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?
He dreams he’s in a cage. Every so often, his captors push a stick through the bars to taunt him, making him angry. He prowls around the tiny cage, becoming more and more frustrated by his captivity. He snarls at his captors and bites on his own paws in distress, making them bleed.
Sometimes they put a chain around his neck and drag him out. They wrap a muzzle around his snout so he can’t bite them, and they beat him until he’s good and angry. Then they remove the muzzle, throw him into a pit, and make him fight.
When he’s done they hurl him back into the cage, and the whole cycle starts all over again.
He wakes up howling. Someone puts a hand on his head and strokes him gently, and he hears a familiar voice whispering something in his ear. He doesn’t know what it’s saying but the sound of the voice calms him, and he sleeps again.
This time Gibbs dreams that they beat him so hard with the stick that a piece of it breaks off and gets lodged in his paw. He tries to bite it out, but that just pushes it in deeper. When they throw him out into the pit, he’s sore and limping.
They send a man out into the pit to fight him, and Gibbs prowls towards him, snarling, wanting to tear into his flesh with his teeth. He wants to hurt someone else as badly as he’s hurting, but when he gets close, the man rolls over and smiles at him.
“Hey, it’s me,” he says. “It’s Tony.”
Gibbs doesn’t know what to do next. Nobody has ever smiled at him in the pit before. Tony sits up and holds out his hand. Gibbs limps closer, warily, and Tony reaches out and gently touches his fur, stroking his head. It feels good. He wants to be angry, but instead he stretches out and lets Tony pet him. Then Tony touches his injured paw with careful fingers.
“This will hurt, but afterwards you’ll feel better,” he says softly.
Tony takes hold of the splintered stick and tugs it out of his paw. Gibbs howls, but the pain only lasts a few seconds. Then it fades, and he does feel better. He licks Tony’s hand, and Tony pulls him close and holds him, kissing his fur.
Gibbs rolls over and does something he’s never done before; he allows Tony to touch his belly. Tony strokes softly, cautiously, clearly aware of the great honour he’s being offered. It feels so good that eventually Gibbs falls into a deep, contented sleep.
When he wakes up, he’s not in the cage anymore. He’s lying on something soft, and it takes him a few moments to realize that was a dream; it felt so real. He lies there with his eyes closed, trying to figure out where he is. His body aches, and his head hurts; it feels like someone is drilling a hole through his skull from the inside out.
Slowly, Gibbs opens his eyes and blinks a few times. He’s in a hospital room. The drapes are closed, but he can see daylight around the edges. Even that small degree of light hurts, and he turns his head away with a growl of pain.
“Hey…you’re awake.” Tony’s face looms into view. “Want some water?”
He gives a tiny nod, because anything more than that hurts even worse. Tony puts a glass of water to his lips, and he takes a few sips and then turns his face away.
“Real glass,” he mutters.
Tony holds up the glass of water and nods. “Yeah. Not plastic. Couldn’t stand another plastic cup. You’re in the hospital, Jethro.”
Gibbs squints, wishing it didn’t hurt to keep his eyes open. “How long?”
“A week. You were bleeding into your brain. They had to operate and keep you sedated until the swelling went down, but you’re going to be fine.”
A week? The events of that last Fight Night feel like they happened just a few hours ago. Tony is sitting beside the bed. He looks tired and there are yellowing bruises on his jaw.
“You okay?” Gibbs rasps.
“Me? Yeah. Just…things were hairy for a while. Wasn’t sure you were going to make it.”
“And am I?”
“You want the damage? You were badly beat up, your left eye might never be the same again, your ribs are cracked, you had a sub-dural hematoma, and you’ll get headaches for a while.”
“There any good news?” Gibbs squints at him.
“Yeah – they tested for STDs, and you’re clear,” Tony says quietly.
In view of the amount of unprotected sex he’s had in the pit over the past few months, that’s a miracle. Then he remembers that Tanner ran blood tests on every newcomer, so maybe anyone with an STD was screened out before they were thrown into the pit.
“Me too. Clear I mean. Although that’s not a surprise as I only slept with you,” Tony adds.
Gibbs looks at the crumpled blanket and pillow on the armchair in the corner of the room.
“You been sleeping here?”
“Yeah. No worse than those thin mattresses in the stable.” Tony shrugs.
“He yelled at me a bit. Said I was running out of leave time, and to get my ass back to NCIS. But I told him I still had my leave because I was on an NCIS undercover op, even if he did only sanction it after the event. So hah!” Tony grins. “After the few weeks I’ve had, he really doesn’t scare me anymore.”
“Anymore? He used to?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow and then wishes he hadn’t.
Tony laughs out loud. “Well, I don’t like alpha dogs who try to tell me what to do. They remind me of my dad. Except you, obviously.” He gently strokes Gibbs’s hand with one of his fingers, and Gibbs moves his hand out of the way. He’s not even sure why, just that he doesn’t want to be touched. Tony’s eyes flash with anxiety. “Talking of fathers, I’ve spoken to Jack a few times,” he says quickly, in a clear distraction from the awkward moment.
Gibbs grimaces. Much as he loves Jack, he can’t face him right now.
“He knew you were missing, but I might have implied you were working an undercover op.” It’s Tony’s turn to grimace. “Sorry, Gibbs – but he’s an old man, and I had no leads on where you were. I didn’t want him worrying himself to death.”
“That’s fine, Tony.” He thinks he’d have probably done the same himself, and he’s relieved Tony spared Jack months of worry.
“He knows you’re in the hospital, but I said you needed some time. You’ll have to give him a call when you’re up to it – he wants to hear from you, and I can’t brush him off forever. He’s already suspicious. But I didn’t know what you’d want to tell him – or how much you’d want him to know.”
The last thing Gibbs wants is a hospital visit from Jack, so he’s glad Tony headed that one off at the pass. The last time his father visited him in the hospital was after he was injured in Kuwait, and the time before that was after his mom died. Neither of those visits went well, and he doesn’t want a repetition of either of them. His relationship with his father is much improved these days, but all the same, he doesn’t want to handle the memories that Jack sitting by his hospital bed will inevitably bring up.
Gibbs glances around the room and sees a laptop on a table with some messy piles of paper beside it.
“You set up office in here?”
“Yup!” Tony grins. “Fornell needs my input, and McGee skypes me every few hours.”
“I have no idea what you just said.”
“Never mind. Vance said I have to have a psych eval before I can officially go back to work, and that’s another reason not to hurry.” Tony pauses, biting on his lip.
“I’m not seeing a shrink,” Gibbs says immediately, guessing where this is going.
“Look, I hear you, I’m not happy about it, either.” Tony leans forward. “But you’re gonna have to suck it up if you want your job back, Gibbs. You’ve been gone six months.” He pauses again and then sighs. “Look, they know what happened to us. They’ve seen footage from the cell phones they took from the people in the crowd, and you were on some of that footage. They *know*, Gibbs.”
He doesn’t want to think about that, either. For so long it’s been his own private hell. He can’t stand the thought of other people looking in on it and judging him for the choices he made.
“How the hell can they *know*? They weren’t there.”
Tony nods and leans back again. “They know enough. They’re listening to testimony from all the fighters and spectators and putting together a case. Fornell will want to interview you – he’s running lead on this.”
The idea of talking to his old friend Fornell about any of this makes him feel nauseous. He must have gone pale, because Tony gets up, grabs the waste basket, and shoves it in front of his face just as he hurls. He’s got nothing to vomit up, but he spits out some yellow bile from the pit of his stomach.
The act exhausts him, and he leans back on his pillows. Tony hands him the water again, and he gulps down enough to take the foul taste away.
“Oh look! Fingers!” Tony says, in another clear attempt at distraction. He holds up the hand with the broken fingers and wiggles them around and then winces. “Ouch. They’re stiff and still need some work. But they’re mended. Almost. Kind of. Getting there.”
“And your back?”
Tony shrugs. “It’s fine. The docs have taken a look at it, but there’s not much they can do. It’s healing, but I’ll have permanent scars like you said.”
Gibbs gazes at him, knowing it’s worse than Tony just said. How damaged are they, physically, mentally, and emotionally? The scars go far deeper than their bodies. He feels tired just thinking about that; it’s not a complication he can handle right now.
At that point the door opens, and a man in a hospital uniform enters. Gibbs feels a sense of unease, thinking immediately of Tanner. He’s not feeling kindly disposed to the medical profession in general right now.
“You’re awake, Agent Gibbs! That’s excellent! Agent DiNozzo will be relieved. He’s barely left your bedside for the past week.”
“That so, DiNozzo?” Gibbs glances at Tony, who shrugs.
“Ducky brought me in some clothes and stuff. He’s the only one I allowed to visit. Abby, Ziva and McGee wanted to, but I knew you wouldn’t want them seeing you this way.”
Gibbs grunts. Tony, as always, knows him far too well.
The nurse gives a bright smile. “Well, you’re looking much better. I’m just going to check…” He leans across to the IV line, and Gibbs reaches out and grasps his wrist firmly, squeezing down hard.
Tony stands up. “I told you before, no medical treatment that he hasn’t approved – or me if he’s unconscious. Understand? You run every single thing past either him or me first.”
The nurse gasps out his agreement, and only then does Gibbs release his wrist. The nurse rubs it, gazing at him anxiously. “Well, it’s clear you still have your motor skills. I expect you have a bad headache; I’ll go get you some ibuprofen.”
“Don’t. I don’t want any,” Gibbs growls.
“What did I just say?” Tony says firmly. “He doesn’t want the drugs. He’ll let you know if he changes his mind.”
The nurse gives a wide-eyed nod and scuttles from the room.
“Damn it. I think we freaked him out. None of this is his fault; I’ll go charm him later, buy him a coffee,” Tony says with a sigh. “I made sure they told me every damn drug they were pumping into you while you were out of it, and I checked each one with Abby first. It turns out I’m listed as your next of kin.” He shrugs, gazing at Gibbs intently. “Who knew?”
Gibbs remembers putting Tony down as his next of kin years ago, and he also knows that Tony lists him as his. Tony is the only one he trusts to make the right decisions if he’s unable to make them himself.
“You sure about the pain meds though?” Tony asks.
Gibbs doesn’t reply. He’s too exhausted. He closes his eyes and falls asleep again.
When he wakes up it must be some time later because it’s dark outside, and Tony is talking softly into a headset as he works at his laptop.
He finishes up and turns, then smiles as he sees that Gibbs is awake.
“I got you food. Looks like shit, but they say it’s all you can have right now.”
He helps Gibbs to sit up and then puts a tray in front of him. It does look like shit, but Gibbs eats it anyway. He feels much better afterwards. Tony takes the tray away and then drags the armchair over to the bed and sits on it, putting his feet up on the side of the bed.
“What’s happening?” Gibbs asks quietly. “Did they catch everyone? Did Hurrell make it? Is he okay?”
“Sam’s fine. He did a fantastic job, Boss! He got all the fighters free and neutralised the stable owners and their armed guards, so there wasn’t any bloodshed when our guys showed up. He’s been a great help to McGee and Fornell, pointing out all the bad guys. That took a long time. We arrested a lot of people that night.”
“Walid?” Gibbs asks. “The bastard told me he had diplomatic immunity.”
“Yeah, he bragged about that a lot. But it seems that someone,” he stresses the word thoughtfully, “sent some footage of the fights from Scott’s phone to Walid’s eldest brother.” Tony gives a little shrug. “Seems big bro wasn’t impressed by Walid’s little freak-fest, especially what happened after each fight.” Tony arches his back, wincing slightly, and Gibbs can see he’s finding it hard to get comfortable.
“His brother going to make life hard for him back home?”
“Oh, it’s better than that. Big bro said Walid had dishonoured the family, and he disowned him. He also rescinded his diplomatic privileges just as Walid was getting on a plane to fly home. Shame.” Tony breaks into a shit-eating grin. “Damn it, Jethro, did you really think I’d let that bastard walk?”
Gibbs manages a tight smile. “Taught you well.”
“Yup! You did! He’ll face justice, Jethro – they all will, thanks to you.”
Justice. It’s that itch he always wants scratched. So why can’t he feel that usual sense of satisfaction right now? In fact, he can’t feel anything at all, except a deep sense of emptiness.
“Oh, and here’s something you might find interesting.” Tony takes his feet off the bed and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “It seems that our friend Mac wasn’t a prisoner like we were. I thought it was weird he wasn’t in chains when I first met him, but I forgot about that with everything that happened after.”
Gibbs frowns. “I don’t get it. He was made to fight in the pits, just like us.”
“Nope. He wasn’t.” Tony shakes his head. “It seems that Mac was a huge aficionado of the fights. He watched them from the beginning and after a few years he decided that being a spectator wasn’t enough; he wanted to take part. So he approached Walid and offered to fight for him.”
“What?” Gibbs gives Tony an incredulous look.
“Yup. Seems nuts to me too, but Mac loved the whole thing – the atmosphere, the crowd, the fighting…and the fucking. I guess it’s no weirder than McGee and his online gaming thing.” Tony rolls his eyes. “Only in this case there was nothing virtual about the fighting; he got to experience the real deal. He also loved the fame – I know it’s insane, but having that reputation out there, being loved by the crowd and all the chanting and adulation he got from them – he just lapped that up. He craved it. You saw how he milked it for all it was worth.”
“Yeah. I saw.” In a strange way, Gibbs can even understand it. He never gave a crap about being popular, or the adoration of the crowd, but the adrenaline high of fighting in the pit week after week was definitely addictive. Even though he hated it, he knows that some part of him found it intensely satisfying. “Walid agreed to that?”
“Yup. You know Walid and his mind games – he turned it into a wager to amuse himself. They had a deal; at the end of the season, if Mac won he got to stay on in Walid’s organization as his chief trainer with the big pay check that goes with the job. If he lost, he became the property of his new owner just like any other fighter. Mac had to live in Walid’s stable during fight season and do what Walid said, but he had a lot more freedom than most of the fighters.”
“Figures.” There was always something off about the way Mac seemed to be enjoying it so much; it seems obvious now.
“And, uh…I might have suggested to Fornell that Walid and Mac share a cell.” Tony gives another shit-eating grin. “I thought Walid might like to know what it was like for his fighters to be locked up in a cell all night with the fireman. I doubt Walid has been getting much sleep; Mac’s got an eye for the pretty boys, and Walid’s a good-looking guy.”
“Maybe I taught you too well,” Gibbs says musingly.
Tony laughs out loud, and for a moment Gibbs feels that same sense of ease they had with each other back in the stall. Tony is cut from the same cloth as himself. He has the same sense of natural justice but without the anger and personal baggage. They think the same way, and they share the same fundamental values and way of looking at the world. It’s always been a bond between them.
Then the moment passes and reality comes crushing back in. They aren’t in that stall in Scott’s stable anymore. Everything is different now.
“What about Scott?” Gibbs asks.
“Under arrest, along with Frank, Tanner, McGuire…even Pete. Ellis is too although he’s in the prison hospital right now.”
Gibbs frowns. “He resist arrest?”
“Uh…no. He kind of ran into someone’s fist and took a bit of a beating.” Tony gives a little grimace. “He’s got a broken nose and a broken jaw.”
Gibbs actually manages a grunt of laughter at that. “He shoulda been more careful who he called a pussy boy, huh, Tony?”
Tony gives him a knowing grin, confirming Gibbs’s suspicion about how Ellis got his injuries. Not that he had any doubt.
"SecNav's been arrested too," Tony continues. "The FBI is running an investigation into corruption at the highest level. Not just SecNav, but all the people Walid was bribing and blackmailing - federal agents, LEOs, judges...Walid's tentacles spread far and wide. The FBI seized a huge amount of material from his office - turns out Walid was a meticulous record-keeper, so there are files on everything and everyone. The FBI is going to have some fun going through it all."
"Fornell must have his hands full with all this."
Tony shakes his head. "Fornell is just running the investigation into the fights - there's enough work there alone to keep him busy for a year or two. He had to hand over Walid's files to another team. Hell, I think the FBI is going to need to take on a few new agents to handle it all. "
"So the FBI's gonna take all the credit for busting this?"
"Don't they always?" Tony rolls his eyes. “I’ve written up and signed a deposition stating that I saw Ellis kill Rajul. I’m guessing Fornell will want you to do the same about him killing Ben and Brian,” Tony says quietly. “When you’re ready to talk to him.”
“I killed Brian.” Gibbs closes his eyes, feeling that tiredness sweep through him again.
“But Ellis coerced you…”
“Shut up, Tony. I want to sleep.”
This time, he dreams he’s being chased. Tony is beside him, running with him, but he’s slowing him down, putting them both in danger. Their pursuers are gaining on them, their dogs barking excitedly as they close in. Gibbs decides to turn away from Tony, so that their pursuers will have to split up to pursue them.
“Stop! Wait!” Tony calls, scrambling after him, but they will be faster alone and stand more chance of survival.
It buys them more time, but his breath is coming in heaving gasps, and he’s so tired. He can’t keep running forever. When he realizes it’s impossible to outrun his pursuers, he hides under a bush. If he’s very quiet, and very still, they won’t find him here. He needs to be alone right now, to lick his wounds and heal.
He wakes up to find a woman in the room, talking quietly to Tony. She looks up and smiles at him.
“Agent Gibbs, I’m Doctor Sheldon. I’m glad you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“Fine. When can I go home?”
She smiles. “Soon. First, I want to talk to you about some of the symptoms you can expect. Agent DiNozzo tells me you’re a man who likes to hear it straight, so I’m going to do just that.” She comes over to stand beside the bed. “We did a full blood work up on you when you were first admitted, and you had a cocktail of different drugs in your system. I’ve got a full list here – you can look into them in your own time and feel free to ask me questions if you have any.”
She places a piece of paper on the nightstand.
“There were so many substances in your system that you’re going to feel a difference initially, now that they’re gone. Luckily, you were sedated through the worst of the withdrawal, but you are going to notice a difference in your moods and energy levels.”
“Fine. When can I go home?” he repeats.
She gives a little laugh, combined with a shake of her head. “In addition, you did suffer a severe head injury. As a result of both that and the drug withdrawal, you might experience headaches, sweating, shaking, irritability, mood swings and cravings. There might also be hallucinations – or very vivid dreams – and erectile dysfunction.” She pats his hand apologetically, and he moves it away. He wishes people would stop trying to touch him. He doesn’t like being in here with the bright lights and all the people coming and going.
“I’ll be fine.”
“We can give you some medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms, but Agent DiNozzo tells me you’re unlikely to take it.”
“No.” He shakes his head. “Just tell me when I can get the hell out of here.”
“I’ll do some tests this afternoon. If they’re all okay, and as long as there’s someone at home to check on you, then you should be well enough to go home in a couple of days.”
“I can do the checking,” Tony says.
“Fine,” Gibbs snaps. “Do whatever the hell tests you want so I can go home.”
She nods and walks over to the door. “I said irritability was one of the symptoms,” he hears her murmur to Tony on her way out.
“Oh no, he’s always like this.” Tony grins, but he isn’t close enough to head-slap, and Gibbs isn’t in the mood in any case.
He just has to get out of here. He needs to go home, back to his own house, shut the door behind him, and be alone so that he can heal properly, by himself.
Ducky arrives a couple of days later, bearing the clothes Tony asked him to bring from Gibbs’s house. Tony meets him out by the vending machine in the hallway.
“How is he?” Ducky asks, gazing at Tony earnestly from behind his spectacles as he hands him the bag with the clothes.
Tony shrugs. “He’s, you know, Gibbs.”
“Being gruff with everyone, complaining about the food, and demanding to be released at the earliest opportunity?” Ducky smiles.
“Yup.” Tony grins, rubbing his healing fingers absently.
“A good deal happened while you were away, I think,” Ducky says, in his usual perceptive way.
“You could say that.” Tony gives a wry grunt. “It’s like it was its own little world, Ducky. Like we were living in a bubble. Now we’re back in the real world again, and…” He trails off, shaking his head.
“And you are wondering whether any part of what existed in that bubble can also exist here, in your normal lives?” Ducky asks softly.
Tony looks up to find that Ducky’s eyes are gentle and kind. “I have seen the way you’ve been with him since your return, Anthony,” he says, patting Tony’s arm. “I believe that while you were being held captive, he gave you some indication that your feelings for him were reciprocated. And yet now you are free, you wonder if…”
“If it was the drugs, the captivity, the confined space – being shoved together alone all those nights. See, Ducky, for just a while, I got a glimpse of the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The one he doesn’t show to anyone – and I mean anyone. I bet Shannon was the last person who got to see him. He talked – I mean, really talked. We both did. And I thought I knew where I stood. But now it’s like someone pressed a reset button, and he’s old Gibbs again, and I haven’t a clue where we go from here.”
“Hang on in there, Anthony.” Ducky squeezes his arm gently. “You’ve both been through a terrible ordeal. There will be a phase of adjustment.”
“Maybe. Just…I have this feeling he wants everything to go back to how it was before.”
“It’s his life. He must have been dreaming of returning to it for a very long time.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t in it before – not the way I want to be anyway. So, where do I slot into it now?”
Ducky smiles. “He is, as we both know, an infinitely stubborn man who often doesn’t know what’s good for him. I think, Anthony, you will need to be as stubborn as he is and very patient too. Give him time to figure it out. I think he will, eventually. I have known Jethro a great many years, and one thing I have never known him to be is a fool.”
Tony manages a wry smile at that. “Okay, Ducky. I’ll wait the old wolf out.”
“Wolf?” Ducky raises an eyebrow.
“Just…kind of an in-joke.” Tony smiles.
He returns to Gibbs’s room to find Gibbs emerging from the bathroom, freshly shaved. He’s walking slowly, like every single part of his body aches, but he’s looking much better now.
His face is still covered with bruises and his left eye is badly bloodshot. His knuckles are grazed, and he has a new scar on his forehead. He looks like a battered old dog that’s been in one too many fights but lived to tell the tale.
“Hair’s growing back!” Tony reaches out to touch the silver stubble on Gibbs’s scalp, and Gibbs jerks his head away impatiently. “Here.” Tony hands him the bag of clothes and then goes over to pack up his laptop.
When he turns around again, Gibbs is dressed in a pair of jeans and a navy blue polo shirt – and looking down at himself with a frown. “I thought you said Ducky brought me stuff from home?” He glances up irritably. The jeans are too big around the waist and the polo shirt too small across the chest.
Tony sighs. “You changed shape, Gibbs. Six months on the James Scott diet and exercise plan will do that to a person.”
Gibbs gives him a glare and fastens his belt tight around his waist with an annoyed yank of his fingers, clearly pissed off by the all too visible signs of how much he’s changed.
He refuses to be pushed to the entrance of the hospital in a wheelchair, to nobody’s surprise, so Tony walks him down there slowly.
“Parking garage is this way,” Tony says as they emerge into the late fall sunshine, and then he’s aware Gibbs isn’t with him, and he turns and looks back.
Gibbs is standing just outside the entrance to the hospital looking up at the sky overhead, and Tony can see him almost visibly drinking in the rays of the sun.
Tony goes back over to him. “Been six months, Tony,” Gibbs rasps, his voice barely audible, “Six months since I last felt the sun on my skin.”
Tony stands there, watching, swallowing down the lump in his throat. Gibbs endured six months of captivity; the only time he saw the outside world was when he was about to be thrown into the pit to fight for his life. He only got to feel the wind in his hair and breathe fresh air for one night a week, and then he was thrown back inside, shut away from daylight. Tony has tasted a few weeks of what that was like, but to endure six months of it?
No wonder Gibbs is standing there like a new-born foal, soaking up the sun’s rays and relishing the feel of it on his skin. Ducky’s right; Gibbs needs a phase of adjustment, and Tony intends to give him that, but he’s also prepared to fight for what they had back in Scott’s stable.
And Gibbs might find that he isn’t the only one who fights to win.
People, streets, houses…it all looks so strange after months of artificial lighting and the interior of Scott’s stable. Gibbs gazes out of the car window, feeling tired after the walk down from his hospital room.
His physical weakness irritates him, just as the change in his appearance irritates him. He wants everything back to normal, so he can put this behind him and get on with his life again.
They drive down a familiar street, past familiar houses, and pull up outside his house. It’s his sanctuary, where he can hole up, hide out, and lick his wounds before facing the world again.
He walks slowly up to the door, Tony by his side, opens it, and then turns. Tony pauses on the doorstep, a surprised look in his eyes.
“Yeah. I don’t want you coming in.” He can see the hurt and concern in Tony’s eyes, but he ignores it. “You can go home now, Tony.”
“Doctor says you need someone checking on you,” Tony replies stubbornly.
“So check on me. Call, get Ducky to call, whatever. But I want to be alone.”
Tony is gazing at him thoughtfully, but he makes no move to go.
“Look, DiNozzo, I’ve been locked up with a bunch of guys for six months. I had no say over anything that happened to me, and no place that was mine. Now I do. And I want to be alone in it. Got that?”
Tony nods, and Gibbs nods back and shuts the door in his face…only to find it doesn’t close. He looks down to see Tony’s boot stuck in the way.
“I get it. Really, I do. And you can do the whole Garbo routine and have some time alone, Jethro, but don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, and don’t think I’ll let you do it forever.”
“And what the hell is it I’m doing?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
“Going lone wolf. It’s all you know, I get that – it’s what you always do, and you’re reverting to type, as usual.”
“That so, DiNozzo?”
“Yeah, and that was fine back before I sucked your dick, and you sucked mine, and we both found we liked it. Now things are different. So you can have your time, but don’t think I won’t come flush you out eventually if you take too damn long.”
Gibbs gazes at Tony stonily, and Tony gazes back at him just as stonily, and Gibbs has a sudden realization that the cobra isn’t the most dangerous opponent a wolf can face.
Tony removes his boot from the door. “Like you once said to me, Jethro: if anyone can ever get in your face and make you do something you don’t want to do, it’s me. Remember that.”
Then he turns on his heel and walks back to the car. Gibbs watches him go. They’ve spent so much time together these past few weeks and experienced so much, condensed into that short space of time, that it feels strange to suddenly be alone.
He closes the door and walks slowly, stiffly, into his house. It’s all exactly as he left it, except cleaner. There’s no dust, so he’s guessing someone came here and cleaned it while he was gone; probably Abby.
He opens the fridge and finds it stocked with fresh food and several cans of Caf-Pow. Definitely Abby.
He walks from room to room, just rediscovering his home. He loves this place; he lived here with Shannon and Kelly, and a part of his soul resides here with their memories. Occasionally he’s heard Kelly laughing, or Shannon running up the stairs calling his name. Sometimes, when he’s sitting at the table, if he looks up quickly he can catch a glimpse of Kelly playing hopscotch in the hallway.
He opens the door to the basement and walks slowly down the stairs, hanging on to the handrail. This room has always been his refuge, where he can shut the door and lick his wounds until he feels restored enough to face the world again.
There is no boat here. There hasn’t been a boat here for a long time. He’s been working on other projects for the past couple of years; mending chairs, making toys, carving a picture frame, and a mirror, and decorations for Mike’s coffin. It was close, intricate work that made him concentrate on something other than his job. It freed up his mind, blocked out his problems, and gave him the kind of peace he never found anywhere else…at least, not until he danced in a small, windowless room with Tony a few weeks ago.
He needs this sanctuary now. He reaches the bottom of the stairs and walks unsteadily over to his workbench. He finds a bottle of Jack there, presumably also a gift from Abby. He opens it, pours some into a mason jar, and drinks it down in two fiery gulps.
Then he limps over to the big table in the centre of the room. It’s strange; he’s been hiding his limp all these months because it revealed a weakness he couldn’t afford to show, but now the old injury from his childhood hurts so much that he can barely walk on it.
His knee gives way, and he stumbles and falls down onto the floor. The smell of sawdust is suddenly in his nostrils, and he is immediately back in the pit again. The memory is so sudden, so vivid, and so visceral that it takes him by surprise, and he leans over and heaves up the contents of his stomach onto the floor. The bourbon comes up, scalding his throat as he spits it out onto the sawdust on the floor, and then his last hospital meal, a dull brown spew. He lies there on the floor, panting, and his stomach cramps again, forcing him to heave some more.
When he’s done, he lies back in the sawdust, gazes up at the ceiling overhead, and laughs. Of all the things they’ve taken from him, the ability to enjoy the peace and sanctuary of his own basement is the one thing he never expected.
His apartment is just as he left it. There’s no sign of forced entry; Walid’s men must have picked the lock on his door very carefully. They also took their camera and the remains of the drug-laced pizza with them. They cleaned up after themselves meticulously, leaving no clues behind, just like when they abducted Gibbs and Sam and all the others.
His colleagues have also tidied up; the place has been dusted for prints, and Abby has clearly restored everything to a level of neatness it never possessed before. The kitchen chairs are arranged tidily around the table, and the washing up appears to have been done.
He calls Ducky and tells him to check on Gibbs at regular intervals. Maybe Gibbs is right; they’ve been together almost 24/7 for weeks. Maybe they need a break from each other. It’s definitely nice to be home, back in his own space again.
A glance into the fridge reveals some fresh food, even a bowl of salad with a little post-it note on it with a skull and crossbones in the corner, bearing the message, in Abby’s scrawled handwriting: “Eat this, Tony. It’s good for you!”
“Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen, Abs. I’ve been eating healthily for weeks, and in that time I’ve broken all the fingers on one hand, been slapped across the face more times than I can count, and whipped until I passed out. I now associate healthy food with pain and who can blame me?” He removes the salad from the fridge and throws it in the garbage.
He decides he’s too tired to eat, and he goes into the bedroom, toes off his sneakers, throws himself face down on the bed, and falls asleep almost immediately.
He wakes up with a start when his alarm goes off thirteen hours later. He raises his head and glares at it. It’s weird to think of the stupid thing going off every day while he wasn’t even here to be woken by it.
Today is a workday, and he might as well go in and face that particular hurdle. It has to happen at some point.
He walks into the bathroom and slowly removes the sweatpants and tee shirt he slept in last night. His back aches, but it’s been aching almost constantly since the whipping. He’s been putting this off, but he decides this is another hurdle he has to face at some point.
He thinks about it for a moment, psyching himself up into it, and then he turns and takes a look at his back in the bathroom mirror.
The scars are similar to the ones Gibbs bears on his back, so he knew what to expect, but it’s still a shock to see them on his own skin. He was whipped longer and harder than Gibbs, and the scarring is more extensive as a result. His scars are also fresher and therefore darker than those Gibbs bears, standing out in livid contrast to his pale flesh, and the skin feels knotted and tight; that’s what’s causing all the aching.
He remembers his wrists being bound in rope and hauled over his head, so he was barely standing on tiptoe. He remembers the agony of that first stroke and how holding onto Gibbs’s gaze was all that saw him through it. He remembers how it felt when the blood started flowing down his back.
He turns on the shower and gets under the hot water, knowing that the memory of what happened that day will be as impossible to forget as the scars on his back.
The warm water floods over him, soothing him, and he knows he’d do it all again. That whipping was a turning point, and it was worth enduring it to save not only Gibbs but also Sam, Greg, Matt, and all the other poor bastards trapped in that nightmare. If only he could have saved Steve, Rajul, and the others who died too. He knows he did a good thing, but right now that’s no help.
When Gibbs was whipped, there was nobody to hold his gaze, or touch his hand in the darkness after. There was nobody to talk to him in the night and distract him from the pain. When Gibbs was thrown into the pit there was nobody to make a deal for him, so he didn’t have to fight. And when Gibbs tried to escape, there was nobody to tell him that he was right to try, and that what happened after wasn’t his fault.
Gibbs had five months alone in that nightmare before Tony arrived. He might be Gibbs, he might be a lone wolf who prefers to slink off and lick his wounds alone, but he has to be hurting all the same. If he refuses to let anyone help him, if he shuts out the world and thinks he can push it down and carry on like it never happened, then Tony fears for what that will do to him.
After all he’s been through, and all he’s suffered, Gibbs deserves to have someone put their arms around him and hold him; someone who knows, and cares, and loves him. And Tony wants to do that. He wants to be there for Gibbs, the way Gibbs was there for him throughout that whipping, keeping him strong through the pain and making it clear he’s not going through it alone.
Tony puts his head back and if there are hot tears running down his face he pretends not to notice as they mingle with the hot water.
When he’s done, he gets out of the shower, dries himself, and then slowly returns to his bedroom. He opens up his closet and dresses in a dark grey suit, white shirt, and plain black tie. It’s his work uniform, his Armani armour, just another one of those masks he wears so well, and nobody who sees him will guess what lies beneath, written on his skin and seared into his soul.
Then he smiles at himself in the mirror, the big, bright, happy, Tony smile, and only when he’s satisfied that his disguise is in place, does he go to work.
The elevator pings, and Gibbs prowls out of the doors and into a room with metal tables laid out in rows. There’s a man working at the end table, talking to himself as he looks down on the dead body in front of him. He’s young, with thick dark hair, wearing a pair of glasses that he occasionally pushes up his nose in an earnest way.
Gibbs prowls close, walking silently on all four paws. The young man looks up and then backs away, a scared expression in his eyes; Gibbs can smell his fear from several feet away.
“A…Agent Gibbs…is that you?”
“Who the hell do you think it is, Palmer?” he barks.
“But…it can’t be you,” Palmer whispers, still backing away from him.
“Why not?” He paces closer, tail swishing angrily.
“Uh…well…because I just weighed your heart,” Palmer says, pointing at the corpse. Gibbs turns and finds himself looking down on his own dead body lying on the table, his chest cut open and his heart missing.
He wakes up with a start, wondering where he is and why his head hurts so much.
He’s lying on a bed. His bed. In his bedroom. In his house. There’s an empty bottle of Jack on the nightstand, which explains the headache. He’s missing something though. He fumbles around on the mattress, patting it, wondering what the hell it is he’s missing. He just knows that something isn’t there that should be.
He’s looking for Tony. Where the hell is he?
“Tony!” he mumbles, patting more frantically. Then he remembers; he sent Tony away. He stops patting the empty expanse of mattress beside him and falls back on his pillow. “Stupid damn bed.” It feels too big and open. Too exposed.
He falls off the side of the bed, grabs the mattress, and tugs it onto the floor. Then he hauls it out into the hallway and crams it into the bathroom. It’s a tight fit in the small room, and one side of it squashes up against the tub, but it’ll have to do. He goes back to his bedroom for a pillow and blanket and takes them back to the bathroom.
He’s still wearing the clothes that don’t fit. He doesn’t like how they feel against his skin, all hot and scratchy, as if they don’t belong there. He strips them off and throws them into a heap by the toilet. Then he lies down on the mattress on the floor, pulls the blanket over his head, and falls asleep again.
“Hey – McCavalry, how’s it going?” Tony asks cheerfully as he strides into the squad room.
“Tony! I wasn’t expecting you back for a few days.” McGee comes over and pumps his hand enthusiastically, grinning from ear to ear.
“Well, there’s work to be done, and you know me and how much I love hard work.” Tony winks.
“Uh, no…not really.”
“Sure you do. Here. Catch!” Tony throws a Nutter Butter at him, and McGee catches it deftly in one hand. “Hmm…no fumbling? Who are you, and what have you done with my McGeek?” Tony asks with a suspicious frown.
“Tony!” He’s taken by surprise as Ziva wraps him in a brief hug. Then she draws back, looking embarrassed.
“You missed me!” he says with a big grin. “Go on! Admit it! You missed having me around, Zee-vah!”
She glares at him. “I am simply pleased that I will not have to get used to working with a new field agent. Annoying as you are, I have become accustomed to your strange and often disgusting habits.”
“Aw – and I missed you too, my favourite ex-Mossad liaison officer turned probationary NCIS agent!”
“I am already regretting your return,” she says, rolling her eyes as she returns to her desk.
Tony grins and goes over to Gibbs’s desk, where he was sitting before he got himself abducted. He was reluctant to take Gibbs’s place at first, but sitting here saved him from having to look over at Gibbs’s empty desk and feel that pang of missing the man several times a day.
“Sit rep, McGee! Where are we at, what are we doing, and who are we doing it to?” Tony asks, sitting at the desk and putting his feet up on it.
“Right now, what you’re doing is coming with me, DiNozzo,” a dark voice says behind him, and he can feel his jaw hardening as he realises it’s Vance.
He follows Vance up to his office and takes the offered seat.
“Your team has been giving assistance to Agent Fornell in wrapping up the recent investigation you were involved with,” Vance tells him, taking his own seat behind his big desk. “I’ve told them to hand over everything to the FBI; it’s their case now.”
Tony can feel his hackles rising. Not that he wants to handle the aftermath of this particular case, but he doesn’t like not being consulted about it. “Why?”
“Because you’ve been working on it for long enough, and I want my Major Crimes Response Team back out there working cases again.”
“This was a case.”
“I know; a case that two members of my staff can’t work on because they became victims rather than investigators, and therefore have had to be recused as a result of their personal involvement.”
“You say it like it was our fault,” Tony growls, leaning forward.
“In your case, DiNozzo, it was.”
“If I hadn’t gone in there…”
Vance holds up a hand. “I’m not arguing about this, DiNozzo.” His expression softens. “You did a good job,” he adds in a more conciliatory tone.
“I wish I could say the same of you.”
Vance’s eyes flash, but then he nods. “I was taking my orders from SecNav. I had no reason to distrust him, and I gave you long enough, DiNozzo. You hadn’t made any progress in five months.”
“Because we hit Walid-shaped brick walls whenever we tried to get anywhere!”
“I’m running a federal agency here, DiNozzo. How much longer was I supposed to give you?”
“As long as it took! This was Gibbs we were trying to find. Gibbs!”
“I was running interference for you from SecNav for months! I bought you at least three more than he wanted to give you!” Vance snaps, and for the first time Tony gets an inkling that Vance might not totally be the bad guy here. He didn’t go the extra mile, and he should have, but he wasn’t dirty himself.
There’s silence for a moment. Then Vance sighs. “Is this going to be a problem for you, DiNozzo? Because if it is, I’m sure I can find an assignment for you as an agent afloat.”
Tony nods slowly, understanding. “A problem for me? No. But then I’m not the one you left out there. When Gibbs gets back…”
“If and when Agent Gibbs returns to work, I’ll handle him,” Vance says firmly. “In the meantime, your team will finish helping Fornell wrap up NCIS’s involvement in this case. I expect you to spend the next few days at the Hoover building doing just that – after you’ve been cleared to return to work by Psych Services.”
“Will I be seeing the pretty shrink with the man’s hands? Because I find that disturbing; it’s kind of a mixed message…”
“You can see her this morning. I’ll make the appointment now.” Vance smiles at him sweetly.
“It’s really not necessary,” Tony says, wondering if he can charm his way out of this particular ordeal.
Vance leans forward. “DiNozzo – Tony – I’ve seen your medical report, and I’ve seen some video footage of what went on in Walid’s sick little circus. I think it’s very necessary.”
Tony feels himself flushing. He wonders if Vance has seen footage of Gibbs fucking him in the pit and goes cold. Vance has certainly seen some footage of what went on in the pit, and he must know Gibbs participated too. Gibbs is the most intensely private man Tony has ever known. How can he return to work knowing that his team and his boss have seen him in that way? How does anyone come back from that?
“One more thing.” Vance opens his desk drawer, removes an NCIS badge, and pushes it across the desk towards Tony. “This belongs to you, I believe, Agent DiNozzo.” He stresses the word ‘agent’. “I’ve put a commendation on your file,” Vance adds quietly. “What you did, going into that place without backup, weapons, or authorization, was stupid and foolhardy in the extreme. It was also damn brave. You’re a good agent, DiNozzo. Used to wonder what the hell Gibbs saw in you, but now I know.”
Tony reaches out and picks up his badge, feeling a little surge of pride at having it restored to him.
Vance gives him a tight smile. “Welcome home, Agent DiNozzo.”
For the first time in months Gibbs isn’t woken up by a klaxon or bright lights. Instead, he’s woken by the smell of coffee.
“Hmm…it’s an unorthodox place to sleep, but it does look comfy,” an unmistakably British voice murmurs.
He sits up to find Ducky standing in the bathroom doorway with a cup of coffee from FHC in his hands. The smell alone seems to speak straight to some special coffee gland in Gibbs’s body that hasn’t had its fix for six months, and he sits up and reaches out for it wordlessly.
“Of course, you could choose to remain in your current detoxified state,” Ducky says, giving it to him. “I wasn’t at all convinced that it was a good idea to start clogging up your arteries with caffeine again after all this time, but Anthony insisted.”
“Tony sent you?” Gibbs inhales the coffee deeply before taking a sip. It’s warm and strong, and so alien and yet familiar at the same time that he has to pause to process the moment.
“Yes, he did. In fact, he gave me some rather strict instructions about your health and welfare.”
“No need. I’m fine.” Gibbs savours a second sip, revelling in the sensation of the coffee on his tongue, overpowering his taste buds, which seem to have become enfeebled after months of plain, healthy food.
“Yes, he said you’d say that, and that I’m to ignore it. Which I am.” Ducky comes into the room and crouches down in front of Gibbs. He holds up three fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Gibbs rolls his eyes and pushes his hand away. “President Obama,” he replies facetiously.
“Ah good. You are your usual self. I was wondering.” Ducky gets up and glances around. “And the reason you’re sleeping in the bathroom, Jethro?”
“The bedroom was too big.” Gibbs finishes drinking the coffee, enjoying the buzzing sensation of caffeine circulating in his veins again after so long. He feels a pang as he realizes just how much he’s missing those drugs Tanner used to pump into him. He might have hated them, but they gave him a kind of hyped up energy that kept him going. Without them, he feels drained and tired all the time.
“Hmm…a cryptic reply, but I sense the truth.”
Gibbs gets up. After so many months being naked in front of other people, he doesn’t give any thought to being naked in front of Ducky, so he’s taken by surprise at Ducky’s sharp intake of breath. At the same time, he catches sight of himself in the bathroom mirror, and he stops short, understanding the reason for Ducky’s shock.
He doesn’t look like himself. It’s not just the fact his hair is only just starting to grow back, his left eye is bloodshot, and he has yellowing bruises on his face. It isn’t even the fact that his body is solidly muscled, his abdominal muscles forming a perfect six pack, and his pectorals and biceps hard and bulging. Ducky isn’t reacting to any of those things. Instead, his gaze has gone to the network of marks and scars covering his body from head to toe from his battles in the pit. He looks like a raggedy old wolf that has fought once too often to retain his status as alpha male in the pack.
“Oh, Jethro. What have they done to you?” Ducky asks softly.
Gibbs stares at himself blankly in the mirror. He doesn’t want to think about what they did to him. He can’t allow himself to think about that, because if he does, he isn’t sure where that ends.
“It’s nothing, Ducky,” he says hoarsely, reaching for his bathrobe to cover up the all too obvious evidence that it isn’t.
“Ah, my dear Jethro.” Ducky shakes his head sadly. “Our generation of men – we really are not very good at admitting to our sorrows, are we? You have always locked yours away, nursing them close, unwilling to share your private sadness. We fell out over that once, if I recall.”
Gibbs turns to him, remembering Ducky’s anger that he’d never told him about Shannon and Kelly.
“This is different,” he growls.
“Is it?” Ducky raises an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Ducky, I’m a soldier. I’ve had worse.” Gibbs shrugs.
“Hmm.” Ducky gives him a contemplative look. “I very much doubt that, Jethro. Regardless, I hope that if you have learned anything over the years, it is that it is easier to heal if you first admit to feeling pain.”
Gibbs stares at him. Right now he doesn’t feel anything, but he isn’t going to share that.
“And that you don’t have to bear that pain alone. It isn’t necessary, when you have good friends to help carry a little of the burden.”
“I’m not going to start bawling my head off like a little kid – what the hell use is that?” Gibbs snaps.
“Some might find it helpful.” Ducky gives a shrug. “And even if that’s not exactly your style, Jethro, there might be better ways of managing your distress than pushing away the people who can help you most.”
“I’m not pushing you away!”
Ducky pats his arm gently. “I wasn’t talking about me, Jethro.”
“I’ve read Director Vance’s report on what happened to you, Agent DiNozzo.” Dr Bracco leans forward and steeples her extraordinarily big hands on her desk.
Don’t look at the hands, don’t look at the hands… Tony tries to keep his eyes fixed on her face instead.
“I’ve also read the medical report. You underwent some extreme physical trauma.”
“Extreme physical trauma?”
“You were whipped.”
“Ah. That. Yeah.” Tony shrugs. “But that was weeks ago. I’m well enough to return to work now.”
“Physically – maybe.” She gives a tight little smile. She has pretty eyes. “But psychologically?”
“I’m fine. Look, I was only there for a few weeks. Gibbs was there for months. I didn’t even have to fight in the pit – well, not properly. Not a life-threatening, knock-down fight. I only fought against Gibbs, and I knew he wasn’t going to hurt me. Not really.”
She glances down at her report, but he’s damn sure she doesn’t know about Gibbs breaking his fingers because he never told anyone that, and he’s sure Gibbs hasn’t, either. It could be someone else has, but Fornell is up to his ears in testimony right now, so Tony doubts that particular bit of information has filtered through. She probably knows about the sex-in-the-pit thing though. He refuses to call it rape. It wasn’t exactly the best sex of his life, but he’s not going to saddle it with that name and all that comes with it.
“Gibbs fought dozens of times out there. In comparison to that, what I had to face was nothing.” Tony shrugs.
“Let’s talk about Agent Gibbs then. Will you have a problem working with him after this?”
Tony almost laughs out loud. He has no intention of talking about his feelings for Gibbs to a shrink of all people. Although, maybe he *does* need his head examined for falling for someone as complicated to love as Gibbs. Then again, maybe that’s part of the attraction.
“I always wanted a dog,” he tells her suddenly. “There was this stray, used to hang around outside the house when I was a kid, after my mom died. He was a stubborn mutt. He limped and got into fights, but he’d hang out with me.”
“You were lonely.” Dr Bracco smiles at him encouragingly. She *is* pretty…if it weren’t for the weirdly oversized hands.
“Yeah, I was. I wanted to adopt the dog, but my dad wouldn’t let me. He said the dog was wild – not a house dog. And he was right. That was part of the attraction, I think,” Tony muses. “See, that dog didn’t really like anyone but me, and that made me feel special.”
“Are you saying that’s how you feel about Agent Gibbs?”
“I’m saying I understand Gibbs. I get him. And he gets me. We won’t have any trouble working together.” He crosses his fingers behind his back. Not for that reason anyway.
“He’s been away for several months. You were team leader during that time. How will you feel relinquishing that role to him again?”
“I’ve been team leader for several months before. Wasn’t a problem when he came back and took over again.” He shrugs.
“So you harbour no feelings of ill will towards him?”
Tony laughs out loud. “He’s the single bravest person I’ve ever met. He kept us all alive back there. He got us out of there in one piece at great personal cost.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“No,” Tony says firmly. “I don’t have any feelings of ill will towards Agent Gibbs.” He might want to slap some sense into that stupid, stubborn head of his, but he’s never felt any ill will towards Gibbs. “I’m worried about him. He’s endured a hell of a lot. I’m not sure I could have gone through what he has these past few months without cracking.”
His shoulders are aching, and he grimaces and tries to roll them back. He hates the way the scarring feels so heavy and knotted, like there’s something physically weighing him down.
“I don’t envy you doing a psych eval on Gibbs,” he says with a grin. “He’s a tough bastard.”
She leans back, gazing at him curiously.
“They whipped him too, you know, and he didn’t have anyone there to take care of him afterwards. At least I had him looking out for me, bartering for medical treatment.” Tony shrugs.
“Do you feel then, that because Agent Gibbs’s suffering was so extreme, that you are not allowed to have suffered too, Agent DiNozzo?” she asks quietly.
“What?” He looks into those deceptively pretty eyes, winded by the question.
“All you’ve wanted to talk about since you got here is Agent Gibbs. I understand that you admire his strength and fortitude, but it seems to me you have your own problems, Agent DiNozzo, and focussing on his might be a way for you to avoid facing yours.”
He stares at her. “I didn’t…”
“You lost faith in Director Vance and took leave to pursue your own desperate plan to get Gibbs back. You allowed yourself to be drugged, abducted, and imprisoned. You were physically tortured, beaten and abused. And through it all you stayed strong in order to rescue the people trapped in that horrific situation. Who stayed strong for you, Tony?”
He gazes at her blankly, swallowing hard. “Gibbs,” he says quietly. “We stayed strong for each other. That’s how we got out. When he was down, I lifted him. When I was down, he did the same for me. He’s my partner. We’re a team. That’s what we do.”
He realizes, with a pang, just how much he misses that. As horrendous as it was back there, at least they had each other, but now he feels more alone than ever. He remembers that night before the final Fight Night, when he made Gibbs dance with him. He knows that, given the choice, Gibbs wouldn’t have done that. He only went along with it because he was locked in a small room with him and there was no escape. Gibbs is like that stubborn mutt he befriended as a child; he’s not house-trained, and he never will be.
“And who is there for you now?” Dr Bracco asks. “You’ve both been hurt, and you both need support. Can you give him support, if you won’t ask for any yourself? Does he even know how much you’re hurting? Have you told him?”
No. Gibbs asked, back at the hospital – in fact it was the first thing he asked – but Tony played it down, aware of how much greater Gibbs’s injuries were.
“I’m not hurting,” he says mulishly.
“Your back has been causing you discomfort since you came in, and you haven’t even tried to process your feelings about what happened to you.”
“Pretty eyes and man’s hands; you lure people in and then go for the killer blow, huh?” Tony says, without smiling.
She nods, slowly. “You went through a considerable ordeal, Agent DiNozzo. It will have changed you in some ways. Don’t try and force yourself to be the same as you were before in order to please others – or even to convince yourself that it didn’t affect you. It did.”
Tony looks down at his feet and then up again, into those pretty eyes. “Yeah, I know.”
She smiles. “I’m going to sign you as fit to return to work, Agent DiNozzo. Just bear in mind that there will be struggles along the way and asking for – and accepting – help isn’t a sign of weakness.”
“No, that would be saying you’re sorry,” Tony mutters. She raises an eyebrow. “Never apologise; Gibbs views that as a sign of weakness.”
“You’re not Gibbs, and you are allowed to acknowledge your own ordeal without always comparing it to his,” she says gently.
He gives a bark of laughter at the irony of that, realizing that he’s been doing the exact same thing as Gibbs, in his own way.
How can he expect Gibbs to let him in, when he won’t admit that he’s hurting himself? Back in that stall they couldn’t hide anything, and they had no choice but to reveal their weaknesses to each other. It would seem that now they are free, they are lapsing back into old patterns of avoidance and denial.
Clearly, adjusting to life back in the real world is going to be even harder than he thought.
Ducky leaves, but not before giving him a stern admonishment to take frequent naps, rest up, and eat at regular intervals. After he’s gone, Gibbs glances around the place. Throughout his captivity, all he wanted was to get back to his old life, but now he has it, he realizes he has no idea what to do with it.
His life before was always the job, and when it wasn’t the job it was whatever he was building in his basement. Now he has neither of those outlets. He isn’t medically fit to return to work just yet, and he knows no doctor in their right mind would sign him as fit, no matter how hard he glares at them. And as for the basement…he can’t even bring himself to go back down there. Just the thought of smelling the sawdust makes him feel like throwing up again.
He sits down on the couch and tries to read, but he can’t concentrate. The caffeine has helped, but he rages against his lack of energy. He’s tired and listless now that he is no longer pumped full of drugs. It’s not just that though; he had become accustomed to being in constant danger and needing to be constantly vigilant and the frequent adrenaline surges that came with that situation. Now he’s safe, he finds he has no idea how to relax.
He picks up his cell phone to find it’s filled with text messages from Abby, ranging from calm to panicking. He deletes them.
Then he calls his father, for something to do.
“Hello there, son!” Jack sounds so pleased to hear from him, and his warm, deep voice washes over Gibbs. “How are you doing? Tony told me you’d been working deep undercover, but would it have been against the rules to let me know you’d be gone so long?”
“Didn’t know myself, Dad,” he replies, gazing at the empty fire grate. He considers telling his father the truth, but how can you tell an old man about the living hell his only child has endured for so many months? He finds he can’t bring himself to do it. He wouldn’t even know where to start. “But I’m back now.”
“Tony said you were injured. I wanted to come visit, but he said to wait until you’re better. Perhaps I can come up now. I can close up the store…”
“No.” He says it more harshly than he intended and can hear his father’s hurt in the wounded silence that follows. “I can’t do that right now, Dad. I’ll come visit you soon though.”
The name reminds him of Scott, and he has to force himself not to end the call on the spot.
“I’m fine, Dad,” he interrupts abruptly.
“When you say you’re fine is when I worry about you the most. You were always the same. I remember when you were in the hospital after the accident. You were just a little kid, and you were hurting so bad, and you wouldn’t even talk to me for weeks. Then one morning I asked you how you were, and for the first time since the accident you replied. You said, ‘I’m fine’, and you clearly weren’t. You’ve been doing that ever since, Leroy.”
“I don’t know what you want from me, Dad. I am fine. It was a hard few months, but I’m still here.”
“Have you got people there for you? I know young Tony cares, and Dr Mallard, and there’s that sweet girl, Abby.”
“Yes, I’ve got people here for me, Dad.”
“But will you let them help?”
He doesn’t want their help. He just wants to get back to his life, move on, and leave this behind him. The last thing he wants is to look into Abby’s eyes and see her pity. He only has a vague recollection of her holding him on that last Fight Night, but he doesn’t want her seeing him that way forever. He’s a leader. He has to go back there and lead those people, and he needs them to trust in him. He doesn’t want them looking at him and seeing that pale, beat up man from that final fight in the pit. He has to erase that memory and make them see him as strong again.
“Sure, Dad. Stop worrying. I’ll be fine.” He grimaces as he says that, knowing what his father thinks of that particular phrase, but Jack lets it pass this time, and he ends the call a few minutes later after some mindless small talk.
He needs a drink, but he’s finished the bottle of bourbon, so he goes out for more. It feels strange to be walking around in the open, among people again. He’s skittish, jumping at the slightest noise, the adrenaline surging through his body unnecessarily whenever he senses a threat. He stops at Sears to buy new clothes in his current size, grabs a pile of jeans, tee shirts, and polo shirts, and then, feeling ridiculously exhausted after only an hour out of the house, he returns to the blessed peace of his own home.
He’s so tired that he falls asleep instantly on the couch.
He dreams that he’s prowling through the house, silently, on all four paws. It’s his house, but it seems quiet and lonely. He’s looking for something; he’s not sure what, just that it’s hiding somewhere in the house.
He noses through the bedrooms and pushes his head around the door to the bathroom, but finds nothing. Then he slinks down the stairs. He pauses at the bottom, gazing at the door at the end of the hallway, the one leading to the basement. He doesn’t want to go there. He heads off towards the kitchen and the living room instead…but he can’t find what he’s looking for there.
In the end, he has no choice but to nudge open the door to the basement with his nose. He pauses at the top of the stairs, looking down. There’s a man down there. Gibbs goes down the stairs, his muscles bunched up, his fur standing on end. He doesn’t like it down here. Something bad happens down here. He can feel the sawdust clinging to his paws, and the scent of it sickens him.
The man in the basement turns, and he recognizes him.
“Hey, Gibbs! It’s me, Brian.” He’s just a skinny kid, about the same age as Jimmy Palmer and just as much of an innocent.
The basement suddenly opens out and transforms into a big pit, sawdust thick underfoot, and all around them people are yelling and screaming. His paws gather pace, and he finds himself running across the pit, the sound of the crowd echoing around in his head.
“Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”
He knows he has no choice. Brian gets down on his knees. He doesn’t even try and fight. He just bares his throat, and Gibbs leaps into the air, fangs bared, and sinks them into the soft flesh of his neck. He bites down hard, savaging him, until there is no possibility that he’s still alive. He can feel Brian’s blood dripping down his jaw, sinking into his fur, staining it red.
He draws back and looks down on the savaged corpse, throat slashed to ribbons, eyes wide and staring…to find it isn’t Brian.
He wakes up with the scream dying in his throat and the sound of knocking on the door. It’s dark outside, so he must have slept for a few hours.
He gets up and opens the door to find Tony standing there, a boxed pizza in one hand, a couple of beers in the other.
“Pepperoni, ham, beef, pork sausage, Italian sausage, and bacon?” Tony holds up the box.
Gibbs can’t find a good reason to refuse – not one that Tony will accept anyway – so he opens the door to let him in. The smell of baked cheese hits him the minute Tony is inside, and suddenly he’s back in that room off the infirmary, with the pizza he bartered for, watching Tony eat.
Gibbs leans against the wall, winded by the power of the memory, watching as Tony moves slowly around the place. He’s lacking his usual bounce, his shoulders are hunched, and he looks tired. Gibbs wants to put his hands on Tony’s shoulders and ease his sore muscles for him, but he finds he can’t, so he simply stands there, his fingers aching.
“Did you go back to work today?” he asks, judging that to be the most likely reason for how exhausted Tony looks.
“Yeah. Saw that woman from Psych Services – Dr Bracco. Kind eyes – man’s hands,” Tony says with a glimmer of a grin.
Gibbs sits down next to Tony on the couch and takes a slice of pizza. He hasn’t been hungry since he got home, so he’s just going through the motions.
“You eat today?” Tony asks, glancing at him, his green eyes casual, which Gibbs knows is when he’s at his most perceptive.
“You know I did. Ducky not only made breakfast, he sat and watched me eat it. Said he had to report back to you, so you already know I ate. Stop fussing, Tony. I’m fine.”
“Hmmm.” Those green eyes look even more lazy and casual now, which is a dead giveaway.
Gibbs glares at him. “You spoke to Jack too? Christ, Tony!”
“I said I’d let you do the lone wolf thing for a while. I didn’t say I wouldn’t keep an eye on you while you did it.” Tony shrugs. “And Jack phoned me, not the other way around – he was worried about you and wanted to get my opinion.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That you’re fine, which you aren’t.”
Gibbs grunts and finishes his slice of pizza. It feels greasy in his belly, and he wonders if he’ll be able to keep it down.
“Neither am I,” Tony adds, and Gibbs glances up immediately, a little knot of anxiety forming in his belly. Tony’s face is a little flushed, but he ploughs on determinedly. “How can we be? It’ll take some time. More for you than me – you were there longer. You went through more, and you went through it alone. I had you.”
“I’ll be fine.” Gibbs says it again, automatically, like a mantra.
“I know, but right now you aren’t, and it’s okay to admit that.”
“It might be okay, but what the hell use is it?” Gibbs shrugs. “Did Bracco sign you as fit for work? Looks like you’ve put in a long day – is that why you’re hurting?”
“I’m not…” It’s as automatic for Tony to brush off the concern as it is for him. Gibbs watches him visibly pull himself up short. “Yes, Bracco signed me as fit for work, and yes, my back aches now. I asked Fornell if he’d give me a few moments alone with Ellis to return the favour – I was only half joking.”
“You saw Fornell?” Gibbs gazes at him blindly. He’s known Fornell for years, and the man is one of his closest friends. He’s also an extremely thorough investigator. He’s probably already seen the footage of him fighting and fucking in the pit, and that knowledge chills Gibbs.
“Yeah. After the psych eval I went over to the FBI. He’s doing a good job – there are several stable owners under arrest, and he’s slowly going through testimony from fighters, audience members, guards – everyone who was there. This will take a long time to unravel, Gibbs, but he’ll make sure it goes to court, and all those bastards are put away for a long time.”
“Good.” He watches as Tony rolls his shoulders, trying to get comfortable.
“Skin feels too tight, muscles bunch up,” Tony mutters. “Your eye is looking a bit better.” He scrutinizes Gibbs thoughtfully. “Apart from that, you still look like shit.”
“How did it go with Fornell?”
“The first few minutes were the worst, but he didn’t screw with me,” Tony says. “He knows what happened, he knows it’s not our fault, and he tries not to let the pity show too much in his eyes. He kept it business-like. Even called me ‘DiNotzo’ to keep things from getting sappy; he knows how much that pisses me off.”
“What about the team?” Gibbs asks quietly.
“They know too, but they’re kind enough not to mention it. I put on a good show, and they were happy to let me. They want what you want.”
“What’s that?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
“For everything to go back to normal, like none of this ever happened. For me to be my usual goofy but brilliant self.” He gives the bright, shiny Tony smile. “For you to walk in there and say ‘Saddle up! Dead petty officer in Rock Creek Park!’ And for everything to be the same again. That is what you want too, isn’t it, Jethro? To get on with your life, to shove this away, and for everything to go back to the way it was before?”
Gibbs takes a sip of his beer, avoiding Tony’s eyes. “Be simpler that way.”
“Well, tough. Because I don’t give a damn about rule twelve, or what the agency makes of us being together. I swore to myself a few weeks ago that I was done hiding, and I meant it. So, if going back to the way it was before means you cut me out of your life, then forget it because I’m not going without a fight, and I can fight just as dirty as you.”
Gibbs looks up, startled. It seems he’s not the only one who makes unbreakable vows to himself.
“I’ll leave you to think about it.” Tony glances at his watch. “Because right now, there’s somewhere else I have to be.”
He leans forward and kisses Gibbs gently on the lips, as if he has the right, which he does, but it feels strange all the same. They’ve never kissed here in this room, in their regular lives. Their entire relationship was played out in a tiny metal stall in Scott’s stable, forced into an intimacy that they spent ten years avoiding. Gibbs has no idea how to be with Tony outside of that environment.
Tony’s lips are warm and gentle, and they somehow relieve an ache that he wasn’t even aware was there. He pushes Tony back on the couch and returns the kiss with interest, hard and passionate…and then suddenly his mind fills with images of Tony from his dream, his throat slashed and bloody. Then he’s back in the gym watching Tony being whipped, powerless to help him. And without pause he’s back in the pit, thrusting his cock into Tony, unable to ignore the pain in his eyes but having to keep going anyway because there’s no choice for either of them.
The images are all jumbled up in his head, dreams mixing with memories, overwhelming him, and he draws back with a hiss and turns away.
“Get out,” he snaps.
“Jethro…what just happened?”
“Get the hell out, Tony. And don’t send Ducky over again. And tell Abby to stop texting me. I don’t want to see or hear from anyone right now – understand? Just leave me the hell alone.”
“Hey…” He feels Tony’s hand on his shoulder and turns, knocking it away angrily.
“I said get out. Go!”
Tony’s eyes are dark. He gives a curt nod. “Okay. You can have more time, but if you need me – you call.” Tony goes over to the door and then glances back. “And don’t drink all that Jack, Gibbs.” He jerks his head at the box of liquor Gibbs bought earlier, lying in the hallway. “It won’t help.”
Then he’s gone. Gibbs sits down on the couch, shaking. He has no idea what he’s feeling. There was a simplicity to their relationship when they were captives, but now they’re back in the real world, he can’t get a handle on it. It doesn’t help that he can’t feel anything properly. His emotions come in surges. He gets waves of anxiety, of anger, of sadness…but then they’re gone, fading out as quickly as they came, and it’s easier without them. That little interlude with Tony proved that if nothing else.
He just needs some space and silence to get control of them, and then he’ll be able to trust himself again.
Tony drives to a familiar Starbucks across town. He gets out of his car, takes a deep breath, and walks inside.
She’s there, as he knew she would be, sitting in their usual spot, in the corner, stirring a cup of chai. There’s a cup of coffee on the table, in front of the empty chair, waiting for him. Same time, same place, where she promised to be until he got back.
Jan Hurrell looks up, her dark hair bobbing, and she sees him. She doesn’t say a word. She just gets up, walks over to him, takes his face between her hands, and looks into his eyes.
“Thank you, Tony DiNozzo,” she says quietly, her voice aching with sincerity. “Thank you for keeping your promise and bringing my husband home again. Thank you for risking yourself to find him. Thank you for every single thing you endured out there, with those bastards. Thank you.”
She kisses his forehead and then releases him, and he finds his throat hurts too much to speak. She takes hold of his hand and leads him back to their table.
“I bought your coffee. I bought one every time I came here, every week you were missing,” she tells him.
He manages a smile at that. “You knew I’d be here one day though.”
“Yes. I knew it wouldn’t be while Gibbs was in the hospital, but I heard via Agent Fornell that he’s out now?”
“So I thought it might be tonight, but I wasn’t sure what kind of shape you’d be in, or if you’d be up to it. I knew you wouldn’t forget though, and I intended to keep coming back until I saw you.”
“How’s Sam?” Tony asks.
She nods, a bit too enthusiastically. “He’s home. He’s safe. He’s…if not quite well, he will be again, one day. I’ll make sure of that.” There’s a determined tone to her voice, and he believes her. She will make sure of it. Her determination lends him strength too. If she can do that for Sam, then he can do it for Gibbs. “Sam wanted to come with me tonight, but I said this was just for me and you, this time. He can come next time. I think he’s a little bit jealous.” She grins.
“Yeah, I got that impression too, back…” He pauses. “Back there,” he finishes with a shrug.
“And how are you?” she asks, gazing at him searchingly.
“It’s tough,” he admits, honestly.
“Tell me about it!” She shakes her head. “Much as I wanted Sam back, I can’t pretend it’s easy having him home again and finding out what happened to him. Not that I’d shirk hearing about it; he actually had to endure it, so the least I can do is listen. You did a great job from all I’ve heard, Tony.”
He shrugs. “I just made a phone call. Sam was the real hero. So was Gibbs. We worked as a team.”
“But you were the catalyst. They were ground down by that place, and I can understand why. You walked in there and reminded them that they’re Marines and inspired them to fight back.”
“I don’t know how they survived it all those long months, Jan – honestly,” Tony tells her bluntly.
“Because they’re strong, brave men – that’s partly why we love them, isn’t it?” She puts her hand over Tony’s. “On that subject…Sam told me about you and Gibbs. How is that going?”
“Not great. He’s so fucked up, Jan. But I figure, I’ve waited ten years, I’m good at waiting.” Tony shrugs, and Jan squeezes his hand.
“I’ve been married to Sam for all that time, as you know, but it’s hard even for us. Even harder for you, with what you have being birthed in that place.” She gives a little shiver. “The drugs screwed with Sam, Tony, and what they made him do…he feels so guilty, like he betrayed me, which is not the way I see it at all,” she says firmly.
“I told him you’d feel that way. I said you’d just be glad he found a way to get through it and come home alive.”
“And you’re right. Sam’s told me everything, and I don’t judge him for any of it. It wasn’t his choice, and, as you said, he got by any way he could. But he’s having a hard time forgiving himself. It’s probably the same for Gibbs.” She hesitates. “Probably TMI, but don’t expect anything in the bedroom for a while, Tony.”
He laughs out loud. “Hell, I’m nowhere near expecting anything to happen there right now!”
“Good.” She squeezes his hand again.
“But he’s hard work. He doesn’t talk, and he keeps pushing me away. I don’t think he wants me around. He just wants his old life back, without the hassle of a boyfriend.”
“Don’t give up on him, Tony. It’s hard for them.”
“Give up on that stubborn old bastard?” Tony snorts. “Never gonna happen. I’ve hung in this long – he’s never gonna get rid of me now.”
She grins at him. “I always knew you and I were on the same wavelength – and not just because of our taste in macho Marines with bad haircuts and terrible clothes.” She leans forward and kisses his cheek. “I need to get back to Sam. Hang on in there – and trust your instincts. It might get worse before it gets better, Tony, but I’m here if you need me.”
Gibbs dreams that they tie him up on a table, and Dr Tanner leans over him.
“We’ll make the incision here,” he says, pointing at his chest.
They don’t give him any anaesthetic, and it hurts as the scalpel slices through his skin, cutting in deep, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. He watches as Tanner opens up his chest and cuts out his heart. He holds it aloft triumphantly and then places it on a spare gurney beside the operating table, still beating.
It doesn’t hurt when Tanner sews up his chest; when he’s done there isn’t even a scar.
Tanner leans over him. “Wait here while we bring in the others,” he says, untying him.
Gibbs watches from the operating table as they wheel in three gurneys, each with a body bag on it, and place them beside the one with his heart on it.
“Time to leave now,” Tanner says, and Gibbs gets off the operating table and goes over to the gurneys. “Hurry! We don’t have much time!” Tanner calls.
He points, and Gibbs can see that a wall is being built around the gurneys. He watches as brick after brick is put in place, and Tanner is right; he doesn’t have long before the gurneys are completely walled in.
He has to see who is in the body bags before he leaves. He unzips the first one to reveal his mother’s face, cold and white in death. He moves on to the next one, opening it to see Shannon’s long red hair, falling lifelessly over her white shoulder. Kelly’s corpse is lying in the third body bag, her dark hair in pigtails, and her body as icy and pale as the others. He thinks that maybe he should feel something, but then he remembers that Tanner cut out his heart, so he can’t feel anything now.
“You need to come with me,” Tanner instructs, leaving the room. Gibbs follows him and then turns to look back. The room is now completely walled up, all the bricks in place except one. He looks through the gap where the last brick will go, and sees the four gurneys inside, lined up next to each other: His mother; Shannon; Kelly; and his own still beating heart, just sitting on its gurney, pulsing eerily in this room of death.
“Here – this is for you.” Tanner puts the last brick into his hands. All he has to do is slot it in place, and they’ll be safe in there, walled up together, where nobody can touch them.
He looks into the room again, and instead of the beating heart he sees a wolf.
A white wolf.
The wolf looks thin and starved. It falls off the gurney and comes stumbling towards him, howling at him in a forlorn, reedy tone, begging to be let out.
Gibbs raises the brick, places it against the waiting gap in the wall, and then pushes it slowly into place.
As he turns away, he finds he’s not in human form anymore. He’s a wolf again. He looks down on his four black paws as he prowls silently away.
Gibbs wakes up, feeling calm and serene. He’s lying on the mattress in the bathroom, a half empty bottle of Jack beside him.
It’s been several days since Tony advised him against drinking it, but that was advice he didn’t take. Tony has at least left him alone since then, as has everyone else. Tony still calls every evening, but apart from those brief, terse conversations, they’ve all done as he asked, and given him some time and space to recover.
And he is recovering. He’s kept his hospital appointments, rested, and physically he feels a hell of a lot better, even if he does go through half a bottle of bourbon a day.
Gibbs gets up and looks at himself in the mirror. His mind feels clearer now that he’s got his emotions under control. He can’t keep living like this. He needs to get back to the coping mechanisms that always worked so well in the past, and those are his job and his carpentry. It’s time to reclaim at least one of those, before he goes insane. Question is: which one?
In the end, he opts for the easiest one.
On his last day at the Hoover building, Fornell takes Tony into a conference room and shuts the door behind them. He’s got a briefcase in his hand, which he places on the table.
“Your colleagues at NCIS have been very helpful,” he says, waving at Tony to take a seat. “Agent McGee, in particular, was a great help to me in figuring out how the fights were publicized and how the location details of the venue were disseminated each week – because, as you know, those often changed. It was nearly all done via text messages, and a private, members’ only website. All audience members were personally checked by Walid’s organization before they were allowed into the venue.”
Tony grins. “Good old McGeek. He loves that kind of stuff.”
“And Agent David was helpful in interviewing some of the audience members, fighters, and stable owners,” Fornell continues. “We had a lot of people to interview, so it was useful to have someone experienced to share some of the load.”
“Okay,” Tony says slowly, wondering why Fornell brought him in here for this private chat.
“As you know, we recovered video footage of the fights from cell phones in the audience.” Tony glances up sharply. “I did not allow your team to see any of that footage,” Fornell says firmly.
Tony feels a wave of relief at that, but he knows the message wasn’t intended for him.
“I’ll make sure he knows,” he says quietly. Ziva and McGee know what the fights entailed, but knowing and seeing video of Gibbs actually fighting out there are two different things, and he’s glad Fornell has spared Gibbs that.
“The footage on the cell phones wasn’t all there was,” Fornell continues, and Tony feels his heart skip a beat. “At Scott’s house, we found video footage of all Gibbs’s fights.”
“Okay. Figures. Scott and Frank would have analysed Gibbs’s form in detail after each fight, so Frank could work on his weaknesses.” Tony tries to keep his tone neutral.
“They were all on these disks. One disk for each fight.” Fornell unlocks the briefcase and opens it to reveal dozens of disks in neatly ordered slots inside. Fornell removes the top disk and places it in the DVD player attached to the plasma at the end of the room.
Tony’s stomach flips as he sees clear, all-too-vivid footage of himself, standing with that stupid red hood over his head. This clearly wasn’t taken on a cell phone; one of Scott’s entourage had to have been filming it on a video camera. The hood is removed, and Gibbs is released into the pit. He prowls around the edge, looking every inch as deadly as Tony remembers.
Tony grows cold; it’s one thing to have it as a memory but another to see it played out all over again in front of him.
Gibbs strides towards him, and at that moment Fornell presses the pause button. “I have been through every second of the footage we’ve taken off the cell phones and all the private footage from the stable owners. This is the only video of this particular fight still in existence,” he says. “And I’m the only person who has seen it.”
He presses the eject button and retrieves the disk, holding it between his thumb and forefinger. “We have more than enough evidence to bust these guys. We don’t need this one,” he says, and then he snaps his fingers, causing the disk to crack in two. He snaps it again and then hands the shattered remains to Tony.
“Thank you for your help this week, Agent DiNozzo.” He pronounces Tony’s name correctly, for the first time.
“Thank you, Agent Fornell,” Tony replies softly.
“Tell Gibbs that I need to speak to him when he’s ready. He’s a material witness, and he’ll very likely be called upon to testify.”
“He won’t like that.”
“No. He won’t.” Fornell shakes his head. “But he’ll do it because he wants to see justice done. I know the man, DiNozzo.”
“Me too. He’ll do it because he’s Gibbs, and it’s his duty, and he’s never yet shirked his duty. But you might have to give him some time, Fornell. I don’t think he’s ready to face you just yet.”
“Understood. I know it won’t be painless, considering our history,” Fornell says quietly. “But this could have happened to any of us. It could have happened to me. Make sure he knows I understand that. The fact he’s my friend might make this hard for him; but the fact I am his friend means I will not let him down. This is a big case, and it might take a while, but I will make those bastards pay for what they did. He has my word on that.”
Everything is exactly as it was when he left all those months ago. The same orange walls, the same familiar smell, the same faces walking through the hallways. Those faces turn to look at him as he passes, and he can hear the whispers echoing in his wake.
He ignores them and strides confidently into the squad room. This is his domain. He’s ruled this place for years, and nobody is going to steal that from him. He’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and this is where he belongs.
He walks over to his desk and sees McGee glance up, look down, and then glance up again immediately. Ziva’s head swivels at the same time, and the two of them share a look of surprise.
“Uh…um…good to see you, Boss. Are you…here to see Director Vance?” McGee stutters.
“Nope. I’m here to work.” Gibbs sits down at his desk and frowns when he sees it cluttered with all kinds of things that don’t belong on it. He grabs his wastebasket and sweeps Tony’s Mighty Mouse stapler, a pair of socks, an old photograph of a very ugly dog, and various other sundry items into it. Then he gets up and deposits the wastebasket on Tony’s desk.
He can feel the gaze of the entire office on him. Ziva’s jaw is hanging open, McGee’s eyes are popping out like they’re on stalks, and the surrounding personnel are all pretending to do their filing while sneaking surreptitious peeks at him out of the corners of their eyes. The entire office is deathly silent.
Gibbs stops, very slowly and deliberately, in the centre of the squad room, knowing that everyone is looking at him. Good – that’s what he wants.
“Sit rep, McGee! What are you working on?” he demands.
“Uh, we just wrapped up with Agent Fornell a few days ago. Tony is still there, but I think he finishes today.”
“You *think*, McGee?” Gibbs rounds on him.
McGee flushes. “Uh…um…no, I know…he said he’d be back later.”
“What else? David?” Gibbs turns to glare at her, and she sits up straight and beats out a verbal report in response to his tone.
“Director Vance was waiting for Tony to return before sending us out to work cases. Until then we’re writing up our reports. We got a little behind because there was so much going on, and we were working such long hours at the FBI,” she admits.
“Then if you’re behind, get back to work,” he commands. “I want those reports on my desk by the end of the day.”
He has no idea if that’s fair or reasonable; he just needs to exert some authority. This is him, back to normal, just the way they want him to be. He’s not the beat-up man from the pit who took one punch too many, but Leroy Jethro Gibbs, back at work, same as ever, business as usual.
He sweeps from the room, suppressing his limp the way he did in the pit. He can’t show weakness here anymore than he did back there. They are both his arenas, and he will dominate them both by the sheer force of his will; he’s good at that.
He buys a Caf-Pow and takes it down to Abby’s lab. She’s standing at her workstation, hopping from one foot to the other in time to the blaring beat of her music, and it’s such a familiar sight that it stops him in his tracks.
“What am I looking for? What am I looking for?” Abby mutters, staring intently at her screen as she moves her mouse around at lightning fast speed.
“Maybe this?” Gibbs enters the room silently and holds up the Caf-Pow in front of her face. It nearly goes flying as she shoves it to one side and throws her arms around him.
“Gibbs! Nobody told me you were coming back today! How are you? How have you been? You’ve been so naughty! I’m really cross with you for not letting me come visit! Tony said to leave you be, said you were like some old wolf, holed up until you got better. But I was not happy about that, Mister, let me tell you, and…”
“Abby…I’m fine.” He disengages himself from her bone-crunching hug and allows her to stand back and scrutinize him.
“Well, you don’t look too bad. But you’re kind of all…muscly.” She prods a finger into his bicep. “And I don’t like your hair,” she adds.
“It’s growing back.” He runs a hand over his short hair.
“It’d better! I liked my silver fox the way he was, with the softer belly and the longer hair!” She pouts.
“Give it time.”
She throws her arms around him again, squeezing tight. “I’ve missed you so much,” she tells him fiercely. “I mean, Tony is good, but he’s not you, and I like my team all together. I was so worried all the time and…”
“Abby.” He grabs her firmly and pushes her back. “I’m back now and everything is going to be just the way it was.”
“Promise?” Her green eyes are anxious.
He smiles and kisses her cheek. “Promise,” he says softly.
The ice firmly broken, he can feel the normality settle around him like a cloak as he leaves Abby’s lab, making him feel euphoric. This is proving easier than he’d expected.
Ducky is a more daunting prospect. He looks up as Gibbs enters Autopsy and gives him a stern glare over the top of his glasses.
“I wondered when you were going to make your way down here, Jethro. Word of your return has spread already, you see. The prodigal son indeed.” He makes a clicking sound with his teeth.
“You disapprove?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
“If your doctor deems you well enough to work then I suppose you are.” He pauses and looks at Gibbs searchingly. “Are you, Jethro? Are you really?”
“Yes, Ducky. I am,” Gibbs says firmly.
“Well then, I look forward to seeing you convince a certain someone of that.”
Gibbs gives a curt little laugh. “Vance doesn’t scare me.”
Ducky shoots him a withering look. “Oh, I wasn’t talking about our esteemed director, Jethro. I was talking about Anthony.”
“I can handle Tony.”
“Is that so?” Ducky’s eyes are as perceptive as usual behind his glasses. “Because I’ve seen a new side to Anthony these past few weeks, Jethro, and if you’re not careful, then he might very well be the one handling you.”
Tony finishes at the Hoover building just before lunch. On his way out, he passes a tall, handsome man in navy-blue chinos and a pink striped shirt. Tony is halfway along the hallway before he realizes who it is. He turns to find the man turning too, an expression of shocked delight on his face.
“Tony…is that you?”
“Greg?” Tony strides back up the hallway towards him, and Greg meets him halfway. “Greg!”
Tony grabs him and pulls him into a hug, which Greg returns, patting his back, both of them genuinely pleased to see each other.
Tony pulls back to look at him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Greg, but I almost didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”
Greg laughs. “I was about to say the same thing! You’re looking good, Tony.”
“You too. I had no idea you’re such a snappy dresser! Love the Ermenegildo Zegna shirt.”
“Love the Berluti shoes.” Greg glances down at Tony’s feet. “Man, isn’t it great to be wearing clothes again?”
“Tell me about it! Uh, so…” Tony gestures awkwardly. “You’re…?”
“Oh, yeah – I’ve just been going through my testimony with Agent Fornell’s team. I’ve been here a few times now, so they trust me to find my own way to the cafeteria for lunch. Want to join me?”
“Sure, I don’t have to get back to NCIS right away.”
They find a quiet table in the corner of the cafeteria to eat.
“So, how are you doing, Greg?” Tony asks, as he takes a forkful of spaghetti.
“Not too bad, considering. I’m going back to work next week.”
“You’re a personal trainer, yes?” Tony remembers one of the conversations they had back at Scott’s stable.
“Yup! I work in a gym. That’s why they targeted me in the first place. They took me one night – I’d been working late, and it was my turn to lock up.”
“How long ago?” Tony asks curiously.
“A year and a half.”
Tony looks up, shocked. “That long? You survived two whole seasons fighting?”
“Just about. Sometimes it feels like I didn’t survive at all. It feels like I’m still there, fighting for my life every week.” Greg gives a tight little smile.
“Yeah, I know the feeling. Hey, what happened to Matt? Is he okay?”
Greg looks down and then up again, his lips twisting bitterly. “Look, Tony, I’m gay. I knew I was gay from when I was old enough to understand what it meant, and I’ve been out and proud of it since I was sixteen years old. The gym I work at is a gay gym. The reason I got my job back so quickly is because my ex is the manager there, and we’re good friends.”
“Uh, okay.” Tony wonders where this is heading.
“And Matt isn’t gay.” Greg shrugs. “He’s straight, and I’m a complication he doesn’t want in his life. He made that clear from the minute we were rescued.”
“You were in love with him,” Tony says quietly.
“You know what that place was like. You clung onto someone…” Greg shrugs again. “Honestly, I don’t know, Tony. It felt like love at the time, but maybe it was just loneliness.”
Was that how it was for Gibbs, Tony wonders? Just loneliness? Wanting someone to hold onto at night? That, combined with the drugs making him so horny he didn’t care who he fucked. Maybe he’s been an idiot, and the way Gibbs is holding him at arm’s length right now is because he’s trying to extricate himself from an unwanted ‘complication’, just like Matt.
“How are you?” Greg asks. “And how is the old wolf? Is he still snarling at everyone?” He grins.
“He was badly injured in that final fight, trying to keep it going long enough for help to arrive,” Tony says quietly. “He’s getting better physically, but mentally and emotionally…I have no idea.”
Greg looks surprised. “But you two were so close.”
“Well, right now we don’t feel close at all. He barely talks to me. Maybe it’s like with you and Matt. Maybe it was just the drugs and the loneliness.”
Greg bursts out laughing and then trails off when Tony doesn’t join in. “You’re kidding right?”
“No, Greg, I’m not. I’m bisexual; I fell for Gibbs years ago, but he never gave any indication he was anything but straight, so I just, you know, worshipped him quietly from afar.” Tony gives a tight little smile. “And yes, I thought we had something back in Scott’s stable, but maybe I was kidding myself.”
Greg gives him an incredulous look. “Tony – are you insane? Gibbs nearly tore my dick off just for talking to you.”
“Like I said, the drugs…”
“No,” Greg says forcefully. “Listen to me, Tony – I will never forget the expression on his face when they were whipping you. He was out of his mind; anyone could see that. He lived every single one of those lashes with you, and it was destroying him to see you in that kind of pain and not be able to make it stop.”
“He hated me being hurt; doesn’t mean he wants to spend the rest of his life with me.”
“Then there was the way he looked at you, when he knew you couldn’t see,” Greg says, leaning forward across the table and gesturing insistently with his fork. “I saw though. There was this expression of the most intense love, pride, and worry on his face, all mixed up. I used to envy you and fear for you at the same time, being the focus of all that Wolfman intensity. All my life, I’ve wanted someone to look at me that way. Tony, that man loves you, passionately, and I think you’re the only one who could ever handle him. He’s one intense bastard.”
“Oh yeah.” Tony grins. “He’s definitely that.”
“Some people are perfect for each other. It just works, and that’s what I saw in you two,” Greg tells him firmly. “You balance each other out; you lighten him up, and he grounds you. You belong together. Trust me – I’ve seen a lot of guys in love, but never one as much in love as Gibbs is in love with you.”
It’s good to hear. He’s been getting so little back from Gibbs that he was starting to wonder if what they shared back in that stall was just a figment of his imagination. He remembers that kiss a few days ago, when it felt like he’d woken a sleeping wolf. Gibbs was as passionate then as he was back at Scott’s stable, before something spooked him, and he pulled away.
He swaps cell phone numbers with Greg and returns to NCIS, feeling better than he has in days.
“Hey – McGee! I’m back!” he announces the minute he walks into the squad room. “FBI work all done and boy, am I glad to see the back of that place. Much as I hate the orange…” he glances at the familiar NCIS walls, “I prefer them to that weird shade of puce the FBI has going on. So, what’s been happening here? Sit rep me, Probie!”
“Uh…” McGee gets up, flushing wildly. “I just gave a sit rep, Tony.”
“You did? To who?”
“To me, DiNozzo,” says a familiar voice behind him.
Tony whirls around, a shocked look on his face.
“You’re back? Boss,” he adds, his eyes narrowing as his sharp-eyed gaze rakes over Gibbs. Gibbs glances down at his familiar, workday clothes, the new ones he bought from Sears, and then back up at Tony.
“Yes, I’m back, so clear the rest of your junk off my desk. I need to go talk to the director.” He glances up at where Vance is standing above, gazing down on the squad room darkly.
“But…” Tony opens his mouth to protest, but Gibbs brushes past him.
“Now, DiNozzo,” he growls.
He runs up the stairs two at a time, feeling strong again for the first time in weeks. His body has healed, and his mind will do what he tells it. It’s that simple.
He strides into Vance’s office confidently, shutting the door behind him.
“Agent Gibbs, I didn’t know you were intending to return to work today,” Vance says.
“I’m fit to work, so here I am.” Gibbs shrugs. “Lot of catching up to do, so if you don’t mind, Director…”
“I do mind,” Vance says sharply. “Look, Gibbs, you’ve been through a hell of an ordeal. Before you can return to work, I need you to see Dr Bracco from Psych Services, just to make sure you’re fit for duty.”
“Me? See a shrink?” Gibbs laughs in his face. “C’mon, Leon! We both know that’s not going to happen.”
“Gibbs, it’s agency policy that any agent returning to work after the kind of trauma you endured, has to be cleared by Psych Services first.”
Gibbs shakes his head, chuckling softly to himself. “Is it agency policy to leave an agent out in the field alone too?”
Vance sighs. “Gibbs, if you’re going to have a problem working with me then that’s all the more reason for you to see Dr Bracco.”
“The only problem I’m going to have working with you is if you make me see some idiot from Psych Services.” Gibbs smiles sweetly. “I’m not the kind of guy who spills his guts to a shrink. I’ll tell her what she wants to hear, if it’ll make you feel better, but it’s a waste of time.”
Vance leans back in his chair. “If I waive this requirement…”
“Then everything can go back to how it was before. No hard feelings about you leaving me out there to rot.” He bares his teeth slightly at Vance, who shifts uncomfortably.
“Fine. Go back to your job. But if you’re not fit for work, then I’ll suspend you. Got that?”
“Got it.” Gibbs strides out of the office, grinning to himself. Wolves can be cunning when they have to.
It’s been a good day’s work so far, but he needs coffee, so he heads for the elevator. Someone falls into step beside him just as he reaches it, and a split second later he finds himself being shoved into it. He swings around and finds himself face to face with Tony just as the doors close, trapping them in the tiny space together – which is precisely what he’d been trying to avoid.
Tony immediately slams his hand on the emergency switch, bringing the elevator to a juddering halt. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demands.
“Coming back to work.” Gibbs shrugs. “What does it look like?”
Tony’s eyes narrow. “Have you seen Dr Bracco?”
“Nope. No need.” Gibbs shakes his head.
Tony rocks back on his heels, a look of realization in his eyes. “You screwed one over on Vance to get out of it, didn’t you?”
Gibbs shrugs. “I’m fine, as you can see. I’m better than fine, Tony. I just needed some time to heal. No need to see some damn shrink.”
The expression in Tony’s eyes hardens. “If anyone needs to see a shrink, it’s you.”
“Why? So I can talk about my feelings?” Gibbs sneers. “What the hell use is that?”
Tony leans in close. “Right now, I’m not sure you have any feelings, Gibbs. I don’t think you’ve been feeling much of anything since you woke up in the hospital, and anything you do feel scares the hell out of you, so you shove it down and pretend it’s not there.”
“You’re talking crap, Tony. I’ve done black ops, and I’ve fought in wars. I’m not some little…” he waves his hand, looking for the right expression.
“Pussy boy?” Tony supplies for him, raising one eye dangerously, daring him to take the bait.
Gibbs glares at him. “I’m not a kid, Tony. I’m fine now. I’ve had a lot worse than what Walid’s little army of misfits put me through.”
“Really? Worse than being made to fight for your life every week? Worse than being imprisoned in a tiny cell for six months? Worse than being beaten and abused repeatedly? Worse than being made to shoot an innocent person in order to save three others? Worse than being repeatedly raped?” He pauses. “Worse than being made to eat all that healthy green shit and denied coffee?” he adds facetiously.
Gibbs stares at him blankly. “I wasn’t raped.” He made that vow to himself right at the beginning. Nobody was going to fuck him in the ass, and he made sure of that by winning every single fight. He clenches his fists by his side.
“Do you want to look it up in the dictionary?” Tony asks. “Because I’m pretty sure you’ll find the definition of rape is any act of sexual intercourse forced on a person. Or did you want to have sex with all those guys in the pit?”
Gibbs can feel his heart racing as images of himself fucking stranger after stranger in the pit crowd into his mind. It was no more than mindless, drug-fuelled rutting, and he feels a surge of anger and helplessness as the memories flood in. He knows he did those things, but right now, he can’t fathom how.
Tony is gazing at him intently. “You’re too hung up on who does what to who. I told you before; being fucked is good. You’ve seen how much I like it. You might like it too, if you gave it a chance. It’s not the act of penetration that makes it rape, Gibbs; it’s the lack of consent.” Tony moves in a little closer, so close that Gibbs can feel the heat radiating off his body. “You’re not a rapist, Jethro. Is that what you’ve been thinking? Because you fucked them, that made you a rapist?”
Gibbs finds he can’t move. He’s rooted to the spot as the memories replay in his head…and then get stuck on one in particular. He’s looking down on Tony, who is looking back up at him, his face bloody and bruised, his forehead beaded with sweat, and his eyes flashing with pain as Gibbs fucks him in the sawdust.
“No,” Tony says firmly, reading him like a book. “I told you at the time – that wasn’t rape. We’re not putting that label on it. You saved my life and yours by fucking me in the pit that night. Don’t you dare call it rape. If it was any kind of rape, it was them raping us, not you raping me. Understand?”
Gibbs closes his eyes, trying to block out that one memory as it keeps replaying in his head.
“You know what I think?” Tony says, and his voice is so close he has to be standing almost on top of him. “I think I made a mistake leaving you alone for so long. I think it’s given you a chance to shut down. And I think you only don’t want me around because I make you remember what you want to forget.”
Gibbs opens his eyes to growl out a reply, but before he can say anything Tony has him pinned against the elevator wall and is kissing him hard on the mouth. He’s still for a moment and then his body responds, his cock hardening for the first time in weeks.
He grabs Tony’s face between his hands and wrests back control of the kiss, returning it passionately. Tony’s scent, his taste, and the feel of his skin under his fingertips makes Gibbs come alive, and with the pleasure also comes all the pain he’s been blocking out.
He growls in frustration and tears himself away. It seems it’s not possible to have one without the other. If he wants Tony, then he has to have all the bad stuff too, and he doesn’t want that. But he wants Tony so bad, damn it.
Tony is standing in front of him, his chest heaving. “So he is in there, that white wolf of yours,” he says softly. “I knew he was. He just needs feeding. Let me feed him, Jethro.” He reaches out and brushes his hand through Gibbs’s short hair. “He’s hungry…let me...let me…” He leans in and kisses Gibbs again, gently this time, holding him close.
Gibbs feels as if he’s been starved for weeks. He’s too hungry for Tony to push him away, so he holds on tight, feeling some part of him grow stronger as they kiss.
Finally they come up for air, and he stares at Tony, wondering how the hell *this* fits into resuming his old life.
“Seems like the only way to get through to you is to lock you up in a tiny steel box so you can’t get away,” Tony says, with a twisted grin.
Gibbs sighs. “You’re making too much of this, Tony. I told you, I’ve been through bad stuff before, and I’ve handled it. Why the hell should this be any different?”
“Seriously? You’re seriously asking that?” Tony takes his face between his hands and gazes at him intently. “Because you’re an honourable man, and they made you kill. Because you’re a private man, and they forced you to fuck out there in front of all those people. Because you’re a good man, and they tried to make you into a bad one – and that’s how you’re feeling right now. Bad. And that's why you're trying so hard to shove everything down, so you don't have to feel that way.”
Gibbs pushes his hands away. “So you’re my fucking shrink now?”
“Look, I get the bravado. I’ve even done it myself – although admittedly your mask is a hell of lot more gruff and macho than mine. I bet you waltzed back in here like you owned the place and dazzled everyone with your…your…” He waves his hands in the air. “Your Gibbs-ness.”
Gibbs rolls his eyes. “You’re talking crap, Tony. As usual.”
Tony rocks back on his heels, looking at Gibbs thoughtfully. “See, people think you’re an unfeeling bastard, and that’s exactly the way you like it, isn’t it? You’re the big, bad wolf – nothing can hurt you, can it? But I think it’s the opposite. I think you feel things too much, and you have to control those feelings to stop them from eating you alive.”
“Fuck you,” Gibbs growls, torn between wanting to kiss Tony again and wanting to punch him.
Tony shrugs. “You have. Plenty of times. And I really hope you’ll do it again, but you have to open up and let me in on what’s going on in that thick skull of yours.”
“Why? You seem to think you have it all figured out already,” Gibbs says sarcastically.
“Just following my gut, like someone once taught me,” Tony throws back at him. “See, I just had lunch with Greg, and he reminded me…”
Gibbs feels a familiar surge of possessive jealousy. “You saw Greg?”
“Yeah – he was at the Hoover building today, giving evidence to Fornell. Why? Does that bother you?” There’s an amused gleam in Tony’s eyes.
“No,” Gibbs lies. “We’re done here, DiNozzo.” He slams his hand angrily on the elevator switch and it lurches into life.
“Oh, we’re nowhere near done, Gibbs,” Tony growls at him, slamming the switch back again. The elevator comes to another juddering halt.
Gibbs sighs and turns towards him. “What do you want from me, Tony?”
“I want you to be honest.”
“So you’re not jealous of Greg?”
“Nope.” Gibbs shrugs. “You can have lunch with whoever the hell you like, Tony.”
“And you’re totally fit to be back at work?”
“And you aren’t having any problems handling what happened to you during your six months at Scott’s luxury hotel?”
“So you’ll be going over to the Hoover building to give your testimony to Fornell tomorrow?”
Gibbs flinches. Damn Tony for throwing out the sucker punch and taking him down with it. He never even saw it coming.
Tony gives him another of those twisted little grins and leans in close. “I told you, I can fight dirty too, Gibbs.”
Gibbs thinks of Ellis’s broken jaw and nose, and Walid sharing a cell with Mac. He’s all too well aware of just how dirty Tony can fight; he was an idiot to forget it.
“Especially when there’s something really worth fighting for,” Tony adds. He reaches across Gibbs and flicks the emergency switch. “Now we’re done,” he says.
As it turns out, nobody goes anywhere for the next few weeks because they catch a case.
And Tony can’t deny that it *does* feel good to have Gibbs stride into the squad room and tell them to “saddle up”.
“Dead petty officer in Rock Creek Park, Boss?” he asks, wondering what it’ll take to earn a head-slap from Gibbs these days.
“Nope. Dead lieutenant in an alley in Georgetown,” Gibbs throws back at him, and for a moment it’s just like old times.
It feels even more so, but in a darker way, when they get out there and find their lieutenant with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. Tony glances at Gibbs to find him glancing back at him. Is he remembering Steve, Tony wonders? Or Brian, Ben, Rajul or any of the others killed just like this?
If Gibbs is suffering, physically at least, Tony sees no sign of it. The man appears to be made of iron as he strides around, leading the investigation like the previous several months never happened. He seems to have lost none of his investigative skills and drive for justice, pushing them hard to solve the case, and Tony can see how relieved McGee and Ziva are to have him back.
Abby’s a different matter. When he takes some evidence down to her lab a few days later, she grabs his arm.
“What’s going on with Gibbs?” she demands, looking over his shoulder at the door and speaking quickly.
“What do you mean?” he asks cautiously.
“I mean, what’s the deal with him? He looks like Gibbs, he walks like Gibbs, and he definitely yells at you guys like Gibbs.” She gives a little grin. “But he’s not Gibbs.”
“You mean he looks, talks and sounds exactly like Gibbs, but is really a kind of pod-Gibbs?” Tony muses. “Did you ever see that movie? Man, that was a good one. ‘Invasion of the Body-snatchers’. A true movie classic.”
“Tony!” She thumps him on the arm. “Concentrate. I’m talking about Gibbs here! You must have noticed. I know the others haven’t, because, well, they’re not us, but you and me, we know him better than that.”
“Yeah, we do,” Tony says quietly.
“It’s like he’s someone just as Gibbs-like only more so…”
“You mean like a wolf in wolf’s clothing?” Tony gives a little grin.
“Exactly! That’s totally it!” She thumps him on the arm again. “And it’s not right! I want real Gibbs, not pretendy-Gibbs. Do something, Tony!”
“I’m working on it, Abby, trust me,” he tells her grimly.
“Then work harder! I’m afraid we’re losing him!”
“I won’t let that happen.” Tony shakes his head. “I’m getting there, Abby. It’s just hard because, well, he’s Gibbs, and he’s a stubborn bastard. I have a plan though.”
“You do?” Her eyes brighten. “Tell me about it!”
“Can’t, Abs. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Let’s just say there’s a white wolf that’s starving right now, and I’m damn well gonna make sure it gets fed.” He rolls his shoulders, wincing as the muscles protest. His back is aching from several days running around and very little sleep, and his anxiety about Gibbs is just making it worse.
“And how are you, Mister?” Abby asks, prodding his chest.
“Me?” Tony takes a step back to avoid her pointy finger. “I’m not pod-Tony, Abs. I’m real Tony, promise.”
“I think you’re extra-topping-Tony,” she says.
“What does that mean? Is it good?”
“Yes! It’s like you’re Tony-Max. Or Tony-Pow!” She picks up her Caf-Pow and takes a long slurp. “I may have had too much of this,” she says around the straw.
“It’s been a long week, and I’m mainlining to stay awake. But you, Tony, you’ve got some new hard, shiny thing going on. I can’t place it, but it’s like you’re in love or something. Are you in love, Tony?” She peers at him suspiciously.
“Yes, Abby, but it’s not new.”
“Hmmm…I thought so! Not the walking on air kind of love, but more the ‘I know what I want, and I’m damn well going to get it!’ kind of love.”
“Whatever you say, Abs.” He leans forward and kisses her gently on the cheek.
“Now that! That was definitely not a pod-kiss!” She stares at him sadly and then pushes him towards the door. “Go save him, Obi-Wan DiNozzo! You’re our only hope!”
Being back at work is the ideal distraction. It consumes his every waking minute, so he doesn’t have too much thinking time, and it’s exactly what Gibbs needs. His body aches with the pressure of keeping going, but he’s used to ignoring his own physical needs, so that doesn’t bother him.
They’re so busy that he crawls home for a few hours each night, drinks half a bottle of Jack, and fall asleep on the mattress in the bathroom. He needs the Jack because it keeps the worst of the nightmares at bay. They still creep in, maybe one or two a night, but if he doesn’t drink before going to sleep then he gets hardly any rest at all. The bourbon takes him down and keeps him under, and he needs the sleep too much to question how he comes by it.
He tries to eat, but there’s a feeling of nausea in his belly that never goes away, so he doesn’t manage much. It doesn’t matter because he’s not hungry and when he does eat everything tastes like a combination of grease and cardboard anyway.
It’s a difficult case, and one that will take all of their skill and dedication to crack, so he pushes his team hard. They don’t seem to mind. In fact, he thinks they relish having him back so much that he could push them to the point of total exhaustion and beyond, and they wouldn’t protest.
At the end of the first week, Gibbs goes down to Abby’s lab to hear her latest report. She gives him that strange look she keeps giving him, and when he leans over to kiss her cheek she moves away. He frowns.
“No! Just…” she shivers, rubbing her arms, which are covered in goose-bumps. “I don’t feel safe, Gibbs.”
“I know, there’s a murderer on the loose, but I won’t let him hurt you, Abby. You know that.”
“It’s not the murderer. I know you’ll catch him,” she says with a dismissive wave of her hand. “It’s this place.” She glances around the lab. “It doesn’t feel safe. It feels like there’s a scary wild wolf prowling around that could creep up on me at any moment.”
“Not a wolf that will hurt you though,” he says quietly.
She turns to him, chewing on her lip. “Maybe. I don’t know. I just don’t like it. It feels wrong. When you kiss me, it doesn’t feel like you anymore, Gibbs. It feels like it’s something you’re doing because you know it’s what you *do*, rather than what you want to do.”
He rolls his eyes. “I don’t have time for this, Abby; I have a murderer to catch.” He turns to go, striding towards the door.
“Come back to us, Gibbs,” she calls after him. “I miss you!”
He turns back towards her, a snarl on his lips, and is shocked to see her visibly recoil as if he truly is that wild wolf she just said she’s so scared of.
He gets into the elevator and just as the doors are closing, Tony suddenly appears out of nowhere and throws himself inside. The doors shut, and Gibbs clenches his fists. He’s managed to avoid Tony quite successfully for several days, by the simple expediency of barking orders at him and working him into the ground, and he doesn’t want a repeat of their last elevator conversation.
Tony turns towards him, and Gibbs puts up a hand.
“Forget it, DiNozzo. I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Not even for this?” Tony leans in close and kisses him gently on the lips. It takes him so much by surprise that he doesn’t have a chance to respond before Tony pulls away and a split second later the elevator doors open, and Tony walks out into the squad room as if that didn’t just happen. Gibbs blinks, staring after him.
A few seconds later, Tony stands in front of his desk and gives a verbal report, same as usual, not even a glint of anything in his eyes.
Two hours later, Gibbs finishes washing his hands and is about to leave the restroom when Tony emerges from one of the stalls, pulls him into it, and kisses him again. This time he puts a hand on Tony’s chest, intending to shove him away, but Tony’s lips feel so warm and good against his own that he finds himself pulling him close instead and kissing him back.
Tony draws back, a little smile on his face, and pats Gibbs’s cheek.
“I love you,” he says softly, and then he leaves. Gibbs is left, once again, standing there, wondering what the hell just happened.
Later that day, Tony squeezes Gibbs’s shoulder briefly when he’s sitting at his desk and then moves away before Gibbs can shrug off his hand.
The following day he stands just a little too close when they’re walking down to Autopsy, his arm brushing against Gibbs’s as they move.
They bring in a possible suspect for questioning, and Tony conducts the interrogation while Gibbs and Ziva watch through the observation room window. As Tony finishes he turns and fluently signs, “I miss you” at the mirror with his hands, before turning back, without missing a beat, and showing the suspect out.
“What was that?” Ziva asks with a frown.
“Just DiNozzo, messing about as usual,” Gibbs growls. Abby’s clearly been giving him signing lessons.
On his way home from work that evening, Gibbs is just about to get into his car in the parking garage when Tony appears from nowhere, pulls him into an embrace, and kisses him on the lips. It’s warm, gentle and loving, asking for nothing and giving everything. And then, just as Gibbs starts wanting more, Tony pulls away and leaves without saying a word.
The following day, when Tony gives Gibbs a file he lets his fingers linger on Gibbs’s hand a fraction of a beat too long, stroking gently, then moves his hand away just before Gibbs realises what he’s doing and starts to shake him off.
Over the next few weeks, Tony ambushes Gibbs repeatedly. He kisses him in the elevator, the conference room, the stairwell, and the parking garage. It’s not a long kiss – often it’s barely more than a sweet touch of lips on lips – and then he disappears as suddenly as he came. Each time he murmurs something in Gibbs’s ear just before he goes: “I love you”, “I want you”, “I miss you” – and each time Gibbs is about to tell him to leave him the hell alone, but Tony is always gone before he can get the words out.
Slowly, gradually, Gibbs feels something warm starting to stir deep inside. It isn’t much, but the knot of anxiety in the pit of his belly that he’s been ignoring for weeks slowly starts to loosen. He finds he can keep down a little more food and maybe he needs a little less Jack to help him sleep at night.
He starts to look forward to Tony’s surprise attacks, enjoying the fact that he never knows when they’ll happen. Tony doesn’t push. He doesn’t start another argument, or ask anything from Gibbs that he isn’t ready to give. He just reminds him, a dozen times a day, in tiny, brief moments, that he loves him.
Gibbs finds himself glancing at Tony across the room instead of avoiding his gaze, and he starts to see the tired lines around Tony’s eyes, and the way his shoulders are becoming more and more hunched as the case takes its toll. He finds his fingers itching to dig into Tony’s sore back and soothe out the stiffness.
Their murderer is a scumbag called Lance Briggs, and they trace him to a warehouse by the docks a few days later. He’s armed, dangerous and has left a trail of victims in his wake. Gibbs motions his team into position to flush him out of the warehouse, and a second later Briggs bursts out of the exit closest to where Tony is holding position and makes a run for it, shooting his gun wildly, with Tony in hot pursuit.
Gibbs feels a surge of an old, familiar protective instinct stirring inside. He charges after both Tony and Briggs, finding the energy from somewhere to run as fast as they are going, ignoring the pain in his knee. He rounds a corner and finds that Tony has brought Briggs down and is struggling with him.
Time seems to slow down, and in that moment, seeing Tony down on the ground, Gibbs’s heart suddenly bursts into life. It pounds painfully in his chest, full of fear, anxiety and anger. Gibbs is hardly aware of what he’s doing – he just explodes. He sprints the short distance to where they are fighting, yanks Briggs bodily off Tony, and plants his fist in the man’s face repeatedly.
He’s back in the pit, fighting for survival, using all his stored up anger and hate to win a fight he must not lose. His clothes are a hindrance, weighing him down, and all he wants to do his protect the person he loves most in the world and stop any harm ever coming to him. He couldn’t protect his mom, or his wife, or his daughter, but he can damn well protect Tony.
Suddenly he’s being dragged backwards off Briggs, whose face is a bloody mess, and Tony is pulling him away, talking to him in low, urgent tones.
“We’ve got him, Gibbs. It’s okay – we’ve got him…”
He calms down enough to see that Ziva and McGee are cuffing Briggs, shooting worried glances in Gibbs’s direction. They’ve never seen him like this before. Tony pulls him down the side of the warehouse, away from their startled gazes.
“Hey…it’s okay. I’m okay,” Tony tells him, rubbing his shoulders comfortingly.
Gibbs looks down on his own bloody knuckles and then up at Tony’s split lip and the red mark on his jaw. He grabs Tony’s face and holds it.
“You’re okay? You’re okay?” he asks repeatedly, checking Tony for signs of further damage.
“I’m fine. Ziva and McGee have taken Briggs to the car. I thought I should settle you down before we head back to NCIS. You were out of it back there.”
Gibbs gazes at Tony helplessly. “Thought he was hurting you…thought I was going to lose you.” He rests his forehead against Tony’s, breathing heavily.
“I’m fine. I can handle myself.” Tony’s hands caress his shoulders, warm and loving. “Ssh…it’s okay. I’ve got you,” he says, pulling him close and holding him tight.
“Why did you wake me up?” Gibbs hisses into his shoulder. “All that damn kissing! All those touches…I was doing fine, but you had to go and wake me up. Damn it, it *hurts*, Tony.”
“I know…I know,” Tony says softly. “But you couldn’t stay all locked up like that forever, Jethro.”
Gibbs draws back. “Why the hell not?”
“Well, it was freaking Abby out for a start.” Tony grins. “And me,” he adds, his grin fading. “And you deserve better than that, Jethro. After what you’ve been through, you deserve so much better than being all alone, unable to feel a damn thing, and having to go through the motions and pretend at being who you are because you’ve forgotten how it feels to be the real you.”
“Damn it!” Gibbs turns and walks away, feeling winded. It hurts so much he can barely breathe. He couldn’t handle seeing Tony being attacked after what they went through together, and he can’t handle his own anger, shame, pain, and guilt, either. It’s all too overwhelming. It reminds him of the worst time in his life, after Shannon and Kelly were killed, when he had to shut down just to keep from going under.
He leans against the warehouse wall, struggling for breath, and feels Tony’s hand on his shoulder, squeezing, lending him that same invisible support he’s been giving to him for weeks. He realizes now that is all that has kept him going throughout this case. He might have thought he was doing fine, but he was barely functioning. He was like an automaton, going through the motions, acting at being himself. No wonder Abby was so scared of him.
“I’m here,” Tony says quietly. “I’m not pushing. There’s no pressure. Just come to me when you’re ready. And here.” He puts his hands on Gibbs’s face and draws him in. “Let’s feed that white wolf some more.” He kisses Gibbs softly, sweetly, just once, and then draws back.
There’s no time to talk; they have a job to do. Gibbs somehow manages to force himself back to the car, Tony beside him, still offering him that support, their arms touching as they walk.
After the interrogation and the paperwork are all done it’s nearly two a.m. Gibbs is too tired to think about what happened back at the warehouse. He just goes home, drinks half a bottle of Jack, and throws himself on his mattress in the bathroom to sleep.
He hears a nuzzling sound at the bathroom door a few hours later. He turns over, trying to ignore it, but then it turns into a scratching noise. He buries his head under his blanket, but instead of going away the scratching sound becomes a whimper, which then turns into a howl. He can’t ignore it anymore. He gets up, goes over to the door, and opens it.
There’s a skinny white wolf sitting there, gazing at him dolefully.
“You want to come in, don’t you?” He glares at it. The wolf gets to its feet unsteadily, its body swaying. Gibbs can see its ribs and realizes the creature is half-starved.
The wolf presses its nose into Gibbs’s hand, and he sighs and steps to one side, allowing the wolf to slink into the bathroom. The wolf lies down on the mattress and looks up at him hopefully.
“That’s my damn bed,” Gibbs growls. The wolf gives a little whine and rests its head on its white paws, daring him to kick it off the mattress. Gibbs is too tired to argue. He lies down on the mattress beside the wolf and closes his eyes. He feels the wolf moving closer, and then it lays its head on Gibbs’s shoulder. Gibbs reaches out, wraps his arms around it, and holds it close.
He isn’t sure why, but somehow having the wolf in his arms makes him feel incredibly sad. He buries his face in the wolf’s fur and finds himself crying, great, wrenching sobs that rack his body. His tears disappear into the wolf’s fur, and it nuzzles in even closer, raising its head to lick the tears from Gibbs’s cheeks.
Now he’s started crying he can’t stop; he holds the wolf tight and sobs convulsively into its fur.
He wakes up to find his pillow wet. He feels wrung out, and he’s hurting inside, but at least the world isn’t muffled and numb anymore.
He knows what he has to do. He takes a shower, gets dressed, and walks wearily out to his car. He drives over to Tony’s place, unsure what the hell he’s going to do or say. He isn’t used to being this weak and this vulnerable. He doesn’t like how it feels.
He pulls up outside Tony’s apartment block and is just about to get out of his car when he sees Tony emerging; he’s dressed in one of his work suits, although they’ve been given four days leave following the case, and he’s carrying a bunch of flowers.
Gibbs feels his gut tighten. Where the hell is Tony going? He remembers that Tony had lunch with Greg recently and feels a surge of jealousy. He hates the way he’s at the mercy of his emotions, being buffeted by one blow after another. He feels like he’s hanging in the wind, and if he has to take one more punch then he’ll go down, once and for all.
Tony gets in his car and drives away, and Gibbs’s gut pings uncomfortably. He hasn’t felt his gut making its presence felt in weeks, and he has the distinct feeling something bad is going to happen. Acting on instinct, he puts the car in gear and follows Tony.
Tony pulls up outside a small house half an hour’s drive away. He gets out of the car, and Gibbs sees him visibly bracing himself. He looks as scared and vulnerable as Gibbs feels right now, and Gibbs’s heart goes out to him. It seems his gut was right. What is Tony going to put himself through now?
Tony’s shoulders are hunched, as they have been for days, but Gibbs sees him making a conscious effort to straighten them, standing up tall and proud. Tony takes a deep breath, and then he walks slowly up to the house and knocks on the door.
A tiny Indian lady answers it. She’s dressed in a purple and gold sari, and her eyes fill with tears when she sees Tony. He offers her the flowers.
“Mrs Patel? I’m Tony DiNozzo – we spoke on the phone earlier? I was with your son Rajul when he died. He gave me a message for you.”
“Please…come in…” She stands to one side to let him in, and Gibbs sees Tony take another deep breath, and then he disappears inside the house.
Gibbs rests his head on the steering wheel. Rajul, Steve, Brian, Ben… He’s been trying so hard to forget them while Tony is doing his best to lay their ghosts to rest. He feels a surge of pride for Tony, for all he did to save them, for not forgetting those who didn’t make it out of that nightmare, and for standing by him these past few weeks when he was pushing him away.
Gibbs reaches for his cell phone and makes a call, and then he sits back in his seat and waits.
Mrs Patel is sweet and welcoming. She makes him tea, and he sits on her couch and looks at all her photographs of Rajul, from when he was a baby to when he graduated from high school.
Tony hopes it helps her to know Rajul loved her and that his last thoughts were of her. He isn’t sure if that’s any comfort, but he wants her to know that her son was with someone who was kind to him in his last few minutes. He doesn’t tell her the details of her son’s death; no parent needs to know something as ugly as that. Tony has seen the FBI report, and he knows what Fornell’s team told her. She’ll find out more when it goes to court, and he hopes she’s ready for that. He warns her, gently, what it might entail, and she nods, blinking the tears out of her eyes.
Finally, he says goodbye and emerges into the sunlight. It’s a beautiful late fall day, much warmer than it has any right to be at this time of the year.
Tony walks slowly towards his car, waiting until Mrs Patel has closed the door behind him. Only then does he allow his shoulders to sag. He pauses beside his car, breathing heavily. That was painful but necessary. He didn’t want to re-live the events of that horrible day, but he promised Rajul he’d do this, and he’s glad he did.
Still, it hurts. He rests his arms on the side of the car, feeling the soreness in his shoulders. It’s like someone has taken handfuls of his skin and is twisting it, pulling him down. He takes a few deep breaths, steadying himself…and is taken completely by surprise when he feels two hands descend on his shoulders, soothing the sore skin.
“Ssh, I’ve got you,” a familiar voice says in his ear, and he relaxes, smiling to himself as he remembers his own words of yesterday being whispered back to him.
Gibbs’s fingers feel so good, digging into his aching shoulders, and Tony surrenders to the massage for a couple of minutes. Then he turns. Gibbs looks…like Gibbs again. Tony isn’t sure what the difference is, just that the white wolf is back, balancing out the dark one. He thinks it’s that same white wolf he’s got to thank for Gibbs being here right now and giving a damn about him.
It’s interesting that the white wolf burst into life when he was threatened yesterday and now again today, when he’s feeling so low after visiting Mrs Patel. Then again, he’s always known that Gibbs’s white wolf has a streak of protectiveness a mile wide. That’s one of the main ways Gibbs has always shown his love. He’s not the kind of guy who’ll make any flowery declarations; this is how his white wolf expresses itself.
“Did you follow me?” Tony asks.
“Yeah.” Gibbs shrugs. “I was driving over to your place and got there just as you came out with the flowers…wondered where you were going. My gut said it was bad, so…”
“You followed me. It’s kind of a habit you have.” Tony gives a little grin, remembering so much of their shared history, going right the way back to when he was a cop in Baltimore.
“Well, now you can follow me.” Gibbs jerks his head at his car, and Tony doesn’t have a chance to ask him where they’re going because Gibbs strides off.
Tony drives after Gibbs to a marina a few miles away and gets out of his car.
Gibbs goes into the marina office, emerges a few seconds later with a basket, and jerks his head at Tony again. “This way.”
Tony follows Gibbs down to the water and watches him jump on board a big, white yacht. Gibbs turns and holds out his hand to help Tony climb on board too.
“Nice.” Tony stands on the deck, glancing around.
“Belongs to an old friend. He said I could borrow it for the afternoon.” Gibbs puts the basket down. “Food,” he mutters.
Tony sits down and watches as Gibbs takes the boat out onto the open water. The sun feels good on his face, and he feels himself relaxing, really relaxing, for the first time in months.
They end up in the middle of nowhere. There’s just blue water all around them, no other boats in sight, and the sun shining overhead. Gibbs stops the boat and comes over to him.
“Take off your clothes,” he orders.
Tony glances up at him in surprise. “What?”
“Clothes.” Gibbs jerks his head impatiently, holding up something in his hand. Tony squints through the glare of the sun and sees a bottle of massage oil. “Somethin’ I’ve wanted to do for a few weeks,” Gibbs mutters. “Watching you walk around with those aching shoulders.”
Tony grins and undresses, and then he lies down on the towel Gibbs has placed on the front deck.
He’s not exactly sure what he’s expecting, but he had no idea that Gibbs knew how to give such fantastic massages. Gibbs’s fingers are strong and sure as they slide into his shoulders and neck, digging in just deep enough to give relief without being painful. Tony sighs and spreads out, allowing Gibbs to have control over his body. It feels so damn good to be here, under the sun, having his shoulders massaged by such strong, expert hands.
He feels Gibbs’s lips on one of his scars, and then feels him trace it down from shoulder to thigh, bestowing dozens of tiny kisses on it as he goes. Tony has a sudden, vivid memory of doing the exact same thing to Gibbs several weeks ago, infusing each kiss and each long, deep sweep of his fingers with all the love he possessed.
Now Gibbs is returning the favour. Gibbs is not a man who can speak easily about those things he cares about the most, but he can show it; and right now, after weeks of being shut out, Tony knows that Gibbs is telling him exactly what he means to him.
That knowledge brings a lump to Tony’s throat, and he swallows down hard and wipes his face on the towel.
“You okay? Going too hard?” Gibbs asks.
“No…just right,” Tony replies softly.
He allows himself to drift off as those deft fingers and gently caressing lips show him just how much Gibbs loves him; after an hour or so, he is in absolutely no doubt about how deep that love is.
Finally, Gibbs draws back, and Tony turns over to see him gazing down on him with a satisfied smile on his face.
“One more thing.” Gibbs picks up Tony’s hand and gently massages the fingers he once broke, slowly, one by one, easing out the stiffness. Tony looks up at him as he works; Gibbs has that same look of intense concentration on his face that he always has when he’s working on building something in his basement.
Tony remembers how Gibbs held him down and broke these fingers, one by one, all the time asking Tony to trust him, even though Tony didn’t know why he was doing it. Tony did trust him. He always has. He always will.
“Come here.” Tony grabs Gibbs’s hand and pulls him down beside him onto the towel. Then he reaches out and undoes one button on Gibbs’s shirt.
Gibbs doesn’t stop him, so Tony moves on to the next, and then the next.
“You okay with this?” Tony asks quietly, unzipping Gibbs’s fly. “I mean…without the drugs, without the danger, and without the ‘we might die tomorrow’ atmosphere? You ready for this?”
Gibbs grins and presses Tony’s hand against his cock, which is rock hard. “How does that feel?”
“Pretty ready.” Tony grins back and finishes stripping Gibbs’s clothes from his body.
Then he takes Gibbs’s face in his hands and kisses him deeply. The sun bathes them gently as they lie naked under its warm rays, caressing each other slowly. It’s been weeks, but Tony wants to savour their first love-making as free men. He doesn’t want it going too fast; he wants to enjoy it.
He explores Gibbs’s body in the daylight for the first time. He covers his skin with dozens of kisses, enjoying the scent and feel of Gibbs’s body under his fingertips and lips.
Gibbs rolls over on top of him and gently stretches his opening with his fingers, smiling down on Tony the entire time. Tony is so relaxed that by the time Gibbs sinks his hard cock into him, it feels instantly pleasurable.
Gibbs makes love to him slowly, taking his time, kissing Tony repeatedly as he moves inside him. The sky is blue behind Gibbs’s face, framing him, making his blue eyes seem an even deeper shade. They both reach climax at almost the same time, and instead of being a brief moment of pleasure snatched in the midst of an on-going nightmare, it feels relaxed and peaceful.
Afterwards, Gibbs rests his head on Tony’s chest, and Tony wraps his arms around Gibbs’s body, and they lie there for a long time in the gently rocking boat under the warm rays of the late afternoon sun.
Eventually they move, their muscles protesting at having to shift. Gibbs withdraws from his body, and they cover themselves in blankets and devour the contents of the picnic basket.
Then they lie down on the deck of the boat, wrapped up in each other’s arms, and gently kiss as the sun goes down around them.
Tony can feel Gibbs tracing his fingers gently over the scars on his back, and he remembers lying in their stall the night he was whipped, with the blood drying on his skin, and how Gibbs crawled across the floor to be as close to him as possible and held his hand all night long.
Gibbs made a promise to him that night, and now, lying here on the deck of the boat, wrapped up in Gibbs’s arms, Tony knows that Gibbs remembers that promise too.
It’s getting late by the time they return to the marina. They stop beside Tony’s car, and Gibbs hesitates. Then he leans in, plants a kiss on Tony’s cheek, and pulls back.
He turns to go, but feels Tony’s hand on his arm, pulling him back.
“Hang on. That’s it? It’s late, and it’s an hour’s drive home for me but twenty minutes to your place. Why don’t I stay over with you tonight?”
Gibbs thinks about the half-eaten containers of food in his living room, the mattress in his bathroom, and the many empty bottles of whisky everywhere, and shakes his head. “Not yet.”
“Why not? After the day we just shared.”
“It was good. Let’s quit while we’re ahead.” Gibbs turns on his heel and walks back to the car, feeling Tony’s gaze burning into his shoulders as he goes.
Gibbs looks around for a bottle of whisky to help him sleep when he gets home and finds there are none left. He thinks about it for a moment, but the dreams are too vivid for him to handle a whole night of them. One or two is manageable, but he has no intention of tossing and turning the entire night with a head full of them, which is what happens when he doesn’t drink a good half a bottle of Jack before going to bed.
He shoulders his jacket back on, grabs his keys, and opens his door…to find Tony standing outside, hand poised to knock.
“Going somewhere?” Tony asks, with a raised eyebrow.
“Walk. Fresh air.” He shrugs. “You following me, Tony?”
“You followed me. Fair’s fair.” Tony gives a sweet smile.
Gibbs glares at him. “You said you weren’t going to push.”
“I said I wasn’t going to push because I was going to wait for you to come to me. You did. So now we’re in different territory.”
“Go home, DiNozzo,” Gibbs growls.
“No. See, you can boss me around all you like at work – that’s fine. I don’t mind. I kinda like it.” Tony grins. “I’m sure as hell used to it. But when we’re on our own time, we’re equals, and you don’t get to tell me what to do. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”
“It’s my damn house, and you’re not coming in,” Gibbs says firmly, cutting to the chase.
“Fine. I’ll sit on the doorstep until you invite me in.” Tony shrugs. “See, I figured out what today was all about. It’s okay for you to look out for me, but you won’t let me do the same for you. You have to be the big, bad wolf all the time, don’t you? You can never show fear, or vulnerability, or let anyone in to help you, and as long as you do that, we’ll never have a relationship of equals.”
God, he needs that drink now! Right now. Gibbs shoves Tony to one side, steps out of the house, closes the door behind him, and then locks it, which he never usually does but he doesn’t want Tony snooping around in there while he’s gone.
“I was wondering why all your marriages after Shannon failed,” Tony says quietly.
Gibbs stiffens. “You’ve gone too far, DiNozzo.”
“No, I haven’t gone far enough. They fell in love with you because they thought you cared about them, and I think you actually did. I don’t think you find it hard to care about people, Jethro. But you won’t let them care about you in return. That’s what happened with all those ex-Mrs Gibbses, isn’t it? That’s why they all left.”
Gibbs clenches his fists angrily. “You don’t know shit, Tony.”
“I’ve been watching you for ten years, Gibbs. I know more than you think. You were still hurting about Shannon and Kelly, but you never let any of your exes into that pain. You refused to let them help, like you refused to let your dad help after your mom was killed. It’s the lone wolf in you, I get that.” Tony shrugs. Then he leans in. “But I refuse to be an ex-Mrs Gibbs, Jethro. I’m here to stay, so you’d better figure out how to make a place for me in your lair.” He jerks his head at the house.
Gibbs shoves his keys into his pocket. He won’t take the car. He intends to drink too much to make that sensible. He’ll walk down the road to the nearest bar instead.
“You want to stay out here, then fine,” he growls at Tony. “But I’m going out.” He prowls down the driveway and then glances back. “Don’t damn well follow me, DiNozzo.”
“No intention of it.” Tony sits down on the doorstep and leans his head back against the door. “But I’ll be here, waiting, when you get back. One of these days you’ll finally get it through your thick skull that I’m not going anywhere.”
The bar is only a few minutes away. He’s often been here when he needs to get out of the house and nurse a quiet drink alone. He sits down at the bar and settles in for a long night ahead. If Tony is still there when he gets back, at least he’ll be too drunk to have a conversation with him.
“Hey, Gibbs,” the barman says, putting a glass of bourbon in front of him.
“Hey, Bill.” Gibbs downs the drink in one fiery gulp.
“Haven’t seen you here in a long time; you been away?”
“Yeah.” Gibbs shoves the glass back at Bill and gestures his head for a refill.
“Did you get married again?” Bill asks. “Only you’ve got that same look on your face that you had when you were getting your last divorce.”
Gibbs grunts, remembering how often he used to come down here during his messy break-up with Stephanie.
“Women, huh?” Bill grins, putting another whisky in front of him.
Gibbs grunts again. Women, men – it makes no difference. The common denominator in being lousy at relationships isn’t gender – it’s him.
He isn’t sure how many whiskies he’s consumed when someone sits down at the bar beside him an hour or so later. It’s late and the bar is practically empty, so he’s annoyed as there are plenty of other seats.
He turns to look at his unwanted company and his stomach does a queasy flip.
“Hi, Gibbs,” Sam Hurrell says. “It’s good to see you again.”
Gibbs stares at him. “Tony called ya?”
“Yes. He figured you’d be here – said it was the closest bar within walking distance.”
“You’ve gotten fat, Sam,” Gibbs says, downing another whisky.
Hurrell grins. “Yeah – I know. Jan keeps feeding me, and it’s so good that I can’t stop eating after months of chewing though that shit they fed us as Scott’s place.” He gives Gibbs a critical stare. “And you’ve gotten thin,” he says. “You’re much thinner now than you were when I last saw you. Frank would never have let you get this thin – he had to keep you bulked up enough to win in the pit.”
Gibbs clenches his jaw and jerks his head at Bill to bring him another drink.
“I eat, you drink…there are all kinds of ways of handling it,” Hurrell says, sitting back in his chair.
Gibbs takes a gulp of the drink Bill puts in front of him.
“I’ve thought about you a lot these past couple of months since that final Fight Night,” Hurrell tells him softly. “Wondered how you were doing. Me and Jan met up with Tony a few times, and he said --”
“You met up with Tony?” Gibbs glances sideways at Hurrell. Tony has seen Greg, Hurrell and Rajul’s mom, while he’s seen nobody. He’s just tried to shut it away and pretend it didn’t happen.
“Yeah. Tony and Jan got close while you and I were away.”
Gibbs turns in his chair and takes a good look at Hurrell. He is fatter, but he’s a big guy and carries it well. It actually suits him, as if this is how he’s supposed to be. His hair has grown back in a soft shade of light brown, and he looks completely different to how he did back at Scott’s stable. His shoulders are relaxed, his face has lost that anxious look, and while he might not exactly be at peace yet, he looks as if he’s getting there.
“You’re not doing too well, I think, old friend,” Hurrell says softly.
“And you are?” Gibbs glares at him.
“I have good days and bad. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.” Hurrell shrugs. Then his face lights up. “But here – see – some good came out of it.” He gets his wallet out of his jacket pocket, opens it, and takes out a photo, which he places in front of Gibbs. It’s a picture of Jan, holding a little girl. “Her name’s Melissa,” Hurrell tells him, a genuinely happy smile curving at the corners of his mouth. “She’s Steve’s daughter,” he adds.
Gibbs gazes at the little girl in the picture. She’s got blonde curly hair and a sweet smile. He can see Steve’s features in her and it makes his gut churn. He really doesn’t want to remember that night.
“Me and Jan took a trip to meet Steve’s girlfriend Tanya, and Melissa. They’re doing okay, but struggling financially, so we’re helping out. We’ve become close.” He picks up the picture and puts it back in his wallet. “I owe it to Steve to make sure his little girl is okay,” he says quietly.
Gibbs nods and takes another gulp of his drink. “I never said…” he pauses and then forces himself on. “About that final night…I never said, because I didn’t see you again after, but you did a great job, Sam.”
“You gave me the confidence, Gibbs. There was only one guard, like you said there would be, and I took him out. I freed all the fighters – it all went down exactly like you planned.”
“Always knew you could do it. You should believe in yourself more.”
Hurrell gives him a beaming smile. “I’ve wanted to see you for a while. I wanted to say thanks – for that and for everything else you did for us. You took the brunt of it all, you came up with the plan that got us rescued, and you got us all organized. We only got out of there alive because of you.”
Gibbs stares into his drink.
“I’ve spoken to several of the fighters since we were rescued, and you’re a legend to them, Gibbs. They know we’re only free because of you, and they know you took one hell of a beating in the pit that night because you were buying time for us. So thank you. From all of us.”
The noise of that final Fight Night comes crashing back into his head. Everything was at stake; his life, Tony’s, Sam’s, all the fighters in Scott’s stable and in all the other stables. He fought his heart out in the pit that night, and he can still hear the sound of the crowd baying for his blood. He takes a deep, heaving breath inwards.
“D’you get flashbacks – to the pit?” he asks.
Hurrell nods. “All the time. And nightmares – incredibly vivid nightmares that make me wake up screaming.”
“Yeah. Me too.” Gibbs strokes the side of his glass with his thumb and then turns to look at him. “How d’you get through it, Sam?” he asks hoarsely.
“With Jan’s help,” Hurrell replies, leaning forward. “She’s been incredible. I told her everything – all of it, even the…” He flushes. “Even the stuff I’m most ashamed of. She doesn’t judge me. I’m doing a good job of that all by myself.”
Gibbs gazes at him, suddenly overwhelmed by how good it is to see him again. “You shouldn’t,” he mutters. “You’re a good man, Sam. One of the best I’ve ever known.”
“Thank you,” Hurrell says softly. His eyes are glowing with pride, and Gibbs is aware just how much those words mean to him. Hurrell places a hand on Gibbs’s wrist and speaks quietly and urgently. “Listen, Gibbs, one thing I do know, more than anything else, is that I couldn’t have got through this alone – and you can’t, either.”
“I’m not used to being so damn weak. I can’t do this shit, Sam,” Gibbs says despairingly.
“Sure you can. You’re a Marine.” Hurrell smiles at him. “Besides, you’re forgetting something, Gibbs. Something important.” Gibbs raises a questioning eyebrow. “The strength of the wolf is in the pack,” Hurrell reminds him softly. He gets up and puts a hand on Gibbs’s shoulder, squeezing firmly. “And Tony’s your pack, Gibbs. Let him be your strength.”
He squeezes again, and then he turns and leaves.
Gibbs stares into his glass for a long time after he’s gone, just gazing into the amber liquid. He thought the fight was over, and he’d won, but he’s still fighting, and he’s so tired of it. He thought he’d beaten Walid, but somehow he’s still imprisoned, only the prison is of his own making now; and for as long as he stays walled up inside it, Walid is the winner.
He’s taken one blow too many, and he’s staggering around, punch drunk, unable to stand properly. He wants to lie down. He wants to give in. He wants to stop fighting.
He finishes his drink with one last gulp, and Bill walks over. “You want a refill?” he asks.
Gibbs shakes his head, feeling something inside him finally give. “Nope. I gotta go home,” he says. “Someone’s waiting for me.”
It’s a long wait, but finally Tony sees Gibbs walking unsteadily up the driveway. Tony gets up, but Gibbs doesn’t say a word to him. He doesn’t even look at him. He just gets out his keys and fumbles drunkenly with the lock. The door swings open, and Tony waits, wondering if he’ll be spending the night on the porch.
Gibbs walks into the house and then pauses. “You comin’ in or not?” he mutters, holding the door open.
Tony gives a small, satisfied smile and follows him into the house. Gibbs turns on the light, and Tony blinks, taking in the mess of take-out boxes littering the living room. Most of them are half filled with food, some of it seriously stinking. He takes a step forward and almost trips over something that rolls away and clangs into something else. Looking down, he sees half a dozen empty bottles of whisky.
He glances up at Gibbs to find him looking at him, a defiant challenge in his eyes, clearly expecting an argument. Tony doesn’t give him one.
“C’mon…I’m beat, and you’re drunk on your ass. Let’s go to bed,” Tony says.
Gibbs nods and then stumbles drunkenly straight into the coffee table. Tony grabs him, pulls one arm over his shoulder, and walks him up the stairs towards the bedroom.
“Goin’ the wrong way,” Gibbs mumbles as Tony kicks the bedroom door open. Tony glances inside and sees the bed is missing a mattress. “This way,” Gibbs says, pulling him towards the bathroom.
Tony opens the bathroom door and sees the big mattress crammed into the tiny space, with a couple of pillows and a blanket on top. There are empty bottles of Jack strewn all around.
Gibbs leans against the bathroom door, a mulish look in his eyes, and Tony is all too well aware of just how much he hates showing any sign of vulnerability.
“Got something to say, Tony?” Gibbs demands belligerently.
“Yeah; let’s get some sleep.” Tony shrugs off his clothes, leaving them in an untidy heap in the bathtub, and then he lies down on the mattress.
Gibbs looks down on him for a long moment, and then suddenly he breaks into a low, deep chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Tony asks.
“I just finally got it,” Gibbs replies, holding onto the bathroom wall while he undresses. He slings his clothes into the bathtub on top of Tony’s and gets under the blanket beside him.
Tony pulls him close, holding him tight, trying to ignore his painfully thin midriff and the ribs he can feel beneath his fingers. Somehow, here, lying on a mattress in the bathroom surrounded by empty whisky bottles, those ribs feel far worse than they did on the boat a few hours ago. The context changes everything.
“You finally got what?” Tony murmurs into the hair that is thankfully growing back as soft and silver as before.
“I finally got it into my thick skull that you aren’t going anywhere.”
Gibbs gives a tired, defeated smile, and then he slings an arm around him, buries his face in the crook of Tony’s neck, and falls fast asleep.
Gibbs dreams the helicopters and trucks didn’t come. He dreams he’s lying beaten in the sawdust with Walid standing over him, and that the FBI and NCIS don’t show up this time. Walid stakes him out on the ground, tying him down in the sawdust.
They make him watch as they herd Sam, Tony, Greg, Matt, and all the other fighters into the pit and force them to kneel down, execution style, their foreheads touching the ground.
“You lost, Wolfman,” Walid tells him. There’s a gun in his gloved hand, and he holds it against Sam’s head and pulls the trigger. Sam’s head explodes, and he falls forward, his blood staining the sawdust.
“NO!” Gibbs howls, but it’s pointless. He lost, and Walid has won.
A crowd of people gathers around, closing in on him. He can see Scott, Ellis, Tanner, Mac, Frank, McGuire, Pete…all of them getting closer and closer, looming over him, looking down on him.
Walid gives the gun to Scott, and he steps forward and places it against Tony’s head. Gibbs struggles against the ropes tying him down, trying desperately to get free. “Don’t kill him! Don’t damn well kill him! Not Tony! No!”
Tony raises his head and looks straight at him. “Don’t worry about me, Boss,” he says, with a crooked little smile. “I’m not going anywhere.” Scott takes aim, pulls the trigger, and....
“Hey…it’s okay,” a voice says, and Gibbs wakes up, gasping for air, the scream dying in his throat. Tony is leaning over him, stroking his hair gently. “That was one hell of a dream. You’ve been whimpering for ages. I wasn’t sure whether to wake you up or not.”
“Wasn’t a dream,” Gibbs says gruffly, getting up and going over to the basin. He fills it with water and splashes it over his face, shaking from the nightmare. He can still smell the sawdust and feel it under his fingertips from where he was scrabbling to get free. He washes his hands, scrubbing his fingernails to get rid of the sensation.
Then he crawls back onto the mattress, gets hold of Tony, and pulls him close, inhaling the scent of his hair. Gibbs holds on tight until his shaking dies down. It wasn’t real. Tony is alive and well and safe in his arms right now.
“You have them a lot?” Tony asks. “The nightmares – is that why you sleep in here?”
“Every night,” he replies. “Whisky helps. A bit. It’s not why I sleep in here though.”
Gibbs gives a wry grunt of a laugh. “I have no idea.”
“I can see why you kept me out.” Tony strokes a hand through his hair. It feels good. It reminds Gibbs of his mom. “Nightmares, drinking too much, not eating enough, sleeping in here…anything else I should know about?”
“Yeah. I can’t go into the basement,” Gibbs replies honestly, looking at Tony in the small, dark room. Being in this enclosed space reminds him of the intimacy of their time in the stall, and it’s easier to open up and talk in here, like he did back there. Tony continues stroking his hair gently. “Can’t stand the smell of the sawdust.” Gibbs shudders. “Threw up in there when I first got home.”
“No wonder you had to return to work so soon. That basement is your sanctuary, your den; it’s where you go to lie low, lick your wounds, and heal yourself. We’ll find a way to get it back.”
“Yeah?” Gibbs says hopefully. He hasn’t been able to do that for himself because he can’t stand to be down there, but maybe Tony can find a way.
“Yes.” Tony kisses his mouth firmly. “I promise.”
They wake up late the next day, and after a leisurely lovemaking session they finally crawl off the mattress, take a shower together, and get dressed. Tony doesn’t want to put his suit back on again, so Gibbs throws him a pair of his sweatpants and a tee shirt to wear.
Tony raids Gibbs’s fridge and cupboards and manages to find enough ingredients for a good brunch, determined to get some flesh back on Gibbs’s bones. He watches Gibbs eat, noticing that he manages a little, but not as much as he’d like.
“Not good?” He gestures with his fork at the plate of eggs, bacon and sausages in front of Gibbs.
“Tastes like…” Gibbs hesitates. “Sawdust.” He grimaces. “You gonna kick my ass about it?” He gives a questioning little grin, and for the first time Tony gets the sense that Gibbs finally sees them as equals. He’s so used to being the one in charge that he hasn’t found this process easy, but he’s getting there now.
“Nope.” Tony shakes his head. “You’ll get your sense of taste back eventually, but I figure it’ll take time. I can wait. I’m a very patient man, Jethro.”
“You are? Since when?” Gibbs asks incredulously.
“I’ve been waiting patiently for you for ten years,” Tony points out, stealing an uneaten sausage from Gibbs’s plate. Gibbs has to cede that point to him.
After brunch they clean the place, throwing out the food containers and piling up the bottles in a box to take for recycling.
“I’m going to go home, get a few clothes,” Tony tells Gibbs when they’ve finished.
“You moving in now, DiNozzo?” Gibbs raises an eyebrow.
“Makes sense until we’ve figured a few things out,” Tony replies with a shrug. “That okay?”
Gibbs’s answering smile makes it clear it is. Tony returns home and packs up a couple of suitcases of clothes. An idea occurs to him, and he grabs his iPod and decides to stop off at the mall on his way back to Gibbs’s place.
He finishes up and glances around his apartment. He’s only brought enough for a few days, but somehow he knows he won’t be coming back to live here again. Eventually, he’ll move the rest of his stuff over. He’s been in love with this man for ten years, and he meant what he said. He’s not going anywhere; he’s with Gibbs to stay.
He returns to Gibbs’s house a couple of hours later, with his TV and DVD player as well as the suitcases and his shopping. Gibbs is out taking the bottles for recycling, so Tony orders in Chinese, Indian and Mexican food for dinner, as well as pizza, just to cover all his bases.
Then he goes down into the basement to set up what he has planned.
Gibbs returns home half an hour later, almost tripping over the suitcases in the hall. “I thought you said a few clothes?” he says, looking bemused.
“Oh, these are just enough for a few days. I’ve got two more closets full at home!” Tony tells him cheerfully.
“Why does anyone need this many clothes?” Gibbs demands, as they fill up the closet in his bedroom to bursting point.
“Because some of us actually like to dress nicely,” Tony tells him, with a pointed look at his baggy old NIS sweatshirt. He remembers Jan telling him how she reformed Sam’s wardrobe, one item at a time, and decides to do the same with Gibbs. The man is far too good-looking to hide under those cheap, shapeless clothes.
The food arrives, and Gibbs stares at the vast quantity in disbelief. “Are we expecting company?”
Tony grins. “Nah…I just figured that if I give you enough options there’ll be something here you want to eat.”
“You’re my mom now?” Gibbs rolls his eyes.
“Mom, dad, insanely handsome boyfriend…I don’t give a damn as long as you eat.”
“Insanely handsome?” Gibbs raises an amused eyebrow, and Tony laughs.
They sit down on the couch with the massive array of take-out in front of them, and Tony notes that his strategy is working, and Gibbs picks a little from all food choices, eating more than Tony suspects he’s done in weeks.
They watch a movie, and then Tony gets up and goes down to the basement for a few minutes to get it ready, before returning to the living room. “C’mon. Time for bed.” He holds out his hand.
Gibbs sighs. “I know the way upstairs, Tony.”
“Yeah, but we’re not going upstairs,” Tony says quietly. “C’mon, Jethro. Trust me.”
Gibbs allows Tony to haul him to his feet and lead him along the hallway to the basement. He’s already figured out that’s where they’re going, but he has no idea what Tony has in store for him. He stiffens as he gets to the doorway. He’s getting used to Tony seeing him so vulnerable, but he really doesn’t like the idea of throwing up in front of him.
“S’okay,” Tony says, pushing the basement door open. “Just trust me.”
He leads Gibbs into the room, and Gibbs pauses at the top of the stairs, stunned. The entire basement is decked out with lit candles, glowing prettily in the dark. Down below, where the boat used to be, is a soft pile of sawdust, and on top of that is a mattress, complete with fresh pillows and blankets.
“I thought we could try making love down here; it might be a good distraction,” Tony says, leading him down the stairs. “The mattress is from the guest room, so if it doesn’t work, or you don’t want to stay here, then we can just go back upstairs to the bathroom to sleep. No pressure. Take it in your own time.”
Gibbs stops at the bottom of the stairs, hesitating. “Feel like a damn idiot,” he mutters. “Stupid to feel like throwing up because of the smell of sawdust.”
“Actually, scent is the single strongest prompt for memory,” Tony says. “Read it in a porno mag once. See – some of us do read them for the interesting articles.” He winks and holds out his hand. Gibbs takes it and allows Tony to draw him over to the centre of the room. “One more thing.” Tony takes an iPod out of his pocket and plugs it into the set of speakers on Gibbs’s workbench. He presses a button, and a familiar song starts playing softly in the candlelit room.
Tony holds out his hand. “Wanna dance?” he says with a grin. “They’re playing our song, Jethro.”
Gibbs gives a little laugh, shaking his head wryly; only Tony could think up something like this.
“Don't know much about history, don't know much biology, don't know much about a science book, don't know much about the French I took. But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me too what a wonderful world this would be,” Sam Cooke croons from the iPod.
“You think I’m looking at this the wrong way?” Gibbs asks as he takes Tony’s hand.
“Actually, no.” Tony pulls him in close, and they start slowly swaying around the room in time to the music. “I think you’re starting to look at it the right way, Jethro.”
He kisses Gibbs’s lips gently, nuzzling into him, and Gibbs rests his hands on Tony’s butt and tries to relax and forget about the smell of sawdust. Somehow, the smell doesn’t seem as bad now, and he finds he can ignore it while Tony is holding him.
They dance for the duration of the song, the candles flickering around them, bathing them in their soft glow. Tony alternates kissing him with crooning along to some of the lyrics, his breath tickling Gibbs’s neck.
When the song ends, Tony starts unbuttoning his shirt, kissing him repeatedly as he undresses him. Gibbs returns the favour, undressing Tony in turn.
When they’re both naked, Tony gestures with his head to the mattress. “Want to try it?”
“So far, so good.” Gibbs nods, prepared to at least try.
Tony takes his hand, and they sink down on the mattress together. The scent of the sawdust overwhelms him immediately, as it’s all around them, but this time Gibbs doesn’t find himself instantly back in the pit.
Tony’s kisses keep him grounded in the here and now, anchoring him, demanding his attention, and he explores Tony’s body with his mouth and hands, focusing on it intently, the way he always does when they’re making love. He loves how responsive Tony is, how he arches up into him, and how he moans and whimpers with pleasure, never holding anything back, letting Gibbs know exactly what he likes.
The candles give Tony’s skin a soft, dappled effect, and Gibbs loves the smooth sensation of all that golden skin under his fingertips as he works his way over Tony’s body, claiming it and making it his.
“Here.” Tony fishes out a tube of lubricant from under the pillow and hands it to him. Gibbs takes it, leans over him…and then stops. “Problem?” Tony asks. “Want to go upstairs?”
“No.” Gibbs flips Tony over so that he’s on top and hands him the lube. “Well, you said it was good,” he mutters, gazing up at him expectantly.
Tony takes the lube with a smile. “Oh, it’s good, but are you sure?”
Gibbs nods, wordlessly. He doesn’t want to think about this too much; he just wants to let go and allow it to happen. He opens his legs as Tony leans over him, looking down on him. There’s a halo of candlelight around Tony’s head, and he looks…insanely handsome. Gibbs grins at that thought and relaxes into the mattress.
Tony slides the tip of his lubed finger inside him, and Gibbs forces himself not to tense up. It actually feels fine, and he opens up some more. Tony leans down and kisses him as he slides his finger back and forth, getting into a rhythm.
Gibbs’s cock is hard and starting to leak; the sensation is exquisitely pleasurable, and he finds himself wanting more. Tony pushes another finger inside him and continues to finger fuck him while kissing him repeatedly at the same time. It feels so damn good that he opens up even wider. Tony slides a third finger inside him, and Gibbs feels himself getting impatient.
“Get that hard cock of yours inside me, DiNozzo,” he growls at last, unsure he can hold on much longer if Tony doesn’t get in him soon.
Tony laughs. “Damn, you’re bossy.”
“That’s never gonna change. Equals – yeah – but I’m still me.” Gibbs grins up at him.
Tony lubricates his cock, and Gibbs watches, fascinated by the sight of Tony’s hand wrapped around his cock, the head disappearing in and out of his fingers. Then Tony positions himself between Gibbs’s thighs.
“Tell me if you want me to stop,” Tony says, before pushing in gently a little way.
There’s a burn, but it’s got a pleasurable edge. Gibbs lies back, relaxing as Tony pushes in further, and allowing him in. It feels uncomfortable, and he gives a little grunt, feeling full and stretched, and not entirely sure that he likes the sensation. Tony pauses, looking down on him, and then takes hold of his hand and squeezes, before pushing in the rest of the way until he’s fully inside him. Gibbs gasps, trying to force his body to adjust to the intrusion.
Tony squeezes his hand again. “Still with me?”
“Yeah. Just do it, Tony,” Gibbs says, from between gritted teeth.
Tony moves his hips a little way back and then pushes in again, and Gibbs feels an explosion of pleasure rocket through his nerve-endings.
“What the hell was that?” he whispers, looking up at Tony, startled.
“Prostate.” Tony grins.
“Shit…that is nothing like how it feels during a doctor’s exam.”
Tony’s grin widens. “Told you it was good!”
Gibbs releases a long, shuddering breath. “Good? It’s…” He doesn’t finish that sentence because Tony pushes in again and a firework display seems to ignite in his senses.
Tony is looking far too smug as he thrusts in and out, gazing down on him with a knowing little smile on his lips. Gibbs sinks deeply into the mattress, looking back up at him, enjoying the little kisses that Tony drops on his mouth every so often.
It stopped being uncomfortable some time ago. Now every inward thrust just sends sparks through his body, making his cock rigid with pleasure. He wraps his hand around it and pumps it in time to Tony’s thrusts, losing himself in the sensation.
As he lies there, looking up at Tony, with the scent of sawdust all around him, Gibbs thinks there’s a certain irony to the fact that he tried so hard to stop himself being fucked in the sawdust back in the pit, only to end up on his back, surrounded by sawdust, being fucked anyway.
This is nothing like the pit though. This is a special kind of intimacy, to be shared only with someone he loves and who loves him in return. There are no gawking spectators and no threat of death hanging over them; there is just him and Tony, sharing something intensely private and pleasurable.
Tony speeds up, and Gibbs is barely sure where that pleasure is coming from now as the nerve endings in his cock and his ass combine to create one big overload of sensation. It all explodes at the same time, and he comes over his own fist and belly.
When he comes to, Tony is lying in an exhausted heap on top of him, his head angled to one side on Gibbs’s shoulder, gazing at him from gleaming green eyes.
“So, was I right, or was I right?” he asks, looking as irritating as only a Tony DiNozzo who has been proved right can be.
“Smart-ass.” Gibbs slaps the ass in question fondly.
Tony gives a happy, gurgling laugh and slowly pulls out of him. He gets up and goes around the room, blowing out all the candles, and then he returns and drops down beside Gibbs on the mattress. Gibbs pulls the blanket over them both, and they share another long, deep kiss.
“So, I was thinking, I could make you a closet,” Gibbs murmurs sleepily. “For all those damn clothes of yours.”
Tony smiles and snuggles in close against his chest, and Gibbs holds him tight as they both fall asleep.
It’s dark in the basement without the candlelight, and when Tony wakes up a couple of hours later he wonders where he is at first. Then he remembers; he’s wrapped up in Gibbs’s arms, where he belongs. The actual place doesn’t matter, as long as he’s with Gibbs.
He stretches out, luxuriating in the feel of Gibbs’s firm body against his own. It’s been a long, hard road to get here, but now he finally has this grey wolf tamed enough to lie quietly beside him. Tony doesn’t kid himself that Gibbs will ever change; he’ll always be stubborn, grumpy, and ornery, as well as loyal, brave, and protective, and Tony wouldn’t want him any other way. Gibbs is the sum of his parts, good and bad, and Tony knows he can’t have the white wolf without the dark. He wouldn’t want that anyway.
He glances up and sees Gibbs’s blue eyes shining in the dark room.
“You awake?” Tony whispers.
“Yeah. You woke me up. You’re thinking too loud.” Gibbs taps the back of his head in a mock head-slap. “What’s going on in there?” Gibbs asks, stroking Tony’s hair where he just tapped.
“Not much. I was just thinking about wolves,” Tony says, resting his chin on Gibbs’s chest. “You?”
“I was thinking about fighting,” Gibbs replies.
Tony sits up a little way, feeling uneasy.
Gibbs pulls him down. “Damn it, DiNozzo – you’re letting in cold air.”
“Fighting?” Tony rolls over onto his side, next to Gibbs, and gazes at him expectantly.
“Yeah. Been fighting a long time, Tony. Fought my dad, fought my ex-wives, and fought Walid. I’m a stubborn bastard, and I never once gave in – until I fought you.”
Tony smiles. “Well, like I said, I fight dirty.”
“So do I.” Gibbs grunts.
“Well, maybe this was one fight you didn’t want to win.”
“Yeah – against an opponent who refused to give up.”
“Couldn’t. Too much to lose,” Tony says softly. He trails his fingers over Gibbs’s stomach, enjoying the fact that nobody else on Earth could make this particular wolf roll over and show them his belly. This old wolf is his, and Walid found out the hard way just how dangerous a Tony DiNozzo in love can be.
“Think I finally met my match.” Gibbs strokes his hair again.
“Winner takes it all, huh?” Tony says with a grin, placing his hand possessively on Gibbs’s chest, over his heart.
Gibbs pulls him close and kisses him. “And the loser.”
He dreams he’s trotting through woodland, the moon dappling his grey coat. He feels strong and sure-footed as he runs across the grass. He’s sleek, fit and muscled, and he has a mate by his side.
Tony runs with him, barefooted, just as strong and sleek as he is. They run through glades and streams, laughing as the water splashes on Tony’s bare feet, and Gibbs’s paws.
They reach the edge of the woodland and pause. Over there, out on the flat, open grassland, lies danger and darkness, but it’s a darkness Gibbs knows he has to face. He pads out slowly from the safety of the trees and walks towards it.
He finds himself in a hollowed out pit and there is sawdust under his paws. Enclosing the pit are bleachers; empty, silent, and eerie.
He stands there, in the middle of the pit, puts back his head, and howls at the moon.
Gibbs wakes up with a start. A couple of hours must have passed since their last conversation, and Tony is fast asleep beside him. Gibbs gets off the mattress and goes upstairs to use the bathroom. On his way back, he glances out of the window to see that there’s a full moon shining outside.
He knows what he has to do. He goes back down into the basement and quietly gets dressed. Then he crouches down beside Tony and nudges him awake.
“I have to go somewhere,” he says.
Tony sits up, his hair sticking up at a dozen different angles at once. “You want me to come?”
“Yes.” Gibbs doesn’t hesitate. He’s done pushing Tony out. He needs him for this, and he isn’t too proud to admit it.
Tony gets dressed, and they go out to the car together.
“You know the way?” Tony asks, and Gibbs nods, not even needing to question how Tony knows where they’re going.
“Yeah, I looked in McGee’s files when he was at lunch one day.”
The drive takes a couple of hours, and they arrive when the night is at its darkest, just before dawn. There’s nothing here, on this site where that last Fight Night was held, just open grassland. There is still a faint smattering of sawdust though, showing where the pit once was.
Gibbs parks beside the pit and gets out. Tony makes no move to join him; he understands that there will always be a part of Gibbs that is a lone wolf and there are some things he must do alone.
Gibbs goes over to where the pit once was and walks around it, scuffing the sawdust with his boots. It looks so different now. There are no bleachers, or holding pens; no trucks or hotdog vendors. There’s no referee, no commentator, and no Walid, sitting up there on his throne, playing at being an emperor. There is no Scott, looking down on him, and no Frank cheering him on. There are no stable owners, biting their nails nervously as they watch their fighters perform. There’s no baying mob, crying out the name he was given in this place.
“Wolf-man! Wolf-man! Wolf-man!”
Gibbs prowls around the outside of the pit, remembering how it felt to stand here, just before a fight, the adrenaline making his heart pump fast. He remembers stepping out into the pit, and the roar of the crowd.
“Wolf-man! Wolf-man! Wolf-man!”
He remembers how much a part of him enjoyed it, even while another part of him hated it. He remembers feeding that part that enjoyed it, in order to survive.
He is both dark and light wolf, like everyone else. They are both inside him, and he needs them both. He hugs them both close as he walks around the pit. They kept him alive out here. The dark wolf helped him find the anger to fight and gave him that killer instinct that helped him win, while the light wolf reminded him what it’s like to love and gave him something to fight for instead of against.
He pads out into the middle of the pit, remembering that final Fight Night with the rain pouring down and the helicopters flying in.
He remembers other Fight Nights too; his first one, when he didn’t know what hell awaited him; and the Fight Night when they threw Tony into the pit against him.
He remembers Steve being murdered that night, and he bows his head in remembrance of all the fallen: Ben, Brian, Rajul, and all the many others whose names he doesn’t know. So many lives so pointlessly sacrificed. He grieves for them all.
Then he remembers the things he did because he had no choice if he wanted to stay alive and keep others alive. He allows himself to feel the great sense of guilt and shame that he’s been carrying around inside. That opens up the floodgates and other emotions rush in, demanding to be felt too: pain, sadness, grief, terror, shock, confusion, anger, and hatred, all crowding in.
He falls to his knees, throws back his head, and howls at the moon, giving cry to all his anguish. A terrible happened to him and right here is where he must face it. They captured him, beat him, abused him, and forced him to commit acts that went against his nature. They stole a part of his soul and kept it captive until Tony came along and freed it.
His howls turn into wrenching sobs, and he cries for a long time, his body shaking.
Then it’s over. He’s done. Spent. He’s fought his last battle in this pit.
He hears a sound behind him and then Tony appears. He sits down in the sawdust beside Gibbs and puts an arm around his shoulders. It’s cold, but Tony warms him, and they sit there quietly for a long time.
“I was an angry kid who lost his mom,” Gibbs says eventually, looking straight ahead. “I became an angry man who lost his wife and daughter. I’ve been angry too long. It kept me from living. It pushed away the people I loved. My dad, my ex-wives…you.”
The pit was his catharsis. It’s where he got that anger out, punching away at faceless strangers in place of old enemies, over and over again.
“I don’t want to be angry anymore.” He glances at Tony, who is gazing at him silently. Tony nods, understanding him, the way he always has.
What happened here changed him. He tried to pretend it didn’t and carry on as usual because he didn't know how to handle it, but he won’t do that anymore.
“You’ll have to lead the team for a while,” Gibbs continues. “I’ll go and see Fornell next week. There’s a lot to tell him. Might take some time.”
“Sure,” Tony says quietly. “Take as long as you need.”
“And I have other people to see. Brian spoke about his father, and Ben had a wife and a couple of kids.”
“I’ll come with you, if you want?” Tony offers, and Gibbs nods, wondering why it’s always been so hard for him to accept help before. It seems so easy now.
They sit there together, watching the first faint rays of dawn painting the horizon a rosy pink, and Gibbs thinks that it really is a wonderful world.
He turns to Tony. “Let’s go home,” he says.
Thank you to all those who have been with me as I posted this week! Your insights and discussions have been amazing, and I've loved sharing this journey with you. To those coming in to read it in one go - I hope you enjoyed it too and look forward to reading your comments ☺
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