Let Him Not Love The Earth Too Deeply by AndEverAmen
Summary:

Tony's been keeping a secret for years; leave it to Gibbs discover the truth. In an effort to find out more about his Senior Field Agent, Gibbs joins Tony on a trip that reveals far more than either man had ever imagined. Meanwhile, an old enemy resurfaces with vengeance in mind. Will the Agents survive, and will things ever be the same again?


Categories: Gen Characters: Abby Sciuto, Anthony DiNozzo, Donald Mallard, Leon Vance, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Other, T.C. Fornell, Timothy McGee, Ziva David
Genre: Action, Angst, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort
Pairing: None
Warnings: Domestic abuse, Rape, Violence
Challenges:
Series: Cry, The Beloved
Chapters: 27 Completed: Yes Word count: 63604 Read: 116632 Published: 05/17/2016 Updated: 05/17/2016

1. In Which A Secret Is Discovered by AndEverAmen

2. In Which An Adversary Appears by AndEverAmen

3. In Which The Show Hits The Road by AndEverAmen

4. In Which A Deal Is Made by AndEverAmen

5. In Which Tents (And Fits) Are Pitched by AndEverAmen

6. In Which Blood Has Been Spilled by AndEverAmen

7. In Which The White Flag Is Raised by AndEverAmen

8. In Which The Bottom Drops Out by AndEverAmen

9. In Which The Hunter Stalks by AndEverAmen

10. In Which The Sound Barrier Breaks by AndEverAmen

11. In Which Two Roads Diverge by AndEverAmen

12. In Which Paths Finally Cross by AndEverAmen

13. In Which A Plan Is Hatched by AndEverAmen

14. In Which He Whispers, Afraid by AndEverAmen

15. In Which The Sleeper Awakens by AndEverAmen

16. In Which He Spills His Coffee by AndEverAmen

17. In Which He Breaks A Rule by AndEverAmen

18. In Which There Is Bond-ing by AndEverAmen

19. In Which Shame and Comfort Collide by AndEverAmen

20. In Which The Paradigm Shifts by AndEverAmen

21. In Which He Begins To Catch On by AndEverAmen

22. In Which He Tames The Wild Horse by AndEverAmen

23. In Which He Bucks And Bolts by AndEverAmen

24. In Which He Finally Says The Words by AndEverAmen

25. In Which The Greatest Of These Is Love by AndEverAmen

26. In Which One Good Turn Deserves Another by AndEverAmen

27. Endings and Beginnings by AndEverAmen

In Which A Secret Is Discovered by AndEverAmen
Author's Notes:

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

"Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."
- Alan Paton - Cry, The Beloved Country

Let Him Not Love The Earth Too Deeply

Chapter 1

Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo had a secret.

Actually, he had a lot of secrets: secrets about the truth of his childhood, about who he loved and how deeply, about what his actual likes and dislikes were, about his true personality. He couldn't help it. Secrets were as natural as breathing to him.

If nobody knew the truth, then nobody could use it to hurt him.

He had built his walls tall and thick, each brick a piece of misdirection or half-truth that kept people from seeing what he kept so carefully hidden away. He kept himself tucked safely back where nobody could touch him, nobody could take away from him, nobody could harm him.

He had hurt enough and lost enough. He would hold on to what he had left; he would rather die than give it up. There had never been anybody who both wanted to be let in and was trustworthy enough to be allowed past the idiotic frat boy public image to the soft underbelly of his inner workings. Nobody had been found worthy.

At least, not until now.

~***N*C*I*S***~

As secrets go, on the surface this one seemed rather silly. It had started in childhood, oddly enough, and Tony had held fast to it through his disinheritance and subsequent reinvention of himself at military school all the way through to his arrival and tenure at NCIS. He kept a storage facility in every city he lived where he could stash away the various bits of paraphernalia that brought his secret to life. He added to and improved said collection whenever he could, paying cash to leave no trail and slinking away to the storage bay when he was sure nobody was watching. He rented it under an old undercover alias that had long ago been forgotten by everyone but himself.

It looked paranoid and probably was, but Tony had stopped trusting so long ago that he couldn't remember what it felt like. He circled around his secret like a dragon dreaming atop its hoard of treasure, and his wrath when it seemed like somebody was getting too close was just as fierce.

It was nothing illegal or immoral or really even mildly questionable, but it went against his public image too much to admit to. The party boy mask, 1000 thread count sheets, movie quotes, fancy suits, and muscle cars were fine, but this... this would change everything.

~***N*C*I*S***~

The truth was that Tony liked the outdoors.

Not just liked, but loved; reveled in, really. Hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, stargazing - he did it all. Every chance he got, he slipped away to the great outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of the city with its noise, traffic, pollution, lights, and people... so many people all the time. Tony liked people, he really did, but sometimes he just wanted to be alone for a while, quiet and free to be himself without an audience. Mother Nature didn't care who he was or what he did for a living. She placed the same demands upon him as she did everyone else; she was uncaring and impartial in a way that Tony found to be very liberating. He did not have to perform for her, merely survive.

It was hard to find time to get away with the demands of his job, but Tony made due. He left his primary cell phone at home when he slipped away, forwarding the number but not the GPS location to a second phone. Rule 3 was sacred; Tony wouldn't dream of violating it. It did limit his options to places that still had service, but Tony thought it worth the effort.

If it was a school night or he was on call, Tony wouldn't plan on spending the night or going too far. He would drive out of the city to stargaze or head for a horse farm where he had an arrangement with the owners to rent a horse and ride the gentle trails, always being sure to arrive back at his apartment at a decent hour. On weekends when he wasn't on call, he camped in one of the nearby state parks, hiking to remote spots and staying as far away from other people as he could. Sometimes he took his kayak to one of the local rivers and spent the day on the water, camping on the shore overnight and just enjoying the earth beneath him and the stars above.

Once or twice a year, Tony took vacation time and planned a more extensive camping experience. He made up stories of Caribbean cruises or Vegas getaways with old frat buddies, but they were just a cover. Not that he never hung out with the guys, but more than half of his wild vacations were nothing but a smokescreen.

He loved those times away more than anything. He planned them months in advance, scoping out prime hiking trails and parks. He meticulously packed and repacked his gear, making sure he had everything he could possibly need. He had been all over the United States over the years, starting this tradition long before he joined NCIS. Nobody knew where he really was and he made very sure to keep it that way.

When he couldn't get away from the city, he would jog in Rock Creek Park or play football with some buddies in one of the various parks in the city. At least then he could be outside in the sunshine and fresh(ish) air, and sports were an acceptable and enjoyable activity that fit his persona. His post-plague lungs were a lot better than they had any right to be, all things considered, and Tony was very thankful that they didn't hold him back in his pursuit of the outdoors.

Tony had never before wanted to share his hobby with anyone else. He had thought about telling Wendy and was ultimately glad he hadn't as they didn't work out. He had been secretly amused at McGee's scouting activities and had laughed himself sick when the Probie got poison ivy, but he didn't admit to his shared affection for all things outdoors. He had an image to maintain; sometimes Tony felt it was all he had.

As Tony grew closer to his teammates, the urge to share his secret with them slowly grew. He never could have told Kate; as much as he had loved her he knew she never would've let him hear the end of it. He would not have even considered telling the Probie before Somalia, but the harrowing shared experience that was Saleem had strengthened the bond between them enough that it did not seem so impossible anymore. Ziva did not share his passion, and after everything with Rivkin he wasn't too sure of his position with her. Besides, she was still trying to put herself back together after four months in hell and didn't need his drama on top of her own problems. He trusted Abby more than just about anybody, but she had a tendency to blab the truth without thinking sometimes. Tony didn’t want to risk it. Ducky and Palmer were both good at keeping secrets, but Rule Four kept Tony’s mouth firmly shut.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t McGee, Ziva, Abby, Ducky, or Palmer that he told. In fact, he didn't actually tell anybody. He should have known that he couldn't keep a secret from Gibbs forever. The man really was magic; his ability to know things he shouldn't and appear out of thin air had manifested itself enough times that Tony hadn't been surprised, not really, when it all came crashing down.

~***N*C*I*S***~

"Something you want to share, DiNozzo?"

Tony froze, unable to move or reply or even breathe for a few moments as the shock of being discovered washed over him. His brain scrambled to find an explanation or, failing that, at least a misdirection until he could regroup. He turned slowly away from the entryway of his storage unit to lock eyes with Gibbs and stayed silent under that icy glare. He never could lie to the man, not like this when they were alone and Gibbs was looking at him like he could see right through him and there were no ready-made distractions available to redirect his focus.

Gibbs continued to stare at him in silence, and Tony knew he was going to break. Gibbs had destroyed many a suspect in interrogation with nothing but the power of his glare, and Tony, although well used to it, couldn’t hold up against him when he was lying and feeling guilty for it.

“Uh, hey, Boss. Fancy running into you out here.” Tony knew he was stalling, some small part of him still scrambling to find an explanation that would leave his secret intact. He thought briefly again about lying, an excuse involving picking up equipment for a frat buddy already forming on his tongue, but, caught as he was in Gibb’s glare, he knew it would never work. He wasn’t stupid enough to lie to the man’s face so blatantly, especially with such a lame excuse that wouldn’t fool the man for any longer than it would take for the echo of his words to fade.

Tony’s voice trailed off as Gibb’s eyebrow rose, pinned under those blue eyes like a bug on a board. Gibbs looked… almost amused under that glare. It was subtle, but the loose set of his shoulders and the lines that crinkled ever so slightly around his eyes combined with the raised eyebrow told Tony that Gibbs wasn’t angry, merely curious and at least somewhat entertained.

Tony’s eyes flicked from Gibb’s face to the air around them and back again as he nervously licked his lips. He really, really didn’t want to do this right now. He had planned on grabbing some gear and heading for Shenandoah National Park to camp, ready to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend alone and, for once, not on call. He hadn’t counted on Gibbs showing up, had no defense ready that would hold water.

Tony had been distracted on his way over, his mind evenly split between the horrible case they had just wrapped up that day and the fastest route to his destination. He hadn’t noticed the yellow Challenger following him to the storage facility or seen it park down the street. There had been no chance, none at all, of him hearing Gibbs sneaking up on him. Tony was convinced that the former Marine could walk silently through a field of bubble wrap if he so chose. It was only his years of experience dealing with his boss sneaking up on him that had kept Tony from jumping in startled surprise at his question.

Gibb’s gaze moved past Tony to the contents of the storage unit behind him, and his eyebrow climbed a bit higher as his eyes moved over the contents. Various hiking and camping gear was neatly organized within, and Tony’s kayak rested prominently on a pair of sawhorses in the center of the unit. His fishing pole, tackle box, hiking pack, sleeping roll, boots, and other odds and ends were in a neat pile and ready to go. Tony had swung by the weekend before (on call, of course) to prepare his gear for the trip. He wanted to be in and out and on the road as quickly as possible.

Looks like that’s not happening now, Tony thought to himself.

“Going camping, Tony?”

The use of his first name both surprised and relieved Tony. Gibbs using his first name meant he wasn’t angry. Tony hated it when Gibbs was angry with him. Oh, he loved irritating the man because that meant he had Gibb’s attention, and Tony lived for Gibb’s attention. But when Gibbs was angry, really angry, with Tony, he got that dangerous sort of quiet that Tony dreaded. When Gibbs got well and truly pissed he stopped talking to Tony, stopped looking at him, stopped listening to him; he shut Tony out completely and retreated to a place where Tony could never reach him until he was ready to be reached. It drove Tony almost over the edge every time that happened, sure that this time Gibbs would throw him out, kick him off the team, send him away, just like everyone else had when Tony pushed a bit too hard or went too far.

Gibbs never did, though, no matter how angry he got. He always let Tony back into his space. He might take a while to cool off, but he never shut Tony out permanently. Tony could never completely relax, though, sure that someday the other shoe would drop and it would all be over. Even after nine years with the man, Tony wasn’t sure of his place in his boss’s life. He thought they were friends, but Gibbs could be so hard to read sometimes that Tony often felt wrong-footed around him outside of work. He went over for beers and cowboy steaks, watched him work on the boat in his basement while he rambled away, caught the game together on that sorry excuse for a TV. He spent the night sometimes in Gibb’s guest room, either after too many beers and bourbons or when the heat went out in his apartment or some other catastrophe left it unlivable for a few days. Despite all of this, there were times when Tony had no idea what Gibbs thought of him; sometimes he saw an expression on Gibbs face and in his eyes that Tony just couldn’t place and didn’t know what to do with. Gibbs would notice Tony looking and slide seamlessly into a neutral expression. It felt a bit like having a door slammed in his face; Tony always felt thrown off-balance, though he didn’t show it.

Tony shook his head briefly, bringing his thoughts back to the present and to Gibbs standing in front of him, waiting for an answer.

“Yeah, Boss, I was planning on heading to Shenandoah to camp for the weekend. I’ll be back sometime Monday.” Tony smiled his thousand-megawatt smile, hoping that Gibbs would just leave it be, would turn around and walk away with a wave goodbye and go back to his basement. Of course, he knew it wouldn’t be that simple, but a man could dream.

“Since when do you camp?” Gibbs asked.

It was a fair question, and expected, but Tony wasn’t sure how to answer it. The whole story would take too long and require too much of him, but he couldn’t lie, either. Gibbs was like a bulldog on a bone when it came to ferreting out the truth. Tony sighed and shrugged his shoulders in response before turning to grab some of his gear and put it in his truck.

Oh crap, his truck!

Gibbs didn’t know that he owned a truck, of course. He had bought it used years ago (with cash, of course) in his alias’ name and kept it parked on a side street a few blocks from his apartment. It was nothing fancy, but it ran well and could haul his gear and kayak with no problem. Tony had kept it a secret just like everything else. When his Corvette was stolen and his Mustang blown up he hadn’t driven the truck to work, afraid that somebody would figure out that it was his and call him out on it.

How was he going to explain all of this to Gibbs? It made him look completely ridiculous, he was sure, and that was saying something considering the man built boats in his basement.

Tony did the only thing he could do at the moment; he ignored the proverbial elephant currently dancing a jig between them and kept loading his truck, not meeting his boss’s eyes. He could feel Gibb’s gaze boring into him, knew the man was barely holding his questions in check. Gibbs knew that if he just waited long enough his SFA would break. He always did.

“Want some company?”

Tony’s eyes immediately snapped to Gibb’s face, his whole body stiffening in surprise yet again. Of all the scenarios he had played out in his mind over the years, this was not one of them. He had expected questions, anger, suspicion, demands… but not a simple offer of companionship. He knew Gibbs wasn’t stupid; the man had seen through his frat boy act from the beginning. He was sure that his boss was already putting the pieces together, collating facts and scraps of information gleaned over years of subtle observation to come up with the truth on his own as to Tony’s past activities and the now obviously dubious veracity of his claims regarding past frat-boy vacation hijinks.

Gibbs never liked being lied to, especially not by his team, and Tony was surprised that Gibbs wasn’t angry with him. Perhaps he was, and this was the calm before the storm. Perhaps Gibbs wanted to get him alone so that he could explode at him with no witnesses. Yes, that was it. Tony was sure of it.

Oh, well. Might as well get this over with. Tony was already drafting his resignation letter in his head; he wondered if Fornell’s offer of a job at the FBI still stood. Becoming a Feebie wasn't his first choice, but it would do in a pinch.

“Sure, Boss. We can swing by your place to pick up a few things before we set out.” Tony thought he did a good job of keeping his voice normal, his body language relaxed. He always had been excellent undercover, and he put those skills to good use now, resigned as he was to his fate.

Gibbs just smiled a bit at him and turned back to his car. Tony figured that Gibbs would get to his house far enough ahead of Tony to have everything ready by the time Tony got there. Tony hadn’t packed enough food for two, but a quick stop at the store would remedy that.

Tony swallowed hard as he turned back to his storage unit to finish loading his truck, his shoulders slumping slightly as he heard the distant sound of Gibbs' car pulling away into the late spring evening.

In Which An Adversary Appears by AndEverAmen

Gibbs drove to his house at his usual insane speed, deep in thought.

 

He’d known that something was up with his SFA for a few weeks now. Tony had been acting more over-the-top than usual – not by enough of a margin to really raise suspicion amongst most of the team, but enough for Gibbs to pick up on it. Despite what others might think, Gibbs really did pay attention to his subordinates’ lives. He just didn’t show it much. Tony’s movie quotes, inappropriate jokes, pranks, and outrageous stories had definitely increased.

 

Gibbs didn’t like it.

 

He knew Tony well enough by now to stay alert when the younger man started acting out. Though his SFA hadn’t crossed any serious lines yet, he was certainly toeing the edge with gusto. Just this week he had glued McGee’s keyboard to the desk with the board’s North-South orientation inverted so everything was backwards, swiped Ziva’s phone and scrolled through her texts before she almost broke his fingers taking it back, deliberately gave Abby too many Caf-Pows to see what would happen, and goaded Ducky into telling even more stories than normal before walking away and letting the ME talk Gibbs’ ear off, grinning manically as he passed his boss on the way out. Gibbs’ hand was still smarting from all the headslaps he’d doled out.

 

Gibbs’ gut was in an uproar over all the signs he was seeing that not all was as it appeared with Tony. He knew better than to outright ask what was going on; Tony would dodge the questions with a level of skill that frankly amazed the former Marine. Pinning Tony down was almost impossible if one didn’t catch him off-guard or wait for the man to open up first.

 

Tony had also been avoiding Gibbs’ basement, a fact that had not escaped the older man. Gibbs knew that his basement was Tony’s refuge. The younger man would show up with pizza and beer, plant himself on a stool or the bottom step, and ramble on about nothing and everything while Gibbs worked on his boat (or, lately, a smaller project) and grunted at the appropriate moments. Sometimes, just maybe, Tony would open up a little and say something that actually held meaning, and in those rare moments Gibbs would finally stop whatever he was doing, make eye contact, and say whatever it was his SFA had come there to hear.

 

Gibbs absolutely refused to admit out loud how much he enjoyed those times together and how much he needed Tony to come to him with his problems. Since his girls had died, he’d lived a tough, lonely life. He didn’t let too many people get close, and even those who did manage to penetrate the stone walls around his heart found it difficult to get to the softer, gentler center that surely existed somewhere inside the gruff, hardened Marine-turned-Agent. Abby had seen it more than most, glimpsed the Holy Grail that was a vulnerable Gibbs a time or two, but even she could not say for sure that she’d ever experienced a pre-loss Gibbs. Sometimes Gibbs felt like the man he had been when his girls were alive had died by the same bullet that killed them; his ghost could be felt, perhaps, but it was an ethereal thing, there and gone again like smoke in a breeze.

 

Still, just because people didn’t see that side of him anymore didn’t mean the man didn’t care, and care deeply at that. He couldn’t help it; Gibbs had always been fiercely loyal and protective, even possessive; his time in the Corps had only solidified those traits in him that had run deep long before he left his hometown. Gibbs knew he was the kind of man who needed people to take care of and keep safe, and losing his wife and daughter had broken him in a way that he hadn’t thought possible. Not even the death of his mother had hurt like that, and it was her death and the fallout thereof that had sent him running from Stillwater and his father at the earliest opportunity.

 

It was that well-hidden sense of caring and concern that had driven Gibbs to tail Tony after work earlier. He knew that his SFA was up to something, but not knowing the details was driving his gut wild. He would have felt guilty about it if there hadn’t already been plenty of times where following the man would have prevented a lot of trouble. Besides, Gibbs trusted his gut to an almost insane degree – at least, it would be insane if it wasn’t right 99.9% of the time.

 

He hadn’t intended to approach the younger man, merely check up on him and see if he couldn’t piece together just what exactly was going on. However, when he saw Tony park at his apartment building, walk a few blocks, and get into a truck that Gibbs had never seen before, Gibbs knew that something big was going down. Was the man undercover again? Gibbs hoped not; he’d have to kill him this time for not telling him what was going on, and hiding a body after the crazy week they’d had sounded like more trouble than it was worth.

 

When Tony had pulled up to that storage bay and opened up one of the units, Gibbs had felt his stomach drop. He couldn’t make out from where he was on the street what was inside, but he was thinking that it couldn’t be anything good. He had gotten out of his car and made his way to the unit with his typical silent gait, sure that Tony had no idea he was there. The fact that Tony hadn’t spotted his tail – after all, his Challenger didn’t exactly blend in – bothered him. Tony never let his guard down like that. What on earth was going on with his Senior Field Agent?

 

He had almost laughed when he startled the man with his question; only his years of practice at sneaking up on Tony kept even the faintest hint of a smirk off his lips. He had seen the flash of guilt cross Tony’s face as he turned to face him, there and gone almost before it could be registered. Anybody else would have missed it, but Gibbs was not just anybody.

 

Gibbs’ worry and concern had slid into confusion and, quite honestly, amusement when he realized what was in the storage unit. Camping gear? A kayak? What the…? The thought of Tony camped out somewhere, cooking over an open fire with a freshly-pitched tent behind him had almost been enough to make Gibbs laugh for the second time that night. His SFA was so green when it came to all things outdoors that he blended in with the treetops. Their little excursion to Arizona last year had proven that!

 

Still, there was something going on here that Gibbs didn’t yet understand, and he was determined to get to the bottom of it. Gibbs had the feeling, deep in his gut, that perhaps he didn’t know his SFA as well as he thought he did. He knew these were Tony’s things, knew it in a way that he couldn’t explain but trusted anyway, and he could tell that a lot of time and money had gone into the collection of gear hanging on the walls and stacked carefully on the floor.

 

Something wasn’t tracking right, and Gibbs had the feeling that Tony had been hiding more than a storage unit from him. Could he really have fooled him that well? It was certainly possible – the fiasco that was Jeanne Benoit was just the top entry in a long list of DiNozzoian subterfuges that had slid past Gibbs for at least a little while before their inevitable discovery. Suddenly, Gibbs was wondering what entries on that list he hadn’t yet discovered.

 

Gibbs’ offer to accompany DiNozzo had surprised them both, but Gibbs’ gut had twanged in agreement so he hadn’t taken it back or said anything to scare his agent off. He just stared, waiting, knowing that DiNozzo would acquiesce. He couldn’t completely hide his smile of satisfaction when DiNozzo agreed, and it wasn’t until after he was in his car and driving away that he realized Tony hadn’t actually said anything about what was going on or answered any of his questions, asked or implied.

 

Gibbs let out a rueful chuckle at that realization, impressed despite himself at how devious his SFA could be. That brought him out of his woolgathering and into the more practical matter at hand of what to pack and where exactly everything was located. The weather this time of year could still be cool, even this far south, and Gibbs wanted to cover his bases. Hell would freeze over before the former Marine would let himself get caught in the wild unprepared.

 

Gibbs pulled into his driveway and made his way into his house, his mind already sorting through his gear and making lists. He didn’t notice the eyes watching him, didn’t feel the gaze raise the hairs on the back of his neck.

 

He didn’t hear the click of the telephoto lens or hear the murmured threats directed his way, nor did he sense the unrelenting hatred pouring out across the street like a black sludge from the car parked discreetly less than a block away.

 

The driver, satisfied with the photos, set his camera aside and continued to watch. Gibbs was oblivious as the man, a cruel half-smile upon his lips, spoke into the early evening sunlight that shone so at odds with his words:

 

“I’m coming for you, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, you and that obnoxious Senior Field Agent of yours. I’ll make you watch as I gut him slowly in front of you. It will be the last thing you ever see before you die, screaming in agony. I swear it!”

In Which The Show Hits The Road by AndEverAmen

Tony pulled into Gibbs’ driveway next to the yellow Challenger and cut the engine with a sigh. He had swung by the store on his way over and grabbed a few more food items to pad out his meals now that he was feeding two people, but he still felt like he had gotten there too fast. He hadn’t had enough time to figure out what on earth he was going to do with this mess.


Never one to cower in the face of adversity, Tony got out of the truck and made his way into Casa de Gibbs without bothering to knock. Nobody who knew the man did.


As he crossed the threshold and swung the door shut, he was suddenly struck by the thought that at least this whole business with Gibbs discovering his secret had gotten his mind off the train wreck that was their last case. He gave out a chuckle that was more of a grunt at the thought, a strange smile-grimace hybrid blooming on his face.


“Something funny, DiNozzo?”


Startled out of his train of thought, Tony turned to see Gibbs standing in the doorway of the kitchen with his trademark half-smirk. Before Tony could answer, Gibbs turned away and went back into the kitchen only to return a few moments later with his arms full of gear, heading for the front door.


“Ready when you are,” Gibbs said as he brushed past Tony. With a quick glance around the room, Tony followed his boss out the door. Unsurprised at the efficiency of Gibbs’ packing, Tony merely hopped into the cab of his pickup and started the engine as Gibbs put his gear in the bed of the truck and climbed into the passenger seat beside him. With a quick reverse out of the driveway, they were on the road.


The silence between them was mostly comfortable, though there was a slight tension in Tony’s body that belied his calm expression. The silence stretched on until they hit I-66 westbound; Tony’s ability to keep quiet was obviously exhausted as he began to comment on the heavy traffic which then led into a rambling monologue about the various road trip films he’d seen, starting with Smokey and the Bandit and branching out from there.


Every once in a while, Tony would glance sideways to gauge Gibbs’ reaction, but the man was silent, his body language neutral, his only movements the occasional lifting of his coffee cup to his mouth to take a sip.


And seriously, where did Gibbs’ coffee even come from? Did he pull it out of hammerspace like some Looney Tune character? Perhaps “Summon Coffee” was a Gibbsian superpower along with “Super-Marine Stealth Mode” and “Break Your Brain With My Icy Glare”, Tony wondered to himself even as his mouth kept moving of its own volition. He had abandoned the subject of road movies in favor of some frat-boy tale about a keg smuggling that had gone hilariously wrong when, out of nowhere, he felt Gibbs’ hand lightly slap the back of his head.


Tony’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click, and he turned to gaze at Gibbs with an expression of mild surprise. Gibbs stared back, eyebrow cocked, and Tony silently replayed the last few minutes in his head in an effort to figure out what had earned the headslap. To his chagrin, he realized that his monologue had left the realm of entertaining storytelling and transformed into a half-manic caricature of his normal motor-mouth tendencies. The panic that had been waiting quietly in the background of his mind had pushed his mouth into high gear, and while the red herring that was his verbose nature kept most people off his emotional scent, Tony knew the bloodhound in Gibbs was not easily fooled.


Tony could feel the heat rushing up his neck and spreading across his ears, and he groaned inwardly as he realized that he was actually blushing in embarrassment. He struggled to control his body’s response to being caught panicking by Gibbs; he was determined not to give his boss even more fuel for the fire. He desperately cast about for something to say to ease the tension that suddenly filled the space between them.


To his surprise, it was Gibbs who broke the silence.


“So, have you been camping in Shenandoah before?” Gibbs asked the question with a casual grace that had Tony’s internal Gibbsometer blaring out a red alert. Tony had spent enough time with Gibbs in interrogation to fear that tone of voice; it was the one Gibbs pulled out when he wanted to lull a suspect into a false sense of security before crushing him or her like a bug.


Squish, squish, his mind supplied helpfully.


Normally, Tony would dodge the question with an artful bit of distraction or prevarication or, failing that, some good old-fashioned verbal diarrhea. Under the current circumstances, however, none of his usual methods would work. It was his garrulousness that had gotten him into this jam in the first place.


Heh, jam. Smashed up fruit. Squish, squish.


Tony shook his head and tried his best to push the panic back into the box in the back of his mind where he shoved everything he didn’t like or couldn’t deal with. Unfortunately, the box was already full to bursting and didn’t have room for one more bit of avoidance. Tony did his best to hog-tie and leave it in some back corridor of his mind where it couldn’t cause too much damage, at least for as long as it took him to get Gibbs off his back.


“Well, you see, Boss, it’s like this…”


As Tony launched into what he hoped was just enough of an explanation to satisfy Gibbs without actually revealing anything, he made the mistake of glancing at the man. Gibbs had that look on his face, the one he wore when he was sure that Tony was about to feed him a line of bull and he wanted to see how much rope it would take Tony to hang himself. It was a bit like a hawk watching a baby bunny, all feral hunter and secure sense of impending victory.


Tony swallowed whatever he was about to say; he could practically hear the sound of Gibbs swooping in to disembowel his prey.


It sounded an awful lot like squish, squish.

In Which A Deal Is Made by AndEverAmen

Gibbs sighed internally as he looked at DiNozzo, waiting for whatever cock-and-bull story his SFA was concocting to spill out so he could call him out on it and they could both move on to the truth, or at least a step in that direction.


He was used to dancing around the issue at hand with his SFA, and he had gotten to be very good at it over the years. He still remembered the look on Tony’s face when he had tackled Gibbs in Baltimore over nine years ago, triumph merging into surprise into cocky cop all within the span of a few seconds. Tony had looked and acted like the self-assured frat-boy-cum-cop that he wanted the world to see, but Gibbs had been there when he confronted his dirty partner, had seen the devastation on his face and realised in that moment the quality of the man standing in front of him looking so defeated and yet so determined.


It was in that moment that Gibbs knew he had to have Tony on his team. He had been seriously considering it - he already knew that Tony had investigative talent to spare - but it wasn’t until he saw the integrity carefully hidden in the core of DiNozzo that he made up his mind. Gibbs knew the man was hurting, but he also knew that he couldn’t just come out and offer him a job like a normal human being. It wasn’t his way, for one, and he also knew that Tony wouldn’t have believed him had he offered. For all his brash confidence that he broadcasted to the world, Tony was surprisingly insecure underneath it all.


When Gibbs said that he didn’t waste good, and Tony was good, he had meant it more than almost anything else he’d ever said in his entire life. That first headslap had been the unlikely pivot upon which both their lives had swung wildly into a new and uncharted direction. Somehow, Tony had wormed his way into Gibbs’ inner circle and had left enough of a crack in the door that Kate, McGee, and Ziva could follow. Had it not been for Tony, Gibbs doubted that he ever would have come to care for the agents that came after as much as he did.


Gibbs knew that his life was far richer for having met Tony, but he had quite a bit of difficulty expressing that fact to his SFA. The problem was that his default mode was still Second-B-is-for-Bastard; that switch had been flipped the day he identified his girls’ bodies. Perhaps even more of a problem was the fact that Tony truly didn’t know how to handle genuine kindness and affection. He could only take it if it came at him sideways and cloaked in gruffness or feigned unconcern. “Nice Gibbs” threw Tony off-course and made him worry; what that said about each of them was probably best left unexamined, at least for the moment.


Besides, right now Gibbs was too busy watching the Tony Train Wreck Show to be nice.


Part of Gibbs thought that it really wasn’t fair of him to do this to Tony. He knew that the last case they had worked had deeply disturbed the younger man, though he only had suspicions as to why. Tony on a normal day was a formidable foe, but an off-balance Tony was no match for Gibbs. A nicer person would have backed off and allowed the man to rebuild himself. Unfortunately for Tony, Gibbs was not known for his niceness, especially when his curiosity was piqued.


A curious Gibbs was a dangerous beast indeed.


Gibbs took another sip of his coffee as he listened to Tony’s explanation trail off, hiding a smirk in his drink as he heard Tony gulp. The silence that followed was profound.


Gibbs waited with the patience of the Marine sniper that was as much a part of him as his own heartbeat. People often thought him to be an impatient man, and they were often right. Gibbs didn’t have a very high tolerance level for nonsense, and he showed it with icy glares, headslaps, and deep, angry growls. However, when the situation called for it - and this one most certainly did - he could be as patient as Job himself.


When Tony finally broke, it was like the sweet, victorious thrill of a perfect headshot.


“I’ve camped in Shenandoah dozens of times, Boss.”


That quiet admission echoed between them like the distant boom of a supersonic round. Gibbs had certainly suspected that DiNozzo had more of the outdoorsman in him than he had let on, but this… this was big. Well, not big in the (hugely hypocritical, if Gibbs was going to be honest) way that “I’ve lost a wife and daughter and never told you” was big, but still.


Had anybody told him yesterday that his SFA was keeping a big secret from him, Gibbs would’ve been furious. He knew that there was a place for privacy; he himself was more reclusive than most. However, he expected his teammates to come to him with problems, to trust him - especially Tony.


Yet somehow, the anger didn’t come. Instead there was concern, even worry, and a sadness that didn’t quite have a name yet. The fact that Tony felt the need to hide this from him practically shouted that all was not well in his SFA’s psyche. There was something much deeper at work here than a secret love of camping.


Everyone thought that Abby was Gibbs’ favorite, and she was in a way. Gibbs knew he saw in her the daughter he had lost, knew that she was filling a void that had been eating away at him for close to a decade before they met. He knew he catered to her even at the expense of other teammates, especially McGee, and the twinge of guilt that went with that thought would need to be examined more closely at a later date.


But Tony… Tony was a whole different category altogether.


Gibbs had never concretely defined what Tony meant to him, not even in his own head. It was as if properly labeling their relationship would somehow make it all the more real, make him care too much, make it all the harder to handle every time Tony got hurt. And if Tony actually had the gall to die


Gibbs couldn’t even begin to fathom it. Losing his girls had almost caused him to eat his gun. Losing Tony would probably make him finally pull the trigger. Kate’s death had been hard, very hard, but he had survived it both because he wasn’t as close to her as he was Tony and because Tony had needed him… and he had needed Tony.


There were days when the thought of needing anyone had him reaching for the nearest bottle of bourbon, but Gibbs knew, in his better moments, that being completely walled off from the rest of the human race was no way to live life. All things considered, he doubted that he could have picked a better individual than Anthony DiNozzo, Junior to have on his six both professionally and personally.


Of course, having one's six is a two-way street, and it didn't take a genius to realize that Tony needed Gibbs to back him up right now. Whatever was going on, Gibbs was determined to help his SFA.


Focus, Marine.


Gibbs mentally shook himself and turned more fully towards his partner, searching for the right words to draw Tony out.


“You know you can tell me anything, right, Tony?” Gibbs asked mildly.


Great, now I sound like a twelve-year-old girl. Next I’ll be asking if he wants to join me in painting our nails and talking about our feelings.


“Yeah, Boss, I know. It’s just…”


Gibbs cocked an eyebrow at his SFA as he trailed off, still wondering what exactly was going on and how to handle the situation. Getting Tony to spill was like pulling teeth, and Gibbs wasn’t blind to the fact that he was asking his agent to do something that he himself was loathe to do on the best of days: talk about something that actually mattered.


Gibbs knew his reputation as a functional mute; it didn’t bother him because it was true. He had never been one to make with the yabba-yabba, unlike Tony who used it as both sword and shield. Where Tony preferred to bludgeon his opponent with an avalanche of sound, Gibbs liked to use silence as a wall to keep people out. Opposite approaches, to be sure, but they both worked.


They worked well together when they used their combined skills on other people, but trying their hand against each other was like Tony’s Unstoppable Force meeting Gibbs’ Immovable Object. Still, Gibbs hadn’t gotten to be the lead agent of the MCRT for nothing; he would win this battle of wills if it was the last thing he did.


“Boss, I promise to answer your questions, but can we please wait until we get there and set up for the night? This isn’t something I really want to discuss while driving.”


Gibbs knew a stalling tactic when he heard one, but Tony had a point. He had a feeling that this conversation was going to be both long and difficult. Might as well wait until they were both comfortable.


“OK, Tony. I’ll wait, but don’t think you’re getting out of this. And if you even think of trying to wiggle out of it, I’ll headslap you so hard your grandchildren will feel it. Deal?”


“Deal.”

In Which Tents (And Fits) Are Pitched by AndEverAmen

The rest of the drive was made in relative silence.


Normally Tony hated prolonged silences, but he had learned to be a bit more comfortable with it around Gibbs. Gibbs didn’t need noise or distraction, and his quiet nature put Tony at ease. Tony knew that Gibbs saw through his act, so he felt no need to perform for him when they were alone. Still, Tony often filled the gap himself anyway simply because he needed something to do.


Silence left too much time to think about things best left alone.


Tony used the remaining drive time to plan, plot, and even scheme a little. He knew that he had made a deal with Gibbs and that the man would collect, but that didn’t stop him from trying to find a way to weasel out of his end of the bargain. He couldn’t help himself. He felt like he was standing on the margin of a great chasm, and one wrong step would send him over the edge and into oblivion.


There was a part of him, small but persistent, that had been urging him to tell Gibbs for a long time. Unfortunately, that part was drowned out by the much louder part of him that told him to trust no one, not even Gibbs - Gibbs, who was his best friend and the older brother he’d never had. Gibbs, who was more of a father to him than his own had ever been.


It scared him how much he had come to depend on the older man, how much he cared about him, how much he mattered. He was so used to being on his own and taking care of himself, and just the thought of needing anyone to help him made him want to pack his stuff and run to the opposite side of the globe. By the time he realized how much Gibbs and the rest of the team had become his family, it was too late. NCIS was home. He couldn’t leave, despite how much he might want to at times.


It wasn’t the secret of the outdoorsman in him that was the issue, not really. That secret was silly, he knew, at least on the surface. Had he told Gibbs from the beginning, it wouldn’t have mattered at all, but years of habit and distrust had led him to play it close to the vest, not knowing that he would eventually come to the place where Gibbs and safety were synonymous in his mind. Telling him now would lead to questions that he didn’t want to answer.


And Tony knew that there would be no halfway measures in this. Gibbs would not settle for anything less for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Gibbs would dig and dig until he got to the bottom of everything, until every last scrap and bone and shard had been uncovered, categorized, and analyzed.


Great, now I’m confusing the Boss with Indiana Jones. All he needs is a hat and whip and the picture will be complete.


“It belongs in a museum!” Tony muttered under his breath.


He saw Gibbs glance at him from the corner of his eye, but he steadfastly ignored him. Unbidden, an image of Gibbs running from a giant boulder appeared in his mind, and Tony had to fight to stifle a laugh. He heard the rattle of that box in his brain and knew that the panic was trying its best to get out and wreak havoc again. He bit his lip and pressed down on the accelerator, suddenly desperate to get out of the truck and away from Gibbs for a moment so he could regroup without an audience.


Fortunately, they were almost at their destination. Before he knew it, he was pulling into the ranger's station and checking in. He had reserved a campsite located about two miles from the nearest parking area on one of the more obscure trails. They would have to hike in, but it wasn’t so far that they couldn’t get to the truck in a hurry if need be or force themselves to carry everything in one trip if it wasn’t necessary. The more remote nature of the trail gave them good odds of being undisturbed, even on such a busy holiday weekend.


After checking in, Tony had driven them to the small parking area at the trailhead. Tony slipped into the single restroom and locked the door behind him, grateful for a moment alone to order his thoughts. He relieved himself, then washed his hands. Looking into the mirror, he watched his reflection stare back at him and took a deep breath, then another.


“Pull yourself together. DiNozzos do not panic. DiNozzos do not panic. Neither do they pass out, cause a scene, or short-sell stock without an inside track.” Tony quoted a truncated list of his father’s mantras to himself, aware on some level how ridiculous that idea was, but nevertheless used it to leverage his burgeoning hysteria back into the overstuffed box where it belonged.


Tony turned the faucet back on and splashed water on his face, using the cold shock to reset himself. With a deep sigh, he reached for the paper towels and dried his hands and face before straightening his shoulders and making his way out of the bathroom and back to the truck where Gibbs was waiting.


Gibbs had obviously not been idle while Tony was straightening himself out; he had his gear organized into a well-laden pack that leaned against the back wheel well, ready to go. The man himself was leaning against the passenger door, arms crossed and one knee bent, looking for all the world like one of those black cowboy cutouts that some people used as yard decorations - minus the hat, of course.


Tony had a momentary flashback to their trip to Arizona the previous year and smiled. He had enjoyed his time with Gibbs and the Sheriff a lot more than he had let on. He had played the tenderfooted fool to the hilt, slipping into the role like it was another undercover op. Gibbs had been none the wiser, and Tony had gone home feeling quite proud of himself. If there had been just a bit of sorrow and longing underneath it all, well, Tony was good at ignoring elephants and pretending everything was fine.


Tony made his way to the bed of the truck and grabbed his own pack, giving it a thorough once-over to ensure that everything was in place and ready to go. His tent and bedroll were fastened to the medium-sized hiking pack; his fishing pole was collapsed and placed securely inside along with his compact tackle box. He was already wearing his hiking boots, having changed into them before leaving his storage unit. Everything else was in the pack, so Tony hopped out of the bed and closed the tailgate.


There was just one more thing Tony needed to grab before they could set out. He opened the driver side door of the truck and reached into the center console, pulling out his badge as well as his Sig in its holster. He secured the Sig at his side where it rested as naturally as if it were an extension of his own body. The badge he slipped into his pocket.


Tony knew it might look just a little bit paranoid to be carrying in a national park while camping, but his status as an NCIS agent was all the permission he needed to bring his gun along. He had a Swiss Army knife in his pack as well as his hidden belt knife, so Rule 9 was doubly covered.


The backup revolver strapped to his left ankle may have been overkill.


Tony wasn’t sure why he felt the need to be so heavily armed on a camping trip. He chalked it up to years of being a cop and then a federal agent. One never knew what could happen, even in the middle of nowhere. Going anywhere without a gun felt like walking out of the house naked. Tony would rather be considered paranoid than wind up dead because he was unarmed.


Tony hadn’t missed the fact that Gibbs had his own Sig secured to his side. He felt strangely reassured at the sight.


Tony hoisted his pack onto his back and secured the strap around his waist. Gibbs did the same with his own pack. With a smile at the man, Tony turned towards the trail and led the way.


“You know, this reminds me of a movie…”


~***N*C*I*S***~


The hike through the woods helped to calm Tony’s mind. It was odd to have a companion on the trail, but Gibbs was unobtrusive, though Tony knew that the older man was watching him with curious eyes. Tony let his senses roam, taking in the sights and sounds of spring. The trail wasn’t particularly difficult; it rose at a tolerable grade through the forest, meandering around large, old growth trees that were flush with the bright verdant hue of new foliage.


Tony had stopped talking soon after they hit the trail; his heart just wasn’t in it. He would rather enjoy the natural beauty around him and let it cleanse and soothe him. Gibbs, of course, was more than happy to maintain his silence.


It took them about half an hour to reach their campsite, which was little more than a clearing in the forest large enough for a tent or two and an old circle of stones that was obviously used as a fire pit.


There wasn’t another site or soul around for miles.


Tony smiled; this was exactly where he needed to be. He took off his pack and leaned it against a tree, grabbing his tent bag from where it was strapped to the outside of the pack. He could feel Gibbs watching him even as the other man took off his own pack. Tony had to work hard not to laugh to himself; he was sure that he was about to surprise his boss with his heretofore hidden skills.


Tony began scanning the ground where he planned to pitch the tent, picking up sticks and rocks and tossing them clear of the area. When he was satisfied, he opened his tent bag and pulled out the ground cover. With quick, efficient movements, he spread the cover out and made sure that it was square and smooth. His tent was high-quality, compact, and lightweight, designed to assemble easily and withstand a wide variety of environments. He set it up with practiced ease, running the poles through their sheaths and pitching the tent in a handful of minutes. He carefully staked everything down before putting on the fly. Stepping back, he examined his work with a critical eye before adjusting a few of the lines from the tent.


Finally satisfied, he turned to check on Gibbs and had to smile at what he saw.


Gibbs had opted for a much more militant approach. His tent was a genuine Marine-issue combat tent, complete with camouflage-colored fly that complemented Tony’s own muted green setup. Gibbs pitched it with the speed and familiarity of old habit and long drills; though his obviously took longer to set up, he was not far behind Tony. With a few more practiced movements, he was done.


Gibbs stood up and brushed the palms of his hands on khaki pants. Tony watched as Gibbs turned to examine Tony’s handiwork. The barely discernable crinkling at the corners of his eyes and the ever-so-slight upturn of his lips was all the reaction he saw, but to Tony Gibbs’ approval was as obvious as a clap on the back and a “good job”.


Tony felt a warm rush fill him up inside and had to turn away to hide his pleasure at Gibbs’ reaction. He grabbed his pack and made his way inside his tent to set up his sleeping quarters for the night. His bedroll was a simple, no-frills affair, and it took him only moments to situate everything to his satisfaction. Tony reached into his pack and grabbed his hatchet and Swiss Army knife before exiting the tent to gather some firewood.


Gibbs must’ve had the same idea because when Tony exited his tent Gibbs’ pack was gone, as was the man himself. Tony could hear him rustling around inside his tent and left him to it.


Tony stepped into the forest to gather some wood for the fire. He looked for fallen logs with bare branches sticking up from the ground; they were much more likely to be dry than wood that was actually touching the earth, plus they were smaller and easier to break apart. Tony didn’t need a large, roaring fire but rather just enough wood to cook with and tide them over until bed. They had about an hour until sundown, but Tony didn’t want to waste a lot of time hunting for firewood when most of it could wait until morning.


Tony quickly found what he needed and, with the aid of his some elbow grease and his trusty hatchet, managed to gather a respectable armful of wood in no time. He hauled his bounty to the fire ring and deposited it near the stones. Tony turned back towards his tent and grabbed a lighter and a small ball of wax mixed with dryer lint. Using his knife to shave wood chips off one of the smaller branches, Tony then placed the wax ball in the fire pit and places the wood shavings around it. With a quick flick of his lighter, he set the ball on fire.


As it burned, the fire spread to the shavings. Tony carefully fed twigs to the flames, gradually reaching for larger and larger pieces until the fire was crackling merrily. Soon he was placing the largest pieces he had on the fire, careful to keep the logs close together but with enough space to allow for airflow.


Satisfied with the quality of the blaze, Tony stood to go to his pack and almost ran smack into Gibbs. Startled, Tony jerked back violently and would have fallen into the fire if Gibbs hadn't reached out lightning-quick and grabbed his shoulders to steady him.


"Easy, DiNozzo. It's just me." Gibbs let go of Tony with a reassuring squeeze once he was sure that he was stable.


"Jeez, Gibbs, are you trying to give me a heart attack? I didn't think my ticker could take this many shocks in one day." Tony theatrically placed his hand over his heart and took deep, exaggerated breaths, hoping to hide how the sudden adrenaline rush was making his fingers shake.


Gibbs just rolled his eyes and stepped out of Tony's way. Tony stepped warily past him and grabbed his pack from his tent before returning to the fire. He pulled a compact metal grate and camp cooking set from the pack, setting them aside until the fire burned down enough to leave a decent bed of coals.


Tony focused on the task of getting food out of the pack and prepped while he waited for his heart rate to return to normal and the last of the adrenaline to fade. God, but Gibbs was sneaky! Tony thought that the man just couldn't help himself; all that Marine training had sunk deep into his bones until he became physically incapable of making unnecessary noise.


Normally Tony could handle stealthy Gibbs, but he had honestly forgotten all about the other man for a few moments, so used was he to camping in solitude. The sudden reminder of his presence combined with the adrenaline coursing through him was enough to bring his panic over the upcoming conversation back to the forefront of his mind. As usual, the panic caused Tony's mouth to start running without first consulting his brain.


"You know, Boss, you really need to watch the movie Predator. 1987, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, about an alien warrior hunting humans in the jungle. Invisible, deadly, savage. Very scary. A lot like you, really. Though to be fair, an argument could be made that you're actually Arnie. 'Get to da choppah!'" Tony thought he captured the accent quite well. "Though you don't quite have Arnie's build - then again, who does?"


Gibbs' snort interrupted Tony before he could really take off.


"DiNozzo, the biggest problem with your theory is that I am real, and I don't need any sci-fi alien mumbo jumbo to kick your ass from here to DC, which I will do if I hear one more movie reference before dinner!"


Gibbs' growl had turned into a roar by the end of his sentence, but Tony wasn't intimidated. He was used to Gibbs' irritation by now and secretly got a kick out of it. Chalk up another one for DiNozzo!


He grinned up at his boss, eyes sparking with mischief before turning back to the fire and their supper. The wood had burned down enough to start cooking, so Tony set the grate over the coals and placed a lightweight frying pan on to heat up. He set his percolator next to it, already prepped and ready to provide fresh coffee to soothe the savage beast in Gibbs that was demanding a sacrifice of dark roast.


Dinner didn't take long to prepare. Soon Tony was serving up two healthy portions of the hash-like concoction he had fried up, handing a plate to Gibbs who already had poured himself a cup of coffee. They ate quietly, not lingering over their food. They were finished and cleaned up faster than Tony would have liked. Coffees topped off, the silence between them suddenly grew tense as they stared into the fire.


Tony waited for Gibbs to start the conversation, in no hurry to kick things off. He felt the panic jibbering away in his mind and took a large gulp of his coffee, mouth suddenly dry.


God, I'm not ready for this.


Tony suddenly stood up with the jerky movements of a spooked horse, turning towards his tent as the last embers of daylight died a glorious death above their heads.


"Well, Boss, I'm beat. It's been a long day. I'm turning in for the night. I'll see you in the morning," Tony called to Gibbs over his shoulder, already halfway to his tent. He didn't quite make it all the way to his tent before Gibbs was on him, spinning him around and standing almost nose-to-nose, his blue eyes blazing even in the rapidly fading twilight.


"No way, DiNozzo. We had a deal. Or are you chickening out on me?"


That's exactly what I'm doing, Boss, if you'd just let me. Of course, Tony couldn't say that out loud, and he didn't like feeling cornered on top of panicked, his back already almost pressed against the door of his tent by the ferocity of Gibbs' presence. Gibbs might be the one with a reputation for being a Grade-A bastard, but DiNozzo had been taking lessons for years. Freaked out and with no way of escape, he lashed out.


"Screw you, Gibbs! I don't need this, and I certainly don't need you!"


Some dim part of his brain recognized that he sounded like a petulant teenager rebelling against his old man, but Tony was too angry and scared to care. The enormity of what he had foolishly agreed to do (Tell Gibbs? Have I gone insane?!) struck him all at once. He couldn't do it. He felt himself starting to shake, his heart pounding erratically, and suddenly he was pushing past Gibbs, practically running out of the camp and into the dark woods beyond.


He thought that he heard Gibbs yell something behind him, but he couldn't make it out over the rushing of blood in his ears. One thought rose above the chaos in his mind as he stepped out of the firelight and into the darkness: Gibbs is going to kill me.

In Which Blood Has Been Spilled by AndEverAmen
Author's Notes:

I messed up when I originally wrote this story. I set it over Memorial Day Weekend, but timeline-wise it makes more sense to have it set over Labor Day Weekend. Just pretend it's really the latter and not the former. Oh, and it's set in Season 7.

I’m going to kill him.


The thought roared through Gibbs’ mind as he watched Tony rush past him and into the woods. He felt the anger bloom in his stomach, causing his fists to clench at his sides. The stentorian yell that came out of his mouth would’ve made hardened marines tremble had it been directed at them.


“Damn it, DiNozzo! Get back here, now!”


No reaction. Tony didn’t even slow down. Gibbs worked hard to reign in the rage that demanded he pursue his quarry. He took a deep breath to steady himself and exhaled slowly. He deliberately unclenched his fists, letting the tension slide out of his shoulders in an effort to calm down.


He had seen the moment of panic and fear in his SFA’s eyes before he ran. It was the only thing keeping him from wringing his neck.


Gibbs didn’t know what exactly had caused that look on Tony’s face, but his gut was twisting uncomfortably in reaction. For something to kick Tony’s fight-or-flight response into high gear like that in Gibbs’ presence, Gibbs knew that it had to be something pretty bad. Tony hated to let Gibbs see him as anything less than the highly-capable agent he was or the overgrown frat boy he pretended to be. Seeing him like that was… Gibbs didn’t even have words for it yet.


Gibbs suddenly wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the truth.


The thought only lasted for a moment before his investigative side kicked in and demanded answers. Gibbs turned towards his tent to grab a flashlight; no sense in both of them running headlong into the dark. He knew he could track his wayward agent in the dark with little difficulty. Even if Tony had been trying to be stealthy, Gibbs knew the man would leave at least some sign of his passing. True, Tony had a lot more fieldcraft in him than he’d ever suspected, but even trained and specialized soldiers sometimes left minute traces of their presence. A panicked agent rabbiting into the woods would leave a trail that a blind man could follow.


Gibbs certainly wasn’t blind, even if he was a bit hyperopic now. He may struggle to read things up close, but his long-distance vision was as sharp as ever. He definitely could still track a man through the woods. He would find Tony, calm the man down, make sure he was safe… then he would get his answers even if he had to put Tony in a headlock and choke it out of him.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs moved carefully through the forest, mindful of his footing as he followed the clear upward-bound path that Tony had created in his rush to get away from him. Gibbs was worried; running through the woods at night, especially when one didn’t know the terrain, was foolhardy at best. There was a full moon just touching the horizon in a clear sky, but the pale light barely penetrated the treetops enough to give vague definition to shapes, let alone clearly mark obstacles.


Gibbs sedulously scanned the area around him with the flashlight, looking for any signs that Tony had doubled back or set a false trail, but it appeared as if Tony had simply run blindly, too spooked to worry about subterfuge. Gibbs knew the man had a decent head start and was moving faster than he, but Gibbs was hopeful that he had either come to his senses and stopped or been slowed by the terrain. He really didn’t want to chase his SFA halfway across the park in the dark.


Gibbs made decent time, all things considered, and the change in angle of the rising moon was slight when he finally caught up to Tony. He could hear him long before he saw him, the sound of great, gasping breaths and muttered curses like music to his ears. Gibbs debated sneaking up on his agent, but he figured that surprising the clearly unsettled man who happened to be carrying a weapon or three might not be the best idea. Besides, he was pretty sure that Tony had seen the beam of his flashlight sweeping the forest and already knew he was there.


In the end, Gibbs approached Tony with a deliberate calm that he did not feel. The last thing he wanted was to send Tony running again only to track him down and start all over. The more Tony ran through the woods, the greater his chances of injuring himself.


It’s a bit late for that, Gibbs thought grimly as he finally laid eyes on his SFA.


Tony was seated with his back leaning against the trunk of an old oak, still trying to catch his breath. His right hand was pressed firmly against his left bicep, and Gibbs could see blood soaking into Tony’s shirt under his fingers. His face showed scrapes and abrasions where tree branches had clearly smacked him in the face during his flight through the forest. The knees of his pants were dirty, probably from a fall. All in all, he looked like hell, but he’d live.


Gibbs sighed deeply and sat down next to Tony, grimacing as his bad knee popped in protest. Half of him wanted to choke the man, but the other half was just glad that he hadn’t fallen and broken his fool neck. He decided to compromise.


Smack!


The headslap wasn’t overly hard, but it cracked in the relative stillness of the forest like a breaking branch. Gibbs felt Tony tense beside him for a moment before relaxing, their shoulders brushing slightly at the movement. Gibbs met Tony’s gaze with a hard glare of his own, but Tony must’ve seen something in him that reassured him because he smiled faintly instead of bolting again.


“Hey, Boss. Nice night, isn’t it?”


Gibbs didn’t bother dignifying that inane statement with a response. He just glared harder.


“Yeah, so you’re probably wondering why I just ran into the woods in the dark with no flashlight like some perp trying to avoid getting caught. Not really sure what to tell ya, Boss.” Tony said.


“You could try the truth, DiNozzo.” Gibbs replied with just a hint of a growl in his voice.


He felt Tony tense up again at those words and decided that sitting in the dark while one of them was bleeding wasn’t the best time or location for a heart-to-heart conversation. He hauled himself back up and brushed the dirt from the seat of his pants before reaching a hand out to Tony. He met Tony’s surprised glance with his usual gruffness.


“You coming, DiNozzo, or are ya gonna sit here all night until your ass goes numb and you bleed half to death?”


“Well when you put it like that, Boss…”


Tony reached out and grabbed Gibbs’ hand, using the added leverage to hoist himself up. Gibbs noticed that he favored his right ankle a bit, and he had the sudden urge to headslap him again. Tony was more injury-prone than any person Gibbs had ever met, and the worry that rose up every time he was hurt had a tendency to manifest itself as a need to make physical contact - which in Gibbs-speak meant headslaps.


“You gonna be alright on that ankle, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked.


“I’m fine, Boss. Just lead the way.”


Gibbs glared at his agent with such intensity that Tony unconsciously took a half-step back in an effort to put a bit of distance between them.


“So help me, DiNozzo, if you tell me you’re ‘fine’ one more time, I will throw you off the mountain and let you roll back to camp! I’ll ask you again. How. Is. Your. Ankle?”


Tony let out a sigh and shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll get me back to camp as long as we don’t have to run. I fell over a log and must’ve twisted it on the way down, but it’s not broken and will hold my weight. You don’t have to carry me, Boss.”


Gibbs snorted at that thought and turned around to lead the way back to camp. He listened carefully as Tony followed behind him, alert for any overt sounds of pain or difficulty. Tony might claim to be okay to walk, but hard-earned experience had taught Gibbs that the younger man tended to downplay or underestimate his injuries, even to himself. Gibbs would rather he didn’t fall down and crack his skull - then Gibbs really would have to carry him out.


~***N*C*I*S***~


They made it back to camp without incident, though both men were tired and Tony especially was dirty and hurting. Gibbs made a beeline for his tent and the well-stocked first-aid kit he had wisely packed. He came out of the tent to find Tony standing by the fire, staring at the few embers that were still glowing.


“DiNozzo! Sit down before you fall down!” Gibbs barked out.


Tony started slightly but covered the motion by turning it into an effort to sit. The sudden shift in weight caused his ankle to twinge in protest, and Gibbs heard his sudden hiss of pain.


Gibbs was by his side in a flash, hands already reaching to take off his boot. He slipped it off Tony’s foot as carefully as possible and set it aside. Gibbs reached into his pack and pulled out an electric lantern; he turned it on and set it to the side so he could see.


Tony’s ankle was already slightly swollen and turning a nasty shade of purple-blue. Gibbs gently ran his hands over it, looking for any breaks. He found none. He started pressing on various areas of Tony’s foot and ankle, grunting when Tony flinched at one particular spot.


“Looks like it’s sprained a bit, but nothing’s broken. We’ll wrap and ice it tonight and see how you’re feeling in the morning. I doubt we’ll be going on any long hikes this weekend, but if it’s not too bad you should still be able to go fishing.”


Gibbs moved to put action to his words, and in no time at all he had Tony’s ankle wrapped and elevated, an instant ice pack from the first-aid kit secured to it with a towel.


Gibbs then moved to check on Tony’s left arm. Blood had caked and dried on the sleeve, and Gibbs could see more of it on Tony’s right palm. The bleeding had stopped, but removing the shirt sleeve might restart it. Gibbs used a bit of water from his canteen to help loosen the sleeve from the wound and pulled the shirt over Tony’s head.


Gibbs sucked in a breath at the sight of the ragged gash on Tony’s bicep. The cut wasn’t terribly deep, but it looked messy. Gibbs’ hands seemed to move of their own accord, old memories of treating wounds on various battlefields briefly flashing before him before fading away again. He sterilized the cut, ignoring Tony’s flinch as the antiseptic stung, and carefully wrapped and taped the wound. Fortunately it hadn’t started bleeding again. Gibbs really didn’t want to stitch Tony’s arm shut in the dark, even if his kit did have a shot of a local anesthetic.


Gibbs made quick work of the small cuts on Tony’s face, dabbing them with some antiseptic after cleaning them with some alcohol wipes. They didn’t need bandages.


Tony was strangely silent and compliant through it all, and Gibbs’ gut tightened in warning. Tony was never quiet through something like this; his normal response was to crack jokes and quote movies while trying to whine his way out of any medical treatment, not just sit there silently and let Gibbs manhandle him.


Something was seriously wrong.


Finally finished doctoring Tony up, Gibbs turned to the fire and quickly rebuilt it, using the last of the wood that Tony had scrounged up earlier. He would have to hunt for more before he could cook breakfast in the morning, but they would survive. Once the fire was blazing as high as he could make it, he turned off the lantern and sat so he could see Tony’s face lit by the flames.


Might as well get this over with, Gibbs thought, eyes narrowing dangerously as he looked at his unnaturally docile agent.


“Alright, DiNozzo, you wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”

In Which The White Flag Is Raised by AndEverAmen
Author's Notes:

This chapter is where the "slightly AU" aspect of this fic really starts to come into play.  I like the version of Senior depicted on the show, but I think there is plenty of room for a darker interpretation of his character.  I know it's been done to death, but I really wanted to write a story where I got to put my own spin on things.  This story is definitely set before Gibbs ever meets Senior.

“You wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”


Gibbs’ words seemed to echo in Tony’s mind, reverberating off the sides of his skull and distorting themselves until they were nothing but growl and roar, sound and fury. Tony struggled to grasp their meaning, lost in his own headspace.


The fear, adrenaline, and panic had chewed through him and left him wrung out and hollow. He was tired and sore and wanted nothing more than to crawl into some hole and pull it in after him. He stared at the fire, not really seeing the flames for themselves but rather how they swirled into shapes like the faces of all the people he’d lost or failed to save, like secrets not even whispered in the lonely darkness that was his apartment most nights, like the regrets that squeezed his heart until he thought it might burst.


God, he was so tired.


He felt the weight of all his secrets pushing down on him, as if they were trying to pin him to the ground. And here was Gibbs, glaring at him, obviously confused and concerned and trying to hide it behind his brusque, no-nonsense demeanor, but Tony had learned to read Gibbs years ago. The worry in Gibbs’ eyes was trying its best to hide behind anger, and it was losing.


And suddenly Tony didn’t want to fight him anymore, didn’t want to hide himself back in his safe little space and be miserably fine. God, he was so sick of that word. It was automatic. “I’m fine” would be a fitting epitaph on his tombstone; despite what Ziva thought, they would probably wind up being his dying words as he bled out on the pavement somewhere.


He just hoped he didn’t die alone.


For all his seeming joviality and devil-may-care attitude regarding his own health and possible death, Tony really didn’t want to be checking out any time soon. He intended to rage against the dying light when his time came; who knows, perhaps his feeble struggles against the scythe will buy him some overtime.


Shaking his head at the sudden macabre direction of his scattered thoughts, he pulled his gaze away from the fire and finally met Gibbs’ glare. He had to blink away the spots that danced in front of his eyes, residue from staring too long at the flames. Gibbs sat in the way soldiers stood at attention, all stiff lines, heavy tension, and sharp angles. He looked like he was gearing up for a war.


The man didn’t know that Tony had already raised the white flag. His surrender was without fanfare; no jokes or quotes or comments accompanied it. Tony simply sighed and capitulated.


“Ask your questions, Boss, and I’ll do my best to answer them.”


He saw Gibbs blink in surprise, and some small part of him smiled wearily at the fact that he could still shock the man after all these years. He was sure that Gibbs had been planning various ways to coax the truth out of him, and now it was all unnecessary. Tony was done hiding from him.


“Why did you run, Tony?” Gibbs asked quietly.


Tony sighed again as he thought of how to answer the question. There was the obvious answer - that he had panicked and was oh-so sorry and it won’t happen again, Boss - but that wasn’t really the truth, or at least not all of it. Gibbs would know it, too, but at least it was a good starting point.


“I may have panicked a bit, Boss. Not one of my finer moments, I know,” Tony said.


Gibbs raised an eyebrow at that, and Tony took it as a sign to continue. He just wasn’t sure how. He thought for a moment, then decided it would just be best to start from the beginning.


“I was six years old the first time I went camping. Mom and I walked to the edge of our property on Long Island and pitched a tent. We had our sleeping bags and campfire and slept overnight with the fly off so we could see the stars - well, as well as one can see stars on Long Island, which admittedly isn’t that great of a place to stargaze. Anyway, I fell in love with the idea right then and there.


“Mom and I loved to watch old movies together, and in a lot of them people were going to exotic places and doing amazing things - African safaris, pirates on the open seas, stuff like that. Camping was like a movie adventure, and I wanted to do it all the time. She would take me when the weather was good enough and she was sober, which was less and less as time went on. We never left our property, but to a little boy it was as wild as the deepest jungle.”


Tony paused and swallowed thickly, struggling not to get lost in the faded, bittersweet memories that still managed to choke him up after all these years. He couldn’t bear to make eye contact with Gibbs; the pain of that little boy he had been was still too raw, even now.


“When she died, it was like my whole world fell apart. The funeral was a blur, but I can remember coming home and running into the woods near where we had camped and refusing to come out. I climbed one of the old pine trees and spent the night there, cold and lonely and so desperate to have my mother hold just one more time. I didn’t really understand what was happening, but I knew she wasn’t coming back. Camping and movies were all I had left of her.”


Tony stopped talking again, staring into the fire. As hard as this part was, he knew what was coming would be worse. He wasn’t sure how Gibbs would react; he hoped the man wouldn’t interrupt him because he wasn’t sure that he would be able to finish it if he did.


The silence stretched out for longer than was comfortable, but Gibbs seemed content to wait for Tony to pick up the story again.


“Dad changed after Mom died. He wasn’t home all that much before, but when he was he was… pleasantly tolerant of my presence. He had adored my mother, and though he drank in his office most evenings, I don’t really remember him being drunk. Once Mom died, he was home even less, and when he was he was drinking a lot.


“Turns out Dad is a mean drunk. I guess he was trying to cope with losing the love of his life, and he never really did know how to relate to me. I was hurting and lonely and a pain in the ass, and he couldn’t deal with that on top of his own grief.


“The first time he hit me was a surprise to us both.”


He heard Gibbs suck in a deep breath at that revelation, and he risked a glance in his direction. Gibbs had a blank look on his face, but Tony could see the way he clenched his hands into fists. The Boss was furious but trying to hide it. Unsure of what to do with that, Tony just kept going.


“I don’t think he really meant to do it at the time, but it shut me up and that’s what he wanted. I scurried away as fast as I could and he went back to drinking and brooding. I didn’t see him again until right as he left for his next business trip. By then the bruise on my cheek had faded and he could pretend nothing had happened.


“The next time he was home I must’ve been making too much noise in the hallway by his office or something, because one moment I was playing with my toy cars and the next I was being hauled into his office by my arm. He started ranting about respect and ‘children are seen and not heard’, and soon his fists were flying. I think that was the time I lost a tooth. Good thing it was one of my baby teeth.


“That was pretty much his M.O. for the next four years. He’d stay away on business, then come home and drink himself stupid before laying into me for being too annoying. You know the sound a belt makes when it clears the loops on your pants? I still hear that in my nightmares sometimes.


“I don’t think he really remembers much of this. He was so out of it all of the time, and it didn’t take me long to learn how to avoid him. I was like a ghost in my own house, wandering the back halls that he didn’t use and staying in my room or running into the woods to get away from him. He never followed me; he’s not a fan of the great outdoors. I was safe there. I’d raid the kitchen for some food and water and dress in my warmest sweaters and pants. By the time I was ten, I had several hidey-holes stocked and waiting for me in case he came home unannounced.


“It didn’t take him long to figure out that it was easier to send me away than to avoid me at home, especially once the step-mothers started showing up. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent at various summer camps. I loved summer camp. I got to spend lots of time out-of-doors, and it reminded me of Mom. I couldn’t talk about her with Dad. I made that mistake once, and he beat me so hard I thought he was going to kill me. He told me never to mention her to him again, so I didn’t.


“It came to a head when I was twelve. He was home from yet another trip, and I managed to piss him off with my existence yet again. When he laid into me that time, something in me just snapped. I actually hit him back. I was a skinny kid, so it didn’t do much damage, but it certainly caught him off-guard.”


Tony laughed darkly then, remembering how the look of drunken rage on his father’s face had twisted into something between confusion and absolute fury at his brazen counter-attack. It had been a lucky hit; he’d caught his father right in the nose at the apex of his swing. He didn’t break it, but it had to have stung.


Gibbs didn’t laugh, though. He didn’t even twitch. He just kept his piercing stare on Tony, riding out the moment of black humor. Tony used that gaze to ground himself again before his laughter could turn into the tears that were buddying up with his panic. Clearing his throat, he returned to his story.


“That’s how I got disowned, you know. Dad said that if I thought I was man enough to take a swing at him, then I was man enough to take care of myself. The next day I was in a car and off to boarding school.


“I was actually glad he sent me away. I thought that anything had to be better than staying in that house with an angry father and the memory of my mother haunting the place. When I showed up on the steps of the boarding school du jour, I felt like it was my chance to really start living.”


Tony stopped talking, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He could feel the panic kicking up again, and he had to take deep, even breaths to keep himself under control. As bad as the story had been thus far, it was nothing compared to what was coming. Gibbs has no idea what he’s getting himself into.


Tony turned towards Gibbs a bit, shifting his weight again and making eye contact. Gibbs held his gaze, encouraging him without words to keep going, keep telling his story. Tony took a deep breath and dropped the bomb.


“Neither of us had any idea that he had just thrown me to the wolves.”

In Which The Bottom Drops Out by AndEverAmen
Author's Notes:

WARNING: This chapter contains some disturbing sexual content.  There is nothing explicit, but if you're sensitive to such things you might want to turn back now.

Gibbs thought he might actually be on the verge of throwing up.


He swallowed convulsively in an effort to keep his insides where they belonged. He hadn’t felt this unsettled about the details of a crime since his probie days. It was seriously pissing him off.


It certainly wasn’t the worst case he’d ever heard of, nor were the details particularly graphic. It was just that this was Tony who was recounting his abusive childhood to him. He was so calm, laying the gut-wrenching shards of his prepubescent self out like he was talking about the weather.


Perhaps too calm, Gibbs realized. There was too little inflection in Tony’s voice; he was a bombastic storyteller who thrived when sharing too many details with an attentive audience. This was almost clinical, laying out facts like they were the everyday minutiae of life, not pieces of a secret he’d been keeping for decades. His body language was closed-off and tense, though he was trying to hide it.


The biggest red flag, though, was the fact that Tony wasn’t making much eye contact. Tony was one of the few people Gibbs had ever met that could meet and hold his stare for long periods of time. It was one of the reasons he’d hired him in the first place; Gibbs needed an SFA who could stand up to him.


This version of Tony, however, was the one that came out when he wasn't sure of his place. This was the Tony who was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Gibbs to finally have had enough. This was the version of Tony that made Gibbs want to hunt down every person in the younger man's life who had ever hurt him, abandoned him, or made him feel less than worthy and do things to them that would make even Ziva blanch. God help them all if he ever laid eyes on Senior because he'd be taking Abby up on her offer to help him hide a body.


Gibbs knew his Senior Field Agent well enough not to let his inner turmoil show. Tony needed Gibbs to be his rock right now - the same implacable, hard-nosed boss he'd always been - so that's what Gibbs would be. There would be time to unleash his rage later. Besides, knowing Tony, the younger man would probably interpret that anger as being directed at him rather than for him. Even after all these years, Gibbs knew that Tony still doubted how much Gibbs cared about him and that the loyalty between them went both ways.


Well, Gunny, perhaps you should work on that. Speaking the words won't actually kill you.


And if Gibbs was going to start tearing into people who had hurt Tony, he'd have to start with himself. He knew he hadn't been in his right mind when he'd gone haring off to Mexico, but that didn't excuse the fact that he'd abandoned Tony and failed protect him from Jenny and her vendetta. The fallout of that fiasco had been another albatross around Tony's already overburdened neck. Her death a year later had been an additional hammer blow against Tony, and Gibbs had not been fast enough in reassuring his SFA that it was not his fault. Jenny knew exactly what she was doing and went out on her own terms, but Tony had taken Gibbs' silence to be condemnation rather than grief and regret. The fact that it had taken him four months to get Tony off his stint as Agent Afloat had just been the icing on top of that particular cake of crap.


Gibbs had tried his best to make it up to Tony when he chose him over Ziva in Israel, but the younger man was still reeling over killing Rivkin and the subsequent consequences. It had hurt to leave Ziva behind, but not nearly as much as losing Tony would have. There was no doubt in Gibbs' mind that bringing Ziva back would have had Tony leaving his resignation on his desk before Gibbs could have finished briefing the Director.


Then, four months later, they were hauling Ziva out of that hellhole in Somalia, and the team was whole again. Sure, Ziva was currently still trying to stitch the pieces of herself back together, but she was alive. After weeks of thinking she was dead, even the sight of just how horribly she’d been treated was a relief. Tony, especially, had lost that patina of rage and grief that had colored his every interaction during the interim between leaving Ziva and finding her again.


Still, all the quiet atoning in the world wouldn’t undo what Gibbs had done, and he’d never actually talked to the younger man about what had happened. Listening to Tony relay his horror-story childhood only reinforced to Gibbs just how badly he had dropped the ball. He vowed to himself that he would fix this. It wasn’t too late.


Please don’t let it be too late.


Just as Gibbs was processing that thought, he heard Tony’s succinct, horrific comment.


“Neither of us had any idea that he had just thrown me to the wolves.”


Gibbs felt his muscles tense in reaction. God, the look in Tony’s eyes… It took every ounce of strength Gibbs possessed to keep his body seated and his gaze steady. Tony had fallen silent, and Gibbs’ gut was screaming a call to battle stations.


“What happened at boarding school, Tony?” Gibbs’ voice sounded strained even to his own ears, but it was all he could do just to get the words out through the worry and rage that squeezed his throat half-shut.


Tony’s continued silence did nothing to calm Gibbs down, and the sudden lack of eye contact almost had Gibbs on his feet again. Gibbs knew, just knew, that things were about to get a whole lot worse before they got better. He swore to himself that he would remain calm, no matter what.


Man up, Marine. The last thing Tony needs is for you to fall apart now.


Just as Gibbs managed to shore up his emotional walls again, Tony began to speak.


“You know how in prison movies there is always that one scene where the new prisoners arrive and walk down the corridors to their new cells while the inmates threaten them? Boarding schools have their own version of that, but instead of hardened inmates it’s a bunch of teenage boys. Given the choice between them, I think I’d rather deal with the inmates.


“I was one of the youngest students there. I was pretty small for my age, too. The other students were like sharks that smelled blood in the water, and I was fresh meat. Instead of having to deal with just my father, who as scary as he could be was still only one person, I had a whole school of potential threats to monitor. It wasn’t like I could go home at the end of the day and get away from them, either, nor did I have a parent at home who gave a damn enough to call the school and get me help that way. I was on my own.


“The first year was pretty bad. I got beat up, had my belongings stolen, got locked into storage closets, had schoolwork destroyed - you know, all the fun stuff. Eventually I made friends with a kid who was pretty high up the social ladder, and the other kids moved on to easier targets. There was still the occasional run-in, but it wasn’t too bad. I hit a growth spurt around thirteen or so and suddenly discovered that I was actually good at sports. That really helped.”


Tony had stilled again, and Gibbs’ heart almost broke at the desolate look in his eyes. Gibbs knew that McGee had been through more than his share of bullying, but DiNozzo acted like the jock that he was in his later years was who he had always been. Just another mask, I guess.


As bad as Tony’s story was so far, Gibbs knew that Tony hadn’t yet delved into the worst of his past. Tony was holding something back. Part of Gibbs didn’t want to push his agent any harder; what he had heard already was enough to sponsor Gibbs’ sleepless nights for weeks to come. However, Gibbs knew that if he didn’t press Tony now, he’d never hear the rest. Tony would clam up with the sunrise, and no amount of prying would reopen him.


Gibbs had never felt more like a bastard than he did in that moment.


“What aren’t you telling me, Tony?” Gibbs asked softly.


As pushes go, it wasn’t a hard one, but it was enough to send Tony toppling over the edge and into the abyss of painful memories that waited below. One moment, Gibbs was looking at his Senior Field Agent, a capable and competent adult who caught bad guys and faced innumerable dangers without blinking, and the next he was looking at a broken, vulnerable boy who had been thrown away and devoured whole by a world full of cruelty and the worst that human nature had to offer.


Tony had started to shake, fine tremors running through his body that Gibbs couldn’t help but notice. Every paternal instinct in him wanted to rush over and embrace the younger man, but Gibbs knew that it would be more than either of them could handle. One wrong move and Tony would be gone, bad ankle and all. He saw Tony swallow hard and felt his own stomach twist in nauseous sympathy.


“There was this one kid, Donovan, who walked around like he owned the place. His dad was on the board or something, so he could pretty much do whatever he wanted and get away with it. He had two cronies, Max and Jake, who went everywhere with him - typical capo and crew setup. Donovan was sixteen, Max and Jake fifteen. They were a lot bigger and stronger than I was, and they took real pleasure in messing with me.


“Donovan was a real psychopath in the making. God, the kid was terrifying. He knew how to read people and how to fake emotions and proper responses. He had all the teachers and administrators wrapped around his little finger, and the student body both feared and obeyed him. None of them were willing to risk sticking their neck out for a loser like me.”


Gibbs started a bit at Tony’s self-description. It was surreal to hear his SFA label himself with such negative terminology; if anything, Tony was prone to over-exaggerating how great he was. Gibbs knew it was a way to mask his insecurities and didn’t read too much into it, but for him to actually come out and say something like this was pretty rare.


There had been glimpses of this version of Tony when the younger man was talking about his father; the way he had made excuses for Senior’s behavior - most likely subconsciously - had not escaped Gibbs’ notice. It was as if Tony really believed that he had deserved such horrible treatment. Gibbs wouldn’t be surprised if he did; such responses were hardly atypical of abuse victims.


Gibbs snapped back to attention, forcing his mind to focus on what Tony was saying. He was working his way to something big, and Gibbs wasn’t going to fade out now that he was so close to the core of whatever was wrong with his SFA.


“One day about halfway through the school year, Donovan and his cronies managed to corner me in an empty classroom. It was pretty late in the day; the teachers and other students were already gone. I had misplaced something and was retracing my steps to try and find it. Turns out Donovan had Jake swipe it when I wasn’t looking, knowing that I’d go there trying to track it down. They were waiting for me.


“At first I wasn’t sure what was going on. I was expecting them to do something to mess with me, but I had no idea how bad it was gonna be. Jake and Max grabbed my arms, so I was expecting a beatdown. It’d happened before, and it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. But that’s not what they did.


“When Donovan started taking my pants off, I knew I was in trouble. I wasn’t completely clueless, and being in an all-boys boarding school meant I overheard a lot of talk that would probably fall under the category of The Birds and the Bees. I struggled as best I could, but three against one is bad odds in any situation, let alone when you’re being held by guys much bigger than you.”


Here Tony started to stutter, and it was so jarringly different from any version of Tony that Gibbs had ever seen that for a moment he thought he was looking at somebody else.


“I r-remember them laughing, B-boss, like i-it was so-some big joke or so-something. They b-bent me over a d-desk, and…” Tony broke off with a shudder, unable to articulate exactly what had happened, but Gibbs understood.


Gibbs didn’t remember consciously making the choice to move. One moment he was watching his SFA start to break down, and the next he was on his knees in front of Tony with his arms around him, pulling Tony’s head and chest into the crook of his neck and shoulder.


“I’ve got you, Tony, I’ve got you,” Gibbs murmured over and over again, holding Tony as the dam broke and the emotional torment he’d been keeping a secret for close to thirty years came pouring out. Gibbs felt his own heart squeeze tight at the sound of Tony’s breakdown, and if some tears of his own dripped down his face to mix with Tony’s soaking into his shirt, well, nobody but the two of them needed to know.


Somewhere in the sobs that shook his agent, Gibbs could hear his whispered confession.


“They r-raped me, Boss. They raped me.”

In Which The Hunter Stalks by AndEverAmen

Tony wasn’t sure how long he had clung to Gibbs while he cried his eyes out, but as his sobbing slowed and he regained his composure, he realized that Gibbs’ shirt was soaked with his tears and snot. He tried to pull away, but the arms around him tightened and held him firmly. Rather than feeling restricted and trapped, Tony just felt safe, so he didn’t fight it.


He was completely drained both physically and emotionally, like a deflated parade float left crumpled and unrecognizable on the ground. He knew he should be mortified - probably would be in the morning - but he had no energy left to waste. It took everything in him just to remain upright.


He felt strangely empty, a sharp contrast to the firestorm of panic and shame that had been burning in him earlier. It wasn’t peace, exactly, that had settled over him. It was more like a numbness or dullness, the whole world somehow muted as if everything were coated in cotton.


He was faintly aware of Gibbs moving, lifting him to stand, guiding him into his tent and stripping him down to a t-shirt and boxers. He must’ve imagined Gibbs tucking him in, though, with a soft kiss to his forehead and a hand that brushed gently through his hair. Before he could ponder it more, he was asleep.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Tony woke up to the smell of coffee and woodsmoke.


At first he was disoriented and a bit confused. He couldn’t remember where he was or what he had been doing. When the memories of last night finally hit him, he sat up and sucked in a deep breath.


Oh God, did I actually cry in Gibbs’ arms? Ohgodohgodohgodohgod…


Tony’s brain was stuck in a loop, skipping back to that one thought like a scratched record. He felt his chest tighten and suddenly found it hard to breathe, his heart hammering heavily in his chest. He hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but that didn’t mean that he no longer recognized the signs.


He rode it out, hunched over with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, shaking like a leaf in a storm. He concentrated on his breathing: in… out… in… out. Once he regained control of his lungs, he found the panic receding and his mental acuity returning. Aside from the harsh breathing, he hadn’t made a sound.


When he finally felt put enough together to function, he got dressed and made his way out of the tent. He quickly walked into the woods, not looking towards the fire where he knew Gibbs was, heeding the early morning call of Nature. He dawdled as much as he dared before he thought Gibbs would mount a search party, but he still found himself approaching the fire far sooner than he would have liked.


“Morning, Tony,” Gibbs grunted at him.


“Morning, Gibbs.”


The dawn light seemed to coalesce on Gibbs’ gray hair, and it took Tony a considerable amount of effort not to start laughing at the sight of his boss’s bedhead. Did the man wrestle a multi-armed Hindu god in his sleep? The striking surrealism of the scene before him did more to calm Tony’s nerves than a thousand reassurances, and he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t every day that he went camping with his boss or confessed his deepest secrets while openly weeping, so why did this all seem so normal?


When he gave it a moment’s thought, though, he realized it really wasn’t that strange. How many times had the two men shared a hotel room while on a case? Their early morning routines around each other followed the same general pattern, and Tony took comfort in the familiar scene. True, his boss didn’t normally prepare coffee over a fire pit, but the general sense of the situation was the same. Gibbs awoke before him, Gibbs found coffee, Gibbs grunted a muted greeting.


The man wasn’t very put-together before his first cup of Coffea arabica, and it was clear that the coffee wasn’t done percolating yet. Tony was actually mildly surprised that his boss had managed to scrounge up wood for a fire and get everything together without his first caffeine fix of the day. Must be that Marine training can override even a crippling coffee addiction.


Gibbs, for his part, had apparently decided to act like nothing had happened, and Tony was more than ready to go along with his boss’s lead. Tony was sure that it wouldn’t last long, but he would take whatever respite he could get. At least the man wasn’t much for conversation, especially before his first cup o’ Joe.


Hmm, cup o’ Joe, coffee, jitter juice, drip, caffeine fix, espresso, brew, bean juice, mocha, java, tar… Tony was drawn out of his mental soliloquy on the various names and types of coffee by Gibb’s rough voice.


“Hey, DiNozzo, you gonna just stand there looking pretty, or are ya gonna find something useful to do and start fixing us some breakfast?”


“On your six, Boss!” Grinning, Tony turned towards his tent to grab his gear.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Breakfast was a quiet affair, and neither man dallied long over their food. They made quick work of their cleanup, and before Tony knew it Gibbs was motioning him to sit, first-aid kit once again in hand.


“Gotta check the cut on your arm, Tony,” Gibbs said gruffly by way of explanation.


Tony sighed but allowed Gibbs to check him over. Gibbs certainly wasn’t one to coddle, nor was he an overly demonstrative person in general, but the man had a rough sort of caring about him that Tony knew was his way of mother-henning. Not that I’d ever call it that to his face. I value having all my limbs attached and in working order.


Gibbs carefully unwrapped the bandage around Tony’s left bicep and gently probed the cut. Tony winced but didn’t make a sound as Gibbs’ fingers touched tender flesh. The wound showed no signs of infection, so Gibbs reapplied some antiseptic ointment and wrapped it in fresh gauze. Before Tony could move to stand, Gibbs was pulling off Tony’s right boot to check his ankle.


The swelling had gone down, though the colorful array of blue and purple bruising still spread across his ankle like some avant-garde tattoo. Again Gibbs pressed various spots and assessed Tony’s response. Satisfied with what he found, Gibbs rewrapped the ankle with a compression bandage and carefully put his boot back on.


“Looks like a Grade I sprain. Don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine.” With that bit of sage advice, Gibbs was up and moving towards his tent.


Tony chuckled to himself before rising cautiously to his feet. He was happy to discover that his ankle held his weight fairly well considering the circumstances. He wouldn’t want to be running anywhere on it, but he could walk as long as he was careful.


“So, Boss, I was thinking we should grab our gear and go fishing. There’s a nice spot about half a mile from here down a side trail. It’s an open harvest stream, too, so we can catch some fish for lunch. You game?”


Gibbs walked out of his tent, fishing pole and tackle box in hand, halfway through Tony’s question.


“I’ll take that as a yes, Boss. Give me a couple minutes and I’ll be good to go.”


Tony quickly made his way over to his tent and grabbed his pole and tackle box from his pack as well as his Swiss Army knife. He realized that he was actually excited to go fishing with Gibbs. He knew it was something that the older man enjoyed. Tony had never had the chance to go fishing with anyone, and he wondered if Gibbs would somehow become slightly less recalcitrant regarding verbal communication with a fishing rod in his hands.


Of course, that would mean talking about last night. And with that thought, Tony’s excitement vanished only to be replaced by stone-cold dread. He knew the conversation was inevitable, but that didn’t mean he wanted to have it. He’d rather be handed over to Ziva to be tortured with her crazy Mossad skills or given to McGee to be tortured with his unfathomable geekdom.


Knowing there was nothing he could do about it, Tony stepped out of the tent and led the way to the stream like a man walking to the gallows.


~***N*C*I*S***~


He watched them, carefully concealed in the late spring foliage. His expression was twisted into a sneer of hatred, hands clutching his binoculars in a white-knuckled grip.


He had followed them to the park, stopping into the ranger’s station after they pulled out. A friendly, casual conversation with the young lady at the desk revealed their destination, and he drove to the trailhead with a sick sort of glee that bubbled up into a cruel smile.


He had made camp far enough away to avoid detection, carrying nothing more than a bedroll and a backpack full of gear. He had seen their confrontation, though he was too far away to hear the details, and he had almost followed them into the darkness. Some strange, feral instinct held him back, though, and his patience was rewarded when they returned to camp with injuries. Injuries made prey weak, made them vulnerable. He grinned in the darkness, all snarl and teeth.


He couldn’t make out the ensuing conversation, had been frankly surprised and disgusted at the emotional explosion that followed. When Gibbs had half walked, half carried DiNozzo to his tent, he had tensed to strike. Again, some animal instinct held him back. Not yet, his mind whispered.


He had caught a few hours’ sleep before returning to his post in time to see Gibbs emerge. He could have taken the man when he gathered firewood, but it wasn’t quite the right time. Another opportunity appeared when Tony relieved himself, but still he held back. It had to be perfect. When he saw them gather their gear and begin the short hike to the stream, he knew it was close.


Soon, he thought to himself. Soon.

In Which The Sound Barrier Breaks by AndEverAmen

Gibbs’ gut was in an uproar, and he didn’t know why.


At first he thought it was about the upcoming conversation with Tony, but that wouldn’t justify this level of uneasiness. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and his shoulder blades twitched of their own accord.


He felt like he was being watched.


He had long ago given up questioning the how of his gut. He had enough training and experience to put together dozens of little clues, tiny flecks of sensory input from every direction fusing into a coherent whole in the forge of his subconscious. It worked, and it had kept him alive when he should have died more times than he was comfortable counting.


He glanced around the trail with a feigned casualness as he walked, trying to spot something out of the ordinary that would confirm his suspicions, but he saw and heard nothing. Everything appeared normal, but his hand instinctively went to his hip where his Sig rested, reassuring himself with that little gesture that he was armed and ready for anything.


Shaking his head, he refocused on the man in front of him, trying his best to put aside his uneasiness. Getting paranoid in your old age, Marine, seeing enemies around every corner now.


He briefly considered saying something to Tony, but with absolutely no proof or real reason other than his gut, he decided to hold his peace for now. What was he going to say, anyway? He knew that Tony would follow his lead on just his gut, but his inability to pin down anything specific kept his mouth shut.


Besides, he had bigger, more tangible problems to deal with.


Gibbs ran a hand over his face as he turned his mind towards last night’s conversation. Part of his silence on the subject was due to the shock that had yet to fade fully away. His mind still stumbled over the enormity of what Tony had confessed.


He hadn’t pressed Tony any further after his breakdown. He might be known as a bastard, but even Gibbs had his limits, especially with those he cared about. Tony had been completely drained by the whole ordeal, and Gibbs was too emotionally gutted to do more than haul Tony to bed. His desperate need to comfort Tony had clashed with his emotionally taciturn nature, but he couldn’t resist the kiss to the forehead and the hand that had carded gently through Tony’s hair. Something about the exhausted younger man had reminded him so much of Kelly in that moment, had resurrected some deeply buried instinct that had laid mostly dormant for years.


As Gibbs had laid in his own tent, tossing and turning, he had reached a realization that had been a long time coming. He had never allowed himself to dwell on exactly what Tony meant to him before, too scarred and scared to open himself up to the possibility of love and loss again. Oh, he knew, in some vague and undefined way, that he cared about Tony and the rest of his team, but he’d never quantified or qualified exactly what that meant.


Slowly but surely, Tony had worked his way through the many layers of Gibbs’ grief, stubbornness, and aloof nature to wind up as one of the most important people in his life. Perhaps there had been just a bit of pride standing in the way as well. Gibbs didn’t like admitting that he needed anyone or anything, especially not to the person or thing in question. But as he laid there, running the events of the evening through his head, he knew that he had to stop pussyfooting around (as his father would call it) and accept the truth.


He loved Tony, not in a romantic way, but deeply nonetheless. He was a son and a brother and a friend all rolled into one, and Gibbs couldn’t imagine his life without his SFA on his six. Right now, Tony needed him, and if that meant confronting the truth and admitting to it, then so be it.


Gibbs gave a mental sigh at his roaming mind and rolled his shoulders to release the tension that had built there. He really wished he could escape to his basement for a few hours to work out his jumbled thoughts as he sanded and shaped disconnected pieces of wood into a coherent whole.


Before his longing for his favorite pastime could grow too strong, they had arrived at the stream. It was rather large for a mountain run, too wide to jump across, with several deeper pools and eddies that were sure to hide some nice trout. Gibbs and Tony made short work of assembling their fishing rods and baiting their hooks with nightcrawlers. In moments, they had both cast upstream and were quietly engaged in the art of fishing.


Gibbs felt himself relax a bit as he cast his line. Outside of woodworking, fishing was probably his favorite activity. He had always loved the long hours in a boat or on the shores of various bodies of water, casting and reeling in the warm sun either alone or with a fishing buddy. Conversation was usually optional, and Gibbs could spend hours just fishing in companionable silence, simply enjoying the outdoors and the small thrills of catching fish.


He glanced over at Tony and saw that some of the tension that the younger man had carried all morning had been shed as well. The contented sigh that slid out of him was an echo of Gibbs’ own thoughts.


They fished in silence for about an hour, neither getting more than a nibble or two, both content to hold their peace. However, Gibbs knew that they needed to talk about last night; he just wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.


There’s really no easy way to do this. Might as well just go for it.


Before he could get any words out, Tony’s line started to jerk a bit as he got a bite.


“Finally got some action here, Boss!” Tony said.


For a moment, Gibbs saw an excited kid proud to share his moment of triumph in the flash of Tony’s smile and his enthusiasm as he reeled in the fish. An ache for the boy Tony had been blossomed unexpectedly in Gibbs’ chest. Who wouldn’t be proud to have a son like Tony? Why would any parent ever throw away such a precious gift?


An old memory of fishing with Kelly flashed through Gibbs’ mind; he remembered her similar excitement as they reeled in a fish together, his gentle words of instruction and praise lighting up both their faces as they caught the fish. The overlay of Tony and Kelly in Gibbs’ mind should have caught him by surprise, but the feeling of rightness it brought seemed as natural as his next breath.


Barely had that thought formed in Gibbs’ mind when Tony was turning to him, the happiness on his face at sharing this moment with Gibbs radiating off him like heat from a fire.


“Hurry up and get the net, Boss! Looks like we got ourselves a nice brook trout for dinner!”


They quickly netted the fish and took it off the line. Tony had packed a collapsible bucket in his gear; he placed the fish in the bucket that was filled with water from the stream. Soon enough he had baited the hook again and recast, but this time the silence was filled with quintessential Tony.


“Ya know, Boss, there’s a really funny 1964 fishing movie called Man’s Favorite Sport. Starred Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss. Hudson plays a guy named Roger Willoughby who is supposedly this great fishing expert, but Prentiss’ character, Abigail Page, finds out he’s a phony and forces him to enter a fishing contest. If you think about it, Willoughby and I are the inverse of each other. He pretends to be outdoorsy but isn’t, and I pretend not to be but am. Hey, you could totally rig an office pool now that you know…”


As Tony rambled on, Gibbs let the endless yabba-yabba wash over him as his thoughts drifted. Tony wasn’t talking at much more than a whisper, but he still managed to pack a lot of sound into each breath. Gibbs wondered if Tony had been that talkative as a child or if it was a personality quirk that had emerged in adulthood. Gibbs pictured a small child with brown hair and hazel eyes wandering a lonely mansion with nobody to talk to, and suddenly he couldn’t find it in him to be annoyed at Tony’s endless noise and motion.


The thought of that same little boy, bruised and bloody at the hands of his father, had Gibbs’ unconsciously tightening the grip on his fishing pole and his eyes narrowing dangerously.


“You OK, Boss? You look like you’re about to jump across the interrogation room table and slam somebody’s head against the wall. Was it something I said?”


Gibbs snapped out of his burgeoning anger and glanced over at Tony. The uncertainty on Tony’s face mixed with a tinge of apprehension made him force himself to calm down, loosening his grip on the pole and relaxing the muscles in his face and shoulders. He gave Tony a small smile with just a hint of chagrin, feeling like a total heel.


“Nah, nothing you said, DiNozzo. Just remembering some things from last night is all.”


And just like that, the mood between them changed. Tony’s face went deliberately blank, his body language a tense neutral that gave very little away. Gibbs expected an oppressive silence to fall between them, but Tony once again managed to surprise him.


“What part of last night, exactly?” Tony asked.


Gibbs kept his eyes on the water in front of them, giving Tony a bit of breathing room as he answered.


“I was thinking of what you must’ve been like as a kid and how much of an ungrateful bastard your father is. If I ever meet Senior, I might just be taking Abby up on her threat to kill someone and leave no forensic evidence.”


Gibbs’ hands tightened on the fishing pole again as he imagined them wrapped around Senior’s neck. He would gladly strangle the life out of the man if he got the chance, and if he was discovered, well, he could always hightail it off to Mexico again, this time with Tony in tow. Gibbs knew how to disappear without a trace if need be - not that he would ever get caught, of course, but just in case...


“Oh.”


Gibbs raised an eyebrow at Tony’s quiet response as he turned his head to look at his SFA. Tony looked perplexed, as if he didn’t know what to do with such a sentiment. He probably doesn’t, Gibbs realized. He has no idea how much he means to me, hell, to the team. We’d all take a bullet for him; killing for him would be nothing compared to that.


“What, you think you’re not worth it, is that it, DiNozzo? You think I would just let this go? You’re the best agent I’ve ever worked with, a damn good friend, and the closest thing to a son I’ll ever have. I’d love nothing more than to hunt down Senior and those boys from boarding school and leave them all in shallow graves. You’re worth a thousand of them, and don’t you dare tell yourself otherwise, you hear me?”


Tony stood stock still, staring at Gibbs with wide eyes. His mouth worked for a few moments like he was chewing on his words before he finally spoke.


“You can’t really... you don’t… Boss!” Tony could barely get the words out, looking for all the world like a feather could knock him over.


The look of aching vulnerability and uncertainty in Tony’s eyes was like a red flag to a bull. Gibbs dropped his pole and pivoted his body, taking two big steps until he was right in Tony’s face. His arms snaked out like lightning, one grasping Tony’s forearm and the other reaching up to grasp the nape of his neck and pull him in until their foreheads were almost touching.


“You ever know me to say something I don’t mean, Tony? Do you really think I would have kept you on my team this long if I didn’t believe you were worth it, let alone let you be my Senior Field Agent? Hell, you’ve stuck with me longer than any other agent, longer than my three ex-wives combined. You pulled me out of that river last year, saved my life when I didn’t even know I wanted saving. You’ve held your own even after Jenny used you, after Jeanne left you, after I left you to run off to Mexico, after Ziva and Rivkin and Somalia and all the other piles of crap you’ve been forced to slog through. Any other man would’ve given up a long time ago, but you haven’t and I’m damn proud of you for it!”


Gibbs’ chest was heaving by the end of his speech, his eyes blazing with the weight of his sincerity. Tony stared back at him, searching his face as if he held the answers to the universe, and the silence stretched out between them like a gossamer thread.


Tony’s reply, when it finally came, was like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds.


“I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you say at one time, Boss. You’ve probably used up your word quota for a whole month.”


It was flippant and irreverent and completely Tony, but it was said with a genuine smile and an easing of tension that spoke louder than anything Tony could’ve said that he had heard Gibbs, really heard him. Gibbs found himself letting out a deep breath of relief as he fondly squeezed the back of Tony’s neck.


“Atta boy, Tony.”


He stepped back, out of Tony’s space, confident that he had been understood. They stood staring at each other for a few moments, small smiles on their faces, both realizing the monumental step each had taken and the shift in their relationship that was a confirmation years in the making.


Just before Gibbs turned to go back to his fishing rod, a single shot rang out. Gibbs watched in horror and shock as Tony staggered and hit the ground hard. The echo of the shot reverberated through the mountains and came back to them again, seeming to mock them as it finally faded.


Gibbs grabbed Tony and hauled hard, dragging them both back into the trees and cover. Gibbs crouched protectively over Tony, gun out, his eyes scanning the forest around them, and prayed for the first time in years.


Dear God, please don’t let him be dead.

In Which Two Roads Diverge by AndEverAmen

Well, at least I’m not dead.


That was the first rational thought that popped into Tony’s head as he regai… well, he’d never fully lost consciousness, but he’d certainly taken a trauma-fueled vacation from general awareness. He’d been in-between, here-and-not-here, the pain he was now feeling with gusto having previously been cushioned by the adrenaline rush that always seemed to come when he was injured.


He was vaguely aware that he had been shot, or at least that’s what his scattered memories of the previous events seemed to be pointing to. He remembered the loud bang of a firearm and the shock of hitting the ground, and he was pretty sure that Gibbs had dragged him back into the treeline.


I should probably open my eyes. This is really gonna suck.


Tony hated this part of coming to. The first attempt almost always ended in lots of pain and quickly slamming his eyes shut only to have to fight to reopen them all over again. It would be easier to just keep them closed. Perhaps I could take a nap…


Except he kept hearing this annoying sound, right in his ear, and it felt like something was shaking him. Great, now I have to open my eyes just to figure out what on earth is going on and to make that buzzing sound stop.


Tony cracked his eyes open the tiniest bit, hissing as the light hit his pupils. He obligingly squeezed them shut again, hand twitching feebly towards his head in protest. As he did so, the world around him seemed to snap into place, and the sudden proper interpretation of what he had mentally labeled the noise from Hell caused his eyes to pop open and his body to stiffen.


Tony’s eyes locked onto the concerned gaze of Gibbs, and he could pinpoint the exact moment that relief hit the older man, body sagging a bit as he let out a deep breath. The noise that had been tormenting him had been Gibbs’ voice urging Tony to look at him, the shaking the work of Gibbs’ hands as he tried to wake Tony up.


“Welcome back, Tony. Whatever happened to ‘DiNozzos don’t pass out’, huh?”


“Dinn’t pazzout, B’ss. Was just restin’ my eyes.” Tony’s response came out mumbled and mushy, but at least his tongue was obeying his brain enough to be understood.


“I don’t pay you to lay around on the job, DiNozzo.”


“Not payin’ me, B’ss, ‘m on vacashun, ‘member? ‘Sides, guv’ment signs m’ checks, not you.”


Tony was mildly disturbed by the fact that he was still slurring his words. Normally that would be the sign of yet another concussion, but aside from the pain of the light in his eyes his head really wasn’t hurting enough to come to that conclusion. Something else must be wrong, then. And why do I feel all sticky?


As awareness of his surroundings slowly creeped back in, Tony realized that he was leaning half-reposed against a tree trunk. He glanced down his body in an effort to determine why exactly he felt so discombobulated. His brain wasn’t engaging properly for some reason. As soon as he saw the large crimson stain, he closed his eyes and wished he hadn’t looked.


That’s a lot of blood, DiNozzo.


Tony concentrated hard on where exactly he felt pain in his body in an effort to pinpoint where he’d been shot. He’d felt the pain, of course, but he had been too woozy to focus on the specific source. He tried to shift his weight to make himself more comfortable only to feel like a sledgehammer had slammed into his torso. Pain so intense it should probably have its own entourage of curse words flooded his system, and he cried out weakly as steadying hands grasped him.


“Easy, Tony, easy. Don’t try to move. I’ve barely got the bleeding under control as it is, and if you puke or try to bleed out on me I’ll have you riding a desk for a month, got it?”


Tony didn’t have the breath to answer, so he hoped a small head nod would do. At least now he knew where he’d been hit: left side, towards the bottom of his rib cage, through and through on a bit of an angle. From the way he felt, Tony wagered a guess that the bullet had nicked a rib on the way, but it hadn’t clipped his lung or his kidney. It would take very precise aim or a great deal of luck on his part to avoid having his internal organs perforated; there was a very small amount of leeway inside the ribcage. Even without clipping a major organ, a torso shot like that could bleed like a son of a gun. The broken rib from the bullet’s passing wasn’t helping matters any, either. If infection set in, Tony knew he’d be in serious trouble.


Well, at least it’s not the plague again.


The pain from his injury combined with the blood loss was making it hard to focus, and Tony wanted nothing more than to shut his eyes and fall asleep. He felt his eyes closing of their own accord, and the last thing he heard as he slipped into unconsciousness was the sound of Gibbs’ voice telling him to hang on, DiNozzo.


~***N*C*I*S***~


When Tony came to again, the first thing he noticed was that he could no longer hear the rushing sound of the stream. Using his incredible deductive reasoning skills that made him such a great detective, Tony determined that he’d been moved. Cracking his eyes open, he glanced warily around to confirm his theory.


He were still in the forest, that much was clear, but Tony didn’t recognize any landmarks around him. There didn’t appear to be a path nearby, either, nor could Tony see Gibbs from where he half-laid, half-sat against a downed tree. Turning his head to take in more details took more effort than he would have thought necessary, but he managed.


He was surprised to find both of their packs leaning against the trunk to his right. Gibbs must’ve run back to the camp to get them. Guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks; I’m such a good investigator.


Remembering what happened last time he tried to move himself, Tony very cautiously tried to shift into more of a sitting position. The flare of pain was not as intense as it had been last time, but it was enough to convince him to reevaluate his plan. He let out a small groan, too hurting and tired to care about making any noise that could be perceived as weakness.


Suddenly, Gibbs was right next to him, his hands reaching out to steady him.


“Careful, Tony. You’ve been out for a while, and you’ve lost a lot of blood.”


“Boss, where are we? What happened? What’s going on?”


Tony was delighted to discover that his linguistic functions were back online, even if his mouth felt as dry as the desert they’d hauled Ziva out of. He licked his lips, eyes looking around for a canteen. Gibbs, once again, read the look on Tony’s face and was offering him water within seconds.


“Small sips, Tony. You’re not going to want to throw up with this bullet hole in ya.”


As Tony drank, he noted the look of concern on Gibbs’ face. The older man was uncharacteristically gentle, his voice pitched in a low, soothing tone that he normally reserved for frightened children and traumatized victims. It’s like seeing Bizarro Gibbs, or the anti-Gibbs, or perhaps Nega-Gibbs, except that Gibbs isn’t actually evil in this scenario...


Gibbs finally pulled the canteen away when he saw that Tony had had enough to drink.


“Ya got shot, DiNozzo, that’s what happened. As for where we are, we’re somewhere south of the stream and west of the camp. I tried to move us further east to get down the mountain, but whoever shot you is hiding out back that way. I don’t know for sure how many are out there, so I dragged your sorry ass up the mountain to this spot and went back for the packs. I’ve managed to patch you up as best I can, but I don’t recommend you try moving any time soon unless you absolutely have to.”


Tony blinked at what was practically a speech from Gibbs. Maybe it’s more like an alternate-dimension Gibbs - still the same essential steely Marine Corps core with minor differences like a sudden fondness for verbalization and emotive expression.


“Wait, so you left me alone and unconscious to go back and grab our stuff? Are you sure that was such a great idea, Boss?”


Gibbs’ glare heated up at that. “Well, DiNozzo, it was either that or let you bleed to death. Given that my plan at least gave you a chance of surviving, I figured it was worth the risk. Though, by all means, next time I’ll just sit around and watch you slowly bleed out if you think it’s a better idea.”


Ah, there’s the Gibbs I know and love.


“No, Boss. Sorry, Boss. Any idea how many bad guys are out there?”


Gibbs’ scowl eased up into a mere frown at Tony’s apologetic tone. “I don’t think there’s that many, otherwise they would have surrounded us and taken us out by now. I haven’t seen anybody yet, but my gut tells me there’s probably only one person out there, two at the most. I did manage to come across what looks like a rough campsite just east of where we pitched our tents. Could be where the perp was holed up last night, which means we’ve been followed for a while now. Not sure yet if they’re after you, me, or both of us. Tried radioing for help, but haven’t gotten an answer yet. Could be our perp has a signal jammer. Not sure what’s going on, Tony.”


Tony winced at that. The thought of somebody watching him and Gibbs last night made his skin crawl and his face heat up. Yeah, that’s not creepy and embarrassing at all.


“So what’s the plan, Boss?”


“Gotta get us some shelter first. They aren’t calling for rain at least, so I’m more interested in rigging up something to hide our presence than I am in getting a roof over our heads. I’ve got our ground rolls, so we won’t freeze. I don’t think the perp has tracked us here yet, so I’m gonna go set some false trails and try to obscure the real one. You gonna be OK here by yourself for a while?”


Tony grunted as he slid himself a little more upright, riding out the pain as his hand went to his Sig and drew it. The log he leaned against with large enough that his head still couldn’t be seen over it, and the two trees that flanked it on either end did a great job of obscuring him from any prying eyes. Of course, it also cut off his line of sight, but it was worth the tradeoff if it kept him hidden on three sides.


“Sure, I’ve got this. I’ll just sit here and shoot first, ask questions later. Go do your crazy scary Marine Sniper thing, Boss.”


Gibbs snorted at Tony’s flippant reply and moved the packs so they were helping to support Tony, one on each side. Tony carefully reached over and opened his, pulling out two more clips for his Sig as well as some energy bars. He opened one and chewed it slowly, smiling at his boss through a mouthful of half-chewed granola. When Gibbs seemed to hesitate, an uncharacteristically uncertain look on his face, Tony rolled his eyes at him and made a shooing motion.


With one more backwards glance, as if to reassure himself that Tony was still alive, Gibbs stepped into the woods and out of Tony’s line of sight. Tony sighed deeply and set himself for what could wind up being a long, tense wait. He felt the slow trickle of adrenaline start to hit his system and braced himself more firmly against the log, wincing a bit as his torso shifted.


Time passed slowly, but Tony knew that it had been quite a while since Gibbs had left. Suddenly, Tony heard the crackle of dried leaves a short distance forward and to his left, and he strained to hear more over the sudden pounding of his heart. For a few moments, nothing happened, then he caught motion out of the corner of his left eye. He pulled his Sig up, finger on the trigger, as he came face to face with the source of the noise.


A squirrel hopped across the ground in his limited line of sight before climbing up the tree to his right.


Tony sagged back against the log as he chuckled to himself in relief, shaking his head. He eased the gun back down onto his lap as he sighed, the sudden spike in adrenaline leaving him twitchy. He was a bit tired, but there would be no rest until Gibbs got back. The late afternoon sun was shining down through the trees in patches, lighting up the landscape around him. As the day wore to a close and darkness fell, Tony knew it would be both a blessing and a curse. He would have trouble seeing through the darkness, but then again his pursuer or pursuers would have a lot more trouble finding him. He hoped that Gibbs would be back before then.


Man, I was right. This really, really sucks.

In Which Paths Finally Cross by AndEverAmen

Gibbs stood just inside the treeline, close to where Tony had been standing when he was shot, scanning the area for any signs of the shooter.

He had carefully made his way back to the stream, circling Tony’s hiding place several times in a widening arc in an effort to pick up the trail of any pursuers. He hadn’t found any sign that anybody other than he and Tony had been through there recently, but that did little to reassure him.

He highly doubted that whoever shot Tony didn’t know where Gibbs had taken him; he or she at least had to have a rough idea of where Tony was. Gibbs hated to leave his injured SFA, but he knew that they were sitting ducks if they stayed put. Gibbs would rather track the perp down himself and deal with him or her without having to worry about Tony becoming collateral damage.

As he had circled their hiding place, Gibbs had worked hard on eliminating trail that seemed rather obvious to his highly-trained eyes. Carrying an injured, unconscious man through the woods didn’t leave a lot of spare energy to worry about stealth. Gibbs had managed to avoid breaking branches and doing major damage that would be nearly impossible to hide, but he had stirred up the leaf bed and ground fauna more than he would have liked. On his way back he had smoothed out the disturbed ground and wiped out any footprints in the bare patches with quick, Marine-efficient movements.

It wasn’t perfect, but their passing was a great deal more hidden than it had been before Gibbs had come back to fix it. To offset the remaining damage, Gibbs had then worked on creating several false trails at various points along the route. That was quite a bit easier to manage; the real trick was not making them too obvious. By the time he was done, the early afternoon sunlight had shifted closer to evening. Gibbs knew he needed to pick up the pace if he was going to be back before dark.

He spent about ten minutes just standing near the stream, still behind the cover of the trees, listening and watching. He didn’t hear or see anything unusual, so he shifted his focus to calculating the trajectory of the shot that had hit Tony. He thought about it for a moment, mentally picturing the scene from an outside perspective.

Tony had been facing him with several feet of space between them as they stood with their shoulders perpendicular to the stream. The bullet had struck Tony from behind, the round barely missing Gibbs after it passed through. The banks of the run curved away from them downstream; Tony had been facing upstream when he was shot. Based on the slight angle of the bullet, Gibbs would estimate that the shooter had been on their side of the stream, probably in the trees that pressed close to the streambank where it curved away from them.

If Gibbs had looked past Tony for even a moment, there was a good chance that he would have spotted the shooter. The shooter had been east of them, and the late morning sun would have swung far enough south to reflect off a scope pointed at them. Gibbs was sure that it was a rifle shot that had hit Tony; a handgun was far too inaccurate at that distance.

In fact, based on the angle of the shot and the path of the bullet when it left Tony’s body…

With a few quick, determined strides, Gibbs made his way over to where Tony had been standing when he was hit and turned back to face the same way. He walked west, eyes on the ground, and smiled grimly when he saw the telltale furrow in the earth several yards away. He carefully dug the slightly damaged bullet out of the earth, careful not to touch it directly, and placed it in a forensic collection jar that he pulled out of his pocket, then sealed it and marked it to maintain the chain of evidence.

Full metal jacket, .223 caliber, probably shot from a civilian model rifle. Good thing it wasn’t a hollow-point or Tony’d be dead*. Doubt the shooter wanted him dead unless he’s a complete amateur who didn’t know what he was doing. If he didn’t want Tony dead, then what did he want?

Gibbs’ head snapped up as his hand went to his Sig at that thought. He suddenly felt very vulnerable standing in the open. He quickly faded back into the treeline and moved toward where he thought the shooter might have set up. Shooter had to find a perch close enough to the treeline to avoid interference but far enough back to avoid detection. Gotta have a clear shot but good coverage and the right angle.

There was one place where a tree had broken almost at the base and fallen over, creating a perfect spot to set up shop. A shooter could set the rifle over the fallen log while still keeping the bulk of his or her body behind it but with a great field of view to the stream. There was a nice hole in the maze of leaves, branches, and bushes at just the right level to let the shooter hit his target without clipping any foliage.

Gibbs examined the area closely and could just make out a bootprint in the loam where the trunk touched the ground. This is the spot. He looked for a shell casing, but found none. Definitely not an amateur. This is a great sniper’s nest, and he policed his brass. Means he wanted Tony injured. Why?

The only warning Gibbs had was the subtle shifting of earth behind him. He spun to meet his attacker, but he was too slow. A sudden, intense pain blossomed in his head, and he fell, unconscious before his body even hit the ground.

~***N*C*I*S***~

Gibbs came to all of a sudden, completely awake. His head felt like some beatnik had decided to express himself with Gibbs’ as his bongo drum, and Gibbs could feel blood running down the side of his head. His hands were tied behind his back, but his feet were free and he wasn’t tied to anything.

He was leaning against the log he had been investigating, legs stretched out in front of him, chin tucked into his chest. He listened carefully for any signs of another presence and could hear someone breathing close to him. He opened his eyes into slits and looked up through his lashes in an effort to suss out who was in front of him, but he couldn’t make anything out. Before he could decide if it would be better to continue feigning unconsciousness or not, the other person spoke.

“Ah, Agent Gibbs, I see you’re awake. Welcome back. I hope that little bump on the head hasn’t inconvenienced you too much.”

Gibbs raised his head to take his first good look at his captor. His eyes widened in shock, but he quickly hid it behind as strong of a glare as he could muster in his current state.

The man before him wasn’t overly tall, but he had clearly bulked up quite a bit since the last time Gibbs had seen him. His hair was longer, face clean-shaven, and he carried himself with a confidence that hadn’t been present the last time they’d met.

“Heard you were dead,” Gibbs drawled, feigning unconcern.

The man smirked at him as he replied, “Seems you heard wrong, Agent Gibbs. What was it they said? Oh, right, died in an explosion in prison via a homemade bomb; they had to confirm identity with DNA. Good thing the lab tech who ran the test is an old friend of mine. He fudged the results, I escaped in the confusion, and here we are. The actual prisoner who died is assumed to have escaped; too bad for them that they’re looking for the wrong person.”

Gibbs cursed silently to himself. The man before him hadn’t even pinged his radar when he tried to think who could have wanted both him and Tony dead. Granted, that was a long list, but at least it would help narrow down who they could be looking for. Whatever plan he had concocted to get himself out of prison had clearly worked. He’d had almost six months of freedom to follow them around, gather intel, and set this whole mess up, and neither he nor Tony had been any the wiser.

“Oh, you’d know all about messing up lab results, wouldn’t you, Chip?” Gibbs popped the p at the end of his last word, all the better to annoy his foe.

Chip Sterling glared back at him, anger flaring in his brown eyes. He pulled a knife from a sheath at his belt and spun it with a casual grace in his hand, the blade flashing in the late afternoon sunlight.

“My name is Charles, Agent Gibbs,” he said with deliberate menace.

Gibbs merely raised an eyebrow at him while his hands worked hard behind his back in an effort to slip free of the rope that bound his wrists tight. He wasn’t making much headway, but he’d rather die than give up. Could wind up being dead anyway, so might as well go for it.

His expression must not have been very pleasing to Chip because the younger man stepped closer and crouched down until he was at eye level, a sneer on his face. His hand moved almost faster than Gibbs’ eyes could follow, and he had to stifle a cry of pain as the knife scored a hit, slashing a deep groove down his left bicep.

Gibbs really, really didn’t like the way Chip’s eyes darkened in pleasure and his breathing picked up at the sight of Gibbs’ blood and discomfort. It was a dangerous sign and downright creepy to boot. Gibbs glared harder at him, putting the full weight of his formidable personality and rage behind it as he gritted his teeth.

He saw the other man falter a bit, and his dark grin at the sight was like the growl of a predator.

Gibbs leaned forward, putting himself into Chip’s personal space, and whispered quiet words into his ear that brimmed with menace and blood.

“I’m going to kill you, Chip. That’s a promise.”

Chip reared back at the absolute venom and fury in Gibbs’ voice. When he realized his reaction, Chip snarled and slashed again with the knife, this time leaving a long, bloody line across Gibbs’ chest before standing up and kicking Gibbs several times. Before Gibbs could fully recover, Chip had pulled him up and shoved him so he flipped backwards over the log, landing in an awkward sprawl on the other side. Chip was on him in an instant, punching and kicking at him again.

Gibbs curled up as best he could to protect his head and core from the beating, hoping that Chip would wear himself out before he killed him. Fortunately for Gibbs, Chip’s rage made his swings wild and mostly inaccurate, though the ones that managed to connect had quite a bit of power behind them. As quickly as the beating started, it was over.

Chip stood over Gibbs, panting, his fists clenched angrily as he gulped in heaving breaths. Gibbs laid where he was, hurting but far too stubborn to show it. Chip turned and walked around the log, returning before Gibbs could gather himself up enough to do anything. He had a backpack on and a rifle in his hands. Gibbs examined it from his prone position and smirked a bit as his suspicions were confirmed. Savage Model 110, .223 caliber, civilian issue.

“Get up, Agent Gibbs, we’re going for a walk. I think it’s time we paid Tony a little visit.”

~***N*C*I*S***~

Gibbs trudged wearily through the woods, hands still tied behind his back, and thought hard on how to get out of his current predicament.

Chip obviously wants revenge. Choosing not to kill Tony when he had the chance is part of that. He’s not afraid to make us bleed, wants to see us suffer. Probably plans on torturing us before he kills us.

Gibbs frowned grimly at the thought. He’d been tortured before, knew how it worked, and, though he felt the slight undercurrent of fear that was pushing adrenaline through him, he knew he could take it. People often thought that Gibbs wasn’t afraid of anything, but that was just plain ridiculous. Fear was a natural reaction, meant to keep a person safe, and it was as uncontrollable in its timing as any other emotion. Gibbs just knew how to overcome his fear, how to use it to his advantage and hide it from others.

Though Gibbs wasn’t exactly looking forward to whatever it was Chip had planned for him, his main concern was for Tony. The younger man was already injured, had already lost quite a bit of blood. He wouldn’t last long if Chip starting using that knife of his on him. Gibbs didn’t think he could stand watching Tony die in front of him. There has to be a way out of this.

They were approaching Tony’s hiding spot, and Gibbs still hadn’t found a solution. For now, focus on staying alive and keeping Tony breathing. Bide your time, Marine.

They stepped into Tony’s line of sight, Chip at Gibbs’ back with his Sig to Gibbs’ head, having slung the rifle over his shoulder to free up his hands. Gibbs saw Tony’s eyes widen in surprise as he stiffened, his own Sig pointing at them. Gibbs saw the tremor in Tony’s hand and knew the exhaustion and blood loss had gotten to him. There was no way Tony could afford to take a shot; he might hit Gibbs.

“Hello, Agent DiNozzo. Throw down your weapon, or I’ll drop Gibbs where he stands.”

Tony’s eyes snapped to Gibbs, and the two held each other’s gaze for several long, intense moments. Gibbs had always enjoyed the way he could communicate with his SFA without saying a word; they knew each other well enough that each tiny facial movement, each shift in body position, every glance or glare spoke volumes.

Tony nodded once and slid the safety back on his Sig before tossing it aside. Chip kicked the back of Gibbs’ knee and sent him down to the ground before sidestepping him and grabbing Tony’s discarded gun. He gestured with it, motioning for Gibbs to go toward Tony.

“And the knife, Tony. Don’t think I don’t know about your belt knife. Toss it over.”

Tony did as he was told, pulling the knife out of his belt buckle and throwing it aside. Chip smiled at them both and sighed happily. Gibbs had to suppress a shudder at the dark glee in his eyes.

“Now, Agents, I think it’s time we had a little talk.”

~***N*C*I*S***~

*Hollow-point bullets fracture or mushroom on impact, causing massive internal damage, but they don't have a lot of target penetration.  Full metal jacket bullets hold together much longer and are better for penetrating a target, but they do a lot less damage.  They are much likely to have a "through-and-through" effect.

A .223 caliber is pretty small for use on a human.  It's used a lot for varmint hunting (pest animals such as squirrels, groundhogs, prairie dogs, foxes, coyotes, etc.).  Law enforcement and military personnel typically shoot a 9mm cartridge (specifically a 9×19mm Parabellum) or thereabouts (a pretty close equivalent would be a .357); for comparison, a .223 is pretty close to a 5.56mm.  There's a good chance Gibbs would have thought the .223 was a 5.56×45mm NATO since the latter is derived from the former and is more common in military circles, but I figured more readers would be familiar with a .223 (at least in the US, where I'm from).

In Which A Plan Is Hatched by AndEverAmen

Tony thought furiously as he stared at Chip, running through his options and trying to figure out his next move.


He had seen the blood on Gibbs’ arm and chest and the new bruises that were forming on his face, not to mention the lump on the side of his head that was crusted with dried blood. It was obvious that Chip had already done a number on him.


Tony would have gladly put a bullet in Chip's skull when he had first appeared with Gibbs, but his exhaustion combined with his injuries had left his hands too shaky to risk it. Gibbs had given him the nonverbal order to stand down, DiNozzo, and he had obeyed. He had hoped that the Boss had a plan, but a few more glances had clearly communicated that they were both flying by the seat of their pants.


Tony was surprised by the changes he saw in Chip. He had clearly been working out; Tony could easily make out the impressive muscles under Chip's shirt. Makes sense; the man was in prison, after all. Not much else to do there but lift weights and try not to get shanked.


Tony mentally squirmed as he took in his captor’s body language and facial expressions. There was something feral and bloodthirsty in Chip’s persona that was making him very uneasy. The way Chip’s eyes lit up every time he looked at Tony’s bullet wound or Gibbs’ fresher cuts and bruises made Tony’s stomach want to turn inside-out.


Tony was mildly surprised that Chip hadn’t tied him up yet, but with the pain and the blood loss Tony knew he’d put up about as much fight as a newborn kitten. Perhaps he doesn’t think I’m much of a threat to him. ‘Course, he’s probably right.


"I've been waiting a long time for this moment, Tony. You have no idea how many times the thought of seeing you like this kept me going through many terrible moments. Prison wasn't exactly fun, but I learned a lot on the inside, and everything the other inmates taught me brought me one step closer to this little scene right here."


Chip sighed happily at the thought, inhaling and exhaling with an exaggerated motion, but he was careful to keep his gun trained on his captives. Tony took note of every movement, gesture, and expression, looking for any clue as to his captor's next move.


While Chip began rambling away about his time on the inside and how he had escaped, Tony began assessing his situation in a different manner. He mentally inventoried every tool and item at hand and almost slapped himself for his own stupidity.


He still had his backup gun strapped to his ankle and, perhaps more importantly, his Swiss army knife in his pocket! Why Chip hadn't bothered to search him more thoroughly Tony didn't know, but he thanked the Man upstairs for his captor's error in judgement.


Thank God Chip has apparently never seen The Incredibles because if he had, he would know better than to monologue like this.


Tony paid just enough attention to Chip's stereotypical villainy to prevent any surprises as he subtly studied Gibbs. His Boss knelt on the ground to his left, hands tied behind his back. Though he looked a bit worse for wear, Tony figured that, between the two of them, Gibbs was in better fighting shape for sure.


In a few moments, Tony finally had a plan. If I could only distract Chip for just a couple of seconds...


"... Ah, but I seem to have gotten a bit off-track, agents. I prefer to show, not tell, and we have so much catching up to do."


Before Tony could fully prepare himself for the sudden shift in his captor's demeanor, Chip was on him. With nowhere to go, Tony could only sit there and take it as Chip lashed out.


The first punch felt like a sledgehammer as Chip's fist connected with Tony's right eye socket. Chip's other fist wasn't far behind, and he had a mean left hook that caught Tony just above his bullet wound.


Pain exploded through Tony, and for a few moments he forgot even his own name in the face of that exquisite torture. He instinctively curled his body around his wound in an effort to protect himself as best he could, but it was too late. Tony's entire world had shrunk down to a tiny universe of fire and blood. He vaguely felt more blows landing on his right side and back as Chip continued to hit him, but in the face of that second blow they were like dandelion fluff brushing his skin.


It was only when the burning in his lungs began to compete with his imploding left side that Tony realized he was holding his breath. He didn't have the strength to panic at the lack of oxygen or worry about the pain of expanding and contracting his diaphragm; his body's need for air trumped all. He took a deep breath, then another, and as the fresh oxygen flooded his lungs a bit of his awareness returned.


Tony turned his head towards Chip and felt his body tense suddenly at the tableau before him.


Gibbs was on the ground, fresh blood dripping from a newly split lip, Chip's gun pointing him squarely in the face. Both were breathing hard, and despite his vulnerable position Gibbs wore a scowl that would scald the skin off a Drill Sergeant. Chip's eyes were wild, pupils blown wide, and Tony noted with a disconnected sort of horror that Chip's pants were strained by his obvious arousal.


"Well, Agent Gibbs, that was a good effort, but to no avail. Try something like that again, and I will start removing Tony's fingers. I think it's time you get back into position next to Tony." Chip emphasized his point with a kick to Gibbs' ribs that produced an unwilling grunt from the older man before he reached down and hauled him up, shoving him so that he fell face-first into Tony.


Tony's hands moved quickly despite the fog of pain that was still lifting, using Gibbs' body as a shield to hide his movements. His right hand dipped into his pocket and pulled out his knife while his left did its best to stabilize Gibbs, though the movement left him on the edge of puking. As he used the last of his waning strength to shove Gibbs off of him so that the Boss spun to his left to face Chip, his right hand shoved his knife into Gibbs' tied hands, the blur of motion hiding the transaction from the deranged man in front of them.


Tony mentally shouted for joy as Gibbs settled back into a kneeling position with his back to the fallen tree trunk, Tony's knife securely in his bound hands. Tony doubted that he could do more than sit there and breathe; he certainly didn't have the energy to try again if his first effort had failed.


"You alright, DiNozzo?" Gibbs' grumbled question rumbled out from Tony's left like the sweet stirrings of an angelic choir to Tony's ears, and he mustered up a ghost of his trademark Tony grin as he turned his head and replied.


"Just peachy, Boss. Chip here hits like a girl."


In the few seconds they had before Chip reacted, the two men discussed their plan without words; glances, twitches, and subtle shifts were a language all their own between them.


"Why are you antagonizing him, Tony?" Gibbs asked with a glare and a raised brow.


"Need his attention on me, Boss. Gotta give you time to get loose. Gun's on my left ankle. Don't take too long," Tony answered with a half shrug, eye roll, and flickering glance from Gibbs' face to his tied hands to Tony's ankle before looking quickly at the sky and back to Gibbs' face.


"Hear you loud and clear, DiNozzo. You just hold it together a little bit longer, you hear? I've got your six." A slight softening of Gibbs' glare and a half smile were all the reassurance Tony needed before Chip was between them, hauling Tony away from the tree trunk and shoving him to land hard on the ground, face down.


Pain rocketed through him upon impact, less intense than before, but it didn't block out the world like it had previously. Tony couldn't help but hear the terrible click-whizz-shick of a belt clearing its loops, and the hiss in the air was his only warning before pain, fiery and bright, bloomed across his back in a terrible, familiar way. Again and again the hiss and the fire, hiss and fire, as Chip lashed him with all his strength.


Tony suddenly could no longer feel the dirt and leaves beneath him or smell the earthy scent of loam under his nostrils and the forest around him. He couldn't see the feet of his captor or Gibbs kneeling beyond. He couldn't hear his own frenzied breath or the sound of the wind in the treetops.


The world around him was gone, replaced with a ghostly world of memories that opened up like a great, gaping maw before him to swallow him whole. He wasn't in the forests of Virginia anymore; he was in a mansion on Long Island that had haunted his nightmares for the last thirty years.


It wasn't Chip standing over him anymore screaming in rage and feral joy as he whipped him. Old images of Senior's wrath appeared before his mind's eye, and Tony was plunged into a torrent of dark memories made real again in the face of his current trauma.


He was a boy in his father's study, riding out the horrific blows of his father's wrath yet again, the blood trickling down his back to sink into the carpet that the servants would have to scrub out in the morning. His whole being seemed to coalesce around that scene as the experiences of the boy he had been and the man he was fused into one long, unending torment.


Lost as he was in the stormy sea of memory and pain, Tony wasn't aware that he had started screaming.

In Which He Whispers, Afraid by AndEverAmen

Tony’s screams echoing through the woods pierced Gibbs like a bayonet to the heart, and it took everything in him not to launch himself at Chip again, escape plan be damned.


The only thing holding him back was the knife in his hands and the knowledge that he was almost free. He had started working on cutting through the strong, unforgiving nylon rope that held his hands bound behind him as soon as Chip had grabbed Tony. It was difficult to maneuver the bulky knife when his hands were half-numb, but he refused to quit.


With Chip’s attention solely focused on Tony, Gibbs didn’t worry too much about hiding his movements. He had managed to get the knife open and positioned as best he could, but, pressed for time as he was, he had sliced into his left palm. Blood was running down his hands to drip off his fingers, making conditions for working with the knife slippery and difficult.


When he heard the screams, Gibbs had frozen for one blood-chilling moment. He had never heard his Senior Field Agent make such a sound in all their years together, like the keening of some wounded animal in a trap, and he hoped never to hear it again. With a jolt, Gibbs snapped out of his mini-fugue and redoubled his efforts with a low growl of frustration. Heedless of blood or fresh cuts, he sawed with the knife, flexing his arms and shoulders to pull the rope apart as he did. With one final motion, the rope parted, and Gibbs shook himself free of the ensnaring bit of nylon.


Gibbs quickly and quietly shifted himself from a kneeling position to a crouch, shaking his hands to restore feeling, knife resting on his right thigh. Several drops of bright red blood were flung from his hands to land on the leafy forest floor around him like some macabre art project. Chip was completely enthralled in his torment of Tony and hadn’t so much as glanced Gibbs’ way. Gibbs rolled his shoulders to help loosen them from their extended time in one position, grasping the knife in his right hand as he did so.


Silent and dangerous as a wise old wolf, Gibbs rose to his feet and stalked towards Chip, eyes narrowed and focused on his prey. Some preternatural instinct must’ve twinged in his target because at the very last moment Chip turned his head, and their eyes met for a few intense, electric heartbeats.


Had Gibbs been a younger man in his prime, that one moment would not have been enough for Chip to do more than acknowledge his own death reflected in Gibbs’ fierce blue eyes. Unfortunately, the combination of years, injury, and recent encumbrance meant that Gibbs’ movements were a hair too slow, and Chip managed to get half turned and an arm up before Gibbs could drive his knife home.


The ensuing struggle for the knife was too fast and confusing for eyes to follow, but in a few seconds Chip had managed to wrestle the blade away from Gibbs’ bloody hand. Fortunately for Gibbs, that same blood made the knife more slippery than Chip had been expecting, and it soon went flying to land too far away to do either of them any good.


Soon the two men were locked together in close-quarter combat, each seeking an advantage over the other. Chip was strong, stronger than Gibbs had expected, and deceptively quick, but Gibbs had years of experience and training on his side. Gibbs twisted like an eel in Chip’s grasp, riding out blows and launching his own successful counterattacks.


Gibbs growled low in his throat as he fought, his eyes blazing with his rage. Chip’s own eyes reflected a madness and bloodthirsty enjoyment that reminded Gibbs eerily of Kyle Boone. They continued to struggle for a few desperate moments before Chip’s foot snaked out and caught the back of Gibb’s ankle, sending him down hard to land across Tony’s legs.


Gibbs moved with all the speed he could muster, knowing that Chip was already reaching for the Sig he had tucked into the back of his waistband. His right hand found Tony’s left ankle, and he spun as he pulled Tony’s spare from its holster. His arms snapped up, both hands gripping the .22, one elbow half-supporting him as he lay prone across Tony’s legs.


Time seemed to slow as Gibbs locked eyes with Chip. He watched with a sniper’s detached, ruthless gaze as Chip’s eyes began to widen in surprise, his mouth opening in some vain curse of denial and rage. Chip’s arms were moving to bring the Sig up from behind his back, but Gibbs knew he’d caught his foe by surprise. Chip would never get his gun up in time.


If this had been a movie, Gibbs would have had a pithy, snarky one-liner à la James Bond to seal the moment, but Gibbs was neither a film character nor Tony. The closest thing he had was the tiniest upturn of the corner of his mouth, barely able to be called a smirk, as he smoothly pulled the trigger.


The cold rush of fierce satisfaction that flooded Gibbs system as he watched the bullet hole appear in Chip’s forehead and the light leave his eyes was better than any quip in his opinion, anyway.


He looked on as Chip fell backwards, sightless eyes wide open, to land on the rich, fertile forest floor. A nimbus of blood, brain, and bone sprayed out behind him like some unholy halo, settling on the fallen leaves and loam around his body while more blood pumped out of the hole where the back of his head had been.


With a short, sharp nod, Gibbs turned his eyes away from Chip and rolled off of Tony, groaning as his hitherto unnoticed fresh bruises and cuts made themselves known in a cacophony of aches, pains, and general complaints. His bum knee popped as if to make a point that you’re getting too old for this crap, Marine – not, of course, that Gibbs would ever admit it or surrender to the ravages of time.


With a start, Gibbs realized that Tony’s screams had stopped. He scrambled to crawl across the loam to reach his SFA, concern growing with every frantic heartbeat.


Tony lay face-down in the dirt, still and silent, chest barely moving with the rise and fall of his too-shallow breaths. His back was a mess of blood and shredded fabric. Gibbs checked the pulse at Tony’s neck; the weak, rapid flutter beneath his fingers did little to reassure him. He gave his SFA a shake in an effort to rouse the younger man but received no response. Tony was out like a light.


Gibbs didn’t dare turn Tony onto his back. He let out a sulfurous curse and turned to grab both his and Chip’s packs before returning to sit next to Tony. He pulled Tony so he was half-reposed on his right side across Gibbs’ thighs, curled into Gibb’s chest.


Fear, cold and tight, wound its way through Gibbs’ gut, panic threatening to rise up and swallow him. He rode out those first terrifying moments as the fading adrenaline rush resurged through him, ignoring his body’s instinctual response and focusing on the problem at hand. He’d long ago learned to control his fear; that ability had kept him alive through more scrapes than he could count.


Gibbs leaned his head down to whisper into Tony’s ear, all his fear and determination sharpening his words into points like daggers thrusting into the heart of his enemies.


“You listen to me, Tony. You still do not have my permission to die. I am going to get you out of here, and we are going to get you through this. You hold on. I’ve never left a man behind, and I’m certainly not going to start with you. You. Will. Not. Die. I’ve got your six.”


The slightest shift in Tony's position was all the response he received, but Gibbs was sure that Tony had heard him. Gibbs wasn’t so arrogant as to believe he could literally command Death to leave somebody alone (though he was sure there were people who believed that he actually could), but he knew Tony. Tony would do everything in his power not to disappoint him, and that little speech might be the difference between Tony giving up and Tony fighting to hang on. Gibbs knew better than most how important that little bit of determination was when it came to survival.


Satisfied that he had done all he could to shore up Tony mentally, Gibbs turned to more practical matters. He hurriedly opened Chip’s pack, digging through his supplies for what he prayed was in there somewhere. Sure enough, he soon pulled out a radio frequency jammer. Turning it in his hands for a few moments, he saw what he hoped was a power button and flipped the switch. To his great relief, the lights turned off; he hoped that meant it was powered down.


Setting the jammer aside, Gibbs reached into his pack and pulled out his handheld two-way radio. Gibbs rarely bothered to buy cheap gear; there really was no point in risking his life and the lives of others to save a few dollars. His two-way was a higher-end model with strong battery life and crisp reception. He switched it on and tuned it to the emergency channel before radioing in.


“Mayday, mayday, this is NCIS Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. I have a man down, I repeat, I have an agent down. Does anybody copy, over?”


Gibbs released the call button and waited, muscles tense, for a reply.


The seconds ticked by, each one moving with all the speed of a geological epoch. Gibbs was just about to repeat his message when his radio crackled to life.


“Agent Gibbs, this is Ranger Andrew Rossford with the National Park Service. We copy. What is your 20, over?”


Gibbs sagged with relief, the sudden rush leaving him almost giddy – not, of course, that Gibbs ever got giddy. With a snort at that, Gibbs radioed back his position and more details of Tony and his situation, giving orders to have the scene secured and NCIS called in. He ended the conversation with only slightly more tact than the usual click of his cell phone snapping shut, a brusque “over and out” his slightly more verbose sign-off.


Gibbs sighed wearily and readjusted his grip on his injured agent, hoping with all his might that help would be there soon. All around, the woods were settling into full night, pale beams of moonlight just barely penetrating the treetops. Gibbs pulled a blanket out of his pack and wrapped Tony the best he could. He clutched Tony’s backup tightly in one hand and cradled Tony’s body with the other, whispering reassurances in the darkness.


“You hear that, Tony? Help’s coming. Just hold on, son. Hold on.”

In Which The Sleeper Awakens by AndEverAmen

Pain.


He was aware of pain - unending, infinite, stretching from horizon to horizon - an ocean of it, an entire world, an ever-expanding universe. It was his beginning and his end, an all-consuming vortex sucking him in.


Where am I? What's happening?


His fluttering eyes caught the hints of shapes in motion over him, but the forms did not coalesce into anything recognizable or meaningful. He heard rumbling like thunder, like gunfire maybe, or the voice of God booming over the waters.


God… am I dead? Is this Hell? I don't think it's Heaven; Heaven wouldn't hurt like this.


He couldn't seem to piece together sense or memory to explain his situation. He thought he might recall a name, but whose it was or what it meant was lost to him. Was it his name? He couldn't be sure, but he didn't think so. He couldn't recall his own name to compare it with, anyway.


Who am I?


A strange hum-thud sound seemed to vibrate all around him, moving through him. He felt adrift in the buzz and thrum, unsure of where or what he was. One memory rose above the chaos and pain like a spark in the night, and he latched onto it like a lifeline.


Gibbs… Gibbs!


He thrashed weakly, limbs moving in little more than sluggish twitches before he settled again, too injured and exhausted to struggle more. He felt a pinch, like a single raindrop in the hurricane of his agony, and suddenly he seemed to slide down, down, down into a dark, nameless, mindless place where even pain could not follow.


His last fragment of sensation before his mad world collapsed around him was a hand squeezing his own.


~***N*C*I*S***~


When he was next aware, the first thing he noticed was the relative quiet.


The booming, shaking wave of sensation had stopped. He heard rhythmic clicks and beeps in the background, but they were mere footnotes on the page of his slowly re-emerging consciousness.


Quick on the heels of that revelation was the lack of pain. He felt it prying at the edges of his being, but it was muted, subdued. He felt floaty and heavy at the same time, spinning like a milkweed seed in an autumn breeze.


The thought of opening his eyes sounded like trying to move mountains, so he didn't. The pull of the dark, quiet place soon proved to be too much, and he sank down into it again without making a sound.


He didn't feel the hand holding his squeeze this time as he dropped back into darkness.


~***N*C*I*S***~


When he came to next, he didn't realize it was happening until after his eyes had already opened.


The light seemed intent on murdering his eyes, and he instinctively flinched away from the brightness. He sensed motion next to him and peered cautiously in the direction it came from.


He struggled to make out the shape next to him, eyes still signaling their intense disapproval with the current levels of luminescence. As he adjusted to the brightness, he was finally able to make out the figure looming over him.


It was a man, older, with silver hair and intense blue eyes. Some memory niggled at him; he was sure that he'd seen those eyes before. It danced just out of his reach, and he wanted to scream in frustration.


“Nice of you to finally join us, DiNozzo.”


Silver hair… blue eyes… a voice barking out “DiNozzo”…


GIBBS!


Memories like lightning bolts flashed through the man's mind, hammering into him one after another. Tackling a man in Baltimore, seeing those icy blue eyes staring up at him from the pavement, Danny’s betrayal, the first headslap, falling out of a car and a plane, white powder in the air, blue lights and a whispered command, a sniper's shot on a rooftop, losing a friend and gaining a new one, an explosion on a ship, a dead wife and daughter, leaving and returning, the Frog, Jeanne, an exploding car, Trent Kort, blue eyes in the river, dead eyes in a desert diner, being sent away, being brought back, a dead Mossad agent, Israel, losing a friend, finding her again, a storage shed, camping, the woods, a shot, a belt…


He sucked in deep breaths, suddenly panting like he'd run a marathon. He felt the nigh uncontrollable need to flee, to fight, to move, all at once. Hands held him down when he tried to rise up, and he didn't have the strength to fight them.


He looked into those blue eyes, and his world clicked into place again.


“I know you. You're Gibbs, Boss.”


The eyes bored into his, one eyebrow raising up at that pronouncement. The hands didn’t let him go, didn’t let up even an inch.


“Yeah, I am,” Gibbs said in a no duh, DiNozzo tone that seemed to hold amusement, relief, and impatience in equal measure.


“You're Gibbs, and I'm Tony. Tony DiNozzo.”


“Uh-huh,” Gibbs responded, again with that tone, eyebrow climbing even higher.


“See, I wasn't sure for a while, but now I am. Everything was thump-buzz-hum-boom-hurt-pain for a bit, then it was pinch-go-dark. Then it was different, and then I wasn't again. Now I am, and you are, and we're here… where is here, Boss?”


Gibbs’ mouth twitched before he spoke as if he had started to say one thing but switched to another before he could get the words out.


“You're in the hospital, Tony, and clearly on the good painkillers if this conversation is anything to go by. Do you remember anything that happened?”


Tony frowned, the wrinkles in his brow becoming more pronounced as he thought back. His memories felt jumbled together, and he found sorting them out to be somewhat difficult.


“I’m not sure, Boss. You found me at my storage unit, we went camping, we… talked…”


Tony stiffened suddenly as the memory of his heartbreaking conversation with Gibbs Friday night came into horrible clarity. He was vaguely aware of a beeping in the background increasing as he began to fight the hands holding him, the sudden need to get away overwhelming everything else.


He wanted to crawl into a hole and pull it in after him. God, did that really happen? Maybe it was just a nightmare.


“Tony, Tony, can you hear me? Calm down, DiNozzo! That’s an order!”


The sound of Gibbs’ barked command broke through Tony’s sudden hysteria, and his blue eyes met and held Tony’s wide, panicked hazel gaze, grounding him. The beeping alarm slowly calmed back to its more usual pace, and only then did Tony notice that they were no longer alone.


A nurse had entered the room, drawn by the alarm and Gibbs’ yelling. She was the no-nonsense, matronly type, and she quickly assessed the situation with a practiced eye as she scanned the machines and checked numbers that must have held some deep-seated meaning to the various medical professionals but were a mystery to mere mortals.


“Agent Gibbs, I've had just about enough of your heavy-handed shenanigans. If you agitate my patient again, I’ll have you remanded to the psych ward and with orders to double the haloperidol and triple-knot the straight jacket. Do I make myself clear?”


Gibbs straightened and turned to face her, his face set in one of his more intense scowls. The nurse took an aggressive step forward, entering his personal space, chin up and eyes sparking fire.


“I said, do I make myself clear, Agent Gibbs?”


Gibbs glared for a few seconds more before replying, a brusque “crystal clear, ma’am” barely interrupting the intense standoff.


Gibbs’ glare has no effect on her, Tony noted in surprise. She’s completely immune. If this gets out, the men in black are gonna snatch her away to experiment on her for sure. She’s gotta be an alien or cyborg or something.


With one sharp nod as the fight for dominance ended in feminine victory, the nurse turned away from Gibbs and looked at Tony, softening like butter on a stove as she checked him over. The transformation was frankly terrifying. Tony made a mental note not to mess with her.


“Agent DiNozzo, it’s good to see you awake. You had everyone worried there for a while. My name is Susan, and I’ll be your main nurse while you’re here. Is there anything you need before I get the doctor?”


Tony shook his head meekly, not sure if speaking would be wise. His gaze flicked between Gibbs and Susan, wondering who would win in a fight. Surprisingly, he was willing to give them fairly even odds. If Susan had a needle in her hand, Tony would even be so generous as to place his money on her.


With a gentle smile aimed at Tony and a withering glare of warning at Gibbs, Susan quietly exited the room. Tony looked at Gibbs, feeling rather subdued in the wake of the confrontation between agent and nurse. Gibbs, for his part, looked rather nonplussed.


“I think you should hire her, Boss. She’d be great for breaking stubborn suspects. Just give her a syringe and bottle of some unknown liquid, and she’d get a confession out of them before we could get the recording equipment up and running.”


Gibbs smiled at that, not with his lips but with his eyes, and opened his mouth to reply, but before he could get anything out the door reopened and a doctor walked in.


The cop in Tony snapped to attention despite his lackluster physical condition, noting the details of the medical professional in front of him. The doctor was a man about Tony's age, handsome and well-built, with plenty of laugh lines and an easygoing smile that looked as if it could turn flippant at a moment's notice. His tanned skin, sun-bleached blond hair, and warm brown eyes made him look more like a surfer than a doctor.


“Ah, Agent DiNozzo, welcome back. Nurse Susan told me you had awakened. I’m surprised Agent Gibbs here didn’t shout the whole hospital down letting us know. He’s been glued to you for three days straight now. We’ve tried to get him to leave, but he just glares and growls and mutters dark threats until we give up and go away. Fortunately, Dr. Mallard has been in and out to keep his worst tendencies under control; otherwise, we’d have sedated him and locked him in a storage closet after the first day. I’m Dr. Weisman; I’ve been overseeing your stay here.”


Tony blinked at that loquacious and somewhat irreverent introduction, his sluggish brain struggling to process everything he’d just heard. Three days? I’ve been out of it for three days? Holy crap! Sounds like Gibbs has been his usual cheerful self while I was out.


Tony glanced at Gibbs to gauge his response to the doctor’s less than flattering words at was surprised to see a bit of amusement lingering in the slight wrinkling around his Boss’s eyes and the barest twitch of his lips.


“Well, Doc, if anyone here had managed to brew something worthy of being called coffee and not that weak-kneed bilge water you try to placate me with, maybe things would have gone better for all of us.”


Dr. Weisman rolled his eyes at that before turning to look at Tony's chart, examining the numbers and muttering under his breath to himself. Tony didn’t catch much of what he said, but whatever he saw seemed to be good news because he turned to Tony with a smile on his face.


“Agent DiNozzo-”


“Please, just call me Tony, Doc.”


“Tony, then. I’m happy to let you know that your numbers are looking surprisingly good, all things considered. Now, we’ll need to do some tests, run some scans and so forth to make sure that there are no surprises waiting for us, but I am cautiously optimistic that you’ll make a full recovery. There’s no head trauma, but you did lose a lot of blood and that’s always a concern, especially when in light of your recent coma. Still, you seem to be aware of your surroundings and generally cognizant, and that’s always a good sign.”


Tony nodded at that, not exactly sure what all had happened but glad to hear that things were looking up. He wasn’t exactly excited about the inevitable onslaught of poking, prodding, and testing that was about to commence but figured it was a small price to pay for coming out of his encounter with Chip alive.


“Agent Gibbs, if you’ll excuse us, we need to prep Tony for his scans and do some other tests.” Dr. Weisman’s voice was calm, his expression even, but there was an undercurrent of steel in his posture and tone that left no room for argument. It was a dismissal. Gibbs glanced at Tony before nodding his assent at the doctor.


“I’m gonna go find some real coffee, DiNozzo. I won’t be gone long.”


With that, Gibbs executed an about-face and strode out of the room, leaving Tony to the mercy of the medical professionals around him.


Tony felt suddenly bereft, and a part of him wanted to call out to Gibbs and ask him to come back, but he squashed the impulse before it could make his tongue override his brain. His reaction surprised him, and he gave himself a mental shake to collect himself, unwilling to look too deeply into his response to Gibbs’ leaving.


With an internal sigh, Tony looked at the nurses who had joined the doctor, including the formidable Susan, and pasted on his best Tony grin.


“Alright, Doc, let’s get this party started!”

In Which He Spills His Coffee by AndEverAmen

Gibbs’ shoulder practically brushed against the plaque emblazoned with “ICU 303” as he sharply turned the corner out of the doorway to Tony’s room and strode down the hall. He ruthlessly suppressed his need to turn around and stand guard over his injured Senior Field Agent to ensure that he stayed safe.


He knew, intellectually speaking, that Tony was in good hands, though the more instinctual side of him had trouble accepting that fact. He and Ducky had discussed Tony’s care at length, and Ducky's approval of Dr. Weisman and the nursing staff had gone a long way towards easing the constant knot of tension and worry in Gibbs' gut that had apparently decided to take up permanent residence since Tony had lost consciousness.


Those few hours between Gibbs radioing for help and seeing Tony wheeled into Bethesda on a gurney had been some of the most frightening of Gibbs’ life. The National Park Service had wasted no time in reaching them, and the EMTs had immediately set to work, shouting out medical terminology that Gibbs didn’t fully understand as they strained to keep Tony alive. He had caught the term hypovolemic shock and had to bite his lip to keep from yelling at the techs to work faster. He knew they were doing the best they could, but he hated the helpless feeling that came with watching the techs labor when his brain was chanting do something! to the rhythm of his frantic heartbeat.


If I lose Tony now… Gibbs hadn’t been able to finish the thought, resolutely shoving it aside as his gut tightened in fear. He had felt like throwing up but didn’t want to distract the EMTs from their job. It was the only thing that had held him together as they secured Tony’s neck in a cervical collar and strapped him into the backboard to carry him out.


Somebody must have radioed ahead because when they finally got to the parking lot, a medevac chopper was waiting to airlift them out. Gibbs had climbed aboard without bothering to argue his case, seating himself as close to Tony as he could without getting in the EMTs’ way with a glare that silenced any protest before it could start. One of the techs tried to administer first aid to Gibbs’ own injuries, but the tough agent had just brushed him off with a wave towards Tony. The tech, probably having seen his fair share of crazies in all different flavors, didn’t try to argue with him and instead turned to Tony.


The moment when Tony started to fight the hands trying to help him – if those feeble movements could have been called fighting – had been especially difficult for Gibbs to handle. Gibbs had watched Tony’s lips move and saw his eyes flicker rapidly under his lids, blinking open and closed a few times as he struggled.


He hadn’t even been able to whisper reassurances to his injured agent; the boom-thrum of the chopper drowned out anything under a shout. As the EMT prepped and then injected a syringe full of something to calm Tony down, Gibbs had reached over and grabbed his SFA’s hand, squeezing tightly in an effort to reassure the man.


There had been no response. Tony didn’t move the rest of the way to Bethesda, not even when they transferred the gurney off the chopper and onto the pavement outside the ER. Gibbs had followed as a veritable horde of doctors and nurses descended on them, trying his best to stay close, but he had been intercepted before he could move with the group through the double doors in the ER that led to emergency surgery.


A nurse had approached him then, gentle words overlaying a core of steel that managed to get him into a booth to be examined. Gibbs had barely paid attention to what was going on around him, mind still firmly stuck on Tony. Ducky had filled him in later that he had gone into shock, the enormity of what had happened and his own injuries finally catching up to him. By the time he had come back to himself, the medical staff had him stitched up, bandaged, and ready for discharge once they were sure his shock wasn’t anything more serious. Ducky had been waiting for him, having been called in as his medical proxy.


The next several hours were one long streak of desperate waiting interspersed with the arrival of his team. Abby had been first, surprisingly subdued, and had immediately given him a gentle hug, mascara already smeared down her cheeks by her tears. Tim and Ziva weren’t far behind, either arriving separately yet at the same time or riding in together. Tim had carefully pried Abby out of Gibbs’ arms and pulled her to sit down in a chair, his face as serious as Gibbs had ever seen him.


Ziva had marched up to him, fire hiding the fear lurking in her eyes, and demanded to know what had happened. Gibbs had just looked at her, unable to formulate a response, before Ducky had thankfully intervened with a relay of Tony’s injuries that segued into one of his rambling stories and served as just the right kind of distraction.


Soon they were all seated in various corners of the room, waiting for word. Ducky had charmed his way through the double doors to find out more information but was unable to ascertain much other than Tony was still alive and in surgery. Ducky had then asked Ziva to assist him in fetching everyone some coffee and sandwiches, shooting Gibbs a conspiratorial glance as he passed by. Ziva had looked ready to storm the OR and demand answers at the point of one of her many sharp knives, and Gibbs was grateful to his long-time friend for the distraction. He certainly empathized with Ziva’s need to do something, anything at all, to help.


As the minutes blurred into hours, Gibbs had felt his tension ratchet up a few notches. He had been strangely relieved when Director Vance had appeared to pull Gibbs aside and question him about what had happened. Gibbs had given him just enough information to satisfy him without revealing too many details, keeping his report concise and focused on their interactions with Chip and not what they were doing in Shenandoah in the first place.


The director had not been happy when he heard about Chip’s successful escape and promised to look into the lab that had done the DNA analysis. He ordered Gibbs to keep him posted before pulling out his cell phone and marching out of the waiting room like a man on the warpath. Gibbs had been surprised at the director’s response; he didn’t strike Gibbs as a man who seemed to have a very high estimation of Tony. Perhaps his handling of Eli David and his successful rescue of Ziva had changed Vance’s asinine opinion, Gibbs had thought to himself.


It wasn’t long after Vance’s departure that the surgeon finally made his weary way out to the waiting room, scrubs stained in spots with various unsavory-looking fluids that Gibbs would rather not know about. The whole team had jumped to their feet, circling around the doctor as if their mere proximity to one another would boost the odds of a good report. When the surgeon had given them the news that Tony had made it through the surgery but was in a coma, Gibbs had been ready to pull his hair out in frustration and worry. After a quick consult with Ducky and a few hurriedly-answered questions, the doctor had disappeared back through the double doors with orders for the team to make their way to the ICU waiting room for further instructions.


Upon reaching the ICU, a nurse informed them that they could visit Tony one at a time for 10 minutes each. Gibbs had gone first, the need to reassure himself that Tony was still breathing too strong to resist. He had sat next to Tony and gripped his hand in his, watching the rise and fall of his chest. He hadn’t said a word, and it was only nurse knocking on the door to let him know that his time was up that pulled him out of his headspace.


He had parked himself firmly in the waiting room then, watching as each team member had their chance to sit with Tony. Abby had been next, followed by Tim and then Ducky. Ziva was last, and the dark expression on her face as she left his room when her ten minutes were up was enough to make Gibbs wish he could raise Chip to life so he could hand the man over to Ziva.


Gibbs had ordered the team to go home and deftly rode out their expected protests with a glare that would have made the Arctic Circle look tropical. He had pulled Ducky aside and asked for a favor; Ducky had nodded with that empathetic, understanding look he tended to get at such times and walked over to the nurses’ station. Gibbs didn’t hear the ensuing conversation, but Ducky’s smile and nod to him was enough to know that he had accomplished his mission. Gibbs was allowed to stay.


And stay he did, for three days straight. Ducky had brought him his go bag and stopped in several times a day to bring him coffee, check Tony’s chart, look him over, converse with the medical staff, and bring Gibbs updates in a language he could actually understand. Mostly the news had been the same: we won’t know more until he wakes up; yes, he has a fever but that’s to be expected; you have to be patient, Jethro.


Gibbs had been ready to burn the whole place down by the end of the first day.


He had been cantankerous, grouchy, surly, and just plain rude to the nursing staff and only slightly better with Dr. Weisman. He knew that they were all ready to see him leave, but none were willing to endure the undoubtedly loud and dangerous process of extracting him from the room. A small part of him had whispered to him in a voice that sounded an awful lot like Shannon that he was making an ass of himself, but he just couldn’t bring himself to care enough to rein it in. Ducky, after apparently getting an earful from the nurses, had told him in no uncertain terms the second day to “at least pretend to endeavor to be nice to the staff, Jethro, or they will most certainly revolt and see to your abrupt sedation and removal from the premises” and “how do you think our young Anthony would feel when he wakes up to find that you are not here, hmm?”.


Gibbs had toned it down after that, but only just enough to keep the staff from following through with the threats he heard them mutter under their breath as they left the room, usually starting with some variation of “crazy old Marine bastard, who does he think he is…” and only getting more colorful and potentially fatal from there.


Perhaps if he had gotten some sleep his mood would have improved, but every time he had shut his eyes he’d seen Tony on the ground and Chip standing over him with the belt raised for another blow, splashes of Tony’s blood soaking into this shirt and flecked across his face. The few times he’d managed to fall into an uneasy doze had ended with him jerking awake, Sig in his hand before his brain had come back online, nightmares of Tony dead on the ground still flashing before his eyes. Every noise and motion had him on high alert; every person that approached was a potential threat to be neutralized. He knew it was irrational and that Tony was as safe as he could be, but he couldn’t seem to get himself under control.


He did finally manage to get a few hours’ rest shortly after Ducky had confronted him. He suspected that the older man had slipped something into his coffee because one moment he’d been watching Tony breathe and the next he was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, feeling better than he’d felt since they’d arrived. It hadn’t been enough, but it was better than nothing, and it had gone a long way to helping him improve his mood, even if only slightly.


Gibbs figured the other reason the nurses hadn’t murdered him by now was that they understood and even approved of the obvious care and concern he was showing for Tony. Gibbs had barely left the younger man’s side, only leaving to sneak into the shower in the adjourning bathroom to freshen up with Marine efficiency, in and out in ten minutes. He had held Tony’s hand, adjusted the blankets, and brushed the hair from Tony’s fever-warm forehead, glaring defiantly at anybody who thought to comment.


There had been one heart-clenching moment when he thought that Tony was waking up. He had felt Tony’s hand twitch in his and saw his eyes dart under his lids, but when he squeezed back there was no response. The doctor had assured him that this was normal and that Tony would come around when his body had recovered enough to allow it, but the sudden rise and fall of hope in Gibbs’ chest had been enough to make him even more of a bear to deal with. It was shortly after that episode that Ducky had warned him about the staff’s dangerous proximity to full-blown mutiny.


When Tony did finally open his eyes, Gibbs had had to work hard not to break, cursing his sudden emotional response even as he took deep breaths to keep the sudden tears at bay. His sardonic nice of you to finally join us, DiNozzo had been gruffer than necessary to cover the way his throat had constricted upon meeting that hazel gaze for the first time in days.


There had been terror mixed with secret joy in their ensuing conversation, concern vying with amusement as Tony’s bouts of panic merged into half-mad mumblings and back again. By the time nurse Susan had shown up, Gibbs hadn’t been sure what he was feeling anymore, and his sudden loss in their battle of wills had left him chuckling internally at the bizarre nature of it all. When the doctor had not-so-subtly asked him to leave the room, Gibbs had been torn between his need to keep Tony safe and his desire to regroup. His abrupt exit covered it well, and by the time he had taken three steps down the hall he had managed to set his face with a glare that had people scurrying to get out of his way as he went to find coffee.


His internal musings made the long trip to the coffee shop all the way on the other side of the hospital on the first floor pass in a blur, and Gibbs blinked to clear his mind as he realized he was standing at the front of the line. He quickly placed an order for their largest cup of the blessed brew, giving a terse “Gibbs” when they asked for his name.


Just as the pretty barista handed Gibbs his coffee, the PA system pinged to life overhead.


“99 Code Blue, Intensive Care Unit, Room 303. 99 Code Blue, Intensive Care Unit, Room 303.”


Gibbs heart seemed to skip a beat before rocketing up to a rapid thump-thump-thump. He turned with a curse, dropping the coffee without a second thought as he rushed back to the ICU. Behind him, the cup hit the floor with a wet smack, lid flying away as coffee sprayed everywhere in delicate dark brown arcs.


The fear that Gibbs had barely kept at bay over the past three days suddenly burst through him in a torrent of adrenaline as he rushed up the stairs three at a time, desperate to get to Tony’s room before it was too late. The sights and sounds around him blurred into an obscure river of sensation on the edge of his consciousness, only the noise of his own heartbeat and labored breaths filling his ears as he ran.

In Which He Breaks A Rule by AndEverAmen

So, Tony thought to himself, this is how I die. Figures.


He hadn't meant for it to happen. Of course not; that would be ridiculous. But the fact of the matter was that it had, and now he was as good as dead.


He was sure that someday they'd all be able to look back at this moment and laugh, that they'd find it all rather funny. Well, I won't, Tony amended in his head. I'll be dead. Maybe my spirit will look on from the afterlife and chuckle a bit, assuming I wind up somewhere with good reception to the here-and-now.


Either way, he was sure that, given the inevitable passing of time, his teammates would raise a beer to his memory with smiles on their faces at the thought of him and his manner of demise. He knew that he would had it been somebody else in his position, and Lord knows they all used dark humor to get through the hard times anyway.


Still, it kinda sucks that this is how it ends, though I can't say I'm surprised, Tony thought with a mental sigh as he looked into the murderous blue eyes of his Boss.


Truly, he hadn't meant to fall into the wall and pull the Code Blue cord. It just sort of… happened. You know, like an accident, Boss, Tony's mind chirruped in amusement. If only he could see it from my perspective. He'd find the whole thing funny, too, and we could go along our merry little way a bit older and wiser for the experience. Next time I'll know to listen to the nurses when they tell me to stay in bed.


Really, all Tony had wanted was to go to the bathroom in peace. Nurse Susan had removed his catheter after they had brought him back from the Imaging Department, fresh from a batch of scans and tests that had shown no neurological damage, thank God. She had informed him that it was time for him to start rebuilding his strength and get used to moving around again. She had told him to press the call button for help if he needed to go. But noooo, I had to try and do it myself. "DiNozzos don't need help. DiNozzos are tough and independent." Thanks for that, Dad.


"What the hell is going on, DiNozzo?"


Uh oh. Boss is using his "quietly pissed" voice. Yep, this is  definitely  how I die: murdered to death by the wrath of Gibbs.


"Uh, hey there, Boss. I guess you heard the Code Blue page, huh? I had all my scans and tests done, and I'm okay. That's good news, right?"


Gibbs didn't say a word, but Tony watched in morbid fascination as his jaw flexed and his hand twitched in a ghost of a headslap. He swore that he could actually feel the impact and flinched a bit before straightening up as best he could on the bed and meeting his Boss's glare with more courage than he thought it possible for any man to possess.


"Well, uh, anyway, I was trying to get out of bed, you see, and I kinda tripped over my IV pole and fell into the wall and, uh, I might've pulled the Code Blue cord, ya know, by accident."


Still no answer. Glare intensity at 80% and holding steady. Proceed with caution.


Tony swallowed hard and licked his lips nervously, eyeing Gibbs the way he would a particularly fierce-looking, angry dog on a threadbare lead. One wrong move and he'll tear my throat out before I can blink.


"So, yeah, I'm sorry about that. Didn't mean to worry you, Boss. Uh, did you get your coffee?"


"I dropped it when I heard the Code Blue, DiNozzo."


Oh… oh, God! I broke Rule 23! I'm dead; I'm so very dead!


Tony could do nothing but stare in horror at Gibbs, dread turning his mouth to ashes and causing his stomach to launch into a gymnastic routine worthy of Olympic gold. He braced himself for impact, sure that his doom was upon him.


Then, something strange happened.


Tony watched as Gibbs' expression changed. The anger flickered into a look of relief, and Tony watched the man unclench his muscles and relax his stance slightly. The anger didn't disappear, but it softened, morphed into something less all consuming and more… paternal. That was the only word Tony could find for it.


He looks like a man who just pulled his kid out of traffic after telling him not to leave the yard.


Tony looked on in amazement as Gibbs sighed and rubbed a hand over his face before settling himself in the chair next to his bed, shaking his head the whole way. Once again, his tongue decided to start moving without consulting his brain first, and some detached part of his mind shouted a desperate, unheeded warning as he began speaking.


"So that's it? No headslap, no sudden acts of violence? You're just gonna let it go? I made you spill your coffee, Boss!"


Tony winced even as the last syllables left his mouth, mentally kicking himself. You just can't leave well enough alone, can you, DiNozzo? You just have to antagonize him, don't you? He tensed and broke eye contact, ready for the resurgence of Gibbs' ire.


"It was just coffee. I'll get another cup."


Tony's head snapped up so fast he almost gave himself whiplash. Eyes wide, he looked at Gibbs who was staring back at him with a look of exasperation mixed with fondness that Tony had never quite seen before, at least not so openly. Gibbs must have seen his complete consternation, because he didn't stop there.


"Some things are worth more than coffee, Tony. I'm just glad you're okay."


Tony's mouth opened and closed a few times, and to his embarrassment he felt his throat close up and his eyes start to sting. That's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me.


Unable to handle the sudden swell of emotion, Tony fired off the first thing that came to his mind to try and break the discomfort he was suddenly feeling.


"Gee, Boss, I didn't take you for a 'Hallmark moment' type of guy. Next you'll start reciting poetry or quoting Shakespeare, and we both know it's all downhill after that. Don't worry; your secret's safe with me."


Gibbs let out a snort that sounded suspiciously like a muffled laugh, and Tony relaxed at the amusement he saw in his Boss's eyes. He grinned widely, relief mixing with the tide of emotions he was currently swimming through, and was happy to see Gibbs' returning smile.


The moment ended when Tony broke into a jaw-cracking yawn. He blinked his eyes sleepily, surprised at the sudden surge of weariness that swept over him. Before he could say anything, a voice broke in with a warm Scottish brogue. "Anthony, my dear boy, it's good to see you awake!"


"Hiya, Ducky. Heard I was out of it for a while, and I have you to thank for keeping Gibbs from being banned from Bethesda for life, so thanks."


"Yes, well, we all must do our part. Now, how are you feeling?" As Ducky asked, he was already reaching for Tony's chart, scanning the remaining monitors as he did so. He tutted to himself under his breath as he read the numbers and the results of the scans and tests.


"Oh, you know, can't complain, really. Nothing a little R and R won't cure. I was thinking maybe on a beach, preferably somewhere warm and sunny like the Caribbean, with clear waters and hot chicks in bikinis. Can you write me a prescription for that, Doc?"


The Scotsman looked at Tony over the tops of his glasses, a genial smile on his lips.


"I'd say you have quite a ways to go yet before you are well enough to go anywhere so exotic. If you do well, you might be able to go home in a day or two, but I would not be surprised if you are here for longer."


Tony frowned at that, feeling the beginning of a pout forming. His hatred for hospitals was well known and documented. He glanced over at Gibbs and caught the resolute stare of his Boss that said you are going nowhere until I say you can go, DiNozzo. Tony's crafty brain immediately kicked into overdrive, and he began plotting his escape even as he felt exhaustion begin to pull him down into sleep.


"Not that I don't enjoy your company, Ducky, but I'm feeling a bit wiped out. Think I'm gonna take... a little…"


He was asleep before his head fully settled onto the pillow. The last thing he felt before he dropped off completely was a calloused hand gently brushing the hair off his forehead.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Man, if Gibbs wasn't ready to kill me before, he must be by now.


Tony knew that he was being difficult, but he couldn't help himself. He hated hospitals. Nothing good had ever happened while he was in one, and ever since his lovely bout with the plague he'd developed a near phobia of them. The food was bad, the sheets scratchy, the floor too noisy to get a decent night's sleep, there was never anything good on TV, and the wounds on his back were itching and driving him nuts.


They had moved him out of ICU and into a regular room about 24 hours after he had come out of his coma, and he had been in his new room for about a day. The nurses on this floor had apparently been warned about the dangers of a Gibbs/DiNozzo combination and were watching him like hawks. He'd yet to find a prime opportunity to spring himself.


He had compensated for his discomfort by whining more than usual to anyone who would listen, which was usually Gibbs and Ducky. He didn't whine to the pretty nurses, though, preferring to flirt outrageously. He wasn't sure which Gibbs found more irritating.


Ducky, at least, was able to take his complaining in stride, and he was very effective at heading off Tony's worse moments with entertaining stories that usually were enough to distract Tony from his undesirable situation for at least a few minutes.


Abby, Tim, and Ziva had all stopped by at least once. Abby had shared the latest, juiciest NCIS gossip with him and showered him with balloons, cards, and gifts that she had strong-armed from concerned coworkers. Tim had brought his portable DVD player and a few movies, for which Tony had promised not to glue anything to his desk for at least a week as a reward. Even Palmer had swung by with a new edition of GSM and a deck of cards, and they had spent an hour or two playing poker. Palmer had cleaned him out; the autopsy gremlin was a surprisingly sharp card shark.


Ziva had sat with him while Gibbs went home for a shower, a repacked go bag, and a quick nap. He had given her a long look before walking out of the room, though Tony wasn't able to see his face. Ziva's "I'll take care of him, Gibbs," must have been enough, because he nodded once before leaving the room, squeezing her shoulder as he passed.


Her visit started off a bit awkward, neither sure what to do with the other yet after Rivkin and Somalia. Still, Tony was nothing if not a smooth talker and a charmer, and he soon had her drawn into a discussion of the pros and cons of various Bond villains that led down so many rabbit trails that Tony wasn't sure how they ended up discussing the filmography of the Three Stooges when Gibbs returned. Gibbs had smiled his half-smirk when their conversation devolved into laughter just after he entered the room.


It had been a bright spot in a dreary couple days of more tests, poking, prodding, and boredom mixed with frustration. Tony hated feeling like an invalid, and he especially hated asking for help going to the bathroom. Gibbs had finally put his foot down and glared him into submission when he had insisted on getting there by himself for the third or fourth time and almost went tail over teakettle yet again, tangling himself in his IV line somehow.


All in all, Tony was sure that Gibbs was regretting not killing him after the Code Blue fiasco, and at this point Tony was willing to let him finish the job if it meant getting out of there.


After what felt like the hundredth request to be released, Ducky finally gave him the good news just before leaving for the night.


"Anthony, I've just finished consulting with Dr. Weisman, and he's agreed that you can go home in the morning, provided you continue on your current course, mind you."


Tony let out a whoop of joy at the news, happy to finally have an end in sight to his miserable stay.


"Did you hear that, Boss? I'm getting sprung!"


"Yeah, I heard, DiNozzo. I'm sure the whole hospital is planning a party as we speak."


"Now, Anthony, please allow me to finish. You'll only be released on the condition that you have somebody to stay with you who can assist you with your continued convalescence at home."


"Don't worry, Duck. Tony's coming home with me."


Gibbs' words had the ring of finality to them, and Tony was too excited at the prospect of busting out to offer any protest. Besides, he had expected nothing less. It was a long-standing tradition that Tony would stay with Gibbs after any serious injury, and they had a lot of unfinished business that demanded their attention.


Tony's face darkened for a moment at that thought but pushed it aside in favor of celebrating his upcoming freedom. He smiled and nodded as Ducky peppered him with instructions and directions on how best to heal outside the walls of the hospital, vowing solemnly to obey his warnings and not set himself back by overdoing it. I'd agree to just about anything if it meant getting out of here.


With a few last words of wisdom, Ducky finally excused himself, bidding Gibbs and Tony a good night and promising to be there bright and early for his discharge in the morning. Soon Tony was alone with Gibbs, the older man firmly settled into the sleeper chair that the nurses had brought him when they realized he wasn't going anywhere.


A comfortable silence settled between them, neither quite ready to sleep but both disinclined to talk. Tony settled back into his hospital bed, feeling more grounded than he had since he had awakened now that the end of his stay was in sight. The minutes passed easily, and as Tony felt himself start to drift off, he mumbled softly into the quiet of the room.


"Goodnight, Gibbs."


Gibbs' response was equally soft and surprisingly gentle considering the source.


"Goodnight, Tony. I'll be here if you need me."

In Which There Is Bond-ing by AndEverAmen

Gibbs drove his Challenger at what was for him a sedate pace, which meant that to a normal person it was only mildly suicidal. Tony sat in the passenger seat, head leaning against the window, fast asleep.


Guess the journey from the hospital to the car tired him out.


Tony had been awake bright and early, practically vibrating with his eagerness to get out of the hospital. Ducky had arrived around 0830, and a little less than two hours later an orderly was wheeling Tony out the door and to Gibbs’ Challenger. Gibbs had stood close by as Tony gingerly stood up from the wheelchair and immediately stepped into his agent’s six, supporting him as he slowly lowered himself into the passenger seat.


He had buckled Tony in himself, ignoring his SFA’s protests as he reached across him to click the belt in place. He had landed the gentlest of headslaps on the back of Tony’s head as he withdrew, no more than a tap, and Tony had ceased complaining with a small, tired smile.


Gibbs knew his friend was hurting, but Tony was stubborn and didn’t want to take more pain meds than absolutely necessary. He knew that the younger man hated the out-of-control feeling that came from opioids, and he fully expected to have a fight on his hands later when it was time for the next dose.


Not, of course, that Gibbs expected to lose.


He turned the corner onto his street and let out a sigh of relief as he pulled into his driveway. It’s good to be home. Gibbs fully empathized with Tony’s hatred of hospitals; had their roles been reversed, he was pretty sure the nurses would’ve violated their oaths to do no harm by the second day.


He shut the engine off and turned to look at Tony. The younger man hadn’t stirred; he slept soundly, tiny snores emitting from his corner of the car. Gibbs smiled at that before reaching over and gently shaking him awake.


“Hey, DiNozzo, we’re home. Time to move.”


“On your six, Boss!” Tony said, awakening with a start.


Gibbs’ lips twitched in amusement as he met the sleepy gaze of his SFA, his hair slightly tousled.


“Oh, hey, Boss. We here already?”


“Yep.”


Gibbs wasn’t one to dilly-dally, and he quickly made his way out of the car and around to Tony’s side. Tony had his seatbelt off and the door open by the time he got there, and Gibbs bent down and helped him slide out of the car. Once on his feet, Gibbs stepped back and let Tony make his own slow way to the front door, both their bags in Gibbs’ hand.


Once inside, Gibbs propelled Tony up the stairs to the guest room, keeping their momentum going. He knew that if he let Tony crash on the couch he’d have a heck of a time getting him back up again. Even though it wasn’t even noon yet, he knew the younger man was exhausted. Neither of them had slept well in the hospital.


The guest bed was already made up, courtesy of Abby. McGee had swung by at some point to set up Tony’s massive TV, hauling along a broad selection of movies as well as Tony’s laptop. Gibbs suspected that he would find his refrigerator full of meals prepared by Ziva. All in all, his house was as ready as it could be for Tony’s convalescence.


Tony’s face lit up at the sight of his beloved TV, and he turned to Gibbs with a smile.


“Boss, you got my TV! Thank God! Not that I don’t appreciate staying with you, Boss, because I do, but your idea of entertainment involves hand tools and lumber. I’m not sure your TV downstairs is even capable of handling a DVD player.”


Gibbs gave an obligatory eye-roll at that as he placed Tony’s bag on the bed and proceeded to efficiently unpack it, placing Tony’s clothes in the empty dresser upon which the TV stood, shrugging off his SFA’s noise of protest with a pointed glare. He gathered Tony’s various bottles of hair and shower gels and placed them in the bathroom down the hall, snorting in amusement at the plethora of products.


By the time he returned, Tony was sitting on the edge of the bed, shoes kicked off, looking a little lost.


“You hungry, Tony? I’m guessing Ziva’s stuffed my fridge full of food for us, so I’m sure I can heat us up something for lunch.”


“Uh, sure, Boss. Whatever you scrounge up will be good. If it’s alright with you, I’m gonna pop in a movie and veg for a bit.”


Gibbs gave him a nod of permission before turning and making his way downstairs to the kitchen. He noticed Tony’s medications laid out carefully on the counter with a long list of instructions in Ducky’s sure handwriting. He shook his head ruefully with a small smile as he turned toward his fridge. 


Sure enough, his fridge and freezer were full to bursting with various tupperware and pyrex dishes of different sizes. There was a note on top of the most prominent dish, written in Ziva’s neat hand.


Gibbs and Tony,


I have made enough food to last you two weeks. If you need more, please do not hesitate to call me. Here is a list of all the dishes and where they are located. Get well soon.


Ziva


Attached to the note was a literal map of his fridge and freezer with numbers in various dish positions corresponding to a list of food. Gibbs scanned the list before finding a light-looking vegetable barley soup that would serve as a good first meal out of the hospital. He pulled the dish out of the fridge and poured its contents into a pot. 


While he let the soup heat on the stove, Gibbs dug around in his cupboards until he located a serving tray left behind by his latest ex-wife. He sliced some fresh Italian bread Ziva left on the counter and placed it on the tray with some butter before pouring a glass of milk. By the time he had everything ready, the soup was hot enough to serve. He ladled out a generous portion into a bowl and, finally ready, made his way upstairs with the tray of food.


Nudging open the cracked door to the guest room with his foot, Gibbs stopped in the entryway and couldn’t hide his soft smile as he looked at his Senior Field Agent. Tony was asleep, propped into a semi-reclined position by the pillows as some action flick played on the TV. He looks so much younger when he’s asleep.


Gibbs set the tray on the nightstand next to the bed and wondered whether or not to wake the younger man. Lord knows he needs his sleep, but he needs to eat something, too. Besides, it’s about time for his next round of meds. Decision made, Gibbs reached over and gently shook Tony’s shoulder.


“C’mon, DiNozzo, wake up. Time to eat.”


Tony woke with a small start, blinking blearily at Gibbs as he yawned and rubbed his eyes.


“Wasn’t sleeping, Boss. Just resting my eyes. Whatchya bring me?”


“Soup and bread, Tony. Don’t want to overwhelm your stomach with anything heavier. Be right back.” Gibbs nodded to the tray as he turned and left the room, making his way back to the kitchen where he prepped his own food before grabbing Tony’s pills and returning to the guest room.


Tony had made a decent dent in the food, alternating bites of bread with sips of soup. His eyes kept flicking over to the TV as he half-watched the movie. Gibbs moved to the other side of the bed and placed his own food on the other nightstand before sitting on the bed next to Tony.


Tony looked over at him with an expression of mild surprise on his face, spoon frozen halfway to his mouth. Gibbs just looked at him, eyebrow half-cocked as if daring him to say anything. Tony stared at him for a few seconds before shrugging and turning back to his food.


Gibbs looked at the bottles of pills in his hands and read the directions while trying his best to recall Ducky’s long-winded instructions. He opened a couple of bottles and shook one pill each into his hand before passing them over to Tony with a stern glare. Tony looked at the pills in his palm as if they were deadly snakes ready to bite him. Gibbs turned up the glare until Tony reluctantly took the pills, popping them into his mouth with a grimace before swallowing them down with a gulp of milk.


Satisfied that Tony hadn’t tried some harebrained sleight-of-hand maneuver, Gibbs turned his attention to his own food, startled to realize just how hungry he was. The two agents proceeded to eat in comfortable silence, the only sound the slurping of soup and the background noise of the TV.


With a satisfied sigh, Gibbs finally set his bowl aside. He glanced over at Tony and caught the fuzzy gaze of the younger man. Pain meds must be kicking in. He looked at his watch and was surprised to see it was going on 1300 already. Tony looks ready to keel over; better let him sleep. Besides, the basement is calling.


Gibbs rose from the bed and gathered the dirty dishes. Tony sunk down into the mattress, eyes already closing as he gave up the fight to stay awake. Gibbs set the tray back down on the nightstand and turned off the TV before he pulled the covers over the younger man, tucking the edges around his body and smoothing out the wrinkles. Without a word, he picked up the tray and left the room, the soft sound of snoring following him as he stepped into the hallway.


~***N*C*I*S***~


The feeling of the wood beneath his hands was like a balm as Gibbs sanded, losing himself in the grain of the wood. He had cleaned up the dishes in the kitchen before checking on Tony, finding his agent sound asleep. He had then made his way to the basement to work on one of his smaller projects, glad to finally be alone after several days of doctors, nurses, and hospital noise.


He took a sip of his bourbon as he worked the wood, thinking over recent events. Was it only a week ago that I caught DiNozzo at that storage facility? Feels like longer. He hadn’t really had a chance to process events yet. There’d been no chance to do so in the hospital with the constant bustling and beeping, and he’d been too tense to do it anyway. Now that he and Tony were home and safe, he felt himself finally begin to relax.


I almost lost him this time. That was too close.


Gibbs sanded away, lost in thought, and was only startled out of his reverie by the ringing of his cell phone. Glancing at the caller ID, he flipped it open.


“Yeah, Gibbs.”


“Jethro, I heard you and DiNozzo had a bit of an adventure in Shenandoah. How’s the kid holding up?” Fornell’s voice echoed tinnily through the cell phone.


“Aw, Tobias, didn’t know you cared. DiNozzo will be alright. Remember that time you arrested him and put him in jail? The guy who framed him escaped from prison, presumed dead, and came after us. Put a bullet through Tony and beat the hell out of him before I could stop him, but we won’t have to worry about him anymore.”


“Holy crap, Gibbs, you guys don’t do anything by halves, do you. I swear, that boy of yours has some of the best and worst luck of anybody I’ve ever met. I’m surprised the kid hasn’t been struck by a meteor yet. That seems like something right up his alley.”


Gibbs snorted at that and bantered back and forth with Fornell for a few minutes before the conversation wound down. Fornell offered to swing by and sit on DiNozzo for a few hours whenever Gibbs needed a break, but they both knew that Gibbs had no intention on taking him up on the offer. Gibbs wasn’t letting Tony out of his sight any time soon.


After hanging up, Gibbs turned back to his sanding, and his thoughts wandered to the conversation he’d had with Tony on Friday night. He felt his grip tightening on the sanding block and had to put the wood down and take a sip of bourbon to hold back the resurgence of his anger at the memory of what Tony had told him. He knew that the two of them needed to talk more about that, but he was in no hurry to get there. Vance had given them both sick leave and, in Gibbs’ case, compulsory vacation until they were both ready to return to work. Gibbs had plenty of time to work his way around to speaking to Tony about everything.


Gibbs picked the wood back up and went back to work with the sanding block, thinking deep thoughts.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs made his way up the steps and into the guest room with the food tray full of dinner to find Tony awake and watching another movie, this time one of the Bond flicks.


“Hey, Tony, how you feeling? Sleep well?”


“Oh, hey, Boss. Yeah, I slept fine. Woke up a bit ago and put another movie on. Goldeneye, 1995, with the debut of the Pierce Brosnan version of Bond. Not my favorite Bond movie, but still a good one. Gotta love Sean Bean as Trevelyan, and they made an awesome video game out of it…”


Gibbs got their dinner situated as he let the babble wash over him, feeling something tense loosen in his gut as he listened to the sound of Tony’s voice. He didn’t say anything to turn the monologue into a dialogue, but that had never stopped Tony before. Gibbs figured the younger man would talk all night if he let him.


“Eat, DiNozzo,” Gibbs ordered, hitching up on the bed beside him again with his own plate of food.


They ate companionably, Tony offering a running commentary on the movie while Gibbs listened, placing in just enough nods and grunts to let Tony know he was listening. Gibbs didn’t particularly care about the film, but he was content to listen to Tony ramble on about cinematography and special effects while they ate. Gibbs was surprised to find himself actually enjoying the movie, Tony’s commentary filling in the blanks that came with missing the beginning scenes. It was a bit over-the-top in his opinion but entertaining nonetheless.


Before he knew it, the movie was over. Gibbs glanced at his watch and saw it was time for another round of meds. He collected the dishes and made his way to the kitchen. He made quick work of cleaning up before counting out more pills and making his way back to Tony’s room. The younger man had already swapped out movies and was engrossed in whatever was on the screen.


He handed the younger man the pills and a glass of water and watched carefully as Tony grimaced and swallowed them down. Satisfied, Gibbs stood there and looked at his agent, suddenly uncertain of what to do next. It was a bit too early for bed, but he wasn’t in the mood for more basement, either. Tony noticed his staring and patted the bed beside him.


“C’mon, Boss, come watch Indiana Jones with me. You’ll enjoy it, I promise. What’s not to like about watching an American hero outsmart Nazis? It’s the first one in the series, and I just started it.”


Tony looked at Gibbs with such a hopeful, puppy-dog expression that the notoriously grumpy former Marine suddenly found himself unable to say no. With a long-suffering sigh, he made his way around the bed and sat down next to Tony for the third time that day and focused on the TV.


He found himself once again enjoying the movie, the slick charm and charisma of the main character drawing him in. He hadn’t watched much TV since Shannon and Kelly had died, having discovered that doing so alone tended to bring up painful memories. This particular movie seemed vaguely familiar; Gibbs suspected that he’d seen it before, a long time ago.


As the credits rolled, Gibbs looked over at Tony and found the younger man gazing back at him with sleepy eyes, looking for all the world like a kid fighting bedtime. Gibbs had to hold back his laughter as he stood up.


“Alright, Tony, bedtime. Your kit is in the bathroom across the hall. You need anything?”


At Tony’s quiet, “No, Boss, thanks,” Gibbs left him to it and made his way down the hall to the master bedroom. He didn’t sleep in here very often; in fact, he had to dig the bed out from underneath a pile of boxes he’d been meaning to get to for a while. Normally he slept on the couch or in the basement, but he wanted to be closer to Tony in case the younger man needed anything. He quickly stripped and remade the bed before making his way back to Tony’s room.


Tony was curled up under the covers, TV off, and fast asleep. Once again Gibbs found himself messing with the blankets and making sure his agent was comfortable before snapping off the light with a whispered, “Good night, Tony,” and making his way to his own room, leaving both their doors cracked so he could hear.


With a sigh, Gibbs slipped into bed, suddenly aware of how tired he was. He’d been running for several days on very little sleep, and the backlog of fatigue seemed to hit him all at once. He was asleep before his head fully settled into the pillow.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs woke up suddenly, unsure of what had stirred him from his slumber. He glanced at the clock as he rubbed his face. It’s only 0200. Why am I awake?


He listened carefully, wondering what was going on, before he heard it: faint noises, a rustling sound, and a soft thump, all coming from the direction of Tony’s room. Gibbs threw back the covers and had just placed his feet on the floor to stand up when he heard the sharp, panicked cry of his Senior Field Agent echo down the hall.


Now wide awake, Gibbs threw himself into motion, running down the hall and bursting into Tony’s room in mere seconds. He quickly turned on the bedside light, and he couldn’t help but cry out as he took in the scene before him, his face twisting in dismay.


"Aw, hell, Tony!  Tony!?

In Which Shame and Comfort Collide by AndEverAmen

Running through the woods, branches slapping his face. Jumping logs, dodging rocks. Twisting and turning through the trees. The staccato rhythm of his feet hitting the ground. Eyes forward, ears filled with the rapid thump-thump-thump of his heartbeat. Deep, heaving breaths; in and out, in and out.


*Gotta run faster. Have to make it in time.*


Distance stretches out before him. Feet feel like lead, world pressing down on him. Hard to breathe, hard to move. The world stands still. Progress slows to a crawl. Distant sounds echo eerily in the dim light.


Still, he runs.


Suddenly, a clearing. Two figures before him. One kneeling, one standing. A flash of blue, of silver hair. A feral grin and madness lurking in brown eyes. Gun held to silver temple; a single shot like thunder.


Silver now coated in blood, blue eyes staring sightlessly at the sky. A graceless slump, dead weight.


He screams, soundless. He tries to move, but his body won’t obey. Insane, dark eyes turn to him, mocking, laughing. Another shot, this one like lightning through him. He staggers.


The figure splits, and his father stands before him, disappointment and rage covering his face. Blows rain down, four fists and four feet swinging, laughter and curses mixing together in his ears.


The blows stop. He looks, and he is alone. No body, nobody. Bloodstain on the dead leaves.


He looks down, and he is naked. A sudden presence. Body bent over, hands, too many hands, holding him down. Vision blurred and blocked. Swish of a belt through loops. Press of a body behind him, too close, too intimate. Whispered voice in his ear, promises of terrible things to come. Hideous caresses, mocking laughter. 


He fights, but it’s hopeless. Strength fails, training fails. Panic, bright and hot, bursts into being. He can’t breathe. He can’t think. Pain, supernova in the darkness, unending and terrible, twisting in him, consuming him.


He falls, down, down, down, into agony, into despair so deep there is no bottom. 


He falls, and there is no one left to catch him.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Tony gasped as he awoke suddenly, terrified eyes flung open wide as the echo of his screams faded. He didn’t know where he was or what was happening, but the panic burning in his belly told him to move, move, move. He struggled to untangle himself from the blankets, his movements sharp and jerky.


A hand on his shoulder almost stopped his heart, and suddenly he was fighting with all his strength, still half-lost in his nightmare.


“Get off me! Don’t touch me!”


“DiNozzo, stand down. It’s just me!”


“Boss?”


Confused hazel eyes met worried blue ones, and it was only then that Tony realized where he was. He stopped struggling and sagged back into the bed, panting for breath. He reached up with his right hand and grabbed Gibbs’ arm, fingers digging in as he held on for dear life.


“Boss! I thought… I saw…”


He was shaking, sweat soaking through his clothes and streaking down his face. He felt Gibbs untangle the blankets from around him, scanning him as he looked down before letting out a fiery string of curses.


“Don’t move, DiNozzo. You’re bleeding. I’m just going to check your dressing. Let’s hope you didn’t pop your stitches or Ducky’ll have both our hides.”


Tony’s hand tightened on Gibbs’ forearm, his whole body stiffening in protest. He pulled in deep, ragged breaths, eyes locked on Gibbs. When Gibbs tried to disengage Tony’s hand, the younger man let out a sound of protest and brought his other hand to bear, grabbing Gibbs’ other wrist.


He was shaking, unable to calm down. I can’t let him leave; I’ve got to keep him safe.


He shuddered as bits of his nightmare flittered through his mind’s eye. Seeing Gibbs dead on the ground and hearing Chip’s haunting, maniacal laughter was one of the worst things his subconscious had ever dredged up for him. As for the rest of it… it’s too much.


Tony was truly panicking now, memories old and new colliding in his mind and driving him into a frenzy. Some dim part of him, detached and rational, realized that it was just a nightmare, that Chip was dead and his father out of the picture for years now and all of this was just a reaction to the trauma of the last several days. That part, however, was not strong enough or loud enough to drown out the rest of him that was on the verge of a major meltdown.


He felt himself being lifted into a sitting position as Gibbs slid into the bed behind him, his long legs extending around the younger man’s hips. Two strong arms came around him, twisting in his death grip to settle on each side of him and pull him back into Gibbs’ chest, the back of his head on his Boss’s shoulder.


“It’s okay, Tony. You’re okay. Just breathe. Breathe with me.”


Tony could feel Gibbs’ chest rise and fall behind him, and he tried his best to match his breathing to the older man’s. Slowly but surely his gasps quieted and his breathing slowed. His shaking began to calm until only the occasional tremor rippled through him.


“You wanna talk about it?”


Tony could hear Gibbs’ words rumble through his chest as he spoke. If he’d been able to, he would have leapt out of the bed in embarrassment, but the sudden rise and fall of adrenaline left him too tired to fight his way out of Gibbs’ embrace. Still, he tensed, and he knew Gibbs felt it.


“Hey, I get it, Tony. This isn't my first rodeo. You've got nothing to be ashamed of.”


Gibbs’ voice in Tony's ear was quiet, low, and soothing. His arms were strong and stabilizing, his posture relaxed but confident. Tony could practically feel the other man's strength and reassurance seeping into him. He felt a tiny bit of the tension slip out of him and found himself surprised to realize that he didn't want to move. It was the most comfort he could ever remember receiving from another human being. 


“I… I had a nightmare, Boss.”


“Yeah, I kinda gathered that based on the screaming and the broken lamp, Tony.”


Broken lamp? Oh, crap, now I'm breaking the Bossman's stuff!


“Relax, Tony; it's just a lamp. It must've been a pretty intense nightmare to get you worked up like this.”


“Yeah…”


They lapsed into silence. Gibbs seemed content to wait Tony out, and Tony tried to organize his thoughts in a way that made sense. Thinking about the nightmare made him tense up again, but Gibbs just whispered more reassurances and held him, letting him ride it out. His patience paid off, because Tony found himself opening up to the older man after a few minutes.


“I dreamed we were back in the park, but we were separated. I was running through the woods looking for you. When I finally found you, you were on your knees and Chip was standing over you with a gun to your head. He looked at me, laughed, and pulled the trigger. I watched him murder you, Boss.”


Tony shuddered then, the sick feeling in his stomach twisting at the memory. He took comfort in the feeling of Gibbs behind him and around him, reassuring himself that the other man was still alive and well, feeling his heartbeat and listening to his breathing.


“I tried to get to you, but I couldn’t move. Chip turned and shot me. Then… then my father showed up. They both started beating me, then they were suddenly gone. So was your body, but I could still see the bloodstains on the ground.”


Tony stopped talking, his mind recoiling from the next part of the dream. I don’t know if I can talk about this.


“What else, Tony?”


Of course he knows there’s more. Can’t hide anything from him, not like this.


Tony sighed and shrugged, not sure how to put the rest of it into words.


“You don’t have to tell me, Tony, but it’s not going to just go away because you want it to. You’ll have to talk about it eventually.”


“Yeah, that’s pretty rich coming from you, Boss. I’ve seen bank vaults more open than you.”


No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Tony was wishing he could stuff them back in and swallow them. Gibbs survival rules 101, DiNozzo: don’t goad the grizzly bear.


There was silence for a few moments before Gibbs finally replied.


“I’m a hard-nosed bastard, Tony, and I’ve never denied that fact. It makes me good at my job; it’s also the reason why I’ve been divorced three times. Shutting people out may keep me safe, but it’s a lonely way to go through life. That may work for me now, but sooner or later it will catch up to me if I don’t learn to bend a little. Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.”


Well, that was not the response I was expecting.


They lapsed into silence again, Tony deep in thought. He knew that Gibbs had a point, but he still wasn’t sure if he could make the words come. We’ll have to talk about this eventually, and it’s not like he doesn’t already know the truth. Might as well get it over with.


“Suddenly there was somebody behind me, and then I was bent over and hands were holding me down. I couldn’t see, but I could hear and feel him press up against me. He took his belt off and whispered… things… in my ear. I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t stop it. I fought, but they were too strong. My clothes were gone. I fought, I swear I fought, Boss.”


Tony was breathing hard again, trembling in the older man’s grip as he remembered. He heard Gibbs’ voice in his ear - I know, Tony, I know you did; it’s okay, you’re okay; I’m here and they aren’t; breathe with me, Tony - calming him, keeping him grounded. Gibbs moved them side to side, rocking them both gently as he soothed. Slowly, slowly, Tony rode out the newest panic attack until he felt his heart settle and his breathing ease.


He felt wrung out and exhausted, too worn down to worry about embarrassment. He shifted in Gibbs’ grip, not to escape but to make himself more comfortable, and sighed wearily.


“That’s pretty much it, Boss. I remember falling, and then I was awake.” Tony wasn’t stupid; he’d only described that part of the dream in the vaguest way possible to still get the point across. He knew that Gibbs would most likely have questions, but right now that was as far as he was willing to go.


“After all the crap you’ve been through this past week, I’m not surprised that you’re having nightmares. I’ve had my fair share of them myself.”


“You have?” Tony asked, shocked. Wasn’t expecting to hear him say that. This day has been full of surprises.


“Yeah. Keep seeing Chip whipping you with that belt or dreaming that Chip killed you before I could stop him. Sometimes he shoots you, sometimes he beats you to death, sometimes he stabs you and you bleed out. No matter what I do, I’m not fast enough. Barely got any sleep those three days you were out. Ducky had to slip me something in my coffee to get me to sleep before the nurses did it for him.”


Tony absorbed that revelation in silence, thinking through what Gibbs had shared with him. He’d seen enough action as a cop and an agent to interpret the signs. A traumatic experience that produces nightmares, trouble sleeping, anger, irritability, anxiety, flashbacks… yeah, we’ve got PTSD alright.


It was to be expected, and Tony knew that they had both been down this road before, but it still sucked. He wasn’t sure whether or not to point it out to Gibbs and decided that it could wait until morning. Gibbs seems different since Friday night, even before Chip showed up. Something’s definitely changed between us. Seems to be a good thing, but I’m not sure how far it goes. Don’t want to push him too hard just yet.


Honestly, Tony had never seen this side of Gibbs before, had never even imagined that this version of Gibbs could even exist. He wondered briefly if this is what Gibbs had been like before Shannon and Kelly were killed and promptly slammed the lid on that thought before his tongue could betray him by asking. He was pretty sure the subject was off-limits. Bringing it up seemed more than moderately suicidal.


It’s only fair, I suppose. I’ve certainly changed since he caught me at my storage unit. Never dreamed I would ever tell Gibbs my secrets, and yet here we are. All in all, Gibbs holding me while I freak out about a nightmare isn’t even the strangest thing to have happened this past week. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve already done something similar already. Not sure that I want this to be our new normal, but it’s kinda nice to have somebody to lean on.


Tony yawned then, and he felt his eyes drift closed, surrounded by the warmth and scent of Gibbs. He wanted to say something to acknowledge Gibbs’ disclosure of his own nightmares, but the panic attacks had chewed up any rest he’d gotten and left him dog-tired. He mumbled something, he wasn’t sure what, as sleep pulled at him.


He felt Gibbs’ rumbled words as he faded out, drawing the barest twitch of a smile across his face.


“Get some rest, Tony. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

In Which The Paradigm Shifts by AndEverAmen

Gibbs awoke with a start, ragged edges of a nightmare already fading from his memory but not his heart as he instinctively clutched the object in his arms closer to his chest. He shook his head as if to fling off the last dregs of his latest bête noire, his sleep-mussed hair catching the early morning light as it shifted with his motions.

It took him a few moments to remember where he was as the final vestiges of his sleepy fog lifted, and he belatedly realized that the object in his arms was, in fact, his Senior Field Agent. Memory of last night flooded his mind as he shifted uncomfortably. My back and neck are not going to forgive me for this.

Parts of his body certainly had yet to awaken, the static-fuzz feeling of sleeping limbs prelude to an uncomfortable revival. Gibbs noticed that Tony was still fast asleep, brow creased as if some painful thought flitted still through his mind. Gibbs frowned at that, unsure if he should shake his agent awake or let him sleep a bit longer.

Part of him was embarrassed to be in this position, and he was very glad that nobody was around to see them like this lest they either draw the wrong conclusions or decide to take photos for posterity’s sake. Abby, especially, would have been delighted to find them in such an interesting position, and Gibbs knew full well there was an office pool surrounding the exact nature of his and Tony’s relationship. This would just be fuel for the more… imaginative interpretations. Gibbs shook his head at that absurd idea, chuckling ruefully. Some people sure do like to play matchmaker in the weirdest ways.

Before he could really make up his mind one way or another as to what to do with Tony, the younger man shifted in his grip and opened his eyes, looking straight into Gibbs’ bemused gaze.

“Uh, hi, Boss. What’s going on?”

Gibbs could barely contain his grin at the sight of his agent’s sleepy confusion. His bedhead was especially profound, hair standing up at every angle imaginable. Gibbs gave the slightest squeeze of his arms as he replied, amusement hanging on every syllable.

“Well, Sleeping Beauty, I was just about to serenade you awake in my arms, but it seems you’ve shaken off the spell all on your own.”

Gibbs watched as Tony’s confusion shifted to realization and almost laughed aloud at the blush he saw rising in the younger man’s cheeks as he took in the situation. He didn’t fight as Tony sat up, sliding out of his grip as he did so and turning in the bed to half-face him.

“Oh man, I’m so sorry, Boss! I didn’t mean to, uh, ya know, fall asleep on you. I’m sure you didn’t need that.”

“It’s okay, Tony. I think we both slept better for it.”

Gibbs watched the surprise flicker across the younger man’s face before it was swallowed up in a surprisingly shy smile, Tony’s body losing its tension as he realized that Gibbs wasn’t upset. Gibbs let his affection for the other man show in his easy smile and the relaxed set of his eyes and body. I promised myself I’d tell him how important he is to me if he’d only survive. I almost lost him. Can’t waste whatever time we have left.

After Tony had fallen asleep, Gibbs had laid in bed for a while and kicked himself for all the years he’d wasted hiding himself away behind walls of seeming indifference and callous behavior designed to keep people away. He’d thought that his rare words of praise and recognition, often couched in jokes or only wrenched from him in desperate times, would be enough to show that he cared, but he knew better when it came to Tony. Tony was constantly seeking his approval and reassurance, and Gibbs had played on that, feeding him small morsels of praise to keep his agent to heel. He’d called Tony his loyal Saint Bernard, but he hadn’t worried too much about being the type of man worthy of that kind of devotion.

Oh, not that he’d consciously done all of that. It wasn’t as if he sat down one day and pondered how best to manipulate Tony to do his bidding, but the end result was the same. He’d demanded so much from Tony - from all of his agents, really - and hadn’t given much consideration to what he may owe in return. He figured they knew that he’d take a bullet for them, that he’d die for them, that his door was open to them, but beyond that… Gibbs had left a lot unsaid and undone.

Can’t change the past. All I can do is move forward and do my best. Time to man up, Marine.

Despite his resolve, Gibbs was unsure of exactly how to execute his promise. He was set in his ways, but he knew he needed to change for Tony’s sake. He’d decided last night to speak with Ducky about the situation; he could count on the other man’s discretion and wisdom. Not that he intended to tell Ducky the secrets that Tony had spilled; that was for the other man to share if and when he was ready.

He was brought back to the present when Tony shifted off the bed, standing carefully and looking at the mess of the broken lamp on the floor.

“Don’t worry about the lamp, Tony. I’ll clean it up after we eat. Why don’t you hit the head and take a shower. I’ll see what Ziva has for us for breakfast.”

Gibbs would have offered to help Tony into the shower, but he knew there was no way the younger man would accept his assistance after waking up in his arms, no matter how innocent the context. Tony needed some time alone to reset himself, and Gibbs would give it to him.

“Sure thing, Boss.”

Gibbs swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, wincing as his sleeping limbs began to awaken. Pins and needles shot through him, and he couldn’t hide his limp as he made his way over to the dresser and pulled some clothes out for Tony. He handed them to the younger man as he made his way out the door and down the stairs, holding onto the railing as his tingling legs weren’t quite up to snuff yet.

The first thing he did was start a full pot of coffee, pulling out hazelnut creamer and sugar that Ziva had thoughtfully stocked. He made quick work of getting breakfast ready, finding some sort of quiche dish that only needed reheating. While that was warming, he got Tony’s morning round of meds ready and set them beside Tony’s place at the table.

We’ve been doing this enough that Tony has a place. We have a routine.

The thought pulled Gibbs up short for a few moments before he smiled and turned to the coffee pot, pouring himself a generous mug of the fresh brew and chugging half of it with a contented sigh. He refilled his cup just as Tony made his slow way into the kitchen and made a beeline for the same pot. Gibbs motioned him to the table in the dining room as he poured the other man a cup, nodding to the creamer and sugar set directly in front of Tony’s spot when he handed him the steaming mug.

While Tony doctored his coffee and took his first few sips of the day, Gibbs pulled the pyrex dish of quiche out of the oven and served up two generous helpings onto plates, setting them at each of their spots before seating himself comfortably.

The next few moments were devoid of conversation as both men tore into their breakfasts. Gibbs was surprised at how hungry he was, and he was glad to see that Tony wasn’t lacking an appetite, either. He’d been scaling back the pain meds since he’d left the hospital, and that combined with the improved food quality seemed to have improved his hunger levels.

Gibbs made a point to stare intently at Tony and the tiny plastic cup with his morning meds. Tony rolled his eyes but dutifully swallowed the pills, washing them down with a generous gulp of coffee. Satisfied, Gibbs returned to the last bites of his breakfast. Soon enough, they had both finished their plates.

“Want more?” Gibbs asked.

“Nah, I’m good, Boss. Thanks.”

Gibbs gathered their plates and forks and took them to the sink where he made quick work of washing them and stacking them in the drain rack to dry. He put the leftover quiche away before refilling his cup and making his way to the front door to grab the paper. He sat back down at the table and pulled out the sports section, passing it to Tony, before turning to the front page.

They sat in companionable silence, reading the news and sipping their coffee. It was all very domestic, and Gibbs felt a pang go through him as he realized just how content he felt. It had been a long time since he’d had anybody to share his mornings with, and he found himself wishing that Tony would never go back to his apartment.

Strange how fate has thrown us together. I lost my family, and Tony’s never really had one to speak of. We’re two ships adrift at sea, joining broken forces together to form some strange armada. Wonder what Shannon would think if she could see us now. She’d love Tony, I’m sure of it, and Kelly would have wrapped him around her little finger with ease.

Gibbs was surprised that the thought of his dead wife and daughter didn’t bring with it the soul-crushing pain that normally accompanied their memory. Instead, there was a low ache in his chest mixed with love that hadn’t faded the slightest, even after all these years. It hurt, but there was a sweetness in it, too, that kept the dark clouds away.

Gibbs folded his paper and set it down on the table, looking at the man across from him as he took another sip of his coffee. He thought about what he was going to say to the other man, about how much there was still to discuss. He wasn’t quite ready yet breach the heavier subjects; he wanted to run things by Ducky first. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was already past 0800. He stood up, taking a last swig of coffee before turning towards the stairs.

“Gonna go clean up the broken lamp now. If you take the last of the coffee, make another pot. I’ll be back shortly.”

~***N*C*I*S***~

The day passed in a blur of movies, woodworking, food, and meds. Gibbs had made short work of the broken lamp before Tony made his way back to the guest room where he made himself comfortable with another movie that Gibbs thought he might have seen before but didn't stick around to watch. He'd made a beeline for his basement where he pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and some simple drafting tools. He had an idea for a new boat, one that he would actually keep this time, one that he could share with Tony.

He'd thought it up over breakfast, the idea coming to him like lightening in a clear sky, and he'd latched onto it immediately. He knew that Tony was curious about sailing, and he privately wondered if the younger man already knew how to sail and was keeping that a secret, too. He'd spent several hours drawing up plans for a new sailboat. His previous boats had all been 22' sloops, but he wanted a larger one this time. He'd settled on a 27' sloop that would just barely fit in his basement. Getting it out would be tricky, but he could do it. He might even share with Tony his secret of how he did it.

After dinner, Tony had said he was tired and going to bed, so Gibbs had seen him settle in before returning to the basement. He was drawing up lists of what lumber and tools he would need to start on the new boat when he heard footsteps on the basement stairs. They were too light to be Tony's, and he lifted his gaze just in time to see Ducky remove his hat as he made his way down the steps.

"Ah, Jethro, I just got your message about half an hour ago. I was busy working on a body for Balboa's team most of the afternoon, a particularly unusual case, I must say. A marine corporal was found stripped naked, tied to a pier, and left to the ravages of the incoming tide, but not before having a scuba tank placed on his back with the breathing apparatus in his mouth. Unfortunately for the poor fellow, they had provided him not with oxygen but rather helium. The mystery seems to be over whether this was a prank gone sadly wrong or a rather sadistically inventive murder."

Gibbs figured he better head Ducky off before the older man segued into one of his seemingly infinite you know, this reminds me of a time... stories that could lead anywhere and go on forever. He turned to retrieve the two jars he'd prepped earlier for the bourbon he knew they would wind up sharing, pouring a healthy serving in each and handing one over to Ducky as he spoke.

"Duck, I need your advice on something."

Ducky's eyebrows went up at that, and the older man sat himself on Gibbs' shop stool and took a sip of the bourbon with a look that said continue, Jethro.

"It's about Tony."

"With you, Jethro, it often is. I don't suppose this has anything to do with the mysterious reason the two of you wound up in Shenandoah National Park, does it?"

Gibbs had been very tight-lipped with both his team and the Director as to what, exactly, he and Tony had been doing over the weekend. He didn't want to share Tony's secrets, so he'd dodged their questions in his usual ways: glares, pointed changes of subject, and outright ignoring them. It had worked; the Director didn't really care enough to risk pushing him, having apparently learned to choose his battles, and his team knew better than to try.

"Yeah, Duck, it does."

Gibbs frowned as he took a sip of his bourbon, wondering how exactly to explain to Ducky his predicament without giving away too much. He knew that his long-time friend could be discreet when the situation called for it; the man had learned and forgotten more secrets than Gibbs would ever know.

"Jethro, you know that you do not have to tell me anything that was revealed to you in confidence, nor do you have to tell me that you desire this conversation to be kept private as well. Anything we say here will never leave this basement without your permission. Tell me what you can, old friend, and we shall work from there."

Gibbs smiled at the genial, perceptive medical examiner, once again glad that his friend could read him so well. Outside of Tony and perhaps Tobias Fornell on a good day, there was nobody better at it, and it set him at ease.

"I almost lost him this time, Duck. We've come close before, but this was different. We... talked about some things, and I learned some things about Tony that really helped put who he is to me into perspective. When Chip was standing over him with the belt, I... I thought..."

Gibbs trailed off, staring into space somewhere between him and Ducky. He didn't realize it, but he was gripping the edge of his work table as though it was the only thing keeping him from falling off the face of the earth. He could still see the glint of the belt buckle in the late evening sunlight, could see the flecks of blood on Chip's face and the fresh droplets flung from the buckle to sprinkle the leaves around them. That helpless feeling rose up in him again, mixed with the fear that he wouldn't get there in time, wouldn't be able to stop him before he killed Tony. Tony, face down on the ground and screaming like a wounded animal in a trap.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up into the concerned blue eyes of Ducky.

"Jethro, breathe. You are not in the forest anymore; we are in your basement. Charles Sterling is dead, and young Anthony is safely ensconced in your guest room. It's okay, Jethro. You're both okay."

Gibbs found himself gulping in deep breaths, shaking his head to clear it of the horrifying memories of Tony's blood and screams. He felt fine tremors running through him into Ducky's arm, and it pissed him off that he couldn't control himself better. He grabbed his jar of bourbon and threw back a large mouthful, focusing on the burn as it slid down into his stomach to steady himself.

"I'm alright, Duck. I'm alright."

Ducky continued to stare at him for a few long moments before giving his shoulder a squeeze and stepping back to resume his perch on the stool.

Gibbs mentally winced as he looked at Ducky, sure that the other man recognized his symptoms for what they were. Damned PTSD. I hate this crap. Gibbs was no stranger to post-traumatic stress disorder, having been through it more than once in the Corps and as an NCIS agent, but this particular bout seemed especially potent. His previous experiences had manifested as nightmares, insomnia, and general irritability, but he wasn't used to having vivid flashbacks like this. The hypervigilance was even more prevalent than usual, too, especially when he had still been in the hospital with Tony.

 Gibbs decided to ignore the flashback for now, focusing instead on what he'd initially called Ducky to discuss.

"I thought I'd lose him this time, Duck. I didn't think I could get to him fast enough. Just when I was finally pulling my head out of my ass enough to realize what was right in front of me, somebody like Chip comes along and I almost lost everything. Don't think I could take that, not again."

Gibbs had never told Ducky about his moment on the beach after his girls died, looking down the barrel of his own gun and contemplating pulling the trigger. It had been close, far closer than he'd ever want to admit. Still, he figured that the other man at least suspected something like that had happened, though he'd never brought it up. By the understanding look on Ducky's face as he studied him, Gibbs reckoned he was right.

"I suppose the question is, are you going to allow this experience to hinder you, or are you going to use it to improve your relationship with Anthony and, by extension, the rest of us? It's no secret to me that you love the young man like a son, though I'd wager good money that you've never come out and said it. You're far too recalcitrant regarding emotional expression for that, and Anthony has been so emotionally starved that he wouldn't even begin to request you say it even if he does need it for fear that he'd lose what little he has."

Gibbs shook his head softly in confirmation of Ducky's theory, and the older man continued with a stern, knowing look.

"You want to know what to do with Anthony, hmm? You and I both know that you already know what to do. Tell the young man how much he means to you, and back it up with your actions. No more dropping tiny scraps of praise to make him come to heel. He's not a dog, Jethro, nor does he deserve to be jerked around by your unthinking disregard for his emotional well-being. Life doesn't often hand you second chances at family, and you'd be a bloody fool not to take it, no matter what the risk."

As Ducky spoke, his brogue thickened in that way it did when he was truly upset, and Gibbs had the feeling that the older man had been wanting to say this for a while now. Considering that the ME rarely had an issue with letting Gibbs know his opinion, Gibbs was surprised that he'd waited so long to express it. Guess he figured I wouldn't listen, and he's probably right. I needed a solid kick in the pants first.

"You're right, Duck, and I was wrong," Gibbs said with a sigh, running his hand over his face.

His admission seemed to pull the Scot up short, cutting him off before he could really get a full head of steam going. Gibbs filled the silence by taking another small sip of his bourbon, not making eye contact with the other man. When the ME finally resumed speaking, his voice was not quite back to it's normal light Scottish lilt.

"I know it's difficult to risk reaching out to somebody when you've spent so much time protecting yourself, especially after a great tragedy, but if you live the rest of your life behind your walls, can you really say you've lived? That's a very lonely, desperate way to go through life, Jethro. It's not fair to Anthony, and it's also not fair to Shannon and Kelly."

Gibbs' head jerked up at that, his gaze meeting that of the older man, a stinging retort ready to fire, but the serious expression on the other man's face caused him to hold back. They stared at each other for a moment before Gibbs gestured with a short nod of his head for the ME to continue, body stiff but eyes saying he was willing to listen.

"Do you think Shannon and Kelly would be happy with the way you've been living? Do you think Shannon would want you to continue stumbling from relationship to relationship trying to recapture something that can never be reclaimed? Do you think Kelly would like to see her father shutting the world out and blocking off the loving heart she knows him to possess? You dishonor their memory in doing so by hiding away the man they loved. I understand why you did, but it's time to let it go, Jethro. Stop punishing yourself for your perceived failure to save them and let yourself be happy again."

As Ducky's words sank in, Gibbs found himself barely able to maintain his composure as he realized the older man was right about all of it. He thought of his girls long gone and the hard, lonely years sprawling between then and now, all the wasted opportunities, and he was suddenly very grateful that his friend had the guts to point out what nobody had ever dared to mention. Everyone knew that Shannon and Kelly were off-limits; nobody even so much as whispered their names in his hearing. He'd lost years with his father that he could never reclaim, burned through three marriages trying to find that spark of life and love again, and had pushed away almost every person who tried to breach his walls. Oh, a few had made it through, but it was nothing like it could have been.

Ducky's risked our friendship to tell me the truth; the least I can do is listen. The man's tongue is as sharp and accurate as his scalpel.

Feeling suddenly exposed, Gibbs wanted nothing more than to escape the pressure of Ducky's presence, but he held himself still. Running won't fix anything. It'll only make things worse and prove his point. Besides, gotta start somewhere.

Gibbs looked at Ducky, and as the other man searched his expression he apparently found what he was looking for because his confrontational posture relaxed and his eyes softened.

"It takes a great deal of courage to allow oneself to become emotionally vulnerable and to feel deeply. It is certainly easier to run or entomb oneself in seeming indifference, but in the end it leaves one hollow and wasted. You know that I am here for you, but you are the one who has to the difficult work of reaching out. It will require you both to admit that you have been wrong and to change your ways. You've already begun the first; I have no doubt that you will succeed in both areas if you put forth your best effort."

With that, Ducky hopped off the stool and reached for his coat and hat, taking a last sip of his bourbon before setting it on the table. He donned his effects as he mounted the stairs with a do let me know if there's anything I can do for either of you, Jethro. Before Gibbs could even begin to put himself back together, Ducky was gone.

He stood alone in his basement, plans for his new boat spread across his workbench, thinking deep thoughts.

In Which He Begins To Catch On by AndEverAmen

When Tony awoke the next morning, it was to the appetizing aroma of pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast, and fresh coffee. He groaned as he sat up, the healing lashes on his back pulling with the motion and the bullet wound on his left side sending a short, sharp shard of agony through him.


Note to self: getting perforated by high-velocity projectiles is harmful to your health. Also, it hurts.


He gingerly pulled himself out of bed and made his way to the bathroom across the hall, relieving himself and brushing his teeth. He eyed the shower longingly, but the thought of a hot, homemade breakfast won out. He made his slow way downstairs, holding onto the railing to help keep his still-precarious balance on the steps. He walked into the kitchen and made a beeline for the coffeepot, hands knowing by force of long habit exactly where to find a mug and a spoon.


"Tony, what are you doing? I was gonna bring everything up to you!"


Tony steadfastly ignored Gibbs' questioning exclamation and made his coffee, maneuvering around his Boss to get the creamer and sugar before chugging back half of it in one go. He sighed happily and finally turned his focus onto the older man, smiling slightly.


"You say something, Boss?"


Gibbs just shook his head with a half-smile and motioned for him to sit at the dining room table. Tony refilled his coffee and doctored it up again before complying, parking himself in his usual spot - I have a usual spot, huh - and sipping at his brew while he waited for Gibbs to put the finishing touches on their breakfast.


Soon enough, Gibbs served up two plates heaping with food, and the two men dug in with gusto. As Tony ate, he watched his Boss with curious eyes. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something seemed different. It wasn’t anything overt, but there was a definite change in the other man. Puzzled, Tony decided to keep silent and see if he could figure it out on his own.


They lingered over their breakfast, making small talk and sharing the paper again. Tony found himself smiling at nothing, content in the strange domesticity that was accompanying his convalescence at Gibbs’ house. It was a rare commodity in Tony’s life, and he savored it every time it appeared, storing away those moments in the recesses of his memory like precious jewels.


Lord knows I never had this growing up, and I’ve never had a relationship last long enough to produce something like this, except for Jeanne, and that doesn’t count. Not that I want that kind of relationship with Gibbs, but this weird friendship/family thing we have going is really nice.


It hit Tony then just how desperately lonely he was, and his sudden change in mood was almost enough to send him scurrying from the table to hide in the spare bedroom. All the one-night stands he’d had (and there were far fewer of them than most people thought, all things considered) were just a hopeless attempt to fill the huge, sucking void in his chest that ate at him, especially in the deepest parts of the night when there was nobody around to quiet the dark voices in his head.


He’d been alone for a long time, even before he’d been disowned at twelve and sent away… since his mother had died. And how sad is it that the highlight of my childhood was an increasingly alcoholic, manic-depressive woman with a penchant for sailor suits and mint juleps? No wonder I’m so screwed up.


Tony was under no illusions about the cause of his mother’s death; the self-induced combination of prescription drugs and alcohol had shut her body down with just enough time to get her admitted to a hospital before she gladly succumbed. Though the staff had done their best to shield him from the truth, even at a young age Tony’s innate curiosity and intelligence had driven him to discover that his mother had indeed killed herself. That realization had hurt him deeply; whatever precarious love she had felt for her only child hadn’t been enough to keep her tethered to the mortal coil. She’d left him, left all of them, and Tony had never recovered. His father’s callous and cruel treatment of him had only reinforced the lesson that he was worthless, unlovable, and a burden to those around him.


That old litany began playing through his mind, the same song that surrounded him in the worst moments of the night when he couldn’t sleep. She left us because of you! - he heard his father’s voice, his palpable anger striking as hard as his fists as he poured the blame for his wife’s death solely at his son’s feet. You’re worthless! You’ll end up in the gutter, mark my words! Why would anyone ever love you?... It went on and on, the words morphing from his father’s voice to the voices of the bullies he faced at boarding school, of the few failed relationships he’d had in college and beyond, of disappointed coaches and teammates, superiors and coworkers, of every mistake and heartache he’d ever faced.


A sudden headslap brought him out of his downward spiral with a start, and he looked into the concerned gaze of Gibbs as the other man studied him intently.


“You with me, Tony? I called your name a few times, but you didn’t answer me.” Gibbs’ voice was gentle, but his eyes were serious and penetrating.


Tony blinked and rubbed the back of his head, unsure of what to do next. He couldn’t even begin to explain what had been running through his mind. His yabba yabba skills were beyond compare, but real, meaningful conversation was another matter entirely.


“Yeah, Boss, I’m good.” Try as he might, Tony’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, and he knew that the other man saw right through him. Just leave it be, Boss.


Tony braced himself internally as he rode out Gibbs’ stare, willing the other man to move the conversation on. He almost sighed with relief when Gibbs nodded once, letting him know that he would not press him, at least not yet.


“I was wondering what you wanted to do today. I know you’re not really up to going anywhere yet, but since it’s Sunday I was thinking maybe we could invite the team over for dinner, maybe a movie or two. What do you think?”


Tony could do nothing but stare at Gibbs, a bite of food half-chewed in his mouth as he froze in shock. It's gotta be a pod person. The real Gibbs is buried under the basement floor somewhere, trapped in stasis.


Gibbs wasn’t a very social person, and he didn’t like having droves of people at his house. The few times the team had gathered there had usually been prompted by some type of emergency or work-related incident. Even Abby, with all her charm and innate status as the favorite, could rarely convince Gibbs to allow the team over for a cookout or movie night.


The thought of having company was certainly an appealing one, but Tony was unsure whether or not to say yes. I don’t know what Gibbs has told them about our wonderful camping experience or whether they’ll press us for details. Not sure I’m up for that yet.


Gibbs must have seen something in the micro-expressions that flashed across his face as swiftly as lightning.


“I’ve not told them much about what happened in the park beyond what happened with Chip, nor do I intend to. I’ll leave that up to you to decide when and how much to share. It’s your business, Tony, and I respect that. They’ve already been warned not to push you.”


Tony sighed internally, relieved that Gibbs had anticipated his concerns and addressed them. Not that he expected there to be no pressure - it was Gibbs’ team, after all, and they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t push - but he was certain they would at least rein it in, especially with Gibbs present.


“Yeah, Boss, I think I’d like that. You know, there’s this really funny movie we can watch called Oscar about a gangster who tries to go straight…”


~***N*C*I*S***~


Tony sagged in relief on the couch as Gibbs closed the door behind Abby, the last guest to reluctantly leave their impromptu dinner and a movie. He was tired, in more pain than he was comfortable admitting, and wanted nothing more than to curl up in the guest room bed and sleep for a week.


He’d had a good time, all things considered. They’d ordered a mixture of Chinese take-out and pizza from Gibbs’ favorite pizzeria. Ducky had arrived early and given Tony a thorough checkup, proclaiming that he was healing nicely but warning him that it would still be weeks before he could go back to work, and then only on desk duty. Tony had accepted his prognosis without comment, mentally promising himself that he would be back to work as soon as possible.


The team had made their way over in bits and pieces. Abby was first, of course, bearing a delectable chocolate cake from a specialty bakery not far from her apartment. Tim hadn’t been far behind, arms full of various junk foods, and had quickly made his way to the guestroom where he made short work of relocating Tony’s TV and DVD player to the living room. Ziva was next, making her way into the house with her arms full of grocery bags containing various beverages. Palmer was last, giving Tony a quiet but sincere smile and a pat on the shoulder as he made his way past him and into the kitchen to deposit his armload of paper plates, plastic flatware, napkins, and disposable cups.


They had piled their plates high, Gibbs silently preparing Tony’s with his favorites and handing it off to him with a glass of cola and a handful of meds. Tony would have preferred a beer, but even he knew better than to mix alcohol with his painkillers. At least he was off the heavier stuff that made him completely loopy. Everyone had found a place to sit as Tim popped in the movie; Tony had asked the younger man to swing by his apartment and pick up his copy of Oscar.


To Tony’s surprise, Gibbs had chuckled more than once as they watched the movie. When the police detective opened the black bag at the end and dumped it in front of the reporters, Gibbs had actually laughed a deep belly laugh that had caught everybody off-guard. Tony had thought back to breakfast when he had first realized that something was up with Gibbs. Ducky had glanced between the two of them and smiled, amusement and delight glittering in his eyes. Tony had felt distinctly uncomfortable in that moment, though he couldn’t articulate why, even to himself.


After the movie wrapped up, Tim had taken the TV and DVD player back upstairs. Ziva had sidled over to him with well-practiced nonchalance and sat down in the seat next to him that had been recently vacated by Abby as she went to help Gibbs in the kitchen. She had looked him over, her expression a practiced neutral, and quietly asked how he was feeling. I’m fineflew out of his mouth by reflex, and he had winced internally even as the words hung awkwardly between them.


He had sighed, breaking the silence, and told her about how the healing wounds on his back itched and that it was difficult to move without pain. His cracked (and, in one case, broken) ribs hurt mercilessly, and he had to go through painful breathing exercises he hadn’t used since his dip in the river to rescue Gibbs to keep himself from developing pneumonia. His other various contusions and lacerations from the beating Chip had given him added their voices of complaint; all in all he felt pretty wretched.


She had studied him with dark, serious eyes before nodding in acceptance of his answer. She had opened her mouth to say something, but Tony never found out what as Abby flopped on the other side of him on the couch, interrupting their little bubble of solitude. The conversation moved on, and the moment passed.


They had sat around talking for a while after the movie, munching on the junk food Tim had brought and keeping the conversation light and inconsequential. Nobody had mentioned what had happened in Shenandoah or asked any questions, though Tony could see that Abby especially was practically bursting with curiosity. One pointed glare from Gibbs, though, had her keeping her questions to herself. Tony was grateful that Gibbs kept the team from interrogating him on the subject, still not ready to share.


Tony had felt himself fading out, struggling to hold his ground in the conversation flowing around him. Gibbs, of course, had noticed, and, after exchanging a meaningful glance with Ducky, began herding the team out the door. They had been reluctant to leave, but the combined force that was a Gibbs-Ducky assault had them moving to their cars in short order. Abby had held out the longest, but even she was no match for the two older men when they shared a goal. With one last gentle hug and a big kiss on his cheek, she was gone, Ducky genially escorting her to her car.


Now he gazed at the stairs like they were Mount Everest, dreading the climb ahead of him. His ribs hurt like a son of a gun, and the healing bullet wound seemed to radiate pain even when he held still, let alone when he tried to walk. He was certainly missing the stronger painkillers, but he knew he wouldn’t ask for them.


“You ready for bed?”


Tony started slightly; he hadn’t noticed Gibbs standing beside the couch watching him. The sudden motion jostled his ribs, and he groaned low in his throat, hands instinctively moving to cradle his torso. He was certainly regretting his morning stroll down the steps and back up again to shower after breakfast sans assistance; he had unthinkingly pushed himself harder than he should have. Man, I hate being injured. Simple things become monumental tasks, and now I have to ask Gibbs - Gibbs! - for help. There’s no way I can make it back upstairs by myself.


He felt warm, strong hands touch his chest and slide to rest under his armpits in a supportive hold and looked up into Gibbs’ concerned, contrite gaze.


“C’mon, Tony, lean on me. Between the two of us we’ll make it upstairs.”


That strange sense that something was different with Gibbs was back, and Tony still couldn’t quite figure it out. He had the feeling that Gibbs was saying a lot more than his simple offer of help would imply, but he was too tired to figure it out. It was still early, but he was totally drained.


He smiled weakly at the older man, pride momentarily usurped by exhaustion and pain, and nodded. He felt Gibbs begin to lift him off the couch and followed the motion, gaining his feet with another groan as his ribs shifted and protested. Gibbs carefully swung around him, never letting go, until he was beside him, one arm around his waist and the other pulling Tony’s own arm over his shoulder in support as he walked them both to the stairs.


The steps loomed ahead of them, and Tony swallowed as he gazed up them to the top step, feeling like an ant trying to climb the Rockies. Gibbs didn’t hesitate, though, and gently but firmly began to walk him up the stairs, one step at a time. Tony was sweating and shaking by the time they reached the top, but he made it without falling. The few steps to the guest room were only marginally less strenuous, and when Gibbs helped him sit on the edge of the bed it took everything he had not to collapse.


Gibbs went over to the dresser and pulled out sweats and an old Ohio State shirt while Tony could do no more than watch and breathe. With practical, clinical motions, Gibbs stripped him out of his sweat-soaked tee and jeans, ignoring Tony’s flush of embarrassment, and into the clean clothes.


Pills suddenly appeared in his hand like magic, and Gibbs handed them off to Tony along with a glass of water from the nightstand. Tony tossed them back and swallowed them with a sip of water, not even bothering with a token protest. No sooner were his meds down than Gibbs was helping him under the covers, smoothing and tucking them around him as his eyes fluttered closed. A hand carded through his hair, and he leaned into the touch with a sigh.


As he gave in to the exhaustion pulling at his eyelids, he heard the rumble of Gibbs’ voice close to his ear murmuring a fond goodnight, Tony , but he was asleep before his lips could form a reply.

In Which He Tames The Wild Horse by AndEverAmen

Gibbs sighed as he walked down the basement steps, mentally kicking himself as he made his way over to his workbench and the new plans for his boat.


He hadn’t meant for the day to go quite like it had, flying by him before he could accomplish what he had set out that morning to do. Gibbs wasn’t the kind of man to waste time once he had made up his mind; it simply wasn’t in his nature to vascillate like that. He’d determined to himself upon awakening that he would sit down with Tony and have a serious conversation about what he and Ducky had discussed the previous night.


Somehow, the day had gotten away from him, and before he knew it, Ducky was at his front door to give Tony a quick check-up before dinner. He’d still had hope, though, that they could sit down and talk after everyone left. One look at Tony’s exhausted face had squelched that thought before it could get off the ground. He’d barely got the younger man upstairs and in bed before the he had succumbed to sleep. Now Gibbs was in his basement looking at the fresh lumber he’d picked up that day - when I could have been talking with Tony instead - and shaking his head at his uncharacteristic behavior.


You’re not putting it off because you’re scared, are you? - a little voice in his head asked him.


Gibbs frowned at that, eyes staring unfocused at his boat plans as he thought it through. He was a Marine through and through and stubborn as a mule, and he’d never surrendered to fear in all the long years since he’d left Stillwater for basic training. Even before that, he’d been a obstinate young cuss who didn’t know how to back away from a fight, even if it meant getting the snot beat out of him before his dad could bring his formidable Winchester rifle to bear. And that just pissed me off even more. Never did learn how to let the old man help me out, even if it was necessary.


No, he wasn’t afraid, or at least not afraid enough to change course. He couldn’t deny the thread of anxiety that spiked through him like a lance at the thought of opening up the parts of himself to Tony that had been closed since his girls died, but he could control it, tame it, bend it to his own formidable will as he had so many other challenges.


He had made a conscious effort to relax around Tony throughout the day, letting tiny glimpses of his former self shine through the widening cracks in the walls around his long-broken heart. He had caught the younger man looking at him, a perplexed and speculative expression on his face that told Gibbs that he had noticed something was going on, even if he didn’t know what yet.


He sighed and put the plans down, turning to a drawer half-hidden in the shadows the lackluster basement lighting couldn’t penetrate. With a somewhat hesitant motion, he opened it and pulled out an old photo album, moving it to his workbench and laying it open with gentle, almost reverent care.


The smiling face of his wife and daughter - hearts of his heart, the loves of his life - gazed adoringly up at him, forever frozen in a joyous moment that still brought that unconquerable ache to life in him, even after all the long years between then and now.


He thought back to that moment in the river, before Tony had saved him, and he had seen - or thought he’d seen - his girls. Turning back and willing himself to live had been one of the hardest decisions he’d ever made, but in the end he’d pulled in ragged, wet, coughing breaths and survived. Part of him still felt like he was stuck in that river, waiting for life or death to take him, torn between worlds.


It's time to let it go, Jethro. Stop punishing yourself for your perceived failure to save them and let yourself be happy again.


Ducky’s words from the previous night seemed to echo in the air around him, joining the voice of his daughter as she told spoke to him in a nimbus of light among the shadows, Shannon standing with her. Go back, Daddy. Go back. It’s okay. I love you, Daddy. Love you...


“I’m sorry, honey,” Gibbs whispered, his thumb running across the photo over Kelly’s cheek as a tear streaked down his own. “I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to understand what you really meant. You and Ducky are right; it’s time to let it go. I’ll never stop loving you, both of you, but locking you away in my heart has done none of us any good. It hurts no matter what I do, but there could be joy, too, if I just let it come.


“They deserve to know about you. I’ve been selfish. I hurt your grandfather deeply, and I know you’d never want that. You two were so close, but I couldn’t see past my own pain to the pain in him. We’re better now, but I can never get those lost years back.


“Shannon… if you were here, you’d headslap me all the way to Stillwater and back. You always knew how to handle me, how to help me process my own thoughts without overwhelming me. Without you, I’ve been lost. I know you’d have hated every one of my ex-wives, not because they are bad people but because I was trying to replace you, and you’re irreplaceable. If I’d married somebody for who they were and not who I wanted them to be, it’d be different, but I didn’t. I know you just want me to be happy, but instead I wasted years of both my life and theirs. I’m sorry, love. I get it now.


“I love you both so much…” Gibbs’ voice broke, and he didn’t even bother to stem the tears as his hand rested over the photograph, fingers splayed wide as his thumb continued to rub back and forth, back and forth. There was no buffer of bourbon between him and the memories, no throwing of tools, curses, punching walls, or breaking boards. There was just Gibbs and a photo album full of memories he’d never allowed himself to recall unfiltered and sober, always unable to bear the pain.


It hurt - oh, how it hurt! - but it was a cleansing sort of pain, like debriding a terrible burn. He wept openly, memories of time with his girls flashing through his mind that normally only walked the phantom landscape of his dreams, only becoming nightmares upon awakening and finding them gone again.


He wept, and the bitter dredging of his soul produced a strange sweetness hitherto unknown, the acidic edges of those memories losing their burning sting to be replaced with something far less caustic. Gibbs’ fingers ceased their stroking motions to turn the page, revealing other memories captured in photographic posterity. As they played out in his mind, they, too, transformed, melting like winter into spring.


Soon he was smiling down at the photos, letting the memories wash over him, welcoming the pain that passed through him and left peace in its wake. The ache was still there, but it was finally harnessed, like a bucking bronco that had finally spent itself and yielded to the saddle and bit.


The tears slowed, then stopped, leaving him spent but strangely light. He slowly closed the album and replaced it in the drawer, pulling a framed photo of Shannon and Kelly out before closing it. He made his way back up the stairs and over to the mantle above the empty fireplace. He stared at it for a moment before shifting books out of the way and setting the photo carefully in a position of honor on the center of the newly-cleared mantle.


He nodded once before making his way up even more stairs to his room. He stripped to his boxers and a tee and crawled into bed, falling quickly into a deep and dreamless sleep.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs was once again up before Tony, already showered, shaved, dressed, and freshly caffeinated before the younger man even began to stir. He’d spent a few moments after his shower staring at the fading bruises on his body with the help of the bathroom mirror, frowning at the healing cuts from Chip’s knife. They would most likely scar, joining their brethren scattered across his body and standing testament to the more intense moments of his long and varied career as both Marine and Special Agent.


Some of the scars were minor, others speaking of wounds that had been a hair’s breadth from death. They represented only a fraction of the close calls he’d experienced, each one a potent reminder of his often disregarded mortality. Most people would see it as either a nearly insane dedication to duty and justice or a reckless streak that had never been broken, but the truth was that Gibbs hadn’t really cared one way or the other whether he lived or died for a long time. Like so many other things in the past several days, his perspective on the value of his own life had shifted. He’d still willingly take a bullet for his team or an innocent, but he wasn’t so ambivalent to his own survival anymore.


After all, if I die now, who will keep Tony out of trouble?


Surprised at his own introspection, Gibbs had shaken his head and gotten dressed before making his way downstairs to the fresh pot of coffee that waited for him, its siren-song of promised caffeine leading him inerrantly to the kitchen where he partook of a hastily-filled mug before starting breakfast. It didn’t take Gibbs long to prepare a tray for himself and Tony, replete with both food and medication. He had heard Tony stirring above him, so he knew the younger man was finally awake.


Soon enough, he was knocking once on Tony’s door before letting himself in. He smiled at the younger man as he set the tray on the nightstand.


“G’morning, Tony. How you feeling?”


Tony shrugged, then winced as his abused ribs and healing wounds pulled at the motion. Gibbs handed over the younger man’s morning meds and a glass of water with a watchful eye, not picking up his own plate and moving to sit on the other side of the bed until he’d made sure Tony swallowed them. Tony had just rolled his eyes and downed them, earning himself the gentlest of headslaps that made both men smirk at each other.


They chatted as they ate, staying away from heavier subjects and shifting from topic to topic with ease. No sooner was Tony done than Gibbs gathered up the dishes and tray and made his way downstairs with a be right back, Tony . Gibbs deposited the dishes in the sink to wash later and went down to the basement to pull the photo album out of the drawer where he had left it.


He stood there for a few quiet moments, staring at the cover as the memories of last night rolled over him again. The old, familiar ache hit him as he allowed himself to remember his girls, but once again it was joined with that ineffable sweetness that took away the sting. He brushed his hand across the dusty cover with a small smile, allowing the emotions to have their head without wresting away his control. He’d tamed this wild horse last night, and it felt good to know that he wouldn’t be thrown off in the morning light.


With one last glance around his basement, he strode up the both flights of stairs to Tony’s bedroom door. Not the guest room anymore; Tony’s room. It felt right to think of it as belonging to the younger man, just as the one chair at the dining room table was Tony’s chair . The thought warmed him and gave him renewed courage as he stepped through the doorway.


Before he could think too deeply about what he was about to do, the older man found himself standing before Tony as he reclined on the bed, propped up by pillows with a book in his hands. Gibbs held the photo album gripped loosely in one hand, clearly in Tony’s line of sight.


He watched as Tony’s eyes lighted on the album and a puzzled frown creased his brow. Taking a deep breath, Gibbs made the plunge.


“Tony, I think we need to talk.”

In Which He Bucks And Bolts by AndEverAmen

Tony sat very still on the bed, barely daring to breathe, and stared at Gibbs as if by doing so he could delve into the man’s mind and read his thoughts.


His interest had been piqued the moment he saw the photo album in the older man’s hand, but the seven words that launched out of Gibbs’ mouth to hang in the air between them like a harbinger of doom made the bottom of Tony’s stomach drop out and his heart stutter-step. He froze like a gazelle before the roar of a lion, completely taken by surprise.


His mind scrambled to find purchase as his thoughts tumbled and slid amongst the scree that had suddenly replaced the firm footing of his mental landscape. Gibbs’ statement, tone, and body language were so unexpected, so out of character, that Tony struggled to find something, anything, with which to compare them. The first moment that came to mind was just after Kate’s death; Gibbs had been… soft … lost… nice … Tony struggled to find a word to accurately explain that version of Gibbs and came up empty.


Tony had hated his Boss then, in those terrifying, devastating hours after Kate’s death, ashamed even as he had thought it but unable to deny the emotion as it had flooded through him. He needed Gibbs to be strong, to be mean, to be Gibbs , his rock, and the older man had faltered, albeit briefly. He knew it wasn’t fair, but he couldn’t control his reaction any more than he could have saved Kate. He had been beyond grateful when Gibbs had snapped back to his grumpy, demanding, Second B self and taken charge again.


Tony’s world had reordered itself, fixing on Gibbs as his own personal Northern Star, and he had pulled himself together and done his job. The fact that he had quietly fallen apart later, after the funeral, was acceptable only because he had held it together when it mattered - and he had only done that because Gibbs had been Gibbs in all his irritable, Ahab-ish glory.


When Gibbs had come out of his post-explosion coma, lost in a broken world fifteen years gone, Tony had found himself thrust into a position he was unsure that he could handle, but he had risen to the occasion as best he could. When Gibbs had left him - and oh, how that had hurt! - and fled to Mexico, Tony had been lost. It was a horrible four months, and the pushback from McGee and Ziva was only a small part of that misery. He could handle those two; he had known that they were hurting and taking it out on him and did not resent them for it. No, his troubles stemmed from an empty basement and a dusty, half-built boat, the smell of sawdust and coffee slowly fading away in the long weeks turned months between Gibbs leaving and returning.


Then Gibbs had returned with that creepy moustache and leaky memory, and Tony had known that he would do anything to help the older man become the Gibbs he remembered. That strangely lost, unsure version of his Boss had shaken him worse than his sudden departure four months previous. When Jenny had offered Tony that position in Rota, he’d known instantly that he wouldn’t take it. He’d drawn it out, but in his heart he knew that he couldn’t leave Gibbs. His explanation that Gibbs wasn’t ready, that the older man needed him, was just a cover hiding the deeper reason. He’d already lost Gibbs once; he didn’t think he could do it again, especially not so soon after getting him back.


Even the pain that came when Gibbs callously emptied out his desk of Tony’s belongings and dumped them unceremoniously on his old desk hadn’t been enough to drive the younger man away. He’d swallowed his demotion down and pushed it into the mental box with all the other unpleasant thoughts and memories, too loyal and relieved to see Gibbs returned to mention it. Sure, it had stung, but that was nothing new. Tony was used to being hurt.


Gibbs after Kate died and Gibbs after getting blown up - those were the closest frames of reference he had for the Gibbs who stood before him now, but neither version matched the one currently standing in front of him. Tony felt his insides clench as he mentally braced himself for impact, unsure of who, exactly, he was looking at and dreading what he would find.


The silence stretched uncomfortably between them, Tony for once unsure of what to say to diffuse the tension in the room. Gibbs shifted slightly on his feet, a subtle but sure sign that he was nervous, before moving around the bed to sit next to Tony in what was rapidly becoming a habitual position. Tony turned towards him, staring at the album in Gibbs’ hand while his stomach churned.


Tony watched, spellbound as a bird before a swaying serpent, as Gibbs’ fingers gently rubbed the cover of the album. He could have sat there for hours, silent and unmoving, but Gibbs’ voice broke through his reverie and brought him back into the moment.


“Tony, look at me.”


Tony’s head snapped up, his eyes automatically seeking Gibbs’ own, quick to obey even that gentle command from his Boss. What he saw was almost enough to send him flying off the bed in surprise and wonder.


Gibbs’ expression was open, honest, and earnest, a look that Tony had rarely if ever seen before. That sense of something being different in his Boss rose up like a tidal wave to wash over him, leaving him disoriented. Who is this man and what has he done with Gibbs?


“A lot has happened in the past several days, and you and I both know that things are changing between us. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve talked to Ducky a bit - no details, don't worry - and he just about tore a strip off me over some things that I think he’s been sitting on for a while. Thing of it is, he was right. You and I… well, there’s a lot to talk about.”


Tony blinked slowly, his mind hiccuping for a moment as it tried to process this version of Gibbs. He wasn’t sure where Gibbs was going with this, and frankly he would rather not have this conversation at all, but he knew Gibbs wouldn’t let it go. Besides, we both know he’s right - we do need to talk .


Tony nodded his head, encouraging the older man to continue.


“When you were on the ground, and Chip was standing over you with that belt… I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I thought for sure he was going to kill you and I wouldn’t be able to stop him in time. I had already been thinking that some things needed to change, that we both needed to change, me especially, and then it was almost too late. I… I almost lost you…”


Gibbs trailed off, his eyes clouding over, and Tony knew he was back in the forest watching it happen again. He reached out and grabbed Gibbs’ forearm, trying to anchor him. Before he could say anything, Gibbs’ eyes cleared and he continued.


“It would’ve been like losing my girls all over again. I can’t handle that, not again. I don’t think I could survive watching you die.”


Tony’s eyes widened, and his grip on Gibbs’ arm tightened without conscious thought or control. The whole world seemed to stop; air wouldn’t expand in his lungs, his heart wouldn’t beat, nothing moved. He was frozen, seized up, caught in that moment as what Gibbs had just said - beyond implied, but outright said -- that he, Anthony D. Dinozzo, Jr., was equatable in value and worth to Shannon and Kelly Gibbs -- that outrageous, incredible, unbelievable thought - sunk in.


It seeped through his skin, down though his bones, into cracks and crevices so dark and forlorn that Tony himself didn’t know what deep and hidden things might dwell there. It spread like light, like hope, warm and golden, into cold and desolate places. It felt like… like…


Like home. Like family. Like belonging.


Like love.


The moment stretched, spun, lengthened itself, doubling over and over as the very air around them became charged with the heaviness, the weightiness, of what had finally been admitted. Neither man moved, barely dared to breathe, as Tony processed those words.


Of course, it could never be as simple as that; too many years of neglect, abandonment, hurt, and betrayal had fused together into a sharp, bitter goad that caused Tony to recoil instinctively away from what Gibbs had just offered him. He seemed to shrink in on himself, not physically but emotionally, and Tony couldn’t hide it from Gibbs as he struggled to pull away from everything he’d ever wanted, too used to being hurt with hope to risk his heart again.


He let go of Gibbs’ arm as if it burned him, putting physical distance between them as he scuttled sideways on the bed. In the space of a long breath, he was on his feet and out the door, halfway down the stairs before he was aware that he had moved. His movements were rushed and jerky, heartbeat rushing blood through him as his body demanded that he run-flee-escape-now-now-now !


He made it as far as the living room, eyes roving wildly around as he looked for an avenue of escape, but they fixed on something unexpected that stopped him in his tracks like a dog hitting the end of its leash.


There, on Gibbs’ mantle, a space had been cleared. A photo sat there, two smiling faces beaming out at him, their names like burning brands in Tony’s mind. Shannon. Kelly .


Tony couldn’t move, Gibbs’ words flooding his brain and stilling his feet as his eyes stayed locked on the photograph. In all the years he’d worked for Gibbs, he’d never really heard the older man speak of his lost family, not even after several shots of bourbon in the privacy of the basement. He’d certainly never seen any sign of them in the house; whatever evidence of their existence that Gibbs possessed was kept carefully hidden away, private and safe. They were his most precious treasure, one that Gibbs guarded jealously, fiercely, with all his formidable will and deadly experience. They were completely off-limits, no questions asked, and no amount of curiosity Tony possessed had ever been enough to convince him to inquire about them, directly or indirectly.


Tony wasn’t stupid; upon learning about Gibbs’ tragic past he had quickly slotted together several bits of information gleaned over several years of studying his Boss, assembling the missing jigsaw pieces into a more thorough understanding of the man he worked for. It hadn’t taken him long to comprehend the Gibbs-Abby dynamic in a new way or understand his Boss’ fascination with redheads and the entirely related three failed marriages. Unlike Ducky, Tony hadn’t been offended at Gibbs’ glaring omission; after all, he certainly understood the importance of keeping certain matters secret.


What he had never been able to sort out was what role he played in the Gibbs Universe. Gibbs, of course, was incredibly tight-lipped about the whole matter, leaving Tony to flounder about trying to figure it out himself. He’d certainly never expected his Boss to clarify the subject; he had always been half-afraid of what he might find out if the older man ever did.


This was far, far beyond anything he could have imagined.


Tony had only ever seen one photograph of Gibbs’ girls, and that only briefly when he glanced over the old NIS file on their death. He’d not dared to dig any deeper, sure that Gibbs would know about it and smite him for it. He’d respected the other man’s privacy, sure that if he wanted Tony to know he’d tell him directly and just as sure that the man probably never would. Tony had accepted that, made peace with it long ago, or at least thought he had.


To see them now, displayed openly in a place of honor in Gibbs’ home, was so outside the realm of anything Tony had ever expected to encounter that it literally stopped him halfway across the room on his way out the door, possibly never to return. If he had started running, Tony wasn’t sure he would ever have been able to stop. Something that big, that world-shaking, was too close to the deep desires in Tony’s heart of hearts to handle. Running seemed like the only sane thing to do.


But he couldn’t run now, feet firmly fixed on the floor of Gibbs’ living room, head still screaming to go-go-go but his heart arrested at the sight before him.


He heard Gibbs come up beside him, felt the other man lean into his space a bit as they both stared at the picture on the mantle. Tony felt his eyes prickle and burn with tears as his throat clenched half-shut, and he strained to keep them in. He felt stuck, halfway there and halfway gone, unable to leave but unable to accept what was being offered him.


It was the photo of Shannon and Kelly that had stopped him, but it wasn’t what kept him there. Instead it was the second photograph that sat next to it on the mantle, sharing the honor and pride of place, deliberately set, simply belonging where it was with a certainty and finality that could not be questioned.


Tony stared, amazed, at his own face smiling back at him, Gibbs standing resolutely at his side.

In Which He Finally Says The Words by AndEverAmen

Gibbs quietly heaved a sigh of relief as he came down the stairs to find Tony standing frozen in the middle of the living room, staring at the two photographs on the mantle.


He’d placed the picture of Tony there while breakfast had been warming. The idea had come to him while he was in the shower. He knew that Tony didn’t trust words very much; too many broken promises littered his past to put stock in what was essentially nothing but air and smoke. Action was what counted, what showed a person’s true face, and Gibbs could appreciate that. He had struggled to think of a way to show Tony he was serious, and then he had remembered the photo.


It had been a gift from Abby, an 8x10 framed shot of Tony smiling - a real smile, not his fake grin that he used to keep people at arm’s length. She’d given it to him while Tony was on the Seahawk, both a subtle hint to work harder to bring him back and an acknowledgement that she understood that Gibbs was missing the younger man, too.


Gibbs had been strangely touched by the gesture, and he’d given Abby a kiss on the cheek before turning back to his boat and bourbon, unwilling to speak out loud the emotions that had rushed in upon seeing that smiling face in the photo. She’d understood what he hadn’t said and quietly made her way up the stairs, sure that she’d made her point.


He had placed the picture in the drawer with those of Shannon and Kelly, still too stubborn to look any deeper at the significance of that decision. He hadn’t forgotten about it, but he also didn’t pull it out again. It wasn’t long after that night that Tony had come home and life had returned to some semblance of normal.


Gibbs had made his way down to the basement and pulled the photo out, dusting off the wooden frame and glass cover before making his way up the stairs to place it next to his girls on the mantle. It had felt right, putting them side by side like that. Gibbs had returned to the kitchen with a refreshed determination to sit down with Tony and have a serious conversation.


When Tony had gone flying off the bed and run down the stairs, Gibbs’ heart had dropped and his stomach clenched in fear. He knew that if Tony got out the door and away he might never get him back. Tony was a runner, always had been, and it was a testimony to the strength of their relationship that his Senior Field Agent had made it past the two-year mark, let alone lasted over nine years with him.


Now he stood next to Tony and looked at the photographs, letting the younger man process the scene before him.


He glanced over at Tony, turning his head slightly and looking from the corner of his eye. He saw the tears welling in the younger man’s eyes, though he could tell that he was fighting hard to keep them from falling.


Tell him, Marine. Tell him how much he means to you. He needs to hear it again. He’ll need to hear it over and over, every day for the rest of your life if that’s what it takes. Show him, tell him, teach him until he understands and believes you.


“I’ve never lied to you, Tony, and I’m not about to start now. You’re family. Your photo belongs on my mantle next to my girls. I know that Shannon would have loved you, and Kelly, too. You belong here. You don’t get to run away from this.”


Gibbs felt the shudder run through Tony’s body and into his where their shoulders touched. He turned slightly to see the other man shaking his head, eyes wet with tears that still refused to fall.


“Don’t, Boss. I can’t… I can’t do this. Not with you. You can’t… I don’t belong with them. They’re your girls. I can’t… I don’t… I’m not…”


Gibbs turned more fully to face the younger man and flashed back to that moment at the stream when he’d finally told Tony what he really thought of him, when he’d called him a good agent, a friend, a son - all three and so much more. Tony had been shocked, unsure, scared out of his mind, and so vulnerable in that moment that Gibbs had almost screamed with rage at the thought of all those who had hurt the younger man so deeply that he couldn't comprehend how he could be worth so much to anybody.


That same rage rose up again, but Gibbs grabbed it tightly and twisted it into submission, channeling it away from Tony who would certainly interpret it incorrectly and draw the wrong conclusions. The energy that came with the rage, the passion and intensity - that he could and would use.


The swift sense of deja vu washed over him as he pivoted and grabbed the younger man, arm and neck, pulling him in close until their noses almost touched. Gibbs wasn’t sure how much Tony remembered of their conversation by the stream - the trauma of being shot may have washed out the memory - but the older man was determined to reinforce what he’d said then and since.


“You can’t what , Tony?” Gibbs asked, his voice low and focused. “I don’t say things I don’t mean, and I don’t keep people on my team who don’t deserve to be there. Rule Five, Tony! You’re not just good; you’re the best, both professionally and personally. So tell me, you don’t what ? You’re not what, exactly?”


“I’m not good enough! I’ll never be good enough, Boss!”


The words seemed to explode out of Tony, and he shoved hard at Gibbs, pushing him towards the mantle as he took two big steps back before turning away and pacing wildly around the room, running his hands through this hair as he ranted.


“You think I don’t know my place, Boss? It’s been made abundantly clear, over and over, exactly who I am. I’m the son whose mother killed herself, whose father used to beat him bloody, who got disowned and sent away. I’m the kid who was bullied and worse in school and nobody cared! I was useful for what I could do - I could play sports - but the minute I blew my knee out I was no good to anybody anymore!


“I tried, Boss! I tried so hard to be good, to be worthy, but it’s never enough! Whatever’s wrong with me has to run pretty deep because I’ve never been able to figure it out and fix it, and I’ve tried, over and over! If it was once or twice I’d say that the other person was the one with the problem, but the only common denominator is me! I know it’s me; everybody knows it! I’m a screwup, a failure, a waste!...”


It went on and on, and Gibbs wasn’t sure what to do. Tony was like a wild animal, throwing his hands around as he talked, anger and frustration radiating off of him in waves. Gibbs was worried that, if he tried to interfere, the younger man would take a swing at him.


He had been startled at the revelation that Tony’s mother had committed suicide. There was nothing in the younger man’s files about it, but that wasn’t surprising. Senior had enough wealth and means to have that little nugget buried deep, and Tony had been content to leave it that way for reasons yet unknown.


He had learned more about his Senior Field Agent in the last two weeks than he had in the entire nine years previously, and Gibbs was beginning to wonder just how many secrets were wrapped around the core of the younger man.


Well, the masks are definitely gone. This is pure, unfiltered Tony. You’re finally seeing who he really is.


“...couldn’t save Kate, couldn’t save Paula, couldn’t save Jenny…”


Oh, Tony. Those weren’t your fault. If anything, they were mine.


“...got sent away on that damned ship. I deserved it, Vance was right…”


No, Vance was an idiot. It wasn’t about you, Tony; it was about Vance showing me who’s boss.


“...Got kidnapped and chained to a sewer like a probie. Almost got my throat slit by a serial killer because I screwed up and liked him. Got the plague because I was an idiot. Got in too deep with Jeanne, screwed that up, too…”


Those weren’t your mistakes, Tony. They were mine, they were Jenny’s, they were the work of crazy people doing crazy things.


“...It’s all my fault, Boss. I’m the problem. I shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Shannon and Kelly. You don’t love me. You can’t love me! I don’t deserve it!”


Tony finally wound down, stopping a few steps in front of Gibbs, still shaking with the intensity of his tangled emotions. Gibbs felt his heart squeeze at the sight as everything in him cried out at the injustice of it all.


“They were wrong,” Gibbs said.


Gibbs noted the way the younger man jerked a bit as he lifted his head to meet his eyes for the first time since he had started ranting.


“W-what?”


“They were wrong, Tony, all of them - your mother, your father, your classmates, your coaches, your teammates, your coworkers, Jeanne, Jenny, Vance - all of them were wrong. You aregood enough. You are worthy. I know you don’t believe me yet, but you will. I’ll keep saying it until you do.”


Gibbs watched as Tony seemed to deflate, all the anger and frustration leaching out of him as his words sunk in. The tears that the younger man had tried so hard to suppress finally forced their way out to run down his cheeks, and only then did Gibbs finally move, wrapping the younger man in his arms.


Tony was tense, so tense that Gibbs wondered if the other man was going to shove him away again, but slowly the younger man began to relax, bit by bit, as Gibbs simply held him steady, rubbing his hand in soothing circles on Tony’s back like he used to do for Kelly when she was upset.


“I’m so proud of you, Tony. You’re good. You’re worthy. You deserve the best...”


Gibbs spoke quietly into the younger man’s ear, words of encouragement and praise that he had held back for far too long. Each word seemed to soak into the younger man like fresh rain in a long drought, but he still held himself too stiffly, unwilling to sink fully into the comfort that Gibbs was offering.


Say it, Marine. Man up and say the words he needs to hear the most.


“I love you, Tony.”


And there it was, the breaking point. Gibbs felt the moment the younger man let go, felt his knees go out and carefully slowed the younger man’s descent to the floor to keep it from being a fall that could do even more damage to an already ravaged body. Soon the two men were kneeling, leaning into each other, Tony shaking hard with sobs that wracked and wrecked him.


That sense of deja vu swiftly rushed over Gibbs again as he held Tony, riding out the storm of emotion while the younger man wept. The whole time, Gibbs kept up his whispered litany, for once unable to stop the flow of words as they poured out of him.


“I’ve got you, Tony. It’s okay. I’ve got you. Love you, son. Love you. I’ve got you…”

In Which The Greatest Of These Is Love by AndEverAmen

Tony hated crying.


Crying didn’t change what had already happened, and it rarely changed what was about to come for the better. In his experience, crying often made the immediate future worse. His father had despised his crying; it had only made him angrier, made his blows come swifter and heavier. Tony had learned early to hold back the tears, even if it meant biting his cheek until he bled or finding that scarily empty place in his head where nothing existed outside of his own mind.


Tony didn’t like going to that place, but sometimes it had been his only choice. He was afraid that a day would come where he wouldn’t be able to come back. He tried not to go there much, but sometimes there were no other options. He’d found a way to be half-there, keeping enough awareness of his surroundings to follow what was happening in the outside world but putting most of himself away in that quiet, safe place, but even then he was worried that he’d get stuck.


It had happened on a few occasions; Tony had lost time, coming back to himself minutes or hours later, sometimes in the same place, sometimes relocated. He hated to remember those moments. The fear and confusion upon returning to himself was a horror all its own, and it was only his phenomenal acting and undercover skills that had kept him from falling apart in front of any other people who might have been present at the time.


Still, it was better than crying. Crying was the ultimate admission of weakness, and weakness made you prey, made you vulnerable, made you an easy target for those who were bigger, stronger, and crueler than you.


Yet here I am, crying into Gibbs’ shirt again . Pathetic, DiNozzo.


He couldn’t relax, couldn’t allow himself to sink into the comfort Gibbs was offering to him. He refused to trust it; bitter experience had taught him too well that it was a feint, a setup, a trap.


His father’s words rang in the haunted corridors of his mind as harsh lessons that had literally been beaten into him rose up to remind him of his place.


You’re weak, Anthony. You’ve always been weak. DiNozzos do not cry! No son of mine will be seen weeping like a woman! If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about! You’re pathetic!...


His father’s voice was loud, but there was another voice, too. This one was saying something completely different, something Tony had never heard before. The voice was familiar, important, and definitely to be obeyed.


It was Gibbs, whispering into his ear, almost but not quite drowning out the angry voice of his father, saying incredible things to him, words of praise and respect and value. They were unexpected, and they suggested that perhaps this wasn’t a trick after all.


It was risky, giving in to that hope, but Tony trusted Gibbs. Gibbs never lied to him, never said something he didn’t mean... but his father’s angry words would not be denied, either, with years of experience to back them up.


It was all so confusing. Tony didn’t know what to do, which voice to trust. He wanted to relax into what Gibbs was saying, but his father’s words held him back.


Then, without warning, everything changed.


“I love you, Tony.”


What was said in a whisper resounded in a roar in Tony’s mind. It wasn’t a candle guttering in the dark; it was a star gone supernova. It was the death of an old way and the beginning of something new, something greater. The battle that had been waging so furiously a few seconds ago was over. The confusion and fear disappeared; the dueling voices ceased their struggling as one fell, slain. The other stood tall, glorious in victory.


Tony couldn’t hear his father anymore.


All he could hear as he felt his knees give out beneath him was four simple words, resounding over and over again.


I love you, Tony .


He was a complete and utter mess, clinging to Gibbs and the hope that he brought like he was a rock in the midst of a sea of suffering that filled all the hollow sections of Tony’s battered self. He felt the dampness of Gibbs’ shirt beneath his cheeks, soaked through already, heard the sounds of his sobs echoing through the room, felt the way his body shook uncontrollably as he wept.


And, for once in his life, he didn’t hate his tears.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Reality returned slowly as Tony’s sobs lessened. The floor was hard and cold beneath his knees, but Gibbs was warm and comforting, though only marginally softer than the floor.


Gibbs had stopped whispering at some point, but Tony didn’t mind. He could still hear the older man’s word echoing in the spaces around them, a chorus of I love you, Tony s surrounding and reassuring him.


Tony felt the first small flutterings of panic and fear start to stir somewhere deep in his belly as warnings long engrained in his heart and mind began to sound that he had made a mistake, that he would be punished for his indiscretion and weakness. He felt that familiar tension rising, that need to run and hide again. It told him to flee, to leave Gibbs and NCIS far behind and start over somewhere new and far away where his secrets could be safe, where he could be safe.


He pulled back slightly from Gibbs, the need to see the other man’s face, to get a read on him, suddenly overwhelming him. He felt Gibbs arms tighten, the other man obviously not yet ready to let him go, but he gently continued to lean back until Gibbs’ grip loosened and Tony could shift himself to get a good look at his Boss.


He was not prepared for what he saw.


Gibbs’ eyes were red and wet, and damp trails down his cheeks showed that he, too, had been crying at some point. It wasn’t a stoic single-tear-at-your-best-friend’s-funeral kind of crying; no, it was clear to Tony that Gibbs had actually wept . What was even more amazing was that the other man wasn’t trying to hide it.


There was nothing graceful or dignified about it; Gibbs wasn’t a pretty crier. Not that I ever thought about what kind of crier Gibbs might be before. I didn’t even know the man had functioning tear ducts.


Gibbs met his gaze without shame, unapologetic as always. The simple reassurance Tony found there settled the swirling emotions in his gut and silenced the panic that was even now trying to direct his feet out the door. There was no condemnation, no disgust, no judgement in those eyes, but there was something there - something so deep, so seemingly impossible, that Tony wanted to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.


All of Gibbs’ emotions were writ bare on his face, for possibly the first time in Tony’s memory. All his affection, empathy, and love were on display for Tony to see.


Tony couldn’t help himself; he started to laugh.


It wasn’t a deep belly guffaw, or the chuckle that came at a good joke, nor was it the fake laugh that covered a wide gamut of emotions from nervousness to anger to fear. There was no hysteria in it, no panic or worry. It wasn’t a snicker or a chortle, either.


It was a giggle.


Tony leaned back on his heels and giggled as he looked at Gibbs.


He giggled while Gibbs sighed and pulled him to his feet. He giggled as Gibbs gently led him over to sit on the couch before disappearing into the kitchen. He was still giggling when Gibbs came back with a wet washcloth and two beers, tops already popped.


He was finally starting to wind down when Gibbs gently wiped his face clean with the cloth, erasing the tear tracks and the remnants of snot from his face, but that was apparently enough to start him up all over again. Gibbs, for his part, just sat next to him on the couch and seemed content to wait him out.


It went on long enough that Tony’s already abused ribs and healing bullet wound began to scream in renewed protest. That was enough to bring himself under control again, only the occasional burst of giggles escaping every once in awhile. Soon enough, the last bits of laughter ceased with a giant sigh, and Tony sank back into the couch cushions, exhausted, and closed his eyes.


He startled slightly when he felt something cold and damp touch the skin of his left wrist. He opened his eyes to see Gibbs offering him one of the beers. He took it and they clinked bottles together before they each took a swig. They drank in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, before Gibbs finally spoke.


“You alright, Tony? Gibbs asked.


“Depends. Are we gonna pretend that what just happened didn’t really happen and never mention it again, or are we gonna talk about it?”


“Oh, we’re gonna talk about it. Probably more than once, even.”


“Well in that case, I have no idea how I’m doing right now. I just went from sobbing in my Boss’ arms to giggling like a schoolgirl at a slumber party. I’ve pretty much spanned the emotional spectrum in the last hour or so. How am I supposed to feel?”


“Yeah, this day has been an emotional rollercoaster,” Gibbs replied, deadpan.


Tony swung around to face Gibbs, mouth hanging open in astonishment for a moment before a smile blossomed on his face.’


“Boss, did you just quote Oscar? That’s amazing! You quoted a movie !”


Gibbs chuckled quietly, and Tony could see the spark of mischief in the older man’s eyes as he took a sip of his beer.


This is so surreal. I never thought I’d see the day that Gibbs quoted a movie. Rule 6 doesn’t count.


The moment of levity, though it did not detract from the seriousness of the situation, helped Tony to relax even further into the couch. He knew they were about to embark upon a conversation that could prove to be both painful and embarrassing, and Tony honestly wasn’t sure how to feel about that. So much had changed in the last several days, and every time Tony thought he was starting to get back on solid footing something else would come along to knock him down again.


Neither one of us are very good at heart-to-hearts. How are two emotionally repressed federal agents supposed to navigate these uncharted waters? Well, at least it will be interesting.Before Tony could say anything, Gibbs was on his feet and walking away. Tony watched, brow furrowed in puzzlement, as Gibbs climbed the stairs. Tony had no idea what Gibbs was up to, and that little voice inside his head immediately started whispering dark, twisted things.


You’ve gone too far, Tony. Gibbs doesn’t need a weakling on his team. He’s going to get your stuff and send you out the door. You never should have come here.


Tony frowned at that, sudden irritation rising up inside at the incessant negativity residing in his brain. He wasn’t stupid; he knew that the little voice in his head - the one that sounded an awful lot like his father - was often wrong, was definitely wrong in this case. Objectively, he knew that Gibbs wasn’t about to throw him out, but sometimes that little voice could be so convincing. Historically speaking, Tony had rarely questioned its authority, but for once he was sick and tired of listening to it.


“You’re wrong,” Tony whispered to himself.


“Who’s wrong?” Gibbs asked.


Tony didn’t startle this time, but only because he had so much practice at surviving being Gibbs in stealth mode. He’d been so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard Gibbs coming back down the stairs. He looked up just as Gibbs sat down on the couch next to him again.


“Nothing, Gibbs. So, what’s that in your hand?”


Gibbs had brought that mysterious photo album downstairs. Tony had no idea what was inside it, and his insatiable curiosity was piqued. His hand twitched with the desire to take it out of Gibbs’ hand and start flipping through it, but he wasn’t insane enough to try it. For one thing, a ten-year-old girl could out-wrestle him at the moment, and for another, Gibbs would probably kill him.


He felt more than saw Gibbs tense beside him before the other man deliberately took a deep breath and let it out slowly, relaxing his body as he did so. Tony’s eyebrow rose at that, and he stared at the album as if his mere gaze could force it to give up its secrets.


Rather than answer, Gibbs opened the album to the first page, placing it in such a way that it rested with one half on Gibbs’ right leg and the other on Tony’s left, angled slightly towards the younger man.


Tony sat stock-still, afraid that if he so much as breathed too deeply, Gibbs would grab the album and bolt. Smiling up at him from the first page was a photo of Shannon and Kelly, arms wrapped around each other, so happy and full of life that it almost hurt to look at them while burdened with the knowledge that they were dead.


Tony struggled to find something, anything at all, to say, but he came up empty. Surprisingly, Gibbs beat him to the punch.


“Tony, I’d like you to meet my girls, Shannon and Kelly.”

In Which One Good Turn Deserves Another by AndEverAmen

“Tony, I’d like you to meet my girls, Shannon and Kelly.”

Gibbs looked down at the smiling faces of his beloved girls in the photograph and felt his heart clench tight as the realization of what he was about to do hit him.

It was one thing to think about sharing Shannon and Kelly with somebody, but it was another thing entirely to actually do so. He had made a certain level of peace with them last night in the basement, and he knew that he could handle the pain that came with their memory, knew that a sweetness would come with it. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was finding the words.

That had always been Gibbs' curse; he never was good with words. Words were important, but he was more show than tell. He valued actions over words, always had, but even he had to acknowledge and respect the fact that there were times when words were necessary. This was one of those times, and Gibbs found himself uncomfortably out of his element.

The photos would help, but they required explanation to bring them to life. His girls were too important for him to mess this up.

Spectral tendrils of fear were weaving themselves over and around his heart, trying to keep his memories locked up and his lips silent, but Gibbs had come too far to back down now. He'd find the words if it was the last thing he ever did.

They deserve to be remembered.

The thought that ghosted through his mind didn’t destroy the fear that reached up to strangle him, but it did loosen its terrible grip on his throat and unfetter his stilted tongue.

If asked about it later, Gibbs wouldn’t be able to recall much of what he had said, the words that had spilled straight from his heart barely a fraction of the rich waters he still drew from the deep well of his love for his girls. He knew that he told stories to go with the pictures, that he had flipped through the memories and selected certain ones to share, but the specifics would mostly elude him.

What he would always remember was the emotion that colored every word, each inflection and phrase a tiny piece of the puzzle that was his broken heart. He would remember the way Tony simply listened, eyes riveted on the photos before them, for once quiet and completely focused. Gibbs knew that he heard every word, could probably recall with great detail every story Gibbs told, and that was the best gift anybody had given him in many years.

Gibbs knew that Tony had questions, but the younger man didn't push for more than Gibbs could give. As much as Gibbs wanted to help Tony heal, he had never once expected to find that, just maybe, Tony would be the one helping him. That was something that Gibbs could never forget.

~***N*C*I*S***~

“Kelly loved horses; she was always asking if we could get one. She thought she could keep it in her room. She even offered to get rid of her bed and sleep on the floor so it would fit. She didn’t seem to understand that horses weren’t supposed to live in houses.

“One time we went camping near the beach, and we spent the day riding horses on the shore before building a fire just above the tide line and roasting marshmallows. She loved every second of it, didn’t stop talking about it for weeks afterwards.”

Gibbs went silent after that, the emotions crashing down over him like the waves that had lapped the shore as they rode on that long-ago day. He felt Tony press just a little closer beside him, his silent support like a third person in the room. Gibbs’ thumb brushed over the photo beneath his hand, a beautiful shot of him and Kelly sitting on the beach; Shannon had been the one behind the camera that day.

“I went back to that spot after they died. I wanted to remember, but I wanted to forget, too. Had a bottle of bourbon and my service pistol with me. Don’t remember how long I sat there drinking and watching the waves, wishing I could be with my girls one more time.”

Gibbs paused again, remembering that dark moment when he had almost ended his life. He could still see down the bore of his pistol as he pointed it at himself, finger twitching to pull the trigger. Somehow he had managed to turn it back around and drop it into the sand before he buried his face in his hands and wept.

“It was stupid, taking my pistol with me, but I think I knew the moment I got into the truck what I was going to do.”

He felt Tony tense beside him, heard him take in a deep breath to cover a whispered curse.

“Almost ate my gun. Don’t know what stopped me. Took a long time to be glad that something had, that I survived.”

Gibbs turned a bit to look at Tony, wondering what the younger man was thinking. He had never told anybody that story, preferring to keep it buried deep in the darkest recesses of his memories. There had been other moments in his life, afterwards, when he had thought back to that day and cursed himself for his failure to follow through, but he had never again stared down the barrel of his own gun. Once was enough.

He knew, if there had ever been a next time, that he wouldn’t have stopped.

Tony was staring at him, his eyes heavy with a dark look that Gibbs recognized. He had seen it staring back at him from the mirror often enough. It was the look of a man who knew what it meant to reach the end of himself, who had found the place where the pain outweighed the desire to live and yet somehow managed to keep breathing.

“Tony?”

That one word asked a question that Gibbs couldn’t find the words to formulate, but he knew the younger man understood. Gibbs waited, knowing that Tony would either answer or he wouldn’t. He didn’t press further, letting the weight of that one word do the work and unsure whether or not he actually wanted an answer.

Gibbs didn’t know how long they stared at each other, the silence stretching between them heavy with the secrets both men had been carrying for decades. Eventually, though, Tony broke through, his voice quiet but edged.

“I was fifteen. It was one of the few school breaks where I hadn't found anywhere to go, so I had to go home. I had to spend a whole summer in the house I hated with a man who despised me.

“I swore that I wouldn’t let him lay a hand on me, but the very first night back he tore into me like all the time between the last beating and that moment had been bottled up and he was pouring it all out in one go. I didn’t do a thing to stop him. I just stood there and took it.

“When I could finally scrape enough of myself together to get out of the study and back to my room, I knew that I couldn’t handle a whole summer of that. I had to get out, no matter what it took.

“You know, it’s funny, but as angry as I was at my mother for killing herself and leaving me, you’d think I would have balked at the direction of my thoughts, but it was the first time I truly understood her decision.

“I remember the weight of the knife in my hand, the pressure of it against my wrist. It was sharp, and the first few streams of blood that rolled down my palms to drip off my fingers fascinated me in a very macabre sort of way. I knew that if I just pressed a little harder, all my problems would disappear.

“But I didn’t, because if I did, he’d win, and I’d rather suffer a hundred beatings than let that happen. It’s what kept me going; no matter what, I wouldn’t let him win.”

Gibbs let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as Tony fell silent. He wasn’t sure what exactly he had been expecting, but it hadn’t been that. He felt his blood run cold and his breathing hitch as he thought of how close they’d come to never meeting. One twitch of a finger, a bit more pressure on a knife, and everything would be different.

How many lives would have changed with one choice? How many people we’ve saved would have died with us in that moment? How many cases would have gone cold, how many families left wondering what happened, never getting closure? Gibbs’ mind spun with the horrible possibilities he’d never before considered.

Gibbs put his arm around Tony’s shoulders and squeezed, his voice gruff with emotion.

“Glad you didn’t, Tony. Glad you didn’t.”

Glad I didn't, either.

And, for perhaps the first time ever, Gibbs truly meant it.

~***N*C*I*S***~

The day was half gone by the time they finished flipping through the photo album, and both men were feeling emotionally wrung out. Where there could have been awkwardness, however, there was instead a sense of companionable understanding. They sat together on the couch, staring at the last photo in the album - the last photo that Gibbs owned of his girls before they died - each lost in his own thoughts.

It was the rumbling of Tony’s stomach that finally roused Gibbs, and he slid the album to rest fully on Tony’s lap before making his way to the kitchen to prepare lunch for them both. He puttered around the kitchen, taking his time throwing food together so he could think about what to do next.

Every time I think I get a handle on Tony, he throws me another curve ball .

Gibbs swallowed hard at the thought of what Tony had revealed. Fifteen years old and so desperate to get away that he thought death was his only way out. How does that happen? How can nobody notice that something is wrong?

Gibbs felt the rage twist in his gut, the embers of his never-quite-quenched anger leaping into high flame as he imagined a teenaged Tony pressing a knife to his wrist, drops of bright red blood blossoming under the blade. He scowled at the soup simmering on the stove as if it had personally offended him as images of Tony bleeding out flashed through his mind.

Gibbs thought about Kelly, about what she might have been like had she lived to see fifteen. Would she ever have found herself in such a dark place? Would I have noticed? Would I have seen the shadows in her eyes, seen the spark fade? Would I have been able to save her?

Gibbs abruptly shoved those thoughts away, well aware that playing the game of what-if would only make him spiral out of control, and he couldn’t afford that.

He really, really wanted to break something, preferrably Senior’s face with his fists.

Gibbs sighed as he portioned out the soup and sliced some hearty bread to go with it. He pushed the anger down deep; he would let it out later, when Tony wasn’t around to see it.Perhaps I’ll go to the range, shoot targets ‘til my arms ache.

He got everything ready and moved lunch to the table. Tony was already there, his fingers tracing invisible patterns on the tabletop as he stared into space as if he could find all the secrets of the universe hidden somewhere in Gibbs’ house. Gibbs set the food on the table, startling Tony out of whatever headspace he’d lost himself in.

They ate in silence, neither sure of what to say, but they weren’t uncomfortable. They spent the rest of the day that way, each to his own thoughts. When they finally made their weary way to bed, neither one had broached the subject of what they had discussed or what to do next.

~***N*C*I*S***~

He was standing in a room, the details of which wouldn’t quite clarify no matter how hard he tried to focus. Tony stood across the room, turned in profile. There was something in his hand, something Gibbs couldn’t quite see. It glittered and flashed in the dim, ethereal lighting, catching his eye every time he tried to look away.

He tried to move closer, but no matter how many steps he took he couldn’t seem to close the gap between them. The room around them shifted and twisted until the walls fell away and they were standing in the forest. The sunlight caught on the object in Tony’s hand, and suddenly Gibbs could make out what his friend-brother-agent-son was holding.

It was a knife, sharp and deadly. Gibbs started running, the dread in his stomach twisting and bile rising. He knew that he had to stop the younger man. He reached his hand out, straining to grab the knife before Tony did something irrevocable.

But he couldn’t quite make it. Tony was just out of reach.

Tony turned sad, haunted eyes to him, and Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come out. He was yelling inside, but the air itself seemed to press against his lips and swallow whole whatever he was trying to say.

He could do nothing but watch as Tony slowly, so slowly, pressed the knife to his wrist and dragged it down, down, down his arm. Blood gushed out, splattering the leaves beneath his feet. Tony stood there, looking from his arm to Gibbs and back, that broken expression never leaving his face until his eyes turned away for the last time and he slowly sank to his knees before falling onto his side.

The knife landed at Gibbs’ feet, covered in Tony’s blood.

Gibbs watched the life fade from Tony’s eyes, the vivacious spark in them finally extinguished. The last few pulses of Tony’s heart pushed even more blood out to pool around his wrist before it, too, faded to silent, terrible stillness.

Suddenly, Chip emerged from behind a tree and walked over to Tony, laughing. He kicked at his still warm body a few times before smirking at Gibbs and walking away to join another figure standing to the side, hidden amongst the trees. Gibbs couldn’t make the other man out, but he knew who it was. Senior shook his head in disgust before turning and walking away, not even bothering to look back.

Whatever strange pressure had clamped against Gibbs’ mouth was suddenly gone, as was the invisible force holding him back. He rushed to Tony’s side, knowing that he was too late but unable to stop himself from trying. He put his fingers to Tony’s neck, checking for a pulse and finding nothing. He rolled the man over onto his back, not caring that he was kneeling in the younger man’s blood.

Tony’s dead, lifeless eyes stared back at him.

Gibbs started screaming.

~***N*C*I*S***~

“Boss, Boss, wake up! Wake up, Gibbs!”

Gibbs jerked awake, the nightmare still swirling behind his eyes as he looked up into Tony’s worried face. He could feel his sweat-soaked shirt sticking to him, blankets kicked off at some point to land on the floor somewhere. He could feel his heart racing in his chest as he took deep, gasping breaths, the echoes of his own screams still ringing in his ears.

Gibbs didn’t think, didn’t heistate. He reached out and grabbed Tony, pulling the younger man to him as he pressed his face into Tony’s chest. He could feel the shaking start in his core and radiate out to his limbs and tightened his grip, tears already starting to stream down his face.

Tony was half-fallen on him, unprepared to be suddenly hauled onto the bed. Gibbs didn’t care. He didn’t care that he was a crying, shaking mess, that he was falling apart in Tony’s arms. He didn’t care about his Second-B reputation, his position and authority as team leader, or what others would think if they ever found out.

He didn’t care because Tony was here, Tony was alive . Gibbs heard the younger man’s heartbeat, felt his arms coming around him to support him, heard his voice soothing him, felt his chest expanding and contracting with his breaths. Tony was firm and solid and real. Not dead. Not dead Not dead .

Gibbs shuddered and shook and cried his heart out into Tony’s shirt, his grip never loosening as he clung tight and sought comfort and shelter in the darkness of his room.

Don’t let go. Won’t let you go. Don’t let go.

Please, please, don’t ever let go, Tony.

Endings and Beginnings by AndEverAmen

Tony awoke with a groan, every fiber of his being vehemently protesting his suddenly very painful existence as his eyes cracked open to see early morning sunlight filling whatever room he had crashed in this time. His memory was doing him no favors, refusing to dredge up an explanation for his current predicament.


He lay sprawled across a bed, that much he knew, but there was something under him, tangled with various parts of him, that was most definitely not a mattress. He shifted, and whatever it was shifted, too. He couldn’t yet tell if the motion was independent of his own or not.


Tony slid his tongue over his teeth, searching for the telltale taste of stale alcohol that would indicate some sort of bender the previous evening to explain his current situation, but there was nothing beyond his typical morning breath. His head didn’t have that fuzzy feeling that came with prescription painkillers, so that was out, too.


His body was more vigorously painful than usual, which, in Tony’s wide and vast experience, indicated an injury of some kind. He dutifully followed that thought down a path leading to a treasure-trove of recent experiences that helped flesh out the bare bones of his memory.


Finally, many seconds past what was healthy for a seasoned federal agent who wanted to continue in the land of the living, Tony remembered where he was.


Well, this is awkward.


The not-mattress beneath him was none other than Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and the fact that Tony wasn’t immediately freaking out and updating his résumé in his head was a testament to his progress over the past several days. He was concerned, of course, but it was more logistical than anything. Tony was, all in all, surprisingly calm and philosophical about the whole thing. We’ve both held each other while the other cried like a baby, so I suppose we’ve reached the emotional version of “one of us brushing our teeth in the bathroom while the other uses the toilet three feet away” part of this strange relationship.


With that thought, Tony decided to risk an attempt to stand up. His various injuries were not thanking him for his less than prudent sleeping position. Apparently he had fallen asleep still half-fallen across his Boss, and at no point in the night had either man moved very much. Tony felt like he’d been hit by a truck, but, as this wasn’t his first rodeo, he was fairly confident that he could make it to his feet without falling.


At least, I can if I can get this limpet off of me.


Gibbs’ grip was strong, even in his sleep, and Tony wasn’t sure that he could extract himself without waking the older man. Based on Gibbs’ scream-infused awakening from his nightmare and the breakdown that followed, Tony wasn’t really surprised. Gibbs had displayed more emotion in a wider variety in the past two weeks than Tony had seen from him in the nine years he’d known him; there had to be some sort of fallout from that.


With a grunt that escaped despite his best efforts to keep quiet, Tony began the tricky task of extracting himself from his Boss’s hold. He wiggled and slithered with finesse and skill, and slowly, quietly, he made his way off the bed, eyes glued to Gibbs’ face to check for signs that the older man was disturbed by his movements.


Gibbs slept on, curling into himself a bit as Tony’s weight lifted.


With a sigh, Tony made his way out of Gibbs’ room to the bathroom down the hall. He leaned against the wall for support as he relieved himself, his aching, still-healing body not yet ready to forgive him for sleeping in such a ridiculous position all night. Needs attended, he washed his hands and brushed his teeth to remove the fuzzy taste of morning breath. Smacking his lips, he slowly made his way downstairs to find coffee.


As soon as he had a pot brewing and wafting the scent of coffee through the air, he found his solitude suddenly broken by the near-silent presence of a not-really-awake Gibbs. The older man made a beeline for the coffee, hands moving of their own volition to fill a mug before he brought it to his lips and drank deeply, emptying it in one go before immediately refilling it.


How does Gibbs do that? I would have burned every square inch of my mouth and throat if I tried it. And how does he know it’s here for the taking? His sense of smell must have been calibrated around coffee; the man can detect the barest hint of it a mile away.


The image of Gibbs getting caught in a box-and-stick trap with a cup of fresh coffee as bait popped suddenly into Tony’s mind, and, caught off guard by the mental picture, he started laughing into his own mug of coffee.


Gibbs lifted his head from contemplating his second cup of the morning to stare at Tony, and it was obvious that his Boss wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. The older man did that shoulder-roll/neck jerk motion that indicated he was trying to process the information in front of him, which only made Tony laugh harder.


That brought out a bit of a glare from his Boss. The man obviously didn’t know what was so funny, but he clearly suspected that he was the target of Tony’s mirth. And he was. Oh, how he was!


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs scowled at his Senior Field Agent, his half-awake brain unable to determine exactly what was so funny but certain that he was the target of his friend’s good humor. Truthfully, he wasn’t nearly as annoyed as his expression might portray, but old habits died hard.


To be honest, Gibbs wasn’t much of a morning person. That little tidbit would come as a surprise to many people, but it was true. Gibbs was a coffee person. Give him enough java and he could power through just about anything, even a rain-soaked crime scene replete with fresh bodies at 0400 after two hours of sleep. Remove coffee from the equation, however, and Gibbs entire mental state shifted into some weird hybrid of monster come to life and addict in withdrawal.


It wasn’t pretty. Not pretty at all.


It wasn’t that Gibbs couldn’t function without coffee. He simply didn’t want to. He liked coffee - the smell, the taste, the warmth, everything about it. Rule 23 existed for a reason, and people violated it at their own risk.


And Tony was laughing at him and his coffee, of this Gibbs was sure. Possibly even mocking. Gibbs growled into his cup at the thought of anyone daring to scoff at, or even worse, actually come between him and his coffee. His trigger finger twitched at the mere thought of it.


From the corner of his eye, Gibbs saw Tony shift nervously on his feet as his chuckles died away, and the barest twitch of a smile died a premature death on his lips at the sight. I still got it, he thought as he gave a mental sigh of contentment and took another sip.


~***N*C*I*S***~


The sudden knock on the front door interrupted what could have proven to be a dangerous moment, and Tony practically ran out of the room as he rushed to answer the door, grateful for a chance to escape the tension in the kitchen.


To Tony’s surprise, he found Tobias Fornell on the other side of the door, his right hand raised to knock again, his left holding a briefcase.


“Fornell, what are you doing knocking on Gibbs’ door at 6:30 in the morning?”


“Well, DiNotzo, I’m sorry to interrupt your beauty sleep, but I wanted to talk to Gibbs.”


“Yeah, I understand that, Toby, but why are you knocking ? You know he doesn’t lock his front door.” Tony gestured for Fornell to enter with a wave of his hand, and he shut the door behind the FBI agent as he made his way inside.


The agent in question glared at Tony for what the younger man could only assume was his somewhat flippant use of Toby , but, used as he was to Gibbs’ potent glare, Fornell’s gaze simply rolled off him, leaving him unfazed. He just grinned his most annoying grin and nodded. Fornell, knowing when he was beat, turned away and made his way to the kitchen.


Though Tony had yet to admit it to anyone, he actually liked Tobias Fornell. He had long ago forgiven him for arresting him for murder - twice! Tony certainly understood what it was like to be handed a crappy assignment and be expected to spin it into gold for the brass. He knew that, at least in the first instance, the FBI agent had not pressed nearly as hard as he could have. Had the formidable man actually applied himself fully, he could have buried Tony beneath the jail before Gibbs or anyone else could do a thing to save him, but he hadn’t out of respect for Gibbs, even though he didn’t seem to like Tony much at the time. That had obviously changed at some point because he had offered Tony a job after Gibbs ran off to Mexico.


The second time, well, Tony knew that the man had been under intense pressure to wrap up the disaster that was La Grenouille in a nice neat bow for the higher ups who simply wanted to sweep the whole mess under the rug, and Tony was a convenient scapegoat with an apparent eyewitness against him. Tony didn’t think for a moment that Fornell had really believed that he had killed Benoit. Either way, that mess was over and Tony had once again been vindicated.


“Ah, Jethro, mind if I have some coffee?” Fornell didn’t wait for an answer before helping himself to a mug and pouring himself a steaming cup, finishing off the pot. He ignored Gibbs’ glare as he dug around for some sugar to make the strong brew more palatable before finding Tony’s stash and doctoring his cup to his liking. He drank down half the cup in one go, Gibbs-style. One addict, two addict, red addict, blue addict.


“That’s better. Morning, Gibbs. Sleep well? Nice bedhead, by the way.”


“Tobias.” Gibbs didn’t yell, glare, or put any particular inflection in his voice, but Tony instinctively heard the threat of danger anyway, and apparently Fornell did, too, because he swiftly changed the subject.


“I’ve got some news for you, Jethro. Can we speak in private?”


Tony looked on as the two men locked eyes and engaged in a silent conversation. He suddenly felt a pang of appreciation for his teammates’ consternation at he and Gibbs’ ability to have entire discussions without speaking. It was weird to see it from the outside.


Gibbs and Fornell reached some sort of agreement, and Gibbs tipped his head towards the basement door before pushing off the counter and making his way down the steps, Fornell on his heels. The slam of the basement door behind the two men told Tony in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome to join them.


Tony frowned at the closed door before shrugging and making his way to the fridge. If he couldn’t listen in, he could at least make breakfast. He was famished.


~***N*C*I*S***~


Gibbs leaned against his workbench and gazed longingly at his bottle of bourbon as he wondered if the grief he would catch from Fornell would be worth pouring himself a drink this early in the morning. Gibbs didn’t normally imbibe before dinner - he wasn’t an alcoholic, after all - but his gut was tightening uncomfortably in warning at what was to come. He thought a drink might help make whatever Fornell had to say more bearable.


“I did what you asked and did some digging. Not sure to make of what I found, though.”


And there it was. All thoughts of bourbon fled Gibbs’ mind as his hands tightened on the workbench. He had called Tobias a few days ago to ask the bemused man a favor. The two men were long past the point of keeping score of who owed whom what. The combination of professional trust and long-standing if somewhat oddball friendship meant that they had each others’ back, no questions asked. It would all even out in the end.


He wanted information on four very important people: Senior, Donovan, Max, and Jake. Tobias could be discreet when he wanted to be, and he was removed enough from the situation that, should his snooping be discovered, it would not be immediately traced back to Gibbs. Of course, anybody who had any kind of insider knowledge would know that the two men were friends, but any extra layer of protection was worth taking. Besides, this kept the rest of the team out of it.


Gibbs knew he was treading on thin ice, risking Tony’s secrets, but it had to be done. He knew he could trust Tobias; keeping his curiosity at bay was a much harder proposition but not impossible. He’d throw the man a bone if he had to, but his functional mute abilities were usually stronger than his friend’s need to know. Usually.


“Whatchya got, Tobias?”


The other man wasted no time in opening his briefcase, pulling out four file folders, and spreading them out on the workbench, each neatly labeled: Anthony D. DiNozzo, Sr., Donovan M. Cunningham III, Maximus G. Winchester, and Jacob W. McCallister.


“It took me a while to track down those three with only first names and a school, but based on what little you’ve told me, this is them. I gotta tell ya, Gibbs, it’s interesting reading, especially with Senior in the mix. Mind telling me what’s going on?”


Gibbs’ glare was all the answer he was willing to give, and the two men stood opposite one another, each attempting to stare the other down. Fornell broke first, raising his hands in surrender.


“Okay, okay, I get it. Need to know, yadda yadda. I expect a bottle of scotch for this, and none of that bottom shelf crap. Whatever’s going on, I’m sure DiNotzo’s caught up in it somehow. You’ve certainly got your hands full with that one. Let me know if you need help. Anyway, duty calls. Don’t worry, I’ll show myself out.”


Tobias made his way up the stairs with a wave, muttering about secretive NCIS agents under his breath the whole way. Gibbs heard his footsteps above him as he crossed the living room, heard the sound of muted voices exchanging goodbyes or possibly parting blows before the front door closed and silence settled around him.


Gibbs stared at the folders in front of him for a few moments before reaching over and grabbing one, flipping it open as he settled onto his shop stool.


Time to get to work.

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