Hiding In Plain Sight: 4. Chapter Four


“Well, Abby confirms it,” Tony said, ending his radio conversation with the forensics expert from where she was working in her makeshift lab. “Tim was shot by a P-90.”

“General Sheppard said there were no P-90s missing from his armoury,” Gibbs snapped, prowling their quarters like a caged tiger, all controlled, angry energy.

Ziva watched him, feeling detached. She would find out what she needed to know, and then she would act.

“There aren’t,” Tony confirmed. “But the fire onboard the Daedalus a few days ago? Funnily enough, it took place right next to the armoury. Door was blown right off by the force of the explosion.”

“The weaponry?” Gibbs asked.

“Things were so badly burned up in there that it’s taken them awhile to go through the inventory. It seems all the weapons are accounted for – except one…”

“P-90,” Gibbs finished, shaking his head grimly. “Looks like that bomb on the Daedalus was more than just a diversion.”

“It’s looking that way, boss,” Tony mused, scratching the side of his face with his pen.

“Tony – get General Sheppard to give me a list of all the men under his command who can shoot moving targets from that kind of range with this kind of weapon,” Gibbs ordered.

“On it, boss,” Tony said, turning away and tapping his radio again.

Ziva closed her eyes momentarily and re-lived the flash of gunfire, seeing the livid red spot that appeared from nowhere on Tim’s shirt. She had turned, locating the shooter by instinct, and fired off some shots before shoving Tim out of the way so he wouldn’t be hit again. Then she had covered Tony while he crawled over to aid Tim. Gibbs had joined her, and they had fired for several minutes until they realised they weren’t getting any returning fire.

Then she, Tony and Gibbs had pursued the shooter while Ducky and Abby had radioed for help and taken care of Tim. General Sheppard had arrived within seconds, and they’d run up to the tower where the shots had emanated from, only to find it empty when they got there.

Ziva wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Gibbs so angry. He’d thumped his hand angrily against the window the shots had been fired from and then had them working it as a crime scene for the next few hours, looking for some clue as to who the shooter had been. So far, they’d drawn a complete blank. This man, whoever he was, seemed to walk around the city leaving no trace of anything. He’d policed his brass and left no fingerprints, or anything else they could use to track him.

“What the hell was the shooter trying to achieve by firing on us?” Tony asked. “He wasn’t a very good shot, either – McGee sustained a minor gunshot wound but none of the rest of us got hit.”

“Maybe he wasn’t intending to hit anyone,” Ducky murmured, from the corner of the room.

Ziva looked up, sharply, to see Gibbs turn and march towards Ducky.

“What are you saying, Ducky?” he demanded.

“I don’t know…just, there was a lot of noise and gunfire and we were in a tight knit group but despite that he only managed to hit one of us – and not a very good hit at that,” Ducky mused. “Why go to all the bother of stealing a weapon if you’re not that good a shot?”

“Maybe he just got lucky,” Tony said.

“Maybe.” Ducky shrugged. “Or unlucky,” he mused, frowning. “Perhaps it was just designed to frighten us off?”

“He thought he’d frighten off NCIS with some random gunfire?” Gibbs said, his tone a combination of disdain and disbelief.

“And how is this linked to the murders?” Tony asked. “Is this our killer, or is this someone else? And if it’s someone else, why the hell does he want us dead?”

“So far, we’ve got a killer who preys on subs, who likes to perform his own autopsies and who can shoot,” Gibbs growled, pacing again. “That makes him what? A soldier with some medical training?”

“You mean like a field medic?” Ducky asked. “It’s possible – Jennifer Keller’s body wasn’t opened up the way a trained medical examiner would open a body, but it was carved into by someone who knew their way around the major organs in the body. As, indeed, were all the other bodies.”

“Tony – find out how many field medics on Atlantis can also shoot and would have known where to find the armoury on the Daedalus and have access to explosives,” Gibbs said. Tony nodded and tapped his radio again, turning away as he did so.

Ziva blinked, and saw a flash of light and Tim standing there, a surprised look on his face, as if he didn’t know he’d been shot. She blinked again, fast, trying to clear the image but it wouldn’t go away. Someone had shot him. Someone had tried to kill him – and she would have to kill someone for that. It was her right. She felt a surge of darkness deep inside, and smiled to herself. This was one thing she understood, one thing she was good at. She would go out there, find this person, and slide her knife between his ribs. She would carve into him until he was begging her for death but his death would be slow and painful. She would make sure of that.

She got up and began walking to the door…then stopped, as someone stepped out in front of her, blocking her way. Gibbs.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he asked sharply.

“To visit McGee in the infirmary,” she replied coolly.

“No you’re not.”

“You cannot stop me,” she said, her mouth twisting into a dark little smile.

“The hell I can’t. Tim McGee is my sub, Ziva, in case you’ve forgotten, and it’s my collar he wears around his neck,” Gibbs told her, and she almost missed the note of danger in his tone. “Nobody goes to see my sub when he’s injured without my permission – got that?”

“Dr Beckett says he’ll be fine, my dear,” Ducky told her, from where he was sitting at the table. “It was a clean wound – he lost some blood but he’s been stitched up now. Carson says he can return to quarters tomorrow, Ziva.” His tone was placatory. She glanced at him over Gibbs’s shoulder, her gaze cool and dispassionate.

“All the same, I will see him,” she said in a cold, hard tone.

“Not like this you won’t,” Gibbs growled, and he took hold of her arm and physically thrust her into his bedroom, shutting the door angrily behind him. “Snap out of it!” he told her, clicking his fingers hard in front of her face. She didn’t even flinch at the sound. She was a long way away, somewhere dark, cold and familiar. She liked it here – it felt good.

“I will see Tim, and then I will kill whoever did this to him,” she said, as if it was that simple.

“And then what? You go back to McGee full of bloodlust and rip him open with your teeth?” Gibbs asked. “Listen to me, Ziva David, you’re not going anywhere near McGee when you’re like this. You’ll terrify him half to death, and he’ll never come near you again. You want that? Huh? You want to scare him so much he flinches whenever you go near him?”

She gazed at him steadily, trying to process what he was telling her.

“You have a choice – right here, right now,” Gibbs told her, in a low, urgent tone. “I know you like Tim, and I know he sure as hell likes you. I know you’ve been sneaking into his room at night, and I know he lets you.”

That registered. She moved her head to look at him more closely. “How do you know this?”

“I know everything,” he told her, with a wave of her hand, as if that explained it. “Listen, Ziva – this is the moment, right here, when you decide what kind of a top you want to be. You can still have Tim, if you want him, but if you do, if you really do, then you have to learn to control what’s inside of you, and I don’t see you doing that right now.”

“Tim is mine,” she said, robotically. “And someone tried to kill him. I will have my revenge and I will…”

“No, he’s not,” Gibbs interrupted her. “Tim McGee is mine, right up until the time he takes off that collar around his neck, or I take it off for him. Understood?”

Her brain took a moment to process that. She was surprised to realise that what Gibbs was saying was correct. Tim wasn’t hers. She hadn’t claimed him. She hadn’t even slept with him. She closed her eyes, and saw red blood staining his shirt, and his eyes, those beautiful green eyes, wide with pain and surprise as he looked at her. When she opened her eyes again, Gibbs was standing in her space, his face too close, his gaze scorching her with its intensity.

“Now you want him, you can win him – I’ve no doubt about that,” Gibbs told her. “But first you have to win that battle with yourself. Can you do that, Ziva? Can you be what he needs you to be, and not what you’ve been in the past?”

“I…I do not know,” she said, feeling the darkness subside into a dull ache in the pit of her belly. “I want blood for this,” she whispered. “I want to make someone pay.”

“Yeah, well, we don’t have anyone who fits the bill right now,” Gibbs snapped. “But we do have an injured sub lying in an infirmary bed who could use a friendly word from the top he’s crazy about.”

“I…” She hesitated. “I want to hurt someone,” she murmured. “Supposing it is him I hurt?”

She did want to hurt him. She wanted to hurt him for scaring her, for making her care about him, and then for nearly dying. She wanted to hurt him as she had hurt Ari – she had loved her half-brother and he had betrayed her. That was what love did – it made you weak. You had to destroy the other person before they destroyed you. She dug her fingernails into her palms. Would she really do that? Would she go to Tim’s bedside and deliberately hurt him because she was too scared to love him?

Gibbs gave her a cold, hard look. “Right here, right now – you make that decision, Ziva, because I’m not letting you leave this room until you do.”

She swallowed hard, and felt little droplets of blood run down her palms from where she was digging her fingernails into the skin.

“I used to have a dog, when I was child,” she whispered. “I loved that dog so much but…I used to hit him, just so I could kiss him after and make him love me again. And he did. He loved me so much that he just took it, and every time I hurt him, I would see that look in his eyes. Betrayal, pain…maybe I just like seeing that look,” she murmured.

“Maybe you do.” Gibbs took a step forward, crushing her into a little space between him and the wall behind her. “Tim McGee is a gentle soul, Ziva. He’s not like you, or me, or Tony. He’s not as tough, or as sure of himself. And he’s not one of those subs you can take to your bed and hurt because they like it because he doesn’t want that. He’s not one of those vicious lost souls you seem to have an instinct for picking up, either. You don’t slap him around, and tear into him, and fight him into submission. He’s not like that. He’s inexperienced and he’s scared. You need to figure out whether you can gently take him to a place where he’ll eat out of your hand, and you have to decide if you’re worthy of him, because if you get him eating out of your hand and then you turn on him, I promise you, I *will* track you down and I *will* make you suffer for that. Understood?”

She felt suddenly frightened – not of Gibbs but of herself. Was she really that dark inside? Was she so far gone that she’d hurt someone as kind and trusting as Tim McGee? She remembered his big, innocent green eyes and she wanted, suddenly, to take him in her arms and kiss him, and tell him it was going to be okay. She didn’t want to hurt him – she wanted to take care of him. She wanted to love him.

“Okay…you’re back with us,” Gibbs said, taking a step back. “Now, you make this decision once and for all, Ziva – who are you? Are you someone I can trust, or are you always going to be fighting your dark side? Because I think you can beat it, but you need to step up to the plate and do it. Make your choice, Ziva, and make it now. Who are you? Who are you in here?” He tapped her chest, over her heart, with one hard, pointed finger.

“I am Ziva David. I am a Mossad agent and an NCIS agent. And I would like to be…I would like to be Tim McGee’s top,” she told him, liking the way that sounded.

“You think you can go down there and be the kind of top he needs right now?” he demanded. “Because that’s what a good top does – they put the needs of their sub before their own.”

She lowered her head and gazed at the ground, then took a deep breath and looked up again. This man, he was always getting into her head and into her space and forcing her to make the hard decisions. He was so demanding and uncompromising and he saw something in her that she did not even see in herself. He had put his collar on her, and brought her into his team and helped her belong just when she had lost her old family and all her old certainties.

He was always needling her, to bring out the best in her, and with him she felt known. He was a top, like her, and a top who had seen and suffered so much. He had gone through the tough times and come out the other side like this – wounded, for sure – but battle hardened and tempered by his experiences. He understood her – she could see that when she looked in his eyes. There wasn’t any part of being a top he didn’t understand, and maybe this was a battle he’d had to fight with himself too, a long time ago.

“Yes,” she said firmly, seeing the one thing she needed in his eyes – his faith in her and his determination that she would *not* fail. “Yes, I can be that top,” she said. The darkness in her belly dissipated a little. She knew it would always be there, and she would always struggle to control it, but she also knew now that she *could* fight that battle and win – and she had never been sure about that before.

“Okay…then you can see him.” Gibbs stepped back, and gestured with his head at the door. “But you see this through, Ziva. Don’t make him want you and then decide you can’t be bothered with this kind of sub. He’ll never be a warrior, like you. He’s a different kind of soul – but he’ll give you his devotion for the rest of his life if you let him. Don’t ever throw that back at him.”

“I would not,” she whispered, suddenly awe-struck by how she felt. Tim McGee had been under her nose the whole time, wanting to give her what she needed – love, loyalty and every ounce of devotion in his steadfast soul. And all this time she’d turned her nose up at such a gift. She was an idiot. They weren’t mismatched at all; he was *exactly* the kind of sub she needed to take her out of herself and make her laugh, to bring a lightness into her life, and to make her feel loved.

She walked slowly out of the door and down to the infirmary. This was important – she had to do it right. This was about Tim as much as it was about herself and she knew how scared he was of tops, and how much he feared his own sexuality.

Tim was sitting up in bed, his arm in a sling, his face so pale that it made his eyes – those beautiful eyes – look lovelier than ever. Those same eyes lit up when she came into the room and she felt her heart break a little. How could she ever have dismissed his devotion so casually? He was beautiful, and he could be hers if she went gently with him. Being gentle was a new thing for her – she who threw her subs to the ground and took what she wanted from them. It felt…surprisingly good.

“Hey,” she said softly, and she leaned over and kissed him on the lips, just a little affectionate kiss, and it felt good to be able to touch him.

“Hey.” He looked up at her, a dazed expression on his face. “I was wondering if you’d come and see me. All the others have been.”

“I know. I…wanted to wait until I was feeling less upset.”

“You were upset? About me?” he asked, those large, expressive eyes full of hope. She sat down beside the bed and took his hand in her own.

“I was. I was angry that someone had hurt you, and I was worried that you were in pain.”

“You were?” He looked surprised, and she squeezed his fingers gently with her own.

“Yes. I was,” she told him softly. “Tim…I have Gibbs’s permission to stay here and to watch over you. Is that okay with you?”

“Um…well, yes – that’s fine,” he said, looking tired but happy. “Tony likes me,” he told her, conversationally. “He’s trying to deny it now – he says I was delirious at the time and misheard, but he definitely said he likes me.”

“Of course he likes you,” Ziva chuckled. “He always has. You did not know that?”

Tim frowned. “Do I miss everything?”

“Well…maybe you are not quite as observant as Tony or myself, but you are getting there,” she said smoothing her hand through his short hair. He grinned at her, and then suppressed a yawn. “You must be exhausted – Carson says you lost quite a bit of blood. Why don’t you sleep,” she said to him. “I will stay here with you.”

He nodded and closed his eyes, then opened them again. “You won’t go while I’m sleeping will you?”

“No,” she promised.

“Not even if they find out who shot me?” he asked.

She thought about that for a moment, and how it would feel to allow Gibbs and Tony to take her revenge for her and for that particular bloodlust to be forever unsatisfied, and found that she didn’t care. Tim needed her right now and the others could take care of their murderer if they found him.

“No. Not even then,” she said. “Here – let me show you.” She climbed onto the bed and lay down next to him, then put her arms around him and held him close, going gently, taking care of his injured arm.

He gave a little sigh and relaxed against her, and she thought of all the recent nights when he had held her, and kept her demons at bay. Now she would do the same for him.

His breathing slowed and deepened as he fell asleep. She moved one finger, stroking his hand with it tenderly, and as she did so she pressed her nose against his short hair and breathed in the scent of him. She thought of the many times he had done this to her over the past few days, thinking she was asleep, and that made her think of something else he also did when he thought she was asleep. She smiled, and snuggled in even closer, watching over him and keeping him safe.

“I love you,” she whispered.


Abby sat on the floor of her room, knees under her chin, gazing out at the moonlit ocean beneath her. She usually liked to sit on her balcony, enjoying the warm, soft sea breeze before she went to bed, but Gibbs had forbidden them to sit out now that pot shots were being taken at them. Their balconies were only partially overlooked from other areas of the city and any such shot would be almost impossible, but Gibbs wasn’t taking any chances.

The ocean, which she’d loved so much since arriving here, now looked dark and unfriendly. This whole city, so beautiful, rising out of the sea with its silver turrets, full of technological wonders, had now turned into something more sinister. Someone was stalking through its hallways, murdering people in their rooms and workplaces, and taking shots at her and her friends. She didn’t feel safe here any more.

She remembered when she’d received a death threat before testifying in court once, and had stayed in the elevator for hours, going up and down endlessly, sitting at the back on the carpeted floor, too afraid to leave. Gibbs had come to sit with her for some of the time; he’d put his arm around her shoulder and she’d snuggled in close because Gibbs was the only person who could ever make her feel safe. With Gibbs beside her she knew she’d never come to any harm; he just wouldn’t allow it.

She ran her fingers over his collar, gratefully. She was lucky he let her wear it. She remembered how he’d put it on her, several years’ ago. She’d been at NCIS for a few months and had a sneaking envy for the fact that Ducky and the field agent Stan Burley both got to wear Gibbs’s collars. She’d done some good work and Gibbs seemed pleased with her, and she had been going through a tough time after breaking up with yet another totally unsuitable top.

“You do seem to attract ‘em, Abs,” Gibbs had told her in her lab one day, giving her that unnerving look – the one that seemed to reach into her soul and lay it bare, so she felt she had no secrets. “What the hell was there about this top that you thought she was worth taking all this crap for?”

“I like to give people a chance,” Abby replied. “And she was nice to me. Well, at first. And she’s a Goth, like me, so I thought we had a lot in common.”

“And she owns her own funeral home,” Gibbs commented mildly, with just a hint of a grin on his lips. Abby rolled her eyes.

“Okay, so the thought of us sharing a coffin at night was pretty hot – at first,” she said, grinning back at him because this one had hurt, and it was easier to laugh about it than cry. “I thought I’d met a kindred spirit, Gibbs!”

“A kindred spirit who cleaned out your bank account to keep her funeral home in business when the bank called in her loan,” Gibbs said, with a shrug.

“Yeah. That’s the bit where I figured out that she and I were doomed.”

“No it’s not, Abs. If it were, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Gibbs told her, an uncompromising look in his eyes.

What conversation? Abby wondered. They just seemed to be chatting – it didn’t seem to be a special kind of conversation.

“But you were still seeing her and still making excuses for her when she kidnapped you and drove you to your mom’s house at gunpoint to try and scam *her* out of her life savings as well.”

“Well, Gloria wasn’t suckered in,” Abby said, as if that made everything all right. Gloria had known something was up because Abby had signed her and Cicely hadn’t figured out what she was signing. Gloria had gone into the bathroom and texted Gibbs on her cellphone.

“Gloria is a smart lady.” Gibbs shook his head. “Smarter than her daughter,” he added.

“Gibbs! I was blinded by love!” Abby declared. “I didn’t know Cecily was going to turn out to be some crazy psycho grifter!”

“I could have told you,” Gibbs said. “I DID tell you as I recall.”

“Not that she was a crazy psycho grifter!” Abby protested.

“Nope – that she was trouble and you should stay away from her,” Gibbs reminded her. “Abby, I know you’re attracted to the crazy ones. I know you’re a sucker for a sob story – the sobbier the better.”

“I don’t think there’s such a word as ‘sobbier’,” Abby retorted, turning away from him to work in a different area of her lab because she really didn’t want to hear this. Whenever she turned he was in her face again, the little smile on his lips softening the hardness in his eyes.

“I don’t think crazy is what you really want, underneath,” Gibbs said. “You just feel sorry for these tops because they’re outsiders and you think nobody ever gave them a chance. I don’t think you even consider that maybe they’ve had dozens of chances and nobody’ll give ‘em any more because they are beyond help; nobody except you that is.”

“Well, that’s just the way I am,” Abby declared. “I don’t DO boring, Gibbs. I want something different, something cool and unusual. I want…”

“To be safe,” he finished for her. “Because that’s what I keep reading from you, Abby, and yet you keep on choosing the kind of tops who put you in danger.”

“I don’t mean to,” she said, feeling a little contrite because he had had to rescue her from her mom’s house and then he’d nearly been mown down by Cecily’s hearse as the psycho top from hell had made her getaway.

“I know.” He shrugged. She liked the way he said that – it was never a flat statement with Gibbs – he always put a little inflection in it that made it seem like he DID know, that he always knew everything. “So I was thinking about a way we could keep you safe – which you want and god knows I want – while still giving you the opportunity to at least flirt with crazy and exciting – the way you want but I’m less keen on.” He gave a wry grin at that.

“What did you have in mind?” She put down the evidence bag she was holding and gazed at him, puzzled.

“My collar.” He took a plain, black, leather collar out of his jacket pocket.

“How romantic!” she laughed.

“Nothing romantic about it – just practical,” he told her. “Like with Ducky and with Stan. I’m not taking any subs to my bed but…”

“Which is a pity, Gibbs – you must get lonely,” she said, eyes wide and sympathetic. “And you’re nice – you deserve someone really special.”

“Been there, done that, got the alimony payments to prove it,” he told her with a wry grin.

“So how would this collar work then?” she asked, frowning. People did have all kinds of arrangements but mostly tops collared subs they were sleeping with. She wasn’t sure about Ducky but she knew Gibbs definitely wasn’t sleeping with Stan because the field agent had told her so.

“If you wear it, then you’re my sub – like Ducky and Stan. No sex, no sharing a plate or any of that stuff. But the collar might scare off some of the more insane tops you seem to attract – all I’ll ask is that if you want to date someone, you introduce me first. I say they’re crazy, you don’t date ‘em.” Gibbs shrugged.

“That’s all?” Abby picked up the collar and held it in her fingers. There was something appealing about the idea. She’d envied Ducky his collar for ages, and she knew the love between him and Gibbs, though deep and abiding, wasn’t essentially sexual in nature.

“Well, that and discipline,” he grinned at her. She felt her stomach do a flip. “Easy,” he laughed. “The rules will be simple – I’ll only spank you if you lie to me or disobey my direct order. That’s it. Oh, and if you get in any trouble with the Director, he’ll have to come through me to deal with you because nobody else is laying a finger on you. But you’re a good girl, Abs – you don’t get into trouble. And I promise you that if you do I’ll always be on your side.”

He would as well. She could sense that. He was the kind of top who didn’t let a sub get away with any kind of shit, but he’d also stick with you, no matter how badly you screwed up.

She was shocked by how much she wanted this. Okay, so it wasn’t *ideal*, and it certainly wasn’t what she’d imagined it would be like to be collared, but it was…kind of nice.

“You intend to collar all your team?” she asked. “First Ducky, then Stan, and now me?”

Gibbs grinned. “It helps knowing you all answer only to me – that there are no other tops on the scene. Means I can keep you all safe and focussed on the job.”

“Heh – slavedriver!” she said. He laughed at that. She wasn’t sure why he’d collared Ducky, but she knew that Stan had struggled with alcoholism and Gibbs had put his collar on him to help keep him clean. It was working as well; Stan hadn’t touched a drink in two years and was proving to be an excellent agent. She also knew that Stan had been offered a new job and she wondered what would happen then. “If Stan takes this job he’s been offered, will you take his collar away from him?” she asked.

“Yeah. Can’t keep him collared if he’s working hundreds of miles away.” Gibbs shrugged. “But it’s done its job – time for Stan to move on.”

Abby knew that while Stan really appreciated what Gibbs had done for him, he needed to find someone whose collar would be more than platonic; both he and Gibbs were in agreement on that.

“I’ll miss Stan,” she sighed.

“I know.”

“Will you get a new field agent?” She didn’t like new people; it took ages to get used to them.

“I guess.” He shrugged. “I’m up to my eyeballs in resumes at the moment – boring as hell.”

“Poor Gibbs.” Abby fingered the collar thoughtfully. She wondered if he’d given his spouses plain black leather collars as well, or something more personally meaningful to them. Then she wondered why he HAD so many ex-spouses. He was a nice guy – why did his marriages always fail? Ducky had worn his collar for years and clearly loved him, and Stan had always worn his collar with pride as well. Maybe Gibbs was better at collaring subs than marrying them.

“Think about it, Abby,” Gibbs told her. “No need to rush into it. And if it doesn’t work out – there’s no pressure. You can just repudiate the collar. Maybe you’ll find the right kind of top and want to take their collar in time.”

“With your help?” She raised a cheeky eyebrow. He grinned at her and kissed her forehead.

“I just want to keep you safe, Abs,” he replied, walking towards the door. She knew he did, and she couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to be the collared sub of a man like Gibbs, to walk on the end of his leash beside Ducky and Stan. “Like I said, you think about it and…”

She reached the door before him, running at full pelt, so fast that he almost tripped over her as she knelt down in front of him and held up the collar.

“I’ve thought about it,” she said. “Yes please!”

He laughed out loud at that. “You sure, Abs?” He stroked her dark hair.

“Positive! It all sounds really cool – uh, except for the discipline part so if you ever have to spank me please go easy on me.”

“Well…” he paused in opening the buckle on the collar. “I can’t promise that, Abs. Never disciplined a sub yet and went easy on ‘em. Can’t see the point of it. It’s confusing to the sub and doesn’t get the job done. If they don’t deserve a spanking don’t give them one, and if they do, then do it properly. Still want to wear the collar?” He held it up, a question in his eyes.

She thought about it for a moment. She wasn’t the kind of naughty sub who was always getting into trouble – she wondered how Gibbs would handle that kind of sub and thought it’d be fun to watch. But she wasn’t like that, so she thought she was safe.

“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ll just have to trust you.”

“That’s all I ask.” He fastened the cool leather of the collar around her neck and buckled it into place. She placed her hands over his where they were working.

“Your hands are strange,” she said. He raised an amused eyebrow, clearly wondering if this was going off into some crazy Abby place.

“In what way?” he asked. “Or am I going to regret that question?”

“No…it’s just, I’d have thought a man like you – you know, ex-military, law enforcement, big bad top and all that…that you’d have these big, blunt hands but you don’t. You have quite creative hands.”

She took hold of one and examined it. They were quite square and neat, the palms flat and smooth, the nails clean and trimmed.

Then she realised something; these were hands that sanded down boats, lovingly crafting shape from raw wood. And these were hands that were used to holding a sniper’s rifle, taking their time, being patient, waiting for the right moment to strike before quietly and efficiently squeezing around a trigger.

They were subtle hands, expert hands, not blunt instruments. She wondered what these hands would feel like making love to a submissive, running over a bound, naked body, full of intent and purpose, and she gave an involuntary shiver. These hands were beautiful but frightening. She didn’t think they were hands she wanted spanking her or claiming her, but they *were* hands she wanted keeping her safe. She raised the hand she was holding to her lips and kissed it, then glanced up at him.

“Thank you, Gibbs,” she said.

“You’re welcome, Abby,” he replied, and then he lifted her chin and kissed her gently on the lips for the first time.

Abby smiled at the memory, and then got up from where she was sitting. It was late, but not time for bed yet. She’d heard Gibbs and Tony return about half an hour ago but hadn’t wanted to move from the quiet spot in the corner by the window where she’d been sitting. Gibbs had poked his head around the door anyway, to check she was alright, and she’d seen the spark of concern in his eyes that she was sitting in the dark with her knees pressed up against her chin, but she’d waved him away.

Now she felt lonely – and a little afraid. Ducky was spending the evening with his new friend, Richard Woolsey – she wasn’t sure what was going on between them but she had noticed that Ducky walked around humming a lot these days. Ziva was spending the night in the infirmary with Tim. That had taken her by surprise; Tim’s hopeless infatuation with Ziva was pretty obvious but she’d never seen any evidence that Ziva returned his feelings.

Tony and Gibbs had been working late, questioning all the marines on the base about their medical expertise and their ability with a P-90, and she’d been alone in their quarters for a few hours now.

Rodney had asked her if she wanted to spend the evening with him and John but she’d declined. Whatever had happened between them during their four days confined to quarters seemed to have affected them profoundly, and right now she was pretty sure they wanted to be alone together.

She went out into the living area and paused in the doorway. Gibbs was sitting in the armchair, reading through his notes. He was at least wearing his reading glasses, which always made her chuckle because he did like to pretend he didn’t need them. He had one leg crossed over the other knee, and his elbow was resting on the arm of the chair, one finger tapping the side of his jaw as he read.

Tony was lying on the floor at Gibbs’s feet. He was on his stomach, which was pretty much his main position these days when he wasn’t standing, and she wanted to feel sorry for him but he seemed fine with it and never complained so she thought that maybe it was what he wanted – or needed – or something like that anyway. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a black shirt, and he was reading another one of the stacks of personnel files Gibbs was making him go through. There was a huge pile of unread ones beside him to his right, a smaller pile of ones he’d finished to his left, and an even smaller pile of ones he’d read but thought might be hinky in the middle. When he was done with one, he took it and put it on one of the other piles.

What struck her though, was that he was resting his chin on Gibbs’s boot, the file lying open in front of him, and they both looked so comfortable, utterly at ease with each other. If Abby hadn’t known better she’d have assumed they were sleeping together, and that Tony was Gibbs’s sub in every sense of the word. They just looked like a dominant and a submissive should look – the sub resting on the floor at the dom’s feet, chin on his boot, and the dom comfortable with that, unmoving, neither of them speaking.

She stood there for a long moment, just watching them, and she felt another pang of loneliness.

Gibbs became aware of her, and he looked up and gave her a smile.

“Hey,” he said softly. “You okay, Abs?”

“I…I’m kind of feeling creeped out,” she admitted. “People getting carved up in their quarters, and then someone taking a shot at Tim…it doesn’t feel very safe around here any more.”

She hugged her arms around her body. She knew she could take care of herself if push came to shove – she had done it before when some bad guys had captured her – but that didn’t stop her being scared anyway. She remembered those gunshots and the way Tony, Ziva and Gibbs had immediately leapt into action, and how Tim had looked lying on the ground with blood soaking through his shirt.

“You want to sleep in my room tonight?” Gibbs asked her, and it was tempting. She knew he’d just hold her all night and she’d be safe because nobody would get past Gibbs to get to her. She was about to say ‘yes’ when she saw the look in Tony’s eyes. He wouldn’t say anything, and she knew he wouldn’t begrudge her, but it would hurt him all the same.

“No.” She shook her head. “I’ll be fine. Really.” She turned to go back to her room.

“You want to spend the night in Colonel Lorne’s room, Abs?” Gibbs asked, and she felt her stomach do a flip. She turned back.

“You think he’d mind?” she asked.

She saw Lorne every day as he had taken it upon himself to be her bodyguard, with Gibbs’s permission, and she loved their easy banter and the way his eyes followed her around the room. She hadn’t had a whole lot of free time but she’d spent a couple of evenings with him when Gibbs wasn’t working them all to the bone. She liked him more and more but somehow that made it harder to take the next step. She couldn’t believe this was for real; she’d never met anyone who made her feel like this and she kept waiting for the crazy shit to start and for it all to fall apart. He’d been patient, never going further than she wanted to go, which had only been a few kisses and the feel of his fingers tightening on her wrists so far. He never asked for more though, just sat back and let her dictate the pace.

Tony laughed out loud, rolling over to look at her properly. “Mind? I think he’d be ecstatic,” he said.

“Cool!” she grinned, walking towards the main door to their quarters.

“Not so fast, Abs – Tony will take you there,” Gibbs said, gesturing with his head. Tony got to his feet and sauntered over to her. “After this morning we can’t take any chances.”

“But then Tony will have to come back alone,” she said, terrified of losing any of them. “And you remember what that strange old lady said the first night we got here, Gibbs? She said something about you arriving with five and leaving with one. Supposing that’s what’s happening? Supposing we’re going to be picked off, one by one, and Tim was just the first?”

“Well, first off…” Gibbs said, standing up. “McGee isn’t dead – he’ll be fine. And secondly, Tony is a trained field agent who knows how to use a gun and you aren’t. Thirdly, Tony has twenty minutes to take you there and come back and if he isn’t back by then I’ll call General Sheppard and get a consignment of marines to go looking for him. Does that make you feel better?”

Abby thought about it for a moment and then nodded. Gibbs laughed out loud. He came over to where she was standing and gave her a little kiss on the lips, the way he always did when he wanted to reassure her. She had no idea why people found him so scary – he was always so loving and protective of her.

She left their quarters with Tony at her side.

“So…looks like you’ll have the place to yourselves tonight,” she told him, with a mischievous sideways glance at him. “Just you and Gibbs – alone together. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t, Tony!”

“Yeah, right. No chance of that,” he sighed. “It’s just such a waste, you know. Nice looking top like him, in his prime, five subs and none of us get to warm his bed. The man’s self-control must be…”

“Legendary. I know.” Abby nodded. “But he’s been burned in the past, Tony, you know that. All those ex-spouses…”

“Yeah.” Tony nodded. “But what happened before then, Abby? That’s what I want to know.”

Abby stopped and looked up at him. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve done some digging but I can’t get anyone to talk. Ducky clearly knows but won’t say anything, obviously, and sometimes I think Ziva knows – but if she does, she also knows that Gibbs will kill her if she says anything. Gibbs says he’s been married three times but I’ve found four marriage certificates…”

“Tony!” Abby was shocked. “Gibbs really won’t like it if he knows you’ve done this kind of checking up on him.”

“I know,” Tony sighed. “That’s why I stopped there. But all the same, it’s driving me crazy. Why is he lying about that? What’s he hiding?”

“I don’t know, but if he doesn’t want to tell us then we have to accept that,” Abby replied. She saw the look in his eyes and reached out a hand to touch his cheek. “You really like him, don’t you, Tony?”

“Just the challenge of trying to get into the pants of a top I’ve never had before,” he told her, with a wink. “Never yet had one who turned me down.”

Abby gazed at him, feeling kind of sorry for him. “Well, you do keep on trying. Maybe he’s the kind of top who needs to chase a sub – did you ever think of that?”

“You mean I should stop flirting with him?” Tony asked.

“Well…if you can. I mean, flirting with Gibbs does seem to be like eating and breathing for you so you might not be able to do it,” she grinned.

He thought about it for a moment. “I could try,” he said at last. “Maybe if I play hard to get he’ll come around, huh?”

“Maybe,” Abby said, although privately she thought it unlikely. Gibbs had been very clear on this topic when he’d collared her, and she was pretty sure he’d given Tony the same talk. “You know, Tony, first thing you did when those gunshots rang out this morning was push him to safety and throw yourself on top of him to shield him,” she said. Tony gave her a blank stare.

“Just a reflex,” he said, with a shrug.

“Okay,” she said, unconvinced. “If that’s the way you want to play it.”

“Don’t do love, Abby – never have,” Tony told her. “Tops always let you down in the end anyway.”

“How would you know?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Seriously, Tony – you’ve never been in a relationship long enough to have one cheat on you.”

“And that’s exactly the way I want to keep it,” he told her with a grin.


They reached Lorne’s door and she knocked on it nervously, wondering if he’d really be pleased to see her. He opened it and her heart skipped a beat. He was wearing a pair of faded denim jeans and nothing else – nothing on his chest, which was broad, smooth and well muscled, and nothing on his feet either.

“Oh…uh…” she stared at him blankly.

“Don’t know what you see in him, Abs,” Tony whispered wickedly in her ear, and she saw his eyes flicker appreciatively over Lorne’s attractive body as well.

“Is everything okay, Abby?” Lorne said, reaching for a shirt and starting to pull it on.

“NO! Uh…I mean, you don’t have to get dressed on my account – just stay half-naked…oh, shit, that sounded SO wrong,” she muttered. Lorne laughed but he held off putting the shirt on, which pleased her.

“What’s going on?” Lorne glanced from Abby to Tony, and back again.

“I was just…with what happened to Tim, I didn’t want to be alone tonight,” she murmured, feeling like a total idiot now. What kind of a needy sub turned up like this on the doorstep of the top she’d only dated a few times, and gibbered at him like an imbecile?

“Is Gibbs okay with this?” Lorne asked. Tony nodded.

“She’s just a bit freaked out – we all are. I think she could use the company – Gibbs and I aren’t much fun at the moment.”

“Would it be okay to spend the night here?” Abby asked shyly. “I think I’d feel safe here. Nothing hinky! Just to sleep – if that’s okay?”

“Sure.” Lorne stepped to one side and she tiptoed into the room, looking around her, then gave Tony a wave. He winked at her, a sexy twinkle in his eyes, and then he was gone. Lorne closed the door behind him, and then turned to her.

“You sure about this, Abs?” he asked, and she liked the way he called her ‘Abs’.

“Yes…no…just…” She was surprised to find herself crying. “Tim is one of my best friends,” she choked. His strong arms were around her in seconds and she burrowed her face into his bare chest, feeling like an idiot. “There was a lot of blood…I thought he was dead…”

“Hey, it’s okay. He’s okay. Doc said he’d be okay didn’t he?” Lorne stroked her hair softly.

“Yeah, but it all happened so fast…someone *shot* at us, Evan, at all of us. Supposing I’d lost them? They’re my family. And there was that crazy old lady on the mainland last week telling Gibbs he’d lose us all and I’m so freaked out. I don’t feel safe, Evan.”

He pulled back so that he could look into her eyes.

“I have an idea for something that would make you feel safe,” he said softly. “If you trust me? I think it’d work.”

“What is it?” she frowned.

“Do you trust me?” he asked. She gazed into his clear blue eyes and knew she did.

“Okay,” she whispered.

“Will you let me undress you?” he asked. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to – promise.”

“Okay,” she said again. She knew she wanted to sleep with him – she longed to feel his hands on her body, exploring and teasing her, but it still seemed like too big a step to take. Lorne wasn’t like the crazy people she’d dated – he was nice, and normal, and fun, and if she started subbing to him she thought maybe she’d fall in love with him, and that thought scared the hell out of her. “Maybe I’m more like Tony than I think,” she murmured, with a jolt of surprise.

“What?” Lorne was grinning down at her.

“Nothing. It’s fine. You can undress me,” she said, nodding firmly.

“Good…now…I want you to stand here, and close your eyes,” he whispered, and she felt his fingers brush some of her hair away from her face. It was the first little order he’d given her and she felt a thrill of anticipation, wondering what would come next.

She closed her eyes and stood there, swaying slightly. She heard him move around the room, and get something out of a drawer. Then he was back.

“Okay – open them,” he said, and she gave a little gasp when she obeyed. He’d turned the lights down low, and lit some candles. The room looked smaller, more intimate. She gazed at the bed, which was now covered with a crimson fleecy throw.

“I’m going to undress you,” he whispered, and she felt her body loosening in anticipation. “Keep your eyes open for this part. I’ll tell you when to close them again.”

He smoothed his long, artistic fingers over her blouse, and she shivered. He undid a button, and then another, and his fingers strayed beneath the fabric, stroking her gently. She started to relax; this was going to be good.

He finished unbuttoning her blouse, and then pulled it open and slowly stripped it from her shoulders. She was wearing a lacy black bra underneath, and he stroked the lace with his fingertips, gently smoothing over her breasts, pausing just for a second on the nipples. She gave a gasp and looked into his eyes, to find them gazing at her body. She liked the way he was looking at her – like she was special, but with the intent look of a top who really knew how to take care of a sub.

He traced the bra around her back and then opened it, expertly, and pulled it forward, liberating her breasts. Then he dropped the bra on the floor and stood back, gazing at her newly released breasts.

“I always knew they were pretty,” he said, in a throaty tone. She swallowed hard, unable to take her eyes off him. He reached out and gently touched his fingertips to her nipples, stroking just a little, and she moaned. “This okay, Abby? Tell me if you want me to stop.”

“No…it’s good,” she whispered.

He took her breasts in his hands and caressed them gently, rolling them with firm, strong strokes of his fingers. She relaxed even more.

“Okay…now…” His fingers dipped lower and undid her belt and soon that was on the floor too. Her short plaid skirt followed suit, and then she was standing there, in her panties, her knee high leather boots, and her collar.

He knelt down and unzipped her boots and then helped her step out of them. Next, he hooked his thumbs into her panties, and she shivered.

“Want me to stop?” he asked, pausing.

“No…s’good,” she said, wondering where this was going. He slid her panties down her legs, and she stepped out of them, now completely naked apart from her collar which she knew he wouldn’t touch.

He moved over to a box on the table and pulled out a length of rope.

“Stand still,” he told her. He placed the rope on her body, wrapped it up, under one breast, and then down the other side, circling her as he worked. Then he fastened it, pulling it tight enough that she could feel it firmly encasing her, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable.

“What’s this stuff?” she asked, caressing the strands with her fingers.

“Special jute rope for tying up subs in beautiful poses,” he told her. “I’m a devotee of Shinzoic rope bondage, Abby.”

“Really?” She felt surprised. “You don’t strike me as being a Shinzoic Grand Master or whatever they’re called.

“I’m not,” he grinned. “I’m not into all the other disciplines – all the leash etiquette and total submission and domination, and subs and doms moving as one being and all that shit. I just like bondage – and they do have some really cool ideas on bondage. You okay with this?”

She nodded, intrigued. She loved bondage as much as he clearly did, and she was intrigued as to where this was going. She had been tied before, many times, but usually with cuffs and chains – this was different.

“Okay then – let me show you what I can do.”

“You are full of surprises,” she said.

He grinned and continued circling her, pulling the ropes into patterns.

“I like the way it makes a sub look, Abby…I like the pretty patterns and how the flesh is visible between the sections of rope, squeezed here and there. All I’m doing now is tying you into position – another time, I could tie you a different way…a way that would make you feel vulnerable and exposed…but today, I want to make you feel safe. You like being tied, and this is a beautiful way to be tied.”

He continued criss-crossing her with rope, pulling and tightening in places, and she loved the little brush of his fingers on her body. He tied her arms down the side of her torso, and crossed the rope over and under her breasts, squeezing them a little in a way that felt really good, making the nipples bulge out and feel ultra-sensitive.

Soon she couldn’t move at all – she was like a mummy, bound and helpless.

“Okay – now I’m going to lift you and put you on the bed,” he told her.

He took her in his arms, and she couldn’t move so much as a muscle. He laid her on bed, encased in his rope, utterly at his mercy. He got on the bed beside her, and undid her hair from its usual pigtails.

“This should be free,” he murmured. “I want to see it sweeping your shoulders…like this.” He smoothed the hair down, allowing his fingers to tangle in the dark strands. Then he started stroking her.

It was the most amazing feeling to be lying here, in this candlelit room, completely immobile. She liked the way the ropes felt on her flesh but most of all she liked that he had put them there. The ropes gave her certainty, and made her feel coddled, like a child in swaddling. She liked the comfort and security it gave her.

Out of her peripheral vision she saw the knife on the nightstand and stiffened, feeling vulnerable again.

“Hey – it’s okay. That’s just in case there’s an emergency and I have to free you in a hurry,” he told her, stroking reassuringly. “I can have you out of this in about five seconds so there’s no need to worry – and you trust me, remember?”

“I do,” she said, gazing up into his blue eyes. He grinned at her, then lowered his head and took her lips in his own, kissing and sucking gently. She sighed, and relaxed into the bondage even more.

“Feeling a bit better now?” he asked, and she smiled.


“Good. Now close your eyes again. Don’t worry – I’m not going to do anything. But I need you to promise you’ll keep them closed – okay?”

She whispered her agreement and did as he asked, and she heard him get off the bed. He bustled around the room again, but she didn’t speak. She began to relax even more. The ropes were strong, encasing her in their firm embrace; she could let go and be safe here. She heard Lorne somewhere over the other side of the room, and a sort of scratching noise, and she wondered what he was doing but she kept her eyes closed. She felt herself drifting off, into a haze, lulled by the feel of the ropes on her skin, keeping her wrapped up tight. She was safe, she was safe, she was safe.

At some point she must have fallen asleep because she awoke to the sound of his laugh, and his fingers were on her skin again.

“Whaaa?” she muttered.

“You can open your eyes now,” he told her. She did so, gazing up into his smiling face, and he kissed her and then held up a large sheet of white paper. “This is you – how I see you,” he told her.

She gave a delighted giggle – he’d painted her as she lay there, fast asleep, bound from head to foot. Her pale flesh was rendered in pink swirls, and the crimson of the comforter was contrasted against the darkness of her hair. She looked so peaceful, her breasts squeezed in their prison, nipples poking through the rope.

“You’re *good*,” she exclaimed. “I mean, you can really paint!”

“It helps to have such a beautiful muse,” he replied. She laughed.

“You are a charmer, Evan Lorne.”

“Not really.” He grinned. “You really do bring out the best in me.”

“That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – can I keep it?” she asked.

“Sure – I did it for you. Now, are you feeling better?”

“Much.” She gazed at him for a long moment. “Evan…I…would you make love to me?” she asked. “I’d really like that now.”

“You sure?” He stroked the back of his hand along her arm. “I’m happy to just sleep next to you and hold you all night.”

“Yes…I know, you’ve been very sweet but this bondage is making me really horny!” she said and they both laughed at that. “And I remember you said some pretty sexy things about what you’d like to do to me that night we first met on the hillside on the mainland.”

“I remember,” he said, a wolfish look in his eyes. “Okay, Abby. Your wish is my command.”

He leaned over her, and she was suddenly aware of how vulnerable she was, lying here, completely at his mercy. He kissed her neck and then his mouth went lower, hot and warm on her flesh. He hovered over the tip of one pointed nipple, where it poked out between the ropes, and then he took the piece of flesh in his mouth and sucked on it. Abby moaned, her entire body trying to convulse around the ropes but she was stuck fast, and all she could do was enjoy the delicious torment. He moved his mouth to the other nipple, teasing that with his tongue, and she whimpered, wishing she could put her arms around him and pull him close, but she couldn’t. All she could do was lie there, encased in her rope, unable to move an inch.

“You can’t come until I’m in you,” he told her and she gave a sigh, promising herself that she’d do her best to obey him.

He moved down, mouth covering little areas of her body, sucking and kissing the flesh as he went. Her legs were closed, fastened tight, but he slid his finger between the ropes and found her clit. She gave a started shout, her body shining with sweat as he rubbed it slowly, never taking his eyes off her the entire time. She was wet now, full of need, but he hadn’t stopped tormenting her yet. His mouth roved over her entire body while his finger kept up that insistent rhythm between her legs.

“I’m going to die soon if you don’t get inside me,” she whimpered. “I need to…I need you…”

“Ssh…” He pushed her hair away from her face. “You look so beautiful like this.” He rubbed harder on her clit and she thought she might implode with having to hold it all in. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t come…it was a delicious kind of agony, and she loved it.

He looked down on her with those loving blue eyes, and then kissed her. She opened up her mouth as his tongue gently pushed in and then he started to kiss her more passionately while still rubbing her clit.

She could feel his skin against her own, his half-naked body pressed against her own fully naked body. The ropes seemed to have sensitised every inch of her flesh and she was whimpering in earnest now as the rough fabric of his jeans brushed her naked, bound legs.

He drew back, and smiled at her.

“Okay – you’ve been good,” he said, sitting up and unbuttoning his jeans.

She gazed, rapt, as his erect cock sprang out. It was hard, urgent and curving, but he didn’t hurry himself, despite his obvious need. He pushed off his jeans so that he was naked, and then slowly untied the bottom half of her bondage, so that her legs were free. Then he pushed them apart. She felt the release as a kind of agony and ecstasy. She’d loved being tied, but she wanted to feel him inside her so much. She was desperate to take him into her body and worship him the only way she could while she was tied and defenceless.

“Ssh.” He pushed her legs open and positioned himself between them and then she felt his cock nudging at her entrance. She tried to move her thighs to hurry him in but he shook his head and pulled back. “Uh-huh – you don’t move,” he warned her.

She bit back a moan of frustration and then gave a little squeal as he pushed inside her. God he felt good! His cock was warm and hard, and he pushed himself in slowly, inch by inch, filling her completely. When he was fully lodged inside her he lowered his head and flicked his tongue over her nipples again. The bondage had made them swell and they were unbearably sensitive so it was all she could do to stay still, but she knew that was what he wanted of her. She screamed, teetering on the brink, and he took pity on her and began thrusting.

“Can you hold on until after I come?” he asked.

“I don’t know…” she moaned.

“Try,” he ordered and she knew she’d do anything he asked of her. He kept up his steady, rhythmic strokes, deep inside her, his body pressing against hers with each inward thrust, stroking over her sensitised nipples.

“Oh god…oh god…” she whimpered. She felt him stiffen and saw from the look on his face that he was coming, and that was enough for her. She gave herself up now to the dizzying waves of pleasure that were assaulting her body and rolled with them, screaming out loud as she came, and came, and came.

She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, blissed out, but eventually she felt him clean her with a washcloth, and then he lay down beside her and pulled her close, still in her bonds.

“Want me to untie you, or do you want to stay like this a bit longer?” he asked.

“Mmmmm,” she replied.

“I’m sure there was an answer in there somewhere – just not sure what it was,” he chuckled.

“Mmmmm,” she told him, and he grinned, and kissed her.

“Okay. Got it. Let me know when you want out.”

“You, are definitely not boring,” she commented and he laughed.

“Neither are you.”

He held her tight, tight as the bondage she was wrapped in, and she closed her eyes. He was crazy, she thought to herself; crazy, exciting and creative – but also stable, protective, and kind of dependable. And he was in the military. And he knew how to do these amazing things with ropes and he loved doing it as much as she liked having it done to her. He could even *paint* for god’s sake! And he thought she was beautiful…It was like he was Gibbs’s perfect top for her, almost as if he had been designed from some special blueprint Gibbs had drawn up. Lorne kissed the back of her neck and she gave a deep, happy sigh.

“I feel really safe,” she told him.

“You’ll always be safe with me, Abby,” he replied, and she knew that was true.

Nobody but Gibbs had ever made her feel this way.


Tony leaned against the living room wall, reading his way through yet one more personnel file. The pile was going down but it was hard to concentrate on every single word in them. Sometimes he found he’d read a whole file but not taken any of it in. That’s when he sat down to read – his sore ass kept his mind firmly on the task. Gibbs’s daily spankings had been pretty severe since the whole Rodney Sheppard almost-arrest fiasco but Tony didn’t mind that. He deserved it for that screw-up, and at least it showed the boss hadn’t given up on him and still cared enough to make it count.

He glanced around the room to find everyone silently reading or working on something. Ducky was leaning back in the armchair, looking through his pages of notes, blinking owlishly through his specs. Abby was sitting cross-legged on the floor by the large balcony window, tapping away on one of those pads Rodney had provided for her, remotely accessing the data in her lab. McGee was sitting on the couch, legs up, arm in a sling, helping Tony go through the personnel reports. Ziva was sitting on the floor beside him, the back of her head resting easily on his good arm as she went through the interrogation data.

Tony gazed at them for a few moments, feeling a stab of envy. Ziva hadn’t left McGee alone since his return to their quarters. She was hardly the type to cluck over a sub like a mother hen, but she handed him his meds and brought him his meals and helped him around if he needed it, in a quiet, unobtrusive kind of way. Personally, Tony thought the probie was milking it all a bit too much – it hadn’t been as bad a wound as they’d first thought, and, apart from the sling, McGee was able to get around just fine.

Gibbs was sitting at the dining room table, files spread out around him, his poker face giving little away, as usual. Tony was a seasoned Gibbs-watcher though – in fact it was pretty much his favourite study, so he’d picked up on a few clues. He noticed the way the muscles tightened in Gibbs’s jaw occasionally and the sharp, jabbing movements of his hands when he finished with a file. All of them were frustrated by the lack of progress in this case, and the lack of access to their normal facilities back on Earth wasn’t helping, but the boss was feeling it worse than the rest of them. Gibbs didn’t like to fail and he *really* didn’t like people shooting at his subs.

Gibbs had already given them a long lecture about returning to ‘good old-fashioned detective work’, with a glare in McGee’s direction to make it clear that technology wasn’t going to help them much with this one. That was why they’d had to do so much lengthy questioning – and why Gibbs had them going through their notes and files for hours on end every single evening for the past five nights until he’d allow them some sleep.

Tony didn’t actually mind good old-fashioned detective work. His approach to his work wasn’t that much different to Gibbs’s – he listened to his gut and he’d happily work through the night on case files in the hope of making a breakthrough.

He turned back to the file he was reading and tried to pick up the thread of it again. He glanced at the dates, and then at the photo at the top of the file, and was about to fling it onto the ‘done’ pile on the floor when something made him look again.

“McGee…isn’t Colonel Beckett supposed to submit a sign-off when he takes anyone back to Earth on the Daedalus?” he asked.

McGee looked up. “Yes, Tony – there are dozens of sign-offs in these files. Some people don’t stay long – particularly the people in Rodney Sheppard’s department. I’ve been reading their exit interviews and they don’t usually have anything good to say about Rodney.” He picked one up from a pile beside him. “‘Rude, petty, obnoxious and utterly impossible to work with,’” he quoted.

“Yeah, sounds about right,” Tony said. “It’s okay, Abby,” he grinned as she glanced up, mouth open, ready to defend her beloved Rodney. “I know he’s misunderstood, has a heart of gold and all that crap you keep telling us but you gotta admit he’s hell to work for.”

“I found him pretty easy actually,” Abby said.

“That’s because you’re smart,” Tony replied. “Rodney likes smart. I’m guessing some of the people they sent him weren’t smart enough. Like this guy. He was only here a day, which is a record even by Rodney’s standards, and then Rodney threw him out of the lab saying he’d destroy the city if he had access to anything more than the sewage system, and even then Rodney wasn’t taking any chances.” He grinned, reading the notes in Rodney’s terse, irascible handwriting. “Man, Rodney really hates this guy. Which is strange, because according to his file he’s a top scientist who’s written a series of papers on exactly the kind of stuff Rodney wanted him to work on.”

“Your point, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, tersely. Tony made a face – Gibbs had been in a really bad mood ever since McGee had been shot and it wasn’t a good idea to keep him waiting, or irritate him more than was unavoidable.

“My point is, Rodney threw him out of the lab – but there’s no chit from Steven Beckett saying he was delivered back to Earth safely on the Daedalus.”

“Could have gone back through the stargate,” McGee commented.

“Uh-huh. Nothing signed by Chuck in the control room either – I checked the stargate rosters and he didn’t go back that way. Also, they don’t tend to waste ZPM power on routine transport.”

“Probably just an admin error,” McGee said. “I’ve found a few of those. What’s the date on it?”

“It’s…” Tony paused. “Ah. Okay. This guy arrived a couple of days after Elizabeth Weir died. Hardly surprising the paperwork is screwed up. She usually processed the returning personnel and arranged for them to be flown out on the Daedalus’s regularly scheduled trips. Admin was a bit crap for a few weeks until Richard Woolsey took over – and then it got really picky, with triplicate copies required for everything, and a whole new layer of bureaucratic shit to pick through. Uh, no offence, Ducky,” he said, with an apologetic grin in Ducky’s direction. He knew the ME had been spending quite a bit of what little free time he had with Woolsey of late. He assumed they were just friends because Woolsey was a sub but Ducky sure as hell did seem happy these days.

“None taken, my dear boy. I’m sure Richard is just doing his job the best way he knows how. Better to have everything well documented than poorly so,” Ducky said.

“Easy for you to say, you don’t have to wade through all the paperwork in the files,” Tony muttered under his breath. The admin error explained the lack of a chit, and he was about to throw the file down again when he paused, something holding him back.

“DiNozzo?” Gibbs queried, and Tony realised his boss was watching him like a hawk.

“I was just thinking though…supposing this guy didn’t go home? Supposing he was still here? Rodney wouldn’t notice – I think we’ve already established that Rodney is not very good at remembering who anyone is, especially if he only met them once, for less than a day. So this guy – uh, Robert Hancock – is supposed to get shipped back out on the Daedalus, but Elizabeth’s funeral takes place, and then Peter Weir commits suicide, and nobody is really picking up on that kind of thing, or checking the paperwork. So Hancock just stays here, wandering around the city at will, answering to nobody.”

He had Gibbs’s attention now – in fact he had everyone’s attention now.

“Hiding in plain sight,” Ducky murmured, gazing at him earnestly from behind his spectacles.

Tony gave a wry grin. “Works every time, Ducky – best disguise there is.” He glanced at Gibbs as he said that.

“Are you saying this guy is our murderer?” Gibbs asked.

“No.” Tony shut the case file with a flourish. “I’m just saying it’s possible. I mean…he’s filed in the ‘inactive’ section of their paperwork, so we haven’t even called him in for questioning because he’s not supposed to be here and that makes him the only person on this damn base that we *haven’t* spoken to. I’m only going through his file because you’re really picky…uh, I mean thorough, boss, and you insisted I even check the files of personnel who’d left the city.”

“Why would a respected scientist come all the way out here, get fired by Rodney Sheppard, and then start murdering people?” Ziva asked. “It does not make any sense. I mean – it would make more sense if this person had murdered Rodney, who had said all these bad things about him and sent him packing, but not random subs. I think your theory is flawed, Tony.”

“Yeah.” Tony was about to throw the file down on the pile again, when he stopped. “Unless…”

Everyone sighed, and looked up again.

“DiNozzo, I swear, if you don’t make your point soon I’ll gag you,” Gibbs said, exasperated.

“Sorry boss – but I was just thinking…why was this guy so useless? He was supposed to be a respected scientist, and I know Rodney is a scary genius who sets high standards for his staff but he’s never fired one in less than a day before. Maybe…maybe this guy wasn’t who he said he was? Who he was *supposed* to be. Maybe he was an impostor. Abby – can you pull up any pictures of Dr Robert Hancock – from, I don’t know, scientific journals or something?” Tony asked, going over to her.

“Sure!” She cheerfully typed away for a few seconds and then drew something up. Tony glanced at it over her shoulder, and then back at the file he was holding.

“Uh-oh,” he murmured. “Unless he’s had some really bad work done this is not the same guy. Robert Hancock looks like Frankenstein’s much less attractive older brother, while the guy in this picture looks…” He turned his head on one side, and grinned, “Kind of hot – in an older guy, Ricardo Montalban sort of way. Man, I had such a crush on Ricardo Montalban when I was a kid. Used to re-watch that Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan – the one where he’s the top gone bad – over and over again. Montalban’s got all these muscles and you can tell Kirk kind of has the hots for him but Spock isn’t going to have any of it, and…”

“DiNozzo!” Gibbs interrupted sharply.

“Sorry, boss. Here…see what you think.”

Tony handed the personnel file to Gibbs, and he wasn’t sure what reaction he was expecting but it sure as hell wasn’t the one he got. That muscle in Gibbs’s jaw twitched violently, and he got up, stalked over to Ducky, and handed him the file with a taut, jerky flick of his wrist.

“Remind you of anyone?” he asked.

Ducky peered at the photograph for a second, frowning, and then Tony swore he turned a shade of green, and looked as if he was about to throw up.

“It can’t be,” he whispered. “Surely not, after all these years!”

“It adds up,” Gibbs growled. “The medical experience, the fact he can fire a weapon with reasonable accuracy. Christ – even the way he left the bodies, Ducky! We said it looked like a message but we assumed it was a message for someone on Atlantis – not for us.”

“Us?” Tony asked, with a raised eyebrow.

Gibbs made an impatient movement with his hand. “For Ducky…I mean, damn it, now it seems so obvious. The bodies were already practically autopsied – how clear a message could that be that it was aimed at Ducky?”

“You said ‘us’,” Tony said quietly. Gibbs’s jaw did another violent twitch.

“The message was for Ducky – but the murders were aimed at me,” Gibbs snapped. “Or, more precisely, on getting me out here – to Atlantis. He had to kill three times, but finally they called in NCIS to deal with it. And now we’re out of our normal environment, sitting ducks for him to do whatever it is he’s planning.”

“Hang on – we don’t know he’s planning anything. We’ve been here a couple of weeks,” Ducky pointed out. “He could have struck at us by now.”

“He did!” Gibbs roared. “He shot Tim!”

“But why did he kill Jennifer Keller?” Ducky asked. “We were already here when she was murdered. Surely if the sole purpose of the murders was to draw us out here, then…”

“It was a welcome gift, Ducky. For you,” Gibbs snapped. “And I don’t think she was the person he actually intended to kill.”

“Then who was?” Ducky asked.

Tony wished they’d both stop talking at each other and start explaining things to the rest of them.

“Carson Beckett,” Gibbs replied. “Think about it; you’d spent a few hours with Carson the day we arrived, and you’d struck up a rapport with him. Carson is a Scottish doctor – just like you. Carson was supposed to be a warning to you, a statement of intent if you like. Now, he knew that Carson’s husband was going to be in his quarters that night, so he set the fire on the Daedalus – that fulfilled two purposes – it enabled him to steal a gun, just in case, and it was supposed to get Steven out of the way, leaving Carson alone and vulnerable. He didn’t count on the fact that they’d both have their radios turned off so Steven didn’t hear about the fire until much later. He broke into their quarters, found Steven was still there, and knew it wasn’t worth the risk going through with it so he left again.”

“My god…” Ducky whispered.

Gibbs got up and began to pace furiously around the room. “Remember Carson woke up?” Gibbs grabbed a file from a pile on the table and found the notes he was looking for. “Carson woke up because he heard something – someone breaking into their quarters – and he smelled something…”

“Chloroform,” Ducky murmured. “That’s what he used on Jennifer Keller – it has a highly distinctive and really quite strong smell. Are you saying that he intended to use it to knock out Carson?”

“Yes – then to butcher him and leave him for you to autopsy. His plans were thwarted, but he’s determined, so he went down the hallway looking for another victim.”

“He stopped by Rodney Sheppard’s lab…” Tony said, glancing at the file over Gibbs’s shoulder. Tony wasn’t sure where this was going but he could guess this bit. “Tried the door but it was locked – and Rodney alerted John. Not worth the effort killing Rodney, either, especially not with the possibility of General Sheppard on his way there – not enough time.”

“So he went to the infirmary – and found Keller – not the victim he’d intended but she’d do. She had at least had contact with Ducky so he knew her and her death would mean something to you, Ducky. That was the point – it had to mean something to you – to feel personal to you. He didn’t even have to move her body; he could do the autopsy right there. He must have been pretty pleased with himself for how that turned out,” Gibbs said tersely.

“But why would he do something like this?” Ducky whispered. “I mean…I know he was an overbearing bully, but a murderer?”

Gibbs stared into space for a moment, thinking about it. “I’m not sure. I know what my gut is telling me but I can’t be sure.”

“Does this guy have a name?” Abby asked.

“And are you two going to explain what the hell is going on?” Tony demanded.

Gibbs looked as if he was about to drive his fist through the nearest wall. He glanced at Ducky, who glanced back at him. Then Ducky gave a little nod.

“It’s all right, Jethro. You can tell them,” he said softly.

“Randolph Jordan,” Gibbs said tersely. “Our killer’s name is Randolph Jordan.”

“And he used to be my husband,” Ducky added softly.


“So you used to be married, Ducky?” Tony asked, as they all followed Gibbs down the hallway towards the conference room, to meet with Woolsey, General Sheppard and the command team on Atlantis. “And to a murdering psycho top?”

“Well, to be fair, Anthony,” Ducky replied, “He certainly wasn’t a murdering psycho top when I married him.”

“Psycho bit fits if you ask me though, Duck,” Gibbs threw back over his shoulder. Ducky winced.

“You didn’t know him when he was nineteen, Jethro!” he protested. “No…he really wasn’t like that at all. Jealous perhaps, very possessive, and a little bit overbearing but a murderer? No.”

He remembered sitting next to the tall, broad, incredibly handsome young top at the dissecting table for the first time during an anatomy class, and how Randolph’s big hands had wielded a small scalpel. He’d laughed out loud at how incongruous that looked, and Randolph had looked up at him and fixed him to the ground with those dark, brooding eyes of his. Ducky had felt a wave of sheer, physical lust that hit his gut with a force that almost knocked him off balance.

“Are you laughing at me?” Randolph asked, in a quiet voice. Ducky shook his head.

“Good lord no! Just at your hands! They need to make the scalpels in a larger size,” he said.

Randolph’s brown eyes remained fixed on him, and then his face broke into a slow grin. “You’re interesting,” he said. “I like interesting. Randolph Jordan.” He held out his hand and Ducky took it, feeling a surge of excitement.

“Donald Mallard,” he said. “Although my friends call me Ducky.”

“I won’t,” Randolph promised, in a low, intense tone. “I’ll call you boy, maybe, or pet. If you’re good I’ll call you Donald – but I’ll never call you Ducky.”

And that was how it had started – lord knows, if he’d had any idea of how it would end he’d have run out of that room there and then and never gone back, medical studies be damned.

They reached the conference room to find John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon and Richard Woolsey already there. Carson and Steven Beckett joined them a second later, and then Evan Lorne.

Gibbs filled them in as briefly as possible. Ducky sat there, wondering how it was possible for his whole world to have fallen apart in such a short space of time.

“I am so sorry,” he said, when Gibbs had finished. “I feel we’ve brought this upon you all somehow.”

“Not your fault, Ducky,” Gibbs said firmly.

“Why Atlantis?” Richard asked. “Why did he bring you out here? Why not kill people back on Earth if he wanted Gibbs’s attention?”

“Well, he always did have a remarkable fascination for the legends of the lost city of Atlantis, even back when I first met him,” Ducky mused. “I thought it was all a bit silly to be honest, but I humoured him when he spent a fortune on books and ancient artefacts and the like. Then when his older sister died in a sudden, tragic accident, he abandoned his medical studies and took over the running of the family company.”

“Jordan Tech,” Gibbs said tersely.

“Oh shit,” John sighed. “They’re one of the few tech companies that have stargate clearance. He’d have been in regular contact with some top level scientists and some of them would definitely have been working on the stargate programme.”

“Uh…it says on his personnel notes that Robert Hancock worked at Jordan Tech prior to getting the job on Atlantis,” McGee noted, holding up the file.

“And Randolph had more than enough money and influence to ensure Robert Hancock quietly disappeared, while he took his place on the expedition,” Ducky said with a sigh. “I rather think he was killing two birds with one stone – he got to see the lost city of Atlantis, a place he’s been obsessed with all his life, and he also got to lure Jethro here, away from the relative safety of NCIS. I fear it must be his plan for him to have revenge on Jethro for taking me away from him all those years ago.”

He felt Gibbs’s hand come to rest on his shoulder, and his top squeezed, gently. He placed his own hand over Gibbs’s, thankful for the reassurance.

“Randolph was very embarrassed when I took another top’s collar and asked him for a divorce,” Ducky continued. “I didn’t take a penny of his money although god knows I was entitled, but I didn’t want anything more to do with the man.”

“He still wanted something to do with you though,” Gibbs said. “He followed you, he sent you those letters…he used to wait for you to finish work and he’d try and browbeat you into going back to him. In the end I had to take out a restraining order on him. It’s still in force,” he added.

“I’ve been looking over my shoulder every day since then,” Ducky murmured. “And it’s made me extremely grateful for Jethro’s collar which at least affords me some protection. He’s never stopped trying to contact me, even after all these years, and even despite the restraining order. Jethro is all that keeps him at bay I suspect – he’s a coward at heart and is afraid of Jethro. I thought he had been quiet for the past few months. I suppose I hoped he’d finally forgotten about me.”

“Question is – what exactly is his revenge?” John asked. “I mean…he took a shot at McGee, but apart from that he’s left you well alone since you arrived.”

“I know. That *is* puzzling,” Ducky mused.

“I knew he was a crap scientist,” Rodney said.

“He wasn’t a scientist at all, I’m afraid,” Ducky said. “He didn’t finish his medical degree, either, although he did learn enough during those years he was studying to be able to accurately dissect the bodies of those marines, and poor Dr Keller.”

“Don’t under-estimate him though,” Gibbs said tersely. “He’s a smart man – he’s made Jordan Tech into the biggest and most sophisticated tech company in the US. He’s dedicated, pays great attention to detail, and is extremely ruthless.”

“So what’s his next move?” Tony asked.

“Arrest, hopefully,” Gibbs growled.

“I’ve sent his picture all around the base – he won’t be able to hide for long. He’ll need to come out to eat if nothing else,” John said. “And I already checked his quarters – no sign of him there, although it’s clear he was there until fairly recently. We did find this though.” He slammed down a piece of tech the size of a pea on the table. “His subcutaneous transmitter – everyone on Atlantis is fitted with one on arrival. He must have cut it out so he couldn’t be tracked.”

“What about your life-signs detectors?” McGee asked. “I know they won’t be able to pinpoint which life-sign is his but they could show if there’s a life-sign away from the main area of the city, hiding somewhere?”

“I did a sweep already,” Rodney said. “There are dozens of life-signs on their own – as you’d expect in a city this size – but none of them is anywhere I wouldn’t expect them to be.”

“I’ve sent a team of marines to track down every single lone life-sign on the grid and see who it is but that’s going to take some time,” John added.

“And I’ve sent a message to Earth asking for every detail they have on him,” Rodney said. “Should have the information back in the next databurst.”

“We’ll find him,” Woolsey said.

“I hope so,” Ducky sighed. “But Jethro is right – don’t under-estimate the man; I was married to him for twenty-odd years, and he’s a force to be reckoned with. What Randolph Jordan wants, Randolph Jordan gets…that’s why he was so upset when I left him. He’s not a man who can bear to lose.”

“Neither am I,” Gibbs said, in a low, dangerous tone.

Ducky shook his head, smiling wryly, and that was the last thing he remembered before everything went black, and his head hit the table.


“Wake up, Rodney.”

He felt a sharp slap across the face, and moaned. Something was fastened over his face and he coughed, trying to get rid of a foul taste in his mouth. He breathed, and his lungs became flooded with clean air and that woke him. He blinked, and as his vision cleared he saw a man in a hazmat suit, kneeling in front of him. The man slapped him again.

“I said, wake up. We don’t have much time,” the man told him. Rodney blinked again, trying to make out the man’s features. Then he realised who it was and he tried to scream, but didn’t get the sound out before he was slapped again, and this time the slap sent him flying sideways.

“I see you recognise me,” Jordan said.

“What are you doing here?” Rodney said, pulling the mask away from his mouth a fraction so that he could talk, and then pressing it back again in order to take another gulp of clean air. He looked around the room to see that everyone else was out cold. Gibbs was on the floor, Dr Mallard sitting at the table, face down, DiNozzo sprawled out beside McGee, and John… John was lying slumped over the table, his eyes closed, unconscious.

“John!” He got up, but Jordan grabbed him and slapped him again.

“He’s fine – and he’ll continue to be fine for as long as you co-operate with me,” he said. “If you don’t – I’ll kill him.” He pointed at the small incendiary device strapped around John’s throat.

“What have you done?” Rodney asked, aghast.

“Just ensuring your co-operation, Rodney,” Jordan said, with a macabre grin. He was a big man, really tall, broad-shouldered and imposing. “I’ve released a drug into the Atlantis ventilation system. It’s recycling so it’ll keep them all unconscious until I’m done. As for that bomb strapped around your husband’s throat – that’s for your benefit. It’s only small – it’ll probably only deliver minor burns to the people sitting near him, but if I set it off it’ll decapitate him – immediately.”

Rodney gazed at the man, horrified. “You can’t do this,” he hissed.

“I already have, Rodney.”

“There’s a lock-down system on Atlantis – the city will have detected any airborne…” Rodney began. Jordan slapped him again.

“I over-rode the system,” he said. “And you have got to learn to stop talking and start listening. God knows how your top puts up with you. I’d keep you gagged if you were mine.”

“You over-rode the system?” Rodney asked, and then he flinched, waiting for the slap. It didn’t come.

“Yes, Rodney. I know you had a low opinion of my work as a scientist, but I know a lot more about Atlantis than you might think. Besides, I’ve had three months to study all her schematics. I know how this place works.” And then he slapped Rodney again, so hard he fell over. “You’ll learn,” Jordan said. “Subs always do eventually if you hit them hard enough.”

“What do you want from me?” Rodney asked, panicked. His jaw hurt from all the slaps, and he was trying his hardest not to send his distress to his husband through the lifebond. He wasn’t sure if it would reach John anyway, as his top was unconscious, but he didn’t want his husband coming to and Jordan carrying out his threat to blow his head off.

Jordan grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him to his feet.

“I want an accomplice,” he said. “I have plans, Rodney – and you’re going to help me make them happen.”

“And if I don’t?” Rodney thrust out his jaw obstinately. Jordan laughed and gestured with his head in John’s direction.

“Then I guess your top will be losing his head,” he said.

“If he dies, so do I,” Rodney muttered. “We’re lifebonded.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll just wake up one of the other scientists if that happens,” Jordan replied, with a careless shrug. “I chose you because you’re the best, but one of the others will do. Nobody is coming to rescue you, Rodney. Everyone in the city is fast asleep – and nobody is going to wake up until I want them to.”

He threw Rodney a hazmat suit and nodded to him to put it on. Rodney did as he was told. Maybe he’d find a way to thwart this man’s plans later but for now he didn’t see he had any option but to co-operate. He watched as Jordan went over to where Ducky was sitting. Jordan paused beside the doctor, then crouched down beside him and gently stroked his blond hair.

“Don’t hurt him!” Rodney found himself saying and then he winced, wondering what the retribution would be for that but Jordan just shook his head.

“Donald is mine, Rodney. I’ll hurt him if I want but that’s not what I’m here for. Besides, he isn’t really the one I want to hurt.”

He got up, and went over to where Gibbs was lying on the floor. Rodney finished getting into the hazmat suit, and watched as Jordan crouched over the unconscious agent.

“He’s the one I want to hurt,” Jordan murmured, with a kind of twisted, gloating satisfaction.

“Are you going to kill him?” Rodney asked. Gibbs was out cold and vulnerable; Jordan could do what he liked to the man.

“Oh no.” Jordan smiled icily. “I don’t want to kill him. I want to hurt him, Rodney, and there are much better ways to hurt a man than by killing him. Ah…Leroy Jethro Gibbs…at last I have you at my mercy. It’s been a long time coming but they do say that revenge is a dish best served cold.”

He got up, and then delivered a savage kick to Gibbs’s midriff. Rodney winced.

“Let’s hope the pain keeps you focussed,” Jordan murmured to Gibbs’s prone body. “Because it’s only going to get worse from here on in.”


Gibbs moved his arm, and grunted. There was a foul taste in his mouth – he tried to spit it out, and then felt something being pushed over his face. He came to with a start and grabbed his ribs as he felt a sharp stab of pain. His battle instincts kicked in and he tried to push the mask off his face.

“Easy, Gibbs,” a Scottish voice said, close to his ear. “It’s just oxygen. It’ll help clear your head.”

Gibbs looked around, his vision swimming. “Ducky?” he whispered.

“No, it’s Carson. But Ducky’s here – he’s fine,” Carson told him.

“My ribs…” Gibbs winced. Carson pulled up his shirt and they both looked down at the dark bruise on his torso. “Where the hell did that come from?” Gibbs frowned.

Carson tested it gingerly with his fingers and Gibbs bit back another wince. It hurt, but it was minor compared to what he’d had in the past.

“Nothing broken – just a nasty bruise. Looks like you were the only one to be physically assaulted though,” Carson said.

“What happened?” Gibbs took Carson’s proffered hand and the doctor helped him to his feet. Gibbs looked around the room, taking in the troubled faces around him. He saw Ducky, sitting at the table, looking completely broken. “Ducky?” he demanded, “What the hell happened? DiNozzo?” He looked around. “Where’s Tony?” he asked, an icy sensation settling in the pit of his stomach.

Ducky shook his head, unable to meet his eye. Gibbs looked around frantically, searching for his agent, but there was no sign of him – and he wasn’t the only one missing.

“McGee?” he asked, and Ducky lifted his head to him this time and shook it again, almost imperceptibly. “And…” Gibbs made one last sweep of the room and then swayed. Carson caught him and helped him into a nearby chair. “Abby?” Gibbs whispered, feeling like he’d been punched in the gut. “Not Abby?”

Ducky nodded, mutely, his eyes glassy. At that moment Ziva came into his line of sight, and he grabbed her and held her for a moment. At least she was here. At least he had two of his collared agents still here – Ducky and Ziva. But why them? And where were Tony, Tim and Abby? Ziva held onto him, tightly, her body shaking, and he knew she was fighting to stay with them and not descend into the darkness that so often claimed her when she was upset.

“Defeat it,” he told her brusquely. “We need you operating with a clear head.” She nodded and pulled away from him, her brown eyes bleak.

General Sheppard strode towards him and there was something almost explosive about the man, like a red hot fire was burning inside him. Gibbs knew immediately.

“Rodney too?” he asked. John nodded, grimly.

“How long?” Gibbs choked, looking around at the dazed faces in the room. “How long were we out cold?”

“Twelve hours,” Ziva replied.

“Twelve? Twelve hours? Christ, anything could have happened in that amount of time!” Gibbs felt that icy sensation in his stomach freeze into a cold, hard fist.

“I know,” Sheppard growled. “I woke up to find a small bomb strapped to my throat – I was the only one targeted that way so I can only assume that was to ensure Rodney’s co-operation.”

“Co-operation for what?” Gibbs asked desperately.

“We don’t know,” John replied. “But there’s no sign of Rodney, DiNozzo, McGee or Sciuto anywhere on the base. They’re gone, Gibbs.”

Gibbs got to his feet. “Then we find them,” he growled angrily. His subs were in danger and it was his job to protect them. He stared right into John Sheppard’s soul, and saw the man was even more like him than he’d thought.

“We will,” Sheppard replied grimly. “And when we do…”

Yeah, Gibbs thought, when we do we’ll exact our revenge and it won’t be pretty – but supposing it was already too late? Supposing Jordan had already killed them? Tony, Tim and Abby – supposing they were already dead? Could he bear that? He remembered his CO bringing him Shannon’s bloodstained collar and the room swayed again. He held on tight to the table; his subs needed him right now and they needed him thinking straight.

“Any chance we can track them using those subcutaneous transmitter gizmos you implanted in us when we arrived?” Gibbs asked. Sheppard shook his head and pointed in the direction of the table, where four little transmitters were winking away happily.

“He cut them out,” he said. “The same way he did with his own.” They were only implanted just beneath the skin so that wasn’t hard.

“I think we can assume Jordan took Rodney for some technical reason,” Gibbs ground out. “He needed his expertise for something. Question is – what? If we can find the answer to that then we might find out what he’s done with Tony, Abby and Tim.”

At that moment a loud burst of static sounded in the room, followed by a high-pitched squeak.

“What the hell was that?” Gibbs demanded, but Sheppard just shook his head and ran over to the plasma screen at the far end of the room. It flickered, briefly, and then came to life, and Gibbs came face to face with a man he hadn’t seen in many years.

Those years had been kind to Randolph Jordan. His black hair was still thick, although Gibbs suspected it was now dyed. His brown eyes were still dark, brooding and intense and he looked fit, his broad shoulders and toned biceps testament to a man who worked out regularly. Gibbs walked slowly over to the plasma, transfixed.

“Is this working?” Jordan asked someone over his shoulder.

“Of course,” Rodney’s voice replied irritably, and then the scientist came into view. He was dangling on the end of a chain that Jordan had attached to his collar, his hands tied behind his back, a number of bruises on his jaw and face. “Yes, it’s a complicated comms feed and I had to do something quite brilliant to set it up the way you wanted it although it helped that you had…”

Jordan reached out and delivered a casual backhander that threw Rodney off his feet and onto the floor, a dazed expression on his face. Beside him, John Sheppard gave a low, angry growl, like a furious panther faced with someone harming her cubs. Gibbs grabbed his wrist warningly and John’s growl faded but his body remained tense.

“Ah…that’s better,” Jordan said. “I can see you now, Gibbs – and I gather by the expression on your face that you can see me.”

Gibbs nodded. “Where are my people, Jordan?” he asked.

“Safe. For now,” Jordan said, with a nasty little smile. “Possibly not for much longer but that’s up to you.”

“I don’t take kindly to people threatening my agents,” Gibbs said icily.

“Ah, but they aren’t just your agents, are they?” Jordan replied. “They’re your subs, Gibbs. Now, I want you to sit down and listen to me – their lives depend on it. Sit.” He waved his hand. Gibbs glanced at John and they both pulled up a chair and sat, arms crossed identically over their chests.

“Good. Now…Rodney has told me you’ve figured out my plan to lure you here, so let me fill in the gaps so we’re all the same page.” He gave another of those nasty little smiles. “A long time ago, Gibbs, you stole something of mine,” he said.

“Ducky didn’t want to be with you any more,” Gibbs said, but before he’d even got the sentence out of his mouth Jordan’s hand shot out and whacked Rodney on the jaw again. John Sheppard’s body twitched beside Gibbs, every muscle in his body hard and tense, and his mouth settled into an angry line.

“Please don’t interrupt,” Jordan said. “This is my story, and I’ll tell it my way, thank you, Gibbs.” Gibbs swallowed down his frustration and gave a curt little nod at the screen.

“Very well…where was I? Ah, yes, you stole something of mine, in the most humiliating way,” Jordan said. “And you kept him from me, poisoned his mind against me, and refused to return him to me.” Gibbs heard Ducky give a little whimper behind him, but he managed to refrain from saying anything, for Rodney’s sake.

“Now, I’m not sure what you recall of that night,” Jordan continued. “I know I recall every single detail. The way you came towards me, without warning, and punched me, with no provocation whatsoever. The way you removed Donald’s collar and replaced it with your own.” Jordan spat that part, and Gibbs knew that was what rankled with him most. “The way you ran off with him. Now – this is your turn. Can you remember what I said to you before you left?”

Gibbs closed his eyes, the years falling away. He remembered that he’d only gone to the party because the Director of the time had insisted. He hated parties; all that standing around, making small talk – not his thing. Randolph Jordan had been hosting the party at his mansion – he had just landed a big Navy contract and he’d invited all his husband’s work colleagues along to celebrate – the man did like to show off- and he and the Director were good friends.

Gibbs stood in a corner, brooding, watching as Jordan bossed Ducky around, ordering him here and there and pulling him up if he set a foot wrong. He watched Ducky go from the educated, interesting man he was to a gibbering wreck, stuttering to get his words out, fearful of his abusive husband.

Gibbs hated Jordan’s hectoring tone as he belittled Ducky, calling him an idiot. He hadn’t intended to interfere but there was something about watching an abusive top in action that made him go ice cold with anger. Being a top was instinctive to him – he knew down to his bones how to treat a sub, and what a sub needed – so to see someone mistake it for ego, bullying and abuse, and getting it so fundamentally *wrong*, hurt him. It was like someone scraping their nails along a blackboard – it set his teeth on edge and made him feel physically sick.

He endured it for as long as he could but Ducky was his *friend*, one of the few people to befriend him after his wife’s death. He’d made him feel welcome during his first few months at NIS, as it had then been called, and he was a good man. He didn’t deserve this.

“Oh for god’s sake, boy,” Jordan raged, as Ducky stumbled and spilt some of his drink on the floor. “Mop it up before someone slips on it. No – not with your handkerchief.” He pushed Ducky down towards the shiny wooden floor. “With your tongue. Maybe that’ll teach you to be more careful in future.”

He kicked Ducky on the ass as he went down and Gibbs really hadn’t acted consciously as he walked over there, body coiled like a spring, and swung his fist at Jordan’s jaw, liking the crunching sound it made as it connected, and the satisfaction of seeing a big man like Jordan go down. Then he hauled Ducky to his feet and placed his own body between Ducky and Jordan.

“I remember the night,” Gibbs said, snapping back into the present. “I remember you were a coward and a bully then, Jordan, and you’re a coward and a bully now. You killed three innocent people just to get us out here. And then you killed Dr Keller just as an object lesson for Ducky, didn’t you? To punish him for leaving you and get his attention.”

Jordan reached out and slapped Rodney, hard, and John gave another of those low, involuntary growls, watching the screen like a wolf, desperate to pounce.

“That wasn’t the question I asked, Gibbs,” Jordan snapped. “I asked if you remembered what I said to you that night.”

Gibbs nodded. “I remember. You told me that one day you’d destroy me, and take someone I love away from me,” he said.

Jordan smiled. “That’s right – and you replied that it had already happened. So I did some digging and found that was true. You didn’t have anyone left to lose because there was nobody out there you loved. Not then anyway.” There was something utterly evil in his eyes as he said that, and Gibbs felt that cold fist tightening in the pit of his belly. Now he knew where this was going.

“All I had to do was wait though, Gibbs,” Jordan continued. “It’s been a long wait. I watched you take various spouses, but you didn’t love any of them, did you? Just when I thought that this one might be different, that you might be in love with this one – you divorced and were onto the next one. Things went quiet for awhile – I checked up on you regularly and when I found out you’d been collaring some new subs…well, I figured there was a possibility you might love at least one of them. You see, I want to take someone you love away from you, Gibbs, the way you took someone *I* love away from me.”

Gibbs felt that cold fist in his belly unclench, and send ice cold blood surging through his veins, flooding his body.

“But which one to take?” Jordan asked, with a speculative look. “I thought it would be easy to tell but it isn’t. You don’t give much away, Gibbs.”

Gibbs felt the icy coldness seep into his bones, and settle there.

“So…I thought I’d try Plan A to find out. I had a Plan B, obviously, and you’ll learn a little bit more about that in a minute. But Plan A – that was the simple plan. You remember that shot I took at you a few days ago? The one that winged poor McGee? You’ll be pleased to know I wasn’t aiming at the boy – as you probably know, I’m a very good shot and if I’d wanted to hit him I could. I was aiming over his head but he moved his arm at a most inopportune time and got hit by accident. You see, Gibbs, I thought I’d be able to tell, in that split second of your reaction, which of your subs you love the most. I thought your reactions under duress would give away what you normally keep so close to your chest, and that you’d throw yourself towards one of them and that would be my answer. Unfortunately for me, I got the answer to another question entirely.”

He gave another little grin, and Gibbs knew he was enjoying himself immensely.

“I didn’t find out which of them you love the most because you didn’t have time to react before one of them rushed to protect *you*, instead of the other way around. So instead I found out which one of your subs loves you the most – dear, charming, impossible Anthony DiNozzo – but that wasn’t what I needed to know.”

“Tony was just closest to me that day on the pier – doesn’t prove anything,” Gibbs commented tersely.

“Ah, poor DiNozzo – he loves you so much he’d die for you and you can’t even see it,” Jordan said. “I took some footage of the entire incident, to study later, and he was closer to both David and McGee at the time I started shooting so you’re wrong there, Gibbs. You’re wrong more often than you think, I suspect.” He turned and slapped Rodney, who gave a yelp of surprise. “And please don’t interrupt again, Gibbs.”

Gibbs bit back the growl of frustration, aware of just how rigid John Sheppard had gone beside him. He hoped the man wasn’t so far gone that he’d be unable to help them in what was coming next – because he had the feeling that something was coming next, and he also had the feeling that he wasn’t going to like it.

“So I had no choice but to put Plan B into operation. It took a few days to arrange, but it’s all turned out very well. Now, listen carefully, Gibbs, because I’m going to give you a choice. Your subs are all well – for now. Here…see.”

He pressed a button and a picture flashed up in the corner of the screen. Gibbs got to his feet, and felt Ziva suddenly arrive at his side, her eyes fixed on the screen.

“This is McGee,” Jordan said, and Gibbs could just about make out the probie, lying on a stone slab somewhere, arms and legs tightly bound. He could see a splash of red on his arm and knew that his gunshot wound had opened up again. He couldn’t make out many details but McGee was clearly conscious and frightened. Then he saw the small device attached to McGee’s collar and he frowned. Beside him, John gestured at the incendiary device that he’d found tied around his own neck when he woke up and which was now lying on the table; the one attached to Tim’s neck looked exactly the same.

“I think you’ll recognise this planet, General Sheppard,” Jordan said. “You visited it some time ago – I heard about it from one of your marines. You’d be amazed at how much people are prepared to tell the crazy old scientist sitting in the corner of the cafeteria, drinking his coffee!”

“It’s PBX-250,” John said. He took a sharp intake of breath, and glanced sideways at Gibbs. Gibbs knew this wasn’t going to be good.

“That’s right, General. It’s the planet where your husband was nearly sacrificed by the somewhat savage locals – an offering to appease the Wraith. I’ve given them McGee – they were very pleased and plan to sacrifice him at sundown. So that gives you…” Jordan glanced at his watch. “About six hours, Gibbs.”

Sheppard nodded at Lorne, who put a call out on his radio.

“Not so fast, General. I wouldn’t want you to make any hasty decisions,” Jordan chuckled. “Not before I’ve had Gibbs make his choice.”

Gibbs took a deep breath, and nodded. Jordan clicked another button and a different image came up.

“Abby,” Lorne breathed.

Abby was sitting by herself on what looked like an island, hands and legs both chained behind her to the tree she was sitting propped up against, and, like McGee, there was a small incendiary device attached to her collar. She looked pale and scared, and Gibbs wanted to reach out, pull Jordan through the screen, and smash his face to smithereens.

“This planet is PMB-090,” Jordan said. “It’s a nice planet. She won’t be in any danger until sunrise…”

“I remember that planet,” Lorne said. “It’s the one with the deadly solar radiation.”

“That’s right!” Jordan beamed. “Sunrise on that planet isn’t for another…oh, six hours though, so if someone were to rescue her before then, she’d be fine. Of course rescue won’t be easy – she’s on an island some way from the nearest gate, and there’s some rather unpleasant wildlife. It’s fine during the day when they all hide from the radiation – but at night, well…it can get a little unpleasant. You might not find it an easy rescue but she should be fine as long as you get to her before sunrise.”

Gibbs wished he could talk to Abby and tell her she was going to be okay, that he’d never let anyone hurt her, but he was powerless. All he could do was watch while this man, this old enemy, taunted him with images of how he’d failed to protect his own submissives. He felt the failure on every level – as a leader, as a field agent, and, most particularly, as a top. Protecting his subs was his responsibility damn it! There was also a certain irony in this – he’d collared them in order to keep them safe, and it seemed that by that very act he’d placed them in danger.

“And finally…” Jordan flicked a switch and the image of Abby faded. “It’s DiNozzo. You know, Gibbs, I really don’t know why you keep such a badly behaved sub. I’m afraid I had to slap him around considerably just to get him to co-operate. He didn’t seem to like me hitting Rodney, either, and although he was very tightly bound, he tried to assault me. It was necessary to tie him quite brutally I’m afraid.”

The screen flickered and a new scene came up. Gibbs felt himself screaming silently inside as he saw Tony, lying in a room in a building somewhere. Like the other two, Tony also had a small bomb attached to his collar. Gibbs’s eyes were drawn to the bruises around Tony’s jawline and he felt his own jaw tighten. Tony was tied down to a steel hospital bed, thick cuffs fastened – too tight – around his hands, legs, neck, chest and midriff – and a sinister looking tube sticking out of his arm.

“I wonder how often DiNozzo gives blood?” Jordan asked. “Well, today he’ll be giving a lot of blood. He’s wired up to a machine that will automatically take some every hour, on the hour. Not much each time but enough that after, say, six hours, he’ll be dead.”

Gibbs felt his jaw twitch as he saw Tony pull, pointlessly, on the cuffs holding him down. “But don’t worry, Gibbs,” Jordan said. “I’m sending you the co-ordinates to his location. Of course, he’s at the bottom of an abandoned Genii complex, and there are some booby traps on some of the doors…but I’m sure you’ll be able to rescue him in time if you really try.”

Jordan flicked a switch again, and all three images came up on the screen, alongside Jordan himself. Gibbs surveyed his three subs blankly, giving nothing away in his facial expression.

“Ah – always the poker face. That’s what I like about you, Gibbs,” Jordan said, shaking his head. “But I think I’ll find the answer to my question. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I chose these three, and left Ziva and dear Donald. Well, firstly, I know that much as you love my dear Donald he’s not the love of your life – I note you didn’t marry him but you did marry elsewhere, so that gives me that answer. As for Ziva – she’s a top, clearly, and unless you’ve changed your orientation, that means you’re not interested in her in that way. So, that left me with your other three subs. Time to find out which one of them you love the most. Choose one, Gibbs. You can’t rescue all of them yourself, in the time allotted. You must choose one to save. And don’t think you can duck the question by sending others in your stead – you’ll have already noted the small incendiary devices I’ve placed around their necks – similar to the one I put on General Sheppard to ensure Rodney’s co-operation. Unless you set foot on one of the three planets where your subs are, within the next hour, then I will detonate them and kill all three of them.”

“I can’t make that choice,” Gibbs hissed, gazing at the three images on the screen. “It’s impossible.”

“Not impossible, no. Hard, I’ll grant you – but not impossible,” Jordan said. “Now – time for me to leave. You have an hour, Gibbs.”

And with that he cut the feed – but only to himself. The other three images stayed on the screen.

“Sir – we have audio,” Lorne said to Sheppard.

“They can hear us?” Gibbs asked. Lorne shook his head.

“No, sir – but we can hear them,” he said. Sheppard nodded and the audio came up.

“Songs,” Abby was saying. “I can sing songs until Gibbs gets here. What song though?” She licked her dry lips, and then gave a little squeak and looked around. “What was that? Oh shit…this place is so creepy.”

The sound from McGee’s feed was the sound of wild celebrating, as the villagers holding him captive whooped and jumped around the fire, anticipating their impending sacrifice.

Lorne switched to Tony’s feed. There was a sound of muffled cursing as Tony struggled with his cuffs, pointlessly, tugging and tearing at them. “Damn it, being tied up should be more fun than this,” Tony lamented, thumping his head back on the steel bed he was tied on. Gibbs shook his head, chuckling slightly despite himself.

“Looks like we can keep the audio and the visual,” Lorne said. “Should be a help in locating them, sir.”

“Oh he didn’t leave us with the feeds in order to help us,” Gibbs muttered dryly. “He left it to torture us. If one of them dies we’ll see it, hear it, and be powerless to help. He knew what he was doing when he left us with the feeds.”

It was all supposed to twist the knife in his gut a little bit more – and it was working. Gibbs made a vow to himself, there and then, that if he ever got the chance to twist a knife in Jordan’s gut he’d take it, and he’d be sure to twist damn hard.

“How the hell are we getting live feed from three different planets?” Sheppard demanded, turning to Lorne.

Lorne beckoned over a tall, bespectacled man. “We’re not entirely sure how he’s doing it, but Dr Conway’s got a theory, sir,” he said, nodding to Conway to explain.

“Well, first off, he has Dr Sheppard,” Conway said, and his face had a pinched look about it as he spoke, as if he really didn’t like giving Rodney that much credit. “And, as he tells us every five minutes, the man is a genius. Also, I’ve taken a look at the schematics of that Genii complex – we visited it last year but couldn’t stay more than a few days to study it properly because of the usual amounts of Genii radiation.”

“Figures,” Sheppard sighed. It all sounded like so much gibberish to Gibbs – he had no idea what they were talking about and he didn’t particularly care what the explanation was for them being able to receive the live audio and visual feeds. Jordan was a resourceful man and had clearly planned this meticulously.

“We think the Genii were using the outpost as a communications relay station,” Conway continued. “They were experimenting with Ancient tech to try and get comms through without having to dial a main gate, bouncing off signals from various different planets and handling them all through one central array. Maybe Rodney got that working.”

“Or maybe Jordan did,” Gibbs said. Sheppard looked at him, with a raised eyebrow. “I’m just saying, the guy did run one of the biggest tech companies on Earth,” Gibbs said impatiently. “He had to have access to all the latest stuff. Whatever – I really don’t care how he’s done it. Just give the man credit for being an evil, twisted genius – all I care about is my subs and all this talking is wasting time.”

John Sheppard nodded. He took Gibbs by the arm, and led him away into a corner.

“You gonna make this decision?” he asked, his intent gaze fixed on Gibbs. Gibbs was glad the man could put aside his own anguish at this moment in time in order to help them resolve the situation. He had a feeling John Sheppard was a good man to have on your side in a crisis.

“Looks like I have to,” he murmured. “But there’s a trap in all this. Whoever I choose – that’s the one he’s going to kill.”

“Maybe.” John shrugged. “But if you don’t choose one of them he’s going to kill them all. You could bluff him…”

“What – choose the one I care about the least and go after them so that’ll be the one he kills? I don’t think so, General,” he snapped, his entire body going cold at the thought of it. “I wouldn’t do that to any of ’em!”

“No. Damn thing’s impossible – I agree. So which one *are* you going to choose?”

“Sir…” He looked up into Lorne’s anxious blue eyes and Ziva’s dark, angry brown ones as they came over. “With all due respect, this isn’t a choice you have to make. I’d like to take my team and go after Abby, sir,” Lorne told him.

“And Tim is mine,” Ziva said firmly. “Teyla and Ronon say they will come with me.” Gibbs looked at them both, noting the strength of their feelings in their eyes. He sighed, rubbing his face wearily, and then nodded.

“Looks like DiNozzo is yours then,” Sheppard said.

Gibbs dropped his head and gazed bleakly at the floor.

“Oh yeah – DiNozzo is mine,” he muttered. Always had been, always would be. Just because he’d kept him at arm’s length didn’t mean he got to spare himself the pain of loving Tony DiNozzo. He had thought that keeping Shannon’s collar close and keeping Tony at a distance meant he’d protected himself, but now he realised he’d just been lying to himself and Jordan had caught him out in that lie.

General Sheppard moved briskly around the room, giving orders, and within minutes various teams had assembled and were kitting up, quietly and efficiently. Gibbs was impressed – he doubted he could have done better himself.

Carson came over, carrying a medical kit. “I’m with you, Gibbs,” he said. “Got supplies of DiNozzo’s blood type so the minute we get to him I can give him a transfusion.”

“Here.” Sheppard handed Gibbs a kit – vest, supplies, P-90, knife.

“I already have a knife,” Gibbs said. “Never go anywhere without it.”

“Then take two,” Sheppard replied, buckling on his thigh holster. “Can’t do any harm.”

“Which team are you going with?” Gibbs asked.

“Yours,” Sheppard replied tersely. “Way I see it, Jordan needs a base of operations and that Genii complex has to be it. So that’s where Rodney is.”

“You think Jordan’s still there?” Gibbs asked, pulling on his vest and fastening it with terse jerks of his fingers.

Sheppard shrugged. “Not necessarily. He’s got access to a stargate and can come and go at will. He could be somewhere else by now. Here.” He stuck something in Gibbs’s ear.

“What is it?”

“Audio – so we can hear what’s going on where DiNozzo’s being held. We’ll keep it as background in case the situation changes. Radio contact takes priority though.”

“Sure.” Gibbs nodded. He could hear Tony fighting with his cuffs again, and a few muffled curses. “Wish he’d stop struggling,” he muttered.

“Not gonna happen.” Sheppard shook his head. “My guess is the only top’s cuffs he’d willingly wear are yours – he’d always fight anyone else who tried to tie him down.”

Gibbs gave a wry shake of his head. “Yeah – that sounds like DiNozzo.” He glanced over at where Lorne was talking to his team.

“Don’t worry.” Sheppard patted his shoulder. “He’s one of the best. If anyone can get to Abby it’s him.”

“It should be me,” Gibbs muttered.

“It’s not. Suck it up,” Sheppard growled. Gibbs sighed, remembering that conversation he’d had with this man in the interrogation room a few days ago, where he’d been the one giving the tough advice.

“Looks like I’ve been out-topped,” he murmured.

Sheppard shook his head, a wry smile playing on his lips. “I have a feeling that day will never come, Gibbs.”

Ducky came running up to him. “Jethro…that databurst from Earth has come through with information on Randolph,” he said. Then he stopped, an anxious expression in his eyes.

“Bad news, Duck?” Gibbs asked, reaching for the knife Sheppard had provided and sticking it into his vest.

“I’m afraid so, Jethro,” Ducky sighed. “You know I told you that I didn’t think Randolph was capable of murder?”

“Yeah – but you’ve been proved wrong about that one, Ducky,” Gibbs told him.

“I know…but I kept thinking – why now? I mean, I know what he said about waiting until you cared about someone enough that it would hurt you to lose them but I felt that couldn’t be the whole story.”

“Okay. What is?” Gibbs asked, picking up the P-90 and checking the weapon to become familiar with it.

“Randolph is a wealthy man, a highly respected businessman with a lot to lose. He could have struck at you before now but I don’t think he wanted to take the risk. However, I took at look at the medical records they sent us…”

Gibbs looked up sharply.

“He’s dying, Jethro,” Ducky sighed. “That’s why he doesn’t care. He’s dying and he wants his revenge before he goes. No wonder he thought it was worth the risk – coming out here, impersonating Hancock, killing people to draw you out here. He’s got nothing to lose…”

“And that makes him very dangerous. I know,” Gibbs said, with a wave of his hand.

“It’s a brain tumour,” Ducky explained. “He’s always been a bad-tempered man but the tumour is pressing on the part of the brain associated with personality – and that’s making him worse.”

“So he’s insane as well as murderous,” Gibbs said, finishing with his uniform and snapping his radio on.

“Something like that, yes,” Ducky sighed. “Jethro…” He put a hand on Gibbs’s arm. “Be careful,” he warned. Gibbs gave a terse motion with his head.

“Can’t promise that, Duck,” he said.

“Then please bring Tony back,” Ducky said, beseechingly.

Gibbs felt that muscle in his jaw twitch again. “If I don’t…I won’t be coming back either,” he said, in a soft, low undertone. Ducky’s eyes widened. “Won’t lose two subs I love in one lifetime,” Gibbs told him. “Can’t. Tony dies…I die.”

“Jethro, no…please,” Ducky said, but Gibbs pulled his arm away and strode over to the plasma.

He surveyed the images on the screen impassively. He took in Tim’s pale face, and wide, frightened eyes, and noted the blood staining his bandaged arm.

Then his eyes flickered over to Abby, sitting in the semi-darkness, lit by a couple of low moons. Her arms were wrapped around her legs and she was resting her chin on her knees. Her eyes seemed huge and they were luminous with fear; every so often she’d twitch and glance around nervously as if she’d heard something that scared her.

Then, finally, he looked at Tony. His gazed, without expression, at the six or seven bruises forming along Tony’s jawline, the cut on his head, and the way his brown hair was sticking up messily. His gaze travelled along Tony’s arms to the cuffs holding him down; cuffs that were tied too tight. Cuffs that *he* hadn’t put there. He heard John Sheppard come alongside him; the general glanced sideways at him.

“I’m going crazy just about Rodney,” Sheppard murmured. “No idea how you feel having three of ’em out there.”

Gibbs turned to him. “We’ll find Jordan,” he said confidently. “And when we do – he’s mine, Sheppard. I know you want him for what he’s done to Rodney, but he’s mine. Got that?”

Sheppard stared him out. “I get a chance at him – I’ll take it,” he said grimly. “But if there’s a choice – you can have him first.”

“Fair enough.” Gibbs nodded.

“Look sir,” Lorne said, pointing at the screen. Jordan came into view on Tony’s feed, his hand wrapped around the chain dangling from Rodney’s collar.

“Knew he was there,” Sheppard snarled, gazing at the screen intently, and Gibbs knew he was cataloguing all the bruises on Rodney’s face, silently stowing the information away to feed the anger and hone his fighting instincts without allowing it take him over completely.

Jordan grinned up at the camera, and then turned back and fastened Rodney’s chain securely to the wall, before turning away.

“Any chance of letting me go, big guy?” Tony asked as he passed him, giving Jordan his most charming subby smile. Gibbs winced – that smile didn’t work on him and he sure as hell knew it wouldn’t work on Jordan – but then again he didn’t think for a moment that Tony expected it to. It was just bravado on his part.

“Oh, DiNozzo,” Gibbs sighed, as Jordan struck his agent across the mouth, hard, making his head clang back on the metal bed with a resounding thwang.

“I take it that’s a ‘no’ then,” Tony said, spitting out blood, his lip split open from the force of the blow. Gibbs had to chuckle – trust DiNozzo to always have the last word. He felt that icy fist in his belly clench again – his sub might have an indomitable spirit but everyone had their breaking point; what was Tony’s?

Jordan ignored Tony and glanced up at the camera. “I’ll be taking my leave now, Gibbs,” he said. “You have…thirty minutes to make your choice. I’ll be waiting.” And then he strode from the room, leaving Rodney and Tony behind.

“I’ll be there,” Gibbs said, in a low undertone.

He made his way over to Lorne, whose team was standing assembled behind him, ready to go.

“Bring her home, Colonel,” he said. Lorne stood to attention and gave him a salute.

“I will, sir,” he promised. Gibbs gazed at him, feeling a twinge of regret that it wouldn’t be his hands that freed Abby and brought her home. He glanced at Lorne’s hands, and remembered something Abby had once said to him on the subject. “They look capable,” he said, nodding at them. “And safe. Make sure they are.”

Lorne looked a little startled, but he gave another salute and then called his team and they left together. They were the first team due through the gate.

Gibbs went over to Ziva who was standing beside Teyla and Ronon, all of them now kitted up and ready. He took her head in his hands and gazed at her intently. “Bring Tim back safe, Ziva, and, if it’s what he wants too, you can put your collar on him,” he told her.

She gazed at him, wide-eyed, and he could see the gleam of hope in their dark depths. He didn’t think she needed the additional incentive but he wanted to give it anyway – anything to help keep her focussed. If she wasn’t focussed he had no doubt at all that she’d lay waste to that entire planet – and who knew if either she or Tim would survive that.

“Yes, boss,” she said, firmly.

He squeezed her head between his hands.

“Keep control of yourself,” he told her, glaring at her as hard as he could. She could do this – he knew she could. She just needed to stay in control of her dark side.

“I will,” she said, in a low, hoarse tone. “I promise.”

“Okay.” He kissed her forehead then released her, and started to walk away.

“Boss?” she said. He stopped. “Tony…” she began.

“Tony will be fine,” he told her, his back stiff, his resolve as cold and hard as the butt of the P-90 under his fingers.

He turned back to see the fear in her eyes – Tony, out of all of them, was the one who was in the most danger. The minute Gibbs walked through the gate onto the planet where Tony was being held Jordan would have his answer – and that made Tony the main target. Gibbs remembered that Ziva was Tony’s partner, and that the two of them had an easy rapport and a good working relationship. Of course she was worried about him.

“He’ll be fine,” Gibbs insisted.

“How do you know…?” she began. He turned on her, eyes blazing.

“Tony will be fine, Ziva! He won’t die because I haven’t damn well given him permission to die,” he said grimly, and then he turned on his heel, and, with General Sheppard by his side, he strode out of the room.


Tony twisted his head as much as he could so he could see Rodney. The other sub was crouching, slumped against the wall, his hands chained behind him, another chain attached to the collar around his neck and then to the wall. There might not be any love lost between them but they were in this together, and he kind of felt sorry for Rodney. None of this was his fault and Jordan had been using him like a punching bag. Tony had tried to intervene when he’d gained consciousness, but, groggy and unsteady, he’d just brought Jordan’s wrath down on himself. The top had backhanded him several times before he’d passed out again. When he woke up he was lying on a steel bed with a tube in his arm. And he was tied down tight; so tight it hurt.

He knew Rodney was awake even though the other sub’s eyes were shut, and he wondered if they really had anything to talk about. Rodney loathed him and he couldn’t say he blamed the guy. Maybe it would be smarter to stay silent. He thought about that for awhile and then opened his mouth – he’d never made a habit of being smart, no need to start now.

“You okay?” he asked.

Rodney opened his eyes and Tony realised that he hadn’t been keeping quiet because he hated him but because he was too ashamed to look at him.

“Yeah…I mean, no, but yeah,” Rodney replied.

“I can see the chain on your neck – are your hands tied behind you or to the wall?” Tony asked.

“To the wall – that bastard wasn’t going to take any chances.”

“Nope. Guess not.” Tony surveyed the cuts and bruises along Rodney’s jaw. “He sure does like his backhanders, doesn’t he?”

Rodney nodded, wearily. “I just keep thinking about what John will do when he catches up with him; it won’t be pretty.”

Tony snorted. “John won’t get a look-in if Gibbs gets there first. Rodney – can you fill me in on what’s going on? I know we aren’t on Atlantis any more and I can see there’s a tube in my arm, and a second ago I noticed it filled up with my blood. What’s that about?”

Rodney hesitated.

“Tell me. I can take it. I’m a big boy,” Tony grinned. His split lip opened up even more with the movement and he tasted the salty tang of his own blood again.

Rodney looked away from him, as if he was too ashamed to meet his eye.

“Sorry, DiNozzo – he’s taking blood from you – every hour on the hour. He gives you six hours unless someone shows up to rescue you.”

“Sick bastard. Gibbs knows about this?” Tony asked, frowning.

“Yeah.” Rodney nodded.

“Then he’ll be here,” Tony said confidently. Rodney stared at the ground, still unable to look at him. “Okay, Rodney, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Jordan has Abby and McGee as well,” Rodney replied. “He’s put all of you on different planets but they’re both in danger of their lives, just like you. Gibbs has to choose which one of you to save himself, and which of you gets someone else to rescue them.”

“Why the hell did Jordan do that?” Tony asked.

“He wants to find out which one of you Gibbs loves best,” Rodney muttered.

“Oh man. I see. Okay. Yeah, wow – that’s taking ‘sick bastard’ to a whole new level!” Tony chuckled.

“Still think Gibbs will be coming for you?” Rodney asked. Tony snapped his head around to look at the scientist, but there was no malice behind the question, just curiosity.

“Nope,” he replied, shaking his head as much as his bonds would allow – which wasn’t much. Rodney’s blue eyes widened.

“Who will he rescue then?”

“Abby,” Tony said confidently. “She’s his favourite – always has been, always will be. Besides…he’s been kind of pissed at me lately. And even when he’s not pissed at me I really wind him up. So definitely not me.”

Rodney gazed at him, and Tony found it kind of fascinating seeing just how wide and blue his eyes could get.

“Why was he pissed at you?” Rodney asked.

Tony laughed. “You were there!” he said. “You know…that whole nearly arresting you fiasco.”

Rodney coloured. “Oh. That,” he muttered. “You were such a jerk to me, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, well…it’s kind of my thing, you know.” Tony told him. “Being a jerk. People expect it of me. If it’s any consolation I haven’t been able to sit down comfortably ever since.”

“Gibbs punished you for it?” Rodney asked, leaning his head back against the wall with a weary sigh.

“Hell yeah. Big time. Although to be fair I deserved it. How about you and John? Did he take you down for that lie you told?” Tony asked.

“Yeah. Well, kind of,” Rodney replied. Tony craned his head to look at him again.

“Bad?” he asked.

“Yes. Well…no…bad but kind of a good bad,” Rodney said, with a slight grin.

“Ah, that’s the *best* kind of bad, Rodney!” Tony exclaimed. “I LIKE that kind of bad!”

Rodney shot him an amused smile at that, and Tony could feel the scientist’s distrust of him fading a little.

“It felt personal,” Rodney said, quietly. “The way you treated me that day.”

Tony thumped his head back on the steel bed, and gazed up at the ceiling, blankly. He wasn’t sure where they were but the run down room with the paint peeling down the walls was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

“Yeah, well, Rodney…maybe it was,” he sighed. “Maybe it was.”


Gibbs had never been through a stargate before and the effect was momentarily disorienting. One moment he was in the control room on Atlantis, then he was walking through what felt like thick, gooey water, and he couldn’t hear anything except for a buzzing in his ears, and then he seemed to be walking down a green-blue tunnel, before emerging, suddenly and unexpectedly, into a lush forest.

He took a moment to get his bearings and then saw Sheppard, Carson and the blonde marine Sheppard had brought along, waiting for him.

Sheppard checked the audio and then nodded. “Still got it,” he said, and Gibbs heaved a sigh of relief as he heard Tony’s voice in his ear and Rodney’s muted reply. At least they were both still alive – but for how much longer? He glanced around, looking for some kind of surveillance device that would tell Jordan they were here. Sheppard was already on it, and gestured with his head to a tiny hidden camera aimed at the gate.

“Looks like Rodney’s work,” he said. “Doubt Jordan did much more than order him around and tell him what to do.”

And slap him around, Gibbs thought to himself but it was wiser not to voice that thought. Rodney Sheppard had looked pretty beat up – as had Tony. Gibbs felt his world narrowing to a little point. He’d seen Tony beat up before, and while he was always aware of his own ice cold anger when it happened, he had never allowed himself to give in to that anger – in fact he’d barely ever acknowledged it. This was different – he felt pushed to the edge here. He was outside his normal environment, reliant on the help of strangers, using a stargate to travel from planet to planet and something he’d done a very long time ago had come back to bite him – spectacularly – on the ass.

“Well, he knows which one you’ve chosen,” Sheppard said. “So I guess the ball’s in his court now.”

“Yeah – and that means we don’t have much time,” Gibbs replied shortly. He kept one ear on the audio feed from his headset, waiting to hear it change, to hear Jordan re-enter that room and take his revenge on Gibbs by killing Tony, but there was nothing except for the sound of Tony’s occasionally ragged breathing and Rodney’s chains clanking against the wall.

“This way.” Sheppard read his hand-held device and began walking – fast – through the trees. Gibbs jogged along easily behind him. This was like being back in the Marines, and the memory of being part of a platoon working ops came back to him as if it was yesterday.

After about fifteen minutes they reached a clearing, and in it found the rundown Genii complex which consisted of three ramshackle old buildings.

“Problem?” Gibbs asked, as Sheppard circled around, looking at his handheld device the entire time.

“Yeah. There are three towers, sunk into the ground beneath each building…need to figure out which one to raid,” John replied.

“Underground?” Gibbs queried. John made a face.

“It’s a Genii thing. They just love being underground.”

“Any life-signs?” Carson asked, looking at the device over John’s shoulder.

“Yeah… ” John twirled, his face scrunched up. “Two life-signs – right at the bottom – long way down. That tower there.” He pointed at the rundown building furthest away. Gibbs started walking towards it. “But…” John began. Gibbs turned back. “Isn’t it a bit obvious?” John frowned. “Three buildings, two life-signs at the bottom of one of them, just sitting there waiting to be rescued. Supposing it’s the wrong building – but we don’t find out until we get down there?”

“You think it’s a trap?” Carson asked.

“He knows it’s a trap,” Gibbs snapped. “What he’s worried about is whether it’s also a bluff. No life-signs anywhere else?” Gibbs asked, looking around.

“Nope…but this building…” John pointed to the one closest to them. “It’s got more radiation than the rest – I can’t get anything reliable off it.”

“Bastard knew that – that’s why he brought them here,” Gibbs growled. “He wasn’t going to make it easy for us.”

“I say we go for the one with the life-signs,” Carson said. John and Gibbs gazed at each other. “It’s at least *something* to go on!” Carson said. Gibbs sighed, and rubbed his jaw.

“It’s your call, General,” he said. “You’re mission leader.”

“Okay then.” John walked towards the building with the life-signs. “Maybe I’m over-complicating things, and Carson’s right – at least it’s something.”

Sheppard pulled the ramshackle door off at the hinges. On the outside, the building looked like a rundown agricultural barn, but inside it was overgrown with weeds.

“Looks like someone’s been here recently.” Gibbs pointed at the disturbed vegetation around a large trap door.

“Yeah. Could still be a bluff though,” John said. He reached the trap door and waved the blonde marine over. “Cadman – this one booby trapped?” he asked. She knelt down beside it, reaching for a bag of equipment.

“Major Cadman is an explosives expert,” Carson told Gibbs. “The best I’ve met. She’s also one of the mouthiest and most annoying subs I’ve ever met,” he added with a grin. “Hard as nails and bossy as hell – I thought she was a top for almost a year after we arrived until she tried to seduce me one time – well it was kind of her. I mean it *was* her but she was in someone else’s body at the time – uh, long story.”

Gibbs grunted. He’d known the blonde marine was a sub the minute he’d been introduced to her but he knew not everyone had his knack for instinctively picking up orientation on sight. Then the last part of Carson’s sentence penetrated his brain and he turned, frowning.

“She was in someone else’s body?” he queried. Carson made a face at him and pointed at John.

“We don’t talk about it,” he signed with his hands.

John turned. “Are you talking about that thing we don’t talk about?” he asked.

Carson grimaced. “No. Definitely not,” he said firmly.

“Glad to hear it.” John turned back to Cadman.

“It was Rodney,” Carson whispered to Gibbs. “She was in Rodney’s body and she kissed me. John didn’t, uh, react very well…”

Gibbs had no doubt that was a massive understatement. He wondered how the hell he’d ended up here, in a galaxy so far from home, with people who routinely battled vampire-like aliens and swapped bodies, for god’s sake. And now his subs were scattered over three planets, each of them in three different kinds of deadly peril – you couldn’t make it up. It was all so insane that he’d have laughed his head off if it wasn’t all so close to home.

How were the others doing, he wondered? How were his other subs, and the people he’d sent to rescue them? Would they make it back alive? He remembered the words of the Athosian prophetess, Mara. Was she right? Would he lose them all – all except one? And if so – who would survive? Ducky was the only one of his subs who was safe on Atlantis right now – maybe he’d lose all the others. His gut clenched at the thought – he had already told Ducky he didn’t intend to go back if Tony died and he meant it. There was no way he’d be leaving at all if he lost four of his subs, prophecy be damned.

He jerked slightly as he heard voices in his ear – Rodney and Tony were talking. It was good to hear Tony’s voice again. He could tell by the expression in Sheppard’s eyes that he was listening too – and they glanced at each other for a moment, sharing the same sense of relief at hearing their subs speak.

Cadman found some wires, traced them back to some C4 explosive, and effortlessly disarmed the small bomb attached to the trapdoor.

“Well Jordan said there were booby traps,” Sheppard murmured. “Question is – would he bother trapping the building they’re not in as a bluff?”

“Question also is – how many are there?” Gibbs asked. “Looking at these schematics you dug out of your database there are seventeen levels to this place, all of them accessible only by one door at the end of each staircase. If he’s booby-trapped all seventeen of them then it’ll take us longer than six hours to get there.”

“We’ll get there. Cadman does her best work under pressure, don’t you, Major?” Sheppard told her with a grim smile. “She’ll be faster next time.”

She’d been pretty fast this time, Gibbs thought, but Sheppard clearly knew his people and she looked like she relished the challenge.

“Yes, sir!” she said sharply.

Sheppard pulled open the trap door and they went down a narrow metal staircase and then walked along a featureless dark corridor.

They reached the door at the end and Cadman set to work again.

Gibbs leaned back against the wall, caressing the butt of his P-90. It wasn’t a familiar gun for him, but he liked the way it felt in his hands. There was another bomb attached to the next door; Cadman located it quickly and efficiently but he could see the sweat beading her brow as she worked, hands moving fast over the wiring.

“Don’t worry,” Sheppard told him in an undertone. “We’ll get there in time. Your boy won’t bleed out on my watch.”

Gibbs took a sharp intake of breath. He’d been deliberately not thinking about Tony, lying on that steel bed with the blood draining out of his veins, because he needed to stay focussed. They all watched as Cadman worked. Gibbs listened to Tony and Rodney talk in his earpiece, glad of the sound of Tony’s voice, reassuring him that his sub was still alive. He hated it when there was a silence and wished he could order Tony to keep talking, but he didn’t know Gibbs was listening so there was little Gibbs could do except ride out the silences.

“Still think Gibbs will be coming for you?” Rodney’s voice.

“Nope.” Tony.

“Who will he rescue then?”

“Abby. She’s his favourite – always has been, always will be. Besides…he’s been kind of pissed at me lately. And even when he’s not pissed at me I really wind him up. So definitely not me.”

John gazed at Gibbs dispassionately. Gibbs gazed back at him just as blank-faced but he felt as if he’d been on the receiving end of one of Jordan’s backhanders by the tone of utter certainty in Tony’s voice. Was Tony right, he thought to himself? Would he have chosen Abby? If he’d had a real choice, is that what he’d have done? If it was down to his feelings alone, would it have been Abby? He felt the most protective towards her – she was the only one of the three of them who wasn’t a trained field agent, and besides…she was like a daughter to him. She was a lot older than Kelly would have been, if she hadn’t been killed, but there was something about her that brought out all his paternal instincts. He loved her – but then he loved all his subs.

He thought of Tim, who was so smart it was scary, and so totally not smart when it came to tops; who lived out his entire life in fear that someone would guess that he’d never yet gone to a top’s bed. It wasn’t such a dark secret, Gibbs thought wryly, when he remembered the many dark secrets he’d kept over the years. He hadn’t told any of his agents about his first wife, his daughter, or how they’d died. Ducky knew, obviously, and Ziva knew, but only because she’d done a dossier on him before she joined NCIS. Nobody else knew. Just like nobody knew he’d tracked down the man who’d killed them and emptied his gun into him. Yet poor Tim tortured himself about his much more innocent secret all the same. He had always had a soft spot for the probie; would he have gone for Tim?

Then there was Tony. Tony who never let anyone get really close, who used misdirection like his own secret superpower. Tony who had told him dozens of stories about the same events in his life, all of them with a slightly different emphasis, so it wasn’t easy figuring out what was true and what was just Tony’s sleight of hand. Tony who he knew he loved, who he’d loved for years without doing a damn thing about it. And Tony who, right now, was absolutely certain that Gibbs didn’t love him at all. Gibbs thumped his head back against the wall. This hurt. This hurt as much as Jordan must have hoped it would hurt.

“Why was he pissed at you?”

“You were there! You know…that whole nearly arresting you fiasco.”

“Oh. That. You were such a jerk to me, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, well…it’s kind of my thing, you know. Being a jerk. People expect it of me. If it’s any consolation I haven’t been able to sit down easily ever since.”

“How’s it coming along, Cadman?” Sheppard asked. It felt claustrophobic in that small corridor, the three men lined along the side, Cadman working away at the door. Gibbs clamped down hard on his raging impatience; this one was taking a lot longer than the first.

“Nearly there, sir – this one’s a doozy,” she replied. Gibbs fought, with all his self-control, to stay focussed. They were just standing here while down below them, a very long way down, Tony was bleeding to death.

“Gibbs punished you for it?”

“Hell yeah. Big time. Although to be fair I deserved it. How about you and John? Did he take you down for that lie you told?”

“Yeah. Well, kind of.”


“Yes. Well…no…bad but kind of a good bad.”

Gibbs watched as John gave a wry grin at that. He wondered, idly, what he’d have done if it had been Tony telling the lie, and he who had to punish it. He was sure he could be suitably creative but finding the right way to handle a sub wasn’t always easy. Was that the kind of lie Tony would tell, he wondered? A lie to protect his top? He didn’t think so – he knew that what Gibbs hated more than anything else was his subs lying to him. Then he remembered what Jordan had said about Tony’s first instinct being to protect him when they’d been shot at. Maybe Tony *would* lie to him…maybe Tony *had* been lying to him, for a very long time, about something very important.

“Ah, that’s the *best* kind of bad, Rodney. I LIKE that kind of bad!”

John gave a little snort of amusement. “Your boy is funny, Gibbs. I’ll give him that,” he murmured.

“Yeah. DiNozzo is a regular comedian,” Gibbs commented dryly.

“It felt personal. The way you treated me that day.”

“Yeah, well, Rodney…maybe it was. Maybe it was.”

Gibbs tightened his hands around his gun. Jordan had to know they were here – so what was his plan? Why was he waiting? Why didn’t he just go straight in there and do whatever it was he intended to do to Tony? He had a feeling he was being played, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit.

“Why? What did I ever do to you?”

“Nothing. Just…watching you with John…I guess I was kind of jealous.”

Gibbs frowned.

“He loves you, Rodney. No, he’s *crazy* about you. All that lifebonding, sharing a plate stuff. You’ve latiqued your entwined initials on your arms! Then there’s the matching pendants, and that handmade wedding collar he crafted for you and the way he looks at you…”


“Figured it out now?”

“But Gibbs loves you, right? I mean, he collared you?”

“Rodney, in case you haven’t noticed Gibbs has collared a lot of subs. I’m nothing more to him than one more sub to rescue, and he never promised me anything more than that, to be fair. I’m the one who screwed up the deal by falling in love with him.”

Gibbs lowered his head and stared at the floor, unblinking. There, now it had been said, and he couldn’t keep pretending he didn’t know the truth of it any more.

“You told him any of this?”

“No, Rodney – like I said, I knew the deal when he collared me. He’s not in love with me, and he’s never gonna be in love me and that’s fine. It’s my problem – not his.”

“Wow,” John said, raising a wry eyebrow at Gibbs. “When that boy of yours gets something wrong, he really gets it wrong, doesn’t he?”

“All part of the DiNozzo charm,” Gibbs sighed, shaking his head. “How did you know?” he asked, because he thought this was one particular secret he’d hidden pretty well.

Sheppard’s handsome face broke into a grin. “‘Cause he’s trouble,” he said. “And you’re like me – you *like* trouble.”

Gibbs gave an amused grunt. “Rodney’s a handful, huh?”

“Yeah – and that’s what makes him so much fun,” Sheppard said, with a wink. “Just like DiNozzo. Besides – you’re here, aren’t you? You telling me you’d have let anyone else – and I mean *anyone* else come rescue him? I don’t care what you said about it not being a choice – it was. Lorne and David made it easy for you, but it was still a choice, Gibbs. You made it, even though you didn’t know you were making it. He’s the one you’re in love with – and I don’t even think that’s a surprise to you, is it?”

“Hell no.” Gibbs shook his head. Sheppard gave him a strange look.

“So, question is – why’s it gonna be such a surprise to him?” he asked.


Ziva made her way down to the jumper bay with Ronon and Teyla walking beside her, and a handful of Sheppard’s marines at their heels. She might not have known Teyla and Ronon for very long but she trusted them, implicitly. They felt like good companions to have in such a battle – both of them warriors, like herself.

She tried not to think about Tim. Gibbs had told her to stay focussed and if she thought about him she felt the darkness inside threatening to rise up and overwhelm her. She’d gone slowly with him these past few days, as Gibbs had advised, gentling him, taking care of him, making no claims on him. She knew now that she wanted to take him as her sub one day but only when he was ready, and that might take some time.

It made a change not to bed a sub and take what she wanted from them, hard and savage, without getting to know them first. She found that she liked the gentle pace, the slow build-up, and the sense of pride she felt that he was learning to trust her. She would take him places he had only dreamed of, she promised herself. She would show him how good it could be to surrender his body, heart and soul to the will of a top who loved him. She would coax and tease the best from him, until he was eating out of her hand. It would be so much more satisfying than all those nights of angry, empty sex. But first…first she had to bring him home safely.

They reached the bay and the marine Sheppard had assigned to pilot them went to the controls. Ziva followed him.

“Wait!” a voice called out, and she turned to see a young woman running up behind them, armed to the teeth.

“Kahla?” she frowned. “What are you doing here?”

“I was in the city awaiting combat training with Teyla and got knocked out with the gas, same as everyone else,” Kahla said. “Someone told me what was happening and I…” She stopped, looking a little nervous, and then glanced at Teyla, who nodded to her that she should continue. “I wanted to help,” she said firmly. “I am a good fighter, Ziva, and you need all the good fighters you can get.”

“I have good fighters and you owe me nothing,” Ziva told her, turning. Kahla placed a hand on her arm.

“Then I would like to help as a friend,” she said softly. Ziva turned back to see something in Kahla’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. She glanced at Teyla, who smiled.

“Kahla and I have had many talks these past few days,” she said. “Kahla has chosen who she wishes to be, Ziva – as have you I believe,” she murmured.

“We are going to rescue someone I love,” Ziva told Kahla. “His name is Tim McGee, and, if – *when* – I bring him home, if he is willing, I will collar him. Do you still wish to come with us, Kahla?”

Kahla gazed at her from fierce, proud eyes. “It would be my honour,” she said, bowing her head in that Athosian way. “Will you accept my help, Ziva?”

Ziva felt surprised that anyone would risk their life to help her. She had only known these people a couple of weeks but they had chosen to come with her and help her fight for her submissive. She liked their company, the simplicity of their friendship, and the knowledge that they were warriors in their souls, just like her, and had done battle with their own demons to be at ease with who they were – just as she had.

“I will, Kahla,” she said, touched. “And – thank you.”


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