xanthefic: (ncis gibbs tony slave collar)
[personal profile] xanthefic


The First Collar
By Xanthe
Part Five


Tony's first week in his new job went by in a flash. They were on weekend duty, so by the end of Sunday he'd worked a full five days, and he'd loved every minute of it.

He returned to his desk after a visit to the restroom at the end of the day to find a little wooden box waiting for him. It was about six inches long and fashioned in the shape of a coffin. His name was inscribed on the front in Gothic lettering.

"Yikes." Tony stared at it, reluctant to pick it up. "It's a coffin," he said blankly.

Gibbs glanced over. "Yup. Abby just left it there."

Tony grimaced. "Why? Did I do something to upset her? I mean, apart from that whole thing with the ink earlier, because I really didn't know that…"

"It's a gift," Gibbs interrupted. "Not a trick."

"You sure?" Tony peered at the box suspiciously.

Gibbs grinned."Oh yeah. I'm sure. Abby only gives one of her coffins to someone she really likes."

"Phew." Tony sat down at his desk and pulled the little box towards him. "It *is* kind of cute. I think. If you ignore, you know, the fact that it's a miniature coffin. With my name on it." He continued to gaze at it suspiciously.

"Just open it, DiNozzo!" Gibbs growled. "It won't bite."

"You don't know that," Tony muttered, but he reached out a cautious finger and flicked the coffin open anyway. Inside, lying in the coffin, was a tiny doll dressed just like Abby, in red pants and a black tee shirt with a skeleton on the front. Clutched in her tiny fingers were two $20 bills. Tony laughed and pulled them free – and that was when he saw the note stuck to them.

"Congratulations on making it to the end of the week. Hope you stay forever, Tony!"

He glanced up and saw Abby hiding behind the screen at the end of Gibbs's desk.

"Thank you," he said softly. "Me too."

"Looks like the drinks are on you, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, nodding at the money in Tony's hand.

"You bet!" Tony got up and was immediately enveloped in a warm Abby hug. When she released him, he saw Ducky standing behind her, hand outstretched.

"An excellent first week, Anthony." Ducky beamed at him, and Tony shook his hand enthusiastically.

When Ducky released him, Gibbs walked over. Tony hesitated. Was this another handshake moment? Gibbs didn't look like the kind of man who did hugs. Gibbs grinned at him – then raised his hand, fast as ever, and deposited a slap on the back of Tony's head.

"Yeah – you didn't screw up too badly this week, DiNozzo, so I'm keeping ya around," Gibbs said, and Tony grinned back at him goofily, feeling as happy as he could ever remember.

Tony grabbed his jacket and bag and turned back – just in time to see Gibbs taking two leashes out of his pocket and fastening one to Abby's collar and the other to Ducky's. Tony wasn't prepared for his reaction; his stomach flipped, his heart raced, and he felt a pang of something he struggled to identify. Then he realized what it was: envy.

He pushed the emotion away. Why the hell would he be envious of subs being leashed? He saw it every day – out on the streets, in buses, on the metro, in bars, in stores, at work…what was different about this?

Gibbs.

Gibbs was the difference. It was the fact that Gibbs was the one doing the leashing. C’mon! You've never wanted to be collared, let alone leashed, Tony chided himself, but the feeling didn't go away for some time.

They went to a bar near the Navy Yard. Tony was loud and obnoxious and told risqué jokes that made Ducky raise his eyebrows, Gibbs snort with laughter, and Abby bash him repeatedly on the arm. He didn't mind – he knew that somehow, underneath it all, they *got* him, the way most people didn't.

He liked watching Gibbs laugh. Gibbs didn't say much and most of what he did say was gruff and to the point, but Tony found it fascinating just watching the man outside of their work environment. He wasn't sure why he was so fascinated by Gibbs, but there was something about him that spoke to something deep inside Tony, no matter how much he tried to ignore it.

When they parted for the night a couple of hours later, Tony wandered home in a haze of happiness. He'd survived the first week, and it was the best first week he'd ever had, in any job.

He climbed the stairs to his apartment, whistling to himself, and was so lost in happy thoughts that he almost tripped over the man sitting on the top step, right outside his apartment.

"Billy?" Tony blinked. "Billy? What the hell are you doing here?"

His ex-partner from Baltimore PD glanced up at him, looking pale and anxious. "Waiting for you."

"Why?" Tony asked coldly. "I've got nothing to say to you, Billy. You and Dana used me. You chewed me up and spat me out. I’d have been fired – and probably bearing the scars from a bullwhipping right now if I hadn't taken the precaution of making those tapes."

"I know and that's why I'm here," Billy said miserably. "I'm sorry, Tony. I honestly am."

Tony wanted to believe him; he'd always liked Billy during their time working together. He'd been shocked when he found out that Billy and Dana had been an item long before he arrived on the scene and had continued their relationship even while Dana had been fucking him.

"I don't understand why you let her use you like that," Tony said tightly. "Why, Billy? Why did you let her sleep with me when you were in a relationship with her? How could you stand by and let that happen?"

"You don't understand," Billy replied wretchedly. Billy had always had the look of a beaten puppy, but at this moment in time he looked so pathetic that Tony couldn't help himself. With a sigh, he fished his keys out of his jacket pocket.

"Okay. Come inside – you can try to explain it to me, but I don't think I'll ever get it."

He opened the door and let Billy inside. His old partner sat down on the couch, looking hunched and unhappy. Tony leaned against the wall, alert, watching him.

"I'm sorry about what we did to you, Tony," Billy said quietly. "You didn't deserve that. But you have to know it wasn't my idea."

Tony snorted. "Well duh. I know that. It was clearly Dana's idea. Why do you stay with her, Billy? She's poison."

"I know." Billy wrapped his arms around his body. "But I love her, Tony." He looked up at Tony despairingly.

Tony sighed. "Idiot. What did I tell you about falling in love?"

Billy gave a weak little grin. "Not to," he replied. "I haven't forgotten all your many lessons on the subject, Tony. I don’t know what it is about Dana. I know she's using me half the time, and I tell myself I have to leave, I have to get out, but then all she has to do is smile and crook her finger at me, and I go back for more."

"Stupid dumb sub." Tony gave a wry shake of his head.

"Yeah. Always have been." Billy grinned. "Always will be I guess."

There was a long silence.

"So why are you here?" Tony asked eventually. "Not just to tell me you're sorry; I don't believe that."

"No – to warn you." Billy looked anxious, and Tony felt his gut clench. It had been such a good week; he didn't want anything to spoil it now.

"Warn me about what?"

Billy bit on his lip. "There's going to be an investigation," he said nervously. "They think someone in the department is dirty. Internal Affairs have gotten involved."

Tony rocked back on his heels. "So?" he asked cautiously.

"So…I'm just saying. They’re bound to look into the events surrounding Warren’s death, and if they do then you’ll be called in to testify.

"Dana had better hope I'm not," Tony snapped. "I still have those tapes remember, Billy."

He took care not to let his gaze flicker over to his DVD collection, where the backup disk was still hidden in its Subs and the City box set. He wasn't a rookie who’d give away that kind of clue.

"If she tries to pin Warren's death on me, I'll make sure those tapes reach Internal Affairs. I covered myself there." Thanks Mom, he said silently in his head. Never trust a top…

Dana was a top of enormous personal charm, beauty and charisma. She'd tried to dazzle him like she dazzled Billy, but she hadn't done her research properly. She didn't know that Anthony DiNozzo had never trusted any top enough to let them close. That was how he'd survived all this time. It might be lonely, but at least it was safe.

"Have you still got the tapes?" Billy asked. "Do you have them in a safe place?"

Tony grinned. "Why? Did she send you here to ask about them?"

"No! She doesn't even know I'm here!" Billy protested.

Tony shook his head. "Oh, Billy, you're a terrible liar. Dana knows. She sent you. She's not quite sure what I've got, and she thought she'd send you to find out how much damage limitation she's got to do."

Billy gazed at him glumly. "She's…" He slumped. "I'm sorry, Tony," he said softly. "Look…just take care of yourself, okay? This could all get very ugly."

"Not for me," Tony said tightly. "Maybe for her or for you, but don't drag me into this. I didn't do anything wrong."

"Warren died…" Billy began.

"I know!" Tony snapped. He wished he could find a way to silence the voice he often heard in his nightmares. "DiNozzo, you gotta send help…they're onto me…they’re coming for me. You gotta get me out of here…please! You promised you'd keep me safe, buddy! You *promised*.”

"And if IA get suspicious..." Billy shrugged.

"It wasn't my fault," Tony said firmly. "I didn't know. Dana told me…" He shook his head. "She's a bitch, Billy, and she's almost certainly the dirty cop they're looking for – I just don't have enough proof. I do have enough to cast some doubt though – and definitely enough to cover my own ass. Tell her that, Billy. Go back and tell her that."

"Don't try and cross her, Tony," Billy warned him. "She won't hesitate to take you down if you do."

Tony shook his head. "And this is the love of your life? It's not me you should be worrying about, it’s you. Leave her, Billy, before she screws up your life the way she did mine."

Billy stood up. "I wish I could, Tony," he said sadly. "I wish I knew how."

Tony sighed. "Good luck then, buddy. You're going to need it."

Billy gave a rueful little smile and walked over to the door. "You're looking good, Tony," he said. "You look happy. Don't think I've ever seen you that way. New job must be working out for you."

"It is. I've moved on. I've put Dana and what happened to Warren behind me. You should do the same." Tony opened the door and watched Billy sidle out.

"So long then, DiNozzo," Billy muttered as he left. "Watch your back."

"Always do, Billy. Always have," Tony replied. He shut the door behind his old partner and locked it. "Always had to. Nobody else is going to do it for me," he muttered to himself.

He went over to his DVD collection and frantically fished out the Subs and the City box set. He opened it and his heart skipped a beat as he looked inside – but the disk was still there. He put the disk in his PC and opened up the files to check, but everything was fine. He replaced the disk back in the DVD box and returned it to the shelf.

Then he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the small wooden coffin with his name engraved on it. He traced the engraving gently with his fingertip, smiling to himself. He went into his bedroom and placed it on the nightstand.

"I've moved on," he said softly to himself. "And everything's going to be fine."

~*~

Gibbs was surprised by how easily Tony fit in. From the moment he arrived, it felt like he'd been there forever. Somehow, in only two weeks, he'd become so accustomed to Tony standing in the elevator beside him, Tony having his six, and Tony sitting across from him at the office, that he could hardly a remember a time when Tony hadn't been there.

It was a good feeling, knowing he had a second in command he could trust. The top in him was also delighted by how willing to learn and eager to please Tony was. Tony happily worked the same long, gruelling hours that he did, without a hint of complaint, and he did a good job too. His reports were terrible, but a day spent rewriting the same one seven times seemed to give him an inkling of what his new boss required.

In fact, it was all so easy that Gibbs should have realized it was too good to last.

~*~

Tony sat with his feet up on his desk, playing Tetris on his computer. Gibbs was in a meeting with the Director – their regular weekly run-through of current ops and threat assessments – and Tony was taking advantage of his boss’s absence. He had a webcam link to Abby's lab playing constantly in one corner of his screen and an IM box in another. A line of typing popped up in the box.

"I know you're not working."

He glanced at the webcam box and saw Abby winking at him. "How can you tell?" he typed back with a grin.

"You have your feet up on the desk! Gibbs is in with the director, isn't he?"

"Yup!"

"If he comes back, and you don't have that info he asked for…"

"I'll have it! I always do."
He winked at her. "You have to learn to work smarter, not harder, Abs!"

"Right now you're not working at all!"

"True!"


His cell phone rang, and he picked it up. "Hello…is that Tony?" a shaky, elderly voice asked.

He frowned. "Yeah…who is this?"

"It's me, dear. Mary. Mary Ellison. Your neighbour."

"Mary? Oh, Mrs. Ellison! Sorry – couldn't place your voice. Is there a problem? Are you okay?"

She was the frail old lady who lived along the hallway from him. She sometimes asked him to change the light bulbs in her apartment or fix anything that got broken. Tony wasn't great with handyman jobs, but he always did his best to help her. She was a nice old lady, and she always made him coffee and offered him cookies when he helped out.

"I'm fine, dear. Did you know that you left your apartment door open when you left this morning?"

Tony sat up and removed his feet from the desk. "No. I'm pretty sure I locked it behind me, same as always."

"Oh…just…there was some noise earlier, and I thought maybe you hadn't gone to work today. I know you have a new job and your shift pattern has changed, so I didn't think anything of it until later when I went past and saw the door was ajar. I wasn't sure what to do, but you gave me your cell phone number last year, and I thought…"

"I'll come check it out. No need to worry about it anymore. Thanks, Mrs. Ellison."

A message from Abby popped up in his IM box: "Tony – you okay? You look freaked out. What's going on?" but he ignored it. He got up and grabbed his jacket, his heart pounding in. Christ, he should have seen this coming; it was so damned inevitable.

He got home as fast as he could and found the door to his apartment ajar as Mrs. Ellison had said. He drew his gun, nudged the door open cautiously with his foot, and then edged inside…and stopped.

His apartment had been trashed. The place was a mess. The couch had been upturned and there were clothes, books, magazines and papers everywhere. Whoever had been here had turned it inside out to find what they were looking for.

And he knew what that was. He holstered his gun and went over to the pile of DVDs lying on the floor in one corner of his living room. The box-set for Subs and the City was lying face down. He picked it up and pulled out the middle DVD case, already knowing what he'd find.

It was empty.

He looked around and saw that his PC was missing too. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and called his bank.

"I want to check on a safety deposit box," he told them, and then he gave them the details and waited impatiently for them to track it down. What was taking so long? He glanced around the apartment. It had been completely trashed; it'd take days to get it straight again. Someone from the bank came back on the line.

"Hello? Mr. DiNozzo? Uh…the contents of your safety deposit box were taken by the police earlier today as part of an investigation."

"What?" He gazed sightlessly at the overturned couch.

"They had a warrant, sir. We checked it very carefully."

Of course they had a warrant. Damn it! He'd been an idiot. Dana was a cop – of course she'd been able to get a warrant without any trouble at all. She'd outplayed him.

He closed his cell phone, sat down on the floor beside his upturned couch, and gazed at the wreckage of his life.

“Oh shit. They're gonna crucify me.” He thought he'd been so smart, but Dana Morley had been smarter. "Never trust a top," he said bitterly. "Sorry, Mom. Screwed up. Let this top get one over on me. Damn it – I should have *known* she'd do this. Why didn't I make more backup copies?"

Even if he had, he knew it wouldn't have been enough. She'd have found some way to get her hands on them.

At that moment the door was pushed open, and he looked up, reaching for his gun, only to see Mrs. Ellison standing there, leaning heavily on her walking cane.

"Tony dear, is that you…? Oh my.” She looked around the trashed apartment, shaking her head. “Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry. You've had burglars." She gave a little shiver. "It seems that nowhere is safe these days. And to think I was just along the hallway." Her faded grey eyes were watery. "It makes you scared to be in your own home."

"Don't be scared, Mrs. Ellison." He got to his feet wearily. "This wasn't a standard burglary, so don't worry about anyone breaking into your place."

"What do you mean it wasn't a standard burglary?" She was trembling a little, so he put his arm around her and squeezed gently.

"Well, look – they didn't take my home cinema, did they?" He gave her a reassuring smile and pointed to the wall where his giant plasma screen was hanging. "I still have my surround sound and state of the art DVD player. They didn't want my stuff, Mrs. Ellison. They wanted something else."

"What, dear?" She blinked at him, looking confused.

"Doesn't matter." He shook his head. "Let me walk you back to your apartment."

He settled her back in and then returned to his own apartment and went cautiously into the bedroom. It was in just as much of a mess as everywhere else. He saw the little wooden coffin Abby had made for him lying on the floor and his heart sank. No. Not that…

He picked it up and turned it over in his hand to find that the lid had been torn off and crushed; the little Abby doll inside had been stamped on and crushed into the carpet. He picked up the Abby doll and put it on the nightstand – at least it was still in one piece.

He sat down on the side of the bed and held the broken coffin in his hands. The lid was cracked along his name, the Tony torn in two.

"Bastards. Fucking bastards."

He didn't even have the energy to be angry. He felt too numb for that. Was this rock bottom? It sure as hell felt like it. His whole life was now in a worse mess than his apartment, and he had nobody to turn to.

The sound of his phone ringing made him jump. He answered it numbly.

"DiNozzo?" Gibbs's voice – and he sounded mad. "I thought I made it clear you need permission to take a break."

"You did, Boss," Tony replied quietly.

"Then get your ass back to your desk and get back to work!"

"Yes, Boss."

Why not? It wasn't as if there was anything he could do here except tidy up.

~*~

Gibbs stormed back up to his meeting with Morrow in a foul mood. He'd checked through the paperwork on DiNozzo's desk, and the information he needed was only half done. It would take him some time to complete it. Damn DiNozzo for letting him down like this! He stuck his head around the door.

"Director? That info you requested is taking longer than I thought. I'll get back to you in an hour if that's okay."

He saw Morrow's forehead wrinkle up in a gesture of annoyance. "I told SecNav we'd speak to him in MTAC in an hour."

"I'll get it done in forty-five minutes then – I'll make sure you're fully briefed before we go into MTAC."

"What's the matter – DiNozzo can't put together a simple background check?" Morrow glanced over at him.

Gibbs felt his jaw tighten. "Somethin' like that, yeah," he growled.

Morrow turned back to his work and waved Gibbs away with his hand. They were working on a difficult project, and SecNav was breathing down their necks about it, scrutinising every move they made. Gibbs knew that Morrow was feeling the heat every bit as much as he was – probably more as he was higher up the food chain. Now was not the time for screw-ups.

Gibbs stomped back down the stairs in time to see Tony emerge from the elevator.

Gibbs strode over to him, feeling furious. "Where the hell have you been, DiNozzo?"

Tony bit on his lip, as if considering his answer, gazing at Gibbs with a hesitant expression in his eyes.

"Well?" Gibbs demanded angrily. "You knew I needed that work done by eleven."

Tony gazed at him mulishly, and Gibbs was so livid he couldn't even bring himself to head-slap him. "I repeat – where the hell have you been?"

Tony's eyes darkened, and he shrugged like a surly teenager, seemingly having no answer. Gibbs gave up – he didn't have time for this. "I'm seeing the Director in forty-five minutes – I'll do half, you do the other half, and we'd better damn well get it done in time, or I'll have your goddamn ass. Here." He slammed a file down on Tony's desk.

~*~

Tony sat down at his desk, feeling numb. He turned himself to the task at hand, unable to bring himself to look at Gibbs. He had considered telling Gibbs about the break-in at his apartment, but his boss was so angry that Tony didn't think he'd be interested in anything he had to say right now. Gibbs's fury was palpable, and Tony could feel it radiating across the room towards him.

That was tops for you. They either screwed you over, or they treated you like shit. Besides, if he told him about the break-in then he'd have to tell him why, and he wasn't prepared to do that. He didn't trust Gibbs enough to do that. He knew better than to trust a top – they always let you down in the end. His trashed apartment was proof of that.

He got the work done just in time and handed it silently to Gibbs who took it with a glare and without a ‘thank you’– not that Tony was expecting one.

Gibbs gathered up the paperwork and then got up and slammed the dispatch cell phone down on Tony’s desk. “Keep an eye on that – and do NOT leave your work station,” Gibbs ordered. Then he strode off in the direction of MTAC.

Tony sat back in his chair, trying to process what had happened. Dana had the tapes and backup disk, so he had no leverage over her now, which meant she could say what the hell she liked to that inquiry and pin anything she wanted on him.

If he was found guilty he'd face the bullwhip for sure, and maybe even a prison sentence.

Abby's face popped up on the webcam screen, and she grinned at him and made a silly face. He smiled absently.

"You okay, Mister?" she typed. "You look really shaken up! You get bad news?"

He closed the IM box and the webcam screen too. He wasn't going to drag her into this. He had a tendency to destroy everything he touched, and he wasn't going to do that to Abby.

Maybe he could cut some kind of a deal with Dana. He might not have the tapes, but he knew their contents. If he spilled everything he knew to the investigators, and if they believed him over Dana, then there was still a chance he might be able to keep his job here. But would Gibbs stand by him? Why the hell should he? He'd only been here for two weeks; the man barely knew him.

The dispatch cell phone that Gibbs had left on his desk rang, and he picked it up. He wrote down the details with a frown; this looked serious.

He went upstairs to MTAC and poked his head around the door. Gibbs and Morrow were standing in front of a big screen, talking to someone Tony recognized as SecNav.

"Uh, Boss?" Tony whispered.

Gibbs turned sharply, glared at him, and then he strode over to the door, grabbed Tony's arm, and pushed him out into the hallway.

"Never interrupt me in MTAC unless it's important!”

"Sorry, Boss, but I think it *is* important, and I didn't know what else to do. Dispatch called – there's been a report of a disturbance at an admiral's house."

"Where are Lewis and Pacci?" Gibbs glanced over the railing at the squad room below.

"Out at a crime scene, Boss." Tony shrugged helplessly. "Should I go and check it out?"

"What are the details?"

"It's Admiral Hansen. Apparently the neighbour saw some guys going in there twenty minutes ago. Could be a break-in. Do you want me to go and investigate? I could pull a couple of agents out of the general pool to go with me."

"Hansen?" Gibbs frowned.

"Yeah." Tony showed him the address he'd written down.

Gibbs's jaw tightened. "No. Leave it," he said firmly.

"Uh, Boss – I don't know if you know this, but I did a brief search, and Admiral Hansen has access to a lot of sensitive material. He's on the defence contract team. If someone's breaking into his house…"

"I said leave it." Gibbs glared at him. "Leave it to me, DiNozzo. I'll handle it as soon as we've finished with SecNav."

"But that could be another hour and this sounded kind of urgent."

"Go back to your desk and get on with your work," Gibbs told him brusquely. Then he turned and went back into MTAC.

Tony walked slowly back down the stairs. "Leave it to me…" Dana had told him the exact same thing. He'd taped the conversation; it had been on the tapes she'd stolen from him.

"But Warren says he's in trouble. He thinks they're coming to kill him."

"Leave it to me, Tony,"
she'd purred down the phone at him. "We need you where you are. Stay there and leave it to me. I'll handle it."

And she hadn't. She hadn't done anything, and two hours later Warren had been found beaten to death. It had been a brutal murder, and the poor man must have suffered an agonising death. Warren had trusted him with his life; Warren had called him and begged him to help. He'd placed his life in Tony's hands, and Tony had let him down.

"Tops are all the same, Tony," his mom had told him when he was just a toddler playing at her feet. He remembered how much he loved the scent she always wore. She pulled him up onto her knee and kissed his cheek. Her hair was so soft against his face "You can never trust them. You must always stay one step ahead and outwit them before they destroy you. Remember that, my darling boy. Remember."

Tony remembered. He always would. For all he knew, he was being set up all over again – by Gibbs this time, instead of Dana. At the very best Gibbs didn't trust him to take care of this. Well, that worked both ways. Gibbs might not trust him, but he sure as hell didn't trust Gibbs, either. He didn't trust *any* top.

He grabbed his jacket, picked up his badge and gun, and pulled a couple of agents out of the general pool to accompany him.

Dana Morley might have screwed him over, but he'd be damned if he'd allow Gibbs to do the same. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

~*~

The meeting with SecNav had been tense, and Gibbs was glad when it was over, and Morrow dismissed him. He went back to the squad room – to find, yet again, that DiNozzo was missing. Where the hell did he keep going? If he'd met some top and was sneaking out for sex…Gibbs felt his stomach clench angrily at that thought. If that was the case, the kid wouldn't be able to see straight by the time he finished with him.

Gibbs strode angrily down to Abby's lab. She gave him a beaming smile, looking as happy to see him as always.

"Gibbs! I was just thinking – "

"Is Tony here?" he interrupted, although a quick glance around the lab showed that his errant agent was nowhere to be seen.

"Tony? No. Why?" Abby looked startled.

"Have you seen him at all today?"

"Not in person." She shook her head. "I mean, I saw him on the webcam…" She waved her hand at the little device on top of her computer monitor. "Is he okay? Because he looked really upset earlier."

"Upset?"

"Yeah – he was talking to me…Well, we were IMing…Uh, that's Instant Messaging…Um…Which is…Okay, you don't need to know that. Anyway, he was chatting to me and then he got a call on his cell, and he went really pale and took off. When he got back he looked even worse – like his world had come to an end, and every time I asked him if he was okay he didn't reply."

Like his world had come to an end. Gibbs had been so angry with Tony that he hadn't thought he might have a genuine reason for leaving.

"Did you ask him what’s going on?" Abby asked.

"Yeah." Gibbs scratched his jaw thoughtfully.

"And?"

Gibbs felt his jaw tighten under his fingers. "He didn't reply." Then again, he'd been so furious with Tony that he couldn't really blame him for that. Damn it – had *he* screwed up here and not DiNozzo?

Abby looked worried. "Something's hinky, Gibbs. I know it."

"I'll find him. I'll fix it. Don't worry, Abs."

He pressed a kiss to her cheek and returned to the squad room. He had just sat down at his desk when the phone rang. He answered it and heard a furious voice that he recognized as belonging to Agent Fornell at the FBI. Fornell was an old adversary and occasional friend – and a top he respected, even if he had married one of Gibbs's ex-spouses.

Fornell was so furious that it took Gibbs a few minutes to figure out what the man was saying. When realization did creep in, Gibbs could hardly believe what he was hearing.

"DiNozzo did *what*?"

~*~

Tony stood beside the car like a naughty kid outside the principal's office, awaiting his fate. He was used to the feeling; he'd spent half his schooldays leaning against various walls outside various principal's offices. He used to plant his weight on one foot and tap the other foot impatiently on the wall behind him, dreading the moment he'd be called in but wanting it to happen all the same, just so he could get it over with. Now he leaned against the car, one foot tapping against the tyre behind him, waiting.

A few yards away, Fornell was busy yelling at Gibbs, and Gibbs…Well, to say his boss didn't look happy was an understatement. Gibbs was not a man who could be out-topped, and he clearly didn't like the way Fornell was talking to him right now. He made a few terse interjections but Fornell was on a roll and for the most part Gibbs was just letting him rant.

Tony wrapped his arms around his body, hugging himself. Gibbs had dismissed the agents from the general pool the minute he'd arrived, and they'd high-tailed it away without looking back, leaving Tony to face the music alone.

"Two years work ruined because your stupid dumb agent bumbled in here! Now everyone within a five mile radius knows the FBI has been tailing Hansen, thanks to Agent Useless over there."

"This part of the op is over yes, Tobias," Gibbs replied reasonably. "But you might be able to salvage the rest of it."

"You don't understand. Hansen was the best lead we had on this case, and now he's been exposed. We were going to use him to trace back to the big guys, but they won't touch him now they know we're onto him. All that work ruined because of your idiot agent."

Tony winced. Fornell was a powerful top, although nowhere near in the same league as Gibbs. This was ugly, and it was all his fault. Then again, wasn't everything? His father had certainly thought so.

"The only reason you're still standing is because you've got every right to be angry, Tobias. But we're done now," Gibbs growled. "Go salvage what you can of your op; I'll deal with my agent."

"You'd better damn well deal with him. You'd better tan his hide so hard and for so long that he won’t sit comfortably for months."

Gibbs's jaw tightened. "We're done here," he said quietly.

Tony winced again. Bad enough that he was likely to face the bullwhip at the Baltimore inquiry, but it looked like he was going to get his ass tanned even sooner than that. He'd been expecting it though. In fact, it was the best case scenario. The worst case scenario was that Gibbs demanded his badge and gun and slung him out the door. Maybe he'd been wrong before; maybe *this* was rock bottom.

"I'll be speaking to your director about this, Jethro!" Fornell fumed.

"Go ahead, Tobias." Gibbs turned on his heel and marched over to the car. "Get in," he ordered Tony tersely.

Tony did as he was told and sat gazing out of the window for the most torturous twenty minutes of his life as Gibbs drove them back to the Navy Yard in complete silence. Tony cast several sideways glances at his boss, but he didn't dare speak; this was so very bad.

Gibbs parked the car, and they both got out. Gibbs gestured to Tony to follow him, which Tony did, again in complete silence. His smart mouth had deserted him for once; he couldn't joke his way out of this one. This was fast turning out to be the worst day of his entire life.

He followed Gibbs down some stairs and along a hallway he'd never been in before. They stopped outside a door at the end, and Gibbs opened it. He put a hand on Tony's shoulder, and even now, even in this most miserable of circumstances, Tony felt that little spark of electricity he always felt when Gibbs touched him, and he was warmed by it.

Gibbs ushered him inside and flicked on the light. Tony wasn't surprised to find himself in a discipline room. It was pretty much like the discipline rooms you found in most workplaces: functional, with apparatus and implements at one end and chairs at the other for witnesses. It didn't look as if it was used very often.

"You were wrong, huh?" he said, breaking the silence for the first time. Gibbs shut the door behind them and turned to Tony with a raised eyebrow. "You said I wouldn't need to know where this place was. I told you I would."

"Two weeks a record for you?" Gibbs asked quietly.

Tony bit on his lip. "No," he muttered. "One place I worked it only took me four hours."

"Figures. Sit." Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him down onto a nearby chair. Tony sat.

"This the lecture part?" He glanced up to find Gibbs gazing at him intently. "You can skip it if you want. I know I screwed up badly here. I mean, I know the routine. I know you have to read me my rights and go through the paperwork. Just give me the damn form to sign – I accept the punishment."

Gibbs sat down opposite him, his expression thoughtful. "Why did you disobey my order, Tony?"

Tony blinked. He'd expected Gibbs to be angrier than this somehow. "It's what I do." He shrugged. "I screw up. I told you that when you hired me."

"Must have been a reason," Gibbs said, his steely blue eyes boring holes into Tony.

"Not really. I just…I was pissed off that you didn't trust me enough to investigate a simple break-in. I mean, I've worked homicide, for God's sake! Thought I'd show you I could handle it. Didn't realize I was blundering into an FBI op." He winced. "I'm not surprised Fornell was so angry. I'd have been angry too if it was my op."

"Yeah. Me too. I knew about the Hansen op – I'd been copied in on it. That's why I told you to let me handle it."

Tony gave a bitter little laugh. "Yeah. Let you handle it. I get it. What can I say? I was an idiot. As usual. Punish me; I deserve it."

"Hmm." Gibbs gazed at him so hard it was like he was trying to look into Tony's soul. Tony shifted uncomfortably. "Anything else you want to tell me?" Gibbs asked quietly.

Tony wanted to look anywhere except into those stern blue eyes, but he couldn't tear his gaze away. He remembered being asked the same question at one of the boarding schools his father had dumped him in. A new, young principal had tried to befriend him and understand why he got into so much trouble. Tony hadn't had any answers for him. What could he say? That he missed his mom more than he could say? That he also missed being able to even talk about her with the one person who had loved her as much as he had because that person refused to hear her name mentioned? That he loved his father, however much they argued, and that the only time he got to see him was when the school called him down to talk about Tony's behaviour? No. Tony couldn't see the point of admitting any of that. It wasn't as if the principal could change anything. Talking wouldn't help; his mother would still be dead, and he and his father still wouldn’t get along.

Now Gibbs was asking him something similar, and again, what was the point? He didn't want this man's pity. He didn't want to tell him how he'd been set up and used by Dana Morley and now his whole life was now on the verge of ruin as a result. Besides, there was no reason why Gibbs would believe him. It was just more evidence of what a screw-up Tony was, and he so desperately didn't want to lose this job. It was the best thing that had happened to him in years. There was still a chance the Baltimore thing wouldn't blow up, and he could hang on in here.

"Tony?" Gibbs prompted quietly. His eyes were sincere, and Tony wanted to trust him, but a lifetime of not trusting tops was engrained in him.

"Nah." He shook his head. "There's nothing else. I'm just a screw-up. Let's get on with the punishment."

~*~

Gibbs rested his elbows on his knees and gazed at Tony thoughtfully. Tony gazed back at him from haunted green eyes. Gibbs had conducted enough interrogations to know that he wasn't hearing the whole truth – and also to know that he wasn't going to get it, either. Whatever had happened to Tony in his life had caused him to learn not to trust people – especially tops – and whatever was happening to him right now was clearly so big it was in danger of consuming him completely.

Gibbs continued staring at Tony thoughtfully. He remembered the look in Tony's eyes when he'd returned from his unauthorized break earlier. He'd been pale and clearly shaken, and Gibbs had gone over him like a steam roller instead of listening to him. Gibbs knew that his own actions were at least partly to blame for this current situation.

The look in Tony's eyes right now reminded him of the way his first ex-wife had once looked at him. She'd screwed up, and he'd spanked her, and later he'd found out that she hadn't even done what he'd spanked her for. She hadn't told him so though. She'd just taken the punishment in silence, and he hadn't realized anything was wrong because he wasn't interested in her enough. He hadn’t had that sensitivity to her needs as a sub that he'd always had with Shannon, and they'd divorced soon after. If only he'd learned his lesson then, but he hadn't. He’d kept on making the same mistake, over and over again.

Atonement.

That's what he'd said to Tom Morrow, and he'd meant it.

He got to his feet. Tony stood too, looking pale but determined. Gibbs remembered what Tony had said about how he hated taking licks in the workplace discipline room, and he felt a little surge of respect for the kid. For all his flaws Tony was brave, and he'd take whatever Gibbs handed out without a murmur. Gibbs had no doubt about that.

Gibbs put a hand on Tony's shoulder and opened the door. "With me," he said curtly, pushing Tony out of the discipline room.

"Where are we going?" Tony asked anxiously. "Please, Boss." For the first time, Gibbs saw real fear in Tony's eyes. "Please don't fire me," he said. "Please."

"I said, with me." Gibbs pushed him along the hallway, up a flight of stairs, and then into an interrogation room. Tony looked around nervously.

"Why here? Are you going to punish me in here? Or interrogate me?" He gave a scared laugh.

Gibbs shook his head. "I want you to stay here until I come to get you. You are not to leave this room – understood?"

"Not really."

Gibbs glared at him.

"I'll stay here," Tony said quietly. "Until you come and get me."

"Good. Now give me your cell phone." Gibbs held out his hand. There was a question in Tony's eyes, but Gibbs was pleased that he didn't hesitate. He reached into his jacket pocket, took out the phone, and handed it to Gibbs.

"Now wait here. I mean it. You leave, and we're done. Understood?"

Tony's eyes were wide, but he nodded.

Gibbs left the room and went into the observation room next door. He stood there for a second, watching Tony pace nervously around the room. Gibbs opened up the cell phone and flicked through the 'calls received' list. There had only been two today, and one was from him.

He re-dialled the other number and a few seconds later it was answered by a shaky, elderly voice. He hadn't expected that.

"Ma'am, this is Agent Gibbs from NCIS. I'm calling about Tony DiNozzo.”

"You're calling about Tony? Is this about the burglary at his apartment this morning?"

Gibbs frowned. "Yes Ma'am," he replied, trying to make sense of this new information.

"Is Tony okay?" the old lady asked. "He looked so upset this morning, and I'm not surprised. His apartment was in such a mess. You should see it! It'll take days for him to set it right. He said it wasn’t a burglary, but I think he was just trying to comfort me because I was a little scared."

Next door, Tony glanced at himself in the mirror and began smoothing his hair down repetitively.

"It's true they didn't take his lovely TV. He was so excited when he bought that – he invited me in and showed me how it all worked. I didn't really understand, but he was very happy about it, so I'm pleased they didn't take that. He said they were looking for something, but I don't know what he meant by that. Young people these days lead such complicated lives."

"Did he call the police, Ma'am?"

"I thought you were the police, dear," she said, sounding confused. "Nobody has come to take fingerprints and so on like you see on the TV. I was expecting someone, but I’m sure you're busy."

"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." He thought he'd probably got everything he needed from her, and he finished the call.

Then he stood there, gazing at Tony. Tony gazed back at him, oblivious, through the mirror.

"Just what kind of trouble are you in, DiNozzo?" Gibbs mused softly.

He studied Tony for a long time, trying to listen to what his gut was telling him. Somehow, he knew that whatever he did next would shape the future of his life.

He just had to decide what it should be.

End of Part Five
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