Damage: 6. Disintegration Part Two



Gibbs sat on the couch after Tony left, staring blankly at the movie still playing on the TV screen without taking any of it in. He felt chilled to the bone. What he had witnessed had been so ugly, so evil, that it made total sense of Tony’s current fragility.

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

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

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

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

What kind of a child had Tony been that his father hadn’t noticed him becoming quieter and more withdrawn though?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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Tony?” Gibbs asked.

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

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

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

“Semper fi, Gibbs,” Tony muttered. “They’re not all like you.”

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

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

“Come here, Boy,” a cold voice whispered. “Come to me.”

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

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

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

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

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, DiNozzo?” he growled.

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

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

“I told you to come here, Boy. Don’t make me wait.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Open your mouth, Boy.”

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

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

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

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

“I told you to open your mouth.”

“I don’t like it,” he muttered.

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

“I’ll do anything else,” Tony said. “Just not that. I get scared when I can’t breathe…”

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

“Please don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” he whimpered.

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

Tony gazed up at Luke, horrified.

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

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

“Go away,” he said obediently, and then he flinched expectantly.

“Don’t make me angry, Tony!” Luke snapped.

“Tell him to leave you alone.”

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

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

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

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

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

There was a loud crashing sound and then silence.

Tony found that he could breathe again.


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

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

“Tony,” Gibbs said quietly. “Stand very still. Don’t move.”

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

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

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

“I know. Hold on, Tony.”

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

“Oh shit,” he muttered.

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

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

“Hold it there,” he ordered.

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

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

“I wasn’t,” Tony muttered.

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

“I couldn’t breathe,” Tony explained.

“Was it Parrish again?”

Tony nodded. “Yeah.”

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

“Yeah. Right,” Tony grunted. Gibbs looked up sharply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why couldn’t you breathe?”

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

“Tony?” He glanced up. “Why couldn’t you breathe?”

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

“You’re okay now,” Gibbs told him firmly.

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

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

Gibbs glanced up, frowning.

“I can take care of myself,” Tony told him. “I don’t need anyone looking out for me.”

“I know that, DiNozzo. But everyone needs help occasionally.”

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

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

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

“Ya think, DiNozzo?” Gibbs grinned at him.

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

“No. I can understand that,” Gibbs said quietly.

“You don’t understand shit,” Tony growled.

“Then tell me.”

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

“And you’ve done that,” Gibbs told him. “You’ve done a great job with that, Tony.”

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

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

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

“That why you stayed?”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “I stayed because I’m in love with you.”

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

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

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

“No.” Gibbs shook his head and continued bandaging Tony’s hand as if the kiss hadn’t happened.

“No?” Tony looked angry and confused.

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

“What the hell do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then we’ll stay here, but you will damn well get some sleep.”

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

“I won’t sleep,” he said. “After what happened, I’m too scared to even try.”

“You’ll sleep,” Gibbs predicted confidently.

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

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

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

“Do it, Tony.”

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

“This won’t work,” Tony told him, his body stiff and tense.

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

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

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

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

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

He fell asleep still stroking Tony’s hair.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is ‘him’?” Gibbs asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah – the mess was embarrassing me.”

“How’s your hand?”

“Throbs.” Tony held it up.

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

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

“Then tell her the truth.”

“No.” Tony shook his head.

Gibbs glanced up. “Nobody is going to judge you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He watched them leave, and then he reached for his cell phone.


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wuss,” Gibbs accused.

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

“See you then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would I?” she grinned at him, and he laughed out loud and patted one of the dogs that had followed him hopefully to the door.


Walt was waiting for Gibbs when he arrived at the coffee house, long legs stretched out in front of him, baseball cap perched on his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She a redhead?” Walt asked.

Gibbs shook his head. “Not this time.”

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

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

“Good. What is she like?”

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

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

“Eight years.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

“I like my job, Walt,” Gibbs growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You done?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbs smiled. “Yeah.”

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

“Yes.” Gibbs nodded.

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

“I told you, he’s fucked up…”

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t say thanks,” Gibbs growled.

Walt grinned. “You will. One day.”


Abby glanced up hopefully when she heard footsteps outside her lab and then sighed when McGee entered the room.

“Problem?” He raised an eyebrow.

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

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

“Yeah, right.”

“He did!” McGee protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I really have no idea – honestly.”

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

“Maybe they’re having an affair?” he said, rolling his eyes.

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

“Tony is crazy in love with who?” McGee questioned.

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

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

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

“Gibbsian?” McGee raised an eyebrow.

“It’s definitely a word. Like hinky.”

“Hinky isn’t a word, Abby.”

“McGee! How can you say that?”

McGee sighed. “Okay, hinky’s a word.”

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

“At the moment? Every single day.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Boss,” Tony sighed.

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

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

“But Gibbs…”

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

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

“On my way.”

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

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

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

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

“For about ten minutes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“On it, Boss!”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“No. It’s really not,” Gibbs agreed.

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

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

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

“Tony is staying with you?”


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

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

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

“Not really.” Gibbs shrugged.

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

“He was twelve,” Gibbs told her quietly.

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

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

“Yes.” She nodded. “Where is he?”

“Upstairs. Working on cold cases.”

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


“Who else knows?”

“You, me, McGee, Ducky. That’s all.”


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

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

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

“I need to see him.”

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?” Ziva frowned.

“Because it was my kitchen door, Ziva!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The door opened, and Gibbs appeared behind him.

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

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

“You okay with going bowling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, Boss,” he said quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony laughed. “Oh yeah. He sure as hell does.”

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

“And you find him charming?” Tony asked.

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

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

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

Sister Rosita gazed at him thoughtfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Tony – what’s going on right now?” Gibbs asked.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.” Tony looked surprised.

“You’re humming.”

“So?” Tony shrugged. “What’s wrong with that?”

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

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

“Do you know what the sound is?”

“No. It’s nothing. I’m tired. I’m going to bed,” Tony said abruptly, walking over to the door.

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

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

“We could sit on the couch again, if it’ll help,” Gibbs suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

His reflection shrugged at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay?” Gibbs asked.

“Yeah,” Tony replied softly. “Very okay.”

“Good. Now sleep.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Didn’t you like my present?” Luke asked him.


“I gave you a present. Didn’t you like it?”

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

“I liked it,” he said, still gazing at the fan.

He was startled by the slap on his thigh, and he jumped and looked down for the first time into a pair of hard grey eyes.

“Then put out for me, you little slut,” Luke hissed. “That’s what you do, isn’t it? You put out for presents? That’s what Roy told me.”

He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He didn’t like this new man Roy had left him with. He was mean, and Tony was terrified that he would hurt him, like Marco had hurt him. Tony clenched his hands more tightly in the sheets.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“You will be if you don’t start trying harder,” Luke snapped. “Look at you, lying there like a fish on a slab. Turn over.” Cold hands turned him onto his stomach, and his shirt was removed, leaving him completely naked. Those hands roved everywhere, caressing and pinching him. He buried his head in the pillow and listened to the sound of the fan overhead.


Another slap – on his ass this time. “Open up for me, you little slut. Don’t play the shy virgin. I saw those photos. I know you can do better than this.”

“BZZZZ…BZZZZ…” The sound was ringing in his ears, deafening him, making so much noise that he couldn’t hear anything else. There was something he was supposed to do. Something someone wanted him to do. Gibbs – that was it. Gibbs had told him to do something, and he always did whatever Gibbs told him to do.

“I said open. Roy was wrong. You aren’t a good boy at all. You’re a little sack of shit. Now do as I tell you.”

“No,” he muttered. The noise in his head was so loud it was hurting him. Where was Gibbs? He had said he’d be here, and he fucking well wasn’t. Where the hell was he? Tony couldn’t do this alone.

“What did you say?”

“I said no,” he whimpered into the pillow.

He was slapped again, harder this time. Luke grabbed his hips and pulled his buttocks apart. Tony scrunched the sheets in his fists and wriggled, trying to get out of his grasp.

“Please don’t, please stop, please, please…” he begged.

“You don’t want me to stop.” The sun was shining through the window, turning Luke into a huge, looming shadow on the wall in front of him, like a giant monster, towering over him. “You like it. It’s what you’re for. You’re a little slut who loves being fucked.”

“Gibbs!” Tony shouted. His hands clenched in the sheets as Luke’s cold fingers tightened their grasp on his hips. He felt something hard press against him. “Gibbs, where the hell are you? You said you’d be here…Gibbs!”

He was quivering, his entire body covered in sweat, and Luke was pushing against him, demanding entrance. The shadow on the wall in front of him grew even larger, threatening to engulf him completely.

“I am here, Tony,” a strong voice said in his ear. A warm, firm hand slid over his stomach, and another stroked his hair. “I’m here. You can do this. Tell him no. Make him go away.”

Luke’s hips were thrusting against his ass. “Take it – it’s all you’re good for,” Luke told him.

“No,” Tony said fearfully.

“Yes, you little slut.”

“Fight back, Tony,” Gibbs said. “He can’t hurt you. I’m here.”

Tony felt a renewed sense of courage. He could do this. He could fight this monster.

“No!” he said again, more firmly this time, and as he said it he felt himself growing. He felt his legs lengthening, his body filling out, and his muscles flexing beneath his skin. He was big; too big to be held down by this bastard. He was tall, strong, and powerful, and he could fight back. He wasn’t a helpless kid any more.

The shadow on the wall in front of him was predatory and grotesque. Tony faltered for a moment, afraid to turn and face the man casting it.

“Tony – you can do this,” Gibbs told him, and his hand pressed even more firmly against Tony’s stomach. “I know you can.” There wasn’t even a hint of doubt in his voice.

Tony pulled himself up to his full height. He gathered every single ounce of courage he possessed and then turned and looked straight at his tormentor.

Luke didn’t seem as terrifying as he once had. Tony didn’t have to look up at him now because they were at eye level. Tony gazed at him from the distance of years, taking in the dark hair, the square jaw, and the cold grey eyes, seeing his tormentor properly for the first time. Luke wasn’t a monster – he was just a man. Luke gazed back at him, his eyes coolly assessing.

“Don’t fight me, Boy,” he said in that clipped, precise tone of voice. “We both know you don’t have the balls. I’m going to fuck you, and you can’t stop me.”

“I can,” Tony said in a tight voice. Luke wasn’t real. He was just the shifting shadows inside his own mind. He had to remember that. “I know who you are now,” Tony told him. “I know who you are, I know what you are, and I won’t let you touch me again.”

Parrish’s face twisted into a predatory smile. “You can’t fight me, Tony.”

“Go away, Parrish,” Tony said tiredly.

Luke reached out cold fingers towards him, but they were ghostly and insubstantial.

“I said go away!” Tony roared. “Fuck off! Leave me alone!”

The ceiling fan circled above him – bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz – and Matthew Parrish shimmered briefly and then faded into nothing. The room disappeared, and the buzzing noise in his head slowly died away, until it too was gone.

Tony blinked.

Gibbs was leaning over him, holding him, one hand stroking his hair, the other wrapped around his waist. Tony could just about make out the intensity of his blue eyes in the darkness.

“You back with us, Tony?”

“Yeah.” Tony grinned at him tiredly. “I did it, Boss,” he said, in a tone of quiet triumph. “I kicked the bastard’s ass, told him to get out of my head – and he went…just like that. He slunk away without a fight.”

“He’s a damn coward,” Gibbs grunted. “Like all the worst bullies.” He continued to stroke Tony’s hair, looking down at him all the time with that intense look still in his eyes. “I’m proud of you, Tony. I knew you could do it.”

Tony grinned up at him stupidly, and then, just as stupidly, he angled his head up and kissed Gibbs on the lips. This time Gibbs didn’t go still. This time he moved his head down and gently returned the kiss. Tony drew back, took another look at those intense blue eyes, and then he went back in for another kiss.

Gibbs moved his hand to cup Tony’s face and his lips moved against Tony’s. Tony hesitated, and then he took his life in his hands and parted Gibbs’s lips with his own. He pushed his tongue into Gibbs’s mouth and began exploring. Gibbs was motionless for a moment, and Tony wondered if he’d gone too far, but then Gibbs responded, his tongue sliding passionately against Tony’s.

It was a slow, tender kiss. Tony came up for air and then pushed Gibbs back on the bed. He rolled on top of him and kissed him again, harder this time, wanting more, his mouth restlessly questing… Gibbs put his hands on Tony’s shoulders and pushed up, stopping him.

“I won’t be one of your distractions, DiNozzo,” he said quietly.

“I’m not…I’m not doing that,” Tony replied, looking down on him. “I’m ready for this, trust me.”

“Maybe you are.” Gibbs gazed up at him. “But I’m not.”

Tony frowned. He rested his elbows on the pillow, on either side of Gibbs’s head, and stroked Gibbs’s hair away from his forehead, looking down on him the whole time, feeling confused.

“Despite my many marriages, there hasn’t been anyone I really cared about since Shannon,” Gibbs told him. “It’s not easy for me to let anyone in, and you’re too important to me to fuck it up. And besides, I’ve never had a relationship with a guy before; plenty of sex but never a relationship.”

“I’ve never had a relationship with anyone before,” Tony grunted, with a little laugh. “Unless you count the whole Jeanne thing, which I don’t since technically that wasn’t even me she was in love with.”

“That’s probably the only way it could have been for you in the past, but it’s not the way it’ll be with me, Tony. I know you. You won’t get away with any of that shit with me.”

“Yeah.” Tony dropped a kiss on Gibbs’s forehead. “But I *want* you, Gibbs. I want you so much.” He moved his body hungrily against Gibbs’s solid flesh beneath him, needing more.

“You’ve *got* me,” Gibbs told him, and his hands came up to rest on Tony’s ass. “Let’s just take it slowly, one step at a time. There’s no hurry.”

“You mean that? You’re not going to disappear on me, are you?” Tony asked, reluctant to release his hold on Gibbs, keeping him pinned down. He’d wanted this for so long that it seemed hard to believe it was really happening.

“No, Tony, I’m not going to disappear,” Gibbs replied, his hands stroking Tony’s ass firmly.

Tony kissed him again, just to be sure, and Gibbs opened up sweetly and allowed him the kiss. Tony drank him in, eagerly, thrusting against him until Gibbs pushed him away with a chuckle.

“Sorry,” Tony said sheepishly, rolling off Gibbs and onto his side, so he could still look at him. “I just…I’ve wanted this for such a long time.”

“I know. Me too.”

Tony reached out and rested a hand on Gibbs’s chest, tracing the lines of wiry muscle beneath his fingertips.

“I never knew. You never said anything.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not any good at all that shit. And then there’s rule number twelve…”

Tony laughed out loud. “Well, the rules are made to be broken, Boss.”

“No, they’re damn well not,” Gibbs retorted. “They’re there for a reason.”

Tony found a nipple and circled it with his finger through the fabric of Gibbs’s tee-shirt. “I’m good at sex,” he said. “Really good. You sure…?”

“I’m sure,” Gibbs replied firmly. “But are you sure, Tony, that you’re as ready as you think you are?”

His hand slid down inside Tony’s boxers, and Tony hissed in a deep breath and then slowly released it. Then he realised what Gibbs meant; his mind might be turned on right now, but his cock wasn’t. Gibbs must have seen the expression on his face, because he removed his hand and cupped Tony’s cheek instead.

“Hey – like I said – one step at a time. Tonight was breakthrough enough, wasn’t it?”

Tony turned onto his back, put his hands under his head, and stared moodily up at the ceiling. Gibbs turned onto his side and rested his hand on Tony’s stomach.

“It’s just weird,” Tony muttered. “Because I’m such a damn whore. I’ve slept with half the city, and I’ve never had any problems getting it up before. I’m not used to it not working, Gibbs. It’s freaking me out.”

Gibbs propped his head on his hand and gazed at Tony thoughtfully in the darkness.

“Tony, you’ve been through a lot these past few days. It’s understandable. Maybe it’s a control issue.”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “I never lose control during sex. And, in case you were wondering, I always go on top.”

Gibbs grinned. “Ah, then Houston, we may have a problem.”

Tony gave a wry grunt. “You too, huh? Should have guessed.”

“I don’t think it matters much right now, Tony,” Gibbs told him. “Like I said, one step at a time. We’ll figure it out. You did good tonight. You stood up to that bastard and got him out of your head.”

“Because you were here,” Tony told him. “I don’t know if I’ll always be able to do it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it when you’re not around.”

“We’ll see.”

“I was a little whore, Gibbs. I put out for presents; roller skates, skate boards, a trip to the movies, or a ball game. New sneakers.” Tony made a face. “You know how much I love my shoes, Gibbs. Roy would buy me pretty much anything I asked for. He knew he had to keep me sweet, and I colluded in that. I went along with it. Hell, I even felt like I was manipulating him sometimes; withholding kisses until I got the promise of something I wanted and then holding him to it afterwards. I was a sneaky little shit.”

“You were a kid, Tony. You were being manipulated by a ruthless sexual predator who knew exactly how to play you to get what he wanted.”

“I was a cheap, easy little whore,” Tony snapped, disgusted by himself.

“Why do you keep calling yourself names?” Gibbs said sharply. “You were a child getting yourself through a difficult situation the only way you knew how.”

“You don’t understand, Gibbs. Tonio, Boy 43, *him*, whatever you want to call him, was a stupid, snivelling little shit who let people fuck him for trinkets. I can’t stand the whiny little brat.”

Gibbs rested a hand on his stomach. “Why do you hate him so much, Tony? He was just a kid. You’re pretty hard on him. If we were talking about another kid – about Justin maybe – would you say these things? Or is it just because he’s you?”

“He ruined my fucking life.”

“No, Roy Quinn did that. And Matthew Parrish. And whoever the hell Marco is – and, trust me, I’m damn well going to find out and make him pay. But that child you once were didn’t do that, Tony.”

“That kid, the kid I was then, he was weak and stupid. He let people take advantage of him – hell, he went along with it. I hate that he’s still inside me, and I’ve had to look out for him and protect him all these years. I want to smash his stupid face in. I want to hurt him, Gibbs.” Tony turned his face sideways and found Gibbs looking at him with a troubled expression in his eyes. “I want to fucking hurt him.”

“I don’t,” Gibbs said firmly. “I want to help him. I don’t want to hurt him – he’s been through enough. I want to hurt the people who did this to him. I want to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, and that he’s safe now. I want him to know that nobody will ever get to him again because they’ll have to go through me. I want to tell him that he’s mine now, and that I will always be there for him. I want him to tell him that he’s loved.”

Tony stared at the ceiling, blinking back tears. Gibbs pulled him over and wrapped his arms around him. Then, for the first time, Tony cried. He buried his face in Gibbs’s shoulder, tangled his fists in Gibbs’s tee shirt, and cried like a child.

Gibbs let him fall apart in the warm safety of his arms, stroking his shaking body throughout. Tony clung onto him, his body convulsing against him, as he allowed someone to finally see the full extent of the damage he had kept hidden for so long.

Gibbs didn’t turn away as Tony had feared people might if they knew who he really was. He took all of Tony’s anguish and held firm, his body strong, solid, and warm as Tony raged against him. Tony couldn’t hold back. He cried out the loneliness, isolation, pain and exhaustion. He cried for that kid, and what had been done to him, because Gibbs was right – he *was* the boy in those photographs, and the long years of denying that were over.

He cried for a very long time, unable to stop the tidal wave of emotion coursing through his body. He had never cried about what had happened to him as a child before. He had never allowed himself to feel those emotions. They were too big, too much for him to endure alone. Now he wasn’t alone any more.

Eventually, Tony realised that he had stopped crying. He found himself lying in Gibbs’s arms, almost on top of him, his chin resting on Gibbs’s shoulder. His entire body was spent, and his breathing was coming in little hitching gasps. Gibbs’s tee-shirt was sodden, and Gibbs’s hands were still gently stroking his back in comforting little circles.

“It’s okay, Tony. I’ve got you,” Gibbs murmured. “I’ve got you.”


End of Disintegration


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8 Comments on Damage: 6. Disintegration Part Two



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8 Comments on Damage: 6. Disintegration Part Two


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