"Boss," Tony scrubbed a hand over his face. He could do this. "The thing is .."
He broke off as Gibbs' cell rang, demanding attention. His Boss did him the courtesy of checking the caller ID before making an apologetic face and flipping it open. Tony tipped his head back, not bothering to listen to his conversation with Director Morrow. He twisted his head slightly, trying unsuccessfully to get rid of a painful knot in his neck. His stomach muscles and throat ached from their recent abuse and his head was pounding. God, he was tired.
"DiNozzo!" Tony blinked, looking across at his Boss and noting the lines of concern in his expression with surprise. Judging by the rueful shake of his head Gibbs had already tried to attract his attention more than once. "C'mon .."
Following his Boss's lead, Tony climbed wearily out of the car, watched as Gibbs carefully locked the Mustang, and then fell into step behind the ex-Marine as he led the way up the path to the front door. As they entered the hallway, Tony automatically toed off his shoes, catching his foot slightly and having to put his hand on the wall to steady himself.
"Go take a bath." Gibbs ordered. "And then get some rest. We can do this later."
"DiNozzo, go," Gibbs ordered not unkindly. "It'll keep."
Feeling absurdly grateful for his Boss' mind reading skills, Tony dragged himself upstairs and turned on the faucet, watching the hot water begin to fill the room with steam, before tossing in a handful of those bath salts Abby had bought last Christmas for good measure. A bath and a good shot of mouthwash made lots of things feel better. Wrapping a towel around his waist, Tony padded across the landing to the spare room and looked longingly at the King sized bed with the crisp, clean, sheets and big, soft, comforter. Pulling back the covers, Tony crawled under and stretched out in blissful pleasure.
When he woke the room was in darkness, lit solely by the thin sliver of light from the landing. He seriously considered just rolling over and going back to sleep. But the pressure in his bladder urged him up. Rummaging in the dresser he dug out the sweats and t-shirt he kept here. As he emerged from the bathroom he caught the rich, thick, smell of roast turkey drifting up the staircase. With a smile he padded downstairs.
"Did I sleep 'till Thanksgiving?"
"Wasn't sure you were going to wake up at all."
"Sorry," Tony shrugged awkwardly. "I guess I haven't been sleeping all that well lately."
"Right," Tony murmured as he slid into place. "Eat first. Deathbed confessions later."
Gibbs ignored him as he put two full plates on the table and took his own place. They both chewed companionably for a while, satisfying that first edge of hunger, before Tony spoke quietly.
"I didn't come to you, becaue I was afraid."
His Boss didn't look up. Didn't even pause between mouthfuls, as he answered, for which Tony was absurdly grateful.
"Afraid of what?"
"Of getting too comfortable. Its not like I haven't had that kind of hazing before. The rich kid born with the silver spoon in his mouth, who wants to be a big bad cop on mean city streets? I might as well paint a sign on my forehead. I knew if I told you about Brooker you'd take care of it. The guy would be out of there so fast his head would spin."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"It wasn't something I wanted to get used to," Tony admitted. "I hadn't been at NCIS all that long. I figured a couple of years and I'd be moving on. And if I got too used to having people watching my six it would be too hard to go back to the way things had been when I just had to suck it up and deal."
"Now I know Ducky would talk rings around anyone who so much as tried to look at me funny, McGee would bamboozle them with geek speak, and Abby would hold them down while Kate kicked their ass."
"Took you 'till now to learn that, DiNozzo?"
"I also learnt not all fathers abandon their kids."
Gibbs speared a piece of carrot on his fork and put it in his mouth, chewing slowly, before swallowing and looking up to meet Tony's gaze with pride and affection.
The residential street was in darkness, the occupants of each modest, but well tended, property, long since retired for the night. Steven Brooker was asleep in his bed, when he woke to the feeling that someone was in the room with him.
"What the ..?"
He reached for the gun under his pillow, only to scrabble about in fear as his hand met empty space. Then in the darkness an all too familiar sound of a firearm being cocked cut through the still night air.
"Looking for this, Stevie-boy?" In the second that Brooker registered that voice, his eyes were squinting shut as the room was flooded with light. Forcing them painfully open he saw Tony DiNozzo pointing his own weapon at him.
"How did you get in here?"
"Gibbs. He knows all kind of useful stuff," Tony smirked. "And he's actually a pretty sharing kind of guy. Not that you'd know this. He never really liked you."
"You're bluffing." Brooker protested. Not wanting to believe Gibbs was actually here.
"Nope," Brooker's breath caught in his throat as Gibbs stepped into the light. "He's right. Never did like you much."
"What are you doing here? You can't do this," Brooker stuttered nervously. "Its harassment. Or intimidation. I could have your badges for this."
"I don't see any witnesses," Gibbs countered. "You see any witnesses, Tony?"
"Not a one, Boss."
"Someone will have seen you," Brooker gabbled as Gibbs advanced until he was looming over him. "There'll be someone who saw your car, someone who noticed you sneaking around the place."
"Someone to hear you scream?" Tony suggested innocently.
"Yes," Brooker grasped at straws. "No!"
"I'm a Marine," Gibbs spoke very quietly, his breath falling in little puffs on Brooker's face, as he leaned in. "I'm not seen unless I want to be seen. And I train my people the same way."
"You can't touch me. If anything happens to me you'd be the main suspects."
"You don't think I'd be stupid enough to do it myself?" Gibbs smiled dangerously. "I know people who can kill you with their bare hands and never leave a mark. And they owe me."
"Meanwhile, we'd be tucked up someplace else, with a nice, solid, alibi." Tony added.
"This is just a friendly warning," Gibbs assured him. "I just became your worst nightmare. If you ever do anything to hurt any of my people, or anyone else, ever again, I will take each and every injury that you inflicted on DiNozzo and pay it back ten-fold. And there is no place on earth that you can hide from me. Whenever, wherever, I will find you."
Brooker swallowed hard over his suddenly dry mouth. He had absolutely no doubt that the ex-marine meant what he said.
"There's going to be a disciplinary hearing. I'll probably lose my job maybe even serve some time. Isn't that enough?"
Gibbs thought about the physical and emotional pain Tony had suffered because of this man. He thought about the way his senior field agent had been made to relive past hurts and still stepped up to the plate to try and save Gibbs' reputation. About what Tony had been prepared to lay on the line for his sake and all because of this man. And he hated Brooker with more passion than he had felt for anyone since the bastard would murdered his wife and daughter.
"Not even close."
Brooker looked at his options and decided that he had no choice.
The following day he closed up his house and posted his letter of resignation. Within hours he has a false passport, a new identity and an almost empty bank account. It took three planes and four connections, until he finally reached a small remote town. Everything he valued was crammed into a single backpack. Anything else was left behind. The first six months he spent looking over his shoulder, taking work where he could find it, moving on every few weeks. After a year, he began to feel safe. He found a small village by the sea. He rented a house and found a job in a bar, took up with a local woman. It was hard and dirty life, living hand to mouth, never really feeling safe, but it sure beat the alternative.
Early one morning he went for a run on the beach, sweat pooling down between his shoulder blades as his T-shirt stuck to his back. On his way home he turned a corner and ran smack into the most hideous Hawaiian shirt he had ever seen in his life. Scowling, he glanced up at the tourist, who was clearly either lost, or looking to get himself killed, if he had wandered into this particular neighbourhood. And his jaw went slack.
Anthony DiNozzo flashed him his best megawatt smile, just before he drew back his fist and Brooker's world exploded into a mess of red, as his nose spread across his face. Clutching at his pain, he went to his knees, as DiNozzo's face loomed in over him.
"Just a little reminder, Stevie-boy, whenever, wherever."
As Brooker struggled to stem the blood loss, he registered a familiar dry chuckle, and a shadow fell across him as another figure stepped up beside DiNozzo
"I've been practising."
The two men turned away, leaving Brooker writhing on the sidewalk in their wake, as they walked Gibbs shot his senior field Agent an amused look. Tony's features were carefully controlled, but Gibbs knew better.
"How's the hand?"
"I think I broke it." Tony admitted after a moment.
"C'mon," Gibbs slapped him on the shoulder. "We'll find a bar that's open. You can call Ziva and tell her we'll be back in DC tomorrow. I'll buy you a beer and you can stick your hand in a bucket of ice. Be good as new in no time."
The odd note in Tony's voice caused Gibbs to give him a sideways look. DiNozzo had come to a halt and, as if on impulse, reached out and hugged Gibbs briefly before stepping back awkwardly.
"Its just a beer, DiNozzo," Gibbs countered with fond amusement. "What will you do if I add in pretzels?"
"I meant," DiNozzo shrugged. "For everything."
That stopped Gibbs in his tracks, as he caught the underlying note of raw sincerity in the younger man's voice. To his immense pride and satisfaction Tony met his gaze unwaveringly, letting his love and loyalty shine in his expression.
"Everything, huh?" Gibbs started walking again. "In that case, you're welcome. And you're buying."
He waited until they had gone another block, before reaching out and, instead of delivering the expected head slap, comprehensively mussed DiNozzo's hair, letting a heartfelt grin blossom across his face as the younger man yipped in protest.
"Boss, not the hair!"
And for the rest of his natural life Steven Brooker never rested, never stayed in one place too long and never dared to stop looking over his shoulder.
AN – That's it, finally the end. This has been the longest story I have written to date and by far the most difficult. There have been times when I have wrestled with it, hated it and almost wanted to give up on it, so I would like to thank each and everyone of you who stayed the course with me, offering your support and encouragement, some days your kind words were the only things that kept me coming back to this plotline. I thought long and hard about how to end it and just couldn't see Gibbs being satisfied with conventional justice. I very much doubt I'll ever feel like writing a sequel to this, but I do have other ways of putting Tony and Gibbs through the wringer in mind.