The First Collar: 4. Part Four


Gibbs watched Abby and Tony leave for the evening with a little smile. For all his protests, Gibbs got the feeling that Tony was secretly pleased to have been invited out for an evening with Abby. He was certainly pleased himself – Tony was a damaged sub with secrets. He needed to feel he belonged somewhere, and he needed people he liked and trusted around him if he was going to do his best work – and give Gibbs more than a tiny glimpse of the sub he really was, under the masks he wore.


Gibbs returned to writing up his report on the men they’d arrested earlier. He did the paperwork dutifully for a couple of hours before a shadow fell across his desk.


“Jethro – you know what they say about all work and no play.” He looked up to find Director Morrow looking down on him, a benign smile on his face.


“Just finishing up, Director.”


“Good work today. You did well.”


Morrow was an excellent leader – he always knew to give praise when it was deserved – although Gibbs knew he also didn’t back down from handing out a kick up the ass when it was required too.


“DiNozzo was a great help,” he said.


“Looks like you chose well in him. Not that I doubted you for a second.”


Gibbs glanced at his boss suspiciously, but Morrow seemed to mean it.


Gibbs gave a little laugh. “Well, you’re the only one who didn’t then,” he said wryly. “Even my own subs thought I’d gone crazy.”


“I trust you. You know your own mind, you know what you want, and you won’t settle for anything less. I admire that.”


Gibbs thought about the three subs he’d married after Shannon, and how he’d settled for less there. “Yeah, well, it’s a lesson I learned the hard way,” he said quietly.


Morrow smiled at him. He was one of those wise subs who seemed to understand people innately and know how to get the best from them. He had a quiet, understated, but firm authority, and was a lot toppier than most tops Gibbs knew.


“Come on – you’ve done enough work for one day. Let’s go for a drink, Jethro,” Morrow suggested.


Gibbs grinned. “You sure, Tom? ‘Cause last time we went out I drank you under the table, and Jessica looked like she was gonna have my ass when she came to pick you up.”


“Ah, I rather fear it was *my* ass she had,” Morrow said ruefully. “And I know better than to get into a drinking contest with a battle-hardened Marine ever again. I learned *my* lesson the hard way too, believe me!”


Gibbs laughed and grabbed his jacket. He enjoyed Morrow’s company, and they always had a good time together after hours. Morrow kept things fairly formal in the office, but he knew how to let his hair down off the job. Gibbs counted him as a good friend, and he respected the man.




Tony emerged from the theatre with an unspoken prayer of gratitude that it was over. Abby clutched his arm, still humming The Music of the Night.


“Oh, that was so great!” She sighed happily. “Wasn’t it, Tony?”


“Uh…” He paused, searching for the right words so as not to offend her. She grinned up at him sappily. “Oh don’t tell me our Goth Goddess is a *romantic*,” Tony teased.


“Oh no! But this was like a great big Goth orgy!” she exclaimed. “All the candles, and the opera, and the people in masks, and the chandelier!”


“Chandeliers are Goth?” Tony asked doubtfully. She punched his arm. “Ow,” he said reflexively, but he felt a little stab of warmth that she was treating him like an old friend now, rather than an enemy.


“Of course chandeliers are Goth! The whole thing was epically Goth!”


“You mean all the cloak-swishing and the underground dungeon stuff? Well, I guess I can see it.”


“I don’t want to go home yet! I want to talk! Let’s go to a bar,” she suggested. “Do you know any around here?” She glanced around.


“Well…there’s a place a couple of blocks away that I go to a lot.”




Tony led the way, and Abby paused outside the entrance with a little laugh.


Tough Sub?” She raised an eyebrow. “You hang out in a place called Tough Sub?”


“It’s what I am.” He grinned and opened the door for her.


“Well, that’s true.” She patted his injured jaw very gently. “I guess you are.”


She sat down, and he bought drinks for them both and joined her.


“So, if it’s not a great big ode to Goth excess, tell me what *you* think, Phantom was all about?” she asked.


“Oh c’mon!” he laughed. “Isn’t it obvious?”


“Uh…no…tell me.” She put her hand on her chin and gazed at him expectantly.


“It’s the age-old theme of the innocent sub caught between the good top and the bad top,” he told her.


“Oh boy! This is going to be good. Go on.” She grinned at him.


“Okay, so you have poor little Christie, the cute subby boy with long brown ringlets, waiting for his first sexual experience. Then you have the big, bad top who is preying on him – luring him down into his dungeon to have his wicked way with him. Then there’s the *good* top, the Countess Rula – all blonde and swishy and together. No way *she* would ever ignore a sub’s safe word.”


“She was very dashing.” Abby sighed happily. “I loved her boots!”


“What you loved was the bit where the phantom tied her up – does a bit of top-on-top bondage do it for you, Abs?” He gave her a sly grin.


“No!” she replied hotly. “Although the stuff with the ropes was totally sexy!”


“Knew it.” He winked at her.


“See, I thought it was all about the poor phantom’s terrible life, and how he got so horribly disfigured, and how people were mean to him because of it and how that caused him to go a bit hinky.”


“Oh that’s just a metaphor,” Tony said blithely, taking a sip of his drink.


“Really?” She raised a sceptical eyebrow.


“Oh yes. The whole disfigurement thing is a metaphor for the darkness of his toppy dynamic. He’s so sleek and gorgeous when he’s wearing his mask. He’s so toppy and powerful and sexually dangerous. He’s what every sub is attracted to in a way, isn’t he?”


“Well…” Abby paused.


“Oh come on! Tell me, if you had the choice, would you go for a one night stand with the darkly dangerous and sexy phantom in his dungeon, or a nice night being tickled and teased by the countess in her playroom?”


“Uh…” Abby flushed.


Tony put his glass down with a triumphant flourish. “Exactly! We all would. Even though we know it’s bad for us and bad things will happen as a result.”


“But Christie was in love with Rula!”


“Oh, Christie wanted his night of dark passion with the phantom, same as we all do!” Tony grinned. “And that’s the point of the disfigurement metaphor. The phantom seems all sexy and sleek with his mask on – but once he’s got you tied up in his dungeon the mask comes off, and you see the ugly face of the abusive top beneath. And it’s not sexy anymore – it’s just scary. And *that* is when you wished you’d gone home with safe old Rula to her playroom instead!”


Abby laughed out loud. “Oh, you’re good at this!”


“I am! I do it a lot.”


“You like musical theatre?”


“Uh…not really – but I love the movies. I’m always analyzing them.”


She smiled at him. “Cool. Maybe we can go together sometime? To the movies?”


“I’d love that – does Gibbs let you out much though?”


She shook her head. “It’s not like that, Tony. Between Gibbs and me. It’s not…it’s not a traditional kind of collaring.”


He frowned. “What do you mean?”


“We don’t sleep together. It’s not that kind of arrangement. He made that clear when he offered me his collar.”


“He doesn’t sleep with you? What’s wrong with the man? You’re gorgeous!”


Abby gave a little smile and gently touched Tony’s hand. “Thanks – but it’s fine. It’s not what wearing Gibbs’s collar is about. See, I have – had – a habit of getting involved with really bad tops. Psycho tops.”


“You feel sorry for them,” Tony said quietly. “Just like you felt sorry for the phantom.”


“Yeah.” Abby sighed. “I get suckered in. I want to take care of them and help get them straightened out. I can see the good in them even when nobody else can.”


“That’s because you’ve got a big heart,” Tony told her. She gave him a surprised look. “Might have only known you a couple of days, but I know that.”


“You’re not what I thought you were,” she said. “You’re…kinda nice. Like the phantom in reverse.”


He frowned. “What do you mean?”


She gazed at him thoughtfully. “You wear a mask to hide that you’re nice, Tony. You’d rather people thought you weren’t. You don’t want them to see the nice guy underneath; you want them to think that you’re an idiot, or a sleaze, or both – but you’re not.”


“Well, I kind of am.” He grinned at her.


“No.” She shook her head. “You’re 100 per cent rock solid inside, Tony. Gibbs knew it when he first saw you – just took me a little longer to figure it out.”


Tony took another sip of his drink to help swallow down the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat.


“Why, Tony? What happened to you?”


He gave a wry smile. “Nothing very interesting, Abs.”


“I don’t believe that. Tell me about yourself.” She ran her finger around the rim of her glass, looking at him with genuinely interested eyes.


“What’s to tell?”


“Tell me about your family,” Abby said insistently.


“My family. Okay then.” Tony took a deep breath. “Well, my mom was a beautiful sub. All the tops were in love with her.”


“And you were too,” Abby said accurately.


“Yes, and I was too. She was one of those kinds of subs, you know, the ones that everyone is captivated by. She was Helen of Troy, Princess Diana, and James Dean all rolled up into one. Subs and tops alike fell under her spell. She was *that* kind of sub.”


“Oh yeah.” Abby nodded. “I know the type.”


“And people used to say I was just like her. Well, my dad used to say it,” Tony said bitterly.


“What happened to her?”


“She died in a car crash when I was eleven.”


“On, Tony! I’m sorry.” Abby covered his hand with hers.


“While out on a date with one of her lovers,” Tony continued. Abby made a scared little face. “When my dad found out, he went kinda crazy. Her death combined with the knowledge of her betrayal – he found it hard to deal with both at once. He drank a lot, told me what a worthless little shit I was, dragged me around several hotels, dumped me in various boarding schools, got married again – several times – and more or less cut me out of his life for the crime of reminding him too much of her.”


“I’m sorry, Tony.” Abby’s fingers were warm on his hand.


“Don’t be. It was a valuable lesson to me in life; never, ever trust a top.” Tony gave a tight little grin.


“You don’t believe that.”


“Oh, but I do. It’s the one thing my mother taught me, and my father did a damn good job of proving the point. Never trust a top. They’ll always let you down in the end.”


“Gibbs will never let me down,” Abby said firmly. “They’re not all bad, Tony. They aren’t all like the phantom – plenty of them are like Rula. And you’re just like all those people who turned the phantom hinky in the first place – you’re guilty of projecting ugliness onto all tops without taking the time to look inside and see who they really are.”


“And you’re one of those sappy subs who thinks an abusive top can be cured by the love of a good sub, despite all the evidence to the contrary,” he retorted.


Abby tilted her head up defiantly. “No!”


He smiled at her gently. “Come on, Abby. Gibbs collared you to keep you safe from the kind of tops you usually fall for. You said so yourself. You might find Rula’s boots sexy, but you’d choose the phantom over her any time.”


“And so would you!” she accused.


“I know.” He winked. “Difference is, I’d use him to get what I want and then be gone by morning. You’d stick around to try and save him, and he’d end up destroying you in the process.”


She gave a little laugh. “Well, you might be right there,” she sighed.


“So how does it work with Gibbs? The collar I mean?” Tony nodded his head at the strip of leather around her neck.


“Well, we’re kind of new to it – he didn’t collar me very long ago. But the way it seems to work is that I’m his sub, so I have to ask his permission for some things. Not many – I mean, he isn’t interested in controlling my life. But I do have to take any prospective top to meet him before I’m allowed to date them.”


“Yikes – it’s amazing you get to date *any* tops then!” Tony grinned. “He’s kinda scary, Abby!”


“I know, but he’s fair – and he cares about me.”


“Does he spank you?”


She shook her head. “Oh – I mean he can, if he wants to – he made that clear! But I’m not a trouble-magnet like you, Tony! I don’t want him to ever be disappointed in me enough to punish me. That would break my heart!”


“So it’s more about guidance – grounding?” Tony raised an eyebrow at her, and she nodded. “For Ducky too? And Stan?”


“I don’t know about Ducky.” She looked thoughtful. “He collared Ducky years ago, but they don’t live together, and I don’t get the feeling there’s anything sexual between them. Maybe there was once…I don’t know. But I think Gibbs got Ducky out of a bad situation. I don’t know the details, but he’s very protective of Ducky.”


“Seems to me like he’s protective of you both.”


Abby flushed. “Well, he’s Gibbs – he’s kind of that way about all subs – but we wear his collars, so yes. He is very protective of us.”


Tony wondered what it would be like to have Gibbs be protective of *him*. Then he remembered how tense Gibbs had been when Ducky had dressed his wound earlier, and he felt that warm glow settle in his stomach again; maybe Gibbs was already protective of him.


“And Stan?” Tony prompted. “Why did Gibbs collar Stan?”


“I probably shouldn’t tell you this…” Abby made a little face. “Might get a swat from Gibbs if he ever finds out, but Stan had a drinking problem. He was the nicest guy you could hope to meet, but when he drank he was useless. Gibbs offered him the collar to see if it’d help.”


“And did it?” Tony raised an eyebrow.


Abby nodded. “Yes. I think Gibbs handed out a few tough spankings to him along the way though.”


“And that helped pull him around?”


“No. I think Stan just needed someone in his life to give a damn if he drank or not. Gibbs was that person. Eventually Stan licked the problem – and it was time for him to move on.” She looked sad. “I understand why he left, but I miss him, Tony. That’s why I was kinda mean to you.”


“Well, I’m kind of an ass, so I probably deserved it.” He grinned at her. “Did Stan give Gibbs his collar back when he left?” He was intrigued by Gibbs and how he operated. He’d never come across a top like him.


“Yes. I think it was tough on them both, but it was necessary. Gibbs gave Stan affection and protection, but he never offered him his heart or any intimacy of that kind. We all knew that wasn’t an option.”


“But supposing Gibbs wants to give that to some lucky sub in the future?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “Won’t it be awkward for him, having a couple of other collared subs around?”


“I don’t think he’s planning on doing that.” Abby shrugged. “He’s been married three times, and it never worked out. I get the feeling that he’s dead set against doing it again.”


“But the man must need sex!” Tony exclaimed. “Doesn’t everyone?”


“Only with the right person,” Abby said softly. “Some people are prepared to wait, Tony. They’ll wait a lifetime if need be. I think Gibbs is one of those people.”


“Well, I couldn’t do it!” Tony laughed. “It all sounds far too hopelessly romantic to me. Wait a lifetime in the hope of finding someone who is just right for you? What a load of crap! You might as well be having some fun in the meantime.”


Abby was silent for awhile, still tracing her fingertip around her glass. Then she looked up at him.


“Have you ever been in love, Tony?” she asked unexpectedly. “I mean, really in love?”


He felt cold and hard inside. “No.”


“Maybe when you’ve felt that way, you’ll understand,” she said. “I think it’s possible to wait for the right person, if you feel strongly enough, because nobody else will *do*. Nobody else is right, and you know it, and you can’t lie to yourself even though you want to.”


She looked straight at him, and he felt like she was reading his soul.


“I don’t want to fall in love like that, Abby. That sounds like a good way to get your heart broken. You’ve had your heart broken, haven’t you?”


“Yes.” She sighed. “Many times.”


“You have to use and abuse tops before they do it to you.”


“That sounds kind of lonely.”


“At least you don’t get hurt that way.” He grinned and then felt his grin fade. “Look, I can see the appeal of the big, bad tops, the ones who break your heart, but it’s not worth it, Abby. I’ll never let myself be vulnerable around a top. When I was a kid…”


He paused. She was still looking at him with those big, sympathetic eyes.


“When I was a kid, my dad used to bring subs back to our hotel suite and fuck them while I lay in the next room. I could hear every single thing that went on. He was often so drunk that he passed out afterwards. I used to creep into the room and untie the subs – my dad was big on bondage. If I hadn’t, they’d be lying there for hours until he woke up. I used to give them a lecture on safe sex on their way out. I was twelve.” Tony shrugged. “No top does anything to me that I’m not in control of, Abby.”


“But isn’t that part of the thrill?” she asked. “What I love most is not being in control, Tony.”


“I wouldn’t know,” he said firmly.


“You never wanted to let go – not even for a little while?” Her green eyes were curious.


“Never met a top yet who made it feel real enough,” he replied. “I always have to pretend.”


Her eyes widened, and she squeezed his hand. “Tony, I’m sorry.”


He was surprised that he’d opened up to her like this. He’d never reveal any of this stuff to a top of course, but there weren’t any other subs he’d talk to like this, either. There was just something about her; he liked her so much and had since the minute he first met her.


“I was right you know,” he told her. She raised an eyebrow. “About us – we were definitely meant to be friends.” She gave a little smile. “Who bailed on you tonight, Abby?” he asked quietly.




“You didn’t just happen to have a spare ticket to see an expensive, sold-out show in your pocket. And you were in a pretty bad mood with someone on the phone this morning; so who bailed on you?”


“Just some good-for-nothing, lousy top I was dating.” She sighed.


“Gibbs let you date such a person?” Tony raised an eyebrow.


“Oh, he told me this one was no good. He said I wouldn’t get my heart broken, but I’d be let down in the end – and he was right. He lets me make my own mistakes though. He won’t let me date psychos, but apart from that he just gives me his honest opinion on them and leaves me to it.”


“And is he able to accurately identify the psychos on first meeting?” Tony asked.


“Oh yeah! He’s got a gift that way! One of them had barely said ‘hello’ before Gibbs was throwing her outta the house and telling her that if she came within a mile of me it it’d be the last thing she ever did.” She grinned.


“That I can believe!” He grinned back. “Hey – do you want another drink?”


“It’s my turn. I’ll get these!”


She went over to the bar, and he sat there, staring into space, mulling over their conversation. Abby was gone a while, and eventually Tony glanced over towards the bar to see where she was – and stiffened. She was being sweet-talked by a top – and not just any top. She was being sweet-talked by exactly the kind of top she loved so much; the dangerous kind that she’d want to save but who would only end up breaking her heart. Tony knew this for a fact, because the top who was sliding his hand around her wrist was Jake, his own conquest of a couple of nights ago.


Tony got up and went over to the bar. He grabbed Jake’s arm before the man was even aware he was there and removed his hand from Abby’s wrist.


“Hey – can’t you see the sub’s collared?” He jerked his head in the direction of Abby’s neck.


“Tony!” Abby said, in a shocked voice.


“Oh, it’s you.” Jake pulled himself up and looked Tony straight in the eye. The atmosphere in the bar changed, and Tony saw a couple of guys move forward so they were standing shoulder to shoulder with Jake – clearly the bastard actually had some friends.


“Yeah. It’s me. How are you doing, Jake? I see you managed to finally get free of those cuffs I put you in.” Tony gestured towards Jake’s wrists. “Did it feel good, being all helpless on the bed and at my mercy like that? Did you enjoy it?” He gave a lascivious wink.


Jake’s face reddened, and he looked like he was going to explode. Tony guessed he hadn’t told his friends that his one night stand sub had tied him up; it was too humiliating.


“You fucking bastard!” Jake took a step forward, but Tony didn’t take a step back.


“What’s the problem, Jake. You’re in a bar called Tough Sub, so isn’t that what you’re looking for? Subs who don’t take any shit? Did I leave you enough money for your services the other night by the way?” He grinned.


Jake took a swing at him, which Tony effortlessly side-stepped. He slammed Jake forward onto the bar and shoved his arm up his back.


“Don’t talk to my friend again,” he hissed in Jake’s ear. “She’s not your type. Don’t touch her again, don’t go talk to her again, don’t even look at her again, or you’ll answer to me.”


The barman was gesturing frantically to security to come over and handle the altercation, and Jake’s friends were also looking antsy, as if they were about to intervene. Tony released Jake, and he straightened up quickly, looking furious. There wasn’t anything he could do with security already starting to shove their way through the crowded bar towards them though.


Tony grinned. “Nice running into you, Jake,” he said smoothly.


“You’d better hope you don’t run into me ever again, shit head,” Jake growled, rubbing his sore arm and glaring at Tony resentfully. “Because if we do, I promise I’ll get even with you, you fucking asshole.”


“Aw, I’m missing you already, Jake. Come on, Abby. Let’s go.” Tony grabbed Abby’s arm and led her out of the bar.


“Tony! What the hell was that about?” she demanded when they got outside.


“That was about what we’ve been talking about all evening,” he replied moodily. “Jake in there is a phantom, Abby. He’s drop dead gorgeous, and he’s sexy, and he can act the part of the big bad top, but what’s underneath is ugly. Trust me – I’ve been there.”


“He looked really mad, Tony. You must have really pissed him off.”


“He’s all talk,” Tony snorted, walking off down the road. “Like I said, it’s an act. Jake-the-fake.”


“How did you get involved with him?” Abby asked, trotting along behind.


Tony sighed and glanced at her over his shoulder. “One night stand. Club called Anon. Night before my interview at NCIS. It ended badly. Jake isn’t someone who takes no for an answer – that’s why I warned him away. I didn’t want him hurting you.”


She caught up with him and tucked her hand through his arm. “I thought I’d got lucky. He seemed really sexy.”


“You mean scary and dangerous?” He looked down at her. “That’s the language they use for seduction, Abs – the phantoms of the world. How does the music go? Touch me, trust me, savour each sensation! Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in…?” He raised an eyebrow.


She grinned at him. “Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind, in this darkness that you know you cannot fight… You could be right, Tony. And hey!” She bashed him on the arm. “I thought you were asleep during that bit! Were you just pretending, Mister?”


He laughed out loud – she had a knack for being able to cajole him out of a bad mood.


“Oh, okay, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and who doesn’t love a good tale about a subby virgin and a sexy dom villain?”


She laughed too, and he made a swishing motion with his invisible cape.


“C’mon, let’s get going – I think the music of this particular night is over now, my sweet, innocent little Abby.”


“Sweet and innocent? Not since 10th grade, DiNozzo!” she said throatily, and they walked off up the street together, laughing their heads off.




“So, DiNozzo is working out well,” Morrow said conversationally, sipping on his coke while Gibbs knocked back his third whisky of the evening.


“It’s only been a couple of days, but the kid’s got promise,” Gibbs said, watching Morrow thoughtfully. His boss rarely did or said anything without a reason.


“Why did you choose him, as a matter of interest, Jethro?”


“My gut.” Gibbs grunted. Morrow raised an eyebrow. “And…he’s got the skill set I need, Tom. He’s got street smarts, and I need someone with inspiration – someone who sees the clues and can make the right deductive leaps. You want me to head up Major Crimes when Lewis retires – and if I’m gonna do that then I need someone with solid police experience. DiNozzo has that.”


“And a rap sheet as long as your arm,” Morrow pointed out.


“Yeah, but he’s got a streak of brilliance that his previous bosses never tapped into. I think that’s why he always got into so much trouble – he was bored, and he wasn’t handled right. Sure, he needs guidance, but I can give him that.”


“Well he’s clearly a handful, Jethro, but if anyone can handle him, it’s you.” Morrow smiled. “So, do you intend to collar him?”


Gibbs looked up sharply. So that was the purpose behind this thread of their conversation. He knew it hadn’t been just idle curiosity on Morrow’s part.


“Wasn’t plannin’ on it,” he said, wondering why his gut twisted when he said that. “Why?”


“You do seem to like having the people on your team wear your collars, Jethro.”


“You have a problem with that, Tom?”


Morrow shook his head. “As a matter of fact, I think it works rather well for you – and for them. I’m just curious as to why you do it. It’s a lot to take on – and you make yourself vulnerable for any misdemeanours they commit.”


“Ever see ’em commit any?”


“No. True.” Morrow gave a little chuckle. “All the more reason not to collar DiNozzo I think! You might find that one harder to keep out of trouble.”


Gibbs grunted and took a sip of his drink.


“Why do you do it, Jethro?” Morrow asked quietly. “I’ve often wondered. Most dominants are satisfied with one collared sub but not you. I know you have an unusual relationship with them, so I’m sure it isn’t about sex.”


Gibbs stared into his drink. If it had been anyone else but Morrow asking he’d have told them to piss off, but he knew Morrow was genuinely concerned about him, and he respected the man. They were silent for a while as Gibbs considered the honest answer to that question.


“Atonement,” Gibbs said at last. He looked up; Morrow was gazing at him steadily.


“Atonement?” Morrow frowned. “Atoning for what, Jethro? You’re a good man – I’ve seen that. What can you possibly have to atone for?”


“I let down two people I loved, Tom; I wasn’t there for them when they needed me most. Then I screwed up three other people tryin’ to run from the hurt. I’m not a bad top, but I feel like I was for awhile. I didn’t live up to the standards I set for myself.”


“You’re being too hard on yourself.”


“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “I screwed up – I wouldn’t let a sub of mine get away with excuses, so I’m sure as hell not gonna ease up on myself. I hurt some people – people who didn’t deserve it. Couple of ’em hate my guts as a result, and I don’t blame them. I want to remind myself of the top I once knew myself to be. I want to take myself out of the equation and just be there for the people who need me. It doesn’t have to be easy – it just has to be right.”


He looked up again to find Morrow’s eyes sympathetic.


“I want to believe in that side of myself again, Tom,” Gibbs said quietly.


“You are a better man and a better top than you believe yourself to be, Jethro.”


“Nah. You think I’m a dinosaur, a relic from days gone past. An old-fashioned chauvinist who thinks subs need to be protected and taken care of,” Gibbs grunted.


“No.” Morrow shook his head and then laughed. “Well, maybe a little. You did open the door for me when we came in.”


“Top in me can’t help responding to the sub in you, even when I tell myself not to.” Gibbs shrugged. “I’m never gonna be one of these modern tops. I am what I am.”


“And nobody is seeking to change you. Besides, I view it more as chivalry than chauvinism.”


Gibbs grinned. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were flirting with me, Tom.”


Morrow laughed. “Jessica would have my ass if I even thought about it. Oh – there was something I wanted to talk to you about, Jethro. I should have mentioned it earlier, back at the office, as it’s work-related.”


Gibbs leaned forward.


“My counterpart at the FBI has informed me about an ongoing operation they’re conducting into an organised crime syndicate. They’re running an undercover sting. They have several agents in place, and they now believe some high-ranking members of the Navy might be involved. There’s a defence contract up for bid and a lot of money changing hands in the background.”


“They want our help?” Gibbs raised an eyebrow.


Morrow shook his head. “The opposite; they want us to stay out of it. They’ve been working on this for two years, and they think they’re near the end. They don’t want us getting wind of the corruption and wading in there all guns blazing and screwing up their op. This goes a lot further than the Navy contract, and they’ve thrown a lot of manpower at it.”


“Fine by me.” Gibbs shrugged. “I don’t like the feebies, but I’ll keep us out of it if anything goes down.”


“Good. I’ll get Cynthia to email you all the details tomorrow – the main player is Admiral Hansen. Ah…looks like my ride is here!” Morrow looked over at the door and his whole face lit up. Gibbs turned and saw the petite redhead who’d collared Morrow. Jessica was pretty and feisty and reminded him just a bit too much of Shannon. He swallowed down the last drop of his whisky.


“Hey! How are you doing?” Jessica dropped a little kiss on Morrow’s head and then sat down opposite Gibbs. “Jethro – if you’ve got my husband drunk again…”


Gibbs grinned and spread his hands. “I haven’t, Jess, I promise! Tom’s been a good boy.” He winked at Morrow who laughed out loud.


“You’re a bad influence, Leroy Jethro Gibbs!” Jessica chided. “Last time he went out drinking with you he threw up all night.”


“That was probably just a reaction to the lousy company and tasteless jokes,” Gibbs replied, deadpan.


“You could be right there!” Morrow laughed. “How are you, sweetheart?” He put his arm gently around his wife, looking at her with frank adoration. Their dynamic was so strong, so easy, and so effortless that it was clear as day to Gibbs. Morrow served, and Jessica ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. They had been married for years, and their dynamics fitted together perfectly.


Gibbs felt as if someone had stabbed him in the gut; it had been like that with him and Shannon. That perfect fit. The perfect fit he couldn’t expect to find with anyone else.


“I’m fine, honey.” Jessica pressed a kiss to Morrow’s cheek. They weren’t a sappy couple – they were just…comfortable. “But you’ve been working too hard. I’m glad you came out with Jethro tonight to unwind.”


“I thought you didn’t approve of me,” Gibbs said.


“I don’t – on principle!” she laughed, and he laughed with her. They were good friends, and he liked them very much. She glanced at the empty glass in front of him. “Now, I see you’ve been drinking even if Tom hasn’t. Why don’t I give you a ride home and save you the taxi fare?”


“That’s very kind of you, Jess, thanks.” Gibbs nodded.


“Not at all. I tell myself I shouldn’t be fond of a bastard like you, but somehow I can’t help myself.” She got up, took a leash out of her purse, and clipped it to her husband’s collar, casually, with the ease of long practice. It was just a little, everyday kind of gesture, but Gibbs felt a stab of grief so savage that it robbed him of breath.


“You okay, Jethro?” Morrow asked.


“Me? Yeah. Sure. Just…maybe I drank more than I thought. Need to sleep it off,” Gibbs muttered.


“Just as long as you don’t turn up late for work tomorrow.”


Gibbs managed a wry grin. “Wouldn’t do that. Boss is a hardass.”


“Good – because I don’t like the idea of DiNozzo wandering around unsupervised in the squad room!” Morrow laughed. “Who knows what havoc he’d cause!”


They were still joking and laughing as they dropped him home. Gibbs waved goodbye and went into his house. He closed the door and the smile immediately faded from his face. He crouched down, his back to the door, and tried to remember how to breathe.


It hurt. It hurt so much, seeing that happy couple, with their easy dynamic and clear love for each other. What was happening to him? Shannon had been dead for ten years. Why was this hurting so much now?




He wasn’t sure why, but somehow he knew that Tony DiNozzo was the catalyst for these emotions. When he closed his eyes he could see Tony’s face. He could picture that big, bright smile and the dazzling white teeth that never quite managed to distract Gibbs from the troubled look in the kid’s green eyes.


Tony’s dynamic was so strong that he could smell it. He itched to take that boy down and see how well their dynamics fit together. He had a feeling that somehow, against all probability, they were a match. Tony was like the flip side of himself, just as Shannon had been, and yet in a totally different way.


He felt that sharp stab of pain again when he thought about her. His lost sub. His beautiful lost sub, whom he longed to touch again, to see again, and to speak to again so much that it physically hurt. And wasn’t that the point?


He’d been numb inside for years. After her death he’d been in such a dark place that the only person who had been able to reach even a little way inside had been Ducky. He’d walled himself up and taken those other subs as spouses, and yet he’d been frozen inside. He’d felt nothing for them. He’d had no awareness of their dynamic or his own. Him, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who had always been so sure of himself and who could read people like a book – and yet he’d been lost to himself.


He knew now what he had to do. He couldn’t keep avoiding the pain anymore. He couldn’t keep shoving it down into the cold, dark pit in his belly. If he didn’t let himself feel it then he’d never be able to move on.


He walked slowly up the stairs, along the hallway, and into his guest room. There was a stack of boxes piled up in the corner, full of their stuff; Shannon’s stuff, Kelly’s stuff. He could never bring himself to throw it out, but he couldn’t have it around either. So he’d packed it away in this room the day after their funerals and had never looked at it since. Various wives had tried to persuade him to part with it, but he’d always stubbornly refused.


He’d been hanging onto Shannon and Kelly even while keeping them to one side, in some walled off part of his heart that he refused to ever visit. Now he knew he had to. He had to force himself. He had to face this, once and for all.


He went over to the boxes and opened the top one. It was full of Kelly’s clothes and his heart stopped for a moment as he saw the sparkly silver belt she’d loved so much. She’d been a sub in the making, his little girl, even though she hadn’t known it. He’d sensed it though, the way he could always sense what people were. Abby reminded him so much of Kelly, with her love of big boots, tight belts, and trailing silver chains.


He saw the pink tee shirt Kelly had loved so much, with the rainbow motif on the front. He picked it up and held it against his face. Any scent of her was long gone, and he was grateful for that; he didn’t think he’d be able to take it.


He opened another box and found one of Shannon’s sweaters – the old, comfortable one she wore when sitting by the fire on cold winter nights. He loved to remember her sitting by the fire, the way she’d been on the night he collared her.


He pressed the sweater to his face and breathed it in, and this time he detected the faintest hint of her scent – just a trace of the perfume she wore, the one he always grumbled about having to buy for her on her birthday because it cost a fortune for what was, as he always said, ‘fancy- smelling water’.


That old, remembered scent was enough to drive him over the edge. Memories came flooding back – of days spent laughing and fighting, and nights spent making love. Of her looking up at him with complete submission in her eyes as he made her take that same journey every single time, down into herself, to find the surrender she wanted to give him. That surrender, when it came, always gave her such pleasure, and he loved being the one who could give her that.


He didn’t cry – he keened.


His body convulsed, his gut ached, and he keened out his pain, all the time clutching her sweater to his chest. It made him feel raw, exposed, and helpless, and he didn’t like any of those feelings, but he made himself experience them.


For the first time since their deaths he allowed himself to really *feel* it, not to push it down, or soldier on, or any of those things he had been doing for so long. He allowed the pain to rip through him and tear him apart. It was so savage that he wasn’t sure he’d survive it. He had always known it would hurt this much – wasn’t that why he’d always tried to control it? Now he didn’t want to control it anymore. Now he wanted to let it consume him.


He was a top, yes, but he had been a husband too, and a father. Those parts of him took over, and his entire body screamed out their grief. He let the pain in, welcoming it, allowing it to do whatever it wanted with him. He, who was so unused to submitting to anything or anyone, finally allowed himself to submit to this.


The grief took him. The grief owned him. The grief was his master. He was nothing but the willing submissive, offering himself up to it.


He surrendered, completely and wholly, without condition.


When he came to, some time later, he felt empty. This was just the beginning, he knew that. True healing would take a lot longer – but at least he’d made a start.


He put Shannon’s sweater back in the box and his eye fell on a framed photograph. He pulled it out and looked at it. He remembered taking it the day Shannon had brought Kelly home from the hospital. She had been planned, and wanted, and loved, right from the start; and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.


Shannon was holding Kelly in her arms in the photograph and smiling down on her newborn child, looking like the happiest person alive. He had felt that way too. He had been aware of the weight of his responsibilities, as a top with a family to protect, as a husband, and as a father, but he had relished them. He was going to be good at this! He was going to love it.


And he had failed. They had been killed, and he hadn’t been there to protect them. That was the pain he would have to bear his entire life and maybe it was a wound that would never heal.


He took the photograph with him when he left the room. He went into his bedroom and placed the photo on the nightstand. All these years he’d been hiding them from himself, fearful that he couldn’t handle what was in those boxes. Now the time had come to let it out. He would look at his dead wife and child every morning when he woke up and every night before he fell asleep, and he would make himself take that pain, the way he’d make a sub take something that hurt but was good for them anyway.


He was Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He had been a husband and father. He was a top.


He would find himself again.


End of Part Four


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