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Author's Chapter Notes:
Just as Tony and Gibbs come to a new level in their relationship, disaster strikes.

Tony collapsed face first on the bed, groaning. Jethro grinned as he took in the sight, then shrugged out of his shirt and tossed it in the hamper. As Jethro unzipped his pants, Tony turned over and glared at him. Assuming an innocent expression, Jethro asked, "What?"

"That. Sucked." Tony stated, still glaring.

Unable to resist, Jethro corrected, "No, that stunk. Are you sure you got everything off in the shower earlier? Because Iím pretty sure I can still smell that dumpster you went diving into."

"Fuck you, Gibbs."

But Tony was trying not to grin as he said it, so Jethro knew the younger man wasnít really ticked. Not that he was complaining, but it seemed like Tony had complete control of his facial expressions except around him. Stepping out of his pants, he picked them up and tossed them in the hamper as well. Naked except for his boxers, Jethro crossed the distance to the bed and climbed on, straddling Tony in one move. Jethro rested his hands on Tonyís stomach and said, "You did good today."

Tony shrugged, obviously pleased, but just as obviously trying to downplay the emotion. "I did okay. But thanks."

Grinning again, Jethro slid his hands under Tonyís shirt and said, "I think that such good work deserves a reward."

"I keep asking for a raise, but my boss is a skinflint," Tony teased, smirking.

For that, Jethro pinched a nipple. Tony gasped, instantly arching against him. One of the things that Jethro loved so much about Tony was his responses.

"Jethro!" Tony gasped, swallowing heavily.

Licking his lips in anticipation, Jethro pulled his hands free and lay full length on his lover, stretching his arms above Tonyís head. This close, all Jethro really saw was the stubble on Tonyís chin and he slid his tongue over the rough scrape of it, moving down to the hollow just underneath and sucking there lightly.

Tonyís arms rose, twining with his, and his legs moved apart, offering Jethro full rein. Smiling again his throat, Jethro nibbled there as his hips undulated his hard cock against Tony, the fabric of his pants confining the other manís cock. Rocking slow and easy against him, Jethro decided to get them off just like this. He shifted up again and captured Tonyís mouth in a long, wet kiss, thrusting his tongue lazily into his loverís open mouth.

Groaning, Tonyís leg hooked over Jethroís hip, urging him to go faster while their tongues swirled together. Jethro could feel it approaching for them both in the tightening of his balls and the way Tonyís head fell back, breaking the kiss as he arched against Jethro.

"Oh God, Jethro, please, yeah, oh yeah, right like that oh pleaseÓ"

Jethro moaned as his cock emptied just after Tony orgasmed, the other man gasping silently as he came. Panting, Jethro didnít move for a few minutes, letting himself recover slowly, nuzzling at Tonyís throat again.

Sighing deeply, Tonyís arms moved down to surround him and hold him tight. "I know it doesnít usually count after coming, but I love you, Jethro."

Jethroís breath hitched at the admission and he pushed up on his elbows, staring into Tonyís eyes to determine the truth of it. Love. People bandied it around a lot and, given his track record, it was stupid to think he could ever really be part of the real thing, butÓ "I love you."

Eyes widening, Tony asked, almost cautiously, "Are you saying that because itís true, or because you think I want to hear it? Because Iím a big boy, Jethro. You donít have to say it back just becauseÓ"

Jethro shut him up with a kiss and then was rolled so the Tony was on top. He laughed, a little breathlessly, forgetting how strong his lover was. Cupping the other manís face, he repeated, "I love you."

Smiling brilliantly, Tony kissed him back and then said, "Good."

"Good? Thatís it?"

"Yeah. Good."

Jethro snorted at the mischievous look in Tonyís eyes and kissed him again. "Get undressed and letís get some sleep."

With a nod, Tony rolled off of him and peeled out of his clothes in record time. Jethro squirmed out of his own boxers and tugged the covers down. He just got settled when Tony jumped on the bed and pushed him out of place. "What?"

"I get to hold you tonight."

"TonyÓ"

"Címon, Jethro, you held me last night. Fairís fair."

"God, youíre a pain in the ass."

Tony smirked. "Not yet. Working on it."

Laughing outright, Jethro gave in and settled chest to chest with Tony. He sighed deeply, relaxing when one of Tonyís arms went around him and warm lips pressed to his head. "Night, Tony."

"Mmm. Night, Jethro."

As he drifted into sleep, Jethro counted his blessings that had led the younger man first into his bed, and then into his heart. He knew that heíd be a lesser man without Tonyís influence.

* * * *

Tony woke slowly, something warm and wet moving up and down his cock. He groaned in pleasure and then gasped in the same when a slick finger pushed inside him and started moving.

God he loved waking up in Jethroís bed.

Even though theyíd been lovers for a few months, theyíd only recently gotten around to penetration, thanks to Tonyís decided lack of experience. Jethro had claimed to love going slow and doing everything, but it had still embarrassed Tony. Especially now that he knew how fucking incredible it could be.

Two fingers pushing into his hole grabbed his wandering attention and his legs splayed apart of their own volition. "Fuck, Jethro, yes!"

A warm chuckle vibrated over his cock and Tony arched into the sensation, unable not to do so. Everything still felt so new, despite the fact that heíd had plenty of blowjobs over the years. Probably because it hadnít been Jethro doing it, he thought with an insanely goofy grin.

The fingers stretched him slowly, probing and loosening him. He moaned in disappointment when Jethroís mouth left his cock, but that incredibly talented mouth kissed its way up his torso, lingering on his nipples. A moment later, the head of Jethroís cock breached him and he gasped in a mix of pleasure and pain as it invaded him completely. There was still a few minutes needed to get used to his loverís cock inside before the stinging stretch faded to an acceptable level and Jethro waited for him every time.

Pushing onto his elbows, Tony whispered, "Kiss me."

Jethro smiled up and him and complied, relinquishing the nipple for Tonyís mouth. The kiss was so gentle and whole-hearted that there was no way that he could doubt the previous nightís declarations. He broke off the kiss only to order, "Move, Jethro."

Another soft laugh and, "Bossy bottom," before Jethro began the push-pull motions that never failed to consume Tony.

The kissing resumed, sloppier and harder to go with the increasing force of Jethroís cock inside him. Tony fell back against the mattress, his arms going around his loverís back and clawing at him for more, since his mouth was too full to order it. Jethro complied, as always, and the slap of his balls against Tonyís ass became audible. The friction was incredible, Jethroís stomach trapping and rubbing against his cock, and then came the magic moment when lightening exploded and he cried out, losing the kiss.

Tonyís feet dug into the mattress, forcing his body to meet Jethroís thrusts into his body for more. His balls were tightening and the panting involuntary as he strained to get closer to Jethro, his nails digging into the bare skin. Jethroís mouth bit and sucked at his throat and chest, stinging accompaniments to the loving torture sending him out of his mind. He was completely unaware of the litany falling from his mouth of, "Oh God, oh God, Oh GodÓ"

And then he couldnít stop himself from going over the edge at a particularly hard thrust from Jethro that struck gold again. Tony shouted, coming hard between them, and jerked against Jethro without thought. His ass clenched down hard on the shaft inside and provoked an identical shout of release from his lover, who humped hard against him as he spilled into Tony, sans condom.

Panting, Tony clung silently to Jethro, not wanting to lose the connection as his lover spurted a few more times deep in his body. The older man was limp in his arms now, sweaty and breathing hard. It was several minutes before Jethroís cock softened and fell from his body and Tony sighed in disappointment when it happened.

Jethro was sound asleep now, collapsed utterly in Tonyís arms and he had to smile at the image. The boyish features were slack with sleep, face pressed to Tonyís chest. He had to laugh at himself mentally to think that there was a time when he didnít want this. It had snuck up on him, that was for sure. One day Jethro had been Gibbs and Boss, and the next, heíd been Jethro. He even knew when it had happened, too.

He shivered as he remembered the sight of Jethro shot and bleeding. It was something he never wanted to experience again, though logically he knew that there was a better than average chance of it happening, given their occupation. It had taken a lot to get through Jethroís complete focus on the terrorist whoíd escaped, but heíd managed it. It helped that Tony knew when to give Jethro his space and when he actually wanted company, despite words to the contrary.

Kissing Jethroís temple, Tony sighed in contentment and closed his eyes. It was Sunday, so they could sleep in. He had to get back to his apartment later to check mail and take care of things there, not to mention do laundry, which was almost becoming a foreign concept with the amount of time he was spending at Jethroís.

* * * *

"Jethro, come on, I have to go! I haveÓthingsÓapartment. Mail. Laundry. Mega-piles of laundry are screaming for me."

Ignoring the protest, Jethro held out his hand, his hips moving to the Chicago song playing. "Just one dance to help me relive my misspent youth and youíre free of me for at least, oh, twelve hours."

Tony snorted, but gave in, taking his hand. The first few times theyíd tried this had been a laughing disaster, both men instinctively trying to lead. So theyíd divvied it up into favorite groups and eras. And Jethro groaned mentally at himself that there were ëerasí of music that separated them in age. At least he knew it wasnít a midlife crisis, since heíd had male lovers throughout the years.

Humming as they moved to the easy going rhythm, Jethro spun them around the living room with ease, his hands on Tonyís back and ass, respectively. Tony laughed as Jethro moved to dip him and they almost fell over, but didnít try to take control of the dance. Jethro loved that he was so adaptable and kissed him for it, then lost all track of dancing as it turned into a standing up make-out session.

But then the song was over and Tony was pulling away, a firm look in his eyes that told Jethro there was no more delay allowed. Sighing, he released Tony and complained, "I never see you enough."

Tonyís jaw didnít actually drop open, but the disbelieving expression was clear enough. "You see me all the time."

"Not like this," Jethro countered, rueful. "I want to see you like this all the time."

Freezing in place, Tony thought about his words then asked, "What are we talking about here? Me moving in?"

Not even realizing that that had been what he was saying, but knowing that it sounded perfect, Jethro nodded. Heíd had enough with being on his own. For the last time. "Yeah. I want you with me all the time."

"I umÓhow about we limit the earth-shattering revelations to one per weekend?" Tony asked, only half-joking.

Jethro didnít want to scare Tony off and easily gave in with, "Sure. Just think about it, okay?"

Clearly troubled, Tony nodded. He smiled a little and observed wryly, "You sure know how to keep the excitement going, Jethro."

Shrugging, Jethro replied, "Something my exís wouldnít agree with, but Iím glad you think so."

"I do," Tony stated. He leaned in for a quick kiss and said, "Iíll see you at work tomorrow. And I will think about it, Jethro. Itís justÓa little overwhelming, okay?"

Jethro nodded agreement. "I know. Tony?"

Tony stopped at the door and looked back with, "Yeah?"

Not hesitating, Jethro reminded, "I love you."

A brilliant smile spread over Tonyís face, along with a flush, and Tony echoed, "I love you. See you tomorrow, Jethro."

Closing the door behind his lover, Jethro sighed and looked around the room. It was so much emptier when Tony wasnít there.

Well. There was always work to do.

* * * *

Immersed in a new computer program that Tony had shown him on Friday morning before the insanity of their last case, Jethro didnít even notice when the time crept past. He was vaguely aware of Kate sitting at her desk talking on the phone, and a growing sense that something was out of place, but nothing stood out until his email alarm called for the nine oíclock meeting.

He looked automatically over at Tonyís desk and frowned when he saw it was empty. Standing, he left his office and walked over to Kateís desk.

"And youíve rejoined the living," she observed dryly.

Ignoring the comment, Jethro asked, "Whereís DiNozzo?"

She shrugged and answered, "Havenít seen him. Why Gibbs, is that a hickey?"

Momentarily diverted, Jethro tugged his shirt back into place and said, "Allergic reaction."

Snorting, Kate replied, "Uh huh."

"He didnít call you?"

"Wasnít my turn to watch him."

Jethro pinned her with a look. "Very funny."

"No, he hasnít called me. He didnít you, either?" Kate questioned.

Jethro shook his head, frowning. "No."

"What about Abby?"

"Why would he call Abby?"

"Just throwing things out there."

Eyes rolling a little, Jethro picked up her phone and dialed Abbyís extension.

"Yíallo?" Abby answered.

Jethro shook his head. "I thought we talked about how you were going to answer the phone."

"Damn. I thought you were Kate. Not fair, Gibbs, tricking me like that."

Snorting, Jethro changed the subject with, "Has DiNozzo called you?"

"What, this morning? No. Why?"

"He hasnít checked in or shown up yet," Jethro reported.

There was a pause, then, "Thatís not like Tony. Even if heís pulled an all-nighter, he always calls."

"I know. Let me know if he does call."

Abbyís voice was worried as she answered, "Sure."

"What about your cell?" Kate prompted when he hung up.

Almost hitting himself for not thinking about that, Jethro nodded and pulled it out and saw that it was turned off. Irritated, he said, "I canít believe I forgot to put it on this morning."

Kate smirked a little as she leaned back in her chair. "Oh my God, youíre human."

Turning on the phone, ignoring her baiting, he sighed in relief when he saw Tonyís cell among the Missed Callsí menu. Grinning a little in relief, Jehtro announced, "He called. Hang on, he left a message."

She nodded and agreed, "See? Nothing to worry about."

Dialing his voicemail, Jethro waited impatiently for the message to come on. Then he paled at Tonyís pained shout of, "Jethro! Jethro, help me! SomeoneísÓfuckÓget off!" the sound of fists hitting flesh. "Three of them! Son of a biÓwhite menÓmaskedÓfuck! Get offÓJethro!" and then the dial tone.

Instantly worried by Jethroís reaction, Kate stood and leaned over to take the phone from his lax fingers. She brought it to her ear to replay the message.

Fury that someone had taken Tony fought to overwhelm him, but Jethro ruthlessly quashed it down, shoving it tightly into a box to deal with later. He instantly picked up Kateís phone and called Abby.

Kate eyes widened as she heard the message and she breathed, "Oh God!"

"Forensics, Abby speaking."

Meeting Kateís horrified gaze with a hard one of his own, he ordered Abby, "Call the phone company and see if Tonyís cell is still in use. If it is, triangulate its position."

"Uh, what?"

"Now Abby."

"Right. Okay. Hang on."

It was a long, tense minute before she answered, "His apartment, heís still there. Gibbs, whatís going on?"

"Tonyís been kidnapped," Jethro told her. "Weíll let you know when we have more information."

Hanging up on her gasp of shock, Jethro dialed the police and informed them of the attack at Tonyís apartment and that he was on the way there. When he was done, Jethro took the cell phone back from Kate and the two of them strode from the office.

* * * *

Pain. Lots and lots of pain echoed through most of Tonyís body. His head, his chest, his ribs scraped painfully together; even his legs hurt, though he was hoping that didnít mean they were broken. He groaned as he tried to move, only to find that his arms were handcuffed down by his side. He started to panic when he couldnít open his eyes.

"Awake are we, Agent DiNozzo?"

Tony turned blindly towards the manís voice, demanding, "What the fuck is going on!?"

"Take it easy now, we didnít expect you to put up quite such a fuss. If youíre worried about your vision, donít. Youíve simply been blindfolded."

Stupid. Of course he was blindfolded. Though he was pretty sure he could cut himself some slack in that, since he was throbbing in agony most places. A little calmer, he demanded, "What do you want? Why have you kidnapped me?"

"Iím afraid you donít get to know that, Agent DiNozzo. The bait seldom does," the man replied.

Tony struggled against his cuffs, but they were attached to the frame of the cot that he seemed to be lying on. His ankles were bound as well. "Look, what happens when I need to relieve myself?"

"Feel free to let go any time you like, Agent DiNozzo," the man continued pleasantly. "We wonít hold it against you."

"You son of a bitch!"

"Now now, no name calling. Enjoy your stay."

A door closed and Tony sagged against the cot for a few moments to try and get the pain under control and take inventory. Broken ribs for sure. Possible concussion and bruised kidneys. Maybe it was just as well he didnít have to relieve himself just then because he was sure it would hurt like a bastard.

Concentrating, Tony listened as hard as he could, trying to figure out where he might be being held. There werenít any obvious noises like the ocean or a train or even heavy traffic. That could mean that the room was really well insulated, or that he was being held in the countryside. Easy enough to do in their area where you only had to go an hour to get in the middle of nowhere.

He sighed, giving that up to check on his restraints. No matter how hard he pulled, which given his condition probably wasnít very hard, there was no give. Not even any hint of giving. Breathing hard, Tony collapsed against the cot again. There was no way that heíd be getting free until someone set him free.

The fear returned at that realization and he thought, Címon, Jethro, nowís a really good time to find me.

* * * *

Finding nothing inside Tonyís apartment building or the apartment itself, Jethro and Kate moved outside. They found the cell phone in the alley between the apartment buildings. There were definite signs of a struggle in the knocked over trash cans and spatters of blood on the pavement. Swallowing, Jethro turned to Kate and motioned to the entire alley. "Seal it off."

She nodded and walked towards the cops who were already there in full force.

Kneeling down, Jethro forced himself to calmly take pictures of both the blood and the cell phone, then bagged the phone and tucked it into his pocket. Turning to his case, he pulled out swabs and vials and proceeded to take samples from all the splotches on the cracked pavement.

"Gibbs? The FBI is here," Kate announced from behind.

Surprised, Jethro stood and faced two unfamiliar men, who both held their IDs out for him to view. Looking the older black man in the eyes, taking him to be the one in charge, Jethro asked, "Whatís the FBI doing here, AgentÓ?"

"Wills. Agent Mark Wills. And this is a kidnapping," Wills replied, dark eyes calm and his demeanor easygoing.

"Itís not your jurisdiction."

"Agent DiNozzo wasnít military, he was a civilian cop, that makes it our jurisdiction."

"He works for NCIS, that puts it into our purview."

"No, it doesnít. That makes you his employer."

Keeping a grip on his temper, Jethro said thinly, "You arenít going to push us out of this investigation, not when itís one of our own whoís been taken."

Conciliatory, Wills stepped closer and replied, "Iím not trying to push you out, Agent Gibbs. I want to make sure this young man has the best chance of being found safe and sound. Youíre emotionally wound tighter than a wire, ready to snap, and that leads to mistakes. I can see that and Iíve only known you two minutes. The best thing you can do is let us take it over and give us help where we need it; Agent DiNozzoís background."

Jethro knew from the steel beneath the soft tone that the agent wasnít going to give in and had the authority to block him from the investigation altogether. He hated to admit it, but the man was right. Tony worked for NCIS, but he wasnít military and they had no real jurisdiction to pursue this investigation; heíd just muscled in on the cops before anyone could think to deny them access.

He met Kateís gaze, then looked back at Wills and said, "Fine. But youíd better keep us apprised of the investigation."

"Iíll do better than that," Wills promised. "Iíll go with you back to your office and you can tell me all about Agent DiNozzoís latest cases and potential enemies."

Great. A chaperone. Sourly, he motioned towards the yellow tape and said, "After you."

There was a smile from Agent Wills and a pleasant, "No, after you."

Fuck.

* * * *

"Youíre going to let them do this?" Kate hissed in the car.

His eyes on the road, Jethro replied thinly, "I donít have a choice."

"GibbsÓ"

"For now."

She perked up at his interruption and asked, "You have a plan? Of course you have a plan, you always do."

His lips almost twitched into a smile, but didnít quite reach one. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but not yet. Iím working on it though."

And it would all start with the cell phone and blood samples that Wills didnít know heíd already taken at the scene. What the FBI Agent didnít know, wouldnít hurt him, after all. And he had more confidence in Abbyís ability to quickly process the evidence than some faceless agency drone who had no idea who Tony was or what was at stake.

When they got back to the office, he said, "Take my kit to Abby when Wills isnít looking quite so hard at us. There are three blood samples and Tonyís phone. Full workup."

She nodded and they exited the car.

* * * *

Talking about Tony to Agent Wills was an experience that Jethro could definitely have done without. It was riding the razorís edge of showing that he knew Tony well, but not so well as to arouse suspicion that they were more than coworkers and friends. As it was, Wills kept giving him this curious look that told Jethro he wasnít masquerading his tension as well as he needed to. All he could do was hope it was put down to a friend being violently kidnapped.

In the second hour of ëbackground information,í aka, interrogation, Wills got a phone call and excused himself from the conference room theyíd preempted. Rubbing his eyes, which were hot and tired from lack of sleep the night before, Jethro allowed himself to think about what was going on, and what might be happening to Tony right then and there. That his lover could already be dead and there would be no charging to the rescue, no putting himself in harmís way to keep Tony safe.

Jethroís throat tightened at the thought and he cleared it savagely, focusing on the fact that they didnít even know if the blood at the scene was even Tonyís. The phone rang and Jethro saw it was Kate. Picking it up, he asked, "What?"

"Abby got the results. A partial print on the phone that sheís running through VICAP and NCIC and one of the blood samples isnít Tonyís," Kate reported in a quiet rush. "Howís it going? You need a break?"

Meeting her gaze across the way, Jethro shook his head and replied, "Iím fine. Iíll give him points for thoroughness, thatís for sure."

"What should I have Abby do?"

"Just what sheís - no I said I wasnít going tomorrow night and now itís definitely off," Jethro finished as Wills returned.

"Sorry. Okay, Iíll have her keep going with it."

Jethro nodded and agreed. "Good. Iíll reschedule another time."

Hanging up, he saw that Wills didnít look very fooled by his performance, but assumed the same innocent expression that had hoodwinked people for thirty-odd years. "Something break?"

"Just some stolen evidence," Wills informed him, sitting back down. "You wouldnít know anything about that, would you?"

Jethro maintained the same expression, but adding a little irritation as he replied, "What kind of stolen evidence?"

"I notice thatís not a denial."

"Itís not a confirmation, either."

The pleasant expression faded to a good degree and Wills snapped, "Hand it over or I swear to God Iíll charge you with obstructing justice, Gibbs."

Jethro stared at him for a long moment, then nodded and picked up his phone to dial Abbyís extension. "Abby?"

"Yeah? Are they still there?"

"Send up your results, would you?"

"Oh, ah, sure. Iíll bring them right up."

"Good."

He hung up and looked intently at Wills. "So. What do you think is happening?"

"Still in the preliminary stages, of course, but we have a tire print at the scene and with whatever youíve been working on, that should get the ball started," Wills answered. He paused, then continued, "What do you think is happening? Who do you think took DiNozzo?"

Jethro sighed and replied, "I wish I knew. Just from the standard criminals that heís put away over the years, the list is a mile long."

"Anything stick out in recent memory?" Wills prompted.

Before Jethro could answer, Abby arrived with a file. He waved her in and she gave Wills a wide berth, handing the file to Jethro. He smiled briefly. "Thanks, Abs. Keep us both updated."

"Sure," she agreed, hightailing it out.

Jethro scanned the file quickly, but it only reported what heíd expected, since Kate had already filled him in. Sliding it across the table, he said, "There havenít been any cases recently that had serious bad blood between Tony and the suspect we put away. Generally, they reserve the hate for me, since Iím the team lead, and thatís how I like it."

Wills frowned at that and asked, "Any of these perps threaten you? Think maybe that theyíd take DiNozzo to get to you?"

That thought hadnít occurred to Jethro and he went still, considering it. Leaning back in his chair, he admitted, "Itís not like Tony and I have a standoff-ish working relationship. Iím on good terms with all my people. But it would make more sense to take Kate, being that sheís a woman."

"I donít know. Would you react like this if she was taken?" Wills questioned shrewdly.

Fortunately, Jethro was saved from having to answer by the ringing of his phone. He saw it was Abby and picked it up with, "What is it?"

Abbyís voice was strained as she said, "I got a hit off of the partial."

"And?" Jethro demanded.

"Itís Tyler Beckwood."

Jethroís stomach dropped at the news, but he managed to reply, "Thanks, Abby."

Feeling a bit stunned at the news that Beckwood was free, it took a couple of seconds to marshal his thoughts enough to face Wills with a composed front. The dark eyes looking back at him were knowing as Jethro announced, "It is about me. Tony was taken by Tyler Beckwood, a man I sent away for life in prison. He murdered three men in an attempt to kidnap a visiting dignitaryís daughter for ransom. I say attempt, but really, he succeeded. If we hadnít gotten a description from one of the dying guards, heíd have gotten away, scott free."

"And he blames you."

"I was the lead investigator."

Wills nodded sharply. "Right. Iíll issue an APB for him."

"With a warning that heís armed and dangerous," Jethro added. "Because heís violent and smart with no morals or scruples, which is a deadly combination."

Standing, Wills said, "Iíll be back when I get things in motion."

Jethro half-smiled, a wry twist of the lips, and replied, "Iíll be here."

After Wills was gone, Jethro leaned his elbows on the table and offered a silent scream of rage to the fate that had somehow let Beckwood free. His cell phone rang, startling him, and Jethro pulled it out. A restricted ID showed and he tensed, jumping to his fee and poking his head out of the conference room. "Kate! I need a trace on my cell now!"

She nodded and picked up her own phone as he finally answered his with, "Gibbs."

"Ah, Agent Gibbs. How nice to hear your voice again."

Jethro took a steadying breath at Beckwoodís voice and replied, "Canít say the same."

"No, I didnít think you would," Beckwood replied. "And I didnít really call to chat socially. I have something you want, and you have something I want. I suggest a fair trade."

Biting back the sarcastic remark that had almost slipped out, Jethro asked evenly, "What?"

"You."

Jethro blinked in surprise, then asked cautiously, "Thatís it? All you want is me? Should I be flattered?"

There was a short laugh on the other end before Beckwood said, "Definitely."

"You could have taken me any time. Why the ploy? Why take DiNozzo?"

"Actually, I couldnít have. Ask your new bodyguard, Wills. Iíll call back tomorrow to make arrangements."

"Wait!" Jethro exclaimed. "How do I know that DiNozzoís even still alive?"

"HmmÓlet me seeÓyouíre just going to have to trust me."

"Beckwood!"

But it was too late. A dial tone mocked him and he gritted he teeth, wanting to throw it across the room and smash it. He looked over at Kate, who shook her head, scowling. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jethro took a couple of seconds to compose himself. The adrenaline inside was looking for a way out, but he had to keep his temper until he figured out what the hell was going on.

All he could do was pray that Tony was still alive.




Part 2
Jethro waited all of three seconds to grab Wills when the agent came back into his office. He shoved the other man against the nearest wall, pinning him there with an arm across the throat as he snarled, "You want to tell me why Beckwood knows all about you and why he called you my bodyguard? He took Tony because he couldnít get to me, you son of a bitch!"

Wills didnít fight, which was just as well because Jethro was barely hanging on to his temper as it was. If heíd fought, the results would probably have been very ugly. Instead, he answered, "Heís playing you, Gibbs, so ease off!

Jethro stared at him for a long moment, then growled in frustration and released Wills. "Talk."

"Beckwood escaped from prison two weeks ago. Iím not your bodyguard, Iíve been trailing him since the escape. We had his family staked out, even though heís not the sentimental sort, and we had his old contacts staked out, too. It wasnít until you called the cops this morning that we knew something was up with you."

"Beckwood escaped and no one thought to warn me about it?" Jethro demanded harshly. "No one thought that I might happen to be in the line of fire? Or that the people in my life might be in danger?"

Wills actually winced at that and replied, "It was an oversight, I can see that now. Iím sorry."

"Sorry doesnít get DiNozzo out of danger," Jethro snapped.

"No, it doesnít. What did he say?"

"That heíll call back tomorrow with specifics, but heís going to exchange Tony for me."

"Not a chance."

"Oh you better believe thereís a chance, if it gets DiNozzo to safety. Heís not going to pay for your screw up."

They glared at each other until Kate said, "I hear that Gibbs is really accurate when it comes to pissing contests, Agent Wills. You might want to rethink your strategy."

Both men look at her and Kate shrugged, the casual gesture belying the fire in her eyes. "Whoís at fault doesnít matter now. Stop the posturing and focus on getting Tony back."

Calming down a little at her simple words, Jethro said, "Any results on the tire print?"

"Thatís what the call was about," Wills replied, also taking a breath. "It gives us two possibles, but that doesnít narrow it down, since theyíre both popular models."

The phone rang and Jethro leaned over the desk to pick it up. "Gibbs."

"I got the results back on the blood samples. Two were from Tony, but the third wasnít, and it doesnít match Beckwoodís blood type either," Abby reported.

"Thanks, Abby," Jethro said before hanging up. Looking at Kate and Wills, he said, "Blood type at the scene doesnít match Tony or Beckwood. Not surprising, since he put up a fight."

When the phone rang again, Jethro frowned at the outside number, but picked it up. "Agent Gibbs speaking."

"When were you going to tell us that our son had been kidnapped, Agent Gibbs?"

Jethro winced, mentally smacking himself in the forehead, even as he automatically straightened in his seat. As if it would help in dealing with the furious older man on the phone. "Mr. DiNozzo, it just happened a few hours ago and weíre doing everything we can to find Tony and get him back safe. Weíre working closely with the FBI and already have some leads."

"Not closely enough. We just received a ransom demand."

Freezing in place, Jethro repeated, "You got a ransom demand?"

"Yes! For a million dollars. Instructions about the drop to follow tomorrow morning," Mr. DiNozzo exclaimed furiously.

Wow. Jethro had known that Tonyís parents had money, but he hadnít realized they were that rich. He hadnít delved into Tonyís past, knowing that if the younger man wanted to talk about it, he would some day. Shaking the thought away, he placated, "Iíll have the FBI dispatched to your home immediately so if the kidnappers call again, we can get a trace."

Not mollified, the other man said, "You had better recover my son, Gibbs, or your career is finished."

The line was disconnected before Jethro could respond. Grim, he thought, Donít worry, Mr. DiNozzo, if I donít get Tony back, my career wonít matter.

To the others he announced, unnecessarily, "The DiNozzoís got a ransom demand."

Wills observed, "A ransom demand and you? Revenge and payment?"

"Makes sense to me," Kate agreed. "He humiliates Gibbs and tries to ruin his career by taking someone on his own staff, and then gets the money he was denied in the first kidnapping."

Only Jethro was suddenly wondering if Tony hadnít been a random victim. Thinking out loud, Jethro said, "Beckwoodís only been out for two weeks. Long enough to do background checks on you and DiNozzo, sure, but if he was doing this just to get at me, then heíd have gone for Kate."

A slender eyebrow arched as Kate questioned, "Oh?"

Apologetic, Jethro admitted, "Youíre a woman and youíre still relatively new to the team. Iím still in a kind of ëprotective modeí when it comes to you. No, I know you can take care of yourself, Kate, and Iím sorry, but itís the truth. And Beckwood knows me well enough to know that."

"So youíre a bonus. He gets paid and he gets you. Itís a happy chance," Wills guessed.

"Except Beckwood doesnít believe in chance, happy or otherwise," Jethro said slowly, staring at the phone. Standing abruptly, he continued, "Iím going back to Tonyís apartment to take a closer look. Kate, see if anyone visited Beckwood at Leavenworth over the last year, who sent him mail, or called him, or who he called. Anyone he had contact with on a regular basis, even other prisoners. WillsÓ"

Snorting, Wills finished, "Iíll arrange the unit to go to the DiNozzoís residence and meet you at DiNozzoís apartment."

"Thanks," Jethro replied, sincere. It didnít mean that Wills was giving up the lead permanently, he knew that, but for now, he was stepping down.

Not that Jethro anticipated giving it back, but what Wills didnít knowÓ

* * * *

Gentle fingers moved a cool, damp cloth over Tonyís forehead, waking him from restless dreams. He remembered where he was and flinched away from the touch, exclaiming, "Get away!"

"Ssh, itís okay. I wonít hurt you."

Shocked at the womanís voice, Tony couldnít speak at first. When he found his voice, he asked, "Are you all right, maíam? They havenít hurt you, have they?"

"So gallant," she whispered, a smile in her voice. "No, no oneís hurt me. Iím afraid I canít take off the cuffs or the blindfold, they warned me against it."

Soft hands brushed across his face and he couldnít help flinching away. He flushed a little in embarrassment. "Sorry."

"Itís okay," she replied, starting to clean his face again.

Relaxing a little under her ministrations, Tony replied, "What happened? Do you know who has us?"

"I donít remember anything, Iím afraid. One minute I was walking to my apartment and the next, something struck me, here. When I woke, I was on the floor in this room."

"How long have you been here?"

"I donít know. A few hours? I donít wear a watch."

He couldnít see the woman, but there had to be a connection. Kidnappers didnít just grab two people off the street for no reason. Well, not gangs of kidnappers working together anyhow. Random psychos were another story. Frowning, he questioned, "Where do you live?"

"Why? Planning on asking me out later?" she quipped.

The frown shifted into a grin and, trying to put her at ease, he replied, "Probably, but for now, Iím just trying to find a connection between us. A reason why weíd have both been taken."

She dipped the cloth in the bowl of water and wiped it down his throat, stopping at his collar bone. "Do you mind if I clean you off here, too?"

A little uncomfortable, but knowing heíd feel better with the stink of the fight off him, Tony answered, "Uh, no, itís okay."

Unbuttoning his shirt, she rinsed the cloth then silently wiped down his chest, stopping at his abdomen. "You look really bruised. Someone did a job on you. How do you feel?"

"Really bruised," he answered, wryly. "A few someones did a job on me. Iím clearer than before though, so thatís a good thing."

She nodded and rebuttoned his shirt, then set aside the bowl and cloth on the floor. "So. Now what do we do?"

Tony realized that she hadnít answered his question and so repeated, "Where do you live?"

"Oh, I live inÓ"

The door opened with a bang and he heard heavy footsteps and gruff orders to get away from him. The woman screamed and struggled, but they dragged her out of the room. Tony added to the noise by struggling and shouting to let her go, but he was ignored. When the door closed again, he groaned at the renewed pain in his midriff and collapsed against the mattress.

There isnít anything you can do. Youíre more helpless than she is, because at least she can try to fight back, he thought to himself.

Despite knowing all of that, Tony still blamed himself for not doing more.

* * * *

Looking carefully around the apartment, Jethro found nothing out of place. Well, nothing out of place for how Tony lived anyhow. A faint grin surfaced at the barely controlled chaos of books and papers all over the coffee table and counters in the kitchen. It was neater than the last time heíd been, but then, Tony had said that heíd been planning to do laundry when he got back to the apartment.

The police hadnít done any damage, thankfully, in the brief time theyíd been there. If Willsí people had gone over anything, there was no sign of it. He frowned and made a note to talk with Wills about that later.

He sat on the couch and pulled on his gloves before looking through the papers and books on the table. It was mostly just newspapers and fieldwork related books and magazines. Tony wasnít kidding when he said that he liked to keep on top of the latest in technology, not from the science mags that Jethro found in the kitchen.

The dishes were all washed and put away, something that set off warning bells in his mind. Tony washed his dishes, but he generally kept them in the strainer for easy access. It was possible that he could have been in a total cleaning mode, but if so, why werenít the papers and books neatly stacked where they belonged? Jethro made a mental note to have someone bag them and check for fingerprints and DNA.

From there, he wandered into the bedroom. Seeing the neatly made bed set off more internal alarms because he knew from personal experience that Tony never made it. Ever. He was always in too much of a rush to bother, something that theyíd already butted heads about when Tony was staying over at Jethroís place. He was only just now drilling it into Tonyís head that making the bed was part of getting ready for the day. It was half-and-half that Tony would feel like doing it in the freedom of his own place.

Shifting his gaze from the bed to the nightstand, Jethro stiffened and strode over to the small wooden table. On it, was a small glass vase with a large, blood-red rose.

"Find something?"

Jumping a little at Willsí voice, Jethro nodded and said, "Someoneís been here. Someone washed Tonyís dishes, and made his bed and put this flower here. We need to have everything here dusted for prints. Everything."

"How do you know he just doesnít have a girlfriend?" Wills pointed out.

Jaw clenching, Jethro answered, "Because a girlfriend would know that he hates roses, thanks to being lost in a maze of them as a kid."

Willsí eyebrows rose, whether at the news itself or the fact that Jethro knew it, he didnít know, but all the black agent said was, "Iíll get my people back here."

"My labís closer and faster," Jethro stated, pulling out his cell.

Thankfully, Wills didnít argue, so Jethro had Abby put a team together to come down to Tonyís apartment. She was far more subdued than usual, but he didnít have time to reassure her that Tony would be all right. If this wasnít a kidnapping for money, it was far less likely that Tony would escape unharmed. A fact that would drive Jethro crazy, if he let it.

When he hung up, Wills observed, "So youíre here a lot."

"What?" Jethro replied absently as he bagged the flower and vase.

"The security guard knows you. Says that youíre here a couple of times a week. Every week."

Careful to keep his voice steady and dismissive, wanting Tony to have a career when all this was over, Jethro answered, "Tonyís car is perpetually in the shop. Itís a classic."

"I know that my boss wouldnít be giving me lifts to work."

"DiNozzo and I are friends. Everyone knows that."

"Apparently."

There was nothing Jethro could say to that, so he held up the bagged flower and vase, saying, "This puts a different light on everything."

Wills nodded. "If he was being stalked, then whoever was doing it knows that youíre here often. Maybe even knows that DiNozzo is over at your place sometimes?"

Jethroís lips twisted, but that was the only confirmation he gave.

"So the best shot of getting at DiNozzo is to hire muscle to kidnap him. And then, to throw the investigation off trackÓ"

"Make it seem like this isnít about Tony at all," Jethro finished. "But if the stalker knows this much about him, and about me, then why the cleaning routine? Sheís obviously intelligent enough to know that weíd check for prints and DNA."

"Obsessive compulsive?" Wills suggested.

Jethro shrugged. "Unbalanced, at the least."

"Of course, thereís nothing to say that weíll find anything. For all we know, sheís an OC whoís smart enough to wear gloves."

"True."

Both men fell silent, then Wills said, "Iím going to go back over the security tapes and see if the doorman notices anyone out of place. Or if there are any new women who moved into the building recently whoíve been hanging around DiNozzo."

Jethro nodded. "Iíll wait for the lab techs. Meet up back at NCIS?"

"Sounds like a plan."

Watching him go, Jethro had to admit that he was glad for the other manís assistanceÓand his discretion.

* * * *

Staring blankly into his coffee, Jethro was trying not to let things get to him, but not doing very well. Heíd known that Tony had filled a hole inside, the younger manís humor and enthusiasm chipping away at his cynicism and patent disbelief in his fellow man. He just hadnít realized how big the hole was until now. No, not true. He had realized it on a subconscious level. If he hadnít, he wouldnít have asked Tony to live with him, despite the myriad problems inherent in such a living arrangement.

The thought that Tony would never come back to him was too much to bear. His throat closed and his heart accelerated like it was on its way to a heart attack. Breathing harshly, Jethro set the coffee on the conference table and leaned over, putting his head almost between his knees. His hands gripped the side of his head as he tried to block out thoughts of what could be happening to Tony.

Images of torture, rape, deathÓevery possible scenario that heíd seen happen to others over the years. Once the stalker found out that Tony didnít and wouldnít give in, and Jethro knew he wouldnít, the man or woman would snap. And when that happened, Tonyís bubble of ësafety,í would be gone. With the fantasy shredded and no chance of having Tony the way he or she wanted, it opened up all kinds of nasty possibilities.

The fact was that if they didnít find Tony within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, it was entirely likely that they never would. Not alive anyhow.

"No!" he gasped, fingers digging harder into his skull and his eyes squeezed shut.

Life without Tony wasnít something he could imagine, not anymore. Never seeing or touching his lover again, never telling him how much he was loved, it wasnít something that Jethro could think about without agony running through him. He gasped again, struggling to bring himself under control.

This was why he didnít get involved. This was why heíd had three marriages. This was the reason he kept everything locked down as much as possible. Cutting humor and sarcasm were his shields and weapons and he used them well. He had maintained a distance from everyone except Ducky, and that was only because the other man had known him for years. Having someone stitch you up after your wife bashed you in the head with a baseball bat tended to dispel barriers.

But TonyÓTony had blasted through all his defenses with those wide, smiling eyes and his open heart. His persistent disregard for Jethroís personal space and the patent admiration had been potent, almost intoxicating for Jethro. Heíd met his match in a lot of ways, the other manís sheer stubbornness being forefront in his arsenal against Jethroís unwillingness to let him in.

It had been a lot like Chinese water torture, only louder.

A half-laugh, half-sob escaped at the thought and his fingers dug in harder, the physical pain cutting through the mental and emotional anguish. Drawing in a shuddery breath, Jethro blanked his mind, forcing all of those images into a tiny box and locking them down tight. It wasnít a pretty technique for getting his mind on the job, but it worked.

Pulling his hands away, Jethro sat up, quelling the need to throw-up. It took him a few more minutes, but finally, he was presentable. Taking a deep breath, he released it slowly, eyes closed at he concentrated on the nothingness. He took another one and expelled it forcefully, grabbing his coffee and striding to the door, the scowl on his face a mask for the pain heíd just gone through.

The pain still lingering malignantly under the surface, waiting for a chance to strike.

* * * *

Kate looked up as Gibbs came into the office area, coffee in hand. Frowning, she realized that something was different, but couldnít place what.

"Whatíve you got?" he asked, leaning against her desk.

Forcing her attention back to the monitor, she replied, "Ah, prison records for the last two years. He had only three visits in 2002, and all three were his lawyer. Reason given was for updating family records like wills and such."

"All three times?"

"Yeah."

"Go on."

"October through December of 2003, he had six visits from a woman who claimed to be his sister, and sheís been there twice monthly this year."

"He doesnít have one."

"Exactly."

Thoughtful, Gibbs took a sip of the coffee, grimaced and set it down. "Do we have a picture of this non-sister?"

Kate brought up the attachment and the grainy security photo showed a young white woman with light brown hair, slender and pretty in a vague kind of way. "I talked to the guard on duty the last time she was there and he said that she was there for the duration of visiting hours and they seemed really in deep, conversation-wise."

Staring intently at the picture, Gibbs said, "I want to know who that is and I want to know yesterday, Kate."

She nodded and was about to reply when Wills approached, a large file in hand. Arching an eyebrow at him, she greeted, "Presents?"

Wills snorted and said, "Background file on Beckwood. Thought youíd want to get up to speed."

"We do have those here you know," Gibbs pointed out, a fine edge to his voice.

"Not with the goodies that Iíve got. We had him in our sights a lot longer than you did, Gibbs, so weíve got more on him."

Gibbs held out his hand and the file was placed in it.

"Wait, whoís that?" Wills demanded, leaning closer to Kateís monitor.

"Someone claiming to be Beckwoodís sister," Kate answered.

Grinning fiercely, Wills said, "We have our stalker, ladies and gentlemen. Sarah Malloni. Moved into DiNozzoís apartment building five months ago. Apparently he stopped someone from mugging her and has been hard to get rid of ever since. At least according to the doorman."

Gibbs frowned. "He never said anything to me, us. Did he, Kate?"

Kate shook her head and agreed, "Not a word."

"Good Samaritan," Wills commented. "In any case, the doorman said that Ms. Malloni waits for DiNozzo to return to his apartment just about every night and, though polite, he has told her several times that heís involved with someone. Or, he was polite until a couple of weeks ago. The doorman said that two weeks ago Thursday, DiNozzo completely lost it and yelled at her until she was in tears and ran off. DiNozzo started to go after her, probably to apologize, but the doorman stopped him and reminded him that that was what he wanted, for her to leave him alone."

Focused on the picture on the screen, Gibbs said, "And since she didnít get what she wanted one way, she went after him another. This is enough to subpoena her financial records and get a warrant for her apartment."

"Which you donít have jurisdiction to do, so I will," Wills replied.

Gibbsí eyes rolled a little but he only stated, "Weíll meet you there."

It was after the two men had left, Wills to get his warrant and Gibbs to his desk to make a call that Kate realized what was different about her boss. It was like a switch had been flipped. The emotions were gone. He was looking at this like it was any other case, concerned, but not involved.

She sighed. This definitely didnít bode well for their relationship once Tony came back.




Part 3
Sarah Malloniís apartment was filled with clutter. There were books and newspapers and clothing all over the place and Jethro immediately felt stifled the moment he walked inside. There was a cloying, sweet smell in the air that irritated his nose and he sneezed. Waiting to see if there would be another sneeze, he scanned the apartment again, taking in greater detail the second time: nick-knacks and dishes scattered amidst the books; most of the books romance novels; photography magazines.

Stepping further into the apartment, Jethro headed for the next room, which turned out to be the kitchen. It was just as filled with junk as the living room and he began to feel sorry for the apartment complex cleaning crew when the apartment reverted to their control. Leaving the kitchen for the short hall which led to two bedrooms and a bathroom, Jethro opened the first door he came to.

Jackpot.

Jethro felt ill as he scanned the walls that were, sure enough, filled with candids of Tony. Hand to his stomach, forcing the emotions away, he took a few breaths to calm down and get back to that void where he could work properly. He recognized a lot of the places that Tony was, some of them crime scenes, some of them in the park where they both went to relax and jog sometimes.

He definitely recognized the hand that was inevitably on Tonyís body; either the shoulder, or arm, or hip, or back, even though heíd been personally cut out of all of the pictures.

"Oh my God," Kate exclaimed from behind. "This is insane."

Quirking an eyebrow at her, Jethro pointed out, "Look at the source."

"You ah, you want me to go through things in here?" she volunteered.

Jethro hesitated, then shook his head. "I want you to start cataloguing things in the rest of the apartment. We need to know as much about this woman as possible. Where she is in her mania."

Nodding, Kate said, "Wills just called me. Said that he got the financial records and is going over them with a fine-toothed comb."

Extra-fine, given the other manís tendency for thoroughness, Jethro mused. Aloud, he replied, "Thanks. Let me know if you find anything."

"You too," she replied before leaving.

Set with the daunting task of going through all the photos on the walls and everything else in the room, Jethro put his kit on the floor and got to work.

* * * *

Despite the fact that Tony still couldnít see, he knew that the world was spinning viciously. Instead of fighting the cuffs, he was holding onto them for dear life, positive that if he didnít, he would fly off the cot and bounce around.

The nausea wasnít helping matters either.

"I see that you arenít terribly used to drugs, Agent DiNozzo."

Tony flinched away from the voice that was suddenly at his ear. He hadnít heard the door open or anyone come in, let alone someone crouching down right beside him.

"It wonít be long now, so donít worry."

"Long for what?" Tony managed to gasp.

"Youíre a very determined man, arenít you?"

Hoping that talking would both steady his insides and make something important slip from his kidnapper, Tony replied, "No more than most."

"Oh, I wouldnít say that at all. Youíd have to be in order to get Gibbsí attention, let alone keep it. And keep it, you have. One of the main reasons that youíre here in the first place."

"SoÓthis is about Gibbs?" Tony asked.

"No, not really. Heís the bonus. My personal bonus."

Even in his current state, the hatred in the manís voice was unmistakable. "Donít touch him!"

A soft laugh graced the air between them and his captor replied, "And what are you going to do about it, Agent DiNozzo?"

Tony stayed silent, knowing there was nothing he could do and hating it.

"Thatís what I thought."

Pain sliced along his midriff and Tony inhaled sharply. The flat of a blade slid along his stomach and the man continued, "Such a perfect canvas. Thereís a lot I can do to you that doesnít involve permanent damage and I think Iíll take advantage of that loophole."

Panic flared and Tony struggled against the cuffs, uselessly, of course. He froze when the sharp edge pressed into his throat.

"Now now, I donít think that moving around like that is a good idea when thereís a knife nearby. I suggest you stay very, very still unless youíd like to lose some important parts of your anatomy. Parts that Iím sure Gibbs would be very unhappy to lose."

The nausea returned in full force, but Tony kept a lid on it, breathing harsh and shallow as the knife slid down his throat to cut just under his collarbone in a long, even slice.

"Do you know, I spent a lot of time developing this particular skill? Itís very necessary to know how to extract information from someone without having them pass out from pain or blood loss. Shallow nicks, long cuts, but never deep ones. Never anything that would permanently impair the ability to divulge information."

A little desperate, the knife marking him between words, Tony exclaimed, "But you havenít even asked me anything!"

"Yes, I know. And isnít that a shame for you?"

* * * *

Three hours and four coffees later, Jethro left the picture/trophy room, everything inside neatly and thoroughly catalogued for evidence. Bone weary, a headache throbbing in the base of his skull, he joined Kate in the living room where she and several other agents were still sifting through and logging things.

"Wills call?" he questioned.

"About fifteen minutes ago. Heís on his way here to help," Kate answered. "Everything done in there?"

Nodding, Jethro said, "Bagged and tagged. I see youíve gotten a good way along out here."

Kate glanced around the half-bare room and replied, "Thank God. This woman is giving me the creeps and Iíve never even met her. How are you doing?"

Furious. Scared. Ready to explode.

Jethro bit back all those answers and shrugged. "Fine."

"Fine? Gibbs, come on. I know this is bugging the crap out of you."

"Then whyíd you ask?"

"GibbsÓ"

Thankfully, Wills arrived just then and Gibbs cut her off by walking away. He was pretty sure he could actually hear her teeth grinding as he did.

"Three large payments to an unnamed Cayman account," Wills informed him without preamble. "Totaling seven hundred fifty thousand dollars."

Jethro laughed, a short, ugly sound. "So $1.75 million, with the payment from the DiNozzo family. Thatís the exact amount heíd asked for the diplomatís daughter."

"At least heís consistent," Kate interjected, joining them.

Consistently merciless and cruel, came unbidden to Jethroís mind. It had been seventeen hours since Tonyís call and there was no telling what his lovÓwhat the other man was going through. Shaking his head, Jethro said, "Anything else unusual? Whereíd she get the money in the first place?"

Wills held out a file, which Jethro took, and said, "Partially from an inheritance, but mostly from her own work. Seems that Ms. Malloni is a renowned photographer and her work brings in a lot of money. Sheís always been considered eccentric and on the edge."

"Well now sheís gone over it," Jethro stated, grim.

Wills stared at him for a long moment. "I think you need to take a break. Beckwood isnít due to call for another eight hours."

"Iím fine."

"That wasnít a request."

Jethro wanted to balk, but he didnít want Wills to take the case back. Not that he thought the black man would leave him in the cold, the other man couldnít really, not with Beckwood dealing directly with him. But Wills could make things very difficult for him. Glowering, Jethro nodded curtly and said to Kate, "You want a lift back to the office?"

"No, Iíll catch one with Wills," she replied.

Traitor.

With a scowl, Jethro left the apartment and stalked to the elevator. He got all the way there when he couldnít stop his feet from bypassing it to go to Tonyís apartment.

Letting himself in with his key, Jethro sighed deeply and walked to the bedroom. He wanted nothing more than to bury himself in Tony, to crawl under the covers and fill himself with his lovÓwith the other manís scent.

Forcing those thoughts away, Jethro stopped short at the doorway into the bedroom. Standing at the dresser, neatly folding the clothes inside a drawer as if it were the most natural thing in the world, was Sarah Malloni.

It was a tossup as to who was more surprised.

She tried to bolt past him, but Jethro grabbed her arm and swung her against the wall, not caring that she banged hard against it. Twisting her arm behind her, Jethro hissed into her ear, "Where is he!?"

When she remained silent, he pushed the arm up further and repeated, "Where. Is. Tony!?"

"Iíll never tell you, you sick pervert! If not for you, my Tony wouldnít be in this kind of trouble. Heíd be at my side."

Tightening his grip, causing her to whimper, he demanded, "What kind of trouble? Beckwood got out of control, didnít he? Heís cut you out of the deal. You were going to get Tony and he was going to get me, plus money, but he changed the rules. Didnít he!?"

She cried out in pain when he pushed the arm up further, but didnít answer.

"Gibbs! Let her go!"

Snapping out of the violent haze at Kateís horrified exclamation, Jethro instantly released the woman and stepped back. He watched as Kate hurried forward and moved Sarah to the bed, still clutching one of Tonyís shirts. "Iím so sorry for Agent Gibbsí behavior, Ms. Malloni. Heíll be reprimanded, I promise."

Glaring at him, Sarah snapped venomously, "This is all your fault!"

Jethro kept his mouth shut, settling against the wall, arms crossed over his chest to keep himself from strangling the information out of her.

"Ms. Malloni, please, if you know where theyíre holding Tony, you have to let us rescue him," Kate implored. "Think of the awful things that Beckwood will do to Tony, now that youíre not there to protect him. You donít want Tony to die, do you?"

Sarah looked at Kate, uncertain.

Pressing the advantage, Kate continued persuasively, "Tonyís an innocent victim here, and so are you. If you tell me where he is, then we can get him so the two of you can work things out. Isnít that what you want? To be with Tony? I can help you get that."

The uncertainty grew as Sarah stared at the shirt in her hands, but she still didnít say anything.

"Sarah, honey, Tony needs help and youíre the only one who can do that," Kate said softly. "You can be the one to save the day, here. Without you, Tonyís going to die, you know that, right? Thatís why youíre here? To try and feel close to him? I know Tony pretty well, and I know that youíre exactly the kind of woman that he canít help falling for. But if you donít tell me where he is, then heíll never have the chance to love you the way you love him."

"I-itís a warehouse. Heís in the basement of a warehouse in Ricksen, itís on Twelfth Street, number 450."

"And how many men does Beckwood have helping him?"

"Five. But, they have a lot of guns and someoneís always outside the door to Tonyís cell."

"Thank you, Sarah," Kate said, pulling her to her feet and turning her around. "I have to handcuff you now, but Iím going to make sure that you get treated well, okay?"

Sarah nodded, defeat permeating her slumped shoulders.

Jethro didnít stay to watch, he took off to find Wills.

* * * *

Jethro had had several loud and very definitive words for Wills when heíd been told to sit out Tonyís rescue. Words that would make a sailor blush, but Wills didnít budge. Heíd informed Jethro that he could wait in the van with himself and Kate, or he could wait at NCIS in handcuffs.

And even though he hated to admit it, really, really hated to admit it, Jethro knew that Wills was right to do that. He was about ready to snap and going anywhere with a gun in his hand would lead to unnecessary bloodshed. The moment that he spotted any of the kidnappers, there would be a bullet hole between the eyes, put there without remorse by Jethro.

So he waited outside of the warehouse with Wills and Kate and an ambulance that was there, just in case. They were about half a block from the building, not wanting to give Beckwood any idea that he was about to be taken down. It was almost two in the morning and the industrial warehouse area was deserted, which only helped make sure no one got caught in the crossfire.

Tensing when he heard the echo of gunfire, Jethro had all he could do to stay put and keep a calm mask. It seemed like forever before the team leader reported, "All secure. We have DiNozzo. Send in the paramedics."

Jethro felt faint and swayed a little before grabbing the van seat to steady himself. Paramedics were needed. Tony was injured. Tony could be badly injured.

He was out the door a split second later, Kate and Wills right behind him. Running flat out down the street, he reached the building just as the ambulance pulled up and the paramedics hopped out. Running inside, Jethro looked around frantically and saw one of the team standing at a door that looked to lead to stairs. He ran there and then downstairs a flight before reaching another team member and another door.

"Sir, you should wait for the paramedicsÓ"

But Jethro blew past him into the tiny room where Tony was being cut free from handcuffs that were attached to a thin, metal cot by a pair of pliers. His chest and abs were littered with cuts and gashes of all lengths and depths. His face was bruised with both eyes swollen shut. There were massive and dark bruises in the rib areas. More slices adorned his arms and legs, as if someone had decided to aerate Tonyís body.

"Oh my God," he whispered.

Tony turned towards him and whispered, "Jethro?"

But Jethro couldnít move. He couldnít make his feet cross the four feet that separated them, rooted to the spot by equal parts horror and fear and relief and rage.

The paramedics arrived just then and instantly went to Tonyís side. He heard them talking about blood loss and shock, about possible eye damage and internal injuries, but couldnít really make sense of it. A gentle hand on his arm drew him aside and Jethro looked at Kate, still speechless, to see her own horrified expression.

When Tony was transferred to a stretcher and wheeled out of the room, Jethro saw how much blood had soaked into the thin mattress. His knees gave out just in time for him to lose his stomach and he threw up, adding to the disgusting stench. A gentle, firm hand rubbed up and down his back as everything heíd eaten for what seemed like the last week came up. Shuddering, wiping the bile from his mouth with the back of his hand, Jethro dragged himself away from Kateís comforting hand and the mess heíd made on the floor.

For a long moment he just stayed there on his hands and knees, staring at the cold pavement of a floor. He stared at his hands as though they belonged to someone else and wondered that they had ever touched Tonyís unmarked body. Wondered if heíd ever be able to touch Tony again. If he could let himself do so, undeserving and incompetent as he was.

"Gibbs, come on, we should get to the hospital," Kate said quietly.

He took a deep breath and released it, sitting back on his haunches as he brought himself under control. A few moments later, Jethro stood and walked out of that room, never wanting to see it again in his life.

* * * *

Gibbs looked about as pale as the linoleum floor that he was pacing, but not nearly as steady. Sighing, Kate went back to not-reading her magazine as they waited to hear from the doctor about Tony. Wills was still back at the warehouse doing cleanup and had brought Beckwood back to the FBI office. Sheíd never forget when Beckwood had called out to Gibbs, "Hey Gibbs, I prettied him up for you!"

Mostly because sheíd seen Gibbsí hand on the butt of his pistol and had been wondering if sheíd be fast enough to grab his gun-hand before it landed a bullet between Beckwoodís eyes. She was pretty sure that she wasnít that fast.

Tony had been admitted to surgery an hour before, thanks to a punctured lung that needed to be repaired, and internal but unspecified bleeding from his beatings. Beatings. Plural. Kateís eyes closed and she thought about what Tony had gone through, now that she knew for sure. It was the first time that someone she called friend had been exposed to that kind of brutality and she wasnít sure how to handle it.

Enforced visits to the shrink were not going to be necessary this time, sheíd be making her own damn appointments come the morning.

"Agent Gibbs?"

Kate dropped the magazine and stood, striding over to Gibbs, who was standing stock still in the middle of the hall as the doctor approached. The doctor was in his forties with a reassuringly competent air to him.

"Your friend is going to be fine," the doctor announced. "He suffered a great deal of blood loss and, as you know, his lung was punctured, but we were able to repair it without any trouble. There was a slice along his hamstring, but not too deep, so weíre hopeful that will heal without too much trauma. We wonít know about his eyes until the swelling goes down, unfortunately, there could be permanent vision loss. But thatís the only bad news. Heíll be laid up for a few months healing from the major injuries, but with therapy, he should be almost as good as new by the time heís done."

Relief threatened to turn Kateís knees to jell-o and she grinned, exclaimed, "Thanks, Doctor! When can we see him?"

"Actually, heís still under from the anesthesia, but you can see him now, if you want. Only for a few minutes, though, since itís not visiting hours. Heíll be in room 408 in about ten minutes."

Gibbs finally smiled at the doctor, though it was clearly forced. "Thank you, Doctor."

The man nodded and headed back the way heíd come.

Kate was practically dancing in place as she said, "Come on, letís get upstairs."

"No, Iím going home," Gibbs answered.

Shocked, Kate repeated, "Home?"

"Yeah. Home."

Still stunned, Kate watched as Gibbs walked towards the exit, baffled about what had just happened.

* * * *

Jethro made it all the way to the hospital parking lot before staggering to a halt. Permanent vision loss. Repaired lungs. Therapy. And that was just the physical list. There was no telling what kind of terrorizing that Tony had gone through. No telling what kind of therapy he would need to get through what had been done to him.

And all because Jethro had fallen in love with him. All because that bitch had researched the best way to get rid of Gibbs and throw them off the scent at the same time.

There was no way that he could face Tony again. No chance that he could look the other man in the eyes knowing how badly heíd let Tony down. The future loomed out in front of him, empty and alone, but Jethro knew it was only what he deserved.

With that depressing thought in mind, he started walking towards his car again.




Part 4
Tony knew he was in a hospital the moment he woke up. Aside from his own injuries over the years, heíd had plenty of long hours visiting coworkers whoíd been hurt in the line of duty. The beeping of monitors and the hiss of oxygen told him that heíd been more seriously hurt than heíd thought at the time. A shiver ran through him at the thought of his kidnapper and tormentor, even though logically, he knew that the man had either been captured or killed in his rescued.

He was really hoping for the killed option.

It took a few tries to focus his vision, but when he did, blinking away the nasty crud in his eyes, Tony was surprised to find Jethro nowhere in the room. He wasnít in ICU, though he did have the private room to himself. Thinking that heíd just stepped out for coffee, Tony waited...and waited some more.

Realizing that his lover just wasnít there hurt more than heíd thought anything could. Tony took a few minutes to compose himself before reaching for the call button. Before he finished the motion, though, the door opened and a doctor entered.

The older man smiled at him and greeted, "Glad to have you back with us, Agent DiNozzo. How are you feeling?"

"Like I was run over by a Mack truck," Tony rasped.

The smile increased as the doctor replied, "I bet. The good news is that youíre going to be fine."

"How long was I under?"

"Well, after the surgery, you were kept sedated to give your eyes a chance to heal."

Tony was frightened by the statement, his eyes had always been perfect, better than perfect really, and exclaimed, "My eyes!?"

"Theyíre fine, Agent DiNozzo, we just didnít want to take any chances," the doctor assured him hastily. "It took a few days for the swelling to go down enough to tell that there hadnít been any permanent damage. Itís been six days since your surgery and Iím pleased to say that with some therapy, youíre going to be back to normal. Itíll take some time, but youíll be fine."

The racing of Tonyís heart slowed with the manís confidence and he sighed in relief. "Have you seen Agent Gibbs? Is he here?"

Frowning, the doctor answered, "I donít believe Iíve seen him since I told him that you were going to be fine, just after the surgery. Let me seeÓKate and her friend Abby have been here every day, they should be arriving in just a little while, as a matter of fact. I know theyíll be thrilled to see you wide awake and talking. And your parents, of course, have been in to see you as often as they can, they were camped out by your side for the first forty-eight hours. And I believe Iíve seen an English gentleman here with a young black man, though I canít remember their names, Iím afraid. You have quite a number of people who care about you."

Tony was still lost in hurt at the knowledge that Jethro hadnít been to the hospital once since his surgery six days ago and almost missed the rundown about everyone else. The first couple of days after, he could understand, there wouldíve been mop-up and all kinds of paperwork. But for six whole days? Realizing that the doctor was staring at him expectantly, Tony said, "Itíll be good to see them, too. So, what are we looking at for a timeline here?"

The doctor rambled on about ëwait and see,í and therapy evaluations, and possible pneumonia complications from his injured lung, but Tony finally cornered him into admitting that it would be at least a month before he could leave the hospital, and after that, he would need someone to help him in his apartment.

"Tony!" Abby squealed from the door, interrupting them.

Grinning when she accidentally pushed the doctor out of her way in her rush to the bed, Tony exclaimed, "Careful there, Abs, donít damage the doc!"

She offered an abashed wave to the doctor, who smiled at her and said, "Iíll be back to check on you later, Agent DiNozzo. Enjoy your visit, but donít tired him out, young lady."

"Iíll make sure we donít," Kate said, passing him on her way into the room.

Abby planted herself on the bed while Kate dragged the chair over. Smiling at them both, Tony greeted, "Hey. So whatíd I miss? Howíd you find me?"

Grimacing, Kate answered, "Your admirer Sarah Malloni. She told us where you were being held and FBI went in with a tactical unit to get you out."

"SarahÓfrom my building Sarah?" Tony exclaimed.

Abby gently poked him in the shoulder and replied, "Yeah, and if you ever donít tell us you have a stalker again, I will personally make sure that Ducky lectures you for hours on the subject of personal safety."

Still astonished, Tony explained, "I didnít think, I mean, she was really stalking me? I thought I was being paranoid."

"You shouldíve seen the pictures the woman had of you. A lot of them were with a telephoto, but there were some regular shots too," Kate confirmed. "Very creepy and disturbing. Gibbs nearly passed out when we found the room."

Which was exactly the opening that he did and didnít want to take. Hesitant, he asked, "Was he hurt? Um, getting me out I mean? The doctor said that he, he hadnít been around."

Abby and Kate exchanged a look, then Kate said, "Gibbs is fine. Heís at the office."

More pain stabbed him right in the heart. Swallowing it down, Tony forced a smile and brushed it off with, "Well someone needs to hold down the fort if you two are out on the streets."

"Speaking of Ducky," Abby said, apropos of nothing. "He said to give you his best and that he and Gerald will be by tomorrow if they have a chance. Thereís some kind of inspection going on, so theyíre swamped. Who knew that the morgue needed inspections?"

"Hey Abby? Can you grab me a drink? I left mine in the car and Iím dying of thirst," Kate asked.

Abby nodded, smiling brightly, and kissed Tonyís cheek before climbing off the bed and leaving the room.

Tony half-smiled and observed, "Not as subtle as usual, Kate."

Shrugging, Kate took Abbyís place on the bed. "I havenít been in a subtle mood lately. I know itís none of my business, and I know I give you shit about a lot of things, but I have to say that Gibbs is a complete asshole for how heís been the last week. I still canít believe that he hasnít been by to see you even once! Tony, you deserve so much better than him!"

The pain threatened to overwhelm him at her quietly furious declaration and Tony barely held on to his emotions. He shouldíve known that Kate would know about them without being told, she wasnít stupid after all. Drawing in a shaky breath, he managed a watery smile as he answered, "Maybe, but I donít want better than him. I justÓI just want him, Kate, you know? And I th-thought that I had him, for a, a little while anyhow. ButÓI guess I donít."

"Oh Tony, Iím sorry," Kate murmured, rubbing his shoulder. "I shouldnít be laying this on you right now. Will it make you feel better if I beat him up? Because I can, you know."

A laugh burst out of Tony, immediately followed by a groan of pain as his ribs protested. Giving her a genuine smile, Tony said simply, "Thank you."

Abby returned right then with a soda and exclaimed, "Can you believe that there was only all diet drinks to choose from? Itís like a conspiracy or something to make you think youíre fat when youíre not. Well, if youíre not, because, you know, there are fat people in hospitals. Hey, you think maybe the distributors are in cahoots with the fashion mags? Because I can totally see that."

Feeling a little better, even with the gaping hole where his heart used to be, Tony grinned and settled back to listen as Kate and Abby went over the merits of the new theory.

* * * *

The days were fine. Jethro kept busy during the days. He had plenty of work to do that kept him focused and took up his time and attention. Kate wasnít speaking to him except in a work context, but he was actually pretty happy about that. Her damning silence wasnít very easy to take, but he was damn sure it was easier than the words she could hurtle at him like the sharpest of knives.

He became obsessive about learning new technology, even more so than before. Online classes filled the early evening hours to stave off going home to an empty house. Every so often, he would turn towards Tonyís desk to make a sarcastic remark about the other studentsí stupidity, only to remember that Tony was in the hospital. It took a while to get back into the groove of the class when that happened, but it was better than having to spend the entire night alone at home.

Once home, Jethro forced himself to eat something, even though he didnít taste any of what he cooked or heated up in the microwave. When he finished cleaning or doing other mundane household tasks, he spent most of the rest of the night working on his boat, or researching things online to improve his skills. Or both.

It wasnít until about midnight or one a.m. that he had nothing else to do except go to sleep in an empty bed. And it was around midnight or one a.m. that he couldnít stop himself from taking a shower, getting changed, and driving down to see Tony.

Jethro easily avoided the nurses on their rounds. He had watched the first night to see what their schedule was for visiting Tony and simply entered the room when they werenít there. Hiding out in the bathroom wasnít exactly dignified, but heíd ducked into it a couple of times when unexpected footsteps had sounded outside the room. That was the good thing about visiting then, it was very quiet and he could hear people coming.

Sitting on the bed a week after Tonyís surgery, Jethro immediately noticed that the bandages had been taken off the other manís eyes and sighed in relief. It looked like Tonyís vision was safe, that heíd be able to see all right. His fingers brushed the bangs off Tonyís forehead and he apologized quietly, "Sorry I wasnít here last night, but it was either crash at home or pass out at work. I guess I canít go on and on for three hours of sleep a night anymore. Getting old."

He paused to take Tonyís hand, bringing it up and pressing it to his lips and sighing deeply as he held it to his cheek. Lowering it to his thigh, Jethro gently rubbed the palm and continued, "Theyíll probably bring you out of it tomorrow, if the bandages are gone now, so thisíll be my last visit. I wish I wasnít such a coward, but I canít risk you like that again, Tony, Iím sorry. I canít face you being hurt orÓor killed, because of me. Ah hell, I donít even know if I could survive you at all, even if it had nothing to do with me. And I know we talked about this the other night, but I wanted to say it again in case it didnít sink in the first time.

"Iím hoping some small part of you hears this and knows that I still love you. I always will. I want so bad to just crawl into bed with you and hold you and fall asleep like that, but I canít. I know youíll forgive me one day, but I doubt Iíll ever forgive myself for whatís happened to you," Jethro finished.

He leaned down and rested his head on Tonyís shoulder, one of the few places he knew wasnít injured. Even through the antiseptic hospital smell, when he was this close to Tony, he could smell his lover and it brought him comfort in ways that nothing else could. Sighing deeply, he whispered, "Just five minutes, thatís all I need, then Iíll leave."

"Take as long as you want."

Jethro froze in place at Tonyís soft words and then a heavy hand rested on the back of his head keeping him there as fingers stroked through his hair.

Tony continued, "They brought me out of it this morning. Surprised Kate didnít say anything."

"Sheís not speaking to me," Jethro explained, still not moving.

"Ah. Yeah, sheís pretty ticked at you for not visiting me. But then, so was I, before I knew you were sneaking in to see meÓJethro, look at me."

Reluctantly, Jethro lifted from Tonyís shoulder and looked at the other man. There was a pinched, pained expression on the younger manís face as they stared at each other. He saw so much in those eyes: pain, forgiveness, anger, and love. All of it whirled in Tonyís expressive gaze and Jethroís breath caught as he tried to keep his own emotions down.

Shaking his head as a tear slipped out, Tony ordered softly, "Donít you ever do that to me again, Jethro. Donít you ever let me think you donít love me, unless you donít. I can take just about anything else, but not that."

"Tony, I canítÓthis happened because of me," Jethro replied, speaking steadily through sheer force of will.

"Bullshit! That is such crap and youíd know it if you werenít so fucking egotistical sometimes!" Tony snapped, punching Jethroís shoulder. "This happened because I was nice to a lunatic who decided she wanted to play house without my consent. She used you to get to me, yeah, but none of this would have happened if Iíd had the common sense God had given me and just told someone about her."

Surprised by the barrage, Jethro didnít answer, absently rubbing the dull throb where Tony had socked him.

Tony ran out of steam after the outburst and sagged back against the pillows. Eyes closed, Tony whispered, "I donít want to lose you, Jethro, but I wonít force you to stick around, either. If you donít want to be here, th-then you shouldnít be. Itís your decision, Boss, always has been."

Could he do this? Could he really just get up and walk away? Jethro knew that that was exactly what Tony was giving him the option to do. That he was even expecting it to happen. His mind flashed back to finding Tony on the cot, bleeding and broken and blind, and nausea rose swiftly. How could he consider staying when something like that could happen again? He had so many enemies and if he stayed with Tony, the younger man would be in constant danger, even more so than from just the job itself.

Without even realizing it, he was on his feet. Tonyís eyes remained closed and his head turned away from Jethro, accepting the decision, even as he hesitated to leave.

"Just go. Please."

The whisper was barely audible, but it put Jethroís feet in motion and he left. When the door swung softly shut behind him, he stopped, breathing as hard as if heíd run a marathon, his heart pounding in his chest and his throat tight. Everything inside was screaming to turn around, to get back to Tonyís side, but fear held him back.

And that was when Jethro really stopped and admitted that the problem was fear. Fear of Tony being hurt and killed. Fear of Tony being tormented or tortured again.

Fear of TonyÓ

Jehtroís eyes widened when the knowledge struck him out of the blue. He wasnít just afraid that something would happen to Tony, he was afraid of Tony. Afraid of the power that Tony had over him, now that heíd let the younger man so deep inside. He was scared shitless that heíd be left a ruined shell because Tony would leave him one day down the road. It was the same trap heíd fallen into with all of his wives, among other things. The deep down insecurity that heíd be left alone, so why not make sure it happened on his terms?

"You stupid asshole," he muttered, barely resisting the very strong urge to bash his head against the wall.

Instead, he turned around and walked back into the hospital room to find Tony curled into a ball on his side, shaking as he cried into a pillow, muffling the heartrending sounds into it. Rushing to the bed, Jethro could only think of the damage that Tony was doing to his internal injuries and exclaimed, "Tony, come on, straighten out, youíre going to hurt yourself!"

Tony jumped in reaction to his voice and his tear-stained face lifted from the pillow to stare at him in shock. "Whatíre you doing here? Get out! You donít want to be here, so leave!"

"Tony, no, listen to me! Please, give me a chance to explain, but first, youíre going to hurt yourself, please move?" Jethro begged, hand on Tonyís back.

For a long, suspicious moment, Tony didnít move. He did let Jethro arrange him into a safer position, staying silent. Jethro felt like a worm on a hook, but didnít back down, making sure all the tubes and pads were still in place despite the younger manís jostling. When that was set, Jethro sighed shakily, seeing just how much pain heíd caused, and feeling the guilt that went with it. Because heíd given in to fear.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jethro said, "Iím sorry. I was scared."

"You said that," Tony muttered, not meeting his eyes.

Jethro shook his head and clarified, "Of you, Tony. I was scared of you."

Incredulous, Tony looked at him and demanded, "What the hell for?"

"It sounds stupid, I know, but I was afraid you were going to leave me and I guess I just figured that Iíd do it first. I didnít even know thatís what I was doing, not until it hit me in the hall, just now."

Tony was completely silent, staring at him without any expression for a few minutes as he digested the explanation. Just as Jethro was starting to think he should get a doctor, a pillow slammed into his face and Tony shouted, "You asshole! You fucking bastard! What were you thinking!?"

"What is going on in here!"

They both turned towards the new voice in surprise, finding a nurse glaring at them from the door.

"What are you doing here? You need to leave right now, or Iíll call security!" she exclaimed.

"No, wait, itís okay," Tony interrupted. "Please, I was just upset, donít make him go, okay?"

"Visiting hoursÓ"

Jethro stood and asked, "Please, just for ten more minutes. Itís vital we clear something up right now and then I promise Iíll leave."

She stared at him suspiciously, but finally nodded. Wagging a finger at him, she repeated, "Ten minutes. And Iím timing you."

Making an X over his heart, Jethro agreed, "Ten minutes."

When she was gone, Jethro turned back to the bed, more than a little afraid of what would happen next.

"You know, Iíve heard a lot of really dumb excuses in my time, Iíve probably made up a good portion of them, too, but what you just told meÓ" Tonyís voice faded and he sighed. "Itís not stupid, Jethro. I can understand why youíd feel that way from what youíve told me about your past relationships, but you gotta know that Iím not like that. I love you and would do anything to stay at your side. Anything. Every day Iím with you itís likeÓlike a bonus, scoring big, you know?"

Swallowing against the tightness in his throat, Jethro sat on the bed and took Tonyís hand again. "I donít know, Tony, because no oneís ever said that to me before. Not even you."

A bit rueful, Tony observed, "Score one for dumbass masculine pride. Iím saying it now, JethroÓI love you. Every day with you, shows me what life is supposed to be like, even when youíre being a jerk to me, because youíre the jerk I love."

Laughing softly, aching with relief that he might come out of this with his heart intact, Jethro said, "Thatís very, very good to know, Tony. It really is. And, you know I do love you, right?"

"So you said when you thought I was unconscious," Tony replied, hesitant.

Jethro shook his head. "So I said the day before this nightmare started, remember?"

"Itís not going to be pretty, you know. Hell, Iím not going to be pretty anymore," Tony whispered, his eyes flickering away.

Leaning in, Jethro kissed him, slow and deep, feeling them reconnecting with the sharing of their breaths and the lazy twining of their tongues. When he pulled back, he stared deep into the big, dark eyes and whispered, "You werenít all that pretty to begin with."

Tony laughed, an honest, open sound and punched him again, eyes twinkling. "Thanks a lot, Boss."

Smiling, feeling like he might never stop, Jethro cupped Tonyís face and stated, "Youíre what matters, Tony, I donít care what you look like as long as youíre healthy and happy."

Echoing the smile, Tony announced, "Youíre a sap."

Jethro arched an eyebrow at him. "No one will believe you if you say that I said that, so donít even bother."

"Timeís up, gentlemen."

Sighing, Jethro leaned in for another kiss and then stood, brushing the hair from Tonyís forehead. "Iíll see you tomorrow. Get some sleep."

"I think I can, now," Tony admitted, smiling tiredly.

Jethro nodded to the nurse as he passed by and offered her a smile.

She followed him a few paces and informed him, "We were worried when you didnít show up last night, you know."

Jethro groaned.

* * * *

"Iíve got it!" Tony huffed, glaring at his lover.

Holding up his hands, Jethro backed off and let Tony walk unassisted to the sofa in his living room. The last three weeks had been, alternatively, horrendously slow and incredibly fast. There were the days when Tony was in so much pain from therapy that he could barely move without crying and there were the days he had so much energy that he could barely stop talking and bouncing around in the hospital bed. Usually an energetic Tony corresponded to the nights that Jethro got the least amount of sleep because he was up worrying about the next day of scheduled pain and therapy.

Once he explained things to Kate, she helped take a lot of his duties at work, clearing his schedule of the administrative duties that came with the territory. She only occasionally gave him grief and he was of the suspicious mind that she was waiting to swoop on both of them when Tony was back to full strength. Abby, on the other hand, had no problems teasing him about being ëoff the market for goodí and ëmid-life crisis.í Ducky was just as bad but, thankfully, Gerald kept him in line for the most part.

It had been decided that Tony would stay at Jethroís house while finishing his recovery and when he couldnít be there because of an investigation, an aide would be around to help. Officially, it was only a friend helping out an injured friend, since regulations forbid romantic partners from working together. And hey, if Tony forgot to change his address once he was better, they were both pretty sure that no one in personnel would notice or care.

Arms crossed over his chest, Jethro watched as Tony leaned heavily on the cane to walk to the sofa. It was a painful thing to witness, the younger manís previous grace and strength completely gone, thanks to the hamstring injury. Beckwood had done a lot of damage with that knife of his and the extent of it hadnít been discovered until Tony had started therapy. Theyíd had to go back in and do surgery on the leg in an attempt to fix it.

When Tony collapsed onto the sofa, Jethro asked mildly, "Happy?"

Panting a little, his face tight with pain, Tony replied, "Thrilled. Now get me a bucket so I can throw up in peace."

Jethro shook his head in fond exasperation and walked over to him, sitting on the couch and pulling Tony to him. His lover slid down and lay over his lap, eyes closing as Jethro rubbed his fingers through the thick hair. Kissing the temple, Jethro observed, "Rough day."

"Sucked," Tony agreed. But then a smile surfaced and he continued, "But Iím home now."

"Youíre home now," Jethro agreed, still massaging Tonyís scalp.

Humming in contentment, Tony mumbled, "Just going to take a little rest."

"Pull your legs up."

They arranged him so that he was stretched out altogether, instead of half-on, half-off. Jethro knew that Tony was about to fall asleep from the exertion of being up and about all day and he didnít want any additional strained muscles. As it was, he was about to follow Tony into dreamland, the gentle massage soothing Jethro as much as his lover.

It was going to be a long haul, but he knew theyíd make it now that the hard stuff was out of the way. Now that Tony had kicked his heart into shape, along with kicking his ass into line. Smiling briefly, Jethro yawned and settled in for the night.

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