The First Collar: 3. Part Three


It was late by the time Gibbs got home. He’d kept the new kid hard at it and had only let him go when he was sure that DiNozzo had learned the basics. Gibbs had covered the finer points of filing by leaving a stack of it on DiNozzo’s desk and not letting him have lunch until he’d completed it to his satisfaction. Then he’d given him two hours to read the NCIS handbook from cover to cover, after which he’d fired off a series of test questions. The penalty for a wrong answer was a head-slap, and once he realized that DiNozzo proved to be a quick study. He was clearly quick at thinking on his feet and just as quick at making smart-assed replies – to his cost at times, but much to Gibbs’s amusement.


Gibbs suspected his new recruit was nursing a bad headache after his first day at work, but the kid had also looked a hundred times happier when he’d left the building than when he’d arrived.


Gibbs couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a satisfying day at work himself. He whistled to himself as he found some leftover take out in the fridge and heated it up. He wasn’t sure why he was in such a good mood – he just knew that for the first time in a long time he felt cheerful. His gut also seemed pretty happy with the decision he’d taken to hire Tony DiNozzo. The kid was clearly trouble, and Gibbs was sure the way ahead would be rocky at times, but it felt right despite that.


He went upstairs to his bedroom and changed into a pair of sweats ready to spend the evening working on his boat. However, for some reason he hesitated before going back downstairs, and he found himself glancing in the direction of his nightstand instead.


He sat down on the side of the bed and opened his nightstand drawer. Inside was a little black box, and he took it out and held it for a moment. He hadn’t gotten this box out in a long time, and he had no idea why he was getting it out now. Then he recalled how his gut had flipped when he’d first met DiNozzo, reminding him of…the first time he’d met a beautiful young submissive called Shannon Fielding.


Gibbs closed his eyes. He had seen her before, in the clothes store near his fathers’ shop back in Stillwater. She’d been dressing one of the shop window models, and he’d been drawn to her.


Then he’d seen her again, when he’d got into a stupid fight with a couple of other tops. He often gotten into fights with other tops back then. They took exception to his extremely toppy way of moving and talking. They viewed him as a challenge, perhaps because they thought he was the kind of top who would take their subs away from them – if they had any. Neither of those two boneheads he’d been fighting back then even had a sub, but they’d picked a fight with him all the same.


He’d been too much of a hothead back then, before the Corps, to know how to walk away from trouble. Hell, he’d embraced trouble! He found it easier to talk with his fists. He’d lost count of the number of whippings he’d taken, both at school and from one of his fathers, because he couldn’t keep his temper or back down from a fight. He’d learned though, eventually, the hard way. The Corps was good at teaching those kinds of lessons.


Gibbs remembered how he’d fought those two tops, taken a few punches in the process, and then stormed off…brushing past a beautiful, red-haired sub as she came over to see what the commotion was all about. His entire body had tingled as he walked past her. Then a few days later he’d been waiting to catch a train and looked up to find her standing there, looking down on him.


“What were you and those tops fighting about?” she asked.


He wasn’t sure words would actually come out of his mouth for him to make a coherent reply. “I don’t even remember,” he said at last, feeling like an idiot. He’d felt overwhelmed around some subs before, but never like this. His throat was dry and the palms of his hands were sweating.


“You should stop,” she advised. His fathers and his school principal had been telling him the same thing for years, and he never took any notice, but when she said it somehow it made sense. He didn’t know how to tell her that though, so he said nothing.


“Are you waiting for the train too?” she asked.


He nodded. “We could sit together?” he ventured shyly.


“I don’t know…it’s a long ride.” But she had. She’d sat with him the entire way, and they’d talked. He’d never been that great at talking to anyone before but talking was easy with Shannon.


He’d known instinctively that somehow his dynamic and hers fit together. She was tough and feisty; she’d call him on any crap and make him into the top he had the potential to be. As he talked to her, all he could think about was how beautiful it would be to hold her in his arms and find the submission inside her. He could take her there, to that beautiful place, he was sure of it. He longed to be the top who did that for her. He wanted to be the one who took her down and gave her that part of herself. And in the process he’d open up a part of his own self, one he’d never shared with anyone.


She seemed to like what she saw of him, and by the time their train journey together ended he’d been bold enough to slide his hand around her wrist and hold it gently captive. And she’d let him. She’d even smiled at him.


There had been obstacles; ones he hadn’t foreseen. Shannon came from a well-to-do family, and she had an over-protective dominant mother; very over-protective and very dominant. Joanne Fielding had made his life difficult from the start. The minute she first set eyes on him her lips had thinned, and she’d responded to him as so many tops did – as a threat.


“Oh, now I understand what all the fuss is about,” she said, glaring at him as he stood there in his Marine uniform, trying his best to look like the kind of responsible top any parent would be glad their child had brought home. “Now I can see why you turned her head. Well, let me tell you something, boy – my daughter is talented. She’s going to be a fashion designer. She’s not going to get trapped into taking the collar of some penniless shopkeeper’s son from a place like Backwater.” He knew she’d got the name wrong on purpose. “If you think a *soldier* is good enough for my beautiful girl, then you have another think coming.”


Gibbs stared her down. “It’s Stillwater,” he growled. “And I’m a Marine, Ma’am, not a *soldier*. I also take a lot of pride in where I was born, who my parents are, and who I am.”


Joanne didn’t take kindly to being answered back, but she did at least recognize a formidable opponent when she saw one.


“I can’t stop my daughter seeing you – Shannon is far too headstrong for that. But if you lay a finger on her before she’s collared, then I swear it’ll be the last thing you do.”


“I wouldn’t touch any sub I hadn’t collared!” Gibbs flung back, and that was true. He’d had some sexual play at high school, but he’d never truly dominated or had full sex with anyone. He wasn’t the kind of top who slept with a sub unless he’d collared them; he was old–fashioned that way.


Gibbs opened up the little box and looked at the collar inside. Things had been different in those days, but the world had changed. Now you could buy a hooker for the night for the price of a collar. He’d seen them on street corners; world-weary subs twirling collars on their fingers, leaning in to car windows and offering to submit to any top who wanted them – for a price. It was the same for tops – he saw them hawking themselves too, offering their particular skill with a whip or whatever in exchange for cash from some wealthy sub who wanted their domination on their terms and to order. It always made his stomach clench. He had such an instinctive feeling for how important sexual dynamic was – he hated seeing people so far gone that they didn’t understand what a true connection between a dominant and submissive should be.


He was reminded, with a jolt, of DiNozzo giving him that defiant look in the elevator earlier, as he told him he’d never worn a top’s collar in his life. That clearly didn’t stop him sleeping around, but Gibbs had felt a surge of respect for the sub as he said that. DiNozzo seemed to attach the same significance to collars that Gibbs did, and he liked that about his new recruit.


Gibbs took Shannon’s collar out of the box and allowed it to slip through his fingers. He had saved and saved to be able to afford something this beautiful. Joanne’s disdain of his lowly origins had stung – and he’d worked as hard as he could to be worthy of Shannon. They’d dated for three years before he’d been in a position to offer her his collar. Three years of kissing, and petting, and wanting so much to take her in his arms and truly explore her.


“Three years of very cold showers,” he muttered to himself as he looked at the collar in his hand.


The night he’d finally collared her had been a cold one. Snow had been falling all evening, but she’d travelled up from college to meet him anyway. They’d had dinner, and she’d talked about her forthcoming graduation. Joanne had been right about one thing – Shannon was definitely talented. Plenty of people were interested in offering her all kinds of glamorous jobs.


Sometimes he wondered why she stayed with him when she had so many wealthy, good looking, exotic tops forever asking her out. Yet she never gave him any reason to be jealous. Her dynamic and his – they just fit together; they both knew that, even before they slept together. They were both virgins, both wanting it to be *right* when they finally came together, and both of them knowing that would only happen when Shannon was wearing his collar.


The snow had prevented her from going home that night, so he’d taken her back to his small, cold apartment. He’d made some coffee and brought it over to where she was sitting on a cushion in front of the small gas heater, trying to get warm.


He had no idea if she’d accept his collar. Maybe now that she was so close to graduating she’d change her mind. Maybe now wasn’t the right time. Maybe he should wait. But he couldn’t wait; he wanted her so much, and hadn’t he waited for long enough to be sure that this was right for both of them? He wanted her to be *his*, for everyone to see. He wanted the entire world to know that this feisty, gorgeous, intelligent, talented sub had allowed *him* to collar her. He knew his heart would burst with pride if she thought he was worthy of her submission.


He sat down beside her in front of the heater and handed her the mug of coffee.


“No chance of you getting home in this weather,” he said, gesturing with his head at the window. “Might be snowed in for days.”


“I’ll tell my mom you slept on the floor and allowed me to have the bed, like the gentleman you are!” She laughed.


“Doesn’t have to be that way,” he said softly.


She looked up, a surprised expression in her eyes. “Jethro, I know you’ve been patient, but I’m not the kind of sub who…”


“I know,” he interrupted her. “And I’m not the kind of top who’d ask. No…see, I was thinking…I…”


He never had been good with words. He decided to show her instead. He reached into his pocket and drew out the black box, then handed it to her wordlessly. She took it, looking puzzled.


“You bought me a gift?” she asked, laughing a little.


He shook his head.


Frowning, she opened up the box and gazed at the elegant golden collar inside it. It was customary for a young sub to wear their top’s collar for a few months, with the expectation that marriage would follow. The collaring time was supposed to help them see if their dynamics were compatible.


Gibbs didn’t have a lot of time for all the rituals and customs. For him, the collar was the important thing. He fully expected to marry Shannon in due course, making vows in front of their friends and family, but the collaring was the important part – and that was a private matter, between him and her. Nothing to do with his folks or hers. It was just for the two of them; a dominant and the submissive he’d been courting for so long.


Would she allow him to place a collar around her beautiful neck? Was he good enough? Was he, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, *top* enough to collar and keep a sub? Or was he just fooling himself? He wasn’t sure as he watched the expressions flit across her face. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking. If she turned him down, he knew there was no coming back. If she turned him down it would mean that she saw no future in their relationship, and it would come to an inevitable and swift end. Tonight. He would win her or lose her this very night.


Shannon looked at him, her eyes shining. He reached out and stroked a gentle finger over her neck.


“Will you do me the honour of allowing me to collar you, Shannon?” he asked softly. “I wouldn’t ask you to give up your career – you know that. But I’m gonna be posted to California soon…and I want to take you with me, as my collared submissive. Look, Shannon – Paris, Milan – all that your mom wanted you to have – I can’t give you that. I can only give you this.” He nodded his head at the box she was holding. Now that he said it out loud, it didn’t sound nearly good enough compensation for what she’d lose, and he steeled himself for her inevitable rejection.


She slipped her fingers into the box and took out the collar. “It’s beautiful. How on earth could you afford something like this?”


“Doin’ without,” he muttered bashfully, remembering all the missed meals and patched up clothes; the freezing winters when he refused to turn on the gas heater; and all the extra jobs he’d managed to fit in wherever he could around his Marine Corps duties.


She gazed at him, her eyes clear and bright. “Yes. Of course. That’s so you.” She looked back at the collar and saw the engraving on it for the first time. She held it up close to read it and her mouth formed a silent “oh”. She looked at him again. “Soul meets soul on lover’s lips?”


“Did I get it right?” he asked anxiously. “I’m not good with all that poetry stuff you like so much, but that quote felt right, in my gut.”


“It’s my favourite,” she said softly. “And it’s perfect, Jethro.”


Even so, he knew she wouldn’t accept his collar out of sentiment. If she saw no future for them, she’d tell him so. She got up onto her knees and took hold of his hand. She placed the collar on his palm and closed his fingers loosely around it. So that was it. She was returning it to him. She didn’t want it. He gazed sightlessly at the golden collar in the palm of his hand, gleaming through his half-closed fingers.




He looked up, to find her gathering her long red hair in her hands and pulling it away from her neck.


“The honour would be all mine,” she said softly, offering her neck to him.


Gibbs snapped the box shut. Why was he thinking about this now, for God’s sake? It had been years ago. He gazed down on the box in his hands, remembering Shannon’s bright green eyes – and saw Tony DiNozzo’s instead; a different shade of green but just as vivid. Why had he reacted so strongly to DiNozzo when he first met him? And why had meeting him reminded him so much of Shannon? Tony was nothing like Shannon. Tony was reckless, dangerous and damaged. He was a lost soul, and Shannon had been stable, grounded, and sensible.


Then Gibbs realized what it was they shared; it was that sense of mischief twinkling in their eyes and the ability to make him laugh, despite himself. Even when he was in his toppiest head-space, Shannon could coax a smile from him. It was the same with Tony. Despite knowing him for less than a day, Gibbs was aware that he simply liked being around Tony.


Was it possible there could be something between him and Tony? The spark had certainly been there, but was he seriously thinking what it would be like to take that boy to his bed and find the submissive inside him? Tony wouldn’t be an easy conquest, Gibbs was sure of that. He had a wall around his heart that would be hard to penetrate. Gibbs longed to peel away the layers and find the sweet submission inside. That was another thing Tony shared with Shannon – an essential sweetness – and she, like him, had always been so very eager to please.


Gibbs allowed himself to wonder what it would feel like to take hold of that boy and kiss him. To take him in his arms, take him right down, and find what was inside. The top in him was intrigued by the thought of such a conquest; it made his blood surge.


At that moment his phone rang – not his cell, but the house phone. He picked up the handset on the nightstand and answered it.


“You lousy, good for nothing shit,” a familiar voice slurred at him.


He sighed. “Joanne, you’re drunk.”


“Yeah, and you’re a bastard, but at least tomorrow I’ll be sober.” She laughed at her own joke.


He could have put the handset down. He knew he should, but he never did, whenever she called him this way, drunk and abusive. He could hear the pain in her voice, and he understood it all too well. Joanne’s submissive had walked out on her when Shannon was just a baby, and Joanne had raised Shannon alone. He and Joanne were the only ones in the world who understood what it had been like to love Shannon. They might never have seen eye to eye, but they knew each other’s pain.


“You know what today is, Jethro?” Joanne asked.


It was always a day, an anniversary of some kind, whenever she rang in a drunken stupor like this. He preferred not to notice the special days, but she seemed obsessed by them, living her life from one significant date to another: Shannon’s and Kelly’s birthdays; the date he’d married Shannon; the date she’d graduated…and the date her daughter and grand-daughter had both died. Joanne remembered them all and lived through a special kind of pain on each and every one.


“Don’t do this, Joanne,” he told her gently.


“It’s the day my baby first met you! The day you bewitched her and took her from me! I will hate this day forever,” she raged.


Gibbs thought back – it wasn’t the day he and Shannon had first laid eyes on each other, but it was, he realized, the anniversary of that day on the train station when they’d first talked. Strange that he should meet Tony twenty-five years to the day after he first met Shannon.


“She was my baby!” Joanne wailed down the phone at him. “She was my baby, Jethro, and you took her away, and she died…” Her voice rose in pitch and turned into a long, sad wail. “If she’d never met you, she wouldn’t have died. She’d have had the life I wanted for her…”


“She had the life she wanted for herself, Joanne,” he said tiredly. “I didn’t know.” How could he have known what would happen? How could he have known how it would all end? How could he have known that when he’d first offered her his collar on that snowy night all those years ago?


“You’re not sorry.” Joanne’s voice turned hard and bitter. “After she died you just moved on and found yourself another sub. When my sub left me, I never replaced her. I loved her too much – but you, you selfish bastard, you just kept on ruining lives. First one marriage, then another, and then another…how many subs’ lives have you ruined, Jethro?”


He stared down at the box in his hands. She was right about that. After Shannon’s death he’d been in such a dark place. He’d been so numb, he couldn’t feel anything. Even his usual sure instincts as a top had deserted him.


He’d married subs who reminded him of Shannon; red haired women whom he could pretend were her, even though they were nothing like her. Their dynamics hadn’t remotely fitted with his, but just as long as he could see red hair and touch warm, pale breasts, he’d been able to fool himself.


It couldn’t last though. He’d barely been in any of those relationships, and Joanne was right; he’d hurt those subs by collaring and marrying them. There had been three, in quick succession, before he’d finally woken up to himself and the damage he was doing. He could still remember the expression in his last wife’s eyes as she walked away from him. Stephanie had been a good person, but he’d never really loved her, and she knew it. Seeing that expression in Stephanie’s eyes had been his wake-up call, a warning of what he was in danger of turning into, and it had been the kick up the ass he needed.


He still felt ashamed of himself. He had always been so protective of the subs in his life – he loved to take care of them and keep them safe. It shocked him to think that he’d hurt his three subsequent spouses so badly as a result of his own grief and pain.


“I didn’t mean to ruin anyone’s life, Joanne,” he said wearily.


“Yes, but you did. First Shannon, then those poor, stupid subs you married, and me! You ruined my life too, Jethro. I’ll never forgive you…she was my baby. My baby!” Her words were almost incoherent now, which meant she was close to passing out.


“You go lie down now, Joanne,” he told her. “Just sleep it off.”


“I hate you,” she whispered.


“I know and that’s fine. You need someone to hate.”


“I loved them. I loved those beautiful girls so much.” Her voice was ravaged by grief.


“I know, Joanne. Me too.”


For all that they had locked horns during Shannon’s lifetime, they had always had a grudging respect for each other, and he had grown to love her over time for her devotion to her daughter and grand-daughter. She had softened towards him too, recognising in him someone who loved Shannon and Kelly with the same fierce, protective passion as herself. Even now, despite the savagery of her recriminations, he still felt an underlying fondness for her that he knew was reciprocated. This was just the liquor talking, as always.


“Go to bed now. Close your eyes. Go to sleep, Joanne,” he said softly.


He hung up, reached for his cell phone, and put in a call to Joanne’s neighbour. They’d done this many times before; she had a key and would go in there and make sure that Joanne was okay. Gibbs wondered how Joanne never noticed the meek little submissive who lived in the apartment below and clearly worshipped the ground she walked on. Then again, Joanne was too wrapped up in her grief to notice much at all. And maybe she was right in not wanting to get involved with another submissive. At least she wasn’t hurting anyone but herself by being unable to let go of the past – unlike him.


He finished his call and then put the box containing Shannon’s collar back in the drawer. He had done her memory a disservice by refusing to embrace the full extent of his grief. Until he did, he could never find the room in his heart to truly love another submissive.


He was a man of extremes, he knew that. He felt passionately and deeply, and his heart had been broken when his wife and child had been killed. He didn’t view himself as a coward, but he had been, in a way, hiding behind his new subs instead of accepting that the one he really wanted was lost to him forever.


She was gone. She wouldn’t be coming back, and he had to come to terms with that. He couldn’t go around screwing up other subs’ lives because he wouldn’t face up to that truth.


And Tony DiNozzo’s life had been screwed up enough. The last thing that poor kid needed was Gibbs coming along and damaging him even more.


That really would be unforgivable.




Tony got up early for his second day in his new job. He took a long, hot shower, made sure his hair was clean and nicely styled, and then opened his closet and considered what to wear. He wasn’t sure if jeans were acceptable office wear; they had been at Baltimore PD, but turning up in his tight clubbing jeans for an interview had clearly been a bad idea. He had more everyday jeans, but he wasn’t sure that would strike the right note after yesterday. And God knows, after such a terrible first impression he had some ground to make up where his personal appearance was concerned.


Finally, he decided to go the whole way and be damned. He reached for his finest three piece suit in shiny grey, his most expensive shirt, and his purple and grey silk tie. He’d make them forget about yesterday if it was the last thing he did.


He breezed into the office half an hour early and settled at his desk to continue the work Gibbs had given him the night before. The boss arrived ten minutes later, took one look at him, and grunted.


“Goin’ somewhere fancy, DiNozzo?”


“Just here, Boss!” Tony gave a bright grin.


“Y’know, I think you might be the death of me,” Gibbs said, shaking his head ruefully as he looked Tony up and down.


“I hope not, Boss,” Tony said, alarmed.


Gibbs gave a little chuckle and went over to his own desk. Tony grinned – he had made the boss smile! It was such a good feeling.


He worked for an hour and then made an excuse to leave his desk so that he could sidle down to Abby’s lab. He had some unfinished business with that subby little minx!


He strode out of the elevator and was about to walk into the forensics lab when he overheard her talking on her cell phone. He leaned against the door, arms crossed over his chest, listening.


“Fine. No…that’s fine. Whatever,” she said, in a grouchy tone. “No, it doesn’t matter. No, I said it’s fine.” She slammed the cell phone shut.


“Bad news?” he asked, and she twirled around in surprise. He grinned at her, and her eyes narrowed in response.


“What are you doing here?” she said in an annoyed tone.


“Came to collect my twenty bucks, because, as you can see, I’m still on the payroll.” He gave an even bigger grin.


“Really? That’s just so hinky.” She glared at him but reached into her purse anyway.


“Why don’t we make it a rolling bet?” he suggested, walking over to her work station. “If I’m still here at the end of the week, you owe me forty. If I’m not, you get to keep your twenty and take one of mine.”


She stared at him. “Okay,” she said at last. “But there’s no way you’ll still be here then. I’m amazed Gibbs tolerated having you around all of yesterday. The bossman doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”


“Ouch.” Tony winced. “You think I’m a fool, Abigail?”


“If the shoe fits…” She gave him a sweet little grin.


“Oh…I like you!” he announced happily.


“Well I don’t like you!”


“Aw, you’re just freaked out because you recognize a kindred spirit when you see one”


“WHAT?” She looked like she was about to explode. “You and I are nothing alike!”


“Yeah, we are. We both like mischief,” he told her with a wink. He poked around at some of the interesting devices on her work station, and she slapped his fingers away.


“Mischief’s one thing, but you – you’re *naughty*,” she said, accurately. “And you’re trouble. And you’re the kind of sub who leads other subs astray and before they know it they’re ass up over their top’s knees taking a spanking, and I do NOT like being spanked!”


“Really? I do. Well, I do if the top’s hot.” Tony grinned. “So what *do* you like, Ms. Sciuto, if spanking’s not your thing?” He glanced at her, taking in the tight belt, the big black boots, and the trailing silver chains around her hips. “Bondage?” he asked, with a raised eyebrow. She glared at him. “Ropes, chains, that kind of thing? Being tied down, nice and tight, struggling to get free but hoping you can’t?” He leaned in and whispered in her ear. “Being at the mercy of some big, bad top who can play with helpless little you to their heart’s content without you being able to do a thing about it?”


She let out a little moan, and he knew he’d got her dynamic figured out; he was usually pretty good at that.


“Hmm, surprising.” He rocked back on his heels.


“What’s surprising?” She snapped back into reality and gave him another hearty glare.


“Just can’t see Gibbs being all that into bondage. He’d expect a sub to submit without having to tie them up to make it happen. He’d insist they submit just because he said so – no ropes required. Not that I’ve got his dynamic completely figured out yet – which is strange because usually it doesn’t take me this long – but I’ve never met anyone who maintains this level of toppiness outside of the bedroom. It’s intriguing.”


“You are just *nosy*,” she accused.


“I am, yes,” he admitted cheerfully, with a smug smile.


“I hate you!” she fumed.


“I know. Why *is* that? I mean, I know I made a bad first impression yesterday, but hey, I’m fun! And you like fun. You’re definitely a kindred spirit, like I said. So you *should* like me.” He frowned. “Is it my dress sense?”


She looked him up and down and snorted. “Well, at least you don’t look like you came straight from some top’s bed today.”


“That’s fair comment,” he sighed, wincing at the memory of that night spent with Jake-the-fake. “Is it because of Stan?” he asked.


She went quiet and gazed moodily at her computer screen.


“Ah. That’s it. What was so special about Stan? Did you and he make out for Gibbs? Is that how it works, the multiple collaring thing? Do you all share a bed together, or does Gibbs take you home one at a time to fuck you?”


She slapped him. Hard. Across the cheek.


“Ow. I did not see that coming,” he mused, rubbing his cheek to massage out the sting.


“It’s none of your business! And Stan was a dear, sweet, gentle soul who would never ask such personal questions!”


“Sweet? Gentle?” Tony frowned. “How on earth did he survive all that time with Gibbs then?”


“Shut up and go away.”


“Aw. Look, it’s just my way. I talk about sex a lot! I can’t help myself.” Tony gave her his most charming smile. “Forgive me?” he wheedled.


“No. Now leave.”


“I just want to be friends.” He spread his arms helplessly.


She drew herself up to her full height – which was really pretty tall. “You and I will never, ever be friends,” she told him confidently.


“Wanna bet on that?” He winked – and then he ducked just in case she was in the mood to hand out more slaps.


She raised her hand threateningly. “Go!”


“I can’t believe how often I get slapped working here,” he mused ruefully.


“I can’t believe you’re not used to it,” she retorted.


“I’m really not. Now, discipline, yeah. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been sent to various workplace discipline rooms to take licks – which, incidentally, I do not enjoy. But slapping? Not so much.”


“Maybe they fire you instead? I hear you never stay anywhere very long.”


That barb hit home. He felt his good mood evaporate as he remembered the circumstances of leaving his last job. He hunched his shoulders. “Yeah. Well. Whatever.”


She didn’t crow at him for having found a weakness – instead she looked puzzled and even a little bit sorry for him. At that moment her cell phone rang, and she picked it up eagerly.


“Gibbs? Yes. Okay. I’ll tell him.” She ended the call and shot Tony a triumphant look. “Bossman says if you’re not upstairs in two minutes you’re fired.”


Tony gave a theatrical grimace. “How did he know I was here?”


Abby grinned. “Oh, didn’t you know? The bossman knows *everything*. You will never have another secret in your life, ever again. Be afraid, DiNozzo – be very afraid.”


“You’re enjoying this.” He made a run for the door, aware that the seconds were ticking.


“Don’t hurry!” she called after him. “I’m looking forward to collecting my twenty bucks!”


Tony made it upstairs in record quick time – deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator just in case. He got to the squad room just in time to see Gibbs sweeping past him.


“Nice of you to join me, DiNozzo. Get your gear. Oh – and in future, I’ll let you know when you can take a break.”


“You will?” Tony grabbed his gun and badge and trotted along after his boss.


Gibbs got into the elevator, and Tony trailed in behind him. Gibbs slapped the back of his head. “Yes. So next time ask. Don’t sneak off and think I won’t notice because I *always* notice.”


“Yes, Boss. Thank you, Boss,” Tony sighed. “I guess I’m just gonna have to get used to being slapped all the time around here.”


Gibbs glanced at him and his gaze lingered for a moment on the warm spot on Tony’s cheek where Abby had hit him. Gibbs grinned. “Abby socked you one?”


“Yeah. She doesn’t like me. And also…” Tony winced and rubbed his cheek. “I might have said something inappropriate.”


“You? Seems hard to believe.” Gibbs shook his head and that grin was back on the corners of his mouth again.


Tony grinned too; God he loved it when he made Gibbs smile. “So where are we going, Boss?” Tony asked as they headed out of the elevator and into the parking garage.


“Possible lead on a gang that steals antiquities from war zones; going to check out a warehouse near the docks.”


They got into a car, and Tony clung on for dear life as Gibbs high-tailed them towards the docks.


“Uh, can I drive next time, Boss?” he asked when they arrived. Gibbs turned to glare at him “Or not,” Tony said hastily.


They got out of the car, and Gibbs drew his gun. Tony did the same, and they walked cautiously into the warehouse. It wasn’t locked, which was strange, but there was nobody inside. There were several dozen crates though. Gibbs went over to one of them and peered at it. Then he re-holstered his gun and began pulling the crate open.


“Don’t we need a warrant for that?” Tony asked, putting his own gun away.


Gibbs shrugged. “Nah – we’re just taking a peek.” He glanced at Tony and grinned, and Tony grinned back.


“I like the way your mind works, Boss. I’ll go check the perimeter – see if anyone’s around.”


He went outside and walked around to the rear of the warehouse – and that was when he saw the back entrance. He opened the door, peered inside, and saw three guys sneaking up behind Gibb – and one of them was carrying a crowbar.


“Boss!” he yelled, and he threw himself into the warehouse, drawing his gun again.


One of the guys turned and lunged at him, knocking the gun straight out of his hand; it slid away under one of the crates. Tony ducked a punch and landed one back, watching out of the corner of his eye as the other two guys descended on Gibbs. The guy with the crowbar whacked Gibbs across the shoulders, but Gibbs got in a punch to the guy’s midriff that made him gasp and double up.


Tony fought his own opponent hard, finally managing to dispatch him head first into one of the crates. He went down with a groan and didn’t get up again. Tony turned and ran over to where Gibbs was struggling with his assailants. Tony gave a whistle of appreciation as Gibbs kneed one of them in the balls and then rammed his elbow into the other one’s eye.


“You fight dirty, Boss! I like that!” he said, before his legs were taken out from under him by a flying tackle from the now one-eyed man.


One-eye grabbed a fistful of his hair and banged Tony’s head back on the ground.


“Aw, what’s a pretty little sub like you doing out without a leash?” One-eye taunted.


“Fuck you.” Tony slammed his knee up between the man’s legs and watched with pleasure as his face turned red, and he fell back. Tony got to his feet just in time to see that his original opponent, the one he’d slammed headfirst into the crate, was now back up again and creeping up on Gibbs with the crowbar.


“BOSS!” He threw himself at the guy and received a glancing blow on his jaw with the crowbar for his trouble. He fell to the floor with a thud, but he’d given Gibbs a chance to dispatch his other opponent and take care of the one with the crowbar. He watched as Gibbs knelt down and handcuffed his assailant and then glanced over at Tony.


“You okay?”


“Yeah…just…” Tony rubbed his jaw and his hand came away bloody. “Ow,” he said mournfully.


Gibbs took Tony’s handcuffs from his jacket pocket and went and cuffed the other two men to each other. Then he pulled out his cell phone and called for backup. Finally, he came over and looked down at where Tony was still lying on the warehouse floor.


“Lying down on the job? What did I tell you about taking breaks without permission, DiNozzo?” He grinned and held out his hand.


Tony took it, not even reacting to the by now familiar tingling sensation he got whenever Gibbs touched him. “Thanks, Boss.”


Tony got up and was about to grab one of their prisoners and haul him out of the warehouse when Gibbs pulled him back. His boss put a gentle hand on his jaw and turned his face towards the light from the open door. “Bet that hurt,” he said, examining Tony’s cut jaw intently.


“That? Hah! Even Abby hits harder than that.” Tony grinned in response.


Gibbs gave a wry chuckle and then patted Tony’s cheek lightly. “Get Ducky to take a look at it when we get back – and, DiNozzo? That was good work.”


Tony felt a warm sensation settle in the pit of his belly, and he knew, in that instant, that he would go anywhere and do anything to earn this man’s praise.


“Well, I told you I’d always have your six, Boss,” he muttered, feeling suddenly almost shy.


“Yeah – and I believed ya. That’s why I hired you, DiNozzo.”


They returned to the Navy Yard, and Gibbs handed their captives to Pacci for processing. Then he turned to Tony. “Ducky. Now,” he ordered.


Tony fingered his wounded jaw gingerly and wiped away yet more blood – it was still flowing freely. “If I’m not so pretty anymore I’m blaming you,” he told Gibbs.


“Aw – you still have that nice, round, bubble butt to entice the tops, DiNozzo, so don’t worry about it,” Gibbs replied with a grin. Tony felt another surge of warmth in his belly; Gibbs had noticed his ass!


He followed Gibbs into the elevator. “So we aren’t going to interrogate the bad guys straight away?” he asked, surprised.


“They can wait. Pacci needs to take details and get us some IDs on them; I don’t like doing interrogations without doin’ some groundwork first. Gives us time to get you cleaned up.”


They went down to Ducky’s lair, and the doctor scurried over to them.


“Agent Pacci told me there had been an altercation, so I was expecting a visit, Jethro. What on earth happened?”


He took hold of Gibbs’s hand and examined his bruised knuckles.


“I’m fine – it’s DiNozzo who got a smack on the jaw from a crowbar,” Gibbs told the doctor. “Guy who hit him must have known about that smart mouth of his and figured it might be a way to shut him up.” He quirked a little grin in Tony’s direction.


“My dear boy – that really does look nasty.” Ducky ushered Tony over to an autopsy table and sat him down on it. Then he went and got a bowl of water and a sterile swab and came back. He held Tony’s face and dabbed at the wound.


“Ow,” Tony said. Ducky smiled and held him firmly in place, and Tony got a very clear sense of the top inside the switch.


“You really should learn to duck, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said, standing and watching. Tony noticed the tension in his body and the way his eyes followed every move Ducky made as the doctor tended to his injury. What was *that* about?


“Ah, Agent DiNozzo, were you too slow?” Ducky chuckled.


“No – just distracted by saving Gibbs’s ass,” Tony shot back.


Ducky laughed out loud and even Gibbs gave a little chuckle. “Did he really, Jethro?” Ducky asked over his shoulder.


“He was…useful to have around,” Gibbs replied.


Ducky gave a little whistle and stepped back. “Well, my dear Anthony, that’s high praise indeed from our lord and master.”


“Not *my* master, Ducky,” Tony muttered softly. Then he frowned. “You called me Anthony!”


“And you took a blow meant for Jethro, if I’m not mistaken,” Ducky said quietly. He ruffled Tony’s hair gently. “I think I just became accustomed to having you around, Anthony.”


Tony grinned from ear to ear, and he didn’t even care how much that hurt his jaw.


“Talking of Jethro – when you’re done with me you might want to check out his shoulder,” he told Ducky as the doctor leaned over him to dress the cut on his jaw. Ducky raised an enquiring eyebrow. “He might not want you knowing it, but he took a pretty hard blow from that crowbar too,” Tony said smugly.


Gibbs gave him a death glare that Tony cheerfully ignored. Ducky finished with Tony and stood back.


“Is that so, Jethro?” he asked, in a steely tone. Tony grinned happily at Gibbs’s discomfort.


“S’nothing,” Gibbs replied brusquely.


“Shirt off please,” Ducky ordered.


Gibbs shot Tony a look that would have felled most subs. Tony just continued to grin – a grin that turned into an appreciative stare as Gibbs removed his shirt. The man was buff! He had square, toned shoulders and very defined musculature. There was also the clear red bruise on his shoulder where the crowbar had hit him. Ducky made a “tutting” sound and began examining the injury.


Tony glanced down and saw that his shirt and jacket were splattered with his own blood. “Damn it! This is my best suit! And blood never comes out,” he said mournfully.


“It is a tad fancy for hunting down criminals, Anthony,” Ducky said, as he manipulated Gibbs’s wounded shoulder.


“I know, but after yesterday I was… you know…” Tony flushed.


“Yeah – we know. You were trying too hard, DiNozzo. Ease up,” Gibbs advised.


Ducky patted Gibbs’s arm. “There’s no serious damage, Jethro, so we’re done, but you…”


He was interrupted by a squealing sound from over by the door and then a blur of red and black ran into the room.


“Gibbs! Pacci said you’d been hurt! Are you okay?” Abby looked at the discoloured water in the bowl from where Ducky had washed Tony’s jaw wound. “Oh my God! There’s blood! You’re not okay!”


She wrapped her arms around Gibbs and held him tight.


“I’m fine, Abby. The blood’s DiNozzo’s,” Gibbs told her. “He took a blow from a crowbar meant for me.”


“He did?” Abby released him and turned to look at Tony, her head flung back, her eyes intent.


Tony leaned back cautiously, remembering what a fast right hand she had. Then she flung herself at him and enveloped him in a bone-crushing hug.


“Tony!” she exclaimed “I’m so glad you’re okay! But a bad guy hurt you!” She pulled back and touched his injured jaw gently with her fingers.


“Uh…does this mean we’re friends now?” Tony asked. “Or do I still need to duck whenever I’m around you?”


“Of *course* we’re friends, Tony! You saved Gibbs’s life!”


“Uh, well, I wouldn’t say *that* exactly…” Tony began, but Abby wasn’t listening.


“I need to find out all about you, Mister! So you are coming out with me tonight,” she told him firmly.


“I am?” Tony glanced at Gibbs over Abby’s shoulder to find him chuckling softly.


“Yes! I won’t take no for an answer. I have tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera – and you are coming with me!”


Tony shuddered. “Uh, I really hate musical theatre, Abs.”


She ignored him. “We’ll leave work early. Have something to eat. Talk. That’s okay isn’t it, Bossman?” she threw over her shoulder.


“That’s fine by me, Abs,” Gibbs told her, pressing a little kiss to the top of her head.


“But we’ll be really busy interrogating the bad guys, won’t we, Boss?” Tony said desperately. “It’s musical theatre!” he mouthed at Gibbs over Abby’s shoulder.


Gibbs grinned at him. “Nah. It’s fine, DiNozzo. Go ahead. Leave early. You deserve it.”


“Yes, Boss.” Tony shot him a vicious glare.


Gibbs grinned and then reached for his shirt and shouldered himself into it with a wince.


“No need to cover up on my account,” Tony said, with a suggestive little pout.


Gibbs rolled his eyes. “I’d slap your head if it wasn’t for that jaw injury – which, incidentally, doesn’t seem to slow down your smart mouth any.” He made a move towards the door and then stopped. “Oh, DiNozzo…you remember that guy who took you down back at the warehouse?” he asked, in a conversational tone.


“Yeah,” Tony said cautiously, sensing some impending punch-line that he wasn’t going to like.


Gibbs grinned. “Well, somehow, and I don’t know how, he seemed to know that you’re a sub. Weird huh? When you’re so difficult to read.” He laughed at his own joke while Tony glared at him.


“Tony thinks people can’t tell he’s a sub?” Abby wrinkled up her nose and then laughed out loud. “Seriously, DiNozzo?”


“That does sound a little far-fetched, Anthony,” Ducky chimed in, patting his arm affectionately. “People really can’t tell? With you?” He looked gently amused.


“Well, no. It was just something I said to Gibbs…and there have been times…just a few times when…oh what the hell,” Tony sighed. “Okay! You win! I’m a sub to my bones, and it’s obvious, and I’m proud of it! There – happy now?”


They all laughed and suddenly, for the first time in his life, he felt as if he had a family.



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