by nancy and Juli

November 2008

Leon dropped the now-familiar folders on top of Gibbs' desk. "You need to take another look at these."

Gibbs didn't even bother to look up from the report he was typing. "Already told you. Two good men; just not the man I'm looking for."

"Think again," Leon's voice sounded tired, but determined. "DiNozzo resigned."

That statement got Gibbs' attention. "The hell he did."

The director rocked back on his heels, away from that intense blue glare. "He did. Got the paperwork this morning."

Gibbs got up from his chair and grabbed his coat, report forgotten and heedless of anyone in the bullpen who might be able to overhear. "I suggest you lose that paperwork, Leon, or you'll be replacing two agents."

With a feeling of helplessness, Leon watched as Gibbs headed towards the elevator. "Gibbs, where are you going?"

The door open and Gibbs got in, pushing a button with a viciousness that probably was meant for Leon himself. "To get my boy back."

* * * *

Tony knew that he had a limited amount of time to get his stuff together and get out before Gibbs came after him. It didn't matter that there were perfectly legitimate reasons for the resignation, Gibbs would drag him back by the hair or the ear, depending on his mood. He finished shoving clothes in his duffel bag and grabbed his leather jacket and keys on the way out the door.

As he waited for the elevator, his thoughts drifted to the letters he'd gotten since his return to duty at NCIS. 'Letters' was too kind a word; terse notes in email form were more like it.

Leave NCIS or we show Gibbs what a fraud you really are.

Stay and Gibbs finds out everything.

We have pictures.

They all went along that fashion and he didn't know enough about computers to do anything when his simple trace hit a figurative brick wall. And if he'd asked Abby or McGee for help, they would've wanted to know what was going on, in detail, and would've brought Gibbs in on it anyhow. That was something he was trying to avoid at all costs.

The elevator finally arrived and was thankfully empty. He stepped on and hit the garage level, mind wheeling back to the emails. He knew exactly what they were threatening to expose and there was no way in hell he'd let that happen. He'd spent years working his ass off to win Gibbs' respect; he would do anything to keep it, even resigning from NCIS.

Stepping into the garage, Tony strode across to his car and popped the trunk by remote. He tossed his bag inside and slammed the trunk shut, using excessive force. Wincing, he rubbed the Mustang's body and said, "Sorry, baby. I didn't mean it."

He crossed to the driver's side and opened the door, throwing his jacket in the back seat. A tickling sensation on the back of his neck had Tony spinning and drawing his weapon simultaneously, but he lowered the gun on seeing Gibbs not three feet away.

The very lack of expression told Tony that he was in serious shit.

"Going somewhere DiNozzo?"

Inwardly groaning, Tony made sure that he plastered a fake smile on his face. "Just going on a little road trip, Boss. I have a newfound appreciation for solid ground, so I'm taking some time to appreciate it the old fashioned way, with tires on the asphalt and the windows open."

Gibbs stalked closer and Tony held onto his resolve not to give any ground for about ten seconds. In the time it took for two heartbeats, Gibbs had him pinned against the car.

"You're going to run?" Gibbs demanded. "After waiting four months to get you back, you're just going pack up and leave?"

Tony grinned despite the lump in his throat. "Well, what can I say? After being on a glorified metal box at sea for four months, I have a craving for some terra firma. Sort of like Easy Rider, only without a motorcycle, Dennis Hopper or crazy sideburns."

"You're turning your back on your team for some dirt, DiNozzo?" Gibbs growled.

"Not just dirt, Boss," Tony chided him. "American dirt." The double entendre didn't escape him. He was leaving because of dirt, just not the kind that Gibbs thought.

"Cut the crap, Tony."

Gibbs' rare use of his first name almost undid DiNozzo, but the memory of those threatening messages kept him from caving in. If it had been any other problem, about anything else, Tony would have gladly turned to Gibbs for help. His blackmailer, though, was smart. Leaving, especially after just having gotten home, would be hard, but staying and having Gibbs find out? That wasn't worth thinking about.

"Like you really busted your ass getting me back?" Tony turned the tables on Gibbs and managed to put some snap into his voice. "I've been with you longer than either McGee or Ziva, but I was last on your list when it came to putting the team back together. How's that for loyalty?"

To his surprise, Gibbs' expression softened. "Different situations, Tony. I tried every bit as hard to get your place back on the team earlier."

"Yeah, well, you could have fooled me," Tony put a hand on Gibbs' chest and pushed, just hard enough to let the older agent know that he meant business. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got places to go and people to see."

Tony would have liked to have thought that an expression of hurt crossed Gibbs' face, but it was probably just wishful thinking.

"You can't walk out on the team like this," Gibbs stated, but he did step back. Reluctance in every line of his body, but he did step back.

Keeping a firm hand on his resolve, Tony moved to the door and got into his car before replying. "Why not?" he asked. "You did or have you forgotten Mexico already."

Tony managed to get the car in gear and pull away, all without looking back at the man he was leaving behind.

* * * *

Tony had a pretty damn good poker face and was a damn good actor. Thing was, Jethro knew Tony inside and out. He could tell when the words didn't match the tone, no matter how good an act the other man put on. This time, the tone had said, 'help me,' even if the words had basically told him, 'go screw.'

Scowling at the back of the Mustang as it left the garage, Jethro pulled out his cell phone and dialed as he headed for the exit.

"Yes, Boss?" McGee answered.

"Check Tony's email for anything suspicious."

There was a pause before McGee questioned, "Suspicious? Like what?"

Jethro opened his mouth to tear into him when…

"On it, Boss!" McGee exclaimed and hung up.

Smirking a little, sometimes it really was better to be feared than loved, Jethro climbed into his car. The smirk faded as he pulled into traffic, thinking over the statement. Where DiNozzo was concerned, being loved was much better than being feared. He'd thought that they'd finally gotten to a place where they could be honest and build something. What, he had no idea, but something. After three ex-wives, Jethro wasn't exactly one to talk about forever, but he'd been thinking it in a vague way.

The scowl returned as he thought about what might have spooked Tony so badly. And he was running, no doubt about that. Something had happened, maybe a threat of some kind had been levied, to send Tony heading for the hills. There was no way the other man would abandon the team, even if he didn't have feelings for Jethro, though Jethro knew that wasn't the case. Tony wanted him, at the very least, but he suspected that it went far beyond simple want.

Pulling into his parking spot, Jethro turned off the engine and climbed out, going to the stairwell instead of using the elevator. He went inside at the evidence garage, avoiding Leon, and headed straight for Abby's lab.

She was bent over a microscope while writing something on paper, apparently not needing to see to write. Or draw, he saw as he approached silently. It looked like something out of a science book and he leaned in close, asking, "What's that?"

Abby jumped, dropping the pencil as she spun to face him, hand to her chest. She slapped his shoulder and exclaimed, "Don't do that!"

Hiding a grin, he asked, "Tony talk to you about a roadtrip?"

"Roadtrip? No. Why?"

"He resigned this morning."

The shock on her face was genuine. Jethro knew Abby as well as he did Tony, maybe a little better even.

"Resigned!" she shouted, jumping again, this time multiple times in agitation. "He can't resign, we just got him back!"

Jethro gripped her by the shoulders to make her stop, looked her right in the eyes and said, "I'll bring him back, Abs. Something happened. Think you can snoop around and see what? McGee's checking into his email, but Tony would've dumped anything that came in that way."

Her eyes lost focus as she nodded and started muttering about traces and firewalls and other things he only knew about because of Abby. Leaving her to it, he headed upstairs and went right to McGee's desk.

McGee saw him coming and said in a low voice, "Found a few threatening emails, Boss. Here, take a look."

Jethro bent over his shoulder, squinting at the screen to make out the ugly words that had caused Tony to run. Fraud? What kind of fraud?

"What should we do?" McGee asked.

Straightening, Jethro told him, "You're staying here to tell Vance you don't know where I am when he asks. Right, McGee?"

McGee swallowed nervously, but nodded.

Jethro went to his own desk and locked away his badge and gun. This wouldn't be official business, so he would go home and get his backup weapons. And the hunting knife. And probably his sniper rifle too.

Just in case.

* * * *

Tony put his sunglasses on as he exited the bank. He didn't have as much money as his father did, but it was a respectable sum and it had taken a while to empty his accounts. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The delay had given Gibbs enough time to get back to the office and break the bad news to the others, especially Abby. Tony wasn't proud of the fact he'd been unable to tell her himself, but the confrontation with Gibbs had taken everything out of him. Still, he couldn't leave without at least talking to her, so with a sense of reluctance, Tony got out his cell phone and dialed her number.

"Tony, you better be on your way back," Abby declared as she answered the phone.

Tony winced as he heard the music blaring behind her. Abby only played the classics like Sex Fiend Children when she was really upset.

"Sorry, no can do," Tony told her. He leaned on the car as he spoke, needing the support. "I gotta go, Abs. I just wanted to say goodbye before I did. I'll miss you."

And he would, nearly as much as he would Gibbs. It was Abby's cards that had kept him sane while he'd been assigned as an agent afloat.

He could hear her gulping back sobs. "Tony. . . ."

"Nope, you can't talk me out of it," Tony interrupted. "Take care of yourself, Abs, and take care of the big guy for me too."

Before he could second guess himself, Tony ended the call. He counted to five before it started to ring and he could see on the display that it was Abby trying to call him back. With a true sense of regret, Tony dropped the phone onto the asphalt and ground it underneath his heel.

"Sorry, Abs," Tony repeated, even though she had no way of hearing him. "Can't let you change my mind."

Being first a cop and then an agent had given Tony a good idea of how to disappear. He knew McGee would trace his financial activities, so there was no harm in letting his cell phone trail end there. Months ago, Tony had bought a disposable cell phone at a convenience store, knowing it would come in handy. He'd taken some of his money out in coin, so he could use toll roads without activating his automatic pass. He was as untraceable as he could be for the time being.

Tony briefly thought of staying on the East Coast, where he had contacts in Philadelphia and Baltimore, but that would be the expected plan. He knew Gibbs would try to find him, just as he knew the blackmailer would be watching. The best thing for everyone involved was for Tony to disappear and he was determined to do just that.

Deciding to head south and then make his decisions from there, Tony drove out of the city. He waited until he was a far piece from D.C. before selling the Mustang. He'd taken one of the back roads and happened upon a car show. It wasn't too difficult to find someone interested in buying the Mustang and, with any luck, it'd be at least a few days before the man he sold it to bothered to change the name on the title or the registration.

Tony wasn't quite as fond of the Mustang as he'd been of the Corvette, but it grieved him to get rid of his car. A Mustang was too noticeable, though, so he needed a less distinctive ride. Between what he got for the car and some of the cash he'd taken from the bank, Tony bought a used sedan, in a sedate beige.

"Great, a Mommy car," Tony muttered under his breath. The vehicle was boring and utterly unsuited to his personality, but no one would give the car a second look and that's the way he wanted it.

Transportation taken care of and his tracks covered as well as he was able to do, Tony was forced to consider where exactly he was running to. He'd been so caught up in the need to flee and the fear that Gibbs would find out why that he hadn't spent a lot of time figuring out where he would go…just where he couldn't. Eventually, Tony used a rest stop in one of the Carolinas and noticed that it had a map of the United States on it, with the major highways marked. He studied it for long minutes.

"Texas," Tony murmured. It was late and there was no one around to overhear. "It's a big state, lots of places to hide."

He returned to the car and started it up, relieved to have a destination in mind, even if he didn't know what he was going to do once he got there. Traffic on the back roads was minimal in late afternoon and he headed for the highway, no longer worried about his car passing trafficams and being flagged. He was almost sure that Gibbs wouldn't have put a BOLO out on him, but not positive. Certainly, it wouldn't be beyond the other man to list his car as stolen.

Snorting, Tony muttered, "He'd probably consider it just punishment, putting me in handcuffs for running."

The thought of Gibbs putting him in handcuffs was not conducive to comfortable driving, so he quickly turned on an Oldies station and started singing along with the Beach Boys.

* * * *

The problem with tracking someone from law enforcement was that they knew all the same tricks. Don't use credit. Don't keep your cell phone. Ditch your car. Plus all the little things that made living off the grid so much easier.

Sitting at a booth in a small diner off a back road in South Carolina, Gibbs stared at a roadmap of the United States. It was spread out, taking up most of the table. Tony was smart enough to take the East Coast off the table, figuring that they could find him too easily that way. He'd already gotten rid of the car and cell phone the day before; the ownership transfer had surfaced on some algorithm whatsit Abby had set up.

Which was why Jethro was in the back end of nowhere after talking to the man who'd bought it and come up with no leads. If Tony had bought another car, and he had to have done so, the man hadn't seen it.

"More coffee, hon?"

Jethro looked up at the waitress, mid-twenties and fairly pretty, but on her way to being a lifetime employee, he could tell. He nodded and said, "Thanks."

As she poured, she looked down at the map and asked, "You lost? You don't seem the type."

"Not lost, no," he replied. "But I am looking for someone."

He pulled a picture of Tony from his wallet and held it up for her to see. It had been taken a few years ago at a team-building seminar that they hadn't been able to get out of and showed Tony grinning ear to ear and looking at someone else. He wasn't even aware of the picture being taken, which was probably why he wasn't making a face and hamming it up.

"Oh, I'd sure remember him, but no, I haven't seen him. Sorry."

Shrugging, he replaced the picture and put the wallet back in his pocket. "Thanks anyhow."

After she left, he looked at the map again, trying to think about where Tony would go to disappear. California would definitely appeal to him, especially Los Angeles. The city was damn sure big enough to get lost in, but that would be an obvious choice. Vegas would also suit Tony's need for the high life, but he didn't think it would work for a long-term reinvention. Gibbs scanned the massive portion called Texas and paused, thinking about that for a long moment. There was a lot of empty space there, plenty of sports to get involved with, and cities with good nightlife's.

"But which city?" he muttered.

Not that it mattered just yet, since Tony had to get there by car. If he was going the easiest, most direct route then cutting the younger man off wouldn't prove too difficult. Tony had no reason to think that traveling via the highway would be a problem, so he would use them. It would still take a good four or five days to finish the drive while Jethro could fly and be there in a matter of hours.

With a destination in mind, however vague or general it might be, he folded up the map and left money on the table.

* * * *

As clandestine meeting venues went, one at Starbucks didn't have the dangerous atmosphere that a dark alley or deserted warehouse did. The very crowded nature of such places did offer a kind of anonymity, however, and the presence of so many other people insured safety. No one would risk a physical double cross in the midst of so many freshly caffeinated potential witnesses.

The party he was meeting was already seated when he arrived, so the man stood in line for his order before heading to the table. He wouldn't have bothered with coffee except that he didn't want to stand out. Besides, Starbucks' apple fritters were delicious.

"You won't hold on to your new job long if you pay more attention to the pastries than you do your work," the other man complained as he sat and made himself comfortable.

"DiNozzo is gone," he replied calmly. "That's what I was told to accomplish."

"But Gibbs is gone too," came the reply. "That wasn't part of the equation."

He took a big bite of his fritter and washed it down with a gulp of coffee before answering. "Equations change. Besides, if you didn't know that driving off DiNozzo would cause exactly that kind of reaction from Gibbs, then you don't know the man nearly as well as you thought."

"We'll see about that," the other man snarled as he stood. "Now I have to go fix your mess up, but don't worry, Director Vance, you just enjoy your coffee."

Leon Vance sat back in his chair as he watched the other man stalk off. "I think I'll do just that, Special Agent Fornell," he said softly to himself. "I think I will."

* * * *

Austin turned out to be a lot different than Tony had figured, what with the few times he'd been in Texas. He'd heard that it was, someone had even said that it wasn't really Texas, but hadn't believed it until he got there. It was a lot easier to fit in there than he'd anticipated; it was a college town, a big sports town, and had lots of live music. Not that he'd been there all that long, only a week, but he could easily picture himself there for a few years before heading somewhere else, maybe going further west to California.

For the time being, he was staying in a decent, not too pricey hotel while he figured out the details of his new life. Did he go for the whole new identity or just do a variation on his name? He didn't have the money to buy a new ID with a complete set of papers from a professional, but he could fudge one up himself that would fool regular people. Although what the hell he would do for work that wouldn't bore him stupid inside of a week, he had no clue.

Tony pushed that aside and concentrated on breakfast. He'd found an awesome little hole-in-the-wall place that made the best huevos rancheros he'd had in his life and they deserved his total attention.

"More juice, Tony?"

Looking up at Helen, a college junior who waitressed to help her weekend partying, he grinned and answered, "Sure thing. How's the volleyball?"

She grinned back as she complained, "Boys kicked us off the court early to play their dumb game."

Tony grabbed his heart in mock-pain. "Sacrilege! Basketball is not a dumb game!"

Giggling, she poured more orange juice and told him, "You should totally come to a game with me and prove me wrong."

Just two years ago, Tony wouldn't have thought twice about accepting a coed invitation, especially one delivered in such a flirty tone from such a pretty girl. He silently acknowledged that he might have actually grown up at some point when he wasn't looking. Tony heaved a sigh and said, "Just my luck."

"What's that?" she asked, blue eyes sparkling.

He winked and replied, "A pretty girl finally asks me out and she looks just like my niece. My very young niece."

Rolling her eyes, Helen said, "I am legal, you know."

Tony chuckled and said, "Ask me again in a few years, if I'm still around."

She shook her head, still grinning, and walked off to offer juice to another customer. Tony looked after her for a few seconds, enjoying the sway of her hips, and then returned his attention to the food and newspaper.

"I thought I taught you better."

Tony stiffened at Gibbs' voice and looked up to find him standing a few feet away. Even dressed in jeans and t-shirt, the military bearing was unmistakable. Drinking in the sight of him, it was all Tony could do not to throw himself at the other man's feet and beg for forgiveness…among other things. All of that was off the table, though, so Tony took a slow, deep breath and shoved it back where such needs couldn't cause trouble. That was why he was in this mess to begin with, after all.

Forcing a fake smile, he greeted cheerfully, "Hey, Boss! What brings you to Austin?"

Tony didn't even realize that he'd been holding his breath until Gibbs reached over and swatted the back of his head. Gibbs' sense of personal loyalty was such that the fact that he'd tracked Tony down wasn't particularly meaningful. That head smack, though, said a lot. Ironically, if Gibbs was willing to hit him, then he hadn't written Tony completely off yet.

Which meant that Tony had some work to do.

"You lost head smacking rights when I resigned," Tony grimaced and made a show of rubbing the sore spot, but in reality he was watching Gibbs avidly as the older man sat across from him. Gibbs was silent as he took his seat, simply folding his hands on the table and looking at Tony with a lack of expression on his face.

"You know damn well what brought me to Austin," Gibbs stated quietly, ignoring Tony's comment. "You."

"I thought I made myself clear back in D.C.," Tony pointed out, dropping the overly friendly act. "I resigned; I told you that I want out of NCIS."

"Oh, I know what you said, DiNozzo," Gibbs replied. "And it was about as true as that line you fed the waitress about having a niece. I want the truth."

Tony looked down, trying to buy himself some time. He was good at undercover ops because he was a quick thinker and bold liar, but this was different. This was Gibbs and the stakes were too high to mess up.

"After what happened with Jenny, I need some space," Tony claimed, lifting his face to meet Gibbs' eyes. The best lie, after all, was flavored with some truth. Ziva had nailed it, back on the ship. Tony did feel some remorse for the Director's death and, even though it made him feel more guilty for using that emotion to hoodwink Gibbs, he did it anyway.

"So this is about not being able to prevent Jenny's murder?" Gibbs asked mildly. Tony just nodded. Having Gibbs sitting across a table from him, that particular look on his face, reminded Tony too much of an interrogation. "And here I thought it was all about the threatening emails you'd been receiving."

He should have known that Gibbs would figure it out, but Tony still gaped at him. It was only when he saw the faint smirk tugging at Gibbs lips that he figured out he was doing it and, with an audible snap, shut his mouth.

"I will kill McGoo," Tony declared, knowing who'd found the damning messages. "I will chop his body up into pieces so small that even Ducky won't be able to put them together again."


The female voice caused Tony to jump, but not Gibbs. The smug bastard must have seen the waitress coming up from behind him.

"Is everything okay?" Helen asked. She gave Gibbs a skeptical look, like she'd be capable of slapping him down if he gave her any trouble. Children and women who didn't know Gibbs very well tended to react to him that way, like he was harmless.

"It's fine, Helen," Tony reassured her. "I just wasn't expecting my father to show up so soon, that's all."

Referring to Gibbs as his father was supposed to be a dig, but as soon as he said the word, Tony knew it had been a mistake. The concept of 'Gibbs' and 'Daddy' in the same sentence caused all sorts of juices to start flowing.

"Huh," Helen gave Gibbs another look. "You two don't look anything alike."

Gibbs looked at her blandly. "He takes after his mother's side."

Helen shrugged. "Can I get you anything?"

Instead of answering her, Gibbs looked at Tony. "Should she?"

That was easy to answer; there was no way that Tony wanted this particular conversation to continue in public. "No, we can't stay."

"Okay," Helen gave Tony a sympathetic look as she walked away. With what she'd confided to him about her partying ways, she probably was familiar with a visit from disapproving parents. Tony fished out a bill and tossed it on the table. They might be the best huevos rancheros in the world, but the food no longer had any appeal. He nodded pleasantly at Helen as he left the restaurant, Gibbs at his heels. Once outside, Tony turned to say something to his unwelcome companion, only to feel the cold sensation of metal snapping around his wrist.

"What the hell?" Tony snarled. He pulled his hand up, causing Gibbs' to rise as well. The two of them were handcuffed together.

"No more running, DiNozzo," Gibbs told him. "It's time for the truth."

For a few seconds, Tony literally couldn't think of a single thing to say. He was still thinking when Gibbs laced their cuffed hands together finger by finger and then started walking. Tony had no choice but to walk as well or get dragged. Since he wasn't entirely sure Gibbs wouldn't do just that, he scrambled to the other man's side, falling into step with him. Even in Austin, they got some looks like they were crazy or dangerous, cuffed together that way.

He probably shouldn't have been surprised when Gibbs walked towards his hotel, which was just down the block. "What, did you have me scoped out?"

"For the last twenty-four hours," Gibbs confirmed shortly.

Instead of feeling creeped out knowing that Gibbs had been watching him, Tony felt strangely safe.

The clerk in the lobby blinked at them a couple of times as they walked by and called out, "You okay, Tony?"

"Yeah! I'm fine!" Tony called back. "Thanks, Gary!"

His room was on the fourth floor, so they had to wait for the elevator. An older, well-off couple exited when the doors opened, the woman gasping on noticing the handcuffs and joined hands. Tony gave her a weak smile as Gibbs dragged him into the elevator and hit the fourth floor button. They were silent on the trip up so there was nothing to distract Tony from the feel of Gibbs' hand on his, strong, callused, and warm.

It felt too damn good.

A startlingly short time later, they were in his hotel room and the door closed behind with a soft snick of the lock, something that sent a shiver through Tony.

Gibbs ordered, "So. Talk."

Tony protested, "I can't like this! Uncuff me. You made your point."

"Oh, I don't think I have, but that's for another time," Gibbs warned. "I uncuff you and you sit your ass on the bed and talk. I want the whole truth, Tony. Everything. It doesn't matter how bad you think it is, I want to hear it."

Tony flushed as Gibbs unlocked the cuffs, trying to think of a place to start.

"Try the beginning," the other man suggested

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Tony sighed and looked at the floor. There was no way he could talk about this while looking at Gibbs. He finally started, "I'm usually a lot more careful, but he was…well, not you, but pretty damn close with some extras. He was smart, really sharp, knew a lot about basketball and old movies. Had that whole authority thing down like no one else I knew except you. How could I resist, right? Anyhow, things moved fast and I…did a lot more with him than I've done with anyone in a long time. Bondage. Pain play. Almost anything he wanted, I did it. I just didn't know that he filmed us."

Gibbs' voice was rough as he demanded, "What was his name?"

Even though he'd done nothing wrong, even though Tony knew he was allowed to sleep with whoever he wanted, shame flushed through him as he admitted, "Fornell. It was Tobias Fornell. I'm sorry, Gibbs."

Since he still wouldn't look at the other man, Tony only heard Gibbs' reaction, but he could guess the rest. Gibbs made a sound of displeasure and Tony felt the movement of air as Gibbs strode passed him. He fully expected to hear the sound of the hotel door opening and slamming shut, but instead, he heard muffled footsteps on carpet as Gibbs came back.

Tony braced himself for the fist that would surely come. He couldn't help but flinch when he sensed Gibbs hand approaching his face, but instead of hitting him, Gibbs instead gently cupped Tony's chin and forced his head up.

"Is that what you need, Tony?" Gibbs asked gently. "To be tied up? Hurt?"

Not sure that he heard correctly or that he was really seeing tenderness in Gibbs' eyes, Tony licked lips that were suddenly dry. "What?"

"Do you like pain as a part of love play?" Gibbs reworded the question, being unusually patient. "Is that what you need to get off?"

Still not entirely trusting that he'd heard the question correctly, Tony dared to answer. "S-sometimes."

Gibbs nodded. "All right, I can do that." He shifted his hand so that his thumb could caress Tony's check. "As long as you're willing to indulge me in the pain-free type on a regular basis."

"Wh-what?" Tony's tongue felt numb and for once, words eluded him.

"When we make love," Gibbs stated. "I can give you what you need, but you'll have to give me what I need, too."

Tony looked blankly at the other man for a moment, mind spinning. It didn't feel real, what Gibbs was offering, it was too much like a dream come true. Which, of course, meant that it wasn't real at all.

"Oh, I get it," Tony jerked his head away from Gibbs hand. "Lead on the bi guy. Very funny."

"Tony, settle down," Gibbs made a grab as Tony pulled away. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You can be as disgusted as you want with me," Tony grunted as he tried to get away from Gibbs, but the bedspread was slick and he had a hard time getting any leverage. "But don't make fun of me. Not you, Gibbs."

Gibbs made one of those Marine moves of his and the next thing Tony knew, he was flat on his back on the bed, pinned there by Gibbs' weight. Blue eyes drilled into his own with an intensity that had nothing to do with mockery. Tony opened his mouth to say something, he didn't know what, but it wasn't necessary. Gibbs swooped down and kissed Tony, invading his mouth with a demanding tongue.

Tony had dreamed many times of being overwhelmed by Gibbs and the reality far exceeded his expectations. Feeling the bulk and hardness of Gibbs' body on top of his, being overpowered and held there, not to mention the kiss, were too many sensations for him to deal with. All of the years of quiet longing were exacerbated by the fear and anguish of the last couple of weeks. Without any warning, Tony felt orgasm rip through his body. Crying out sharply, his hips lifted as he came in his pants hard enough to cause him to black out even while waves of pleasure wracked his body.

When Tony opened his eyes, Gibbs was propped up on one elbow, just looking at him. The bastard looked smug and content in a way that Tony had never seen him.

"Okay," Tony admitted before Gibbs could say anything. "Maybe you weren't making fun of me."

"Nope," Gibbs replied succinctly.

The reversal of his situation left Tony reeling. "So what do we do now? I mean, Fornell's going to make trouble. I can find a new career, Boss, but you've got so much invested in NCIS that…"

"We are not going to do anything," Gibbs put a quelling finger over Tony's lips. "I am. You leave Fornell to me."

"But…" Tony protested.

Gibbs growled and reached to pull Tony closer. His hands dropped to Tony's ass and Tony could feel their warmth, even though the layers of cloth. "No buts, DiNozzo. At least, not that kind."

Heat washed through Tony, but not all of it was desire. "Fornell is my fault; my problem. I'm the one who entered into a relationship with him, I ought to deal with him."

"Tobias Fornell is a manipulative bastard; he knows all the right buttons to push to get what he wants and make you think it's all your idea," Gibbs informed him. "You're not the only one he's done something like this with. I thought he and I had an understanding, but looks like I'm going to have to enforce the lesson again."

Tony liked the feeling of Gibbs taking charge. It felt right in a way that he'd never felt being dominated before. "How are you going to do that?"

"Yes, Jethro," a new voice interjected. "How are you going to do that?"

Recognizing the voice, Tony turned towards the door with a feeling of dread. Tobias Fornell stood there, having gained entry while Gibbs and DiNozzo were distracted. Tony wasn't sure how much he'd overheard.

Worse yet, Fornell had a gun in hand and it was pointed directly at them.

* * * *

There had been many dangerous assignments over the years. Plenty of times where Jethro had had to make split second choices and his gut had steered him right in all but a few of those situations. Now though, all he could think about was Tony lying on the bed beside him and Tobias standing six feet away with a gun trained on them. His own weapon rested against his hip, but there was no way he could pull it and hit Fornell before the other man shot him or Tony.

Unexpectedly, or maybe not, Tony sat up and started talking. "You followed Gibbs to get to me? I don't know whether to be flattered or tell you that you've got awful taste in men."

Fornell snorted and replied, "You shouldn't be flattered and really, you're not my type. This was all just…a deep undercover assignment where I got more relief than usual. I will say that you've got some serious talent in the bedroom. Of course, that just means you're a serious slut, not that that's a surprise."

Jethro put a hand on Tony's thigh, both in warning and comfort, as he questioned, "Why are you here, Fornell?"

"Not because I want to be," Fornell replied. "DiNozzo's actually not the target, Jethro. He can live his life out here in Austin or wherever the hell he wants and no one will ever come looking again. You, on the other hand, pissed off the wrong person. You go back to NCIS and work there until retirement and then go anywhere but where DiNozzo is. No contact with him ever, from here on out. See, this person takes the long view when it comes to revenge, the whole, 'a dish best served cold,' and all that crap. You alone for the rest of your life is what they want, so that's what they get."

Gibbs knew that he'd pissed off plenty of people in his life, but this had to be recent. With the non-affair between Tony and Fornell starting only a couple of months ago, it had to be within the last six months. Still, that covered a lot of territory and he would need time to figure it out.

"Before you get any ideas, Jethro, you should know that there'll be someone on DiNozzo here twenty-four-seven. Anything happens to the man in charge and he dies," Fornell informed them. "And 'anything' covers death, imprisonment, disgrace. If his living status changes, DiNozzo dies first, then Sciuto, Ducky, David, and finally McGee."

Jethro had to ask, "What happened to you, Tobias?"

Lips quirking briefly, though it couldn't be called a smile, Fornell answered, "Money. A lot of money. Well, and DiNozzo does have a damn fine ass so that part wasn't exactly a hardship. Not that you'll ever get to sample it. Come on. Time to go."

"Give me five minutes alone to say goodbye," Gibbs said, more than asked. "You owe me that."

Fornell seemed to think about it before nodding slowly and heading for the door. "I'm timing you."

Once the door closed, Gibbs looked at Tony and ordered, "Stay here. I need to know where you are. Make a life here and I'll contact you when it's over."

Tony jumped to his feet, exclaiming, "You expect me to sit this one out when you're in trouble?"

"You expected me to sit it out when you were in trouble," Jethro pointed out.

Glaring, Tony snapped, "That's different!"

Gibbs stood and caught Tony's hands. His fingers wrapped tight around the wrists and he squeezed, not only garnering the other man's attention, but also a gasp of clear arousal. Keeping the grip, he commanded softly, "You will stay here until I say otherwise, understood? You're mine now, Tony, and I expect to be obeyed."

Tony's breathing immediately picked up and he asked somewhat breathlessly, "Anything else?"

Taking his mouth in a hungry, dominant kiss, Jethro walked him back against the nearest wall. Tony gave way immediately, opening to all of it and moaning into the kiss. It was a siren call Gibbs could hardly resist, but time was winding down so he broke it off. He bit hard at the side of Tony's throat, marking him, and growled, "No one else touches you, but me. You make a life for yourself and wait for me."

Tony blinked fuzzily at him before nodded. "Understood, Boss."

Jethro put his finger over Tony's mouth and corrected, "Master."

Swallowing visibly, Tony kissed his finger.

Taking that sight with him, Jethro turned sharply on his heel and left the room. He had a mission to accomplish and while killing one Tobias Fornell was high on the list, there was information he needed from the bastard first.

It's going to be a long flight back to DC, he thought with an internal snarl of anger at the situation.

Unfortunately, not only was it a long flight back to D.C., but it was a frustrating one as well. Tobias might be a faithless bastard, but he was a canny one. He knew better than to give Gibbs a chance at getting him alone. They took a cab to the airport and Gibbs figured there were good odds that the cab driver was one of Fornell's goons. Once at the airport, Fornell was too smart to make any trips to secluded bathrooms and, of course, the airplane was crowded. The constant thrum of the engines would have made a nice noise-mask, but Tobias never left his seat.

In addition to being a cold-hearted bastard, apparently the man had an iron bladder.

By the time the plane landed, Gibbs was about ready to burst from frustration. No one talked to Tony like that and lived. Fornell had been dead from the moment he called Tony a slut; the threats to the lives of Tony and the others were just nails in his coffin.

Once off the plane, Gibbs had decided to act, no matter the consequences. Fornell had warned that there would be a high cost if the man instigating the whole situation were harmed, but nothing had been said about Tobias himself. Gibbs didn't know if that was a deliberate oversight or not, but he fully intended on taking advantage of it. With a steely heart, he stalked towards Fornell as the agent headed for the exit.


The enthusiastic calling of his name caught Gibbs' attention, as did the owner of the voice it belonged to. He turned in time to get an armful of Abby. He caught her and tried to set her aside so that he could catch up with Tobias, but Abby was too excited and clung like a burr.

"Where is he?" Abby demanded. "Where's Tony?"

Frustrated, Gibbs could only watch as Fornell made it safely to the doors. Before he exited, Fornell turned and gave Gibbs a cheerful salute. There was no doubt in Gibbs' mind that Abby's presence was both a reminder of the stakes at hand and a threat.

"Gibbs?" Abby had been doing a visual of the area and deflated a little when it became obvious that there was no DiNozzo in sight. "You did bring Tony home, didn't you?"

"No, Abby," Gibbs told her sadly. "No, I didn't."

Then something occurred to him. He hadn't phoned the office to let them know he was on the way back, having been too busy trying to get Fornell alone so he could wring information out of him.

"Abby, how did you know I'd be here?" Gibbs asked.

She shrugged. "Director Vance told me."

Vance too?

"Oh, he did, did he?" Gibbs stated quietly.

"Yeah, he said you might need a ride home from the airport," her face fell into a pout. "I want Tony back, Gibbs."

As much as he wanted to, Gibbs didn't dare to reassure her. Later, he'd apologize, but for now, it was more important to play the game that his tormentor had devised.

"I do too," Gibbs told her. "But Tony doesn't want to come home, Abs."

"He doesn't?" Abby wailed. "But why?"

Gibbs shrugged. "I don't know, Abs. He said it was time to move on. We had him a lot longer than the other police departments he worked for."

Abby sniffed. "Yeah, but we understood him; they didn't."

She didn't know the half of it, but Gibbs didn't enlighten her. "I know."

With Abby too upset to drive, Gibbs did, which meant they got back to the office that much faster. Once there, Gibbs shrugged off McGee and Ziva's demands for information. Grabbing the three files that were still on his desk, Gibbs jogged up the steps.

"Special Agent Gibbs, you can't go in there," the hapless assistant called out to him as he blew passed her to barge into Vance's office. "The director is busy."

Vance was behind his desk, on his telephone, the soft expression in his face an indication that it was a personal call. "Hey, I gotta run, sweetie. You do your best at the game this afternoon and tell me all about it when I get home." He listened for a moment. "Yes, I love you too. Goodbye, honey."

He put the phone down and waved off his assistant. "It's all right, I've been expecting Special Agent Gibbs."

After she left, Gibbs threw the folders down on Vance's desk like a gauntlet. "What the hell is going on, Leon?"

Vance held up one hand as he took out a small device from a desk drawer. He flipped it on before answering. "Damned if I know. Fornell showed up at my church a couple of weeks ago, with pictures of my daughter's soccer game."

"You sent those emails to DiNozzo." It was a statement, not a guess.

Vance nodded. "I was told to engineer DiNozzo's defection from NCIS; it was left up to me how to accomplish it." His grin was wolfish. "Took you long enough to find him. I thought those emails would be like a breadcrumb trail for someone like McGee."

Gibbs snorted. "The emails weren't the problem; Tony's damn good at disappearing."

"Look," Vance leaned forward, elbows on his desk. "I'm not going to risk my family, Jethro. Don't trust Fornell and you probably shouldn't trust me from this point out either." He nodded at the device. "I sweep this office regularly for listening devices and can jam those that I miss, but I'm sure that there's someone that noticed you marching in here right after getting back from your visit with Tony and Fornell. I can't help you on this one."

"Just tell me one thing," Gibbs asked. He had no problem with Leon needing to protect his family, but was hoping to get more information. "Do you know who's behind it?"

"No," Vance looked genuinely regretful as he shook his head.

Disappointed, but not really surprised, Gibbs turned to leave.

"Gibbs," Vance said before Gibbs walked out. "I will point out this: Jenny Sheppard died protecting you."

* * * *

Ziva knew that there was more going on than Tony deciding to move on. While his record said that the idea was not at all far fetched, there was too much of Tony invested in the team for him to simply pick up and leave. Then there was the fact that he was in love with Gibbs. She knew there was no chance he would voluntarily leave the man's side. Lastly, those threatening emails. What kind of fraud? What would Gibbs find out? They certainly hadn't written themselves. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to spook Tony and they'd succeeded.

Instinct, her gut, said that everything revolved around Gibbs. Tony might be a red herring or he might be a threat. Maybe they were all threats, the way Gibbs had been acting for the last couple of weeks around them. He was running his own investigation, that much she knew without a doubt. What it was about…that, she did not know.

Which was why she was staking out Gibbs, who was staking out Fornell, of all people. What the FBI agent had to do with any of this was also mystery. That he was involved, was obvious. Gibbs wouldn't be spending so much time watching the man without Fornell being in on whatever was going on. The question was…friend or foe? Ziva's gut said foe, but it was hard to reconcile the gruff, straightforward man with someone who could betray Gibbs, a long-time friend.

Gibbs was being very obvious about his stakeout, parked in front of the house on the opposite curb as if he didn't care that Fornell saw him there. Ziva had decided to be more discreet, parked several cars behind Gibbs. She sat comfortably, waiting patiently for the situation to reveal itself to her. There'd been far more uncomfortable nights watching other dramas unfold, that was for certain.

When her cell rang about an hour into the shift, she was unsurprised to find Gibbs' ID flash on it. Grimacing, she picked it up. Even though she knew he knew that she was there, she asked innocently, "Can I help you, Gibbs? It's quite late and I was about to go to bed."

"I need for you to leave without Fornell spotting you. Think you can manage that?"

"Gibbs, please tell me what's going on!" she exclaimed. "I can help you!"

"Not by parking on Fornell's street."

"So you'll tell me what's going on? You'll let me help you get Tony back?"

Gibbs must have been tired, because she actually heard the sigh on his end before he said, "Yes. Now get out of here before he spots you."

As she drove away, Ziva wondered how the man had known she was there. She wasn't even driving her own car and knew that she hadn't done anything to reveal her position.

* * * *

Ziva was good, Jethro had to admit that. He'd never spotted her, not that he would tell her so. Something had simply prompted him to call, maybe something subliminal as Abby liked to say. It was the very innocence in her tone when she'd answered that had clued him in that she was somewhere nearby. It wasn't until an unfamiliar car pulled out from behind him with the lights off that he saw her.

Jethro shook his head at her attempt to help while not even knowing what was going on. He would never say so out loud, but her blind loyalty supported him almost as much as Tony's love. He had no idea what he'd done to inspire such emotions in either, but hoped that he was deserving of it.

Fornell's front light came on and then the man himself exited the house, walking right to Gibbs' car. An angry, ugly expression covered his face as he stopped at the car and demanded, "What are you doing here?"

Taking a sip of his coffee, Jethro answered, "Just thinking. It's a public place, Tobias. I can sit in my car and think if I want to."

Gaze narrowing, Fornell retorted, "Trying to scare me, Gibbs? That's not usually your style. Actually, I'm surprised I'm not dead from a sniper's bullet yet. That's your MO, right? You kill those who hurt your family? What's the matter, getting sentimental in your old age?"

Jethro wasn't surprised that Fornell had put together what he'd done to Shannon and Kelly's killer. The man wasn't stupid. Shrugging, he replied, "No, you're already dead, Tobias, you just haven't met the bullet yet."

Fornell pulled his gun and aimed it at Jethro's head. "What's to stop me from killing you here and now?"

"Well, Tobias, I think that if you do, your boss would get really pissed and then you'd be dead anyhow. With me, at least you know there's no torture involved. You probably can't say the same for whoever you're working for, right?"

Fornell's thumb cocked the hammer on the gun as he snarled, "You think you're so smart, Jethro."

Jethro inclined his head and answered, "That's because I am."

Out of nowhere, sirens echoed loud through the otherwise quite neighborhood and lights flared. Two unmarked cars screeched to a halt nearby and agents jumped out of the vehicles.

"Put down your weapon and step away from the car!" someone shouted.

Fornell's lips pulled back in a feral expression and Jethro saw his finger tighten on the trigger. Adrenaline slammed into his system as he thought that he might have miscalculated.

"Do it now, or we shoot!"

Putting his gun on the street, Fornell lifted both hands into the air and snapped quietly, "This isn't over, Jethro."

"No, no it's not, Tobias," Jethro agreed.

He watched with a faint grin as the agents cuffed and read Fornell his rights. Attempted murder of a federal agent was a serious crime. It would keep Fornell occupied for at least a couple of days, which was all the time he needed to make a thorough search of the man's house. He picked up his cell to call Ziva back.

* * * *

Being a senior FBI agent had its advantages. Instead of being held in a cell, Fornell was kept in a room almost like a nice office. He didn't let it fool him. Knowing Gibbs, Fornell had been observed from the moment he'd been escorted into the NCIS headquarters. Gibbs probably wouldn't be the one watching, though. The bastard knew Fornell well enough to know that he could keep a straight face. There would be nothing to gain from making Fornell cool his heels, which meant that the whole set-up was likely about something else.

Gibbs was probably searching his house.

Fornell allowed himself a smirk. It wouldn't hurt, after all, to look confident. Tobias knew that Gibbs was good, but Fornell also knew himself to be better. The truth of that was proven by the way that Gibbs had believed the story he'd fed him, hook, line and sinker.

It had been a plan a long time in the making and Fornell was proud of it. He was tired of taking Jethro Gibbs' leavings and so when he'd laid eyes on Tony DiNozzo for the first time, Fornell knew he had to have him. A trained ape could see how DiNozzo wanted Gibbs; it took a subtler eye to see that the opposite was true too. Fornell was determined to get there first and, given that Gibbs moved at glacial speed when it came to romance with men, it hadn't even been all that hard.

Bedding DiNozzo had been a lot more satisfying than Tobias had anticipated. He'd gone into the liaison fully expecting to suck everything he could out of their encounters before dumping Tony. DiNozzo surrendered so sweetly, though, and was so very lacking in confidence, despite the brash persona. Fornell ached to truly break him, something he couldn't do with Jethro Gibbs in the picture. Gibbs would tolerate DiNozzo screwing around and not interfere, even though he wanted the younger man himself. In his own way, Gibbs was almost as lacking in the self confidence area as DiNozzo, at least as far as relationships were concerned. Seeing Tony hurt in any way, however, would be the surest way to get Gibbs to punch through that reticence and become involved.

Therefore Fornell had to get Gibbs out of the picture.

The easiest way to remove Gibbs from DiNozzo's life would have been to kill him and Tobias had been tempted. He'd married one of Gibbs' ex-wives and spent far too long being compared to the other man, not to mention how frustrating working in the same city - with competing agencies - was. In the end, though, Fornell had decided that killing Gibbs would be too easy. It would have killed two birds with one stone, because Gibbs' death would have softened DiNozzo up nicely for what Fornell had in mind. As much as he was frustrated by Gibbs, however, Fornell had to admit that he admired him too. He needed a more elegant way to make sure Gibbs couldn't interfere, a way that would also serve to isolate Tony and make him more open to Tobias.

A plan had been formed while Fornell was still fucking DiNozzo on a regular basis. Unfortunately, he'd been too distracted with the details and gone a little too far a little too fast. Tony had quietly severed the relationship. Fornell's first reaction had been fury, but he quickly realized that Tony's actions could play into what he had in mind nicely. He let Tony go, knowing that the situation was only temporary.

Being a senior FBI agent had more advantages than simple comfort while waiting to be questioned on a trumped up attempted murder charge. Fornell had a lot of contacts and was knowledgeable about a lot of secrets. For months he'd threatened to air the dirty laundry he'd been collecting for years, using the influence to make detailed arrangements that were so convoluted that even he had a hard time keeping track of it all.

Gibbs wouldn't find anything at Fornell's house; McGee wasn't the only computer nerd employed by a government agency and Fornell had blackmailed someone just as good. It had been child's play to use Vance to separate DiNozzo from Gibbs while convincing Leon that it had something to do with Jenny Sheppard's death. Tracking down DiNozzo had been more difficult than Fornell had expected; Tony had brains as well as being pretty. In the end, he'd just followed Gibbs and that had worked out well.

Fornell's smirk turned into a frown. Using Gibbs to find Tony had worked, but barging in to find them in bed together had not been pleasant, nor had it been planned. He'd have to punish Tony for that later.

Fooling Gibbs into thinking he was working on behalf of someone else hadn't been too hard. Gibbs had made a lot of enemies over the years. The best thing about it was that Gibbs would twist himself inside and out, trying to figure out which one was pulling the strings, never figuring that it was Fornell himself that was in charge. Gibbs would also never do anything to risk the safety of his team, so Jethro would have to move slowly and carefully.

In the meantime, Fornell would have to get out of whatever charges that would be issued over the incident at his house. It shouldn't be too difficult. From the way the other agents had been right there, he could cry foul about entrapment. That and a federal judge that Fornell knew wouldn't want pictures of an affair made public would insure the rest.

Gibbs would be stymied and Fornell could afford to sit back and wait. Cut off from his NCIS family, Tony would become more vulnerable by the day. All Tobias had to do was wait until Gibbs' attention slipped a little and he could make his move. He already had his hideaway prepared, complete with fake IDs for himself and DiNozzo. There were so many red herrings in play that Gibbs would never figure it out.

And Fornell could have Tony all to himself.

* * * *

The two-story house was a typical colonial setup with living room, dining room, kitchen, half-bath, and an office on the first floor. The second floor held three bedrooms, two full baths, and a linen closet. There was also an attic and a basement. All of which meant there was a hell of a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. He knew that the legal hoops Fornell had to go through wouldn't last nearly as long as he wanted them to, so they had to be fast.

Jethro took the first floor while Ziva took the second, mostly because he couldn't stand to think of Tony in Fornell's bed let alone possibly find evidence of it. Starting in the office, Jethro went through every piece of paper, every drawer. He searched the furniture for hidden compartments and the floor for a safe. When he was done, there was no sign that anyone had ever been there, let alone rooted through every square inch of the place.

It wasn't until he went through the dining room that he hit pay dirt. Sealed in a clear plastic bag, hidden under the gleaming dining room table in a false bottom, Jethro found new identities. Passports, Social Security cards, drivers' licenses, and even birth certificates, they were all in the bag. All the pictures were recent ones of Fornell and Tony, which caused his blood to run cold.

The only reason for them to exist was if Fornell planned on taking Tony somewhere. And if that was true, then Jethro wasn't the real target, Tony was.

"Ziva!" he bellowed. "We're done!"

He replaced the bag exactly as he'd found it and, by then, Ziva had left off whatever she was doing and come downstairs.

"What did you find?" she questioned.

Jethro's jaw clenched as he answered, "Nothing good. Everything put back as you found it?"

She gave him an annoyed look. "Gibbs, please."

Leaving the house, Jethro pulled out his cell and called Jack Baker, the man whose life he'd save twice in the last ten years.

"Jethro, I was just going to call you," Jack answered. "Fornell had some kind of influence with a judge who tossed everything. He's in the wind."

"Thanks, Jack," he answered, hanging up. Looking at Ziva, he said, "Get Abby and bring her and McGee to Ducky's. Sit on them. Fornell's out and I don't know what he's going to do."

Ziva grabbed his arm as they reached his car. "What are you going to do?"

Grim, Jethro answered simply, "Stop him."

* * * *

"Hey, Tony, we're gonna go play some Guitar Hero at Sheila's place. Wanna join us?"

Tony made a good show of regret. "No thanks, Kyle, I'm beat."

"Oh, man, you always say that." There was a time when Tony would have found the younger man's pout cute. "Call us later if you change your mind."

"Sure," Tony lied affably. His cell phone was on the fritz and he had yet to replace it.

He waved as his co-workers piled into a Prius and tore out of the parking lot, but sighed once they were out of sight. As much as Kate Todd used to tease Tony about acting like a college frat boy, he'd found that being around actual college kids made him feel a lot older. Or maybe it was just the situation.

'Make a life for yourself,' Gibbs had ordered and Tony had done his best to obey. At first, he thought about finding a job in some sort of law enforcement. Maybe a branch he hadn't tried before, like the state police or a county sheriff's office. The one inquiry he'd made, though, had put the kibosh on that notion. It seemed his previous positions in Peoria, Philly, Baltimore and NCIS had left the impression that he wouldn't stick around. Since he was hoping not to be in Texas long enough to actually go through another academy, Tony didn't even bother to pursue that avenue.

Tony's next thought was to get a private investigator's license. It would be like police work, only without a badge, and he was easily qualified enough to be a good one. Besides, the idea of being in the same profession as his favorite television characters Thomas Magnum or Rick Simon was decidedly appealing. Tony had gone as far as to check out what certifications were required before he realized that, beyond the Magnum hook, it wouldn't be very satisfying. There would be no one to watch his back, no easy camaraderie with people like Ziva or even McGee.

There would be no Gibbs and Tony could no longer fathom doing any sort of investigative work without Gibbs.

In the end, Tony realized that any job he got would be only temporary, since it only had to last long enough for Gibbs to figure out who was orchestrating their separation. He had enough saved that he could probably go a couple of months without needing employment, but the waiting would drive him insane. Tony needed to work to help alleviate the boredom, if nothing else.

Tony became a bartender. It was perfect. He could be around people having a good time, but the bar would act as a barrier to keep anyone from getting too close. Gibbs' other command of not allowing anyone else to touch him was never far from Tony's mind. Not that Tony was tempted, but it was better to be safe than sorry, at least where a possessive Gibbs was concerned.

He'd even found a sports bar to work in, one that catered to the college crowd. That was fine with Tony; he enjoyed mixing his love of sports with tending bar. He didn't even mind that college kids didn't tip well, since he wasn't working entirely for the money anyway. The other employees were nice enough, but that was part of the problem. Tony didn't want new friends; he wanted his old ones back. More often than not, Tony went home after his shift and tried not to dwell on what Gibbs would think of the life Tony had made. It had only been a couple of weeks, but it felt like a lot longer than that.

It was late and it had been a game night, so the bar had been hopping. Tony was exhausted as he made his way to his car. The sight of it made him smile. After Gibbs found him, there had been no more sense in hiding and Tony had gladly ditched the Mommy sedan for a 1966 cherry red Pontiac GTO coup. It suited his personality better, if not his height. Still, style was more important than comfort.

As Tony reached for the door, he sensed movement coming at him from behind. He turned to confront whatever it was, but wasn't fast enough. Someone slammed into him, pinning him to the car. Tony immediately moved to buck the other person off, but felt a sharp jab to his neck. He shook off his attacker and tried to get into a position to fight, but a wave of dizziness made him stumble.

"Our BAU team encountered a serial killer who had developed a very interesting concoction," a very familiar voice told him. "It paralyzes the victim while leaving him perfectly cognizant of what's going on around him."

"Fornell," Tony gasped. His body felt like it was going numb and he slid to his knees.

Tobias Fornell squatted in front of him so that they were at eye level. "Gibbs knew I was free, DiNozzo." Fornell pronounced Tony's name as he always did, probably just to piss Tony off. "Did he even try to warn you?"

With a groan, Tony remembered his broken cell phone. He hadn't bothered with a land line. With the cell phone down, Gibbs would have had no way to contact Tony. Gibbs would head smack the hell out of Tony when he found out what happened and, for once, Tony wouldn't complain about it. He deserved it.

"No, he didn't," Fornell answered his own question as he reached for Tony, easily eluding Tony's uncoordinated efforts to fend him off. "Maybe he's forgotten about you already."

Fornell dragged Tony to a sedan every bit as nondescript as the one that Tony had so recently replaced. By then the drug had taken full effect; there was nothing Tony could do to thwart his own kidnapping. Worse yet, he couldn't make Fornell shut the hell up.

"Gibbs found my stash of fake identifications," Fornell told Tony as he hefted him into the backseat of the car. "But I had my best two hidden someplace else. He never figured I'd actually have the balls to fly here instead of drive. All I had to do was go to an out of state airport."

Tony was reduced to simply glaring at the man, but it only made Fornell chuckle. "There was no conspiracy, Tony. No one was after Gibbs. Just me, laying claim on what's mine. Namely, you."

Some of the surprise must have shown on Tony's face, despite the effects of the drug. Tobias looked extremely pleased with himself. "I bought an old ranch up in Idaho. No one around for miles. It's got a barn that I'm particularly fond of; I think we'll find a good use for some of the harnesses that got left behind." He leered at Tony. "And if you're a bad boy, there's always the old root cellar. We're going to have a lot of fun."

There was no way that Tony was going to let the asshole go on and on without making some sort of retort. The drug had a good hold on him, but with a supreme act of will, Tony was able to force out one word. Only one, but that was all he needed. "Gibbs."

Fornell's smile disappeared. "I don't care what Gibbs told you, you belong to me. If he tries to come after us, I won't be Mr. Nice Guy.

He reached in and grabbed Tony's crotch, squeezing hard. "No more elaborate plans to keep him out of the picture; I'll just kill him."

Tony wasn't sure if it was a mercy or not, but a cloth covered his face a few seconds after Fornell strapped him into the backseat. Seconds later, a sickly sweet smell overwhelmed him, darkness fast on its heels.

* * * *

The flight to Austin took far too long. Knowing that Fornell was out there, on his way to the city, made Jethro itch to bring an army with him. The other man was a cunning bastard, no doubt about that. He knew there was a backup plan to the backup plan's plan; Fornell was just that good. With Ziva hunkered down watching the others, at least Jethro could focus on what needed doing.

First, get Tony.

Second, kill Fornell.

He got to the apartment that Tony had told him about by way of Ducky's mother's email around two in the morning. It was something that still vaguely irritated Jethro, the older woman knowing the internet better than he did, or at least being on the same level, and her suffering from dementia. Shaking off the familiar complaint, Jethro parked the rental and pressed the buzzer to DiNozzo's apartment. Three times. When there was still no answer, he stepped back to look up at the dark windows.

A head-smack was the least of Tony's worries when Jethro got hold of him. Of all the damn times for his cell to go straight to voicemail.

Screeching tires had Jethro spinning and taking cover at the same time, but it was only a semi-drunk trying to park. Taking his hand off his gun, he watched as a young man wove unsteadily from the sidewalk up the cement path towards the door.

When the kid saw him, he almost fell over backwards with a startled cry, arms windmilling for balance. Jethro grabbed his shirt and hauled him upright.

"Jeeezus! Warn a guy, guy!" the kid exclaimed, holding his chest.

Ignoring that, Jethro asked, "You know Tony DiNozzo?"

"Yeah sure. We work together, why?"

"He's not answering his door."

"Probably asleep. The guy's like a monk, I swear."

A revelation that pleased Jethro, even as worried as he was for Tony. "Let me in."

But the kid shook his head and tried to glare, the expression looking more cross-eyed than anything else. "I don't know you! You could be an axe murdererer. Er, you know. Killer."

Jethro pulled out his badge and his gun, making sure to show both. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead. Now open the damn door."

The gun seemed to sober the kid up some and he yanked out keys, opening the front door with shaky hands.

Leaving him there, Jethro jogged to the elevator, glad it opened right away. He made it to Tony's apartment less than a minute later and banged on the door, not caring about neighbors or noise. Getting no response, he just kicked in the door and moved in, gun up as he went room to room. Finding no sign that Tony had made it home that night, he cursed himself for all kinds of stupidity. Fornell either had other IDs stashed somewhere, or had somehow slipped through the BOLO.

Whatever the case, he'd gotten to Tony before Jethro could.

"Freeze! Austin police!"

Fuck! he hissed silently. Then he realized that he could use them to his advantage and called out clearly, "I'm a federal agent from NCIS. My name is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and one of my team has been kidnapped. I'm going to take out my badge so you can see for yourself."

"Turn around first."

Jethro rolled his eyes at that, but complied. Making no sudden moves, he kept his gun hand out to the side and slowly withdrew his badge from his jacket pocket. One of the uniforms walked forward cautiously and took his gun and then his badge. Looking it over, he frowned and handed it back, though he kept the gun as he asked, "You said one of your team's been kidnapped? There's no NCIS around here."

"Officially, he was on sabbatical," Jethro improvised. "Really, he was trying to shake a stalker who wouldn't shake loose. We thought him getting out of town for a few months would work, but it didn't. Now he's missing. I need you to issue BOLOs on both of them."

Seeing how grim Jethro was, the cop nodded and handed back his weapon. "Come on back to the department and we'll get the ball rolling."

Jethro really wanted to get on the road, but he didn't know in which direction Fornell would take Tony. Getting the locals involved was the best chance he had. Texas was a damn big state and the other man couldn't have that big a lead over him. They would track him from the airport and find out what ID he was using, which car he'd rented.

Then Fornell would find out what it was like to be hunted.

* * * *

At first glance, Tobias Fornell had a lot in common with Jethro Gibbs. Both were mature men who were good enough at their jobs that they were widely respected, even if they weren't always liked. Both were single after multiple failed marriages and both had demeanors that could best be described as abrasive.

It was the similarities to Gibbs that had drawn Tony to Fornell in the first place. Lying immobile in the back of the car Fornell had dumped him in, however, Tony had been given plenty of time to catalog the ways in which the two men were different.

For one thing, Gibbs was a compassionate man, although even Tony had to admit that Gibbs went to great lengths to hide it. Tony had seen Gibbs interact with enough widows and children, though, to know better. Gibbs had a soft heart; it just took longer to see it. Abby probably had right away. It had taken an idiot like Tony a little longer to figure it out.

A second difference, and it was a big one, was honor. Gibbs would never betray a friend or lover, as Fornell had betrayed them both. More than that, Fornell had betrayed his badge by using his position to stalk and blackmail. Gibbs might bend the rules for the sake of a friend, but to do it for his own benefit? Not a chance.

Both men liked to have things their own way and Tony was drawn to that type of dominant personality. Something told him, though, that belonging to Gibbs would be a world of difference from what it had been like with Fornell. Tony had been drunk on Tobias' control at first, but as their relationship went on, he'd ended up feeling dirty and used. That had given him the strength to end it, even if he was paying for that rejection now. Just the memory of the single encounter with Gibbs, though, still had the power to make Tony feel warm. Tobias was brute force and oppressive control; Jethro was authority and responsibility. Tony couldn't believe he'd ever thought to use one as the substitute for the other.

And Gibbs wasn't bat shit crazy, which Fornell obviously was.

"Jethro thought he had me," Fornell bragged as he drove the car. That was another difference and one that Tony felt guilty for even thinking; Fornell was a better driver than Gibbs. "But I fooled that famous gut of his. Gibbs really underestimated me this time."

Fornell grinned into the mirror with a particularly predatory leer. "I almost hope he does manage to catch up to us. I'm gonna break you so bad that he wouldn't even recognize you."

If Fornell was expecting a reaction from Tony, the drug he'd used prevented it. Tony was almost glad. The man had been ranting for hours; if he'd been able to talk, no doubt Tony would have gotten himself into serious trouble. Not that it wouldn't feel good to shoot off a quip or two at Fornell's expense, but it was never a good idea to piss off the crazy guy.

Tony felt the car abruptly swerve off the road and he tried to prepare himself as well as he could. He'd been asleep the first couple of hours of the trip, but Tony didn't think they'd been on the road long enough to reach Idaho, even if that was their actual destination. Fornell's planning was so convoluted that Tony wouldn't have been surprised to find out that he'd been lied to about that too.

Fornell guided the car to what felt like the side of the road. Whistling a merry tune, Fornell got out and came around the back. A gush of air washed over Tony as the back door opened and soon Fornell was clambering over Tony's immobile body.

"Time for another shot," Fornell explained. He took Tony's mouth in a savage kiss even as plunged a syringe into Tony's neck.

Tony couldn't so much as grunt in pain.

"This is only a taste," Fornell's hands wandered, groping and pinching, as he climbed off Tony's body. "We'll have a lot more fun when we get to the ranch."

That was exactly what Tony was afraid of. He closed his eyes as Fornell caused the car to resume their journey. There was no doubt in Tony's mind that Gibbs would find him; he only hoped that there was something worth rescuing when Gibbs finally did.

* * * *

Abby came through before the Texas police did, not that that surprised Jethro. Fornell had changed his name, but not his face so facial recognition software had a fairly easy job, given the limited parameters of time and place. Fornell's new ID was Roger Halpern and he'd rented a dark blue, midsized, four-door sedan whose license plate was already distributed. It was a one-way rental to a small city in Idaho called Salmon.

"It's the middle of nowhere, Gibbs," Abby said over the phone. "Like, literally. Good place to go for all kinds of outdoorsy stuff like hiking, whitewater rafting, whatever, but it's pretty rural outside the city limits.

McGee broke in with, "The good news is that you could fly in to Boise and take a smaller plane to Salmon directly while Fornell's stuck driving the whole way."

Reversing the lead that Fornell had on them. Nodding, Jethro ordered, "Do it, McGee. And find out…"

"What's waiting in Salmon, Idaho," McGee interrupted. "On it."

Ziva spoke up for the first time. "I will meet you there."

Jethro ordered, "Stay there."

"You need backup, Gibbs," Ziva countered sharply.

"She's right, Boss," McGee agreed.

Gritting his teeth, Jethro repeated, "Stay there. Anyone who shows up at either location will find themselves out of a job. Am I understood?"

There was a short silence before McGee and Ziva muttered acknowledgements.

"I'll wait at the airport for the flight info," he said.

"Be careful, Gibbs," Abby exclaimed in a rush before the line disconnected.

Despite the supposed good luck in finding a way to beat Fornell to his destination, Jethro wasn't all that sanguine about things working out so easily. The bastard had been ahead of them from the start and it wasn't like him to discount technology. He would have to know that they would track him through facial recognition software once they knew Tony was gone.

Unless he's so far gone that he doesn't think about it.

The thought wasn't a pleasant one, but one he had to entertain. The fact that Tobias had gone through such an elaborate charade to make them think that someone else was behind it all said that he was playing for keeps. While kidnapping Tony said to the world that Fornell's morals were gone, blatantly renting a car was the first true sign that all those years of training and strategy were breaking down; that the mania or psychosis gripping Fornell had taken over.

None of which made for comforting scenarios about what was happening to Tony. Taking a breath, knowing there was nothing he could do from where he was, Jethro started the car and headed for the airport thinking about the final destination. Idaho was hell and gone from anywhere Fornell had ever lived or even been in the course of his duties. Even though he could no longer claim to know the man, he still knew the agent's history and Idaho had never come up in the past.

Probably the point, Jethro thought, turning into the airport. Fornell's looking for a place that's not going to show up on the radar and be remote so no one can interfere.

He'd only just dropped off the car and gotten into the airport proper when the phone rang again. Seeing McGee's ID, he answered, "Which flight?"

McGee gave him the information and, sounding unhappy, asked, "Are you sure we can't help, Boss?"

Softening a bit, Jethro replied, "Not with this, Tim. Trust me. I'll get him back and bring him home."

A sigh echoed over the line before McGee replied, "I trust you, Boss. So does Tony. Call us when it's done."

"I will," Jethro answered, hanging up.

Then he headed for the airline counter to get his ticket. Security was easy, since he had his badge and gun, and the plane itself was practically empty. It was a three leg trip that would take him most of the next twelve hours: Austin to Denver; Denver to Boise; Boise to Salmon. Despite the connections and lags, he would still make it to Salmon at least three hours before Fornell did.

Assuming Tobias really has lost it and isn't leaving that rental on the side of the road somewhere while using a different car entirely for a different destination, he thought with a tired sigh.

Not one to take anything on faith, Jethro had no choice this time. He had to believe that Tobias had lost it and was making a mess of his escape route. To think that the man was elsewhere with Tony under his control and no way to find them was…unthinkable.

Deliberately blanking his mind, Jethro closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. He needed to be clear and alert for the coming confrontation and sleep was part of that.

If he could manage it.

* * * *

The older motel Fornell stopped at was one of those outdoor courtyard types. Even if there was anyone in the other units, they wouldn't notice the car on the end unit where one man 'helped' another into their room. Fornell dropped him on the queen bed and then lifted Tony's legs on as well. Thanks to the drug, all Tony could do was stare at the ceiling while Fornell puttered around the room.

Popping into his line of sight, Fornell smiled and said, "I thought we'd watch some television before bed, how's that?"

The other man lifted him into a sitting position, propping him against the pillows. Then Fornell proceeded to take off Tony's shoes and socks, loosened his belt, and ran his fingers through Tony's hair, breaking through the leftover gel.

"There, that's better, isn't it?" Fornell asked. "The drug will wear off in a couple of hours, so I thought we'd watch some tv, get some sleep, I'll feed you breakfast in the morning, and we'll start off nice and fresh in the morning. It's only about a day's ride from here since we drove so long without a break. I'm beat, I don't mind telling you."

Tony wanted to scream at the utter insanity of it all, but couldn't. Fornell had clearly lost his mind, behaving as though Tony were there because he wanted to be. It didn't bode well for when the lights went out, that was for damn sure.

Once Fornell had gotten his fill of ZNN, he shifted Tony back into a prone position and tugged off his pants. That left Tony only in his boxers and t-shirt, which would have made him shiver in revulsion if he could have.

Fornell tsked at him and said, "You went and messed up your pants, Tony! We'll have to take care of that now."

Tony hadn't even felt himself urinate or, God forbid, defecate. Then again, the paralytic wouldn't let him. At least he couldn't see or feel what Fornell was doing after he ran the water in the bathroom to, presumably, dampen washcloths to clean Tony up.

"At least it didn't get to the blankets," Fornell continued. "That's better. All sweet and clean now. How does that feel? I'm not getting much of a rise from you, if you'll pardon the pun. Well, I guess even the famed DiNozzo prowess can't work through the drugs. Don't worry, we'll have plenty of fun when we get to the ranch."

Tony actually shuddered at that, he faintly felt it run through his body and mentally cheered at the wearing off of the drugs.

Unfortunately, Fornell saw it and said, "Time for the bondage portion of the night. Don't get too excited about it, my boy."

Tony struggled to say something, anything, but didn't have that much control yet.

Fornell cuffed Tony's wrists separately to the headboard and then tied his ankles together before running the rope over the edge of the bed, tying it to something unseen. That done, the older man turned off the lights and climbed into the bed, which dipped under his weight, shifting Tony a bit. Just enough of the drug had worn off that when Fornell spread out alongside him and covered them with the blankets, he could feel a ghostly sensation at all points of contact.

Turning onto his side, Fornell put an arm over Tony's chest and kissed him. It was a hungry kiss, tongue pushing into Tony's mouth to taste him as a lover would, despite the lack of response. He chuckled softly and pulled back, settling with his mouth at Tony's ear before whispering, "Just you and me now, Tony. No one's coming for you. One day very soon, you'll realize this is the best thing in the world for you."

Tony blamed exhaustion for the tear that slipped free.

* * * *

Tony DiNozzo was quite possibly the most irritating man on Earth. He acted more like Bart Simpson than how Tim thought an NCIS agent should act. His teasing and other shenanigans had made Tim's probie months a living hell. Still, Tony was the one who showed up on Tim's doorstep after Tim had been involved in a questionable shoot, offering uniquely DiNozzo-type of support. Tim also had to admit that, as frustrating as all of Tony's needling was to endure, his poking had made Tim a better agent.

Besides, Tony was family.

Tim didn't want Tony hurt and he especially didn't want Tony at the mercy of the type of man Tobias Fornell had turned out to be. Unfortunately, Gibbs had forbidden him from following to Idaho. All Tim could do was be a computer jockey. The knowledge that he was a damn good computer jockey was scant comfort at the moment.

"This situation is a vacuum," Ziva declared. She was seated at her desk, a glower on her delicate face.

Usually Tony was the one who figured out what Ziva was trying to say, but since Tony wasn't there, it was Tim's turn. "It sucks."

Ziva's look darkened. "Is that not what I said?"

A dinging noise sounded from Tim's computer, saving him from having to respond. "Bingo," he reached for the phone, realizing belatedly that Gibbs was in the air. Telling him the news would have to wait.

"What is it?" Ziva had moved quickly and was now at Tim's elbow.

"I finally untangled Fornell's paper trail," Tim explained, thrumming with excitement. "Six months ago he bought a ranch that was in foreclosure. It's three miles out of Salmon, Idaho."

"Gibbs will need help," there was an unusual hesitation in Ziva's voice.

Tim blew out a big sigh of frustration. "And he told us not to." He looked at Ziva, trying to figure out what she was thinking. "We could disobey?"

To his surprise, Ziva shook her head. "We cannot. Gibbs gave us the responsibility for the safety of Abby and Ducky. Tobias Fornell is an evil man and we cannot rule out the possibility that he would have one of his minions hurt one of them while Gibbs was distracted with Tony."

She was right. Tim's thoughts jumped around as he thought of a way out of the situation. What would Tony do?

Tony would think outside of the box.

Tim snapped his fingers. "Gibbs needs help, but it doesn't have to be us." He gave Ziva a triumphant look. "I know who we can ask."

When he told her, Ziva didn't look entirely convinced. "Are you sure that is a good idea?"

"Do you have anything better?" Tim challenged.

"No," she admitted, "I do not."

"Then we'll have to go with my idea," Tim stated. He only hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

* * * *

Tobias whistled a happy tune. A good night's sleep always put him in a good mood and last night's rest had been the best he'd had in a long time. Curled up with Tony had been wonderful, only the first in many nights to come. Towards morning, when the drug had worn off, Tony had started to squirm, but another shot had taken care of that.

It had been tempting to dress Tony in one of the special outfits that Tobias had purchased for the younger man, but he'd forced himself to wait. They were a little distinctive and Tobias didn't want to draw any undue attention to them; there was no sense in giving Jethro more help than he already had. In the end, Tobias had dressed Tony in jeans and a tight-fitting t-shirt, even skipping underwear in the hopes it would make getting the pants on a little easier to do. Given the drug, Tony had lain as passive as a doll and Tobias rather liked thinking of him as his plaything. That was something else that would continue in the future, although it would soon be due to the training Tony would receive and not any drug.

Fornell looked at his watch as he pulled over. He made a pleased noise; his timing was just about perfect. Even had he driven straight through, Gibbs still probably would have beaten him to the ranch. By stopping overnight, Tobias insured that Gibbs was in position and had been for hours. Gibbs would be tired and wound up from being on edge. Vulnerable, just the way that Tobias wanted him.

A good thing about Idaho was that there was a lot of space for a man to get lost in. Tobias had actually purchased two properties in the state. He hadn't gone to too much trouble to hide his connection to the first one. He knew Gibbs and knew that Gibbs would want to settle the trouble over Tony personally. Without any back-up, Gibbs would be relatively easy to pick off. It was why Tobias hadn't gone to a lot of trouble to hide his tracks with the rental car; he wanted to be found.

The second property was also a ranch, but one that Tobias was careful to bury under more false layers of ownership. It was only about 15 miles from the first one. While everyone assumed that Tobias would be on the run with Tony, maybe making a break for the Canadian border, Tobias would actually be snug as a bug, having fun with his prize.

Tobias got out of the car and, using the binoculars he had ready, he scanned the area. Sure enough, about half a mile away, lower down on the slope that Tobias was on, he spotted Gibbs in position. The NCIS agent had a rifle and was clearly doing surveillance on the abandoned ranch below them.

Going back to the car, Tobias opened the trunk and got out his supplies. He set up a tripod and put a digital camera, fitted with a high-powered lens, on top of it. He looked through the viewfinder to make sure that Gibbs could be seen and set the timer so that the camera would shoot photos every five seconds. It didn't have a lot of detail from that distance, but it would be enough.

That task done, Tobias next took out a folding camp chair and set it up behind the camera. He returned to the car, this time to the back seat, and retrieved Tony. He grunted as he hefted Tony over his shoulder. There wasn't any fat on the younger man, but Tony was tall. It made for quite a handful, but one that Tobias was more than capable of handling.

"I'm going to kill Jethro," Tobias told Tony as he set him in the chair. He positioned Tony so that he could see through the camera. "Originally, it was enough just to take you from him, but I've had to modify that plan."

He could see Tony's throat muscles work as DiNozzo tried…unsuccessfully…to speak. "It was a mistake to let him see you in Austin; you took too much strength from even that short visit. So, Gibbs has to die and it's all your fault, Tony."

Tobias left Tony to go back to the trunk of his car, talking all the while. "The thing that makes the FBI superior to NCIS is our specialists. The BAU does profiling, but they're hardly the only specialists we employ. A few months ago I met an interesting agent by the name of Edgerton."

Coming back to Tony, Tobias let the younger man see what he'd retrieved - a high powered rifle. "Edgerton's a sniper and after a good fuck, it was easy enough to get him to talk about the type of terrain that snipers look for." Tobias shrugged. "Of course, I had to let him fuck me, since he didn't bottom, but it was worth it. Thanks to what I learned from him, I could figure out what vantage point Jethro would pick for his spot. Once I knew that, it was easy enough to sneak up on him."

He tilted Tony back from the camera long enough to kiss him quickly. Tony couldn't move or speak, but his eyes spoke volumes. Tobias gently wiped away a tear that was trickling down Tony's cheek. "Don't worry, you'll always have me. Gibbs, however, is history and he has you to thank for it."

Putting Tony back into position, able to see Gibbs' death through the very camera that would record it, Tobias found his own spot. He lay on his belly and supported the rifle on the rock, keeping the weapon steady for an optimum shot. Tony was a silent presence behind him, but Tobias could almost taste the anguish coming from him.

"Goodbye Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Tobias chortled as his finger started to tighten on the trigger. Killing Gibbs with a single shot through the heart appealed to his sense of irony; it was Gibbs' supposed lack of heart that led to Tony coming to Tobias in the first place, after all.

The rifle's kickback was stronger than expected and Tobias grunted under its impact to his shoulder, losing his position. Looking quickly through the scope showed that the shot had been true and he hissed in satisfaction at the sight of Gibbs facedown on the ground and not moving. Grinning fiercely, he set aside the rifle and turned towards Tony as he said cheerfully, "Done and done! Gibbs is dead and we can move on with our lives. Finally. I'll show you the play-by-play later, once we're settled."

He took apart the rifle and packed it into the nearby carrying case. Some instinct raised the hairs on the back of his neck moments later, causing him to freeze. Canting his head to the side, he found jean covered legs a short distance away and he looked up to find Leon, of all people, standing on the hillside with a gun aimed right at him. All that came out of his mouth was a startled, "What are you doing here?"

In answer, Vance lifted the gun and pulled the hammer back. The safety was already off.

Looking into those dark eyes, the steady gaze, Tobias saw his death coming and knew exactly why. With a wry twist of the lips, he said, "Shouldn't have made that threat, should I?"

Vance shook his head silently and pulled the trigger.

* * * *

Groaning at the throbbing pain in his back, Jethro rolled over and gasped for air, barely able to see straight through the pain. He pushed upright and pulled open his shirt in a jerky movement before doing the same with the bullet proof vest. Groaning again, Jethro tugged the vest off and looked at the back. The bullet was large and he suspected that if there'd been less distance between himself and the point of origin, the vest wouldn't have worked. As it was, the bullet had partially gone through, which explained the blood on the vest and lingering, sharp pain in his back.

Right where his heart was.

A second gun report caused him to drop back to the dirt, forcing himself into rolling behind the nearby large rock, but nothing hit him or even the ground around him. He stayed where he was, but there was no other sign that Tobias was going to take another shot. If he'd even taken the second one, which Jethro couldn't believe for the simple fact that Fornell wouldn't have missed when he'd been sitting there like a sitting duck. No, something had happened and Fornell wasn't in control anymore. And that was the first good news that he'd had in weeks.

Jethro stood and pulled the shirt back on before walking in the direction the bullet had come from. It wasn't as long a walk as he'd expected, but that was just as well since he kept losing time, his vision graying out. Auto-pilot got him to a strange tableau about a half-mile from his sniper's nest; Tony lay flat on his back and unmoving about two feet from where Fornell lay on the ground, a bullet hole between the eyes. Footprints led to and from the area, but there was no other sign of someone else.

Dropping to the ground beside Tony, Jethro found his eyes open and blinking, and that he was breathing, but not otherwise moving. "Tony? Can you hear me? What's wrong?"

Tony continued to stay exactly as he was, even with Jethro palming his face and looking down at him. Leaving off for a moment, he pulled out his cell phone and called Ziva.

"Gibbs? Are you all right?"

"Call the local LEOs and get an ambulance to my location," Gibbs answered, knowing they would be able to find him with the cell phone on. "Tony seems to be paralyzed and I've been shot."



"I see."

Grimacing in a combination of frustration and irritation, Jethro told her, "Not by my hands. Just get the locals here so Tony can get to the hospital."

"Consider it done, Gibbs. I am glad that you are both okay."

Jethro disconnected and rested his hand on Tony's chest as he said, "We're okay now, Tony, everything's going to be okay now."

His vision grayed out again and, as it darkened towards blackness and dizziness took him, Jethro let himself rest beside Tony. Even though Fornell was dead and the madness was over, he knew there was a lot more to come. Tony would need time to recover from what had happened and Jethro would be there every step of the way. Just as soon as he recovered from the blood loss.

* * * *

Being immobile was hell. Tony had been prone to fidgeting for as long as he could remember. He used to get in trouble for it when he was small, with his father yelling at him for not being able to sit still for a minute. No doubt had Tony been born a little later, he would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and drugged to the gills. Tony had been tolerated at the other jobs he'd had, but only with Gibbs had Tony found a useful outlet for his energy.

Being pawed over by Fornell had been unpleasant, but bearable, thanks to the conviction that Gibbs would be coming for him. During the night, the drug had started to wear off and his belief that Gibbs would soon be there hadn't stopped Tony from struggling to free himself. Even as quiet as he'd tried to be, though, Fornell heard him. That discovery had led to more pawing and another injection. Tony spent a sleepless night just staring at the ceiling and remembering with disgust that there had been a time when he'd been anxious for Tobias' touch.

God, he was an idiot.

Tony's conviction in Gibbs' imminent triumph held until Fornell sat him down in front of the camera lens to force him to watch while Gibbs was shot. If sheer will could have broken the drugs' hold, then Tobias Fornell would have been a dead man. No doubt Gibbs could have done it, but Tony was made of lesser stuff. All he could do was sit where he was propped, like a puppet with its strings cut, and watch while the man he loved was shot in the back.

Fornell actually chuckled as he pulled the trigger. Tony heard it as distinctly as he heard the rifle shot. Through the ruthless camera lens, he saw the bullet hit. Rather, he saw Jethro's body jerk and flop for a moment like a fish out of water. Worst of all, Tony was a silent witness to the way Gibbs went perfectly limp.

As Gibbs' body stilled half a mile away, Tony felt nothing but despair. Tobias was right, Jethro's death was his fault. Vaguely, he was aware of Fornell saying something to him, but it didn't matter.

Nothing mattered.

Tony let his grief and guilt carry him inward. His eyes were open, but his awareness was gone. He no longer cared what Fornell had planned for him; he probably deserved it anyway. Jethro's death was his fault. So far gone was Tony in his grief that he didn't hear the second gunshot, even though it was far closer than the first.

More importantly, Tony didn't see Gibbs start to move.

* * * *

Gibbs woke up cold and with the prickling sensation that warned him that he was being watched. He forced heavy eyelids to open and saw nothing but pale blue walls. It was an effort, but he turned his head. Unfortunately, it was Ducky who was sitting waiting for him and not the person that Gibbs really wanted to see.

"Tony is in another ward," Ducky knew Gibbs well enough to know that Jethro would be more concerned about Tony's welfare than he would be about his. "He's fine, physically. The paralytic started wearing off two hours ago and should be completely out of his system shortly." The older man shook his head. "Evil stuff, that."

It took a couple of swallows, but Gibbs was able to get enough moisture in his mouth to ask a question. "Physically?"

Ducky's smile was sad. "A poor choice of words, perhaps, Jethro. Tony is fine." He patted Gibbs on the arm.

And if Gibbs believed that, he'd run out and buy acres of swampland in Louisiana. Ducky was a terrible liar. "Duck. . . "

"I should have known that I couldn't get anything by you, Jethro," Ducky sighed and took off his glasses. He wiped them on his shirt and replaced them before addressing Gibbs' implied question. "Although Tony's body is responding to simple pain stimuli, Tony himself is, well, the dear boy isn't really there."

Gibbs looked at Ducky blankly for a moment and then moved to get out of bed. To his disgust, he was connected to a whole web of wires that lead to monitoring equipment.

"Just what do you think you're doing?"

There was an unusual snap of command in Ducky's tone and in spite of his growing fear over Tony's condition, Gibbs couldn't help but respond. Glaring at Ducky, Gibbs subsided back against his pillows.

"Tell me, Ducky. Plain, this time."

Ducky sighed. "Tony appears to be suffering from catatonia. His body is functioning, but mentally, Tony has completely withdrawn into himself."

Gibbs thought back to the empty look on Tony's face when he'd reached him and shuddered. Those lively green eyes couldn't be blank forever, that would be a travesty.

"I have to see him, Ducky."

"In good time, Jethro," Ducky said firmly. "You gave us quite a scare too, with the blood you lost. You were out long enough to give us time to fly in from the East coast. You're simply in no condition to be traipsing around the hospital. Besides, Ziva is watching over Tony for the time being. She seems quite protective of him."

That wasn't surprising. Ziva had killed her own brother, who'd turned out to be a traitor and a murderer. Tony fulfilled her need for a sibling and no doubt Ziva was determined to keep him safe. Gibbs thoroughly approved of the sentiment, but even Ziva was a poor substitute when Jethro knew what Tony really needed was Gibbs.

"He needs me," Jethro tried again to get up, but Ducky easily kept him pressed back into the bed.

"And when you can bully your way passed me, you'll be well enough to be of aid to him," Ducky stated in a voice that left no room for compromise. "Until then, you stay here."

As much as he loved Ducky and knew that he meant well, if Gibbs would have had a gun, he would have been tempted to shoot him. As it was, all he could do was sit and glare. Ducky wasn't a soldier, but he had a backbone of steel when it came to taking care of the people he cared about. If Ducky thought Gibbs needed to stay in bed, there would be no getting around him until Gibbs was in physical shape to do so.

Jethro only hoped that Tony could hold on that long. Not that he had much of a choice, since he was too weak to do more than glare at the other man in his hospital room.

A nurse came in a few seconds later, looking surprised to find him awake. "Agent Gibbs! Well, it's good to see you awake and aware. You had us worried there for a while."

"It was just blood loss," Jethro muttered.

Her eyebrows went up at that, but all the woman said was, "You should be back to normal probably tomorrow, though you'll need to take it easy for a few days."

Ducky chuckled and told her, "I'm afraid you don't know this man very well to even suggest such a thing."

Irritated by the small talk, Jethro demanded, "How's my partner, Tony DiNozzo?"

Her amusement vanished as she replied, "I'm sorry, sir, but there's no change. I'm afraid all we can do is make him comfortable. He's dehydrated and has some bruises from his confinement, but otherwise shows no physical trauma from the ordeal. It's all…in his head right now, as awful as that sounds."

"What about the drug?" Jethro pointed out. "Maybe it did something to him. Maybe he's just stuck like that and has no control."

Shaking her head, the nurse answered, "There's none of it left in his system. We've run multiple tests to check for internal damage, nerve damage, all of it and there's no sign of anything physically wrong. He just needs time."

And me, Jethro thought.

She took his vitals and then marked his chart before leaving.

"Do try and get some rest, Jethro," Ducky urged. "It's going to be a tough enough row to hoe without adding exhaustion to the list of things to overcome."

Even though he knew he wouldn't sleep, Jethro let himself rest back against the pillows and closed his eyes. If he was lucky, then Ducky would fall asleep and he could sneak out to see Tony without interference. When he opened his eyes again, Ducky was gone and the sky outside was black. He also felt a hell of a lot better, more than well enough to get up though he took it slow at first, just in case.

When Jethro found himself to be steady on his feet, he searched the closet to find a familiar bag and pulled on jeans, socks, and a sweatshirt. There were no shoes or sneakers, probably Ducky's doing, but it didn't stop him from walking out of the room to the nurses' station which was conveniently empty. He looked over the book, glad it was a small enough hospital that they kept paper records, and found Tony's room number.

It was only a few rooms down the hall, which made sense given the size of the building, and he was there moments later. Sitting on the bed, Jethro took Tony's hand in his and took in the pinched, almost haunted look on the younger man's face even while unconscious or withdrawn or whatever the problem was. He shifted closer and combed fingers through the soft hair that someone had recently washed, doing so for several minutes.

Finally, he said quietly, "We're okay, Tony, Fornell's dead. He's not going to hurt anyone else, ever again. I don't know who did it, but I damn sure wish it had been me, for what he put you through. The whole thing is over now, so I need you to come back to me. We're going to have a long talk about rules and what each of us expects and wants out of this, but there's definitely a 'this' to talk about, you here me? I'm going to stay right here until that sinks in."

Jethro brought Tony's hand up close and kissed the palm before pressing it to his face and then cupping it in both his hands.

Hell would freeze over before Tony was left alone again.

* * * *

Tony knew he was dreaming, but he didn't care.

The house he occupied in his dream was vaguely familiar, but it wasn't his house. It also wasn't any of his father's houses; Tony was far too comfortable in the home for it to belong to his dad. At first Tony had wandered aimlessly, listlessly inspecting each room. A feeling of dread was hanging over him and every once in a while, he could hear a loud voice right outside. He cringed from that voice and wasn't inclined to investigate.

Eventually, Tony ended up in the living room. There was a large couch, which looked like it had seen better days, but was comfortable. The other furnishings in the room were equally careworn and appeared as though they'd been picked out for being practical rather than in fashion. In comparison, the large, flatscreen television seemed out of place.

Tony settled on the couch and flipped on the TV. He didn't question that it was playing a Magnum PI marathon. He just curled into the sofa and covered himself with the fleece blanket that was draped over one of the arms. There was a distinctive scent on the fabric and Tony felt the dread recede a little as it enveloped him. Like the house, he couldn't identify the smell, but it made him feel comfortable. Safe, even.

At first time passed in a haze that wasn't exactly happy, but at least was bearable. Eventually, though, the voice from outside got louder. Something akin to wind felt like it was rocking the house, but instead of thunder, Tony heard the growing rumble of the voice repeating, "It's all your fault."

As the storm buffeted the house, Tony cowered into the sofa, but just when he thought he couldn't bear it anymore, he heard a different voice. This one was softer, almost gentle, and it was coming from inside the house instead of outside. He lifted his head. Like the house itself or the scent from the blanket, this voice didn't make Tony feel like cringing; it made him feel safe. He couldn't make out any specific words, but the feeling just the sound of it gave him was buoying.

The new voice got louder, giving Tony courage. He got up from the sofa and, keeping the blanket wrapped around him, headed towards it. Following the voice led him to a door he hadn't seen before and, upon opening it, Tony discovered a staircase that went down to a basement. The voice was even stronger once the door was open, almost managing to drown out the chorus of, "It's your fault," coming from outside the house. Tony headed down the stairs, eager to hear more.

Once he got to the basement, Tony finally realized where he was; he'd been in Gibbs' house all along, but only recognized that fact once he saw the partially finished boat. Once he'd identified the house, Tony realized that the scent he'd taken comfort from was Gibbs' as well. In the basement, Gibbs' scent mingled with the smell of fresh wood and Tony breathed deeply as he wrapped the blanket around him even more tightly.


"Boss?" Tony lifted his head and looked around the room. When it said his name, Tony could tell that it was Gibbs' voice, but he couldn't tell where it was coming from. Not that it really mattered, since it was a dream anyway. Gibbs was dead, but hearing him was nice.

It was almost as though the voice outside could hear Gibbs too. It became more strident as it continued its accusations, "It's all your fault, Tony."

Tony put his hands over his ears. "Gibbs?" Gibbs was dead, but maybe in his dream, he'd be able to protect Tony.

Gibbs' voice started talking again, but so did the other. Their tones, one gentle and firm, the other sharp and accusing, mixed and flowed. Although the accusing voice had been muffled when Tony entered the basement, it escalated and the small ground-level window began to rattle. Tony stumbled away from it and bumped into the frame of the unfinished boat.

As soon as he touched the wood, Gibbs' voice became a lot clearer. "Tony, open your eyes for me."

Tony didn't really want to. He put his hands on the boat frame, the wood almost feeling like flesh to his touch. He'd closed his eyes to intensify the illusion and was reluctant to open them again, afraid that the magic would be broken. In his dream, Gibbs was just a voice, but he'd take that over a dead Gibbs any day.

"Tony, you're mine and I'm telling you to open your eyes. It's okay, I'm right here."

Even in a dream, Tony couldn't disobey. He remembered the time he'd been so sick with the plague and Gibbs had ordered him not to die. Tony had survived, in part, he was sure, simply because Gibbs had told him to.

With great reluctance, Tony opened his eyes. He fully expected to be in the basement, but instead he was surrounded by bright white light. Blinking, Tony thought maybe he'd died too, but as his vision cleared, he realized that he was in a room. From the smell, it was a hospital room.

"Tony, it's okay," someone spoke near him. "I'm right here."

Tony knew that voice, but was almost afraid to look. He turned his head anyway and gasped in relief. It was Gibbs.

"Took you long enough," Gibbs stated gruffly. He cupped Tony's cheek with his hand, his touch gentle

In contrast to his caress, Gibbs looked rough. His face was stubbled and there were dark circles under his eyes. His hair wasn't long enough to get too messy, but it managed to anyway. His clothes also looked rumpled. Tony tried to ask him if he was okay, but only a croak came out.

"It's all right," Gibbs reassured him. The thumb on the hand that was cupping Tony's cheek gently wiped away a tear. "I'm okay, Tony. I was wearing a vest. I've got a bruise, but that's it."

"Fornell's dead, Tony," Gibbs went on. He dropped his hand from Tony's cheek and reached for a glass. Tony whined in protest at the loss of touch, but when Gibbs guided the straw to Tony's mouth and urged him to drink, he did. "It's over, Tony. No one's ever keeping us apart again."

"I'm sorry," Tony whispered. With the help of the water, he found his voice, but barely.

Gibbs leaned forward and stared into his eyes. "Not your fault, Tony. Fornell was insane. I should have seen it earlier, but he hid it well. I trusted him too much and for too long."

"You?" Tony licked his lips before continuing. "Do you still want me to belong to you? After Fornell. . . .?"

Gibbs kissed him, sucking on Tony's lower lip before letting their mouths part. "Damn right, I do. You're mine, Tony, that's not up for negotiation." A rare hesitation crept into Gibbs' face. "If you still want to, that is."

Tony didn't hesitate. "If you'll have me."

"Oh, I'll have you," Gibbs didn't bother to hide his relief - or his desire. "We've got some details to work out about how you want to do this, but you're mine. You can count on that, Tony."

Despite the emotion of the discussion, Tony couldn't help but yawn. The combination of exhaustion and relief hit him like a hammer. "Always coun' on you, Gibbs."

His sleepiness caused Gibbs to chuckle. "Go to sleep, Tony."

Tony blinked up at him. "By myself?"

The last time he'd been in a bed, he'd been immobile and Tobias Fornell treated him like a human teddy bear. Sleep beckoned, but Tony was not looking forward to the loneliness it came with.

Gibbs sighed. "Don't think you can give me the big eyes all the time and have me cave." Tony wriggled in relief as Gibbs lowered the side rail and clambered into bed next to him. "There's going to be rules, DiNozzo, and you're going to follow them. Do you hear me?"

"Mmmm," Tony murmured a vague agreement. As Gibbs positioned himself against the head of the bed, Tony draped himself over Gibbs' chest. Fornell was dead and Gibbs wasn't. A small part of Tony's brain was telling him that they still had a lot to deal with, not the least having to do with his abrupt resignation from NCIS. Mostly, though, he was content to let Gibbs handle everything.

He was with Gibbs and Gibbs was in control. As far as Tony was concerned, that was just the way things should be.


~the end~



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