. Tony gazed at him in surprise, and then he nodded.

“Thanks, Boss,” he said quietly.

The bowling alley was busy when they got there, and that made Tony feel tense. He had kept control of himself all day, but being around people was becoming increasingly difficult. Sometimes he felt that he was holding on by the barest thread, and it might break at any moment. Supposing there was some kind of trigger here? Supposing he lost it again? The last thing he wanted to do was make an idiot of himself here, in such a public place.

Abby introduced him to the nuns, but Tony found it hard to remember all their names. He wanted to access his usual easy charm, but he couldn’t seem to find it. There was a buzzing sound in his head, his hand throbbed, and he was so damn tired. All he wanted to do was sleep, but he dreaded the thought of closing his eyes for even a second.

Gibbs was first up to bowl, and as Tony sat there, watching, he realised that he’d never been in this situation before. He’d never been with people who *knew*. All his life it had been his secret, and one he’d tried his best to keep hidden, but now it was out there. More and more people were finding out every day, and he didn’t have a clue how to handle it.

Who was he? Now that they knew, now that he didn’t need to hide himself any more, who the hell was he? Was he Tony, who goofed around and kept everything from getting too serious? Or was he the boy he'd packed away in a box years ago - a quiet kid with a shy, reserved personality?

“Penny for them, Tony,” Sister Rosita said, sitting down next to him. She was a large woman in her forties, with a happy, beaming smile and a thick Irish accent - which surprised Tony as he’d always assumed from her name that she was Spanish.

“Oh, that’s overpriced,” Tony replied with a smile. “They aren’t worth that much.”

They both turned as Gibbs knocked down all ten pins on his first attempt.

“Typical,” Tony snorted, as Abby threw her arms around Gibbs, and he swung her around, grinning and punching the air.

“Your boss is quite the charmer,” Sister Rosita laughed. Tony looked at her in surprise. “He’s a perfect gentleman of course, but he always has a little gleam in his eye when I talk to him, and he’s quite a flirt,” she said, in her warm, lilting accent.

Tony stared at her, completely taken aback. Gibbs? A flirt? “You’ve met him before?”

“Oh yes! Abby’s brought him along a couple of times – not often because I gather he’s something of a workaholic, but we love it when he joins us. Although...” She leaned forward and spoke to him conspiratorially. "He does like to win, doesn’t he?"

Tony laughed. "Oh yeah. He sure as hell does."

He looked over to where Sister Harriet was engaging Gibbs in conversation, and he saw that his boss looked relaxed and completely at ease. He was talking in a way that was positively animated – for Gibbs anyway.

“And you find him charming?” Tony asked.

“Oh yes! He’s quite a favourite with us!”

Tony thought about how authoritarian and taciturn Gibbs could be at work, but he supposed everyone needed to let their hair down and relax occasionally. Even so, this was a side of Gibbs he hadn’t seen before, and he was intrigued. Maybe everyone had different sides of themselves they didn’t like people to see.

Tony rubbed his forehead with his hand. He wished he could get that buzzing sound out of his brain – it was driving him crazy, and it was hard enough to think as it was without having a swarm of bees inside his head.

Sister Rosita gazed at him thoughtfully.

“That’s quite a burden you’re carrying there, Tony,” she said quietly. He glanced over at her sharply, thinking, angrily, that Abby might have told her about his past. “You have a big, easy smile, but your eyes tell a different story." Sister Rosita gazed at him thoughtfully. "I don’t know what your burden is, but you’re among friends tonight – can’t you rest here awhile and be yourself?”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t figured out who that is yet,” Tony muttered.

“Don't try so hard – just be,” Sister Rosita advised, and then she looked around. “It’s your turn, Tony,” she said, pointing.

He got up and picked up a bowling ball with his left hand.

“Let’s see what you can do, southpaw!” Abby called.

It felt all wrong, and his stride was off as he approached the alley. He released the ball too soon and winced as it crashed onto the floor and then dawdled down to the end where it knocked over a single pin.

“Aw, Tony!” Abby gave him a hug of commiseration. Gibbs just grinned at him.

“What was it you were saying about beating us with one arm tied behind your back, DiNozzo?” he asked.

Tony tried to think of the smart DiNozzo reply, but it just wasn’t there. He couldn't seem to get anything right at the moment. The buzzing sound got louder, and he shook his head and reached up a hand, absently, to stroke his hair.

“Hey.” Gibbs was suddenly beside him. “You just need to adjust your stance to account for the fact you’re bowling with your left hand instead of your right,” Gibbs said, picking up another ball and handing it to him. He stood behind Tony, put one hand on his hip, and stroked his other hand down Tony’s left arm to his wrist.

“You need to put your weight on the other hip,” Gibbs said, and his voice was low and deep in Tony’s ear. Tony felt himself relaxing, which was strange because he usually hated it when people – men – stood close behind him. This felt good though. Gibbs felt good, pressed against his back, strong and warm, close and comforting. The buzzing sound in his head receded, and Tony leaned forward and released the ball smoothly. It rocketed down to the end and knocked over all the remaining nine pins.

“Not bad for a southpaw!” Tony grinned at Abby. She giggled and high-fived him. “Thanks, Boss!” Tony said, sitting down again.

He could still feel the weight of Gibbs’s hand on his hip and the reassurance of Gibbs’s body against his own. He could hear that deep, low voice speaking straight into his ear, and smell the scent of the man.

One by one the sisters came over to him to talk, and he was relieved that nobody expected anything of him. He liked being Tony DiNozzo. He liked being the one who clowned around and got all the laughs. He liked making people like him, and he liked dazzling them so much that they never saw beneath the shiny surface of the face he presented to the world. But being Tony – upbeat, restless, teasing Tony - took energy, and he was all out of juice right now. That stupid damn kid in his head had drained him dry, and there was nothing left.

He rubbed his head again. The buzzing sound was always there, in the background, but if he just sat quietly, and didn't try too hard, it didn't get any louder. He knew it was there though. Waiting.

“Is he okay?” he overheard Abby ask Gibbs. “He’s really quiet.”

“Yeah, well, you told him he didn’t always have to hide Boy 43, Abby,” Gibbs replied softly. “So he isn’t.”

Tony saw her look around, realisation showing in her eyes. Then she came over to him and sat down on his lap. He put his arms around her, and she rested her cheek against his, and they sat there in silence watching the bowling.

A few seconds later, Gibbs came over and sat down beside them. He rested his arm along the back of the seat so that it was touching Tony’s shoulder, his fingers just brushing Tony’s hair.

Tony tightened his clasp on Abby, and she reciprocated, hugging him back. He leaned back into Gibbs's fingers and relaxed as they began stroking the back of his head, softly, rhythmically, soothing him.

None of them said anything. They just sat there in silence. But, for the first time since his mother died, Tony didn't feel that he was alone.

Tony was silent on the drive home. Gibbs glanced at him every few minutes, wondering what was going on in Tony's head. He looked tired and there was a bleak expression in his eyes.

When they got back to the house, Tony went straight to the kitchen and got a glass of water.

"So I don't need to go walkabout again in the middle of the night," he said, holding it up, a note of bravado in his voice that did nothing to hide the fear in his eyes. Gibbs noticed that his hand was shaking. Tony started to hum.

"Tony – what's going on right now?" Gibbs asked.

"Nothing's going on. I'm fine." Tony looked surprised.

"You're humming."

"So?" Tony shrugged. "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing – just the humming seems to be part of the whole head stroking and eyes glazing over thing that happens when you're about to fugue," Gibbs said. "So what's going on?"

Tony frowned, looking angry and scared at one and the same time. "There's this damn buzzing sound in my head. If I hum, I can drown it out sometimes, that's all."

"Do you know what the sound is?"

"No. It's nothing. I'm tired. I'm going to bed," Tony said abruptly, walking over to the door.

"Are you scared of going into a fugue again?" Gibbs asked him quietly. Tony stiffened and then turned.

"Yes I'm fucking scared of going into a fugue again, Gibbs," he growled. "The first night after this whole nightmare began, I woke up after two hours stuck inside my own head to find myself half-naked, the guy I was intending to fuck gone, and you and Ducky standing over me. And the second night I smashed up your house, and you had to sit up with me on the fucking couch until I got to sleep. So, I figure I don't have much dignity left where the nights are concerned. I'm wondering what night three has in store for me; maybe I'll run down the street stark naked to complete my total embarrassment."

"We could sit on the couch again, if it'll help," Gibbs suggested.

"No. This is pathetic. I'm a grown man." Tony shook his head. "I can't make you sit up on the couch and nursemaid me to sleep every night."

He turned again and squared his shoulders, visibly, and then took a deep breath and resumed his journey like a man going to his execution.

"Tony," Gibbs said, as he reached the door. "Would you like to sleep in my bed?"

Tony stood there, and Gibbs could see every muscle in his body tense up. He turned back, slowly.

"Just sleep," Gibbs said, because the last thing he wanted was for the invitation to sound sexually charged. Tony had enough mixed-up feelings to handle right now without Gibbs introducing sex into the equation. "If it would help?"

"For God's sake, I'm not going to ask you to…" Tony began angrily, and then he ran out of steam. He bowed his head and gazed at the floor. "Yeah," he muttered. "It would help."

"Idiot," Tony berated himself around the side of his toothbrush as he cleaned his teeth. "You’re like a six year old kid sheltering in Daddy's bed from the monsters. Christ, you disgust me. You're this fucking lead weight, pulling me down."

A pair of scared but determined eyes stared back at him from the mirror.

"This is a guy I want to respect me," he told his reflection. "And not just that. This is a guy I want to like me. I want him to find me attractive, and there's nothing attractive about neediness. Don't you fucking understand that?"

His reflection shrugged at him.

"Oh, you understand, but you don't care. You just need what you need, and I always give in to you to head off a meltdown. You're so fucking weak. You've screwed up my entire fucking life. I hate you."

He swiped a towel across his face and threw it at the mirror. Then he turned out the light and went into the bedroom. Gibbs was already sitting in bed, reading a book. Tony felt stupid walking across the room towards the other side of the bed. He hesitated when he got there, unsure what to do next. Gibbs glanced up at him over the top of his glasses.

"Just get in, DiNozzo," he said, in an oddly affectionate growl.

Tony slid under the duvet and lay there stiffly, looking up at the ceiling.

"If you feel like you're going into a fugue, you talk to me," Gibbs ordered. "Wake me up – I don't mind. And remember what I said about standing up to that bastard. Don't let him hurt you any more, Tony. Take control of the memory."

"Didn't work last night," Tony pointed out. He couldn't forget the sensation of Luke fucking his mouth all the way to the back of his throat, blocking his airway, one cold fist wrapped in his hair so he couldn't get away. He recalled the desperate struggle, and then the movement of his hand thrusting wildly through the air and the sound of shattering glass.

"Didn't take you for a quitter, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. Tony glanced sideways at him. Gibbs removed his glasses and looked at him. "You try something once, and it doesn't work out so you give up? Try again, Tony. Didn't I teach you anything?"

Tony nodded, grimly. Gibbs shot him one of his rare smiles, and that gave Tony the determination to at least try. He didn’t want to let Gibbs down. Gibbs leaned over, put his book on the nightstand, and then turned off the light. Tony lay there in the darkness, listening as Gibbs settled down beside him.

"You won't get to sleep if you don't close your eyes, Tony," Gibbs told him. "Just relax. I'll be here."

Tony gave a little sigh and turned over onto his side, away from Gibbs, with his back to him. A second later he felt Gibbs turn too, and then he felt Gibbs's chest pressing against his back. Gibbs's hand slid over his stomach and came to rest there, warm and firm, holding Tony close. Normally, that would have been a trigger for him to get out of the situation. He never let the people he fucked hold him like this. Once the sex was over, he preferred them to leave, but if they had to stay then he liked them to stay on their own side of the bed. This was different. This was like it had been back at the bowling alley; instead of making him panic it made him feel safe.

"Okay?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah," Tony replied softly. "Very okay."

"Good. Now sleep."

Tony closed his eyes, cautiously, and waited. There was nothing. No buzzing, no whispering in the shadows. For now, at least, it seemed he was safe.

It was a little after three a.m. when Tony woke up. He slid out of the bed and got up to use the bathroom, then returned and got back in, trying not to wake Gibbs in the process. Gibbs muttered something in his sleep and moved away, over to the other side of the bed, and Tony lay there alone in the dark. He missed the weight and feel of Gibbs’s hand on his belly and the warm press of his body against his own. Tony steeled himself and then closed his eyes.

"Bzzz…bzzzz…bzzzz…" Maybe it wasn't bees. It was a more mechanical, regular sound than that. "Bzzzz…bzzzz…bzzzz…"

He was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. It was a hot day, and above him a ceiling fan was turning. There was something caught in it, and it made a little buzzing sound as it revolved above him.

He gazed at it. It was discoloured – maybe it had once been white, but now it was a yellowy colour.

Someone was looming over him, unbuttoning his blue and white plaid shirt, the one his mom had bought for him just before she died. He lay there, gazing up at the fan, watching it turn. His shirt was pushed open and cold hands slid across his chest. A warm mouth followed, trailing saliva over his bare skin. He gazed fixedly at the fan.

His jeans were unbuttoned and yanked down his legs, then thrown onto the floor. His briefs followed. Cold hands touched him again, so cold they made him jump. He clenched his hands in the sheets and refused to take his eyes off the fan circling above him.

"Didn't you like my present?" Luke asked him.


"I gave you a present. Didn't you like it?"

He thought of the little red plastic viewfinder, and the disk of “The Sword in the Stone”, and nodded.

"I liked it," he said, still gazing at the fan.

He was startled by the slap on his thigh, and he jumped and looked down for the first time into a pair of hard grey eyes.

"Then put out for me, you little slut," Luke hissed. "That's what you do, isn't it? You put out for presents? That's what Roy told me."

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He didn't like this new man Roy had left him with. He was mean, and Tony was terrified that he would hurt him, like Marco had hurt him. Tony clenched his hands more tightly in the sheets.

"Sorry," he whispered.

"You will be if you don't start trying harder," Luke snapped. "Look at you, lying there like a fish on a slab. Turn over." Cold hands turned him onto his stomach, and his shirt was removed, leaving him completely naked. Those hands roved everywhere, caressing and pinching him. He buried his head in the pillow and listened to the sound of the fan overhead.


Another slap – on his ass this time. "Open up for me, you little slut. Don't play the shy virgin. I saw those photos. I know you can do better than this."

"BZZZZ…BZZZZ…" The sound was ringing in his ears, deafening him, making so much noise that he couldn't hear anything else. There was something he was supposed to do. Something someone wanted him to do. Gibbs – that was it. Gibbs had told him to do something, and he always did whatever Gibbs told him to do.

"I said open. Roy was wrong. You aren't a good boy at all. You’re a little sack of shit. Now do as I tell you."

"No," he muttered. The noise in his head was so loud it was hurting him. Where was Gibbs? He had said he'd be here, and he fucking well wasn't. Where the hell was he? Tony couldn't do this alone.

“What did you say?”

“I said no,” he whimpered into the pillow.

He was slapped again, harder this time. Luke grabbed his hips and pulled his buttocks apart. Tony scrunched the sheets in his fists and wriggled, trying to get out of his grasp.

"Please don't, please stop, please, please…" he begged.

"You don't want me to stop." The sun was shining through the window, turning Luke into a huge, looming shadow on the wall in front of him, like a giant monster, towering over him. "You like it. It's what you're for. You're a little slut who loves being fucked."

"Gibbs!" Tony shouted. His hands clenched in the sheets as Luke's cold fingers tightened their grasp on his hips. He felt something hard press against him. "Gibbs, where the hell are you? You said you'd be here…Gibbs!"

He was quivering, his entire body covered in sweat, and Luke was pushing against him, demanding entrance. The shadow on the wall in front of him grew even larger, threatening to engulf him completely.

"I am here, Tony," a strong voice said in his ear. A warm, firm hand slid over his stomach, and another stroked his hair. "I'm here. You can do this. Tell him no. Make him go away."

Luke's hips were thrusting against his ass. "Take it – it's all you're good for," Luke told him.

"No," Tony said fearfully.

"Yes, you little slut.”

"Fight back, Tony," Gibbs said. "He can't hurt you. I'm here."

Tony felt a renewed sense of courage. He could do this. He could fight this monster.

"No!" he said again, more firmly this time, and as he said it he felt himself growing. He felt his legs lengthening, his body filling out, and his muscles flexing beneath his skin. He was big; too big to be held down by this bastard. He was tall, strong, and powerful, and he could fight back. He wasn't a helpless kid any more.

The shadow on the wall in front of him was predatory and grotesque. Tony faltered for a moment, afraid to turn and face the man casting it.

"Tony – you can do this," Gibbs told him, and his hand pressed even more firmly against Tony's stomach. "I know you can." There wasn't even a hint of doubt in his voice.

Tony pulled himself up to his full height. He gathered every single ounce of courage he possessed and then turned and looked straight at his tormentor.

Luke didn't seem as terrifying as he once had. Tony didn't have to look up at him now because they were at eye level. Tony gazed at him from the distance of years, taking in the dark hair, the square jaw, and the cold grey eyes, seeing his tormentor properly for the first time. Luke wasn't a monster - he was just a man. Luke gazed back at him, his eyes coolly assessing.

"Don’t fight me, Boy," he said in that clipped, precise tone of voice. “We both know you don’t have the balls. I'm going to fuck you, and you can't stop me.”

"I can," Tony said in a tight voice. Luke wasn't real. He was just the shifting shadows inside his own mind. He had to remember that. "I know who you are now," Tony told him. "I know who you are, I know what you are, and I won't let you touch me again."

Parrish's face twisted into a predatory smile. "You can't fight me, Tony."

"Go away, Parrish," Tony said tiredly.

Luke reached out cold fingers towards him, but they were ghostly and insubstantial.

"I said go away!" Tony roared. "Fuck off! Leave me alone!"

The ceiling fan circled above him – bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz – and Matthew Parrish shimmered briefly and then faded into nothing. The room disappeared, and the buzzing noise in his head slowly died away, until it too was gone.

Tony blinked.

Gibbs was leaning over him, holding him, one hand stroking his hair, the other wrapped around his waist. Tony could just about make out the intensity of his blue eyes in the darkness.

"You back with us, Tony?"

"Yeah." Tony grinned at him tiredly. "I did it, Boss," he said, in a tone of quiet triumph. "I kicked the bastard's ass, told him to get out of my head – and he went…just like that. He slunk away without a fight."

"He's a damn coward," Gibbs grunted. "Like all the worst bullies." He continued to stroke Tony's hair, looking down at him all the time with that intense look still in his eyes. "I'm proud of you, Tony. I knew you could do it."

Tony grinned up at him stupidly, and then, just as stupidly, he angled his head up and kissed Gibbs on the lips. This time Gibbs didn't go still. This time he moved his head down and gently returned the kiss. Tony drew back, took another look at those intense blue eyes, and then he went back in for another kiss.

Gibbs moved his hand to cup Tony's face and his lips moved against Tony's. Tony hesitated, and then he took his life in his hands and parted Gibbs's lips with his own. He pushed his tongue into Gibbs's mouth and began exploring. Gibbs was motionless for a moment, and Tony wondered if he'd gone too far, but then Gibbs responded, his tongue sliding passionately against Tony's.

It was a slow, tender kiss. Tony came up for air and then pushed Gibbs back on the bed. He rolled on top of him and kissed him again, harder this time, wanting more, his mouth restlessly questing... Gibbs put his hands on Tony's shoulders and pushed up, stopping him.

"I won't be one of your distractions, DiNozzo," he said quietly.

"I'm not…I'm not doing that," Tony replied, looking down on him. "I'm ready for this, trust me."

"Maybe you are." Gibbs gazed up at him. "But I'm not."

Tony frowned. He rested his elbows on the pillow, on either side of Gibbs's head, and stroked Gibbs's hair away from his forehead, looking down on him the whole time, feeling confused.

“Despite my many marriages, there hasn’t been anyone I really cared about since Shannon,” Gibbs told him. “It’s not easy for me to let anyone in, and you’re too important to me to fuck it up. And besides, I’ve never had a relationship with a guy before; plenty of sex but never a relationship."

"I've never had a relationship with anyone before," Tony grunted, with a little laugh. "Unless you count the whole Jeanne thing, which I don't since technically that wasn't even me she was in love with."

"That's probably the only way it could have been for you in the past, but it's not the way it'll be with me, Tony. I know you. You won’t get away with any of that shit with me."

"Yeah." Tony dropped a kiss on Gibbs's forehead. "But I *want* you, Gibbs. I want you so much." He moved his body hungrily against Gibbs's solid flesh beneath him, needing more.

"You've *got* me," Gibbs told him, and his hands came up to rest on Tony's ass. "Let's just take it slowly, one step at a time. There's no hurry."

"You mean that? You're not going to disappear on me, are you?" Tony asked, reluctant to release his hold on Gibbs, keeping him pinned down. He'd wanted this for so long that it seemed hard to believe it was really happening.

"No, Tony, I'm not going to disappear," Gibbs replied, his hands stroking Tony's ass firmly.

Tony kissed him again, just to be sure, and Gibbs opened up sweetly and allowed him the kiss. Tony drank him in, eagerly, thrusting against him until Gibbs pushed him away with a chuckle.

"Sorry," Tony said sheepishly, rolling off Gibbs and onto his side, so he could still look at him. "I just…I've wanted this for such a long time."

"I know. Me too."

Tony reached out and rested a hand on Gibbs's chest, tracing the lines of wiry muscle beneath his fingertips.

"I never knew. You never said anything."

"Yeah, well, I'm not any good at all that shit. And then there's rule number twelve…"

Tony laughed out loud. "Well, the rules are made to be broken, Boss."

"No, they're damn well not," Gibbs retorted. "They're there for a reason."

Tony found a nipple and circled it with his finger through the fabric of Gibbs's tee-shirt. "I'm good at sex," he said. "Really good. You sure…?"

"I'm sure," Gibbs replied firmly. "But are you sure, Tony, that you're as ready as you think you are?"

His hand slid down inside Tony's boxers, and Tony hissed in a deep breath and then slowly released it. Then he realised what Gibbs meant; his mind might be turned on right now, but his cock wasn't. Gibbs must have seen the expression on his face, because he removed his hand and cupped Tony's cheek instead.

"Hey – like I said - one step at a time. Tonight was breakthrough enough, wasn't it?"

Tony turned onto his back, put his hands under his head, and stared moodily up at the ceiling. Gibbs turned onto his side and rested his hand on Tony's stomach.

"It's just weird," Tony muttered. "Because I'm such a damn whore. I've slept with half the city, and I've never had any problems getting it up before. I'm not used to it not working, Gibbs. It's freaking me out."

Gibbs propped his head on his hand and gazed at Tony thoughtfully in the darkness.

"Tony, you've been through a lot these past few days. It's understandable. Maybe it's a control issue."

"No." Tony shook his head. "I never lose control during sex. And, in case you were wondering, I always go on top."

Gibbs grinned. "Ah, then Houston, we may have a problem."

Tony gave a wry grunt. "You too, huh? Should have guessed."

"I don't think it matters much right now, Tony," Gibbs told him. "Like I said, one step at a time. We'll figure it out. You did good tonight. You stood up to that bastard and got him out of your head."

"Because you were here," Tony told him. "I don't know if I'll always be able to do it. I don't know if I'll be able to do it when you're not around."

"We'll see."

"I was a little whore, Gibbs. I put out for presents; roller skates, skate boards, a trip to the movies, or a ball game. New sneakers." Tony made a face. "You know how much I love my shoes, Gibbs. Roy would buy me pretty much anything I asked for. He knew he had to keep me sweet, and I colluded in that. I went along with it. Hell, I even felt like I was manipulating him sometimes; withholding kisses until I got the promise of something I wanted and then holding him to it afterwards. I was a sneaky little shit."

"You were a kid, Tony. You were being manipulated by a ruthless sexual predator who knew exactly how to play you to get what he wanted."

"I was a cheap, easy little whore," Tony snapped, disgusted by himself.

“Why do you keep calling yourself names?” Gibbs said sharply. “You were a child getting yourself through a difficult situation the only way you knew how.”

“You don't understand, Gibbs. Tonio, Boy 43, *him*, whatever you want to call him, was a stupid, snivelling little shit who let people fuck him for trinkets. I can’t stand the whiny little brat.”

Gibbs rested a hand on his stomach. "Why do you hate him so much, Tony? He was just a kid. You're pretty hard on him. If we were talking about another kid – about Justin maybe - would you say these things? Or is it just because he's you?"

"He ruined my fucking life."

"No, Roy Quinn did that. And Matthew Parrish. And whoever the hell Marco is – and, trust me, I'm damn well going to find out and make him pay. But that child you once were didn't do that, Tony."

"That kid, the kid I was then, he was weak and stupid. He let people take advantage of him – hell, he went along with it. I hate that he's still inside me, and I've had to look out for him and protect him all these years. I want to smash his stupid face in. I want to hurt him, Gibbs." Tony turned his face sideways and found Gibbs looking at him with a troubled expression in his eyes. "I want to fucking hurt him."

"I don't," Gibbs said firmly. "I want to help him. I don't want to hurt him – he's been through enough. I want to hurt the people who did this to him. I want to tell him that it wasn't his fault, and that he's safe now. I want him to know that nobody will ever get to him again because they'll have to go through me. I want to tell him that he's mine now, and that I will always be there for him. I want him to tell him that he's loved.”

Tony stared at the ceiling, blinking back tears. Gibbs pulled him over and wrapped his arms around him. Then, for the first time, Tony cried. He buried his face in Gibbs's shoulder, tangled his fists in Gibbs's tee shirt, and cried like a child.

Gibbs let him fall apart in the warm safety of his arms, stroking his shaking body throughout. Tony clung onto him, his body convulsing against him, as he allowed someone to finally see the full extent of the damage he had kept hidden for so long.

Gibbs didn't turn away as Tony had feared people might if they knew who he really was. He took all of Tony's anguish and held firm, his body strong, solid, and warm as Tony raged against him. Tony couldn't hold back. He cried out the loneliness, isolation, pain and exhaustion. He cried for that kid, and what had been done to him, because Gibbs was right – he *was* the boy in those photographs, and the long years of denying that were over.

He cried for a very long time, unable to stop the tidal wave of emotion coursing through his body. He had never cried about what had happened to him as a child before. He had never allowed himself to feel those emotions. They were too big, too much for him to endure alone. Now he wasn't alone any more.

Eventually, Tony realised that he had stopped crying. He found himself lying in Gibbs's arms, almost on top of him, his chin resting on Gibbs's shoulder. His entire body was spent, and his breathing was coming in little hitching gasps. Gibbs's tee-shirt was sodden, and Gibbs's hands were still gently stroking his back in comforting little circles.

"It's okay, Tony. I've got you," Gibbs murmured. “I've got you."


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