AN - Here is part two as promised. This will probably be my last story for a while as RL is pretty busy and, whilst I have other ideas in the works, I only have fragments written. As soon as something is finished I'll post it but it might be quite a while. In the meantime, hope you enjoy.
It took him some time to find the right one. He wanted to be sure that it was compact enough to be always to hand but substantial enough to be make a real difference in a fight. Size and weight wasn't a problem. He couldn't have told you what size clothes DiNozzo wore, but he knew exactly what he needed when it came to weapons. He knew as soon as he saw it that this was the one, his look daring Mallard to comment as he wrote the large check without a murmur of complaint.
"If you are intending to give that to Anthony," Mallard counselled, as they returned to the car. "He's still on Medical leave."
Gibbs frowned. He didn't remember that. Hadn't seen any sign at the Hospital that DiNozzo was injured. But then DiNozzo had always been the type to whine at a paper cut, play up a flesh wound but pass a life threatening injury off as nothing much.
"Jethro, I really think this is something you and Anthony need to work out for yourselves."
"I'm still DiNozzo's CO. If something's happened to him that affects his fitness for duty then I need to know about it." Gibbs insisted. Mallard kept his eyes on the road and said nothing. It was clear he wasn't about to make this easy for him. "Damn it, Duck. You know how I feel about him."
"Indeed, I do," The MD allowed. "Although, given the way you treat him on occasion, Tony could be forgiven for rather doubting your affections."
"I know," Gibbs sighed. "I do try."
The heartfelt sentiment was enough to wrest a look of sympathy from the elderly MD. He understood that Gibbs had been wounded too many times. He had seen enough of his marriages to know that the ex-gunny both craved human contact and seemed determined to push it away. The raw look on Gibbs face was enough to push Mallard to fill the resulting silence with a quiet admission.
"Anthony has abrasions on both his left and right wrists and a number of welts and contusions across his back, several of them broke the skin one caused some serious muscle damage."
Gibbs head came up sharply as he absorbed that information. A slow look of horror spreading across his face as he realised exactly what it meant but, even so, he had to ask the question, because just possibly he had misunderstood and it wasn't nearly that bad.
"He was tied up and whipped?"
"Anthony claims to be rather hazy on the details," Mallard tutted. "As far as I can ascertain, he was using his not inconsiderable talent for misdirection to keep the bandits attention focused on him."
"He was protecting me."
Gibbs didn't need to remember it to be sure it was true. It was the only thing that made sense. His brow furrowed, as he tried to recall. He had no visual memory of Tony being beaten but, the voices, floating on the thick, suffocating, air, came unbidden.
"You know, Ziva, if you wanted to see me naked, all you have to do is ask." Tony's voice was laced with suppressed pain.
"I have already seen you naked, as has most of NCIS," Ziva reminded him calmly, over the soft rustle of cloth. "You are lucky, not all of the blows have broken the skin. Although, these two are quite deep, I should clean those up."
"No, we can't spare the water." Tony vetoed that.
"Oh boy," McGee sounded relieved. "With all the yelling you were doing, I thought it would be must worse than this. I mean, not that that this doesn't look like it hurts like hell, it does, but the way you sounded, I honestly thought he was killing you."
"So, he did he, Probie, so did he," Tony retorted wearily. "That was kinda the idea. In my experience being stoic only gets you whipped longer and harder."
"You've been whipped before?"McGee frowned.
Gibbs was almost sure DiNozzo hadn't meant to let that slip, which suggested that his pain and blood loss was significantly worse than he wanted to admit. With luck McGee would assume that Tony was referring to some previous undercover operation, Gibbs made a mental note to lend some weight to that assumption, Lord knows, the Italian would be mortified if he thought McGee had worked out the truth.
"And now, the next time they go up against you, they will underestimate the soft American and we will have the advantage." Ziva covered the awkward silence that followed McGee's question
"That was kinda the plan." Tony agreed.
"Wait a minute, you actually wanted them to hurt you?" McGee was horrified.
"They were looking to make an example of us" Ziva was pragmatic. "This way it was on our terms," Her tone softened into a smile, as she bestowed the greatest comfort she could to her suffering partner. "Gibbs would be very proud."
"I'm going to kill him," Gibbs vowed. He knew more than anyone what submitting that particular punishment would have cost DiNozzo. He could hardly have failed to draw comparisms with his father's own heavy handed corrections, whipping his small son with a belt, long and hard enough to cause bleeding welts and permanent scars. "Of all the dammed fool hardly things to do. What the hell was he thinking?"
"I rather believe he was thinking that he would do whatever it took to keep himself and his co-workers alive," Mallard observed. "Of course, I cannot imagine where he might have got such an idea."
"He's not my dammed whipping boy." Gibbs snarled with rare, genuine, anger. He would rather have cut off his own arm than subject the emotionally insecure young man to such a vivid reminder of his childhood abuse.
"Apparently, he thinks otherwise," Mallard retorted. "He wanted to protect you Jethro. He has done everything in his power to prevent you finding out at what cost. He's not one of your ex-wives. He didn't do it to make you feel guilty. Or for a public pat on the back. He did it because he loves you."
"You tryin' to make me feel worse, Duck?"
"You love him too, Jethro. In my experience, children can never be told too many times that they are loved and cherished."
"DiNozzo's not a child."
"No," Mallard agreed. "But you are the closet thing that he has to a father."
Gibbs thought about that as he turned the knife, in its velvet-covered box, over and over in his hands. As an apology it only went so far. Gibbs wasn't a great one for words but certain things deserved to be honoured. Spotting a small strip mall, he scanned the storefronts until he saw what he wanted.
"Duck, pull over here, will you?"
"Jethro, you've only just been released from the Hospital, you really should.." Mallard's words echoed to the empty car as Gibbs strode off across the sidewalk. "be resting."
It only took a few minutes to engrave the inscription on the knife handle. Gibbs ignored the slightly odd look the clerk gave him as he scrawled the words on a scrap of paper. Let the man think what he wanted. From there it was only a short drive to DiNozzo's apartment, before he got out of the car Mallard caught his arm and fixed him with a serious look.
"Jethro," Mallard sighed, obviously torn between betraying further confidences and caring for both of his friends. "He thinks the world of you, you know."
"I know, Duck."
Gibbs hesitated at the door to DiNozzo's apartment. He usually just let himself in using the key Tony had given him, hollering as he passed through the hallway to announce his arrival. This time he knocked, feeling that DiNozzo had earned to right to tell him to get lost if he wanted.
"Gibbs." Tony looked surprised to see him.
He was dressed casually in an old, loose short sleeved, cotton shirt and a pair of sweats, with his bare feet still tanned from the intense heat. His hair was tousled and he hadn't bothered to shave that morning. Hadn't been up long either if the milk moustache he was wearing on his upper lip was anything to go by. Swiping at his face, he faltered slightly as he caught Gibbs looking at the white bandages on his wrists.
"Brought you something." Gibbs didn't waste time on preliminaries as he offered the box.
Tony gave him an odd look, but accepted the box and walked down the hallway towards the small kitchen, leaving the front door open in invitation. Gibbs closed it behind him as he followed the younger man, noting critically how DiNozzo walked carefully as if an unguarded movement might pain him.
Tony set the package carefully on the kitchen table, dumped his half finished cereal bowl in the sink, before reaching up and pulling out the good coffee Gibbs knew he kept especially for him. Gibbs allowed himself a small smile DiNozzo's movements were slow but, not restricted. He should have known that Mallard would be as draconian about the kid taking his pain meds as he usually was. After setting the machine in motion Tony turned back to the table and looked at his gift.
"Well, it's not ticking."
"DiNozzo, just open it."
As he carefully opened the box and looked at the knife nesting inside colour flooded his cheeks and he looked at Gibbs with eyes both questioning and hopeful.
"It's a good knife, might even save your life one day." Gibbs offered.
"That I'm a dammed fool?" Gibbs sighed. "Yeah, DiNozzo, I did."
"You were pretty sick, Boss," Tony's voice was soft. "For a while there, even after we got you back to the States, the Doc's weren't sure you were going to make it."
"You should have told me everything." Gibbs rebuked gruffly.
"It wasn't important."
And it hadn't been. Tony hadn't cared about the reprimand racked up against Gibbs' feelings a piece of paper in his file had been a small price to pay. The fact that his Boss thought he had screwed up, that had been a little harder to live with but, he already felt he owed Gibbs more than he could ever repay and he'd felt strongly enough about what he was doing to resist all Ziva and McGee's attempts to persuade him to come clean.
"Not important?" Gibbs challenged, his eyes flashing. "You think I would have just stood by and let then whip you?"
"I knew you wouldn't have," Tony rubbed his thumb over the knife. "That's what made it bearable."
"Boss, you were already in pretty bad shape. You had a bullet in your shoulder and you'd been gutted like a fish. You lost a lot of whole lot of blood and the wounds were already infected, driving your fever up. If they had thought you were in command they would have whipped you and you'd probably be dead right now," Tony looked away. "It's not like I haven't been whipped before."
"Well, yeah. I know that, DiNozzo. That's why I'm so pissed," Gibbs retorted, letting his own pain show. "Damn it, Tony. You don't owe me that."
"See, this is why I wouldn't tell you," Tony threw him a look that was half challenge, half fond exasperation. "You wouldn't have had any problem with my taking a bullet for you. I swear, Gibbs you have more issues with my father than I do."
"How bad is it?"
"The Doc says it should all heal no problem. The scabs itch like crazy though," Tony admitted ruefully. "Ducky gave me some cream."
"That it?" Gibbs spied a small jar on the shelf.
"I thought your eyesight was supposed to be shot." Tony complained.
The jar was unopened. DiNozzo hadn't even tried to break the seal. Inwardly, Gibbs sighed. It was damn near impossible to dress wounds on your own back. Turning back to look at the younger man he raised a questioning brow.
"Ducky offered to come around and help me with it but, he has his Mother to worry about so, I told him Abby would do it but, if I asked her she would have to miss out on her clubbing. So, I told Abby, McGee was taking care of it but, he's just starting seeing this new girl, so I let him think Ziva was coming around, and while asking Ziva to rub cream into my prone naked body has its appeal.."
Before he got to finish the sentence Gibbs had reached across and slapped him over the back of the head. Then he plucked the jar off the shelf, scrutinizing it for a moment to check the instructions, before he put it in his pocket.
"Where are your meds?"
"Bathroom cabinet," Tony looked up. "Boss, you only just got out of the Hospital."
"You got a point, DiNozzo?"
"Not me, Boss."
Gibbs was already moving down the hallway, without waiting for an answer. Tony heard him pulling the meds out of the bathroom cabinet, before making a detour to the master bedroom, using his good arm to pick up the bag DiNozzo always left packed in the closet.
In the kitchen, Tony smiled, as he turned the knife over in his hands, opening it to its full extent to admire the excellent balance and razor sharp blade, pausing as he spotted the square lettering engraved onto the smooth handle. As he read the words, a soft, pleased, smile, spread across his face. He rubbed the words lightly before carefully folding the knife and slipping it into his breast pocket, next to his heart.
Much later, after a long hot bath and a home cooked meal, Tony stretched out carefully on Gibbs large battered leather couch, luxuriating in the softness of the towelling robe, not surprised when the ex-marine's hand appeared in his line of vision, holding two white pills and a glass of milk.
"I'm good, Boss."
"Cut the macho crap, DiNozzo," Gibbs said not unkindly. "I need to dress your back. It's going to hurt like hell."
"Gee Boss," Tony commented as he obediently swallowed the pills. "Your bedside manner is nearly as good as Ducky's."
"What? No foreplay?" Tony used a leering grin to cover his grimace as he levered himself to his feet, looking cheekily over his shoulder as he preceded Gibbs up the stairs. "You know, that might explain why you have three ex-wives, unless, of course, they like that whole dominance thing."
"You want to see dominance, DiNozzo?" Gibbs kept his face expressionless but he knew his amusement showed in his eyes. "Spread 'em."
As DiNozzo let the robe drop and climbed onto the turned down bed, all amusement drained from Gibbs' expression. The welts were red and angry, the bottom two deep enough to have sliced through skin and muscle, covered with dark, fragile, scabs. Quickly, he schooled his expression, knowing Tony would be mortified if he saw his pity.
"You will be gentle with me, right Boss?" Tony continued in the same teasing vein, twisting his head slightly to look over his shoulder as Gibbs failed to answer over the lump in his throat. "Boss?"
"Quit squirming, DiNozzo," Somehow Gibbs kept his face expressionless. "Let's get this over with."
In spite of himself, Tony tensed as Gibbs set to work, smearing the cold cream across the hot, itching, half healed scabs. Gibbs said nothing, concentrating on his task, as he worked the soothing cream gently into the welts, the small circlar motions weren't so taxing he couldn't use both hands, suppressing a self-satisfied smile as he felt Tony begin to relax under his hands.
"You better not be enjoying this too much, DiNozzo," He kept his tone gruff. The last thing he wanted was for Tony to feel awkward about such an intimate act of caring. "I'm not one of your dammed girlfriends."
"S'nice though." Tony smiled lazily into the pillow. "You could maybe go into business once you retire. Plus, if you wore the uniform people would probably pay extra."
Gibbs grinned, as he finished up and wiped his hands. "Get some rest, Tony."
His Agent murmured as he twisted over onto to his side, his face contorting as his hip hit an uncomfortable lump, reaching into the pocket of the robe, Gibbs fingers closed over the smooth shaft of the knife, pulling it out he gently tucking the covers over his Agent now relaxed and almost boneless Agent. Resisting the urge to tousle his hair he smiled at the engraving on the knife handle before putting it down on the bedside cabinet where it would be the first thing Tony saw in the morning,
Tony DiNozzo 04.24.06 Hero Love LJG