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Soul Deep

by: Xanthe (Send Feedback)

Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 004 Word Count: 84818
Rating: MATURE
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst/Drama, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Pairing(s): Gibbs/DiNozzo
Summary: Most people never touch another person's soul...but when a 20 year old Leroy Jethro Gibbs meets an 8 year old Tony DiNozzo, it sparks an event that links them forever.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Previous Chapter

Pride

Tony called Director Shepard, and then he called in the team. Gibbs's team. Now they were his team. For the first time in his life, he was in charge.

"You'll be fine," Shanti said, pacing to and fro around Gibbs's living room. "We'll find him. I know we'll find him."

"How can we find him if we can't feel him?" Tony snapped.

Shanti came over to him and nudged his hand reassuringly with her head. "Because you're good at finding things. You always have been. You're a cop, Tony – forget that it's Jethro and do what you do best.

Tony bit on his lip. "If I screw up, then we could lose him forever.”

"You won't screw up," she told him firmly.

“He was there for me, when I needed him most.” Her eyes whirled with anxiety, and he knew they were both remembering that night in the motel all those years ago. “I can’t let him down, Shanti.”

She got up on her hind legs and thwapped one of her paws across his head, hard. “Be who you are – who you really are. Have *pride*, Tony.”

She had never spoken to him like that before, and he felt a sense of purpose rush through his veins and a hard, cold fury rise in his chest.

Someone had taken Jethro. Some bastard had hurt the person he loved most in the world. He would get Jethro back, and he would make that bastard pay. They would regret the day they’d ever laid a finger on someone he loved.

Tony threw back his head and roared.

~*~

The cell was dark. There were no windows, and the one door was locked. His watch had been removed, along with his gun, cell phone, badge, wallet and any other identifying signs. He had no way of knowing how long he had been here.

The pain radiated out in waves from his gut, making him aware, every single second, of the fact that he had been forcibly separated from his daemon. The sense of loss hurt so much he could hardly stand it. Sweat trickled into his eyes, and he was aware of the almost constant need to touch her, speak to her, and hold her close.

He tried to concentrate. They'd had a case like this once – it had been the first case he and Tony had worked together, before that bastard Fornell had stolen it from him.

There had been a dead Marine called Paul Watson. Fornell had said the case was linked to several other crimes involving people who’d been separated from their daemons, but he hadn't given any details.

What was it Ducky had said back then? It was five years ago, but the case had been so horrific it had made a lasting impression. Ducky had said that Watson’s internal organs had been compromised by the enforced separation. People weren't supposed to live without their daemons. People *couldn’t* live for long without their daemons.

Tessa was his guiding star; his light, his soul, his inner voice – his gut. When he listened to her it always worked out so much better than when he didn’t.

He smiled as he thought about that. She had been adamant that he shouldn’t marry each and every one of his three ex-wives, but he hadn't listened. And she'd been right.

She'd been equally adamant about his feelings for Tony, and he'd been ignoring her, or laughing at her…damn it, why hadn't he listened to her? If he could have her back now, he'd listen to her. He’d hang on every word she said, and he'd do anything she asked. If only he could have her back…

Right now was when she'd usually cut into his thought process with a wry comment or a sly dig at him, and he felt that savage sensation of loss all over again, so strong it made him cry out loud. He doubled over, clutching his belly.

He tried to get his head back onto the case again, but it was hard. Why was it so difficult to concentrate? His head was fuzzy, and his mind wandered so easily.

Paul Watson…he'd been abducted, he'd been separated from his daemon, and then he'd been murdered. Was the same fate awaiting him? To be kept away from his daemon for weeks and then murdered? To never see Tessa again before he died?

What kind of a bastard would do that? It was horrific. Like pulling the wings off a fly and watching it die for the pleasure of it. He'd heard of some sick serial killers before – he’d even tracked down a few – but he'd never heard of one who killed in such an obscene way.

He heard the sound of a key turning in the door, and he struggled to his feet. He ached all over, but he was still strong; if he could somehow overpower his captor…

The door opened and something scuttled into the room. Gibbs recoiled as he found himself looking at a daemon so grotesque that it made him feel physically sick. He couldn't stop himself; he bent over and threw up all over the floor.

The daemon scuttled up the wall, moving fast, and Gibbs eyed it warily, every fibre of his being protesting. This wasn't a normal daemon. It didn't have any kind of recognizable animal shape. Instead, it looked like a whole bunch of different forms had been melted together to create an ugly, misshapen mess.

It had one black wing, like a crow, but just a claw on the other side of its body where its second wing should have been. Its head was brown and slimy, like a slug but on a much bigger scale, and emerging from it were a set of pincers, like a stag beetle. It had one normal eye, on the same side as its solitary wing – that eye was small and yellow, like a crow's eye. Its other eye was sunk deep in its slug-like flesh and was much bigger; it was white with a black centre, like a fish’s eye, and it looked cold and dead.

The daemon didn't have legs – it had some kind of little clicking, scuttling things that enabled it to move surprisingly fast. Everything about it was wrong. It was a twisted abomination of a daemon, and it looked like it had scuttled straight out of a horror movie.

Gibbs's reaction to the daemon was so strong and immediate that he barely noticed the man who had entered the room with it. Then the door was shut and locked, and he was aware of someone leaning over him.

The man looked normal enough. He was about six feet tall, with dark hair, broad shoulders, and brown eyes. If it wasn't for his misshapen daemon, you wouldn’t know how sick he was inside.

"You don't like Darsha?" The man looked up at his daemon and crooned: "He doesn't like you, Darsha!"

The daemon laughed, a strange, squawking sound, and scurried down the wall and onto the man's arm. She sat there, gazing down on Gibbs, her big eye flat and dead while the little one blinked repeatedly.

"Doesn't like me?" She spoke through a stubby, misshapen beak of a mouth, and he saw that she had two sharp canine teeth, like a dog. "Aw…shame. His daemon didn't like me either; she tried to bite me, so I had to sting her. Then she howled! She howled and howled, and I laughed and laughed!" The daemon threw back her head and cackled loudly.

Gibbs saw the small, curved scorpion's sting sticking out from the daemon's underbelly, and he felt a surge of anger that it had been used to hurt Tessa…followed swiftly by a sense of shock.

"I didn't feel anything. If you hurt Tessa then why didn't I feel anything? Where is Tessa? What have you done with her?"

"Ah…it's a terrible thing when a man loses his own soul, isn't it?" The man shook his head in mock sympathy. "Sit down, Agent Gibbs, and I'll explain everything."

He gestured in the direction of the table, but Gibbs ignored him. He wished he could think straight. It must be possible to escape. If he could just get himself together, he could fight this man, steal the key, get out of here, and go and find Tessa. She couldn’t be far away, surely? If only he could feel where she was…

"I'm sure you're thinking about escape. That would be a mistake."

The man smiled at him, and Gibbs saw, for the first time, that he had a tazer in his hand. He waved it, and Gibbs knew that he had no choice but to sit down at the table. He pushed himself away from the wall and staggered over to it.

"Who are you?" he asked as he sat down, trying to sound normal so that his captor wouldn't know how much he was hurting right now.

"My name is Hunter. Richard Hunter."

"Can I call you Dick?"

Hunter laughed. "It's funny how often they try to pretend it doesn't matter in the beginning," he said, taking a seat opposite Gibbs at the table. "By the end, they're begging to be allowed to see their daemon again, but at the beginning they try to convince themselves that they'll be okay." He leaned forward. "They're wrong. You aren't okay, Gibbs – and it only gets worse from here on in."

"Why?" Gibbs leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest, refusing to let this man see his fear and pain. "Why are you doing this?"

Hunter shrugged. "It's business."

"Someone is paying you?" Gibbs asked incredulously. "Why?"

"I'm a facilitator." Hunter gave a little grin and gently skritched his daemon on the mess of slime and feathers under her chin. She made a throaty little sound that put Gibbs's teeth on edge. "People pay me to get certain things done – I identify the right people to do them and then apply enough leverage to make them comply."

Gibbs nodded thoughtfully.

"Ah, you thought I was some kind of serial killer who got off on separating people from their daemons!"

"I wondered." Gibbs shrugged. "On that subject – where is Tessa? Is she okay?" He hated himself for asking, for giving this man any more power over him than he already had, but he had to know.

"She's fine – and you're wondering why you can't feel her." Hunter's daemon gave a delighted little whistle and rubbed her claw against the side of his head, as if skritching him back.

"Even if you're holding her some distance away, I'd still be able to feel her…but I can't. And I'm conscious, so she can't be unconscious…"

"She isn't. Many great things came out of the Cold War, Agent Gibbs. One of them was a particular substance – if painted on the walls of a prison cell where a daemon is being held, it insulates a daemon completely from the person she belongs to, so they can't feel each other."

Gibbs felt himself grow cold at the thought of Tessa being held in a prison cell. Had this bastard chained her? Was she lying there, chained up and in distress, unable to move?

"I haven't heard of this substance," he managed to growl out.

"It's got some fancy scientific name, but I like to call it Daemonite." Hunter laughed at his own joke.

Gibbs stared at him, trying to get a measure of the man holding him prisoner. Hunter was clearly insane – that much was evident just by looking at his daemon. But his daemon was also high functioning – she could talk and interact with him – so clearly Hunter was intelligent and not to be under-estimated.

"What do you want from me?"

"I thought you'd never ask." Hunter grinned. "See, I have a very specific job for you, Agent Gibbs. This is a very special commission, and, because of the difficult nature of the task, these people were prepared to pay for the very best – that's you, by the way."

"I'm flattered."

"I first noticed you when you got so very close to finding me a few years ago. You remember –when you were investigating that dead Marine. You nearly caught up with me in that warehouse in Virginia. I had to shoot my way out of that one which was a little too close to comfort. I was impressed though!"

"Thanks." Gibbs inclined his head sarcastically.

"And then they gave the case over to good old Agent Fornell at the FBI, and he's good, but let's face it, not as good as you. I gave him the slip, lay low for a bit – even thought about retirement – and then this commission came along, and I couldn't refuse. The money's too good for a start – and the nature of the commission intrigued me. I knew you were the man for the job before I even accepted it."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "And the job is?"

Hunter gave a delighted laugh. "Ah, Agent Gibbs, this is the good part! You see, what you're going to do for me, if you ever want to see your daemon again, is to kill someone."

"I don't think so." Gibbs gave an amused grunt. "I don't kill to order."

"We both know that isn't true. You used to kill for your country. You were the best Marine sniper of…well…you were the best Marine sniper ever! I've read your service record. I even interviewed some of your old comrades – I didn't tell them why I wanted to know about you, of course. I kept Darsha hidden in a bag, and they thought I was interviewing them for a feature on your career for the NCIS magazine."

Gibbs managed a wry, mirthless laugh at that. "And of course you told them not to tell me you’d been asking questions – and they didn't because they knew how much I'd hate anyone writing an article like that about me."

"Exactly!" Hunter beamed. "I've been researching you for some time, Agent Gibbs, and I know I've got the right man for the job."

"You still haven't told me what that is." Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "Just who, exactly, am I supposed to kill?"

"Oh, that's the good part!" Hunter's daemon fluttered her one wing up and down excitedly. "You see, Agent Gibbs, the person you're going to kill – no, the person you are going to *assassinate*, is the President of the United States."

~*~

Ziva and McGee arrived first. Tony immediately ordered them to start working the area like a crime scene. They hesitated at first, and he could see their confusion at his change from annoying co-worker into hard-nosed, focused, boss, demanding their best work. He could also see they were worried about Gibbs – and, to a certain extent, lost without his firm leadership. His first job was to make them look to him for that firm leadership instead.

"Do it!" he ordered, and Shanti gave a roar that sent them scurrying into action.

Director Shepard arrived at Gibbs's house next. She swept in, her chipmunk daemon chittering away anxiously on her shoulder.

"Sit rep," she ordered, and Tony immediately told her all he knew and what he suspected. She looked concerned. Tony knew there had been some kind of relationship between her Gibbs once; but he also knew that while it was long since over for Gibbs, there was still some lingering, unfinished business on her part. Her chipmunk daemon liked to tease Tessa, and the big wolf clearly didn't appreciate that judging by the way she growled and sulked about it afterwards.

"I'll get my best team onto this," Shepard said. "I'll lead the investigation myself."

"We *are* the best team," Tony snapped at her. "And with Gibbs gone, I'm their leader. *I* will lead the investigation."

"You?" She looked torn between laughing and outrage. "You, with the overgrown kitten of a daemon who chases her own tail and dances around the squad room nosing into people's purses the whole time?"

Tony went very still, and Shanti put her head back and roared at the top of her lungs. It was deafening. Shepard put her hands over her ears and stared at Tony; she'd never seen Shanti behave as anything other than a very excitable pussy cat, and she looked astonished.

"Me," Tony told her firmly. He leaned forward. "Shanti's a lioness, Director – a gigantic lioness. That scares people, so she acts like a big kitten to seem less threatening, but that doesn’t change the fact that she's a lioness. Think about what that means."

He watched the director's face as she figured that one out. Lionesses were strong, brave, cunning, stealthy, and ruthless. They were also highly protective. Tony might well have allowed the playful side of his nature to be all that most people saw, but those who scratched the surface, like Tessa, knew the real Shanti.

"Very well. You can have the lead on this," Shepard said. "But I expect results, DiNozzo."

Tony almost laughed out loud. "This is *Gibbs*," he told her. "Do you think there's any way I'll give it less than everything I have?"

She studied him for a moment and then nodded, slowly. "I believe you. I think, Agent DiNozzo, that I might have underestimated you."

"Yeah, well, I don't blame you." Tony gave a rueful smile. "Look, Director, I've been thinking, and for some reason I keep remembering the first case I worked on with Gibbs, five years ago."

"Is something about this case similar to that one?"

"No." Tony grimaced. "It's just…more a feeling."

"You want to waste your time chasing up what could be a blind alley on a *feeling*?" Shepard raised an eyebrow, and Tony fought down a wave of frustration.

"Rule number one – always listen to your daemon," he replied, and Shanti sat up and looked the director square in the eye. "I know you don't think much of Shanti, but you don't really know her. Nobody does. Not really. Well, nobody except Gibbs."

"I've seen the way Shanti throws herself all over Tessa," Shepard said, looking irritated. "I never understood why Tessa puts up with that."

"It's a long story, and you don't know any of it," Tony said, trying to keep a lid on his temper. "Look, Shanti thinks something might have happened to Tessa, and that's why I was reminded of that Marine back at the Baltimore docks."

"Shanti *thinks* something might have happened to Tessa?" Shepard's tone was incredulous. "Based on what?"

"Based on…” Tony shook his head. There was no way he could explain this without making himself appear insane, and then Shepard would take him off the case for sure. “Look, I don't have time to explain, but Shanti knows Tessa very well, and she says that something is wrong."

"Because she can feel it? She feels there is something wrong with Tessa?" Shepard looked as if she was at least trying to understand.

Tony sighed. "No – because she *can't*." He saw Shepard's eyes widen and shook his head. "You need to trust me, Director, and I need you to order Agent Fornell from the FBI to get his ass over here and to bring everything he has on Paul Watson and any other similar cases he's investigated."

Shepard opened her mouth, looking as if she was about to protest, but Tony turned away from her purposefully and strode back over to his team.

"Now, Director!" he snapped as he went. Shanti stood up on her hind legs and gave another loud roar before following him.

Two hours later, Agent Fornell was on the doorstep with a box full of files.

~*~

Gibbs wrapped his arms around his body, trying to get warm. Hunter had left him here, alone in the dark, to consider his next move.

There was no way he was going to assassinate the president of all people, even if it meant he got to see Tessa again – and he was pretty damn sure that wouldn't happen. No, once his usefulness was over Hunter would kill him – just like he'd killed Paul Watson.

Although it didn't make sense that he'd killed Watson and left his body in such a public place, out on the docks for anyone to just stumble across. Hunter struck him as someone who laid meticulous plans, and that didn't fit his modus operandi. Something was wrong about it, and he knew if Tessa was here he'd be able to identify what, but she wasn't and his brain wasn't working the way it should. The constant, searing pain didn’t make concentrating easy. He wished the aching sensation would subside for just a few seconds, but instead it seemed to get worse the longer he was separated from her.

Ducky had said that after prolonged separation from their daemons, people became highly suggestible. Was that what had happened to Watson? Had he started out defiant, but eventually caved in and agreed to carry out whatever crime Hunter had told him to commit?

Gibbs shivered. He couldn't imagine that happening to him, but he already felt terrible. How would he feel in a week's time? Or two? Would he be ready to cave then?

Damn it, he needed Tessa. Whenever he thought about her, he felt a wave of intense anguish that made him want to howl. He needed her. He couldn't figure out any of this on his own; he felt adrift.

He raised his hand and gazed at it to reassure himself that he was solid flesh. He felt like a ghost, pale and without substance.

What was he without her? Who was he? She had always been here, by his side, his confidante and best friend. She was wise and calm – she soothed him when he got angry and counseled him when he was troubled. He didn't know what to think now she was gone. How could he trust himself to get it right without her?

She was his gut instinct and his touchstone.

He was lost without her.

~*~

“What the hell happened?” Tony growled at Fornell as they strode into the squad room. “When you took this case off us you said it was because you had better resources, that this case was linked to other cases, and that you had leads, damn it!”

He dumped the box of case files he was carrying on the floor beside his desk and looked up. Fornell appeared shaken, and his fox daemon slunk away from Shanti miserably.

“We did have leads!” Fornell protested. “But after Watson, this bastard just vanished. There were no more disappearances and no more reports of people being separated from their daemons. The trail went cold.”

“What does this bastard want?” Tony asked. “Is he a serial killer? Is he getting off on the power trip?”

“He’s not a serial killer in the accepted sense of the term, but is he getting off the power trip? You bet,” Fornell said grimly. “But he’s not doing this just for kicks, DiNozzo.” Fornell took a file out of the box and threw it on the desk. “Paul Watson – he was a Marine sniper, just like Gibbs. And he was a good man. He sure as hell wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. But look here.” He pointed to a grainy image, clearly taken from a security camera. “This was taken the day before Watson’s body was found.”

Tony gazed at the photograph searchingly. It showed Watson, looking pale and gaunt, his face haggard and his eyes shadowed with pain. He was walking into a building – and his daemon wasn’t with him.

“What am I looking at?” Tony demanded.

“A woman was shot from that building. She worked in the law firm office opposite.”

“You think Watson killed her?”

“Yes. She was the lead attorney on a case that was about to come to court. We think someone paid to have her killed – but it was Watson who was forced to actually do the killing.”

Tony looked up. “This bastard kidnapped Gibbs because he wants him to kill someone?” Shanti gave an appalled roar.

Fornell gave a grim nod and got out another file. “Sean Williams. He was a security specialist. He broke into a bank in 1998 and got away with $5 million. It was completely out of character – but people in the bank at the time reported that they couldn't see his daemon, and he kept talking to himself, like he'd gone insane. He disappeared immediately after the bank raid and nobody saw him again until his body turned up three years later. It was well hidden – and would have stayed that way if it wasn’t for a new road they started digging through a field. And this one.” He threw another file on the desk.

“Janine Petrowski. She worked in the restaurant where Senator Taylor was poisoned back in 1995. She went missing a week before it happened, then showed up for work looking ill and refusing to say where she’d been. She had a mouse daemon which she said was in her pocket, but he used to be a friendly, interactive kind of daemon, and nobody ever saw him again when she returned. She only returned for half a day; after the senator died she disappeared too. We never found her body. ”

“Gibbs won’t do it,” Tony said firmly. “I don’t care what this bastard does to him. Gibbs won’t kill anyone for him.”

“Can you be sure?” Fornell asked. “Can any of us be sure if it comes to that, DiNozzo? If you were separated from your daemon, how long do you think you’d last?”

Tony found his hand going automatically to Shanti’s head. He couldn’t imagine Gibbs without Tessa by his side. It hurt to even think about it. He thought of that limping, sullen young man he’d met all those years ago, and Tessa was an integral part of that memory. She was a vital part of what made Gibbs…Gibbs.

“I don’t know,” he replied to Fornell’s question. “But this is Gibbs we’re talking about. He won’t give in without a fight.”

“But he will give in,” Fornell said quietly. He pointed to the files spread out on the desk in front of them. “They always do.”

~*~

"So…have you had enough time to think?" Hunter entered the room, and Darsha flapped and scuttled her way over to where Gibbs was lying on the mattress. "It's been over a week, Gibbs. That's more time than is usually required, but I knew you'd need more. I factored that into my plans. You're a very strong-willed individual; I knew you’d be tough to break."

Gibbs blinked at him, trying to remember who this man was and what he wanted from him. Darsha began climbing up his leg, her claw digging into his pants.

"She could be your daemon, if you want," Hunter said. "Would you like that, Gibbs? You must be missing your daemon by now. Surely any daemon would do? Darsha is a very good daemon."

Gibbs looked down on the strange, twisted daemon clambering on him. There was something about her that he used to find repulsive, but he wasn't sure what that was now. He just wanted his daemon back.

"Would you like to touch her? Would you like to feel her touching your bare skin?" Hunter smiled at him. "I'll let you do that, Gibbs, if you just agree to take on this job I have for you. I need a man with your skill, you see – a trained sniper who always hits his target."

"What target?"

Hunter crouched down in front of him and stroked his sweat streaked hair away from his face. Gibbs flinched instinctively. He didn’t like being touched; at least he remembered that much about himself.

"I know it's hard for you to focus, isn't it? It's hard for you to remember things. But one thing you do remember is that you're a sniper. You know that because it's not what you are, it's *who* you are. It's the lone wolf in you – I read somewhere that nearly half of all snipers have wolf daemons."

"Wolf daemon? T…Tes…" He couldn't remember her name. He could remember the softness of her fur against his fingers, and the brush of her whiskers on his face when he leaned down to talk to her, but he didn't know what she was called. Had she even belonged to him? Or was it the other way around? Did he belong to her?

“The wolf has gone. Don’t think about her. You have another daemon now – someone better suited to you. See – this is Darsha. She’s your new daemon.”

Gibbs blinked, trying to focus. He missed his daemon. He ached for her. He wanted to touch her, and hold her, and talk to her.

“That’s right,” Hunter cooed in his ear. “You can have Darsha. She can be your daemon now.”

Darsha’s yellow eye gleamed in the darkness. She climbed up his shirt and then reached out with her claw to touch his face.

Gibbs got a glimpse of something so repulsive that it made him howl. He brushed the foul creature away from him in horror. He was still howling as he struggled to his feet and kicked her across the room. Then he sank back down on the floor, panting from the brief moment of exertion.

Hunter and Darsha both screamed at the same time, the shrill sound piercing his aching head. Hunter ran across the room and rescued his daemon. He tucked her into his shirt, crooning to her as he rubbed her belly. Then he returned to Gibbs’s side, and Darsha poked her ugly, misshapen head out from Hunter’s shirt and hissed at him.

“Keep that stinking, piss poor excuse for a daemon away from me,” Gibbs growled.

“You’re not a wolf, you’re just a fucking dog!” Hunter snapped. “A mutt. A cur. You’re nothing, Gibbs. You don’t even have your own daemon!”

He grabbed a handful of Gibbs’s hair and slapped his face repeatedly, yelling at him the entire time. Gibbs fought back as best he could, but the constant pain had sapped his strength, and he didn’t have it in him to put up much of a struggle. He collapsed, and then all he could do was endure the blows as they rained down on him. It hurt, but not as much as being separated from Tessa.

Tessa. That was her name. His beautiful Tessa.

“You can’t take her from me,” he told Hunter. “I won’t forget her name again. I’ll keep her here, inside me.” He pointed at his chest, blinking the sweat out of his eyes as he gazed up at his captor.

Hunter released his grip on his hair and threw him back down onto the floor.

“Oh, you’ll forget her. In another few days you won’t even remember her name. I own you now, Gibbs.” He gestured to Darsha. “*We* own you.”

He laughed out loud, and he was still laughing as he left the room, locking the door behind him.

Gibbs wrapped his arms around his body and held himself tight. He rocked himself like he’d once rocked a newborn baby to sleep many years ago.

“Tessa." He said her name over and over again. “Tessa…Tessa…Tessa….”

He had to hang onto her. He couldn’t let himself forget who he was.

~*~

Tony sat at Gibbs’s desk trying to think, hoping to get inspiration from sitting where Gibbs usually sat.

Gibbs had been missing for nearly two weeks, and every single lead they chased down led to a dead end. There had to be something in these files Fornell had given him, but he'd been through them all, over and over again, and if there was, he couldn't see it.

"You need to get some rest," Shanti told him.

He'd barely done more than catnap since this nightmare began, but he couldn't sleep. Not when Gibbs was out there, being held captive…and not when Tessa was so incredibly absent. It was that part of this puzzle that brought him out in cold sweats. Gibbs was tough – he could handle all kinds of physical pain, but separation from his daemon? Who could withstand that? Wherever Gibbs was, Tony was absolutely sure that he was enduring the worst kind of torture possible.

"Not yet," he told Shanti, soothing her head gently with his hand. "There must be something here. Something we’ve missed."

His gaze fell on the members of his team. McGee was sitting at his desk, his head resting on his hands, snoring gently. His squirrel daemon was slumbering beside him, resting her sweet little head on his shoulder. Ziva was lying on the floor behind her desk, fast asleep. Who knew where her daemon was? Tony had never even caught a glimpse of him. He had to be small enough that he could hide somewhere in her clothes, but Tony had no idea what form he took.

Abby was sitting in his chair, dozing fitfully, her monkey daemon muttering uneasily as he slept beside her. And he knew that Ducky was down in Autopsy, fretting and waiting for news, Morag flying anxiously around the room. His new assistant, Jimmy Palmer, and his badger daemon Phyllis were with him at least, so the ME wasn't alone.

How could someone disappear so completely? And why couldn't he feel what Gibbs was feeling, the way he'd been doing since he was eight years old? Why?

~*~

Gibbs sat up when the door opened. He didn’t like it when the door opened. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew bad things happened when that door opened.

A shadow fell over him, and he looked up at the man who sometimes visited him. The man’s daemon scuttled over to him and looked at him from one blank, dead eye, and one beady yellow eye. Gibbs cringed away from her.

“Don’t you recognize your own daemon?” the man asked derisively. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Gibbs stared at the creature in front of him. “She’s mine?” he whispered. “She’s my daemon?”

“That’s right. She’s the only daemon you’ve got now.”

Gibbs shook his head. He didn’t recognize her as any part of him. He didn’t think she could be a part of him. “I don’t think she’s mine,” he said hoarsely.

The man crouched down beside him. “Oh, she’s yours. Look around you – do you see any other daemons in here?”

Gibbs looked around. The man was right – she was the only daemon here. “No,” he whispered. “Just her.”

“Then she must be your daemon.”

It did make sense. Gibbs watched as the daemon scuttled closer. He was so lonely. He ached to have a daemon. Maybe the man was right, and she was his.

"Are you a sniper, Marine?" the man barked authoritatively, and Gibbs felt an old certainty kicking in.

"Yes, *sir*!" he replied. "I'm a sniper, sir."

"And do you follow orders, Marine!"

"Yes sir. I follow orders."

The man looming over him didn't look like Major Ryan, but Gibbs wasn't sure of anything right now, so he might be wrong.

"Your daemon has an order for you, Marine." The man gestured with his hand, and the daemon slowly crawled up his leg and then onto his chest. She was dark, and the wrong size and shape, but the man had said she was his daemon. Maybe she was… What was her name?

"Tasha? Dessa?" he whispered, looking down on her. Was she really his? He wished he knew.

Suddenly the daemon reached out with her claw and grabbed his chin. He screamed as his bare skin came into contact with her for the first time. A black shadow swept through his mind and a swirling pit of fetid darkness opened up in front of him. He had been touched by something so repulsive that he could hardly breathe. He wanted to pull her off and throw her across the room, but she was his daemon, wasn’t she? He couldn’t do that to his own daemon.

"Good. There, see, she can be your daemon too. We can share her," the man said soothingly.

The daemon moved her claw and fastened it around his throat. In his mind’s eye he saw himself as a wolf, and this daemon had put a spiked collar around his neck and pulled it tight. He struggled against that tight band around his throat, trying to rip it away.

The man loomed over him, grinning. "Wolves are just wild dogs you know, Gibbs. All you have to do is put a collar on one and tame it, and it will do whatever you say. Now, are you ready to obey me?"

Gibbs tried to pull away, but the daemon tightened her grip, bruising his throat.

"You will obey me. You’re going to do whatever I say," the man insisted.

"Whatever he says," the daemon echoed, her voice halfway between a cackle and a squawk.

"Yes?" the man said, and that tightness around Gibbs's throat intensified to the point where he couldn't breathe.

"Yes!" Gibbs gasped finally. "Yes."

Only then did the pressure ease, and he rolled onto all fours, panting and gasping for breath.

"That's good. A few days of this and our big, bad wolf will be a tame puppy dog, eager to do our bidding."

The man straightened up and held out his arm, and the daemon scrambled onto it and scuttled up to sit on his shoulder. Gibbs felt as if a terrible weight had been lifted from him, and yet he ached all the same. He ached for a daemon. He wanted his daemon so much.

He lifted his head and gazed at the dark, twisted creature sitting on the man's shoulder.

"Are you really mine?" he asked her blankly.

She laughed and flapped her wing energetically. "No, you're mine!" she crowed. “You’re mine! You’re mine!” The man laughed and petted her, crooning to her, and then he turned and left the room, taking her with him.

And Gibbs was alone again.

~*~

The answer lay at the Baltimore docks; Tony was sure of it. He'd been to the warehouse in Fairfax where they were shot at five years ago, but found nothing. He'd been to a dozen different places following the leads in Fornell's files, but still nothing.

He'd even been back to the docks once already, but he was sure he must have missed something. The answer had to be there; Shanti was convinced of it.

"It's just a feeling," she told him. "But I can't shake it." She looked tired; her fur was coarse and her eyes dull. He knew that she was as exhausted as he was.

It had now been nearly three weeks since Gibbs had first disappeared, and they were running out of time. Paul Watson had been found dead two weeks after he went missing; Gibbs surely didn't have much longer.

Tony had given his team the night off to catch up on some sleep. They were all dead on their feet. He was too, but he couldn't sleep for more than an hour or so at a time. Not when Gibbs was out there, suffering who knew what kind of torture.

"I miss him," Tony told Shanti as he drove to the docks. "All these years I've known he was there…he was always with me, even when I didn’t see him for years on end. It’s been that way ever since that night at the motel room, and now he's gone. I can't feel that link we used to share – I didn't even realize it was such an everyday presence until it wasn’t there anymore."

"It wasn't always that way," Shanti said softly. "It grew that way when we saw him every day, and when he started to fall in love with you."

"At least he wasn't in love with me when I was eight years old." Tony managed a wry smile at her. "That would be freaky." He’d stopped arguing with her about whether Gibbs was in love with him. Rule number one seemed more important than ever now, and if she said he was then maybe he was.

"No…he always loved you, but I think he fell *in love* with you much later. I don't believe that there was a moment. I think it was just a gradual expansion of something that was already there; something already soul deep."

"I'll take your word for it," Tony said. "I never saw it myself."

"You saw it every day – whenever I sat close to Tessa, and she didn't growl at me to leave."

It was dark when he pulled up at the docks, and it was cold, but at least it wasn't snowing. He smiled as he remembered that night five years ago, when he'd met up with Gibbs again.

Watson's body had been over here, beneath the lamp post…

"Which is kind of weird, isn't it?" Shanti said. "To be out here, for anyone to see…and with the sea so close. Why not just dump the body in the water?"

"Maybe he wanted us to see it, whoever this bastard is," Tony said, glancing around.

There were buildings, containment crates, warehouses, boats…all the things you'd expect to see at the docks.

"Fornell said that our perp kidnaps people and makes them commit crimes against their will by forcibly separating them from their daemon," Tony mused out loud. He knew the details of the case backwards, but saying it aloud might help him make a new connection.

"So he might be holding Tessa miles away from wherever he is holding Jethro," Shanti said.

“Yeah. That's my guess." Tony shuddered. He could still remember that night he'd spent along the hallway from her when he was at boarding school, locked away from her behind closed doors. How could anyone stand two weeks of that? It didn’t bear thinking about.

"I am here." She nudged his hand reassuringly with her head, but that just served to remind Tony that Gibbs didn't have that kind of comfort right now.

And how would Tessa be feeling? She had to be distraught. He remembered how Shanti had roared for hours on end that night they'd been kept apart. Had Tessa been howling for the past two weeks?

~*~

"Are you ready?" The man – was his name Hunt? Or Hunter maybe? – had brought his daemon to see him again. She clawed her way up his body and sat on his shoulder. It felt strange. Some people had daemons who sat on their shoulders, but he didn't remember being one of them. He didn't really like the way she felt, sitting there. He didn't like being touched.

"Ready for what?" Gibbs frowned. He couldn't seem to hold onto anything in his head for very long now. He hurt so much, and most of the time that was all he could think about. Every so often he'd feel a sensation of such wretched, aching loss that he vomited, but he didn't know what he'd lost or why he mourned for it so.

"To do your job, Marine! You're a sniper, aren't you?" Hunter looked at him from a pair of cold brown eyes.

Gibbs nodded."Yes sir!"

"Good. Then here are your instructions. You'll find the rifle waiting for you in the car. Then you go here." Hunter pointed to an address. "Go here and take up position. They'll let you in. Here's your badge. Remember that you're a federal agent."

"Yes, sir. A federal agent." Gibbs nodded and took the badge.

"When the president comes into sight, you shoot. One shot to the forehead – nothing sloppy. Take her out with one clean shot."

"Yes sir!"

"A female president – it isn't right." Hunter shook his head. "Some people are very unhappy about it – and you are going to put that right, Gibbs. You're going to make those unhappy people very happy indeed. Understand?"

"Yes sir!"

“When you’ve completed your assignment, I’ll come and pick you up. Then you can be reunited with your daemon.”

His daemon…wasn’t this his daemon, sitting here on his shoulder? Or did he have a different daemon? He felt so confused. He had a vague recollection of a big wolf, loping by his side.

“Tessa?” he whispered, and that name seemed to come from deep within, as if he’d been hanging onto it, desperately trying not to let it go.

“That’s right…Tessa. She’s your real daemon. Darsha has been standing in for her because you were so lonely. But when you’ve completed your task, you can see your real daemon again.”

“I can see Tessa?” Gibbs felt a surge of such longing that it almost brought him to his knees.

“Yes. I promise. Now…one more thing…” Hunter took out a syringe, and injected something into Gibbs’s neck. “GPS transmitter.” Gibbs put up his hand and felt the little bump under his skin. “So I know where you are at any time. It stops transmitting if exposed to the air, so don’t try and cut it out.”

“No sir.”

“Just go and do your job. If you fail, or if you deviate from the instructions I’ve given you, then Tessa will suffer for your mistakes. And I’ll be sure to remove her from her insulated room first – so that you can feel every single thing I do to her.” Hunter gave him another one of those twisted smiles. “Understand?”

Gibbs put the badge and note of instructions into his pocket. "Yes sir. I understand. I'm ready to do my job as ordered, sir.” He gave Hunter a sharp salute.

“Good. One final thing – just so you won’t know where you’ve been staying these past two weeks.”

Another syringe, another sharp, stinging sensation in his neck…and then darkness.

~*~

“There’s nothing here.” Tony turned to go back to his car. “I just get the feeling I’m missing something.”

“I feel it too.” Shanti gave a little shiver and ran to catch up with him. She was never far away from him these days. Ever since Gibbs’s disappearance she was always within touching distance, and he knew why.

“Nobody will get you,” he promised her.

“I couldn’t survive without you.” She rubbed her head against his leg. “I hope Tessa is stronger than me.”

“You’re strong. Tessa is too. We will find them,” Tony said, but he wasn’t sure he believed it anymore.

He cast one last glance around the docks, and then he and Shanti got into the car, and he drove away.

~*~

When Gibbs woke up, he was sitting in a car parked on a grocery store parking lot. There was a map on the seat beside him, showing him where he was supposed to go.

He picked it up and looked at it. He knew he was supposed to drive there, but…he didn’t want to. Beads of sweat started to slide down his face. He’d been told to do this. His daemon had told him…no, not his daemon…the other man’s daemon…the daemon they shared. How was that even possible?

He glanced over his shoulder. On the seat behind him, in a case, was a rifle. He opened up the case and gazed at the rifle.

“She’s beautiful,” he said.

“Yes,” he replied to himself. “Very beautiful.”

If he talked to himself he felt less alone, as if he had a daemon. “This is what you’ll use to shoot the president,” he told himself.

He put the car into gear and drove out of the parking lot at high speed, amid the sound of screeching tyres.

“Like hell I will,” he replied.

~*~

“Where now?” Shanti asked as they drove off into the night.

“I don’t know. Where else is left?” Tony asked her wearily. He was too tired to think straight. He’d done everything he could think of, left no stone unturned, and he still couldn’t find Gibbs. He’d failed.

“Home,” she said.

“Home then.” He took the next turning on autopilot.

~*~

Gibbs didn’t know where he was going. He just knew he wasn’t damn well going where he’d been told.

A beeping sound startled him, and he looked around for the source of the noise. It seemed to be a phone, and the car answered the call automatically.

“Gibbs – you’re not following the route I marked out for you,” a familiar voice said.

Gibbs slammed on the brakes. “No sir.”

“You need to turn around and go back.”

“Yes sir.” Gibbs gripped the steering wheel hard. “I’ll do that. I’ll turn around and go back.”

“Good. Do it. Now.” The call ended.

Gibbs gazed at the road ahead and brushed the sweat off his forehead with his arm. It was hard to know what to do. He’d been told to do something, so why didn’t he do it?

He caught a sudden glimpse of himself in the mirror and stared, horrified. The man in the mirror had wild, silver hair and a shaggy, grey beard. His face was haggard, his skin pale and paper thin. His eyes were red rimmed and staring, only a shade away from madness.

Was that him? It didn’t look like him. He didn’t remember looking like this. Who the hell was this man staring back at him?

“That’s not me. Need to find me.”

He didn’t turn the car around. He carried on driving the way he’d been headed.

~*~

Tony parked the car, and Shanti lifted her head blearily and looked out through the window. “This isn’t your apartment building,” she said.

“It isn’t?” Tony frowned, blinking away the tiredness.

“No. It is home though,” Shanti said.

Somehow he’d driven to Gibbs’s house without even realizing it.

“Yes. It is home,” he murmured.

He went inside and wearily climbed the stairs, heading for the bedroom. He was too tired right now to do anything but sleep.

He got into Gibbs’s bed, and Shanti curled up beside him. He could smell Gibbs’s scent still clinging to the sheets and it both hurt and comforted him at the same time. He buried his face in Shanti’s fur and fell asleep.

~*~

Gibbs pulled up somewhere – he didn’t know where, just that it was where he wanted to be. Now that he was away from that man's nightmarish daemon he had a clearer sense of himself. The phone in the car beeped again just before he turned the engine off.

“You’ve disobeyed me,” that same voice said.

“Yes.” He gazed at the stranger in the mirror, and the stranger gazed back at him from those haunted, red-rimmed eyes.

“Turn around – if you don’t obey me, I will go to where I’m holding your daemon, and I’ll hurt her. Now do as I say.”

“Yes,” Gibbs replied blankly. “I’ll do as you say.” The phone went dead again.

“You must obey him," he told himself.

"No," he replied. "That isn't what Tessa would say." She might not be here, but he knew what she would say.

"Damn it, if you don't do as he asks, he’ll torture her!”

Gibbs paused, his hand on the door. He thought of Tessa, lying in some prison cell somewhere far away, her coat matted and her eyes dull with pain. Tessa meant everything to him. He'd do anything to spare her pain…anything except kill an innocent person. Tessa would hate him forever if he did that for her. She didn't need to be here for him to know that.

Gibbs opened the car door and got out. He walked unsteadily up a driveway and then opened a front door. He knew this place. He could walk through this place in his sleep.

He walked along to the end of the hallway and opened a door and then walked slowly down the stairs and into the basement. He placed his hands on the solid wood of a half-built boat.

He remembered this place.

It was his home.

~*~

Tony awoke with a start, hearing a noise somewhere downstairs. Shanti raised her head, her ears flicking back and forth.

“Ssh.” Tony put a finger over his mouth and silently rolled out of the bed. He picked up the gun he’d left on the night stand when he’d crawled into bed an hour or so ago.

He padded silently to the door and out into the hallway and then tiptoed just as silently down the stairs. He paused when he reached the bottom. The door at the end of the hallway, the one leading to the basement, was wide open – and it hadn’t been when he’d got here.

He was about to move towards it when Shanti nudged his hand with her head. He looked down.

“There is something terrible in there,” she told him, her ears whirring nervously.

“Then we will face it together,” he said calmly. She was his strength and his courage; he would not falter with her by his side.

They walked stealthily towards the door, and then Tony hurled himself inside, gun raised.

“Come out, whoever the hell you are,” he said, walking slowly down the stairs. “I know you’re here.”

There was a noise from under the boat, and then someone crawled out from under it. Tony stared, horrified.

It was a man. It was a man who looked like Gibbs, but also not like Gibbs. His face was bruised, and he had a straggly beard and wild, red-rimmed eyes, but that wasn’t what was so horrifying about him.

“He has no daemon,” Shanti said, shuddering violently. "Tessa is not with him."

It was wrong. It was an abomination. It was so horrific that it made Tony want to throw up. He forced those visceral emotions aside; this was still *Gibbs*, no matter what had been done to him. None of this was his fault.

“Hey…ssh…it’s okay…” Tony put his gun away and approached the wildly staring man in front of him, talking to him softly, trying not to startle him. “It’s okay, Jethro. It’s me…it’s Tony. You’re safe now.”

He reached out a hand, knowing that was a long way from being true.

“Tony?” He thought he saw a glimmer of recognition in Gibbs’s eyes, but it was like looking at a stranger. It was as if Gibbs wasn’t *in* there – or if he was, he was hanging on by a thread.

“Tony,” he repeated.

Gibbs gazed at him blankly. “I…don’t remember,” he said hoarsely. “I don’t know who I am. He took Tessa, Tony.” He sounded so broken that Tony ached for him.

“I know, Jethro. I know. Here.”

He moved closer, his hand still outstretched, and Gibbs flinched away from him as if expecting a blow. Judging by those bruises on his face, that was a reasonable assumption on his part.

Tony approached him slowly, as if he was a wild animal, letting Gibbs see that he wasn’t going to harm him. Finally he got close enough to touch, and he felt Gibbs tremble as he gently placed a hand on his arm.

“She’s gone,” Gibbs whispered. “Tessa’s gone.” He suddenly threw back his head and gave a desolate howl, and Tony’s heart almost broke at the sound. Gibbs was obviously completely inconsolable, and Tony wasn’t sure how to help.

He had an idea, and he gently touched Gibbs’s shoulder. Gibbs stopped howling and gazed at him blearily.

“Come here.” Tony took hold of Gibbs’s hand and led him over to Shanti. “Will this be okay?” he whispered to her.

She looked at him helplessly. “I don’t know…but we have to try.”

He nodded at her, and she nudged her head deliberately against Gibbs’s bare hand. As they touched, Tony felt an immediate wrenching sensation, and he was overwhelmed by a feeling of such devastating loss that he didn’t think he could bear it.

Gibbs sank to the floor on his knees, placed his hands on Shanti’s head, and traced his fingers over her face.

“Shanti…?” he whispered. “Shanti? Is it you?”

“It is me.” She rubbed her face gently against his.

Gibbs collapsed against her, his body wracked by silent sobs. “Shanti…Tessa…Shanti…” he said, in a hoarse, strained, utterly un-Gibbs like voice. He buried his face in her fur. “Please…help me.”

Tony couldn’t bear it. He knelt down beside them, took Gibbs into his arms, and held him tight. Gibbs was skin and bone, and his body was shaking violently.

“I will find her,” Tony hissed fiercely into Gibbs’s ear. “I will find Tessa. And I’ll find whoever did this to you, and I will make him pay. I promise, Jethro. I promise.”

~*~

Everything was a blur. He was aware of people arriving – a doctor who blinked at him owlishly from behind his spectacles, and a pretty girl with pigtails and worried green eyes who held his hand like he was a child while her monkey daemon crooned at him anxiously.

Through it all he would not relinquish his hold on Shanti. She was his lifeline. She wasn't his own dear Tessa, but she was the next best thing. When he was touching her he felt the intense aching in his body abate a little, giving him some respite after weeks of agony.

Now that he was away from Darsha he could see how hideously warped that daemon had been, and he felt nothing but revulsion whenever he thought about her.

Shanti buried her face in the crook of his neck, her body warm and solid, pressed close to his. She was like coming home. She was love, and home, and family; she was pack.

"Pride," she said, and he thought he should be surprised that she could hear his thoughts as if she was his real daemon, but he was too sick to be surprised by anything right now.

"Pride?" he croaked.

"Wolves have packs. Lions have prides." She nuzzled his neck, and he hugged her tight.

The pretty girl gasped. "Tony – he's touching Shanti with his bare hands! Doesn't that make you feel ill?"

"No," Tony replied quietly. "He's done it before, Abby, and it's fine. Shanti doesn't mind. I don't mind."

"But it's…" she began, only to be hushed by the man with the owl daemon.

"Ssh, my dear. There are forces at work here that we don't fully understand. Looking back, I think that might always have been the case."

Shanti's presence was helping to clear his head and…maybe, if he’d had one, soothe his soul. But he didn’t have a soul anymore. He didn’t know what he was anymore. What was a man without a soul?

"What's the prognosis, Ducky?" Tony asked as the doctor bustled around him, checking him over.

"He really is in a very poor way. I'm surprised he's even alive to be honest. I've called for an ambulance; we must get him to the hospital, but really the only thing that will save him is if we can find Tessa and return her to him."

"Oh, I intend to do just that, Ducky."

Someone loomed over him, and Gibbs blinked blearily. It was Shanti…no, it was Tony…Gibbs shook his head, trying to clear his blurred vision. In front of him stood a man with the faint, see-through outline of a giant lioness visible inside his body.

He’d never really thought about daemons before. They just were – a fact of everyday life, like breathing and eating. Now he thought he saw a deeper truth in the blurred merging of Tony and Shanti in the man standing in front of him.

Shanti was the essence of Tony. She was his soul, his gut, his inner self – just as Tessa was of him. You couldn't divide a person from their daemon – they were an integral part of each other.

So what did that make him? Looking into the eyes of the people gazing down at him he saw the answer; he was an abomination, something ugly, twisted, and deformed. When they looked at him they recoiled, just as he had once recoiled from the obscenity that was Darsha.

"Jethro – do you have any idea where he's holding Tessa?" Tony asked.

Gibbs shook his head.

"Why are you calling him Jethro?" Abby asked.

"Because that's who he is – if I called him Leroy, or even Gibbs, I doubt he'd even know who that is right now," Tony told her. "He's lost almost every sense of himself, but he's still got some inner core that is *him*."

"He most certainly has." Ducky turned from where he was talking to an earnest young man with a squirrel daemon hiding under his shirt. The little squirrel looked petrified and kept peeking out to look at Gibbs and then hiding away again. Gibbs didn't blame her. Even he wanted to turn away from himself right now.

Ducky went over to Tony."Timothy and Ziva have just finished searching the car Gibbs drove to get here. Ziva has remained outside to guard the vehicle, but Timothy thought you should see this." He handed Tony a piece of paper. "I believe this was the task Gibbs was sent to perform. There was also a rifle in the car."

Tony read the piece of paper and then turned to look at Gibbs, an expression of shock on his face.

"He wanted you to kill the president? Shit, Jethro. How the hell did he expect you to do that?"

"Oh, I think that's the wrong question." Ducky shook his head, his owl daemon staring at Gibbs keenly. "I think we should be asking, after all that's been done to him, how on earth he managed to find the strength to defy his captor."

"That's the easy part," Tony said firmly. "He's Gibbs. Even without Tessa, he's got a strong sense of himself. He once told me he's 'kinda definite'. I think probably *only* Gibbs could have survived what he went through and still come out with some sense of himself still intact."

"None of the other victims resisted their orders," the man with the squirrel daemon offered nervously. "It was all in the files Fornell gave us. They all carried out the tasks he gave them. Not a single one refused – except Gibbs."

"But if Gibbs came here instead of following his orders, then that means….” Abby looked at Tony, a worried expression in her eyes.

Gibbs tried to sit up while still keeping his arms around Shanti. "He put a tracker in me. He knows I'm not following his orders,” he rasped. “He said he was going to go and torture Tessa until I complete the task he gave me."

Ducky looked appalled, and his owl daemon flapped her wings in an agitated fashion. "My dear boy, your body is already in shock. You simply cannot withstand…"

He was shoved out of the way, and Tony was there again, part man part lion, hazy and fuzzy around the edges.

"Jethro – Shanti hasn't been able to feel Tessa since you were captured, and I don't believe you have, either – I think that's all part of what he’s done to you. Yes?"

Gibbs managed to nod.

"Is that even possible?" Abby asked, her monkey daemon curling his arms around her neck and holding on tight.

"It most certainly *is* possible, yes, my dear," Ducky replied. "There were experiments during the Cold War with a certain substance which, when painted on the wall, could stop a person from being able to feel their daemon. The really fascinating thing about this experiment…"

"That's not important now," Tony interrupted, turning back to Gibbs. "There's no point this bastard torturing Tessa to secure your obedience unless you can feel her pain. That means he has to bring her out of where he's been keeping her, so that you can feel her."

Gibbs nodded, trying to remember just what Hunter had said.

"Good." Tony stood up.

"Good? How can that possibly be good?" Ducky asked.

"Because when Tessa is out of that specially painted room, then Shanti will feel her – and that will guide us to her," Tony replied.

Ducky looked astonished. "But how on earth can Shanti 'feel' her?"

"It's a long story," Tony said sharply. "Look, Jethro – I need to narrow this down, get us a head start, because if Tessa is a long way from here then by the time we get there, you could be dead from the torture. Did that bastard give you any clue – anything at all – as to where he was holding her?"

Gibbs tried to think, but his mind was a mess and his thoughts kept slipping away from him.

"Courage," Shanti said, pressing her head against his cheek. He rallied for a moment, trying to remember what had bugged him about this case so much from the beginning.

"Paul Watson," he rasped out at last. "Why…leave him there…out in the open?"

Tony nodded slowly. “You’re right. It makes no sense – and it doesn’t fit the MO of the other crimes.” Tony clicked his fingers in the air. "Okay – how about this? Watson completed his task, but he didn't believe he'd be allowed to see his daemon again. He knew his usefulness was over, and he thought he'd be killed. So he gave the perp the slip and managed to follow him back to where he was holding his daemon.” Tony clicked his fingers again excitedly. “Watson was trying to reach his daemon when he was killed!"

"Hunter realized he was being followed…so he overpowered Watson…managed to tie his hands…" Gibbs said, struggling to focus. He could do this. Solving crimes was what he did; it was what he’d been doing for years. He could damn well solve this one. "Hunter was going to take him somewhere quiet, kill him, and maybe dump his body in the water…"

"But Watson made a run for it.” Tony took over, bouncing off him, just like he always did. “There were too many people close by, and Hunter knew he could be discovered at any moment, so he stabbed Watson and got the hell out of there. It was sloppy – not his style at all – but he didn't have a choice. Damn it – if Fornell hadn't forced us to give up this case all those years ago, we would have figured all this out back then."

Tony crouched down beside him and began talking to him in a low, urgent tone. "Baltimore docks – that’s where we found Watson, and I’m betting that's where this bastard is holding Tessa. I always knew the docks were the key to this whole puzzle. I'm going there now, but I have to take Shanti with me, Jethro, so you gotta let her go."

"No!" Gibbs wrapped his arms even more tightly around Shanti's neck. He'd only just been reunited with her – he couldn't let her go so soon.

"You have to."

Gibbs remembered an excitable puppy running through the woods, and a lioness that scampered around the squad room like a playful, annoying kitten. But all traces of those past daemons were gone now. Instead, a strong, dignified, ruthless daemon had taken their place.

Shanti touched her nose against his and then pulled herself away from his embrace. He was distracted from the shock of losing her by the way she sat back on her haunches, turned her face upwards, and roared so loudly that the entire house shook.

It was the roar of a lioness about to go hunting, and a declaration of intent from a daemon inhabiting every aspect of her true self.

"Get him to the hospital, Ducky," Tony ordered. "Abby – stay with him. Do NOT leave him alone. McGee – he mentioned someone called 'Hunter' – get me all the information you can on whoever the hell that is. Jethro…” Tony crouched down in front of him and took his face between his hands, making Gibbs look into his determined green eyes. “Hang on in there. I'm going to find Tessa, and I WILL bring her home."

~*~

Tony ran out to his car, called Ziva to get in, and drove off at high speed.

"Where are we going?" Ziva asked, hanging onto the door. Tony felt a certain grim satisfaction about the fact that he was terrorizing her with his driving for once, instead of the other way around.

"Baltimore docks. We don't have much time."

"I…" Ziva hesitated. "I want to apologise, Tony.”

"What the hell for?"

"I sent McGee inside to give you the information we found in the car because I could not face doing it myself. I…did not want to see him." She shivered, and he noticed her hand going into her pocket and resting there lightly.

"You should be apologizing to him, not me," he told her bluntly. "Damn it, Ziva – this was *done* to him. If he'd lost his arms, or his legs, or been disfigured in a fire or something, would you have turned your back on him then?"

"I am apologizing to you because I misjudged you," she said. "All this time I thought you were a fool – one time I even asked Gibbs why he kept you on the team. Yet you have kept this team together these past few weeks. You showed more leadership skills than I thought you possessed."

"Yeah…well…" Tony glanced at Shanti who was lying on the back seat. "You're not the only one who should be apologizing. I once told someone that I'd never ask her to hide again, yet I've kind of been doing just that for a very long time; I just didn't realize it."

"It doesn't matter now," Shanti said. "The only thing that matters is finding Tessa."

Tony drove even faster, slamming his foot down on the gas and taking them around bends at high speed. He noticed, as he drove, that Ziva still had her hand in her pocket.

"Is that where your daemon is?"

"Yes. I only allow the people I trust implicitly to see him.”

“I’m betting there aren’t many of them,” Tony commented wryly.

Ziva gave a tight little smile. “You are right. Very few people have ever laid eyes on him. I keep him always out of sight. But even so, you always knew that he existed, that he was here. Seeing Gibbs without a daemon…without Tessa…without his own soul…that is different."

"Yes." He knew what she meant. Nobody could mistake Ziva's secretive daemon for Gibbs's complete absence of one. If you didn't know Gibbs and didn't realise he should have a big wolf loping at his side, then you might not immediately realise what was wrong with him. You might assume he had a rat or a lizard tucked away out of sight, just as Ziva kept her daemon hidden away. But once you knew then the knowledge itself made it horrifying. Tony had seen countless stupid horror flicks about people being separated from their daemons, but the reality was more terrifying than any movie.

"I do not know that I could look on a man knowing he had no daemon." Ziva shuddered. "And to know that person…that makes it even worse. How did you…?"

"He's still Gibbs, Ziva – at least, some part of him is still in there. I know he wouldn't turn away from me if I'd been separated from Shanti, so…oh shit!" He suddenly doubled up in pain, and Shanti threw back her head and screamed.

"What is it?" Ziva put her hand on the steering wheel and took over the steering for him.

"Shit…shit…" Tony slammed the car over to the side of the road. "You have to drive," he told Ziva, between gasps of pain. He crawled into the back seat beside Shanti and took her in his arms.

"I do not understand," Ziva said as she drove the car back onto the road.

"Hunter has started torturing Tessa," Tony ground out. "Now keep driving. We don't have much time. *Gibbs* doesn't have much time."

~*~

He was aware of being in an ambulance, and then in a hospital room. Abby held his hand throughout, refusing to relinquish it for even a second.

Medical staff hovered, and he could see the look of horror on their faces no matter how hard they tried to disguise it. The knowledge he had no daemon made each of them reach for their own daemon in fear of what had been done to him.

Ducky was speaking to them, but Gibbs knew there wasn’t anything that could be done for him. They could make him comfortable but that was about it. There wasn’t a cure.

Then, suddenly, he felt Tessa again. Hunter must have taken her out of the shielded room where she had been imprisoned for the past two weeks. Gibbs sat up, howling as he felt her sudden distress snap into his consciousness. The bond between them was stretched so thin it was in danger of snapping, so he knew that she must be miles away. The knowledge of her pain and the sensation of her great distance from him brought a new kind of agony. He might be able to feel her, but he couldn’t reach her. She was as far away from him as ever.

He pushed Abby away and tumbled out of the bed.

Ducky was at his side in seconds. “My dear boy, you can’t expect to go anywhere. Not in your condition. It’s simply…”

“It's Tessa. I have to go to her, Duck! I have to…”

He screamed as he felt Hunter’s bare hand grabbing Tessa’s neck, and then he threw up on the hospital floor. This wasn’t how it was when Tony touched Tessa; this was agonising. His insides clenched, and he was about to throw up again when a new kind of pain hit him. He could feel Hunter slamming his fist into Tessa’s belly, and he doubled up as his own belly took the blows.

“Hunter must be torturing Tessa,” he heard Ducky say to Abby. “Help me get him back on the bed!”

People bustled around, and he was placed onto the bed again. They shoved a line into his arm but that only took the edge off the pain. His head slammed back onto the pillow as Hunter directed a brutal kick at Tessa’s jaw.

“Help him! He’s dying!” he heard Abby scream.

There was no reply, and he knew what they were all thinking. They couldn’t help him. There was absolutely nothing they could do.

It was all down to Tony now.

~*~

Tony could feel Tessa being kicked repeatedly, and he tried hard to block out the pain. He hoped Gibbs could endure it. He was already in a physically weakened condition; if Hunter tortured Tessa hard enough for long enough then it was unlikely that Gibbs would survive.

The sensation of Tessa being tortured was so painful that he had to concentrate hard to keep his mind clear. He clung onto Shanti and found himself going back decades, to a motel room in Stillwater where his father was kicking the shit out of his own beloved daemon. He remembered being small, and weak, and helpless, and how Jethro had stormed into that room and saved him.

Ziva swung them into the docks, and Tony half climbed, half fell out of the car.

"This way," Shanti said, leading them towards a block of offices. He staggered after her, Ziva by his side, holding him up.

The office building was empty at this time of night. Ziva broke in, and Tony followed Shanti inside. It was dark, but they didn’t dare turn on the lights for fear of alerting Hunter to their approach. They ran down a flight of stairs and when they reached the bottom Tony peered through the gloom at a hallway of closed doors.

"Which one?" he asked, running to the first one and trying the handle.

"I don't know. It's so overwhelming," Shanti gasped. He understood. Now they were close the pain was so acute it was hard for her to pinpoint the direction it was coming from.

"I will find them," Ziva said, and Tony watched, bent double, as she reached into her coat pocket and pulled out…a spider.

Tony almost laughed out loud. "Of all the times to meet your daemon…"

"He does not like to be known."

"Like you," Tony said, watching as the spider disappeared under the nearest door.

"And like you." She glanced back. "We just choose to hide in different ways."

"Hey, when you've got a fucking big lioness for a daemon, it's not easy to disguise her," Tony protested, grinning at Shanti's little growl of protest.

"And yet you have done a very good job of it," Ziva replied.

The spider emerged from under the door and shook his head. His eyes were dark and glittering. "They are not in that one," he said.

"He sounds kinda like you," Tony said, staggering along to the next door. The spider wasn't any common house or garden spider. He was bigger and covered in a layer of soft, black fur with orange markings. He was actually quite beautiful. He was clearly some kind of exotic spider – just like Ziva was an exotic kind of woman – and just as deadly. "What's his name?" Tony asked, leaning against the wall.

"Levi. Now hush…maybe we can hear them."

They both went quiet, but there was no sound from along the hallway. Tony had a suspicion that the walls and doors were pretty thick, more or less soundproofing the rooms.

Levi emerged again, shaking his head, and then he scuttled under the next doorway. Ziva reacted almost immediately.

“He has gone! I cannot feel him! Levi!”

Her daemon emerged almost immediately, and she scooped him up and held him close.

“Was there anyone in there?” Tony asked urgently.

“Levi says not, but I have never felt anything like that,” Ziva said, looking shocked. “He was lost to me when he was in that room.”

Tony guessed that was the room with the special wall paint which had to mean they were getting close.

“Try the next one,” he said, jerking his head impatiently at the door.

Ziva placed Levi reluctantly on the floor, and he ran under the door into the next room. This time he came out looking even more distressed. He lurched from side to side and then ran up Ziva's body and perched on her shoulder. He spoke softly into her ear, so softly that Tony couldn't hear what he was saying.

"They are in there. Tessa is in a bad way, and Levi is afraid. A daemon, lost and alone in the world, without the one she belongs to." Ziva shivered. "It is like something from a horror movie."

"Fuck that." Tony tried the door handle, but it was locked from the inside. "We need to find a way in. Levi…" he addressed the spider on Ziva's shoulder. "Can you get in there and turn the key in the lock for us?"

The spider immediately disappeared under Ziva's coat.

"He is afraid. He says there is another daemon in there – one that is maimed and twisted. He is afraid of her and what she might do."

Tony straightened up and looked her straight in the eye. "Suck it up, Ziva David," he ordered. "Just behind that door, Tessa is being tortured – and Gibbs is dying every time that bastard touches her. Send Levi in there. Now!"

Ziva looked at him, her eyes large and scared, and he knew that if this was any other kind of danger she'd be the first one in there, all guns blazing. But this…she was right. This *was* like something out of a horror movie. Yet she was brave, and she sucked it up, as he had known she would.

She leaned down, and Levi scuttled out from her coat and disappeared under the door.

At that moment, Tony was almost laid low when another savage kick to Tessa's belly made him double up and sink to his knees.

A second later Tony heard the key turning in the lock. He struggled to his feet, put one hand on Shanti's head for support, and nodded at Ziva.

She drew her gun, silently turned the door handle, and then threw open the door and ran inside.

"Federal agents!" she yelled. Tony staggered into the room after her and saw her drop kick a man in the gut, before slamming her fist down on the back of his neck.

Tony paused, taking in the sight in front of him. It was so barbaric that bile rose in the back of his throat. Tessa was chained to the wall – she had a collar around her neck, biting into her thick fur, and her paws were hobbled together so tightly that she couldn't stand upright. How long had she been kept in this condition, he wondered? It was obscene – no person’s daemon should ever be kept in chains.

She was lying on her side, whimpering in pain, and she was so far gone she wasn’t even howling. She was breathing in hard gasps, her chest rising and falling in harsh, jerky movements. Her tongue was lolling out of the side of her mouth, and she was barely conscious.

"Tessa…" He knelt down beside her, but she gave no sign of even being aware of him.

Shanti was by her side in seconds. She began washing Tessa's face gently with her tongue while Tony removed the collar and chains from around her neck and paws, so that she could breathe more easily. He could hear the soft rasp of tongue on fur, but still there was no sign of life from Tessa. Shanti glanced at Tony, a worried expression on her face.

"I think we may be too late. I think she might be too far gone."

If Tessa was like this, then Gibbs had to be too…maybe enduring the torture of his daemon on top of their weeks of separation had sent him insane.

"No," Tony said firmly. "I'm not going to lose them." He reached out and placed his bare hand gently on Tessa's muzzle.

"Tony!" Ziva said, in a shocked voice. "You cannot touch another's daemon!"

"It's okay. Trust me." He glanced at her. "I've done it before. Tessa doesn't mind – neither does Gibbs."

He rested his fingertips gently on Tessa's furry coat. Her fur was coarse and shabby – completely unlike her usual rich, soft coat. Tony closed his eyes and his head spun as he was taken down deep into a pit of loss and despair. She was so lonely, so desperately lonely, and she had been hurt so much…

Tony threw back his head and roared his sadness at what had happened to her, and Shanti joined in. Then they were joined by a weaker sound…a faint, reedy howl.

"Tessa." He opened his eyes to find her looking at him.

"Tony…I knew you would come," she rasped.

He gave a little choking laugh. "How?" he asked, leaning forward to kiss her soft ears.

"Because we came for you once. And because you are pack."

He laughed again and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.

At that moment, something scuttled towards him from the far side of the room. He glimpsed a crow's wing, and a claw, and saw a sharp, vicious sting protruding from the creature's underbelly, making straight for his arm.

Shanti let out a roar of rage and leapt towards it. She caught the creature in her jaws and bit down hard. The daemon let out of a scream of agony, and Shanti threw her into the air and caught her again, chomping down with all her might.

Over in the far corner, the man Ziva was holding prisoner let out a scream of agony, clutching his belly as Shanti bit into his daemon repeatedly.

"Tony…call Shanti off. You will kill him," Ziva warned.

Tony stood up, a grim little smile on his face. "Shanti's a cat, Ziva, and cats like playing with their prey. Can't stop her doing what comes naturally."

Shanti batted the repulsive, misshapen daemon around the small room, sinking her teeth into it and raking it with her claws.

Tony spoke urgently to Ziva. “I need you to call Fornell then stay here and wait for him. I have to get Tessa back to Gibbs. I just hope I’m not too late. Shanti – come here, I need your help.”

"But I'm not done," she said sulkily. "I want to kill her."

"Yeah, me too. But Fornell’s gonna come take that bastard and his fuck ugly daemon into custody, and I don't think he'll go any too softly on him. Let’s at least leave a piece of ‘em for Fornell to question. We need to find out who was paying Hunter to abduct Gibbs.”

Shanti gave the daemon from hell another sharp bite and then tossed her into the corner, like the piece of garbage she was. Then she returned to his side.

Tony crouched down beside Tessa again. "I'm going to lift you up and carry you to the car. We're going straight to Bethesda where Jethro is. Can you hang on that long, Tessa?"

She nuzzled his fingers, her dry tongue rasping over his hand by way of reply. He put his arms around her and heaved her up, then carried her out of the door. Then he half staggered, half ran back to his car.

Tessa was a big wolf and a heavy weight to carry but somehow he managed to get her safely to the car. Like Gibbs, she was skin and bone right now, and he was keenly aware of the sharp contours of her ribs as he carried her. Her hoarse breathing was just as worrying. She was hanging on by a whisper, and if he didn’t get her back to Gibbs soon then Gibbs wouldn’t make it. Maybe it was already too late.

Tony placed Tessa on the back seat of the car, and Shanti got in beside her and nestled in close, keeping her warm and soothing her.

Tony put in a call to his old captain and demanded an immediate police escort to help get them to Bethesda as fast as possible. The man had never been any friend of his, but Tony wasn't in any mood to be denied – and when Shanti roared down the phone at him the captain agreed to provide the escort pretty damn quick.

Tessa was fading fast. Glancing over his shoulder repeatedly as he drove, Tony could see her breathing becoming more forced and her eyes glazing over.

"Hang on, Jethro. Hang on," he whispered urgently.

They pulled up in the ambulance bay, and he heaved Tessa out of the car and ran into the hospital with her. Ducky was waiting in the hallway; he took one horrified look at Tessa’s prone form in Tony’s arms, and then he guided him through the hospital to Gibbs's room, with Morag fluttering anxiously overhead.

Tony paused in the doorway. Gibbs was lying on the bed, his eyes closed and his face as white as the hospital sheets. If it wasn’t for the hoarse rattling sound of his breathing, and the fact that Tessa hadn’t yet disappeared in a flash of fire, leaving only dust behind, Tony would have thought he was already dead. Abby was standing beside him, holding his hand; Tony knew she hadn’t left his side throughout, just as he’d ordered.

Tony placed Tessa on the bed beside Gibbs. Then he gently removed Gibbs's hand from Abby’s clasp, and placed it on Tessa's fur. If Gibbs was going to die, he wouldn't die alone; he’d have Tessa by his side, where she belonged.

"Hey…Jethro…" he said softly. "It's me. I've got Tessa. I brought her back to you."

He ignored Ducky, and Abby, and all the medical personnel, and climbed onto the bed. Shanti jumped up too, and Tony wrapped his arms around Gibbs and Tessa, while Shanti guarded them all, enveloping them in her big, protective paws.

Gibbs and Tessa were his. They were almost as integral a part of him as Shanti, and if there was any way he could heal them then he would.

"Your pack is here," he whispered into Gibbs's ear. "You have a pack again, Jethro. You're not alone anymore."

~*~

Gibbs moved his hand and felt soft fur beneath his fingertips. He had been cold, but now he was warm. There was love, and comfort, and peace around him. He had been trapped in a nightmare, but now it was receding, leaving only the memory behind.

He opened his eyes and lay there, looking into a set of blessedly familiar brown ones.

"Tessa?"

"It is me."

She rested her head on his shoulder, and he buried his face in her neck and felt the tears falling into her soft fur.

"You were gone. I was alone."

"I know." Her voice was a howl. She licked his tears away with her warm tongue. "But now I am here."

It was always hard to argue with Tessa's sense of pragmatism. Gibbs just wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

She was here, and they were together again. He had his daemon by his side once more, where she belonged.

He was whole again.

~*~
Tony hardly left Gibbs's bedside for days. He spent most of the time on the bed, holding Gibbs in his arms while Gibbs slept – and slept and slept...and slept. Shanti and Tessa were next to them, their bodies entwined too, as Tessa and Gibbs slowly healed.

People came to visit – Ducky, Abby, and McGee. Director Shepard walked in, gave them a strange look, and didn't stay long. He thought she'd finally figured this one out. She didn't understand it, but she'd figured it out.

Jackson Gibbs showed up and shooed him down the hallway to take a shower and have a shave. He brought him a change of clothes which was a relief as his own were getting pretty stinky.

When he returned to Gibbs's room he got onto the bed again and held him tight. No way was he letting go until Gibbs told him to get the hell away from him. Gibbs had never liked being touched, but right now he seemed to need it, and Tony was happy to oblige.

"Will he ever be right again?" Jackson asked him. "How can anyone survive what was done to him, Tony?"

"He’ll be fine," Tony said firmly. "He was brave, Jack – if you could have seen how brave. I don't know that any of us could have suffered what he did and survived – let alone stayed sane. You should be proud of him."

“I am, Tony. I always was.” Jackson’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Come back to us, Leroy,” he said, gently stroking his son’s hair. “Come back to us, son.”

Jackson stayed at Gibbs's place and came and went regularly, but still Gibbs didn’t rouse himself enough to speak to anyone. Tony let him be. He figured that Gibbs would wake up and start talking again when he was good and ready.

One day, Ziva showed up at the door. Tony glanced up and beckoned her in.

"I am sorry I did not come before. I…have not known him that long. I did not want to intrude," she said nervously. "Also…my boss insisted I write up a report and process all the paperwork on the case." She made a face at him, and he laughed, remembering the barked orders he'd given to her over the phone a few days ago.

"Yeah, your boss is a bastard. He learned from the best." He smiled down at Gibbs fondly.

Ziva tiptoed over to the side of the bed and sat down. Her spider daemon peeked out from under the collar of her coat.

"I thought I had seen everything. I think, maybe, I thought I knew everything too." She gave a self-deprecating little smile. "I was wrong. There is still much to learn."

She ran a gentle finger over Levi's furry back.

"Don’t know why you kept him hidden so long. He's not so bad," Tony said, glancing at the spider with a grin.

Ziva looked annoyed. "He can kill with one bite!”

"Of course he can!" Tony laughed out loud. "I wanted to say…thank you for showing me who you really are, Ziva."

Ziva glanced at where Shanti was lying with Tessa wrapped up between her big paws. “You too, Tony,” she said softly. “You too.”

~*~

He dreamed he was locked in a cell, his paws were chained together and there was a tight metal collar around his throat, keeping him fastened against a wall. He couldn’t move. He could only lie there, howling.

He woke up with the howl dying in his throat, covered in sweat.

“Hey…it’s okay…” Strong hands soothed gentle patterns down his arms. “Ssh…it was just a nightmare.”

He rested his head on Tony’s shoulder, and Tony held him tight and talked to him until the shivering stopped. While he talked, Shanti gently washed Tessa’s fur with her big, rasping tongue and between them they soothed him until the memory of the nightmare faded.

He didn’t ask why Tony was there. He didn’t ask why Tony slept in the hospital bed beside him, holding him. He wasn’t ready to have that conversation yet. He just knew that he didn’t want Tony to leave.

He was still the same old Gibbs; he still hated being fussed over, but Tony and Shanti weren’t like his father and Meldra. They didn’t fuss – there were just there, helpful and unobtrusive.

He didn’t speak much. Tony talked, but then Tony had always been able to talk – about everything and yet somehow about nothing. Gibbs watched him talk, keeping one hand wrapped in Tessa’s fur as he listened. He wasn’t sure what Tony was rambling on about half the time, but he liked the sound. It washed over him, soothing him and helping him heal. Sometimes as he watched Tony talk, he wondered what it would be like to silence those endlessly moving lips with a kiss.

One day, Tony was sitting on the chair beside the bed, going on and on about some movie, impersonating all the actors in it, and Gibbs finally felt compelled to interact.

"Tony," he croaked, propping himself up on his elbow and beckoning. Tony looked at him in surprise and leaned forward – and Gibbs slapped the back of his head weakly.

Tony's face broke into a delighted grin, and he laughed out loud. "I take it you're back with us then? I knew that if I annoyed you loudly enough for long enough you'd give in and join the land of the living eventually!"

He got up and did a little jig around the bed, Shanti trotting beside him, both of them looking so happy that Gibbs had to laugh. He managed a few words of conversation with Tony over the next couple of days, but he still wasn't ready to talk to anyone else.

His father came to visit every day. Only when Jack was here would Tony leave his bedside to go take a shower, and shave, and change his clothes, giving father and son some privacy.

Jack talked a lot too, reminiscing about people he’d known back in Stillwater. Gibbs ignored him until the day he told him that Chuck Winslow’s wife had walked out on him and was suing him for all he had. Then he gave a little grunt of amusement.

“Thought that might amuse you!” his father beamed.

“I’m sure Chuck deserved it,” Gibbs muttered. He sat up in the bed, and his father plumped up the pillows behind him. “I know I sure as hell deserved it, every time one of my wives walked out on me.”

His father sat back in his chair, deeply etched anxiety lines creasing his face. “I thought we might have lost you, son,” he said. “I wasn’t sure you’d ever come back to us.”

“I’m fine,” Gibbs said dismissively.

“But you always did say that, whether it was true or not. How is a father to know?”

Gibbs sighed and moved his hand so that it was resting on his father’s hand on the side of the bed. “You worry too much,” he said, and Jackson laughed and squeezed his fingers tightly, and that was all that needed to be said between them.

He lost count of the days and nights. Gradually the need to sleep diminished, until one day he knew he'd slept for long enough. He rolled off the bed and staggered into the bathroom with Tessa beside him, pressed up close against his leg, never out of bodily contact.

“You okay?” Tony followed him into the bathroom. “Need a hand?”

“No.” He shut the bathroom door in Tony’s face and turned to gaze at himself in the mirror. He had a shaggy beard and a multitude of yellowing bruises on his face. He was thinner than he could ever remember being in his life before and his Marine haircut had grown out, leaving him with straggling long silver hair.

He pulled open the door. “Need to shave,” he said to Tony.

“Oh, thank God!” Tony’s face split into a wide grin. “Uh, not that it looks too bad – I mean, you can carry off facial hair, but even you…”

“Tony!” he snapped, and Tony grinned again and went over to the nightstand.

“Already on it, Boss!” he said smartly, pulling out a shaving kit and holding it up. “I’m so glad you’re gonna get rid of it,” he added, following Gibbs back into the bathroom. “I was worried you might decide to keep it.”

Gibbs turned back to the mirror and had a sudden flashback to that deformed stranger he’d seen in the car mirror. He shuddered.

“Hey…” Tony placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said, the way he always did, as his father had pointed out. He wasn’t fine, not yet, but talking about it wasn’t going to change that.

He lathered the shaving cream onto his face and picked up the razor. As he looked at himself in the mirror, all he could see was that wild-eyed man without a daemon. His hand began to shake.

“Here, let me,” Tony said, smoothly taking the razor from him.

He took Gibbs’s chin in his hand and began firmly passing the razor over his face. Bit by bit, his old self emerged, like a moth from a cocoon. Afterwards Tony handed him a towel and, maybe sensing his mood, left him alone in the bathroom.

Gibbs passed the towel over his face, wiping away what was left of the foam. He looked older, and there was a haunted expression in his blue eyes, but it was definitely him.

“Of course it’s you,” Tessa told him. “You are who you always were.” She rubbed her face against the side of his leg.

“I’m not so sure about that.” Once he had hated being taken care of, but now he let Tony and his father take care of him as if he was a helpless child. Once he had hated being touched, but now he leaned into Tony’s gentle caresses, loving the feel of his fingers in his hair, or ghosting over his arms as he soothed him back to sleep after a nightmare.

“You are letting them love you. It’s about time,” Tessa said. “You don’t always have to be the one who is strong for everyone else. You can let others take care of you for a change.”

He wasn’t sure he knew how to be that person, but if Tessa said it was so then he would try. He would always listen to everything she said from now on. He knew what life without her was like now.

They took him home, and he felt like an old man walking into his house, leaning on Tony for support. He remembered coming here, without Tessa, going down into his basement on autopilot, and crawling under his boat. The memory brought him up short, and he paused, fighting for breath. Tessa looked up at him anxiously.

"I have a memory you don't share," he told her.

"We both do," she replied. "We can share them together, when the time feels right."

He nodded and allowed Tony to lead him into the living room and help him to sit in front of the fire.

Jackson stayed for awhile, cooking meals and trying hard not to fuss over him. Gibbs found he didn't mind the fussing so much now. Maybe he was getting old. Or maybe, as Tessa had said, it was okay to let the people who loved him take care of him for a change.

He was getting better. He got tired easily, and he still had bad nightmares, but he felt more like himself every day.

Jackson left when he was satisfied he was going to be okay, but Tony…Tony didn't seem to have any intention of leaving. He spent every day by his side, and slept every night in his bed, holding him tight. Gibbs sometimes woke up and watched him as he slept, wanting to stroke his hands through Tony’s thick, soft hair, or trace the outline of his lips with his fingertips.

“Tell him how you feel,” Tessa urged, but he didn’t have the words for that. It had been so long since he had spoken words of love, and he’d never been very good at it, even back then. He didn’t even know how to begin to have this conversation.

"I'm pretty much better now," he told Tony over the dinner table one evening, a few days before he was due to return to work. "So you can leave, if you want. You must be pissed off with playing nursemaid to me all this time."

Tony gazed at him for a long moment, a flicker of annoyance in his eyes. “Is that what you want?” he asked at last. Gibbs shrugged. “Jethro? Do you want me to go?” Tony pressed.

Gibbs still didn’t have the damn words. He threw his napkin down on the table and got up.

Tony got up too, looking anxious. “I’ll leave then. If that’s what you want.”

“No!” Gibbs shook his head fiercely.

“Damn it, Gibbs. What the hell are you trying to say?”

“This!” He took hold of Tony’s arm and pulled him down so that they were both kneeling beside Tessa and Shanti. Then slowly, carefully, he placed Tony’s bare hand on Tessa’s fur. There was a momentary sensation of giddiness, but he never minded Tony touching Tessa. He never had.

Gibbs placed his own hand on Tessa too, and then he opened up his heart through his daemon in a way he never could with words. He let Tony see a glimpse of the deepest part of his soul, and all he kept hidden there.

He showed Tony an eight year old boy, who he’d instinctively recognized as a friend the minute he’d first laid eyes on him. He showed him the man he’d grown up to be – always big-hearted, playful, and full of life, who had never given into the bitterness his lonely childhood could so easily have caused. He showed him a pale, coughing, sick man, dying from the plague, and shared the desperation he had felt at the prospect of losing him.

He shifted, moved both their hands, and showed him that moment in the basement when he’d been lost to himself, and Tony had come down those stairs towards him, holding out his hand. Tony hadn't turned away from him when he’d needed him most. Tony had led him to Shanti and shared her with him, giving him hope and shelter in his time of need.

And then he opened up even more and showed Tony how he had appeared to him that terrible day. He showed him the man with the lion inside, strong, and courageous, and loyal.

It was Tony who had rescued Tessa, and who had never once given up on him during the long days and nights in the hospital, no matter how monosyllabic or short-tempered he'd been.

It was Tony who rocked him during the stormy nights when the dark dreams came, and it was Tony who was always there by his side, trusted and beloved, through the good times and the bad.

Tony had been by his side for five long years, his loyal companion, almost as constant a presence in his life as Tessa.

He showed Tony all this – and then he showed him the nights he'd spent looking at him, wondering what it would feel like to touch him, and kiss him, and wanting to do just that.

He didn’t have the words to say it, but the truth was all there, laid bare in Tessa.

Tony was his pack, his second, and the other great love of his life, all rolled into one.

Tony was…his soul-mate.

He couldn’t look up into Tony’s face. He had revealed too much of himself, and he wasn’t sure what the response would be.

He heard Tony take a deep, shaky breath and felt his gaze upon him, but still he couldn’t look up.

“Jethro?” Tony said quietly. “Why do you think I stayed?” He stroked Tessa’s fur gently with his fingertips, and Gibbs felt the feather light touch on his own back.

“Loyalty?” Gibbs finally forced himself to glance up at Tony and found him sitting there with a puzzled little smile on his face.

“No. Idiot. Here.”

Tony took Gibbs’s free hand and placed it on Shanti’s warm, soft coat. Gibbs had touched her before, many times now, but never like this – and never while Tony was touching Tessa at the same time.

He felt the whirl of Tony’s soul opening up to him, and he stepped inside. He immediately felt the ache of Tony’s lonely childhood and discovered just how much Tony had thought about him during those long years of separation.

Gibbs let his fingers shift though Shanti’s fur some more, and he saw himself lying on a hospital bed, and Tony standing beside him, calling him back from the dark place he hadn’t wanted to leave.

“That was you?” He looked up at Tony in surprise. “You were the one who called me back when I was in the coma?”

Tony nodded. "That was me."

"But how...?" Gibbs tried to make sense of that. Tony had been there for him as long ago as that? He had somehow found him, and touched Tessa, and brought him back to himself, even when he'd been lost in that dark place after the death of his family?

Tony's fingers met his in Shanti's fur, and he was plunged back into Tony's soul again. He was standing in the snow when a beautiful, familiar wolf appeared out of nowhere. He felt a surge of joy flood through his body as he realized who she was. He wasn't alone anymore; he had found Jethro again and all would be well now. Being close to Jethro was all he’d ever wanted.

The scene shifted, and Gibbs saw himself lying asleep under his boat that night soon after Kate’s death. He was Tony, looking down on him, a sudden revelation sweeping through him…Jethro was warmth, and safety, and happiness…and love.

“That’s why I stayed,” Tony told him. “Not just because of loyalty, but also because of this.”

He leaned forward and kissed Gibbs on the lips. His mouth was warm and gentle, his kiss deep and searching, and his lips felt soft, and loving, and somehow familiar. Gibbs responded hungrily, pulling him close and kissing him back.

They were interrupted by a loud sighing sound. They pulled apart in surprise and looked at their daemons who were sitting there, side by side, watching them.

"About time!" Tessa said triumphantly. "You have no idea how long we've waited for this."

"It was driving us nuts," Shanti agreed.

Gibbs laughed out loud and stroked Shanti's head.

"The fact we really don't mind you touching us should have been a big clue," Tessa said, nudging her muzzle against Tony's hand.

"And the fact we spent half our lives trying to curl up as close to each other as possible was another big clue." Shanti rolled her eyes.

"It's what you two wanted to be doing with each other but were too stubborn…" Tessa began.

"And pig headed…" Shanti continued.

"To give into," Tessa finished.

"Well, I'm ready to give into it now." Gibbs grinned, looking at Tony. "You ready for that, Tony?"

Tony laughed. "Oh yeah. I’m ready. Boy am I *ready*.”

"Then what the hell are we waiting for?"

He reached for Tony again, but Tony stopped him. “I think I should explain a bit more about the coma thing,” he said, looking anxious. “I don’t want to freak you out, but…see, I promised myself I wasn’t going to hide who I am anymore, and this is big, and it’s about you, so…well, you should know about it.”

Gibbs sat back, puzzled, wondering what the hell was going to come next.

“See, I’ve kind of been connected to you since…well, since what happened back in the motel room all those years ago," Tony said quickly. “It’s hard to explain…but it’s like that moment linked us, and I’ve been able to feel what you’re going through ever since. Not all the time – just when something big happens.”

Gibbs gave a wry chuckle. "Connected huh?" Then he threw back his head and laughed. All these years he had thought it had been one-sided, and that Tony hadn't felt it too. He'd been an idiot.

"Yes." Tony wasn’t laughing. His eyes were serious and intense. Gibbs wasn't used to seeing him this way, but it seemed he really meant it when he said he wasn't going to hide who he was anymore.

“It’s okay, Tony, I…” Gibbs began, but Tony stopped him. He placed his hand on Gibbs's cheek and stroked gently, with one finger.

"I felt it when Kelly was born," he said quietly.

Gibbs looked down and found Tessa there, by his knee. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and looked up again. "You know about Kelly?"

"Yes. I knew at the time. I knew about Shannon dying the instant you found out. I hitch-hiked to Stillwater, and then I came here. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I wanted to be near you, to help in some way. But you’d already gone back to Kuwait by the time I got here."

Gibbs stared at him, astonished. “You did that for me?”

"Yes," Tony said firmly. "See, I made a promise to Shannon, and I wanted to keep it."

Gibbs remembered standing on a station platform, many years ago, and watching Shannon kiss a small boy on the cheek. Look after Jethro when I'm gone. "You remembered what Shannon said, after all that time?"

"Yes." Tony’s eyes were fierce and protective, and Gibbs suddenly realized just how seriously he took that promise he'd made all those years ago.

"You've been keeping that promise all this time, and I never knew." Gibbs gently caressed Shanti's soft head, making her purr.

"It was important to me. It still is. Besides, you saved my life that night in the motel room, so it works both ways. I was just giving back what you gave to me." Tony gave a little grin.

Gibbs felt humbled that one act of kindness in his youth had been repaid over and over again with so much love and dedication since.

"When you were injured in Kuwait, I felt that too," Tony continued. "I went to Bethesda, and they said you were in a coma. They said that your physical injuries weren't that bad, but you wouldn't come out of it, like you wanted to stay there. So I kind of sweet-talked my way into your room…"

"I heard someone calling me, but I never did understand what happened. I didn’t know it was you, calling me back.”

"I wanted you to live.”

"Why didn't you hang around and talk to me about it?" Gibbs asked. "Drove me nuts thinking there was a reason I came back but not being able to figure out what it was."

Tony gave a little laugh. "I was scared away. There was this Marine with a giant eagle daemon. He caught me touching Tessa and chased me away. Said he wouldn't report me to the police if I got the hell out of there."

"Major Ryan." Gibbs shook his head. "That old son of a bitch. He always did what he thought was best for me, but if I'd known…"

"What would you have done?" Tony asked. "I was just a kid – still in college. I couldn't have given you anything you needed back then."

"And now?" Gibbs asked softly.

Tony smiled. "Now I can. If you'll let me, and I really hope you will."

Gibbs gently took hold of Tony's chin, pulled him close, and kissed him again. Tony melted against him, and Gibbs slid his arms around Tony's back and held him tight. He pushed Tony's lips open with his own, and their tongues met eagerly. Gibbs kissed him deeply, wanting to taste him and explore him, to keep him close and never let him go.

They parted only to scramble up the stairs to the bedroom with Shanti and Tessa at their heels. Tony disappeared into the bathroom and then reappeared holding a tube of lubricant. Gibbs took it from him and threw it on the nightstand, then pulled him in and kissed him again.

He took his time undressing Tony, wanting to savour every single moment. He let his fingers drift down the buttons on Tony’s shirt, before sliding it slowly off his shoulders to reveal his naked chest. He pressed a dozen little kisses along his collar bones, loving how Tony sighed into his caresses. Then he moved down, trailing kisses over Tony’s hairy chest and pausing to enjoy the softness of his belly under his lips.

He undid Tony’s belt and pulled it free, and then he unbuttoned his fly and pushed his pants and boxers down, freeing Tony’s straining erection. He pulled Tony in close again and kissed his mouth while at the same time taking Tony’s hard cock in his hand, loving how Tony gasped into his kiss.

Now it was Tony’s turn. He kicked off his shoes and peeled off his socks and then turned back to Gibbs, entirely naked. He approached him with a gleam in his eye, like a hungry predator, and Gibbs grinned and held his ground, liking Tony’s look of intent.

Tony undressed him like he was a present he’d been longing to open for years. He paused every few seconds to brush a kiss over Gibbs’s mouth, and he studied every single inch of his skin as he freed it from his clothes. He seemed fascinated by him, as if he couldn’t get enough of him. When Tony was done undressing him, Gibbs pushed him onto the bed and slid his hands over his beautiful naked skin. He liked the way Tony pressed up against him and yielded to his touch.

Tessa and Shanti settled down on the rug next to the bed, their bodies gently entwined, their noses touching. They did a little dance all of their own, nudging and nuzzling and petting each other in time to the rhythmic love-making on the bed.

Gibbs trailed a string of kisses over Tony's chest and then up his neck and along his jawline. "I felt you too," he whispered into Tony's ear.

Tony gave a sigh of pleasure and ran his tongue over his already moist lower lip in a way that was positively obscene. Then Gibbs's words clearly sank in, and his eyes snapped open.

"What?"

"That night you busted your knee I was holed up in a foxhole behind enemy lines, unable to walk because of you."

"Oh shit. I'm sorry." Tony pulled him down and kissed him again.

Gibbs laughed into the kiss. "Having a fucked up knee was bad enough, but then I got a damn hard on because you got lucky with a threesome." He shook his head, still laughing.

Over on the rug, Shanti hid her eyes with her paws in embarrassment.

"Oh fuck," Tony whimpered. "You were in a foxhole…behind enemy lines…with a busted knee…and a hard on…"

"Courtesy of you. Yeah." Gibbs grinned and kissed Tony's neck.

"That night was hot…but not as hot as this." Tony pushed up against Gibbs and rolled him over so that he was on his back, with Tony looking down on him. "This, you – lying naked and willing beneath me – is way hotter, Jethro."

He caught Gibbs's lips in another deep kiss, and Gibbs pulled him in close, resting his hands on Tony's soft, firm buttocks.

“You ever had sex with a guy before?” Tony asked him between kisses.

“No.” Gibbs pulled Tony's buttocks apart a little, wondering what it would be like to explore deeper. “You ever had sex with someone you’re in love with before?” he asked in return.

Tony made an embarrassed sound and buried his face in the crook of Gibbs’s neck. “No,” he admitted.

“Then I guess we both have something to learn.” Gibbs extricated Tony from his neck and kissed him again.

Gibbs might not have had any experience with men, but his body, it seemed, didn't give a damn about that because his cock was hard and aching. He found Tony exciting and wanted to explore him, open him up, and find out everything there was to know about him.

He rolled Tony down beneath him, and Tony guided Gibbs’s lubed fingers into his ass, gasping in pleasure as Gibbs gently worked him open. When he was done, Tony opened his legs wider, smiling up at him, encouraging him in. Gibbs slid a generous amount of lubricant over his cock and then positioned himself between Tony’s thighs. He pushed easily into Tony’s body, humming in pleasure at the sensation. It didn’t feel new; it felt like he had done this before, a thousand times.

Tony's welcoming gasps and cries of enjoyment turned him on like nothing else, and he pushed in as deep as he could go, looking into Tony’s eyes the entire time. Tony gazed back at him and reached up to brush his fingers gently over Gibbs’s cheek.

“It’s good…please…more,” he urged.

Gibbs began thrusting, slowly at first and then faster, and he felt Tony moving with him, their bodies rising and falling in perfect time. It was as if they were merging, becoming one, and he lost himself in the sensation.

He could feel Tony beneath him and around him, and then something strange happened. Every nerve ending in his body suddenly flared into life, like fireworks sparking everywhere, sending shooting stars of pleasure through him. He had never experienced sexual pleasure so intensely before. Every pleasurable sensation seemed to have been doubled, and it took his breath away.

He looked down on Tony and found him gazing back at him in astonishment.

“Do you feel it too?” Tony whispered.

“Uh huh. That’s…oh shit…that’s just amazing…”

Gibbs glanced over at their daemons, entwined on the rug, and realized what was happening. The connection between them meant that he was experiencing Tony’s pleasure as well as his own, and Tony was experiencing the exact same thing.

“It’s beautiful.” Tony ran his fingers lightly over Gibbs’s back with a look of wonder on his face.

The feeling of skin on skin, lips on lips, and his cock moving inside Tony’s body was indescribable when magnified by Tony’s sensations too. Gibbs looked down on Tony lying beneath him, his green eyes glowing as he gazed back up at him, and he almost passed out from the sheer sensory overload of the experience.

That incredible feeling spiraled out as they continued making love, enveloping them both, and generating wave after wave of ecstasy. Gibbs cried out as he experienced Tony’s orgasm as well as his own, and it was so intense that the following few minutes were a haze.

When he came to, he pulled out of Tony's body and sank down beside him. For some time afterwards he could only lie there, with Tony in his arms, as they shared the glowing aftershocks of the most amazing sex they’d ever experienced.

They spent the next few hours lazily stroking, kissing, and touching, luxuriating in the soul deep connection between them. After awhile, Tessa jumped soundlessly onto the bed. She lay down beside Gibbs, her long tail brushing over both their naked bodies. Shanti jumped up beside Tony and arranged herself on the pillows, resting her big head on both their shoulders.

As Gibbs lay there, touching all three of them, he felt a profound sense of wellbeing.

He was complete. He’d been broken, but now he was whole again, and stronger and happier than ever before.

He knew that sometimes he would look in the mirror and see that stranger staring back at him. But he also knew that when that happened Tessa would be by his side, nuzzling his fingers, and Tony would be behind him, holding him tight, and Shanti would be next to him, pressing against his thigh.

"Pack," Tessa said contentedly, her eyelids drooping.

"Pride," Shanti said, just as contentedly, purring in the back of her throat.

Gibbs didn't care what it was called. He just knew that it meant he would never be alone again.

~*~

Tony put on his sunglasses, got out of the car, and looked around, smiling.

“Look any different?” Gibbs asked, getting out of the car.

“Hmmm…it’s kind of darker,” Tony replied.

Gibbs swiped the sunglasses off his face and thwapped him on the back of the head with them.

Tony laughed. “No, it doesn’t look any different,” he said with a happy sigh, swinging his arm around Gibbs’s shoulders.

They were standing on Main Street, right outside Jack’s store. It had been four months since they’d got together, and Jack had been nagging at Gibbs to bring Tony home for a visit ever since he’d found out about them.

The door opened, and Jack came bustling out to welcome them, enveloping them both in an enthusiastic hug while Meldra groomed Shanti and Tessa vigorously with her beak. Jack ushered them into the store, and Tony thought how strange it was to be stepping foot inside this place again, after all these years.

“I haven’t been in this store since the day I said goodbye,” Tony murmured, looking around. It hadn't changed much. Jack wasn’t a great one for modernizing, and the décor was pretty much the same as it had been when he was here as a child.

They spent the day catching up with Jack. Meldra seemed to be in some kind of hen heaven as she clucked over Shanti and Tessa with a happy gleam in her eye. Tony could never get enough of being clucked over, looked after, and taken care of, and Jack loved fussing over him. That worked well as it meant that he and Shanti were able to draw that side of Jack’s nature to them, giving Gibbs and Tessa some breathing space.

They slept in Gibbs’s old room, and the following day they emerged late to find the mid-summer sun shining, and Jackson beaming at them benignly.

“Here…I packed you a picnic,” he said, handing them the same battered old basket Tony remembered from years ago. “I thought you’d want to take a trip down to the woods – you know, to revisit old haunts, and do what comes naturally to young folk.” He gave them a knowing wink.

Gibbs let out an exasperated sigh, and Tony nearly wet himself laughing.

“Young folk?” he said, still laughing as they walked off down Main Street with the basket. “Just how old does he think we are? Eighteen?”

“When you’re as old as Jack, I guess everyone seems young. But mainly I think he just likes saying it to wind me up.” Gibbs rubbed his jaw ruefully.

“Yeah – and I think it worked!!”

“It always damn well did.” Gibbs finally gave in and threw back his head and joined in Tony’s peals of laughter.

Tony's laughter faded as Shanti gave a low growl. He saw Tessa stiffen, and Gibbs put a warning hand on her head. There, emerging from a car right in front of them was a man with a coyote daemon. Tony barely recognized Chuck Winslow, but he’d know his daemon anywhere.

Chuck glanced at them and his lip curled up in distaste when he saw Gibbs.

“You’re back I see, Leroy,” he said, in a smooth, urbane voice that did nothing to disguise the old enmity lurking just below the surface.

“Just visiting my dad. How are you doing, Chuck?” Gibbs said tightly.

Chuck stepped forward to reply, and Shanti put back her head and roared out an ear-shattering warning. The entire street came to a standstill as everyone turned to look at them. Chuck muttered something and walked quickly away.

“It’s okay – I really don’t think Chuck will be picking any fights with us today, Shanti,” Gibbs told her with a laugh.

Tony flushed and put his sunglasses on, looking around furtively. “Move along – nothing to see here, people!” he said in a loud voice. “Sorry,” he muttered to Gibbs under his breath.

“Don’t apologise…” Gibbs began.

“I know, sign of weakness.”

“Wasn’t gonna say that. Was going to say don’t apologise for Shanti. I love it when she lets rip with one of her big roars.”

“Yeah – is it my imagination, or has she been more, well, *lionly* ever since…you know.”

“Is 'lionly' even a word?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“I have no idea.”

“I think she’s being exactly what she should be, and that's herself. And I love it.”

Tony felt a little glow of contentment. His father might never have loved him for who he truly was, but Gibbs always had, then and now.

They walked into the woods, and Tony thought how little it had changed. He could walk this trail from memory – he’d been here often enough in his head since leaving it behind all those years ago.

They went deep into the woods, all the way down to the clearing by the creek. Shanti went crazy when she saw the creek – she scampered over there like the puppy she’d once been, bellowing at the top of her lungs.

Tony followed her over and looked at the water where he'd once played as a child. He remembered Gibbs making little hand-made boats with tissues for sails and them floating them down the creek.

When he turned around he found that Gibbs had spread Jackson’s old green and red checked blanket on the ground. Tony was about to say something, and then he paused, having a moment of déjà vu. He’d been in this moment before, that day on the docks just before he’d met up with Jethro again after years apart. Gibbs had been sitting here, looking as he did now, his hair completely silver and his face still a little gaunt after his ordeal at Hunter's hands. Maybe it had been some kind of premonition.

“What?” Gibbs asked.

“Nothing…” Tony shook himself. “Just…it’s all exactly as it’s been in my head all these years. This has always been my happy place, Jethro. I used to come here in my daydreams when I was pissed off or unhappy, and it always looked like this.” Tony glanced around. “The sun was always shining, that blanket was always on the ground, and you…” He broke off and looked at Gibbs who was kneeling on the blanket with Tessa by his side.

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

“You were always here, waiting for me.”

"I'm waiting now." Gibbs jerked his head impatiently, and Tony laughed and went and sat on the blanket beside Tessa.

“So, what’s for lunch?” he asked.

Gibbs gave him that wolfish grin that made him think that something else entirely was on the menu.

“Fuck lunch,” Gibbs said.

He reached out and began unbuttoning Tony’s shirt. Tony smiled and leaned back, surrendering. He'd found, over the past few months, that it worked best this way. Gibbs was as focused about sex as he was about work and that suited Tony just fine. He loved being the centre of Gibbs’s attention; it turned him on like nothing else. Tony had never known sex as mind-blowing as it was with Gibbs; the connection between them magnified every orgasm twofold, making it an almost spiritual experience.

Gibbs stripped his shirt off him, pushed him back onto the rug, and then made short work of stripping his pants off him too. He didn’t stop until Tony was naked, and then he rolled on top of him, pinned him to the blanket, and began kissing him with that sweet combination of gentleness and strength that made Tony's entire body tingle.

The sun felt so beautifully warm shining through the trees, dappling their entwined bodies. Tessa and Shanti were at their feet, grooming each other vigorously, the way they always did when he and Gibbs were making love.

Tony felt Gibbs’s consciousness seep into his own as usual, and he sank down into the sensation, loving how it felt. They made love slowly, passionately, to the feel of the sun on their bare skin and the sound of the creek trickling noisily nearby.

Afterwards, they lay on the blanket and looked up at the trees overhead. There were ghosts here, for sure, Tony thought, but they were friendly ghosts.

Over there, an eight year old boy was running through the trees, his arms outstretched, playing airplanes. A little golden retriever puppy romped with him, chasing him excitedly. She changed into a butterfly and flew up into the air, and the boy ran after her, calling her name.

And over there was a tall, moody, young man with a pronounced limp and a beautiful wolf daemon loping along at his side. The man got out a knife and began whittling the branch of a tree into the shape of a boat to keep the child amused.

A kestrel circled above them and over there, hardly visible at all, was the faint outline of a pretty girl with red hair. She came towards them, her skirt billowing in the breeze. When she got close, she looked at Tony and smiled.

“Thank you for taking care of him,” she said.

He smiled back and wrapped his arm around Gibbs’s shoulder, pulling him in close.

“It’s my pleasure,” he said softly.

She gave another dimpled smile and then shimmered into nothing, disappearing into the sparkling rays of the sun.

Over by the creek, the young man with the Marine haircut turned and looked straight at him. He raised his hand and waved, and Tony waved back. He limped away, his wolf daemon by his side, and when Tony looked again he'd vanished.

The boy chased his puppy daemon around the blanket one last time, and then he ran off into the woods. He turned when he reached a bank of trees, and his daemon changed into a cockatiel and perched on his head, squawking loudly. The boy paused for just long enough to poke his tongue out at Tony…and then he too was gone.


The End
If you enjoy my stories, you might like to buy my original character BDSM slash novel, Ricochet! Available now from Smashwords and Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Ricochet-ebook/dp/B00A0WD2E4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351937833&sr=8-1&keywords=xanthe+walter



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