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Title: Undercover Cover-up
By: BuffyAngel68
Pairing: Tony/Gibbs
Fandom: NCIS/JAG
Rating: NC-17
Series: 1) Post Traumatic Stress
Warnings: D/s
Disclaimer: Don't own them, never will, not making money. If he *was* mine to care for, I would have had Tony in counseling long ago.
A.N.: Tony losing it with his captor near the end of "Under Covers" made me wonder. I don't think it was the bad guy he was yelling at. This is what I took away from those few moments... This was begun before 'Frame-up' aired, so it doesn't encompass that. Should have waited, but now it doesn't feel right to make significant changes.
Summary: Tony's loss of control worries Gibbs and after a disconcerting private talk with the younger man, Jethro makes a call.

***

Gibbs waited a week. He held off for seven full days while Tony recovered from the beating he had taken and slowly got back to being his normal, sweet, slightly irritating self. In truth, he thought he'd probably waited too long to confront his top agent on what had gone down in the hotel room. No matter what he said or did now, Gibbs was afraid he wouldn't get an honest response out of the younger man without a battle of wills. He comforted himself with the fact that if the struggle had to happen, at least Tony would be physically up to it.

Sighing quietly, Gibbs rose from his desk and moved to stand by Tony's, waiting silently. The other man looked up, his eyes showing confusion.

"Yeah, boss? Something you need?"

"It's time." Gibbs replied, inclining his head slightly toward the rear of the office.

"Uhhhh... okay. Time for what?"

"We're not doing this in front of everybody else, Tony."

Tony blanched, but managed to keep his composure and maintain his fa ade of being utterly clueless, despite knowing he was an open book to the man standing above him.

"Seriously, I don't know what you want, boss..."

"Get up, Dinozzo."

The words struck Tony as a clear command this time. Reluctant and a little angry, he held his place for another few seconds, but eventually he surrendered and stood.

"Where are we going?"

"Room two."

"Wait... *interrogation* room two? You can't be serious..." Tony protested, though he kept his voice pitched low so the others would be less likely to hear. When Gibbs, who had been staring at the floor, finally raised his eyes and locked gazes with Tony, much of the young agent's resistance melted away. Fiercely, he held that iron stare for a long moment, but he knew he couldn't win and moved off ahead of his boss without Gibbs having to say another word.

Once they reached the observation corridor, Gibbs secured the door leading back into the office, assuring that noone could casually walk in and see or hear what was about to happen. Still silent, he gestured and Tony moved inside the small room, leaning against the wall. Gibbs followed, closing the door. He waited patiently for a minute or two, but Tony remained where he was, so an order was issued.

"Sit."

"Yeah... don't think so."

"That wasn't a request."

"Didn't think it was, boss. I'm still not doing it." Tony shot back irritably.

"Special Agent Dinozzo. Sit your ass down. Now."

"I'm not a suspect, Gibbs. I did nothing wrong and I resent you treating me like I did."

"Nice try. You're not getting me off track. We are going to talk about this, Tony."

"Not in this lifetime we're not."

"Tony... you know damn well I can't send you undercover again until we get this straight. You're one of the best I've ever seen at that kind of role-playing and I need you available to work. Please... sit."

The soft appeal, and the atypical touch of sadness and concern Tony heard in it, reached the distressed young man as nothing else would have. Head down, he pushed away from the wall, moved to the table and dropped into the chair normally occupied by suspects and interviewees. Gibbs sat down across from him and folded his hands on the table.

"Okay. Talk to me."

"About what? I'm fine. I got knocked around a little, but everything's healed. I'm completely fit for duty."

"Your body is. Your mind I'm not so sure about."

Tony flinched slightly and turned sideways in the chair, arms crossed over his chest and defiance radiating from his expression.

"I said I'm fine. Believe it or don't."

"The guy you attacked is barely out of the hospital. You pretty much beat the hell out of him."

Tony smiled cynically and responded in a childish tone.

"He hit me first."

"I was there. I saw your face... heard what you were saying. That kind of rage doesn't come out of a sore gut and a bloody lip from a stranger, no matter how much of an asshole he is."

"Fine. Next time I'm kidnapped I'll pat the guy on the head and we'll have milk and cookies before he shoots me."

"Enough, Tony! Okay? No more games, no more smart mouth. Put that version of yourself on the back burner, drop the mask for a while and talk to me."

"I... what is it you want from me, exactly?"

"I need to know what was really going through your head back at that hotel when you were kicking the shit outta that guy."

"Nothing... except maybe keeping him down so he wouldn't dissect me with that big-ass knife."

"Uh-uh. No way. You're a pro, Tony. Not once in four years have I ever seen you cover a downed suspect by beating him and screaming at him."

Tony gazed over at Gibbs, his jaw tight and his expression closed off.

"That's not the way I remember it."

"I was there. So was Ziva. You want me to get her in here so she can refresh your memory?"

"I told you what I was thinking. There's nothing more to say. Can I get back to work now?"

Gibbs grinned and shook his head, a gesture Tony had seen too often not to understand what it meant; he wasn't going anywhere until the master interrogator was satisfied.

"How many times have you watched me in here, Dinozzo? You know how it goes. You give up the info I'm lookin' for... then you can go."

Tony's face lost all semblance of color and his expression shut down completely. A moment later he rose and began to pace the back wall of the interrogation room. Gibbs jumped on the obvious change in attitude. "What? What'd I say?"

"Nothing."

"Bull. You look like I just told you you've got two months to live."

Hands tightly fisted at his sides, Tony finally stopped and turned to face the other man.

"Why are you doing this? So I lost it for a few seconds. It was one time. It won't happen again, I swear."

"And it's my job to make sure of that. So? Convince me."

"You don't understand..."

"I'm trying. You've gotta meet me halfway."

Tony glared briefly at Gibbs and resumed his pacing. "You hate shrinks, Tony, and the new guy upstairs... I haven't heard a single good word about him. I want another option, but you need to give it to me."

"No! No shrink! Never..."

"Then talk to me. Am I asking that much? Is it that bad?"

Tony refused to answer this time, but his pacing became erratic, interspersed with sotto voce mumbling and occasional kicks at a wall or table. Gibbs also noticed the young man had begun to shake. Slowly sitting forward, the former Marine spoke quietly, hoping he'd managed to keep his sudden worry out of his tone.

"Tony... what's going on with you right now?"

Tony paced to within a few inches of the far wall and leaned into it with both hands, shaking his head. After one savage punch to the plaster, he collapsed slowly to his knees, his whole body now visibly shuddering.

Crouching by the spot where Tony had curled up against the wall, Gibbs stretched out a hand to touch the back of the younger man's head, but stopped himself at the last minute. He was all too aware that if he offered release and comfort too soon, the story Tony needed so desperately to tell might not come out. In lieu of that touch, he reached out to the violently trembling form in front of him with soft words.

"Just tell me. Let it go, Tony. What is it?"

"Everything... nothing." Tony finally responded, his voice sounding as if the words had been wrenched from his throat. "Hell, I don't know... Kate, Ari, the damn plague. I try not to think about all the shit that's happened, but sometimes... it's like I'm walking through a wall of mud. I can't see, can't breathe, can't fight back... but I can't give in, either. There's work to do, cases to solve... so I keep going, keep being the Tony everyone wants to see... and the wall just gets thicker... and I don't have the slightest idea which way is out. I'm so tired, boss..."

At last, Jethro extended a hand and stroked Tony's hair.

"I know. It's okay. I'm gonna make it better. Guaranteed. C'mon." he said lifting Tony to his feet again.

"Right. Back to the grindstone. Show must go on and all that..."

"Wrong. I'm driving you home."

"Boss..."

"Just for today. I can make it an order."

"Don't bother. I surrender."

"I thought you would."

GIBBS' CAR: ONE HOUR LATER

"Hello?"

"Adm... A.J."

"Jethro. I wondered if I'd be hearing from you."

"You know about the hotel."

"The whole Washington gossip circuit knows by now. I take it this is serious?"

"He's gone through so damn much the past few months."

"You all have."

"Yeah, well... he's gotten more than his share. It's wearing him down. He needs to regain control."

"We can handle that."

"We? Last I heard Clay was out of town. For a long time, maybe."

"I've got a new apprentice I'm working with. He could do with seeing how this kind of session is conducted. I'll bring him along."

"Whatever you say. I trust your judgment."

"By now? You damn well better. See you tonight."

***

By six that night, Jethro was back at Tony's door, waiting patiently for the younger man to answer. When he'd dropped him off earlier that day, DiNozzo had looked and sounded exhausted so Jethro was willing to give him a little leeway. Eventually, Tony opened the door on the chain. Seeing who it was, he momentarily shut it to slide the security device free then swung the door open fully. Jethro took a minute to appreciate the mouthwatering sight of the other man in a sleeveless tank top, loose sweatpants and bare feet before re-focusing on his purpose.

"Boss? What are you doing back here?" Tony asked sleepily.

"Offering a ride... and a chance to get your peace of mind back."

Tony's eyes widened and he retreated as his weary brain made the connection. Jethro stepped into the apartment, but maintained his distance.

"No. Not that. I can't..."

"It works, Tony. You saw that."

"What they put you through..."

"It's not always about absolution. A.J. knows what's been going on the last little while. He gave me what I needed, he'll give you what *you* need. You'll have to trust him to know the difference."

"He... knows about today? You told him?"

"No. That'll be up to you."

Tony hesitated for a long time, looking anywhere but at Gibbs, but at last he spoke the biggest concern filling up his head.

"You and me... since that night we've kissed, touched... but nothing beyond that. I... I don't know if I'm ready for you to see me... au natural. I don't want you to be..."

He halted, censoring the final word of his sentence. Gibbs, intuitive as ever, knew what he wanted to say and quickly reassured him.

"I could never be disappointed in you, no matter what your body looks like."

Tony tossed Gibbs a brief, shining smile.

"You really think he can help me?"

"I'm sure he can."

"Okay. I'm gonna... go get dressed." He replied, moving to head into his bedroom, but turning back at the last minute. "Um, boss. The nickname Ziva keeps calling me..."

"... is just teasing. I know."

"How?"

"The day you got sick, I wasn't strictly following the unwritten rule."

"Unwritten rule?"

"Yeah, the one about not looking at other guys in the showers."

Tony grinned and strode off to wash and find fresh clothes.

THE HOUSE: SEVEN P.M.

"Good evening, Mr. Gibbs, Mr. DiNozzo."

"Hello, Steven." Gibbs responded warmly. Steven selected a small blue book embossed with a number 4 and offered it to Gibbs, who accepted the slim leather volume and opened it, skimming to find the page currently in use. After he'd initialed in the next available space he passed the book to Tony. "Right next to mine. Initials only."

Once both men were signed in, Jethro returned the book and pen to Steven, who stowed them back in the niche where they belonged.

"You're expected in room two, sir."

Gibbs tensed slightly and gazed questioningly at the other.

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

"Hmm. Thank you."

"You're very welcome, sir."

As they walked away hand in hand, Tony wanted badly to ask what was so distressing about room two, but he remembered the rules from their previous visit and stayed silent. A few minutes later, when they'd reached the red door with the gold number, Gibbs turned to face Tony and took his face in both hands.

"I need you to listen close, Tony, okay? Since it's your first time, I don't think he'll punish you if you mess up... but if you pay attention you won't even have to worry. Got it? You focusing?"

"Yeah, b... I mean yes, Jethro. I'm focused."

"Good. The minute we walk in, you drop to your knees, put your chin in your chest and your hands behind your back. Don't speak, don't move. If he lays his hand on the back of your neck, then you can get up. Do what he asks you to do, no matter how strange or embarrassing it might sound. Answer his questions the best you can. Be respectful, be honest... and most of all, try to be open. Help him help you."

"I understand."

"One last thing. No matter what you see when we go in... stay cool."

Tony paled.

"Crap. I was hangin' in there until you said that... I knew you looked weird when Steven said we were headed for this room. Do I get to know?"

"In about thirty seconds, yeah. We've waited too long as it is. We need to get inside."

Tony nodded quickly, steeling himself for whatever he might be about to face, and Jethro knocked. The door was opened a minute or so later by a tall dark-haired man Tony instantly recognized.

"Commander Rabb."

"First names, remember? It's Harmon. C'mon in."

Tony paused for a moment, his mind racing as he contemplated what he faced, but Jethro's warm, comforting hand on the small of his back got him moving. A step or two beyond the threshold, he knelt and positioned himself as he'd been instructed, suppressing the urge to examine his surroundings and concentrating instead on the voices of the others.

"Jethro. Good to see you again." A.J. said, greeting his friend with a firm handshake.

"Yeah... good to see you too."

"No it's not."

Jethro's head came up and he shot A.J. a curious look, confused by the smile gracing the other man's lips. "You're worried about the man you love. You're also worried about what I have planned for him. Right now, you'd rather be seeing anybody *but* me."

Jethro's chin dropped again.

"I know you'll take care of him. That's not it. I just wish he didn't need this..."

"You couldn't have prevented any of what's happened to him, Jethro, and beating yourself up won't change the past. Besides, you know what your tendency toward extreme self-flagellation will lead to."

"Another night of you yelling at me?"

"Damn right."
A.J. briefly gazed at Tony then looked at Gibbs again.

"You told him what to do?"

"Outside, just before we came in."

"He listens well. That's promising. I will take care of him, Jethro... just like you would. What I won't do is treat him like he's a china doll. You need to understand that and not get in my way. If you can't deal with that restriction you can't be here."

"I understand."

"Alright. Time we get started, then. Stay here."

Jethro nodded as A.J. strolled over to where Tony knelt and began to walk slowly around him. He stopped at the younger man's back and gently readjusted the position of his hands before continuing around to stand on his left side. At a light touch on the nape of the neck, Tony rose gracefully to his feet, but kept his eyes down just in case. "You can look at me, Anthony."

Tony's gaze came up readily but out of the corner of his eye he saw something he didn't want to believe was real and instinctively his eyes slid past their intended target and up. "Anthony. Pay attention."

Once his young subject's eyes had snapped back to the front, A.J. answered his unspoken questions. "Yes, that's for harnessing and suspending someone in the air. No, you don't get to know if I'm planning on using it with you. Harmon, would you take Anthony into the dressing room and show him what to do?"

"Of course."

Tony followed reluctantly, suddenly uncertain and fearful without Jethro by his side. He looked back, even as he walked toward the smaller chamber set into the back wall of the larger room, but a soft voice close to his ear brought his attention back to his escort.

"Don't worry, he's not going anywhere. He would never leave you to face your first session alone."

Startled, Tony shot Harm a mildly suspicious look.

"You learn to read minds since I saw you last?"

"I wish. I've just been where you are, that's all. Not that long ago, either. It's only my third time here. All my other training has been conducted... somewhere else."

As they approached the door of the dressing room, Tony halted and through the gentle hand he'd laid on the other man's elbow, Harm felt him begin to tremble. "What?"

"I... I just realized that going in there... I mean... I kinda prepared myself for Gibbs to see me naked, but..."

"You can do this. I know it's not easy, but it's not supposed to be. Think of it this way. Take that feeling of ' God, how much more exposed and vulnerable can I get? ' and turn it into ' How vulnerable can I let myself be? ' "

"I don't know. I haven't exactly had much practice."

"You trust Jethro?"

"More than I've ever trusted anybody."

"And A.J.?"

"He scares the living hell out of me."

Harm laughed softly.

"Me too, sometimes. Answer the question."

"I trust him."

"How vulnerable can you let yourself be, Anthony? What are you willing to do... in order to feel like you're back in control again?"

Tony swallowed hard and forced the words out.

"Whatever it takes."

"One more time, a little louder. Don't yell, just say it so we can both hear it this time."

"I'll do whatever it takes."

"Okay. Then let's go get you ready."

A few minutes later Tony's clothes were neatly folded on a shelf in the small space and his shoes were carefully lined up on the floor underneath. As they stepped out side by side, Harm turned slightly, grasped Tony's hands and held them firmly. "No covering yourself. Think about what we said before. Vulnerable is good."

"You lied. You can read minds."

"The first time I stepped out in front of A.J and Clay, my hands dropped right down over my groin. I remember wishing for a loincloth, a dish-towel, anything not to be naked. As soon as they saw me, they tied my hands behind my back and I spent an hour listening to them explain why shame and embarrassment weren't what this place was about."

"Message received. Hands at my sides. God, I don't know if I can handle this."

"A.J. is strict, but he's a good man. All he wants to do is help. His methods get a little extreme sometimes, but he'd never step over the line and let you get hurt. This is all about putting the wheel back in your hands. Let him try."

Tensely, Tony nodded again and the pair moved forward, halting a yard or two from where Jethro and A.J. were standing.

"What now?"

"You kneel again. Hands behind your back, the way he placed them earlier. Knees apart a couple inches, but not so much it strains your hips. Oh, and keep your eyes up this time. Be attentive, but don't try to second guess him. It's his biggest pet peeve and his favorite excuse for handing out correction."

Tony paled as he remembered what Clay had told him about that word and what he had seen happen to Jethro when he continued to refuse the help being offered to him.

"I don't want correction, do I?"

"No. You really don't."

"Right. Uhh... keeping the knees apart..."

"Anthony, stop. You're psyching yourself out."

"I'm trying not to. I swear I am..."

"I know. Answer one question for me?"

"Okay."

"Do you need help to start healing?"

"I... yeah. I think maybe I do."

"Then let go of your fear. Let us give you what you need."

The echoes of Jethro's earlier entreaty resounded briefly in Tony's head and he sent his thoughts back over the past few weeks. He sifted through the hours and days since his illness and Kate's untimely death and slowly realized how much harder he was now working to keep his usual mask of normality from slipping.

"Okay." He finally murmured. "Okay. No matter what happens... no matter what he wants, I can do this. I have to do something..." Tony continued, dropping to his knees and presenting himself the way Harm had instructed. The other man gently touched Tony's shoulder and spoke to him encouragingly.

"You are. You're accepting help. Hang in, okay? I have to go get ready too, but A.J will be with you soon."

Tony grinned tightly, but didn't respond. A few minutes later, Harm was back, having also stripped out of his clothes. As he knelt at Tony's side, A.J. ended his conversation with Jethro and approached. Again, he circled Tony slowly, but this time he seemed satisfied and made no adjustments. He stopped in front of the younger man and tipped his chin up with two fingers, raising Tony's eyes to meet his.

"Tell me why you're here."

"I... I've been really stressed out... and I'm not handling it as well as I usually do."

"No."

Staring up into A.J.'s intense, compelling eyes, Tony instantly knew that he would not be allowed to hide behind the evasions and illusions he'd depended on all his life. Abruptly, he felt even more naked than he had a moment before, as if the older man wanted Tony's soul exposed as well. The realization caused fear to blossom in his belly and his mouth to go dry. He tried to speak again, but couldn't manage it. A.J. watched him struggle for a long moment, then spoke to his prot g . "Harmon."

Rabb quickly rose to his feet and replied.

"Ready, sir."

"We'll need something from the cabinet."

"Yes, sir."

The other man returned shortly with his choice, a cock ring and ball harness, and handed it to his mentor before kneeling once again. A.J. crouched with the item in hand and held it up so Tony couldn't miss seeing it. "I know you remember this, Anthony. You learned how to use it properly the last time you were here. This one is a bit more involved, but it has the same purpose. You get one more chance to give me the real answer before this goes on."

"I'll tell you anything... just don't scream at me... please."

"I don't plan on it. You're not Jethro. Yelling won't work for you. That doesn't mean I won't apply some of the same physical persuasion if you and I reach an impasse."

"God... what do you want?"

"Honesty. Why are you here, Anthony?"

"I... I lost control with a suspect... I kicked him, put him in the hospital."

"Good. Very good. Now we can really get started..."

***

Moving around behind Tony, A.J. laid easy hands on the younger man's shoulders.

"There are rules to being the focus of a session, Anthony. Did Jethro tell you about them?'

"No. No, he told me what to do when I first stepped in here... but that was all."

"You were here with Jethro last time. Tell me what you remember."

Tony lowered his head, deep in thought, then responded hesitantly.

"Tell the truth."

"Good. Anything else?"

"No smart-mouthing, limited swearing and don't resist the process."

"Or?"

"Or things I'll wish I never heard of will be attached to sensitive body parts and stay there until my attitude changes."

A.J. laughed and some of the tension eased in Tony's back and neck.

"Well said. You know what a safe-word is?"

"Uh... yeah. It's a word I only use if I'm in trouble. If I say it, everything stops until I'm ready to keep going."

"That's right. It can even be two words, but it's important that it be something out of the ordinary; nothing you'd use in normal conversation. Since you'll also use it privately with Jethro, you might want to choose something that has meaning for both of you."

Tony glanced quickly at Jethro then down at the floor. A.J. could almost feel the guilt and embarrassment pouring off the young man "Anthony?"

"I'm listening, I swear."

"That's not what I'm asking about."

Harm winced slightly, knowing Tony had anticipated, as he'd been warned not to, and would be subject to correction at some point during the session. Tony's response to the comment was thin, tight lips and silence. A.J switched his attention to Gibbs. "Jethro. Talk to me."

"Anthony and I... we haven't gotten around to anything we'd need privacy or a safe-word for. He's not ready yet and I think he's ashamed of that."

"Is he right, Anthony?"

Tony shook his head slightly, but his answer didn't match the movement.

"He's right."

"You haven't discussed this with him."

"No. He guessed. He's good at that."

"Should he have had to guess what you're feeling?"

Tony blanched slightly, but his response was quick and honest.

"No. I should have told him."

"That's right. It's good that you understand that. Now we just have to convince you of the merits of doing it. Have you chosen a safe-word yet?"

"Yes... I have."

"Tell us."

Gazing directly into Jethro's eyes, Tony swallowed hard and spoke his choice quietly.

"Sketchbook."

Intrigued, A.J. raised one eyebrow.

"Interesting choice. Feel like indulging my curiosity? No obligation."

"It's, ummm... it refers to Kate Todd. After she died a sketchbook was found in her desk... she'd made these amazing drawings of each of us. I think... I hope she'd approve of Jethro and I getting closer and supporting each other now that she's gone, so... sketchbook will work."

"I agree. Jethro?"

Gibbs nodded and managed a small smile, unsure his tight throat would function if he tried to speak. Tony had shown little emotion when he'd first seen the drawings and Gibbs had hoped it was simply one more bit of stoicism from a young man who typically held his softer emotions deep inside, no matter what the situation. He was gratified and touched to know that the final gift from Kate had moved the younger man.

"Good. Let's move on, then. Harmon, attach the harness and cock ring, please."

Tony startled and twisted his head around, trying to look back at A.J.

"What? Why? I don't understand..."

A.J. gently returned the young man's head to its previous position.

"Eyes front, Anthony." He scolded lightly, moving around to stand in Tony's line of sight, but out of the way of his apprentice. "Remember what you told me a few minutes ago? Try not to smart-mouth, swear or..."

"Resist the process."

"Exactly."

"I'm trying. I... I've spent my whole life *not* showing anyone how I feel or who I am. I can't just change... not so fast..."

"I know you're trying. Since that mistake you've done much better. Keep it up and fifteen minutes from now you'll be released."

A.J. could see the urge to protest burning in Tony's eyes and was pleasantly surprised when the other suppressed it and submitted.

"I understand."

"This will be uncomfortable at first, but it won't hurt." Harm murmured in Tony's ear. "Don't look at what I'm doing, Anthony. Focus on Jethro. Keep your eyes on him and you'll adjust faster."

Grimacing, Tony took the advice and kept his gaze strictly on Gibbs, who was putting all the support he could muster into his own expression. Harm made short work of applying and securing the device, while still being as gentle as he could. Once the procedure was finished and Tony had been given a few seconds to become used to his confinement, A.J. moved directly in front of his subject and began to question him again.

"Once more, just to refresh all our memories: why are you here tonight?"

"I lost control... beat up a suspect."

"Have you thought about why it happened?"

"Yeah... but I still don't really know. He smacked me around, came after me with a knife... I know I was pissed."

"At him or the situation?"

"Him... at first anyway. After a few seconds, though... I'm not sure it was either one. I quit worrying about who and why. I was just... mad and I took it out on what was in front of me."

Impressed with Tony's insight and willingness to explore his motives that day, A.J. knelt in front of the young man, effectively blocking Jethro from Tony's sight and ensuring the focus would remain on him alone.

"Close your eyes... and tell me. I want detail."

"I... I was tied to a chair... back to back with Ziva."

"That's the partner you were working the undercover with."

"Yeah. She... I know she can handle herself usually... but I was getting a really bad feeling about how things were going down. I had to get her out. I convinced one of the bad guys that what they wanted was up in our hotel room... and he untied her. He went with her to get it... but all that mattered was she was free."

"Why?"

"Why... what?"

"Why was her freedom all the mattered?"

"I don't know... is it time to get this thing off my used-to-be-privates yet?"

"Focus, Anthony. Concentrate and answer the question."

"I said I don't know. Maybe... maybe I just had a sense which one was really dangerous... and I wanted him with me."

"I thought you said Ziva could handle herself."

"That doesn't mean I'm gonna sic the psycho on her."

"Because she's a woman?"

Tony's eyes popped open and he favored A.J. with a faint smile.

"Hell, no! In some ways she's tougher than a lot of guys I know."

As he studied his subject, A.J began to put pieces together and understand where Tony's extreme reaction in the hotel had come from. His heart twisted for the pain the young man was about to experience, but he led him down that path anyway.

"But you still felt it was your responsibility to protect her."

"She was my partner. That's how it works. Partners watch each other's backs." Tony replied, his voice dropping into a lower register as his body tensed.

"And you did that to the best of your ability."

"No..."

"No? You made sure she was released, you got her out of harm's way..."

"But... yeah, I did that, but it was only common sense."

"I don't understand. Explain it to me."

"She was... if I get beat up or sliced into cold cuts, nobody... she was the one who should have left. That's all I know."

Hating what he had to do, A.J. steeled himself and led Tony around the blind curve and head on into the crash that he prayed would heal him.

"But she didn't did she?"

"No... I mean, yes. I gave her the out and she took it."

"Not Ziva."

Tony's eyes widened and he startled. Only Harm's grip on his shoulder kept him in place.

"God, don't go there... shit, no..."

"She went up on that roof with you. She could've stayed behind at the office, she could have traded places with Agent McGee on the ground, but it just wasn't in her to step out of the line of fire..."

"No... stop, damn it... don't..."

"Making sure Ziva was safe, beating that man the way you did... what was behind it, Anthony? Tell me why you did that."

Tony, sobbing quietly and pulling in hitching breaths, shook his head and tried once more to pull away, but Harm wouldn't relent. He leaned close and spoke softly to the younger man, exhorting him to let go.

"I know... Right now it hurts like hell, but it'll feel so much better if you can just say the words..."

"I can't..."

"Just say her name. You know she wouldn't want you to hang on to this... give it up..."

Finally, Tony closed his eyes again and whispered.

"Katie... I did it for Kate..."

"Good. Keep going. Tell me the whole story." A.J. encouraged.

"I couldn't protect her... I was right there... the son-of-a-bitch... he was targeting the women on the team... we knew that... I would have stepped in front of her... it shouldn't have been *her* blood on *my* face... I'm the one who failed... I let my guard down... I need another chance, but I don't deserve one..."

Abruptly, Tony collapsed in on himself, sagging forward. A.J. reached out and ran a gentle hand through the young man's hair then gestured to Harm, who made short work of removing the harness and cock ring. Once that was done, the admiral continued, knowing the battle wasn't quite over yet.

"Anthony. Sit up and look at me. I know it isn't easy, but I want you to sit up straight. Do it now."

Gradually, Tony's spine straightened and he made eye contact with his interrogator, though he wished desperately that he dared to take his hands away from their position on his back and wipe away the humiliating tears still drying on his face.

"Yes, sir."

"You're doing very well. We're almost done. I just need you to finish that sentence for me."

"Which one?"

" 'If I got beat up or sliced into cold cuts, nobody...' "

Tony frantically scrambled for some answer the other man would believe, because everything in him was screaming that he couldn't tell the truth this time, no matter what they did to him. When A.J. touched his cheek, Tony felt his determination crack and begin to crumble, but he shored it up and stayed silent. "I can see how hard you're fighting not to surrender this one last thing. You're afraid of his reaction. So am I, a little, but he needs to hear this. He needs to hear you say it. If you got hurt or were suddenly gone, nobody..."

Tony's response was almost inaudible.

"... nobody would notice."

"Almost. One more try, then we go back to the cabinet."

"Please..."

"Say it."

Just in case, A.J. gestured again and Harm rose, walked to the toy cabinet and returned, but this time he stayed at Jethro's side after handing over his choice to his mentor. His caution was unwarranted, however as the walls had begun to truly break apart inside Tony and no matter what he did, he could no longer cement them back together.

"If I was gone... nobody would care."

"Where's your evidence? You're a top agent, Anthony. Don't give me a conclusion that you can't back up with evidence."

"Please, stop... don't do this... if you take all my protection away how am I supposed to survive?"

"Anthony... just let it go. Tell me what's really hurting you, what's eating you alive inside... and this ends."

"I can't... if I say it... it's true... I don't want it to be true..."

"What? I can't help fix the problem if I don't know what's broken."

Tony flinched and crawled a few feet away, now audibly sobbing. A.J followed. Harm stayed back a little, gently laying a hand on Jethro's arm in preparation for keeping him from running to the rescue.

"No! God, no, not you too! Can't be..."

"Anthony talk to me, right now. Let this out. Give it up, son... I know how much it hurts."

"No you don't! You're not..."

"What? I'm not what? C'mon, you're so close..."

"You like old cars?"

A.J. raised an eyebrow at the abrupt change of subject, but flowed with wherever Tony was going.

"I do."

"Ever see one... by the side of the road or in a junkyard, that you fell for? Didn't matter if all that was left was a- a bumper and a tail light, you made an offer... and you took it home."

"My thing was motorcycles, but sure, once or twice... when I was young."

"It takes a special guy, with time and the passion for lost causes, to take a junker, get it running and shine it up so it's just like it was. Jethro... he's not one of those. He wants it new... or even better, the pieces, so he can... shape it, and bring it to life just the way he thinks it should be."

"You think that junker... is you."

"I've been run head-on into walls, T-boned... wrecked over and over again, my whole life... and nobody ever cared enough to put me back together right. I did it myself the first thousand times, but after a while... I stopped thinking it was worth it. After that I just... kept slapping on new paint, layer on top of layer... so the cracks, rust and old body-work wouldn't show. Then..." Tony finished, his breath hitching. "... then I had to go fall in love with him, damn it..."

"Why is that a bad thing?"

"Because! He... he looks at me and I know I can never hide from him! All the cover-up I've worked so hard to put on... and that bastard sees every patch and-and twisted wire and piece of chewed bubble gum that's holding me together! That's why I haven't let him go past kisses. He sees... he fucking *knows* what shape I'm really in... no matter what he says, he can't really want me. And now you... you saw right through me too."

"What makes you say that?"

"You said I was broken. You knew... God, I've probably been lying to myself all along. I'm a mess... why did I ever think I could make anybody see anything different?"

A.J. breathed deeply then looked back at Jethro. Sharply tilting his head he urged Gibbs forward, knowing it was time for him to take over and praying he would get it right.

***

As Jethro walked forward, A.J. rose and moved to stand by his protege, allowing Gibbs to kneel in his place. Knowing how drained his sub was, A.J. led Harm to the lounge off to the far side of the room and sat beside him on the couch, one arm wrapped tightly around the younger man. Rabb leaned heavily into his mentor, eyes slipping closed.

"My God... I feel like somebody beat *me* up. Why didn't you warn me what I was in for?"

"You had the right to refuse... I was afraid you would and nobody else could have been what Anthony needed tonight."

"Diane, Jordan .."

"You know the pain of that kind of loss... and the stress of refusing to believe you couldn't have saved them. He sensed that. It made it easier for him to trust you. I realize it was manipulation and I'm sorry..."

"No, I understand. You were right... are right. We're going back to your place after?"

"Uh-huh. If that's what you want."

"I do. All that stuff I can't talk about, all the sore spots I never let you get near... I think it's time."

A.J. pulled back a little and gazed searchingly at Harm.

"You sure? You don't have to take the next step, I told you that. It'll be more intense than anything I've taken you through so far."

"I know. I just... I think I've always been afraid that scraping at old wounds wasn't worth it... that it couldn't do anybody any good. Seeing Anthony fight so hard for whatever healing he can get... I know how wrong I was. I'm ready to go there now. I'm ready for you to show me the way."

A.J smiled softly, leaned in and gently kissed Harm's brow then his eyelids one at a time.

"Alright. I'll need a few days to get prepared..."

"I understand. I can wait."

"I know you can. For now try to rest, okay? Jethro and Anthony still have a few miles of rough road to walk..." he intoned, pulling his lover in tighter to his body, even as his gaze drifted to the pair still kneeling in the middle of the floor.

"Anthony. Back in position. You need to get back up on your knees, now."

"Just leave me alone... you got what you wanted."

"We're not done yet. Back in position."

When Tony remained curled into himself, Jethro released a brief sigh and used the weapon he was hoping he wouldn't have to. "I have a key to the cabinet, Anthony. I'll only use it if you force my hand."

Tony cursed under his breath and slowly rearranged his body back into the form Gibbs wanted. "Move closer. I want you right here in front of me."

After a long moment spent staring his boss down, Tony obeyed, though he made no effort to temper the resentment and defiance in his expression. Reaching out, Gibbs gripped Tony's face in both hands and held it firmly. "It's my turn to ask you some questions, Anthony. I want your eyes on mine every second and I want honesty. Lies or refusals mean correction. Looking at the floor, the walls or anywhere but at me... means correction. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. We start now." Gibbs instructed, dropping his hands. "Am I stupid?"

"No."

"You think I know my own mind?"

"99.9 percent of the time, absolutely. It's only when our new director's around that I wonder."

To Tony's relief, Gibbs smiled.

"Sometimes, so do I. Moving on. How much of Kate's death can you remember?"

Tony's face tensed and he shook his head.

"I'm not refusing... just asking... begging you not to make me go there."

"I was five feet away from her, Anthony. I get how tough this will be, but you need to do this before you go off on another suspect and lose your job." {and I lose you forever} Gibbs thought, but didn't verbalize, knowing the point of this session wasn't to insert his own needs and worries into the process. "I'll repeat the question if you need me to... but only once."

"Not necessary. I... some of it is so clear I can't stand to think about it. Some moments I think I buried or... I don't know, they're just gone."

"Tell me what isn't gone."

"I was standing there looking around... it felt like everything was winding down, like the tension was dropping finally. Kate... she smiled and... I know she was talking. At the time I'm sure I heard the words... but when I try to remember all the sound is gone. Then... I think I turned away a little... I'm not sure, but... I must have..."

Gibbs braced himself internally, knowing the worst part of the story was about to emerge, but Tony's reaction to the memory was nothing the older man expected and for a few seconds he was shocked into immobility.

"What makes you think that?"

"At first I thought it-it was starting to rain. I thought... hell, that's all we need... by the time we get down and back to a car we'll all... be soaked..." Tony replied, his breathing growing shallow and fast.

"You didn't answer the question, Anthony. Once more; what makes you believe you turned away?"

"Because... it wasn't rain... and it..."

Abruptly, Tony's eyes went wide and his breathing hitched. Curling forward into himself and wrapping both arms around his belly, he began to hyperventilate.

"Anthony, what's wrong?"

"Oh... oh no... oh... oh..." Tony panted harshly just before he twisted to the side and vomited. Hearing his distress, the other two men rushed to help. A.J. helped support Tony and sent Harm off to grab a cool damp cloth.

"What happened?" A.J. directed at Jethro while rubbing Tony's back and shoulders.

"Bad reaction to a question. I think something broke through..."

"Obviously something pretty traumatic. Anthony, calm down. You need to slow your breathing. C'mon, son... easy..."

Tony was sobbing wildly and his breathing was rapidly getting worse. Both men knew the young man's lungs were not a hundred percent and they were just as rapidly getting worried. "Don't do this, Anthony. Whatever it is we can solve it. Relax... relax, now..."

Harm returned a moment later and knelt close to Tony, running the cloth gently over his face and speaking to him quietly.

"Listen to me, Anthony. Listen to me breathe and match what you hear. As hard as it is you have to focus... give me your hands. C'mon, you can do this. You don't wanna end up back in the hospital, Anthony... hospitals suck. Lousy food, no privacy... and did I mention the needles?"

The next sob was closer to laughter than misery, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, the emotional hurricane shaking Tony to his core began to abate. First he unwrapped his arms and surrendered his hands, then he leaned forward, allowing himself to be folded into Harm's embrace. "It's okay... breathe easy... slow it down... that's better... easy, slow... good... good man."

After another few minutes of comforting, soothing words, Tony was able to straighten up again and answer questions, though Gibbs almost begged A.J. to stop. The man he loved looked fragile as rice paper and all he wanted was to take Tony somewhere quiet and let him sleep.

Harm moved off and returned shortly with rags, water and dry towels, thoroughly cleaning the floor. Once the job was done and the supplies put away, he knelt again and simply watched Jethro and his mentor at work.

"Feeling better, now?"

"Yes... sir." Tony responded in a raspy tone at half his normal volume.

"What happened?"

"I... something hit me about that day...the day Kate died. I realize now what triggered my attack on the suspect in the hotel."

"Go on."

"It... it was the blood. Her blood... it sprayed on my face that day... I was standing there, my mouth open in shock... and a drop or two must have dripped... Anyway, at the hotel, it was my own blood I was tasting, but... it took me back to that roof. Thinking of how they would've hurt Ziva, how close I came to letting down another woman who trusted me to have her back... I just had no control anymore..."

His own tears flowing, Gibbs reached out and stroked Tony's cheek.

"Those things you were saying... you were talking to the bastard who took Kate..."

"Ever since it happened... my only wish has been to go back and change it... to make him mad enough to come after me instead. You have to believe me, if I could do it I would..."

Gibbs surged forward, tugging Tony into his arms and growling into the younger man's ear.

"You numbskull... I miss her too, but I would *never* use you as a trade-off. I'm not giving you up, damn it... you're *not* walking away from me!"

A.J rose and moved to Harm's side. At a touch on his arm the other rose and moved off with his mentor, leaving Tony and Jethro to their private moment. Once Harm had dressed they left water, blankets and pillows with the other pair and exited the room. In the hall, Harm slid his arms around A.J.'s waist and hugged him fiercely.

"He really got to you, didn't he?"

"Yes, sir. I'm in serious need of a few hours of peace. Sir?"

"Hmm?"

"Can you just hold me tonight? I mean... if you want..."

"It's alright. I could do with a long hot bath and some serenity. Let's go home."

THE HOUSE: SEVERAL HOURS LATER

Gibbs was the first one to wake this time, slowly drifting back up to full consciousness. Tony followed a few minutes later. Turning, he shifted from their spooned position to face the older man, who smiled and gazed at him with contentment and utter love. Tony pressed a brief kiss to his lips and returned the look. Gibbs pushed a hand through Tony's now lank hair and his expression turned regretful.

"I didn't know any other way. You understand that, right?"

"Of course I do. That day's been eating me up for a long time, boss. I had to let go of it. I'm stronger for being here tonight. Or I will be, once I get some more sleep..."

Nudging Tony onto his back, Gibbs raised himself on one elbow, gazing solemnly down at the other man.

"That day at the hotel, when you said you wanted a divorce... that had nothing to do with Ziva or the op did it?"

"No. That's the first memory I have out of those few minutes. I looked up and thought about losing you... failing you. I was so scared... I wanted to push you away to keep you safe."

"You didn't fail Kate. Nobody could have stopped what happened..."

"I know... part of me does, at least. I can't help it..." Tony confessed. "I mean, for all the fights and all the times we drove each other nuts, she still stayed with me when I was sick. She would've been there all the way to the end if they'd let her. And then in less than a second she's gone and so is my chance to give back what she gave me in that isolation unit..."

Before he responded, Gibbs leaned in and kissed away the fresh tears streaming down Tony's face.

"You gave it back to Ziva by making sure she got out of that room. You gave it back to me by showing me love was still possible. Hell, every life you save you return the favor, Tony. I think by now you and Kate are more than even."

"Maybe..."

"Positively."

Staring up into Gibbs' face, the blue eyes he adored suddenly became the center of Tony's world.

"God, Jethro... do you even know how much... I couldn't stand it if I lost you."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"You will, though. You saw what happened earlier. I'm too damn messed up... you don't deserve to do this over and over."

Gibbs swiftly moved up onto his knees then straddled Tony's hips, gazing intently down at him.

"I want you, Tony... old and new damage included. I want you, I need you and I love you. What do I have to do to get that through your skull?"

"I don't know..."

"Let me show you. We've been dancing around it since we came here last time. Now I know why you were so gunshy..."

Tony reached up and ran one hand up and down Gibbs forearm.

"I'm trying to believe... I've just been B.A.S so many times... it's hard to let go and trust you or anyone."

"B.A.S?"

"Burned and spurned."

Gibbs smiled lightly and laid his hand over Tony's, stilling it.

"Remember the first two questions I asked you earlier?"

"Uh-huh."

"Answer them again."

"You're not stupid and you know your own mind."

"Say it one more time."

"You're not stupid... and you know your own mind."

"So when I say I want you... that looking at you or barely touching, the way we are right now, can make me harder than I've ever been..."

"... you mean it." Tony almost whispered, his expression clearly showing his surprise. "You're really willing to take on somebody like me?"

"You're not a project, Tony. You're my lover... and the person I've been waiting for most of my life."

Tony suddenly realized the hand over his was shaking.

"Boss..."

"Will you let me, Tony? Please... say you want me to touch you... to make love to you until we both pass out from exhaustion... please."

Tony shivered, smiled and nodded slowly.

"Just... you know I've never..."

"I know." Gibbs told him, squeezing Tony's hand as if his existence depended on never letting go.

"Are we... I mean, on the floor?"

"No... but we can make a good start here." The older man said, finally pulling his hand back so that he could strip off his shirt. As Gibbs reached for his belt, Tony's heartbeat raced with fear and anticipation, knowing what came next. Jethro saw it reflected in his eyes and hesitated.

"I don't have to right now. I can wait..."

"No. It... it's okay. I got up close and *really* personal last time, remember?"

"That was a long time ago. And you only think you've been "up close and personal" with my cock..."

The word surprised Tony and he swallowed hard, heat rising in his cheeks. Gibbs abandoned his efforts at his buckle and leaned forward instead, supporting himself on his hands and dropping his body close to, but not directly on, Tony's. "You like that, hmmm? You like when I talk a little dirty? It's a habit... usually I need it to really get me hard... but with you this close I don't need anything else. I won't do it if you don't want me to..."

Tony swallowed again and responded in a tiny voice.

"Say it again... please."

"What?"

"That word..."

"You mean... cock?" Gibbs replied, licking slowly across Tony's chin and jaw.

"God, yes..."

"You make my *cock* hard as steel, Tony... you make my control go haywire... at work, sometimes I just have to run for the men's room... and take my hard *cock* out... and fist it until I come... biting my cheek so I won't scream your name..."

"Jethro... what do I... God, what do you want me to do?"

"Whatever your body tells you... don't think about it, Tony... react..."

Tony closed his eyes and groaned deeply as Gibbs' licked down his neck and suckled gently on his collarbone. A few seconds later, the older man felt a hand sliding between their bodies and fumbling with his zipper. His instinct was to help, but he knew he'd just get in the way so he focused his energy on Tony's left nipple instead. When his hard flesh finally slid free, he breathed a sigh of relief over Tony's chest. "Do what you like, lover... whatever makes you feel good..."

"You feel so amazing, boss... hard, smooth and wet... that's for me, isn't it? Because of me..."

"Only you... stroke me, Tony... c'mon, love... that's it... yeah, start slow and loose..."

"You too... please, touch me..."

"Yeah... talk to me, Tony. Tell me what you need..."

"You... in my bed, in my body... I need you inside me... as deep as you can get..."

"What about your heart... and soul?"

"You're already there... been there forever... Jethro, faster... go faster... I'm so close..."

Gibbs let him go instead, also pulling away from Tony's grip, and the younger man cried out in anguish. The cry transformed into a shout of shock and sheer joy, however, when he was swallowed to the root a few seconds later. His release washed over him almost immediately and his lover blissfully drank every drop. A wicked grin curling his lips, Gibbs moved back up to kiss a panting Tony and found himself wrapped once again within the intense heat of his lover's palm. Sensing neither of them had the energy for further teasing, Tony brought him off quickly, savoring the warmth and musky scent of the fluid pouring over his hand and belly.

A short while later, they found their voices again and began talking softly.

"You know... this means you're stuck with me." Tony warned.

"Also stuck to you. Don't mind either one."

"Gibbs..."

"I know what it means. I don't see it that way and someday I'll get you to understand that.. to see how worthy and valuable you really are. In my eyes... you're a fire engine red Ferrari right off the showroom floor."

"Who's just run out of gas..."

"Sleep, then. In the morning we'll fuel up, head back to my place... and really put you through your paces."

"Couldn't ask for a better test driver."

"Damn right."

END.

***