Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 006 Word Count: 167952
Warning(s): Disturbing Imagery or Content, Violence
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Angst/Drama, Hurt/Comfort, First Time, Romance
Summary: While investigating the disappearance of a Marine, Gibbs is abducted, sold, and forced to fight in a brutal tournament where the price of winning is almost as high as the cost of losing, and death waits constantly in the wings. After five months of hitting brick walls, Tony finally hatches a desperate plan to rescue Gibbs, only to find him a very changed man. In order to escape, Tony has to remind Gibbs who he is and awaken a sleeping wolf inside him. But, haunted by his ordeal and the acts he's been forced to commit, can there ever really be a way back for Gibbs?
Tony blinks and moves his head, and a jolt of pain pierces him behind the eyeballs.
“You’re awake,” a voice says, and he squints up into a bright fluorescent light, wincing as the glare makes the pain in his head worse. Whatever drugs they put in his pizza were strong enough to bring down a horse, let alone a man. His throat is so dry it aches almost as bad as his head, and his lips are parched and chapped.
He sits up, slowly, and as he moves he can hear the jangle of chains. There are cuffs on his wrists and ankles, attached to the wall. He can move his arms and legs, but not far. He also realizes that he’s naked. His balls are resting on a cool metal floor, and he shifts his hips, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“Where am I?” he asks. His vision clears a little, and he can see that he’s in a small room with walls constructed out of the same lightweight sheet metal that he took photos of a few days ago.
“In a stall in my stable.” A man swims into sight. He’s handsome, with sleek dark hair and a little goatee beard, of indeterminate Middle Eastern origin, and expensively dressed. He exudes an air of exquisite elegance, and Tony can identify half a dozen different labels in what he’s wearing: Tanino Crisci shoes, an Armani suit, and a Gucci shirt buttoned at the wrists with a pair of exquisite Longmire cufflinks. There is a Rolex Submariner watch on his arm and a pair of aptly named Louis Vuitton Evasion sunglasses obscuring his eyes.
The man crouches down beside him and hands him a bottle of water. “You must be thirsty – the drugs do that – and I’m sure you have a bad headache. Drink. You’ll feel better.”
It crosses Tony’s mind that the water might be drugged too, but he doesn’t care; his throat is so dry it’s aching, and he longs to feel the water on his parched tongue. He tips back his head and drinks the entire bottle, and the man laughs.
Tony feels better now that he’s had something to drink, and he takes in his surroundings with more attention to detail. The room he is in is completely empty except for a toilet in the corner with a basin beside it, made from the same metal as the walls. There is one solitary chair in front of him. A guard is standing by the door, dressed in plain black pants and a black shirt; there’s a whip sticking out of his belt and a gun in his hand.
The expensively dressed man sits down on the chair. “Let me introduce myself; my name is Prince Walid.”
Tony gives his brightest smile. “Good to meet you, Walid. I’m sure you already know my name.”
“Of course, and you proved to be much more persistent than we expected, Mr DiNozzo. Or maybe the word is loyal. Most people aren’t so loyal to their bosses. I very much doubt my own men are.” The man glances over to the guard by the door. “Or at least not without being paid a very considerable sum to ensure that loyalty.”
Walid has an accent, but Tony can’t quite place it. He is also clearly very cultured, and Tony thinks he can hear the overtones of an expensive English education in his voice, combined with whatever his native accent is.
“We thought you would search for your boss for a while – a few months maybe – but that if we could show you how fruitless such a search to be, then you would give up. That is what most people would do.”
“I guess I’m not most people,” Tony replies.
“Indeed not.” Walid inclines his head. “Your devotion does you credit, although it mystifies me. You mystify me – and I’ll admit you also fascinate me. Why, Mr DiNozzo? Why didn’t you give up?”
“Well, I’ve never been a quitter.” Tony shrugs. There is no way he is letting this bastard know how he feels about Gibbs; that would be a huge tactical mistake. “Also…” he gives a little laugh. “I’m kinda stupid. If you know anything about me, you’ll know that.”
“Yes. I believe you really are stupid.” Walid sits back in his chair, looking at Tony thoughtfully from behind his sunglasses. Tony wishes he’d take them off – he can’t get a steer on what the man is thinking because he can’t see into his eyes. “We did some discreet investigations, and many of those who have encountered you say that you are an idiot. I wasn’t so sure…but now I’ve met you…” He leans forward again, a little smile on his lips. “Yes, I believe you are an idiot, Mr DiNozzo. A loyal idiot, I grant you, but an idiot all the same.”
“My dad always told me I was.” Tony grins again. “Maybe you know how it feels? I see you as…maybe the younger son of a large royal family?”
“Hmmm…not always an idiot then,” Walid murmurs thoughtfully.
“You have a lot of money, but they just see you as their kid brother. They don’t take you seriously, and they don’t give you anything important to do, so you have to make your own entertainment,” Tony hazards.
Walid shifts irritably. “You should not expect rescue,” he barks, changing the subject, and Tony is sure he’s hit a nerve there. “We took your passport, we bought you an airplane ticket, and we sent an email to your colleague, Agent McGee. It was all too much for you, you see, DiNozzo. You ran out on them.”
“Did I now?” Tony gives an amused grunt. At least Walid hasn’t figured out that he wanted to be captured. Then again, he’s fairly sure this man sitting in front of him would never understand why anyone would risk their life to save another person, so the idea probably never crossed his mind.
“They would expect that of the idiot. You are someone who engenders low expectations, DiNozzo, as I’m sure your father told you.”
Ouch. That barb hit home, as it was supposed to. Walid clearly wanted to land a hit of his own after Tony’s crack about his family not letting him do anything important.
“It’s a shame it came to this though.” Walid gives a theatrical sigh. “It’s unnecessary. Your superiors at NCIS gave you orders, and you were supposed to follow them. You were supposed to give up the investigation, go back to your job, forget all about Agent Gibbs, and accept the promotion we arranged for you – regretfully, of course. But you chose not to do that.”
“He’s a hard man to forget.” Tony shrugs.
“Now, that I believe.” A knowing smile plays around Walid’s lips.
“So, if you’d just give him back, then I’ll happily be out of here and on my way,” Tony says glibly.
“Oh, he is not mine to give back, and even if he was, I wouldn’t do it. He is one of our best fighters you see, Mr DiNozzo.”
Tony feels his heart give an almost painful jolt; it’s the first indication he’s had that Gibbs is still alive, outside the certainty in his own gut.
“I had no idea he would prove to be such a winner – it has turned him into quite a favourite with the crowds on Fight Nights. If I’d known, I might have kept him for my own stable instead of selling him on. But who would have thought a man his age would be so successful at our little game?”
“I coulda told you.”
“We took him initially to stop him asking so many awkward questions – he was clearly not a man who would give up in the face of obstruction, and we thought it the best way of silencing him. We had no idea he’d become a genuine contender. Scott is a lucky man.”
“The player I sold him to. He got a bargain. Now, the question is what to do with you.” Walid sits back, a musing look on his face. “I could simply kill you, but it seems a waste. It’s too late in the season for you to be contender, but I expect you would put up a decent fight in the pit. And the crowd does so love to see a newbie floored by one of our seasoned pros.” He gives a malicious smile. “It is always so enjoyable to witness a newbie’s first lost fight: the shock, the distress, the tears and the struggles when they realize what losing *really* means.” Walid looks like he’s getting turned on, which makes Tony’s gut churn uneasily. “Oh, now that gives me a very pleasing idea.” Walid gives a little chuckle. “Let us talk more about Agent Gibbs. You risked your life to keep looking for him; you must think very highly of him.”
“Yeah, well, the old bastard grows on you after ten years of taking his head-slaps and putting up with his bad moods.” Tony watches Walid carefully, wondering where this is going.
“It’s more than that, or you would have given up on him a long time ago. He is your mentor, yes? Your teacher? Maybe a surrogate father, as your own father is so dismissive of you. Is that it? Hmm?”
Tony makes no reply. He knows his feelings for Gibbs are definitely not filial, but he can’t deny there’s something complicated about his fucked up relationship with his own father mixed up in what he feels for Gibbs, even if that’s something he’s never wanted to examine too closely.
“Or maybe he is simply your friend. Someone you can confide in. Maybe you go to him in times of trouble, and he helps. Yes?”
Tony thinks of the various times he’s stayed over at Gibbs’s place when there was some problem with his apartment, or just when he wanted the company and to be near the man. It’s always Gibbs he goes to whenever a case gets to him. There was that time after Dana Hutton died, and the time after his father left town; Gibbs has always been there for him when he needs him. He might not be a very touchy-feely kind of guy, but he’s always been rock solid for Tony – and Tony wants to be the same for him.
“Ah, there is no need to reply. I see it all in your eyes, Mr DiNozzo. Hmm, I think I will call you Tony. We know each other well enough now, yes?”
Walid suddenly leans forwards and removes his sunglasses with a languid flick of his fingers, and Tony finds himself looking into a pair of dark eyes that remind him vividly of a cobra. His gut registers a sudden chill; this man has a streak of cruelty that goes far beyond whatever pleasure he takes in watching kidnapped men fighting in his pits. There is something else going on here, something much darker.
“You know, I do get so very bored, Tony. Sometimes even Fight Nights don’t do it for me anymore,” Walid murmurs, plucking a piece of lint off his immaculately tailored pants. “I want something new…something more intense.” Those cruel eyes are looking at Tony curiously, a hint of amusement in their dark depths. “And I do find the idea of crushing a man’s loyalty and destroying his hero worship so very exhilarating.”
“If you’re talking about me and Gibbs, then I think you’ll be disappointed,” Tony replies, but his gut is churning again, and he’s suddenly very afraid of what Walid might be planning.
Walid gives an amused bark of laughter and gets to his feet. “Do you? I rather think I won’t.”
He turns to the guard. “We’ll take him with us this evening. No drugs. I want Mr DiNozzo to experience the real Gibbs, without anything to take the edge off that very considerable thrill.” He turns back to glance at Tony, a malicious gleam in his eyes. “I want him to see his hero for who he really is.”
Gibbs always wakes up with the same jittery feeling in his gut on fight day, but today it’s worse than ever. He hates the sense of anticipation, and he hopes they don’t have to drive too far to get to the fight; he just wants to get out there and start crushing his fist into an opponent’s face.
The other fighters give him a wide berth as they go into the communal showers. He’s getting into his pre-fight headspace and starting to exude the dangerous energy that has made him a winner in the pit for the past five months.
Steve slips on the wet floor and almost falls into him, and Gibbs gives a low growl. An anxious silence descends, and Steve makes his apologies and runs back to the safety of Sam Hurrell’s side. Gibbs glares at him.
After breakfast, they are placed in chains and herded onto the truck. Gibbs clenches his fists as they chain him in place. He is constricted, confined and restrained. It makes him angry, and he forces the anger into a tightly controlled ball of fire in his belly, where he will need it later.
He closes his eyes as the other fighters are chained into place around him. He can already smell the sawdust and the scent of the oil they use to make their skin slippery. He can hear the sound of the crowd roaring around him and feel the heat in his own body. Soon he will have the release he needs.
Soon he will fight and have the satisfaction of destroying the man who killed his family all over again. He’ll be able to punch his fist into James Scott’s face and sink his teeth into Ellis for playing his damn radio all night long. He will be able to unleash all his anger at his imprisonment and print it into the flesh of a nameless, faceless opponent. And afterwards he can sate his other need too – the need to fuck and release his sexual frustration.
The truck starts to move, and he hears the man next to him turning his head and feels his warm breath ghosting over his ear.
“So, what’s the plan, Agent Gibbs?” Sam Hurrell asks.
Gibbs opens his eyes. “What plan?” he growls, irritated that his pre-fight ritual has been interrupted.
“Your plan,” Hurrell replies intently. “I’ve been watching you all week, Gibbs, but I haven’t been able to get close enough to talk to you without the guards over-hearing, until now. You have a plan to end this. There’s no way a man like you submits to all this humiliating shit without putting up a fight.”
“I fight every damn week in the pits.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Look, if there’s a plan I want in on it,” Hurrell tells him forcefully. “You can trust me. I can fight – you know that. I put up a good fight against you in the pit last week, didn’t I? You saw I could fight. So, I figure that whatever plan you have, it happens on Fight Night, yes?”
“There is no plan,” Gibbs says, in a low, dull tone. “There’s no fucking plan, Hurrell.”
“I don’t believe you. Like I said, I’ve been watching you all week, and I’ve never seen a more natural leader than you, Gibbs. If you wanted to organize these men…” he nods his head at the fighters in the back of the truck, “then you could have them eating out of your hand in seconds. I admire you for that.”
He leans back against the wall of the truck, a rueful smile on his face. “See, me…I’m not a natural leader, Gibbs. I’ve tried hard, and I do my best – I even went to a class once to learn how to be a good leader. I made lieutenant because the Corps saw something in me, but I’ve had to work at it. You don’t have to work at it. It’s who you are, right down to your bones; you’re a natural born leader.”
Gibbs closes his eyes again. He owes this man no explanations, and he sure as hell won’t give him excuses. He owes Hurrell nothing.
“See, you’re a legend not just at NCIS but in the Corps too,” Hurrell whispers urgently into his ear. “The Agent Gibbs I heard about was a real hard-ass. He wouldn’t just sit here and say there’s no fucking plan. He wouldn’t just sit back and be happy to let these bastards own him, without making any attempt to escape. So, who the hell are you, Gibbs? Because you’re not the man I thought you were.”
“And who the hell are you?” Gibbs snaps back, opening his eyes again.
Hurrell looks confused by the sudden change of tack. “What do you mean?”
“I knew your wife, Hurrell. I knew Jan. I was in your house. I patted your dogs and saw your wedding photos. Your wife made me a damn fine cup of coffee – she knows how a Marine likes to drink his coffee.”
Hurrell’s eyes are anguished, but Gibbs has no intention of letting him off the hook.
“I liked her. Your wife is a good woman. She’s devoted to you. She knew you hadn’t deserted, and she convinced me of that too. And yet you haven’t come to me and asked me one damn thing about her and how she’s doing.”
Hurrell’s hands clench into fists, and Gibbs knows that if he wasn’t chained to the wall of the truck that he’d take a swing at him.
“Jan made me believe you loved her too much to ever run out on her, but last night I heard the sounds you made when Steve was fucking you,” Gibbs continues relentlessly. “It’s one thing to have to fuck in the pit but nobody is holding a gun to your head at night in the stalls, Hurrell. So who are you? The loving, faithful husband Jan told me about and believed in? ‘Cause I’m not seeing him right now.”
All the fight goes out of Hurrell’s body, and that shame and guilt that Gibbs saw in his eyes the night he first met him floods back in. Gibbs almost wishes he hadn’t said that. He doesn’t judge Hurrell for what he does in his stall at night. Hell, he wouldn’t judge anyone for the ways they find to try and survive this ordeal. That’s why he’s so angry with Hurrell for judging him.
There is a long, shocked silence, and Gibbs is aware, not for the first time, that his embargo on apologies can be as hard on him as it is on the people around him.
Finally, Hurrell turns to him again. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Never apologise. It’s a sign of weakness,” Gibbs snaps back automatically. “Now shut up.”
He needs his pre-fight preparations. He needs the silence in order to get into his headspace.
He can’t even look at Hurrell as he forces himself to focus on getting ready for the night ahead. The pit is waiting for him, and he has to make sure he is in the right frame of mind to do whatever it takes to win.
Some time later the guard returns to the room, unlocks Tony’s chains, and takes him, at gunpoint, out of his stall. He’s escorted down a hallway and into what looks like Ducky’s autopsy suite but is clearly an infirmary. An elderly guy in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck glances up. He’s got nicotine stains in his white beard, and he stinks of liquor.
“A newbie?” he frowns. “Kinda late in the season for Prince Walid to field a newbie, ain’t it?”
“He isn’t a serious contender,” the guard replies. “Just someone the boss wants out of the way.”
“Hey, how do you know I’m not a serious contender? I can fight!” Tony tries a disarming grin, but the doctor just grunts. Tony uses the moment to take a good look around, trying to figure out the weaknesses in this setup. So far he hasn’t seen any, but there has to be something. He’ll know it when he sees it.
The doctor leans over to place the stethoscope on his chest, and Tony leans back, waving a hand in front of his nose as he gets a whiff of the man’s stinking breath.
“You drink on duty?”
“Yeah. That’s why I don’t have a medical license anymore and have to work in this shithole with you fuckers.”
“That’s reassuring,” Tony mutters.
The guard is leaning against the wall, clearly bored, and the doctor is drunk on his ass, so Tony seizes the opportunity.
“Did you ever see that movie about the doctor with the drinking problem who…” he waves his arms around enthusiastically and knocks the doctor’s stethoscope to the floor on purpose. “Shit, I’m sorry…” He bends to pick it up and hangs it around the man’s neck again, patting his coat down apologetically and using the distraction to slip his fingers into the doctor’s pockets. He comes up empty. No cell phone. Not even a wallet. The guy has nothing on him except a screwed up handkerchief.
The doctor pushes him away irritably and turns to the guard.
“What dose does our lord and master want him on?”
“No drugs,” the guard replies.
The doctor shakes his head sadly, making a ‘tsking’ sound with his tongue. “None?” The doctor glances at Tony. “You poor bastard. What the hell did you do to piss off Walid so badly?”
“I asked him about his childhood. That seemed to upset him. I have no idea why,” Tony responds facetiously.
“Whatever the hell you said, I don’t envy you in the pit. Is he fighting tonight?” The doctor looks at the guard again.
“No idea.” The guard shrugs.
“Well, if you are…” the doctor turns back to Tony. “Then I pity you.”
“Why? I don’t need drugs to be able to fight.”
The doctor laughs. “Well, maybe not, but your opponents will be hopped up on ‘em all the same. That makes them stronger, faster, angrier, and hornier than you. You’ll be lucky to get out of there alive.”
“Hornier?” Tony raises an eyebrow. “What’s the advantage in that?”
The doctor snorts through his yellow moustache and pats his arm. “Oh, you’ll see, son. You’ll see. Better hope for your own sake that your opponent *is* horny.”
Tony doesn’t like the sound of that, but he doesn’t have time to give it any further thought because at that moment the door opens, and a giant of a man steps into the room.
Like Tony, he’s completely naked, but unlike Tony, he looks completely at ease with that fact. He inhabits his skin like it’s clothing, walking confidently, his big cock swinging in front of him. There’s a bite mark on his cheek and one of his earlobes is missing. He puts Tony in mind of a feral tomcat, all bulging balls, thick neck, and cocky arrogance.
A guard steps into the room behind him, but the big man doesn’t look like he’s being forced to go anywhere against his will; the guard looks more like a bodyguard than a jailer.
The big man glances at Tony and his face breaks into a grin, revealing a couple of missing teeth.
“New blood?” he chuckles, in a deep, throaty voice. Tony wonders just how much testosterone you have to feed someone to get a timbre of voice that low and gravelly. “He’s pretty. Nice of the boss to get me a new piece of ass to celebrate my victory tonight.”
Tony doesn’t like the predatory way this guy is looking at him, like he’s a piece of meat. He wonders if this is how women feel when a guy is hitting on them and won’t take no for an answer. This guy definitely looks like he won’t take no for an answer, and Tony has to force himself not to shrink back against the exam table. Now is not a good time to show any weakness.
“You haven’t won yet, Mac,” the doctor replies, but there’s a look of frank admiration on his face.
“You gonna bet against me, Doc?” Mac asks.
“Hell no! You’re the fireman. Ain’t nobody gonna bet against you!”
“Too fucking right. I’m fucking unbeatable out there.” Mac’s eyes light up. “Maybe this is a pre-fight treat for me?” he asks, leering at Tony again. “I’m tired of the ass in this place. I’ve fucked ‘em all, and they’re a bunch of fucking whiners. I want a new toy to play with.” He grabs his cock and it swells in his big fist, becoming dark and erect almost instantly.
Tony wants to back out of this room and get as far away from this bastard and his ugly erection as he can, but there’s no place to go. He doubts whether the doctor or the guard would stop Mac if the big man decided to throw him over the exam table and fuck him in front of them.
Mac moves towards him, his cock jutting out from his body, pointing straight at Tony.
“Not this one,” Tony’s guard says, stepping between them, much to Tony’s relief. “He’s not for you, Mac.”
“Boss’s orders. He wants this one kept fresh for later.”
There’s something about the way the guard says that, and the way he glances at him, that makes Tony more uneasy than all Mac’s leering.
“Well, if the newbie ain’t being given drugs, there’s nothing more I can do with him,” the doctor says. “I don’t know why you even brought him here.”
“Just following procedure.” The guard shrugs.
“Aren’t you going to listen to my heart some more? See if I’m fit enough to fight?” Tony asks.
The doctor laughs. “Oh, I don’t think it matters much if you are or not. You’re just pit fodder, nothin’ more. I ain’t gonna waste any more of my time on ya. You can put him in the truck.”
He jerks his head, and the guard grabs Tony’s arm and propels him towards the door.
“Later, pretty!” Mac calls after him. “If you win, I’ll ask for you to be put in my stall tonight, so I can fuck that sweet ass of yours!”
Tony makes a face. “If that’s the prize for winning, then I think I’ll lose thanks.”
Mac laughs. “Either way, that slick little hole of yours is gonna get fucked good and hard before dawn!”
Tony is grateful to be propelled out of the door, back into the hallway, and out of the firing line of Mac’s ugly, erect penis.
He’s escorted along the hallway and into a big, hangar-sized space where a truck is waiting. He’s herded at gunpoint into the truck where several other naked men are already sitting, chained to the truck’s walls.
“Wow, Walid’s a real cheapskate. Can’t even buy us some pants, huh?” Tony jokes, grinning at the other men. Nobody so much as smiles at him in return; they all look grim and anxious, and Tony can feel the tension in the air.
“Shut up and sit down,” one of the men growls at him.
Tony does as he’s told, and the guard comes over and chains him to the wall of the truck, just like all the others. The chains are cold and heavy on his stomach, tying him in place, and his ankles are thrust into a pair of manacles and fastened to hooks in the floor. These are heavy-duty chains; there are no weakness here and absolutely no chance of escape.
A few minutes later Mac leaps into the back of the truck.
“Hey bitches!” he announces. “Tonight’s winner is here, so I guess we’re good to go! Man, I’m on fire tonight.” He gives a deep, crowing laugh. “You losers will all eat sawdust, but I’m gonna fight good and dirty and claim me some prime ass.”
Tony notices that nobody in the truck meets Mac’s eye, and he understands why. This is not a man you want noticing you. He can believe Mac’s earlier boast that he’s fucked all of these men. They look like they all hate him but are too scared to stand up to him.
Mac sits down, but unlike the rest of them, he isn’t chained into place. Tony wonders why, but doesn’t give that a lot more thought because at that moment Mac opens his legs wide to reveal his thick, semi-erect cock again. He grins at Tony and nods at his growing erection, wetting his lips with his tongue.
“If you’re lucky, you’ll get to suck on this monster tonight, sweetheart!”
Maybe it’s all just talk, but judging by how the other men in the truck are behaving, he suspects that Mac means it. Tony is starting to understand the environment he’s thrown himself so recklessly into. There are no women here, just men, and men who are being fed a cocktail of drugs. Clearly the law of the jungle reigns supreme, and if Mac is strong enough to hold him down and fuck him then nobody here will stop him – not the guards or the other fighters. Prince Walid is fostering a dog-eat-dog atmosphere on purpose, presumably because he thinks it makes better fighters. Perhaps it does.
“Got a good pair of cock-sucking lips on you, pretty boy, just made to suck dick,” Mac continues, still leering at him. “I’ll get you to suck it first, make it nice and wet, then ram it up your tight asshole.”
“Oh, you’re a regular Mac-the-mouth, aren’t you?” Tony replies, rolling his eyes.
“I told you to shut the fuck up!” someone further along the line of chained men roars at Tony. Tony cranes his head to see a stocky guy glaring at him.
“Cool it, Spencer,” someone else says softly.
“No, I won’t cool it! Christ, it’s fucking Fight Night! Some of us want to get our heads in the zone, and this idiot doesn’t have a goddamn clue!”
Tony clamps down on another smartass reply. Ten years of working with Gibbs has given him an instinct for when not to open his mouth and earn a head-slap, and the same principle applies here. He can feel the tension in the truck, but he’s not sure why they are so hyped up about the upcoming fight. Haven’t they all been doing this for some time? It might not be nice to be thrown into a pit naked and made to fight but the sheer level of tension in the truck makes him realize he’s missing something. Just what doesn’t he know about these fights?
Across the truck Mac winks at him, and Tony is suddenly even more acutely aware of being completely naked, vulnerable, and on display. He wonders if that’s something you get used to, in time. Has Gibbs got used to it? He can’t imagine Gibbs tolerating this kind of treatment for one second…but if they beat him enough, then even Gibbs would have had to learn to endure it. Tony has seen the whips in the guards’ belts, and he’s sure they’re not just for show.
He doesn’t like to think of Gibbs taking beatings, but he knows there’s no way Gibbs just rolled over and showed them his belly. That’s never been Gibbs’s style.
What damage would stubborn resistance have done to him though? If they’ve beaten him into submission, can he still be the man Tony once knew?
Will he even recognize Gibbs when he sees him? After five months in this brutal environment, will Tony find him broken beyond repair?
They’re walking along the road, talking. He doesn’t find it easy talking with anyone except his mom, but when it’s just the two of them, alone together, he finds he can open up. She has a gift for drawing him out, teasing him, and making him laugh. She glances down at him, encouraging him to tell her what happened at school that day.
It wasn’t much – just a little fight – his knuckles barely got scraped. He finds it hard to make friends, but she says it’s just a phase, and he’ll learn to fit in eventually. It hasn’t been easy though, since his mom and dad separated. None of the other kids have parents who don’t live together, and he gets angry when they tease him.
The car comes out of nowhere. One minute he’s talking to his mom, and the next there’s a screech of tires, and he feels himself being lifted up and slammed down on the road. A sharp stabbing pain in his knee makes him cry out. He calls for his mother, but when he turns his head he sees her lying against a nearby tree, her body folded in such a way that she can’t be alive. Nobody can be alive and look like that.
The car that hit them doesn’t stop. It weaves drunkenly into the distance and is gone. It’s dusk, and he didn’t even see what colour it was, let alone get a licence plate number. His leg hurts so much, but not as much as seeing his mom lying over there, and the bastard that killed her driving away. His entire life has changed in the space of a couple of minutes, and a wave of helpless rage sweeps through his body. He throws back his head and screams…
Gibbs wakes with a start. He’s still in the back of the truck; without a watch it’s hard to tell how much time has passed, but it seems to be a long drive to this particular venue. He shakes his head, trying to clear the fuzziness. He’s dreamed that dream before, too many times to count, but not for a long time. When he was a teenager he often woke up with that scream dying in his throat, but after he met Shannon it stopped. Since Shannon and Kelly died, he’s had a different nightmare to haunt his sleep, but this one sometimes returns, usually when he’s least expecting it.
It’s more of a memory than a dream, his brain endlessly reliving the trauma of his mother’s death when he was eight years old. They never did catch the bastard who killed her, and he spent weeks in the hospital recovering before going to live with his father. The rage at her senseless death has remained with him his entire life, along with the weakness in his knee that he tries so hard to hide. When Shannon and Kelly were murdered, he refused to accept another injustice. He couldn’t get any justice for his mom, because he was just a kid back then, but he sure as hell could get it for his wife and child – and he did.
The dream has reopened an old wound that never completely healed, and the timing is good. He can use that sense of rage and injustice from his childhood in tonight’s fight. His mom was never avenged, but he can have that vengeance now, taking it out on whomever they throw into the pit against him. He won’t be defeated tonight; he has too much fire in his belly. They’ll have to kill him before he surrenders.
He glances around the truck at the other fighters and sees that Steve is asleep. He’s lurching sideways, his head resting on Hurrell’s shoulder, but Hurrell is awake, a grim look in his eyes. Gibbs is sure he has a similar look in his own eyes, as they both think about what will happen in the pit later.
Nothing is a foregone conclusion. Some will lose and be taken to a different stable, owned by a different bastard. Others will win and come back in this truck. All of them will nurse various new injuries. If they’re lucky, none of them will die tonight. How long can his body keep taking this kind of punishment? He still has yellowing bruises on his skin from last week’s fight, and he’s not getting any younger.
Steve mumbles something in his sleep, and Hurrell rests his head against Steve’s, murmuring something to him. It’s not just about sex then, Gibbs realizes, in surprise. Hurrell seems to feel a genuine affection for Steve. Maybe that’s how he keeps some sense of himself in this nightmare world; making bonds with weaker fighters, looking out for them and having sex with them. Maybe that’s his way of keeping hold of his own humanity.
Gibbs isn’t convinced that keeping hold of your humanity will help keep you alive though. In order to survive, he has tried to shut down every frail, human weakness and keep his mind fixed on going out into the pit every Fight Night and winning.
The truck rumbles to a halt, and the fighters sit up. The level of tension ratchets up a notch, the way it always does when they arrive at the venue.
The back of the truck is opened, and the guards unlock their chains from the walls and herd them at gunpoint into the open air. The handcuffs on his wrists are attached to the chains around his midriff and those in turn are attached to the manacles around his ankles. They’re as heavy-duty as the restraints on a prisoner being escorted to a high security prison, and there’s absolutely no chance of escape.
Gibbs pauses to take a big gulp of fresh air. Fight Nights are the only chance he gets to see the outside world, and it’s so good to feel the breeze on his skin and to gaze up at the crescent moon overhead. It’s a warm night, the air heavy, sticky and oppressive, but at least he’s out in the open, even if it’s only for a short time.
Scott’s fighters are usually herded into a holding pen to wait for their fighting slot in the pit, but Gibbs finds himself prodded at gunpoint away from the group. Maybe he’s got first fight – that would be good, as he’ll get the hard part of the evening out of the way early. It’s always nerve-wracking to sit in the holding pen, hearing the sounds from the pit and knowing it’ll be your turn soon.
However, instead of being taken to the pit-side holding pen, he’s shoved towards the stands surrounding the pit instead. These are makeshift bleachers, clearly temporary structures, and a little rickety.
The guard prods him up some stairs and then he finds himself in a position he’s never been in before. He’s standing up above, looking down on the pit, instead of being in the pit looking out. The pit looks smaller from up here, and he can barely even smell the sawdust. The stench of hamburgers, popcorn and beer is much stronger up here though, in this twisted parody of a spectator sport.
The crowd is already starting to assemble, and he finds it strange to be amongst so many clothed bodies. They stare at him as he is prodded up the stairs, naked and moving slowly in his chains. His presence amongst them draws attention, and a little hush descends over this section of the stands as he shuffles his way up the bleachers.
“Wolfman! Hey – it’s the wolfman!” someone yells, and even more people turn to stare at him.
A bearded young man comes running up, and Gibbs’s guard raises his gun warningly to keep him at arm’s length. The man comes to a halt a few yards away and gazes at Gibbs with a look of adoration.
“Wolfman! Oh my God, it’s the freaking wolfman! You’re my favourite! You’re such a mean son of a bitch out in the pit!” he calls admiringly before the guard pushes him away.
“Yeah, you’re a mean SOB, but would it kill you to smile just once, Wolfman?” someone else yells, and the crowd dissolves into a fit of laughter.
“It just might,” Gibbs growls, and the crowd thinks he’s joking with them and laugh some more.
Gibbs wonders how the hell they can reconcile their obvious hero-worship of him with the fact that he’s standing here, stark naked and chained.
He realizes that he is, in some sick way, a celebrity. He might be a prisoner, but he is also a well-known face to these people. They’ve watched him fighting and fucking in the pit for months. They feel that, on some level, they even know him. Nothing could be further from the truth. They don’t even know his name. All they know is Wolfman, the name they’ve given to him, and the persona that they’ve projected onto him from the comfort of their cosy, pit-side seats.
These people have no idea what it’s like to fight down there in the pit. To know that one fight stands between you and possible death, and that your life depends solely on your own skill, courage and strength. You have no clothes and no weapons. You just have yourself. You are as alone out there as it’s possible to be.
Up here, you get a different perspective entirely. You can believe the men fighting for their lives down there are nothing more or less than the make-believe people in movies or on TV. It isn’t real to the people up here the way it is when you’re standing in the pit.
A part of him even pities them for not knowing how it feels to stand in the pit just before a fight, with the adrenaline pumping through your veins. He might hate being forced to fight for their entertainment, but he’s never felt more alive than when standing down there in the sawdust just before a fight.
He glances around at the people gathered to watch this sick, obscene sport. He’s struck by how ordinary they look. There are several cliques of very obviously wealthy folk, sitting side by side with much rougher-looking individuals, and while the majority of the audience is made up of men, there are plenty of women around too.
He’s shoved along a row of seats to where his owner is sitting, surrounded by a little entourage of people that Gibbs knows all too well. There’s Frank, the wizened little old guy who oversees his gruelling daily training sessions; Dr Tanner, who looks as coked off his head as usual; and some of the guards who aren’t on duty tonight. Gibbs is pushed into the vacant seat next to Scott, and his owner turns and gives him a beaming smile.
“Ah, Leroy. I thought you might appreciate the view from up here!” He makes no reply, and Scott laughs. “Never very talkative, our Leroy! Strictly speaking, the fighters aren’t allowed on the bleachers, but I pulled a few strings. I’m quite a player now, you know, thanks to you.”
Gibbs turns to give the man a hard stare, but Scott ignores it.
“It also helped that Prince Walid wanted a favour from me tonight. Prince Walid himself! He owns this entire setup, you know. This – the fights, the pits – the whole thing was his idea in the beginning. It’s grown so much over the past few years – it’s big business now.”
“His mom must be so proud,” Gibbs says sarcastically.
“He’s a very important man – and I was able to do him a favour – so he did one for me!” Scott beams, clearly getting off on being considered a major player.
The place is filling up, and there’s an air of palpable excitement pervading the arena. A hush falls as the commentator announces the first fight of the evening, and a second later one of the pit-side holding pens is opened, and a big man struts into the pit like he belongs there.
“Fire-man, Fire-man, Fire-man!” the crowd chants, and Gibbs feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. This is what it’s like experiencing these fights as a member of the audience, and he can tell that they know this fighter well. He’s a crowd-pleaser, and Gibbs can see why. He charges around the pit, urging them on to louder cat-calls and more thunderous levels of applause, and the audience, loving it, duly obliges.
“He’s a showman,” Scott says. “You know, you could learn something from him, Leroy. The crowd adores him. He’s brutal, of course, but a great fighter, and he plays up to the crowd. He gets them on his side. You could do that, Leroy.”
“I could if I gave a damn.”
“I get it. Not your style. You like to shut out everything but your opponent when you’re fighting. But maybe afterwards?” Scott glances at him. “You could engage with the crowd more, give them some entertainment value, and put on more of a show.”
Gibbs turns to give him an incredulous stare. He’s fighting for his life every time he steps out into the pit, and Scott wants him to be entertaining? The anger that’s never far beneath the surface courses through his veins again, and if he wasn’t chained he’d slam his fist into the man’s stupid fat face right here and now.
“Who’s the best fucking fighter in the pit?” the fireman yells, and the crowd goes into a frenzy.
“You are! Fire-man! Fire-man! Fire-man!”
“That’s not his real name, of course,” Scott tells Gibbs.
“You don’t say.”
“His real name is Liam McIntyre, and he’s one of the two biggest stars in the entire tournament.”
“Really.” Gibbs couldn’t put less interest in his tone of voice if he tried.
“Don’t you want to know who the other one is?” Scott nudges him conspiratorially.
“You are!” Scott laughs. “You are, Leroy. One of MY fighters is the other biggest star of the tournament! If you keep on winning, then you’ll face Mac in the final. He’s your main competition, Leroy, so watch him closely.”
Gibbs is interested in this piece of news, despite himself. Often, he only sees an opponent for the first time when he steps into the pit with him. He might have caught a glimpse of him on a previous Fight Night, while waiting in the pit-side holding pen to go on next, but that’s not much to go on. Being allowed to watch the fight from up here is actually a huge tactical advantage, and he wonders what Scott had to give Walid in return to make it happen.
The gate to the holding pen on the opposite side of the pit is opened, and a guy he recognizes from the previous week runs out. He’s lithe and sleek, covered in tattoos, and he likes to play the audience too. Gibbs remembers how he brutally dispatched the newbie kid last Fight Night. Tattoo Guy runs around the pit, trying to get the audience going, but it’s clear their affections are with Mac.
Mac gives Tattoo Guy a few seconds to play the crowd, and then he lumbers forward. He’s a huge mountain of a man; some of his bulk is fat, but Gibbs can see that a lot of it is muscle. The combination is extremely effective, and Tattoo Guy, although tall, looks dwarfed by him.
Mac is clearly a hard opponent to beat; he has a massive weight advantage for a start. But Gibbs has found that when all you have to fight with are your wits, experience and killer instinct, then weight and height are less of an advantage than sheer bloody-minded determination – and Tattoo Guy’s got plenty of that. He’s also not afraid to fight dirty – but it soon becomes clear that Mac isn’t, either.
Tattoo Guy puts up a good fight, and Gibbs rates him as one of the better fighters on the circuit, but Mac is too big, too relentless, and too mean a bastard to bring down. After some brutish fighting that draws blood on both sides, Mac manages to kick his opponent in the balls and then throws his entire weight on top of him to bring him down. He then sits on top of his felled opponent and lands punch after brutal punch on Tattoo Guy’s face.
Gibbs isn’t even sure Tattoo Guy is conscious when the referee finally stops the fight and pulls Mac off. Whether the man is conscious or not, he’ll get fucked – that’s the way this game works. Mac has a leer on his face as he circles his fallen victim
“Fire-man! Fire-man! Fire-man!” the crowd chants again, and Mac milks it for all he’s worth, massaging his big dick and thrusting his groin out as the audience cheers him on.
“Bet you’re wondering how he got that pit name,” Scott says to Gibbs.
“Sure you are.”
Mac turns back to Tattoo Guy, who is moaning softly, barely moving. He grabs the man, slings him effortlessly over his shoulder, and runs around the pit with him.
“’Cause of that?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
Scott grins at him. “Nope. You’ll see.”
Gibbs can feel his gut tightening as he watches the drama unfold in the pit. He wonders what it feels like to be slung over Mac’s shoulder and carried around like a piece of meat and promises himself that he’ll never let it happen to him. Mac is a formidable opponent though, no doubt about it, and he’ll be hard to beat. Gibbs clamps down on that thought – he can’t afford any doubts. He mustn’t let this bastard get into his head, or he’ll have no chance against him when they finally meet in the pit.
He watches as Mac finishes his victory march around the pit and then slings his prize down on the ground. Gibbs has done this himself, too many times to count, but it’s different viewing it as a spectator. He can feel a certain amount of pity for Tattoo Guy now, although he’s sure the man showed none for his victims in the past, any more than Gibbs ever has in the pit.
Gibbs fazes out as McIntyre skewers Tattoo Guy with his big dick, making obscene gestures at the audience as he fucks his victim into the sawdust. Gibbs glances around the audience instead, trying to get the measure of this event from his unique vantage point. He can see various clusters of what must be owners – wealthy men, with armed guards around them. His gaze stops on one man who is clearly the emperor of this event, seated on a big, padded chair over on the other side of the arena. He’s middle-eastern in appearance, darkly handsome and exquisitely dressed. That has to be Walid.
Walid seems to feel Gibbs’s gaze on him because he looks up, straight at him. He stares at Gibbs for a moment, and then he nods his head gravely in his direction. Gibbs makes absolutely no response, and a second later Walid’s handsome face breaks into a broad grin, and he laughs softly to himself, never taking his eyes off Gibbs the entire time.
Chanting breaks out in the crowd again, drawing Gibbs’s gaze back to the pit, and he sees Mac finishing up with Tattoo Guy. The big man comes with a mighty bellow and then withdraws and stands up…but judging by the sense of eager anticipation among the crowd, he isn’t done yet.
Gibbs watches as McIntyre stands over his victim, grabs his flaccid dick, and pisses all over the fallen man.
Scott turns to him. “That’s how he got his pit name.”
“Oh shit,” Gibbs mutters in disgust.
“See, that’s what happens when you lose to Big Mac.” Scott’s eyes are dark and serious. “So you have to make sure you don’t lose, Leroy, when the time comes.”
Gibbs makes no reply. He doesn’t need any extra incentives; he’ll die out there rather than surrender.
“Oh, he’s good – I didn’t want you to underestimate him – that’s why I brought you up here today,” Scott says. “But you’re good too, Leroy. Look, I want to show you something.” Scott gets out his cell phone and flicks his fingers across the screen a few times. Then he holds it up, and Gibbs finds himself looking at a piece of video footage.
“It’s you,” Scott tells him. “At your last fight.”
It’s fascinating watching himself prowling around the pit – he looks focused, deadly, and completely in the moment. His concentration doesn’t lapse for even a second – that’s always been one of his strengths.
“You can beat Mac,” Scott says. “The wolfman can beat the fireman.”
“Mac is about twenty years younger than me and 30 pounds heavier,” Gibbs points out.
“You can beat him if you’re angry enough,” Scott says. “Your anger is your greatest weapon, Leroy. Be angry out there. I don’t care who the hell you’re angry with, but I’ve never seen a man feel anger like you do without losing focus. That’s why you’re so good.”
Gibbs gives another grunt. He has a grudging respect for what Scott’s doing. He’s playing him to get the best out of him, the way he’s been playing him for months now, and it’s working.
Scott’s attitude changes from serious to laid-back in an instant, and he gives another of those lazy, deceptive grins and leans forward. “It’s time for your fight now, Leroy,” he says.
Tony sits with his back pressed against the bars of the holding pen, watching the other fighters. Some of them are pacing around anxiously, chewing on their fingers. Others are sitting on the floor of the pen like him, their relaxed poses seriously undermined by the lines of tension he can see in their taut muscles.
It’s a beautiful warm night, and there’s a crescent moon overhead. He can see the back of the bleachers in the distance and hear the distant shouts and jeers coming from the direction of the pit, but out here it’s almost peaceful.
There are several holding pens dotted around the barren patch of land, each of them located near a truck, and each with its own set of armed guards. It seems as if each owner gets his own pen. Although they’re clearly temporary structures, the pens were already there when the truck pulled up a little while ago. The fighters were all shoved into the wooden pens still wearing their chains – all of them except Mac, who was separated out and ushered in the direction of the pit.
There’s a big roar from the direction of the pit, and then the sounds of people moving around, and some of the crowd emerge to use the temporary toilets and buy food from a couple of vendors. How the hell did the vendors get this gig? Tony presumes Walid has laid on the amenities like everything else; this is a business for him as much as a pleasure.
There’s a sense of exhilaration in the air, and a little while later Mac is escorted back across the field. There’s blood running down his face and bite marks along one brawny forearm, but he looks exuberant.
“Hey, fuckers! I told you I’d have a good night!” he jeers through the bars of the holding pen.
Nobody responds, but Tony can see them all deflate slightly at this news.
“Hoping he’d lose, huh?” he asks the guy sitting next to him as Mac is led away.
“What do you think? If he’d lost, he’d have gone to a different stable, and we wouldn’t have to put up with the bastard anymore,” the man replies.
So that’s how it works. Tony is gradually piecing this jigsaw together. “You could lose – to get away from him?” Tony suggests.
The man gives him an incredulous look. “Lose on purpose? No way. Too risky.”
Tony watches as Mac is escorted back to the truck. “Do you only have to fight once?” he asks.
The man nods. “Yeah, once each Fight Night. If you win, you stay with your current owner. If you lose, you go to the stable of the fighter who beat you. You really are a newbie, aren’t you?”
At that moment the gate of the holding pen is opened, and a guard enters. He glances around and then jerks his head in Tony’s direction. Tony’s stomach does a sudden queasy lurch.
“You. Get your ass over here.”
Tony gets up slowly, and the man he was just talking to touches his arm briefly. “Good luck. You should go all out to win. It’s better that way – trust me.”
Tony doesn’t have much time to think about that because the guard grabs his shoulder and propels him out of the holding pen and towards the arena.
It smells like a dog racing track, or a music gig, or any of those places where people get together and eat and watch a show. He looks around, trying to keep his agent head on and scope out any chance to put his plan into action. First he needs to find Gibbs though; he can’t put any escape plan into action until then. His stomach does another anxious flip. Gibbs is probably here somewhere, close by. If so, it’s the nearest Tony’s been to him in five months, and the sense of anticipation is acute.
He’s taken up onto the bleachers, which wasn’t where he saw Mac being taken earlier, so that confuses him. He doesn’t like being naked amongst all these clothed people, but they barely spare him a glance. He’s walked up to what is clearly the best seat in the house – a boxed off area containing a big, padded seat, where Walid is sitting like a king on his throne. Tony is shoved onto the bench immediately to the left of Walid.
“Hey, Walid. Nice to see you again. So, this is cool. Like Christians versus lions with you as the Roman emperor,” Tony says with a grin. “You must love having all this power.”
Walid doesn’t look remotely riled by that comment. He just inclines his head towards Tony. “I do. And you’re most welcome, Tony. I’m delighted to see that you haven’t lost your…unique sense of humour. Although, I do wonder if that might change before the evening is over.”
Walid isn’t wearing his sunglasses and his eyes have a gleam of anticipation. Tony has an excellent view of the pit down below, lit by massive floodlights. He gives a little whistle.
“Wow, this whole thing must cost you a hell of a lot of money to stage, Walid.”
“I have money.” Walid shrugs. Then he grins. “It also makes me money. It’s become quite successful, Tony. I get a cut from all the gambling, and the owners have to pay me in order to put their fighters in the pit. Good fighters are also often bought and sold for high sums, and I get a cut of that too. It’s big business.”
“Aw! And your family thought you wouldn’t amount to anything. How wrong they were!” Tony glances sideways to see if that barb hit home, and he sees Walid stiffening so he counts it as a success.
Walid turns towards him, a macabre little smile on his face. “You are in fine form this evening, Tony. I’m glad. That will make the events I have planned all the more pleasing.”
That sounds ominous. Tony watches as fresh sawdust is strewn in the pit. The crowd begin to return to their seats, clutching drinks and hotdogs, and the air of anticipation starts to build.
“Next up, we have the only other unbeaten fighter in the tournament this season!” the commentator announces excitably, and a little murmur goes around the crowd. “He’s mean, he’s hungry, and he never, ever smiles…he’s the wolfman!”
The crowd erupts in a fit of wild cheering, and Tony watches as the guards open the gate to a holding pen, and a man prowls out into the pit. He’s tall and well built, with a sleekly muscled body, and like Tony and all the other fighters he’s encountered, he’s naked. His hair has been shorn to no more than a half an inch in length all over, and his body is glistening under the glare of the lights.
“Is he covered in oil?” Tony turns to Walid to find the man watching him intently.
“Yes. They are all oiled – it makes them slippery. Harder to catch.”
“What are the rules?” Tony asks, leaning forward, catching the sense of excitement in the crowd and feeling it too, despite himself.
“There are no rules.” Walid smiles. “They fight until one of them has clearly won. Sometimes that is very quick – other times, it takes much longer. Wolfman usually doesn’t need very long. He is one of the best fighters we have.”
He smiles at Tony again and nods back at the pit where another fighter has been released from his pen.
Tony decides he wouldn’t like to fight the wolfman. He suits his name. There’s a predatory kind of grace about the way he moves and a look of total concentration on his face. It reminds him of Gibbs when he’s chasing a lead on a case…Gibbs. The realization kicks in, and he looks up to find Walid still smiling at him.
“That’s Gibbs. Wolfman is Gibbs!” Tony looks back down on the pit in shock. He hadn’t recognized him. He’s worked with the man for ten years, lusted after him and loved him for pretty much the same amount of time, and he didn’t recognize him.
Maybe it’s the extremely short hair, or the muscles that are much more evident now than they were five months ago, and it’s not as if Gibbs was lacking in that department even back then. But no, it’s not either of those things. It’s Gibbs himself. He looks like a different person. There is no sense of the man Tony once knew in that predator below in the pit.
Relief floods in all the same, combined with a nagging sense of anxiety. At least he was right, and Gibbs is alive…but how much of *his* Gibbs is still left in that stranger down there?
“Problem, Tony?” Walid asks silkily.
“Yes. What the hell have you done to him?”
“We have done nothing to him. We have simply teased out his potential and given him a way of best expressing the hungry wolf he is inside. He is aptly named, yes?”
Tony watches as Gibbs behaves just like a hungry wolf. There’s an expression of cold, calculating anger in his eyes as he moves towards his prey. The other man is clearly terrified and makes a sudden rash move, throwing himself at Gibbs, fists flailing. It’s a tactical error, and Gibbs punishes it ruthlessly and efficiently, getting in several low punches that make Tony wince before skipping out of reach of his opponent’s fists.
“He really is very good,” Walid whispers in Tony’s ear. “You see, we cannot make a fighter, Tony; fighters are born. We simply liberated him from his civilized trappings and showed him what he really is. And Gibbs is an excellent fighter, as you can see. Only my own fighter, Mac, is better. I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t keep Gibbs when I first had him captured. I was misled by his age and his weak knee; I should have looked into his eyes and seen the wolf within.”
Tony feels a shiver running up his spine, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He fears Walid might be right because the Gibbs he’s looking at right now is coolly ruthless as he throws punch after punch, exposing his opponent’s weaknesses with brutal precision before bringing the man to his knees with a sneaky swipe at his ankles, sweeping his feet out from under him.
Gibbs’s movements are smooth and controlled, but Tony can see a tidal wave of rage surging just beneath the surface as he leaps on his prey and punches away at his jaw repeatedly and with deadly accuracy.
The crowd scent blood and rise to their feet, cheering as Gibbs’s opponent goes limp and stops fighting. Gibbs, however, doesn’t stop punching. Tony winces and wants to look away as Gibbs carries on, his fists breaking the man’s nose and causing blood to flow freely into the sawdust.
Finally – after what feels like hours – the referee steps in and stops the fight, and Gibbs moves back, away from his prey. Tony is initially relieved it’s all over, but then he realizes, from the reaction of the crowd and the hush that descends, that it isn’t.
Walid is watching him again, an indulgent smile playing on his cruel mouth. “Watch,” he instructs. “You’ll enjoy this next bit, Tony.”
Tony is transfixed as Gibbs returns to his victim, that predatory look still on his face. This isn’t over for Gibbs yet; there’s something more he wants to do.
“Wolf-man! Wolf-man! Wolf-man!” the crowd chants, and the atmosphere in the arena has turned electric.
A breeze rustles though Tony’s hair, chilling his naked body to the bone as Gibbs grabs the man, pulls him onto his haunches…and then begins fucking him with cruel efficiency.
“Shit…that’s…that’s just…horrific.” Tony turns away, unable to watch. It’s not so much the act, as watching Gibbs perform it. To be fair, he can’t see any actual relish on Gibbs’s part, but he can see a certain angry satisfaction. He might not like it, but he doesn’t hate it, either. Just what have these bastards done to him?
“I know Gibbs,” Tony says urgently to Walid. “And he might be a bastard – hell, he’ll admit to that himself – but he’s no rapist.”
“Really?” Walid raises a polite eyebrow.
“So what have you done to him? What have you threatened him with, Walid? What’s the penalty for refusal?”
Walid shrugs. “It’s a good question, Tony. But did it ever occur to you that he might not need any incentive to do this? Look at him – does he look like a man being coerced?”
Tony can’t look though. The sounds from the pit are sickening enough. He doesn’t want to see what Gibbs is doing right now.
“I said, look at him!” Walid roars, and, reluctantly, Tony turns his head back to look at the arena.
Tony can see a catalogue of marks on Gibbs’s sleek, lean body. There is clear evidence of scarring on his back, so he’s obviously been whipped at some point, but is it possible to whip a man into committing rape?
Tony closes his eyes and listens as the crowd’s cheering comes to a triumphant conclusion, and then they’re stamping their feet and applauding. When he opens his eyes again, he sees Gibbs stalking out of the pit without sparing the audience a second glance. The crowd appears to love him for his disdain. They chant his name over and over again, laughing at his refusal to engage with them, enjoying the fact that he’s just as ruthless with them as he was with his victim.
“That is your mentor, Tony,” Walid murmurs to him, in that same silky tone of voice. “That is the man you worshipped, admired, and risked your life to save. Behold your idol, Tony. Or should that be ‘fallen idol’, hmm?”
Gibbs checks himself over as the adrenaline high of his fight gradually fades. Sometimes he sustains injuries he wasn’t even aware of at the time, in the heat of the fight. This one was tough; his opponents have been getting progressively tougher for the past couple of months, as the competition intensifies in the build up to this grand finale that Scott is so excited about.
He’s got a bruised jaw and one of his ribs is tender, but apart from that he’s fine. A guard chains him up again, but instead of being taken back to the truck as usual after a fight, he’s returned to Scott’s holding pen instead.
“What’s going on?” Hurrell asks he sits down, his chest still heaving from the fight. “Why did they bring you back here?”
“No idea.” Gibbs shrugs. He notices blood running down his shin that he didn’t see before, but it’s just a graze.
“I don’t like it,” Steve says anxiously. “Is something different happening tonight?” He begins gnawing on his fingernails. They’re bitten down to the quick as it is; the skin around them is hanging off in angry red strips, but compared to the kind of injuries sustained in the pit it’s nothing.
“Like I said, I have no idea,” Gibbs growls. He’s unsettled by the change himself, but he can’t allow it to get to him.
“Why did Scott take you out of the pen earlier?” Hurrell asks, gazing at Gibbs curiously.
“He wanted to show me a fighter he thinks I’ll meet in the last fight of the season – if I keep winning.”
“You got to watch the fights from the bleachers?” Steve asks excitedly. He’s so on edge that he’s practically bouncing off the holding pen walls, and Gibbs wonders if Tanner has got his dosage right.
He watches as Hurrell puts a calming hand on Steve’s shoulder, and Steve relaxes into the touch, visibly reassured.
“What’s it like?” Steve asks. “What’s it like to watch the fighting?”
“Different.” Gibbs shrugs.
“What did Scott say to you?” Hurrell is giving him another one of those thoughtful looks.
Gibbs shrugs again. “The usual shit.”
“He’s trying to psych you up, so you’ll win for him. He’s playing you,” Hurrell says.
“I heard him talking to you back at the stable. I heard what he was offering you during the down season.”
Somehow, everything Hurrell says to him sounds like an accusation, and Gibbs turns to glare at him
“Do you ever wonder what they’ll do with the rest of us? The ones who don’t win all the time?” Hurrell asks quietly. “Will they want to waste the money on feeding and guarding us all through the down season?”
“They’ll still need fighters for the new season,” Gibbs replies.
“They can steal fighters!”
“But it’s risky.”
Hurrell nods, but Gibbs can understand the fear. He has no idea whether Scott is trying to play him with all his promises about the down season, and he has no idea what will happen to the less able fighters, either. Would Scott kill them? Does the man have the stones for that? He doubts that’s what happens – even the cheapest fighters cost a few thousand dollars, and that makes them a commodity. You don’t kill your commodity.
Hurrell is still giving him a needling little look. “Do you buy into what Scott’s telling you?” he asks bluntly. “Do you like the idea of being the ultimate winner, Gibbs? ‘Cause sometimes I look at you, and I think you’re loving all this, and that’s why you’re not trying to escape.”
Gibbs is about to growl back an angry retort when a huge roar goes up from the pit, and Steve jumps nervously. He’s like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, wound up at the prospect of his fight.
“Ssh,” Hurrell says. “You need a distraction. Let me tell you a story.”
“A story?” Steve looks pathetically desperate to take any distraction going. Gibbs sighs and leans back against the bars of the holding pen. He has a feeling that Hurrell often tells Steve stories during the long nights alone in their stall, when they’re not fucking. Steve’s a young, weak man, and Hurrell seems to have appointed himself as his protector.
“Yeah – hearing all the cries for ‘Wolfman’ reminded me of this story someone once told me.”
Gibbs opens his eyes a fraction and fixes Hurrell with a hard look.
“This story is called ‘The Two Wolves’,” Hurrell says, totally ignoring him.
“Wolves…cool! Wolves. I like wolves,” Steve says eagerly. He chews down hard on his thumb and the blood seeps out from around the fingernail.
Hurrell strokes the back of his head gently with his hand, and Gibbs fights down a memory of giving Tony an ‘attaboy’ many years ago. Tony’s hair was soft under his hand, and the memory is so vivid it hurts.
“So, a Cherokee elder was teaching his grandchildren about life,” Hurrell begins. “He said to them, ‘A fight is going on inside me, and it’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is dark, and it represents fear, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, hatefulness, lies – and anger.’” Hurrell glances at Gibbs who gives him a stony look in return.
“‘The other wolf is full of light, and it stands for joy, peace, truth, hope, humbleness, kindness, friendship, generosity, faith – and love.’”
Gibbs leans his head back on the bars of the pen. He knows this story. His father told it to him once, many years ago, after he got into a fight at school.
“‘This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person too,’” Hurrell continues. “‘Those same two wolves are fighting inside each of us, all the time.’ The children thought about it for a little while. Then one child asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf will win?’ And the Cherokee elder replied…”
“The one you feed,” Gibbs finishes for him with a growl.
He and Hurrell stare at each other for a long moment, and Steve clearly senses the tension within the pen because he starts chattering away.
“Wow, that’s cool! Two wolves…I love that story. I have to remember it so when I get out of here I can tell my little girl…she’s three years old, and she loves stories…” He pauses, looking suddenly broken.
Hurrell wraps his hand around Steve’s neck and pulls his head down, gently caressing his back with his other hand. Gibbs closes his eyes, shutting out thoughts of Kelly. The anger rises in his belly again, and he almost wishes he was back in the pit so he could pound out his fury on someone – anyone.
They are silent for a long time, listening as the fight in the pit comes to an end. Then one of Scott’s men comes to the holding pen.
“You.” He points at Steve. “Your turn.”
“Can’t I go first?” Hurrell asks, but they all know the answer to that. They are matched against a specific opponent, depending on the number of fights they’ve fought, and how many they’ve won.
“It’s okay. My turn. Better to get it over with, huh? See you in the truck later!” Steve says brightly, getting to his feet.
He hops out of the pen, his entire body shaking with nerves and anticipation.
Gibbs rubs a hand over the stubble on his head. Why has he been brought back to the holding pen instead of being put back in the truck? And what did Scott offer to Walid in order to get him that pit-side seat earlier?
Something bad is going to happen tonight. He can feel it in his gut.
“So the raping thing – whose idea was that?” Tony asks, as the third bout he’s witnessed comes to an end, and the victor rampages around the pit, screaming in glee at the audience.
“Raping? I prefer to view it as the just prize for a victory hard won. This is a gladiatorial contest, Tony,” Walid replies. “There should be some penalty for losing, shouldn’t there?”
“You mean beyond a broken nose, concussion, and possible brain damage?” Tony raises an eyebrow.
“See, to do this properly, the loser should really forfeit his life.” Walid gives a regretful sigh. “But fighters are expensive, and that’s wasteful. All the same, my audience wants some kind of climax to the event, and for the loser to experience some kind of forfeiture. Also, the winner should get the chance to exert his dominance over the loser, don’t you agree? It makes sense.”
“It only makes sense if you’re kind of nuts,” Tony replies with a shrug.
Walid smiles. “My sport of choice simply happens to be more honest than most,” he says. “Don’t tell me that when you watch a boxing match you don’t long for someone to get hurt – really hurt. We enjoy it because it is primal. I am simply removing all the modern day frippery that has made the boxing world so safe and sterile. I am giving the audience what it really craves; no gloves, no safety mechanisms, no pampered little prima donna performers with their big pay checks.”
“You’re kidnapping people and forcing them to fight at gunpoint,” Tony points out.
Walid laughs. “You say that as if mankind does not have a history of such contests. I prefer to think of it as simply returning us to an earlier, more honest age.”
“You’re talking about ancient Rome? Gladiators?”
“Of course. They were mostly slaves; men defeated in battle, taken from their homelands, and made to fight in front of crowds. This is the same thing.” Walid shrugs. “It is brutal, yes, but there is a beauty to its brutality and a sense of nobility.”
“I guess I’m not seeing either the beauty or the nobility then.”
“Then look harder.” Walid sits back in his throne, a dark, intense look in his eyes. “I mean it.” He glances at Tony. “You should enjoy this next one, Tony.”
They hear the fight in the pit coming to an end, and Gibbs sits up. Steve will have been in the pit-side holding pen waiting his turn while that fight finished, so his will be next. Gibbs hopes the skinny young man can hold it together to at least avoid being injured too badly. Maybe he can even win. He won his fight the previous week, so it’s possible. Gibbs suspects it’ll make Hurrell happy if Steve wins; he seems to have built up a rapport with the kid and will no doubt be upset if Steve ends up going to another stable later this evening, instead of back to Scott’s with them.
The guard returns to the holding pen with both Scott and Tanner, and Gibbs gets to his feet, that bad feeling in his gut intensifying.
“Leroy – I’m sorry, we must prevail upon your unique skills again,” Scott says.
“I already fought this evening.”
“I know, and usually I wouldn’t agree to a second fight. It’s not fair on you. But, like I said, Walid asked for a favour, and this is it.” Scott gives him a benign smile. “For what it’s worth, I don’t believe you’ll have much trouble with this particular opponent.”
Gibbs stands his ground, staring at the man.
“Ah, maybe you’re worried about…” Scott points down at his groin with a conspiratorial wink. “A man your age…is twice going to be difficult for you? I did ask for a little rest period for you, to give you time to recover. And Tanner has more drugs for you.”
He nods, and Tanner comes towards him, carrying a needle.
Gibbs knows from experience that refusing the drugs isn’t a good idea. They’ll just hold him down and inject him anyway. No matter how much he glares and protests, he has no bargaining chips here.
His muscles are taut with anger at the lack of control he has over what they’re doing to his body, but he submits to Tanner’s injection and is then prodded out of the holding pen by the guard. Scott puts a hand on his shoulder and walks him back towards the pit.
“This one’s a newbie, so he won’t be a challenge for you. You’ll probably have him down the minute his hood is removed.” He squeezes Gibbs’s shoulder firmly. “Just remember what’s at stake, Leroy, and how much you love winning.”
It’s been a long time since Gibbs last faced a newbie in the pit, and he feels a sense of revulsion. It’s always worse somehow because they don’t know what to do, or what to expect. He can still remember his own sense of disorientation that first time. He’d been hooded, as all newbies are, and he had no idea what awaited him.
His first glimpse of the pit had been when the hood was removed, and then an opponent was bearing down on him and before he knew it he was fighting for his life in front of a baying crowd. His old Marine instincts had kicked in and seen him through, but he can still remember how terrifying the entire event had been.
“Why the hell do you hood the newbies anyway?” he asks Scott.
Scott shrugs and spreads his arms wide. “For the drama, my dear Leroy. To see them blinking and blundering around down there, like helpless little new-borns, and for the joy of watching them either sink or swim.”
“I always thought I was a bastard, but you’re in a whole different league.”
“Oh, you are a bastard, Leroy. Now go out there and show us all just how much of a bastard you can be!”
The back gate of the pit-side holding pen is opened, and Gibbs is shoved into it by one of the guards. Scott waves at him and then disappears, presumably to return to his seat.
Steve is standing at the front of the pen, waiting for his fight to begin. His fingers are bitten down to bloody stubs, and he’s clearly trying to psych himself up and get into the right headspace for what lies ahead.
“Just focus. Don’t let your opponent get into your head,” Gibbs advises him. “Stay calm – and Steve?”
“Yeah?” Steve looks at him, his eyes dark, his pupils dilated from the drugs.
“Remember to breathe.”
Steve grins at him and holds up both thumbs. Then the front gate of the pen is opened, and the guard prods Steve out into the arena.
Gibbs watches him go, taking up position at the front of the pen to oil up again and watch the fight. This is the first time he’s ever been made to fight twice in one night, and he feels angry at the change to his routine. He got himself all psyched up to fight earlier and thought that was behind him for another week, only to find that he has to go out there and do it all over again.
He can’t spare any sympathy for Steve, or for the newbie he’s going out to fight shortly, or for anyone else. If he’s to go out there and win then he has to block out everything and everyone and concentrate. He’s at a disadvantage; he’s already fought one tough bout tonight, and he’s bruised and tired, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to lose to a newbie.
He has to find that anger from earlier and reconnect with the hunger to win. Hurrell and all his moralizing can go to hell; he’s going to need the dark wolf tonight, so that’s the one he’s damn well going to feed.
Tony isn’t sure why Walid is so interested in him watching this fight. It seems like a hopeless mismatch to him. There’s a skinny, lanky kid, probably in his early twenties, whose moves are all over the place, pitched against one of Walid’s men who he remembers from the drive over here in the truck. It’s the guy who told him to shut up repeatedly; Spencer, someone called him.
Spencer is a thickset guy with jet black hair. He moves with a kind of feline grace, and it’s clear from the outset that the skinny kid doesn’t stand a chance against him.
“At least the other fights were more equal – height, weight, skill,” Tony points out to Walid. “This one’s a no-brainer.”
“Is that so?” Walid’s long, elegant fingers stroke a ring on his right hand. “Three fights in, and you’re already an expert, are you, Tony?”
Tony rolls his eyes and settles back to watch as Spencer makes short work of the skinny kid. It doesn’t take long before the kid is lying on his back in the sawdust, screaming his head off, blood pouring from his nose.
“Like I said,” Tony mutters, looking away. He hates the next part, the fucking part. It makes him feel sick.
Walid leans forward in his chair, an intense look in his eyes, and Tony looks back, curious.
The crowd is standing up and jeering and down in the pit something unexpected seems to be happening. Tony cranes his neck to get a better view.
Spencer is standing back, away from the man he just defeated, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Do we have a refusal to fuck?” the commentator yells excitedly. “It looks like we do!”
The crowd goes wild, yelling out something Tony can’t decipher.
“It looks as if our esteemed patron, Prince Walid, will have the deciding voice in this round!” the commentator declares.
The crowd erupts into a long bout of yelling and caterwauling that seems to go on for ages. Walid sits on his throne, craning his head and cupping his ear theatrically as if he’s trying to hear what they’re saying.
Then Walid stands up, and the crowd goes silent. Down in the pit, Spencer is looking up at Walid with an expression of stubborn desperation in his eyes. The skinny kid starts to shake and sob, looking terrified.
Walid moves forward, where everyone can see him, and Tony can see that he’s soaking this up. Walid is loving every second of it, and Tony is reminded again of the gladiatorial contests of Ancient Rome, where someone’s life rested on whether the emperor turned his thumb up or down. In this particular arena, Walid is the emperor; this is his game, and it’s played by his rules.
Down in the pit, the referee has a gun in his hand and waits for the decision.
“So, Prince Walid – what’s it to be? Which of these fighters pays with his life?” the commentator asks gleefully.
You could hear a pin drop as Walid ponders his decision.
Tony gets to his feet, his throat dry. “Walid…you can’t be serious,” he says urgently, moving forward. A guard intercepts him, grabs him, and throws him back down on the bench. “Walid!” Tony yells.
Walid looks down on the pit, a smile on his face. He flings out his arm dramatically in the direction of the skinny kid, and the referee strides towards him, gun drawn.
“No!” the kid screams. “Please, no…no, no!”
There is no pause, no hesitation, and no mercy. The referee puts his gun to the kid’s head, pulls the trigger, and there is an explosion of blood all over the sawdust.
Tony gazes down on the pit in horrified silence.
“Well, you did ask what happens if the victor refuses to complete the fight in the appropriate way.” Walid smirks at him.
“Shit…did you…I can’t believe this…you just killed him,” Tony whispers in disbelief.
Walid shrugs. “That’s the game, Tony. That’s how it’s played.”
Gibbs stands in the holding pen, watching angrily as Steve’s lifeless body drops to the floor a few feet away, blood pouring out of the wound in his head.
He hears a strangled sob behind him and turns to see that Hurrell has just been shoved into the pen to wait for his fight.
“Steve?” Hurrell yells, all the blood draining from his face as he sees the tail end of what just happened. “Steve?” He presses himself against the bars at the front of the pen as a net is thrown over the corpse and it’s dragged through the sawdust, out of the pit. It’ll be thrown in an incinerator, and the ashes and bones buried somewhere nobody will find them; Gibbs has heard the guards talking about what happens to the bodies.
Hurrell looks broken, and Gibbs grabs his arm and squeezes tight to keep the man upright.
“He had a girlfriend…and a little kid…shit…he was just a kid himself,” Hurrell tells him. “He was a person…he was real… and they just snuffed him out like he was nothing. The fucking bastards.”
There is nothing Gibbs can say to make this any better. All he can do is try and prevent there being two tragedies tonight instead of one. His own fight is next, and then Hurrell will be forced out there into the pit after him. The man has to get his head on straight if he’s to stand any chance of winning after this.
“Find your own dark wolf, Hurrell,” he says urgently, shaking him hard. “Find it, use it, and win, because that’s the only way to survive.”
Hurrell stares at him from blank eyes. “I can’t fight…I can’t fight after that…”
“Yes, you damn well can!” Gibbs roars. “It’s a war, Hurrell, and you’re a Marine. You’ll do what I do – you’ll go out there and fight, and win, and fuck, and that way we both get to stay alive tonight.”
He’s so angry that he wants to get out there and fight right now. He wants to take out all his anger, rage, and pain on his next opponent in the pit, to slam his fist into an anonymous face and take his revenge for Steve’s senseless death.
Tony stares down at the pit as the dead body is pulled through the sawdust, trailing blood in its wake. The mood in the arena is ugly, shock and bloodlust warring with each other, making the crowd jittery. They loved what just happened though; Tony is sure about that. It might have been shocking, but they loved the thrill and excitement of watching someone being executed in front of them.
He looks up to find Walid staring at him thoughtfully. “So, Tony, I think you understand us a little better now, no?” Walid asks.
Tony has a sudden, bleak flash of understanding as to why Gibbs is the way he is, and how the man he once knew has turned into the hungry predator he saw in the pit this evening. It’s only a flash though. He can’t truly comprehend just how fucked up Gibbs must be after enduring five months of this.
“I saw the look Spencer gave you,” Tony says slowly. “He was very hyped up in the truck earlier; they all were, but he was particularly on edge. I think…” The truth dawns on him with sickening clarity. “I think you arranged this, Walid, as an object lesson for me. Spencer was supposed to refuse, wasn’t he? That’s why he was looking at you like that. You promised him you’d choose the other fighter, not him, to take the fall for his refusal.”
Walid gives a broad smile. “Ah, Tony, so you are not quite the idiot you like to appear!” He claps Tony on the arm. “Now, my dear Tony, you have watched for long enough. You must be longing to take part, no?”
Tony’s throat goes dry. “No.” He shakes his head. “No, Walid. Don’t do this.”
“But I want to.” Walid shrugs. “This is the most fun I’ve had at a Fight Night in quite some time, Tony. I enjoy games you see, and this is turning out to be the best game of all. I want to see it reach its conclusion. I am still unclear as to what that might turn out to be.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a square of silk fabric, in a deep red colour.
“I got this especially for you, Tony,” he says, in a pleased tone of voice, as if giving Tony a gift. “Usually with new fighters we use a black hood, but for you, I thought red was more fitting.”
Walid gestures to his guards, and they grab Tony’s arms and hold him still while Walid shakes out the red square of silk to reveal that it’s a hood. Tony tries to twist away, but the hood is thrown over his head and something is pulled tight around his neck, keeping it in place.
“Ah, that’s good,” he hears Walid say with a chuckle. “What better treat to throw to a wolf than his own Little Red Riding Hood?”
The crowd is in a restive mood after the killing. It’s energized them, tapped into their bloodlust, and made them crave some new excitement to slake their thirst.
Gibbs knows he has to focus. He has to forget about Steve and just concentrate on winning this next fight.
He closes his eyes, listens to his own breathing, and shuts down every part of himself except what he needs to survive.
When he hears the gate opening his eyes snap open, and he’s in the zone, ready to go.
He prowls rather than walks into the pit. He can smell Steve’s blood and feels the electric mood in the crowd. They’re excited, and the killing wasn’t enough; they want more.
Gibbs ignores the crowd, the way he always does. He despises them. They’re weak people who get their thrills from violence, rape and murder. If it weren’t for people like them, then people like Scott and Walid wouldn’t exist.
He pauses to dip his hands in the sawdust. He’s oiled his body, identifying any weak spots from his previous fight. He knows he has to protect his ribs, and he knows he has to make this quick because he’s got less stamina than usual from fighting once already. But he has no doubts. He’s the dark, ruthless, hungry wolf he has to be in the pit, in order for both himself and his opponent to survive. This newbie won’t stand a chance against him.
The gate over on the opposite side of the pit is opened, and the newbie is pushed out. He stumbles, and one of the guards grabs him and hauls him upright. He’s hooded, like all newbies, although the hood is red instead of black this time, for some reason.
“And what do we have here?” the commentator crows excitedly. “It seems our favourite Wolfman is back in the pit again in an unusual move by his owner, James Scott. And Prince Walid wants to field a newbie against him, which means we are literally throwing our newcomer to the wolf! Place your bets now! Does the newbie stand any chance against one of the strongest fighters ever to grace the pit? Or does Prince Walid have something special to show us? Let’s find out!”
Gibbs hardly listens to the words; he’s too busy concentrating. The newbie’s hood is removed, and Gibbs makes his usual fast assessment. His opponent is about six feet – possibly more as he looks to have an inch or so on himself. Broad shoulders, toned body, but not fighting fit. This guy doesn’t spend a lot of time in the gym, but he’s solid and can handle himself. The idiot still has a full head of hair – being a newbie he hasn’t figured out you have to keep it shaved or an opponent can take a handful of it during a fight and bring you down. He also hasn’t oiled himself, so he’ll be easy enough to grab and throw into the sawdust.
Gibbs starts circling, making mental adjustments as he prowls around his prey, who is just standing there, trying to talk to him. Gibbs doesn’t listen; newbies often think they can reason their way out of the pit, but the pit is about the least reasonable place on Earth. Reason, sanity, humanity…none of them belong here. This place is about raw survival, as Steve just found out all too brutally.
Steve…Gibbs feels a surge of anger at the loss of his stable-mate, and he runs forward and lands a couple of good punches. It feels good. The idiot newbie puts up his arms in defence, but makes no attack in reply. Good. The newbie is too shocked to stage much of a fight, so he should go down easy.
“Gibbs!” Tony says urgently, ducking away from a blow aimed at his midriff. “For God’s sake – it’s me, Gibbs!”
He can see by his boss’s dark, dilated pupils that he’s drugged up to the eyeballs, but something else is going on here too. Gibbs is so focused on him as an opponent that he can't recognize him for who he is. Tony has seen Gibbs like this before, when he was pursuing Ari after Kate died, but back then Gibbs wasn’t lost to himself like he is now. He was intent on his revenge, but he was still reachable, still himself.
Now, it’s like he’s someone else. Tony can imagine this was how Gibbs was after Shannon and Kelly were killed. He always turns in on himself when he’s hurting and finds some dark place inside where he nurses the anger close until he can find a way to let it out. Usually that’s in a case, or by himself with a punching bag. Tony has seen him after a bad case, just punching away in the NCIS gym. There is a similar look of intense concentration on his face now, and Tony can’t see a single trace of the Gibbs he once knew in the predatory figure standing in front of him.
Gibbs moves in again, all prowling grace, and Tony knows he doesn’t stand a chance against him. He’s never bested him in any of their sparring sessions in the past. Gibbs is just…Gibbs, and Tony doesn’t remember anyone ever beating him in a fight.
His intention here isn’t to win in any case; it’s to stop Gibbs hurting him too badly. He’s seen the people they’ve dragged from the pit after a fight. He doesn’t want Gibbs to beat him to a pulp and live with the guilt afterwards. If he’s capable of feeling guilt these days because it looks like he isn’t capable of feeling anything right now.
There’s nothing in those icy blue eyes except a desire to win.
“Gibbs…it’s me, Tony. Listen to me, will you?” he hisses urgently.
Gibbs gives no sign of having heard him. There is no recognition in his eyes as he feints one way and then lands two vicious punches to Tony’s gut. Tony lurches out of range, holding his side, panting heavily.
“Look, I know they’ve fed you drugs, and I know they’ve kept you locked up for five months and done God knows what to you, but you have to listen to me,” Tony says urgently. “Because you’ll really regret this later if you don’t. Well, I think you will. Maybe it’s always been your dream to fight naked with me in a pit while a bunch of people watch, but can I just say that it’s the kind of thing that’s much sexier as a fantasy than it is in reality…”
He reaches up and slaps the back of his own head for the inanity of what he’s saying. Gibbs is still prowling around him, circling, looking for weaknesses – Tony can see his cold assessment of Tony’s skill as a fighter in his eyes. There is nothing in them to suggest that the Gibbs of old is even still alive in there. He might as well be a completely different person.
How the hell is Tony going to reach him?
His opponent talks and skips out of reach and then talks some more. It’s getting boring, and Gibbs decides it’s time to bring him down.
He moves in to deliver a knockdown, but his opponent surprises him with a feint to the left that disguises an agile move to the right. It’s a move Gibbs is familiar with because it’s one of his own, and one he taught to many young Marines when he was a gunny. Something about it niggles at him, and his gut tells him that he’s missing something important. He’s just not sure what.
He ignores it. The pit isn’t a place to have doubts. He goes back in for another attack, and finally his opponent decides to fight back instead of just defending himself. He lands a glancing blow to Gibbs’s jaw; it wouldn’t normally be enough to bring Gibbs down, but his foot slips on something in the sawdust, and he goes down, briefly, breaking his fall with his hand and getting up again before his opponent can take advantage of his moment of weakness. He glances down to see what made him slip and sees a patch of Steve’s blood that they must have missed when throwing down the new sawdust.
The memory of what they did to Steve ignites the anger he needs to win. He feels it rise up inside, and he channels it, the way he always does out here. Steve, Shannon, Kelly, his mom…all the unnecessary deaths coalesce in one angry ball of hate, and he throws himself on his opponent. He’s so furious right now that he just wants to kill, and he forgets everything else. He can’t see the pit, or hear the crowd. He’s just a killing machine; there is nothing else in his heart as he brings his opponent down.
He straddles his victim, pinning the man’s shoulders into the sawdust with his knees, and grabs a handful of the man’s thick brown hair. Then, holding him in place, he delivers a savage punch to his jaw, and then another.
It feels good to let it out, to release all the pent-up anger and hate and take it out on the flesh and blood beneath him. He wants to bury his fist in this man’s face, to have his revenge by proxy on Walid, and Scott, and Hernandez, and the drunk driver who killed his mom. He’s not sure there is any limit to his anger. It’s like a bottomless pit and every time he goes back down he finds more and more of it, a black hole of rage and fury.
He’s hitting his stride, raising his arm for another blow…but then his fist is caught in mid-air. Somehow his prey has got an arm free and is blocking his punch. He can feel a vice-like grip around his wrist…but instead of pushing him away, the man beneath him is pulling him forward.
“Boss? Boss! Snap out of it!”
He’s so close. A few more punches, and he’ll claim his victory…if he can just pull his arm free…
“Jethro!” It’s the first time anyone has called him by his preferred name in months. “Jethro – it’s me – Tony!”
He feels a sharp slap on the back of his head and, at the same time, the words penetrate his consciousness. His opponent uses his moment of disorientation to take hold of his face between his hands, forcing him to look at him, and Gibbs finds himself staring into a pair of familiar green eyes. They’re so familiar, and so incredibly out of place in this nightmare, that the jolt of recognition feels like a stab in his gut. He draws back his fist to punch again, wanting his victory, craving his victory, and then pauses…
“Tony?” Sweat falls into his eyes, and he blinks it away. His chest is rising and falling heavily, and he feels like he’s on the brink of falling. He can’t force all the anger and hate back inside. He wants to fight, and hurt, and win. He wants to land blow after blow on his opponent’s face. He wants…“Tony?” he says again, in disbelief.
“Yes. It’s me, Gibbs.”
It’s as if he can see clearly for the first time in months, and yet it doesn’t feel real. How can Tony have been transported from that other reality, so long ago, into this one? Tony doesn’t belong here; this isn’t his world.
“You…” Gibbs glances up to see Walid standing high up in the stands above, watching them intently. He remembers the little smile the man gave him earlier. Gibbs has spent the past five months wondering if Tony had forgotten all about him, and now he wishes he had. “Oh, Tony,” he says brokenly. “You stupid, fucking idiot.”
“Good to see you too, Boss.” Tony grins, and then, unexpectedly, he throws a punch that hits Gibbs a glancing blow on the chin, throwing him backwards.
Tony gets to his feet and circles him. “Sorry about that. Wanted to buy us some time.”
“Tell me there’s a plan,” Gibbs asks as they mock parry. “Tell me you have backup, Tony. Tell me we’re going to be rescued.” He wants to feel relief. He wants to believe that this is the end, and he’ll soon be rescued, but the fact Tony is fighting in the pit makes him doubt that’s the case.
“Sorry, Boss. No backup. Finding you was the plan.”
“That’s the plan? Christ, Tony. What a stupid plan!”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone else said too. Well, everyone except Ziva. She thought it was ‘bold’.” Tony feints to one side and then gets in close and lands a blow lacking any real weight to Gibbs’s midriff.
“Then why the hell…?”
“It’s been five months! I ran out of options!”
Now it all makes sense. The second fight, the smile Walid gave him, hell, even the stupid red hood Tony was wearing…they’re just puppets being made to dance to Walid’s tune.
And now he has a decision to make – and fast. “So if there’s no rescue…”
“Yeah,” Tony says grimly. “I saw a few fights earlier, Gibbs. I saw you fight earlier. I know what happens next.”
Does he? Does he really have any idea? Gibbs doesn’t see how he can. You can’t understand the reality until you’ve experienced it.
He throws a punch to Tony’s jaw that glances to one side, skimming the surface. He’s weighing up the options as he goes through the motions of the fight.
He could throw the fight, let Tony win…but is Tony capable of doing what he has to do? Because if he isn’t, then Steve’s corpse won’t be the only one dragged from the pit tonight.
“Did they give you any drugs?” he asks, closing in on Tony with a flurry of punches that look more powerful than they are. He knows the answer to that already; Tony’s eyes are clear. He’s clean.
If he throws the fight, and if Tony can somehow manage to fuck him, which Gibbs doubts, then he’ll be Walid’s property. Was that part of the plan? Did the sneaky bastard think he’d neutralize his biggest competition by throwing this curveball into the contest? Gibbs is all that stands between Walid’s best fighter, McIntyre, and victory.
If he loses, then he and Tony both go into Walid’s setup as newcomers, with all the risks that entails. Gibbs has spent five months in Scott’s stable. He knows the guards, the routine, and the people. He stands a better chance of protecting Tony as Scott’s prize fighter than as just another loser in Walid’s stable.
But can he do what he has to – to Tony? He’s fucked fighters before, countless times, but he didn’t know any of them. He didn’t allow himself to know any of them, in case he couldn’t do it when the time came. That’s what Hurrell, with all his little kindnesses and his need to get close to people, never understood. Gibbs doesn’t know if he can fuck Tony like he’s just another one of those strangers. He isn’t sure he can do that.
Gibbs once vowed never to be defeated in this pit, but now, for the first time, he doesn’t want to keep that vow.
Tony is watching him closely. Gibbs goes in and grabs his neck, pulling him forward.
“I’ll throw the fight. Let you win,” he growls into Tony’s ear.
Tony shoves him away, twists around, and puts him in a neck lock. “No.” Tony’s arms are strong around his neck, and he squeezes firmly. “I can’t do it. You’ve done it before, Gibbs. You can do it again.”
Tony is right, and he knows it. He has no choice. He’s never damn well had a choice; if he’s learned anything over the past five months, he’s learned that.
Gibbs escapes the neck lock, throws himself on Tony, and brings him down to the ground.
“Stay down,” he orders. “Take the punches. Make it look good.”
Tony finds himself on his back, looking up at Gibbs who is straddling him. A blow connects with the side of his jaw, but there isn’t much force behind it, unlike the blows he took earlier. He gives a loud holler of pain anyway. A blow from Gibbs’s other fist makes his head snap back the other way, and he groans and tries to push up. Gibbs silences him with a third blow, and then a fourth. None of them are as bad as they were when Gibbs meant it for real, but they feel bad enough.
The referee is in the pit, coming over to them, and Gibbs keeps up the frenzied attack on his face. It looks much worse than it is, the frenetic activity hiding the fact that none of the blows is connecting with real force.
Then the referee is pulling Gibbs off him, and he feigns the dazed look he saw on the other fighters’ faces when he was watching earlier. There’s blood running down his jaw from a cut caused by one of Gibbs’s earlier punches and that helps. He shakes his head and the blood splatters over the referee’s shirt.
That seems to decide it – the referee declares for Gibbs, and the crowd goes into their usual frenzy, yelling out obscene comments, most of which seem to relate to Gibbs fucking him.
Gibbs fucking him. The reality of what is going to happen next hits home. It was all very well being noble about it just now, but being fucked in the sawdust in front of a baying mob didn’t feature in any of Tony’s fantasies of what sex with Gibbs might be like. The alternative, him fucking Gibbs, was always out of the question; his cock is resolutely flaccid, and he doesn’t see that changing any time soon, given the situation. At least Gibbs has the benefit of whatever drugs they’ve fed him.
Gibbs is coming back towards him, a grimly determined look in his eyes.
“What?” Tony sits up.
“Your skin isn’t oiled – you oiled anywhere else?” Gibbs asks impatiently. “To make it easier?”
“No.” He can feel himself blushing, but now is no time to play the coy virgin.
The crowd is getting restless, wanting their big finale. “Fuck him, Wolfman!” they chant, over and over again.
Gibbs kneels down in the sawdust beside him. Tony saw him fuck a man earlier without even breaking into a sweat, but now…now he looks lost and confused, as if he’s not sure what to do, and his cock is barely semi-erect. Tony decides he can’t leave it all to Gibbs – he has to play his part too.
“I won’t be raped,” he says fiercely.
Gibbs looks even more confused. “If I don’t, then they’ll probably kill you,” he mutters hoarsely. He drops his gaze to the ground, looking desperately ashamed.
“No…” Tony grabs his head and pulls it up so that Gibbs is looking at him. “I won’t be raped,” he repeats urgently. “Understand?”
He leans forward and kisses Gibbs on the mouth, just gently. It isn’t exactly how he imagined them sharing a first kiss, but it’s the best he can do in the circumstances. Gibbs’s mouth is hard and unresponsive beneath his; he seems shocked.
“What the hell, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asks when Tony releases him.
“Don’t make this rape, Gibbs,” Tony replies fiercely. “Not between us. Give me something back here.”
Understanding dawns in Gibbs’s eyes, and he nods and reaches out to stroke gentle fingers through Tony’s hair.
“Okay, Tony. Show me how.”
Tony grabs his hand and kisses his fingers, smiling at Gibbs. Then he draws Gibbs down on top of him in the sawdust, holding him close. He’s surprised to find that Gibbs is shaking – he’s trembling like a wet puppy, and there’s no trace of the formidable ‘Wolfman’ that Tony saw in action earlier.
Tony wonders when anyone last showed Gibbs anything other than brutality. The man has been kidnapped, forced to fight and fuck at gunpoint, whipped, beaten, and abused for five long months. No wonder he’s shaking right now. Kindness is hard to bear when you’ve become accustomed to being kicked constantly.
“Ssh…it’s okay…I’ve got you.”
He gently caresses Gibbs’s back with his fingers and gradually Gibbs’s shaking subsides, and he gets himself under control. Tony can feel that his cock isn’t anywhere near hard yet though. He knows Gibbs can fuck a stranger in the pit because he’s seen him do it – but put him with a friend, someone he’s worked with for ten years, and he’s floundering badly. Tony knows he has to do something - fast.
“Do you trust me?” He looks up into Gibbs’s eyes and sees a complete lack of comprehension there. Gibbs is out of it right now; he doesn’t know what the hell is going on.
Tony grabs Gibbs’s head and makes him focus. “Do you trust me, Gibbs?” he demands roughly. “I need you to trust me.”
Gibbs nods, his eyes clearing. ”Yeah, I trust you, Tony.”
“Good – then let’s do this.”
Tony wraps his arms around Gibbs’s back, pulls him close, and kisses him again. This time Gibbs’s lips come alive beneath his, and his tongue explores Tony’s mouth eagerly. Tony caresses his buttocks, moving his body rhythmically against Gibbs’s body, hoping to arouse him that way, and he feels Gibbs’s cock slowly starting to harden. Tony guesses the drugs are making him respond to any sexual stimulus.
The gentle kissing and rocking motion is working, and after a while Tony pushes Gibbs back and reaches down between their bodies to caress his cock. Gibbs gives a startled grunt, and Tony can see that he’s visibly torn between the sheer torture of this situation and the drug-induced demands of his own libido. He’s disoriented, thrown by the fact he can’t just fuck a faceless stranger.
Tony knows that he has to take charge here, or this whole thing will end in a swift gunshot to the head for one of them. He wonders whether Gibbs has any experience with men – has it only ever been this brutal rutting in the pits, or has he ever known what it’s like to make love to a willing guy? Tony’s thankful for his own extensive experience with men over the years, or he doubts he’d be able to handle what he has to do next.
“Come on, lover boy, let's move this along…”
Tony rubs his fingers in the oil on Gibbs’s skin and then dips them into his own ass, oiling and stretching it. It isn’t ideal, and he knows this is going to hurt like hell, but it’s better than nothing, and the oil will ease the way a little.
The crowd has gone completely still, shocked into silence by what they’re doing. Tony bites back a desire to laugh. It serves the bastards right; they want their fucking to be about degradation, force and humiliation, but he’s giving them something very different. He hopes it damn well chokes them.
Tony returns his hand to Gibbs’s cock. He slides his fingers over it, rubbing it to full hardness, and then he guides it between his open legs. Gibbs’s pupils are dilated, and Tony can see that the desire to fuck is so strong it’s almost overwhelming him. Yet Gibbs is holding back because of who is beneath him; Tony can see it in his eyes.
“Do it,” he urges, opening his legs wide to give Gibbs more access. “Give in to it, Gibbs. It’s fine.”
Under normal circumstances, Tony thinks he’d probably be pleased that Gibbs is so well endowed, but right now it’s not exactly a blessing. He bites back the hiss of pain as Gibbs sinks into him. He wasn’t properly prepared for such a large intrusion, but he doesn’t want Gibbs to feel bad about that so he pulls him into his body, welcoming him in, trying to relax as best he can around his large cock. It feels like he’s being stretched beyond endurance, and it’s sore as all hell, but he breathes deep and reaches up to pull Gibbs’s head down and kiss him again.
Gibbs is moaning softly, his body bucking into him helplessly, driven by the drugs they’ve pumped into him. Tony can feel his shame and pities him for it. He’s done all he can to lessen the horror of what they’re being made to do, but for a proud man like Gibbs, being forced to commit this act with a friend in this brutal way has to hurt.
Tony keeps kissing Gibbs fiercely, trying to remind him that although they’re both being made to do this against their will, he is an active participant. This isn’t something Gibbs is doing to him; it’s an ordeal they’re sharing.
Finally Gibbs comes, with an agonized gasp, and Tony lies back in the sawdust, panting, keeping his gaze locked on Gibbs’s face. They did it. Somehow they’ve managed to stave off death for at least a little while longer.
Tony smiles up at Gibbs, and Gibbs manages a tight little smile in return, but there is something dark and ominous in his eyes.
Gibbs withdraws from Tony’s body and glances up at the watching crowd.
They stare back at him, still deathly silent, in total shock. Gibbs gives them a slow, murderous glare, sweeping the entire arena with a look of utter contempt, and you could hear a pin drop.
Gibbs looks back down at Tony, the contempt fading from his eyes.
“Do you trust me too, Tony?” he asks.
Tony isn’t sure what’s about to happen next, but he knows his answer. “I trust you, Gibbs,” he says, without any hesitation.
Gibbs runs a gentle hand through Tony’s hair. “Atta boy, Tony,” he whispers in Tony’s ear.
Then he takes hold of Tony’s left hand, grabs the index finger, and, with a sudden unexpected jerk, breaks it. It makes a loud cracking sound, and Tony yowls in pain. He tries to draw his hand away, but Gibbs has it in an iron grip and won’t let go. Instead of releasing him, he breaks Tony’s second finger instead.
The crowd goes wild. They didn’t understand the kissing, or the gentle, face-to-face love-making that was so different from the primal rutting they expected. But this savage climax, after so much disorienting tenderness, is something they do understand.
Gibbs is still fixing him with that steadfast gaze, never once breaking eye contact. Tony nods and clings onto him, one arm wrapped around Gibbs’s body for support as he breaks Tony’s third finger. Tony screams and buries his head in Gibbs’s shoulder.
“Trust me, Tony,” Gibbs says softly – and then he breaks his pinkie.
Gibbs doesn’t spare the crowd a second glance as they burst into cheers of approval at his brutality.
Tony is lying crumpled in the sawdust beside him, and he’s clearly in no shape to go anywhere.
One of the guards gets into the pit and throws a net over Tony, preparing to drag him out, but Gibbs has no intention of allowing Tony to endure that indignity. He shoves the guard aside and squeezes Tony’s arm to get his attention.
“Gonna carry you, Tony. Hold still.”
Tony nods, that indefatigable gleam of pure Tony shining in his eyes, even though he’s shattered right now.
Gibbs pulls Tony to his feet, net and all, and slings him over his shoulder. Tony’s heavy, but Gibbs can handle the weight. He shifts to a more comfortable position, then walks back towards the holding pen with his head held high.
“Didn’t want the bastards to see you couldn’t walk out of there,” he tells Tony as he puts him down. He swipes the net aside, and Tony slumps against the bars of the pen; he’s clearly in shock, but he’ll live.
“Thanks, Boss.” Tony gives him a faded smile, and Gibbs wants to find out every single damn thing about what is going on. How did Tony find him, why is he here, and what’s his plan – because Gibbs is sure there’s some kind of plan. He wants to know what the hell has been happening out in the real world, but now isn’t the time or place.
He crouches down beside Tony and gently wipes a streak of blood from his face. It isn’t much comfort, but after what they were just forced to do together, Gibbs is wary of getting too close. He has no idea how Tony feels about him right now.
Their respite is only brief, as one of Scott’s guards arrives to prod them out of the holding pen. Tony is out of it and can’t even stand. Gibbs isn’t surprised; between being brutally fucked and having his fingers broken, he wouldn’t expect Tony to be able to walk right now. The poor bastard is new to this. Without saying a word, Gibbs hauls Tony up, swings his arm over his shoulder, and helps him walk to the truck.
He can see Scott hurrying towards them as they reach it. He puts Tony down against the wheel and stands in front of him, guarding him. It feels strange having someone to care about after all these months of not allowing himself to care about anyone.
Scott looks furious as he charges up to them. “Damn it, Leroy, what the hell was that?” he explodes when he reaches them.
Gibbs shrugs. “Well, you said I should put on more of a show after a fight.”
Scott gazes at him for a moment and then all his puffed up anger seems to dissipate. He gives a loud belly laugh and slaps Gibbs heartily on the arm. “I did, didn’t I? I didn’t mean anything like that, but it definitely shook up the crowd! What an evening! First the refusal and then that; people are calling it the best Fight Night ever!”
He glances down at Tony. “So, this is the new fighter you’ve won for me, huh? He showed some promise before you pulverized him.” He kneels down beside Tony and takes a good look at him, his gaze raking over Tony’s naked body, and Gibbs has to bite back the protective growl that rises unexpectedly in his throat. “Did you have to break his goddamn fingers, Leroy?” Scott says plaintively, glancing up at Gibbs. “I won’t be able to put him in the pit until they heal!”
Gibbs looks down at Tony who looks straight back up at him, a spark of gratitude flashing in his weary eyes. Now he understands why Gibbs broke his fingers. It wasn’t easy, but it was the only way Gibbs could think of, on the spur of the moment, of keeping Tony out of the pit. It’s a short-term solution but it’s bought them a little time.
“What’s your name, son?” Scott asks, and Gibbs realizes that Scott doesn’t have a clue who Tony is and what he means to him. That means Walid kept him in the dark – and with good reason. Scott thought he was sending Gibbs to fight a newbie – a fight he’d easily win. If Scott had known he was actually going to face someone he knew, a close friend and co-worker…well, then the outcome would have been more unpredictable.
Gibbs decides that keeping Scott ignorant of Tony’s identity is the best way forward, and Tony’s no fool; he’s figured the same thing out for himself.
“Tony,” he replies. “Tony DiNardo.” He glances up at Gibbs, who gives a tiny nod of approval. If Scott knew the truth he might keep them apart, and Gibbs desperately wants news from home.
“Well, Tony, you’re new around here, so I’ll let Leroy here show you how it works. My name is James Scott, and you belong to me now. I think you’ll be an asset to my stable, in time. It’s annoying that this had to happen so close to season end though.”
Scott puts a finger on Tony’s jaw and turns his face sideways, examining his bruises, and Gibbs clenches his fists tightly by his sides.
“Tony didn’t show the same killer instinct you showed even in your very first fight, Leroy, but he gave you a few rocky moments in the pit, and I haven’t seen another fighter do that up until now,” Scott says as he examines Tony’s injuries. “I was watching him closely, and he has something all the best fighters have.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
“He has heart, and that’s an important quality in a fighter. You had him down, but he got up again, and he taunted you, found a few weak spots. We’ll have to work on those, Leroy. But Tony DiNardo definitely has potential.”
Scott gives Tony an assessing look, his eyes raking up and down Tony’s body. “He’s too fat of course – we’ll get him trimmed down, and we’ll work on his strength, get him lifting weights...”
Gibbs isn’t hearing any of it. His temper is on a knife-edge, and he’s putting everything into not hauling Scott’s sorry ass away from Tony and sinking his fist into the bastard’s fat face. He knows the drugs are partly responsible for his anger, but the depth of his sudden protectiveness surprises him all the same.
Tony, meanwhile, is looking at Scott with an outraged expression on his face.
“Hey, did you just call me fat?” he asks, and Gibbs finds himself laughing at the very pointed look Tony is giving to Scott’s fat gut. He’s forgotten when he last laughed, or even what it feels like. There hasn’t been anything remotely funny about the past five months. Only Tony could make him laugh at a time like this.
“Don’t worry, Tony – we’ll soon have you slimmed down for the pit,” Scott says, wrapping a hand around Tony’s bicep. “And we’ll get these pumped up nice and firm too.”
Gibbs can see Tony’s look of disgust at being viewed as a piece of meat – and so can Scott, who gives one of his hearty laughs and pats Tony’s arm. “Better get used to it, son. Your old life is over. I own you now, and if you fuck with me I’ll get one of these nice men to take you out back and flay the skin from your bones. Got it?”
He jerks his head in the direction of the guards, and Gibbs takes a protective step forward. Tony glances up at him and the startled look in his eyes forces Gibbs to calm down.
“Got it,” Tony says quietly. “I won’t give you any trouble, Mr Scott.”
“Good. Then you and I will get along just fine. Now, about those fingers – Dr Tanner will take care of them.”
Scott levers himself up from where he’s crouching in front of Tony and nods at the young doctor, who is hopping around nearby, high as a kite as usual. Gibbs wouldn’t leave him in charge of a dog, let alone trust him to set Tony’s broken fingers, but he knows from experience that Tanner is as good as it gets.
“When he’s done, get them chained up ready for the journey home,” Scott orders the guards, and then he walks back in the direction of the pit.
“Oh man, when he cracked your fingers, and they went snap, snap, snap, snap…and the crowd went nuts…so good… such a great night…” Tanner giggles happily as he disappears into the truck to get his medical kit.
“Shit. Is that guy for real?” Tony glances up at Gibbs.
“Great. Walid’s doctor is a drunk, and this one’s a cokehead,” Tony says in a disgusted tone.
“What d’you expect? They only hire the kind of doctor who can’t get a job anyplace else,” Gibbs replies, crouching down beside him. “Tanner does seem to know something about medicine at least, and he’s all you’ve got, Tony.”
“Not all,” Tony says firmly, and Gibbs gives a nod in return, understanding.
Tanner returns to Tony’s side, opens up his kit to get out what he needs, and then turns back to take hold of Tony’s hand.
“This is gonna hurt like a mother!” he announces cheerfully.
Gibbs puts an arm around Tony’s shoulders and pulls Tony’s face against his neck. “Brace yourself, Tony.”
He nods at Tanner over Tony’s head, and Tanner giggles gleefully and pulls the first finger back into place. Tony gives a hoarse scream into Gibbs’s neck, and Gibbs holds him tight, stroking his hair gently. It’s all he can do – nothing is going to make this less painful.
It seems to take forever for Tanner to set each finger, but finally he’s done, and Tony has a white bandage covering his hand – his face is almost the same colour.
Gibbs isn’t sure why it hurts so much to see them wrap their chains around Tony and tie him up in the back of the truck. It never hurt him to see the other fighters in chains, but with Tony it does. Gibbs takes the seat beside Tony. He might be chained, but he’ll protect Tony any way he can.
A little while later, the truck door opens, and Hurrell is prodded inside. Gibbs was worried he might not be able to do what it took to win his fight after what happened to Steve, but his knuckles are torn and bloody, and there’s a dark expression in his eyes. Gibbs can see immediately that he’s just taken out all his grief and anger over Steve’s murder on his opponent in the pit. It’s a method that’s always worked for Gibbs, but he can only imagine how much it cost Hurrell to embrace his dark side.
“You okay?” he asks, but Hurrell ignores him. After he’s chained into place, he rests his head back on the truck wall and closes his eyes. He looks like a man utterly defeated, even in victory.
Gibbs is aware of Tony studying Hurrell and sees the look of dawning realization on Tony’s face.
Tony turns to him. “That’s…”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Sam? Sam Hurrell?” Tony leans forward as much as his chains allow.
Hurrell’s eyes open wearily. “Yeah.” His voice is dull and disinterested.
“My name’s Tony. You don’t know me, but I know all about you. Jan’s told me everything about you these past five months. She’s an amazing woman, and she loves you very much. I know she’d want me to tell you that.”
Hurrell stares at him. An expression of savage anger flares in his eyes and fades just as quickly. “Shut the fuck up,” he snaps, and then he closes his eyes again.
“People keep saying that to me today,” Tony mutters, sitting back again.
“Leave him. It’s been a hard day,” Gibbs says.
“Tell me about it!” Tony gives a little laugh. “First I got drugged, then I got kidnapped, and then I had a weird conversation with the mad hatter in charge of this whole Alice in Fight Club Land. After that some big bastard threatened to rape me, I saw some poor kid get killed in front of me, I had to fight you in the pit, I had the least enjoyable first time sex ever, and my fingers were broken and then mended by Doctor Giggles. Tell me it doesn’t get any worse than this, Gibbs.”
“Wish I could.” Gibbs gives a wry shrug, and Tony sighs. He looks pale and exhausted. There are dark bruises on his jaw from their earlier fight and caked blood on the side of his face. “Damn it, I wish you weren’t here, Tony,” Gibbs says quietly.
“Me too, Gibbs. Me too.”
They’re quiet for the next hour or so as the truck fills up with fighters. Then they’re on the road again, back to Scott’s stable. It’s a long drive, and Tony falls asleep, his head lolling against Gibbs’s shoulder.
Gibbs would do anything for Tony not to be here, but some small, greedy part of him is glad that he’s got Tony back by his side. He’s been deprived of so much for the past five months, but he realizes that the one thing he’s missed the most is the man who has had his six for the past ten years.
Across the truck, Gibbs can see Hurrell watching them. On the journey out here, Steve was resting against Hurrell, like Tony is resting against him now, but Hurrell is going back alone. Gibbs has almost despised Hurrell for his need to take care of his fellow fighters, but now he thinks he understands the man a little better, just as he suspects Hurrell understands him a little better too. Somewhere during the course of the night they swapped roles and each of them walked in the other’s shoes.
Gibbs closes his eyes and allows his head to drop sideways, so that he can feel Tony’s thick, soft hair under his cheek.
He thought that Tony had forgotten about him, but he was an idiot. Tony is and always has been his loyal St Bernard; he would never forget. Now he’s back by his side, where he belongs, and Gibbs thinks he can survive anything with Tony here.