Note: Stepping Out of the Shadows: A Life Lived Undercover is the sequel to Look but don't Touch by luna_altyerre on LJ's ncis_spankyfic community. There's also Stepping Out of the Shadows parts II and III - Out in the Open and In View of the World.AU - set in a Xanthe-esque BDSM-verse.
Many thanks to Ferneberga for coming up with the series title, Stepping Out of the Shadows.
If you don't like m/m relationships, if you're underage, if it's illegal where you are, if you can't wrap your head around the idea of the BDSM-verse, this story isn't for you. Don't read it; life's too short to get upset by things you read on the internet.
None of the characters are mine, neither NCIS nor the BDSM-verse, nor this version of the BDSM-verse are mine. I'm just playing. If you like this, please go read Look but don't Touch and let luna_altyerre know you liked her plotbunny. Without that, this wouldn't have been written. I can't seem to add a link here, but it's http[colon][slash][slash]community[dot]livejournal[dot]com[slash]ncis_spankyfic[slash]18390[dot]html. Just replace [colon] with : [dot] with . and [slash] with /.
I screw up: I catch the plague. Kate stays with me until she's made to leave, her beta-instinct telling her to stay, to do what she can, however futile, to protect. But when she's cleared and ordered out of the isolation chamber, she goes without too much of a fuss; I might be dying, but I'm a beta after all. I'd beg her to stay with me, not to let me die alone, but she's not the one top I'd beg for. And when Gibbs comes and swats me on the head and orders me not to die, the sub in me takes over and finds a way to live. I can't live as a beta; I'm not that strong. But as a sub, as Gibbs' sub, there's no way I can die. Disobey a direct order from the alpha of alphas? No way!
So I live and after that one moment of alpha-sub connection, I'm back on my own, an independent beta. And it hurts, but I've been on my own ever since I was disowned, before that - since my mom died, before that - since my parents left me to my own devices as the only way to make me independent, make me the beta I had to be. It's the only way I know.
I fight my way back to an ambulatory form of health, enough to come back to work and, in true heroic beta fashion, save my colleagues from getting blown up. McGee doesn't argue; he's a sub through and through and I'm a beta and it doesn't even cross his mind to wonder if maybe I don't have it in me to run like hell from a car bomb. Kate argues, but I out-rank her and there really isn't time for a display of dominance.
Then Kate dies anyway and the world falls apart.
When the pieces settle, our three-man team has a fourth, a beta who likes to think she could alpha: Ziva. I don't trust her, but Gibbs does. As his beta, as his senior agent, it's my right to hold my judgment in reserve as long as that doesn't spill over into disrespect. Ziva plays games: she's a solid beta to Tim's sub, a beta to Gibbs except when she's trying out her alpha teeth or when she's playing him. And when Gibbs pushes me about her, I back down. I can't tell him it's as a sub she sets off my spidey-sense. It's tingling so hard alarms should be going off all over the Yard.
Here's what gets me: she tries to play Gibbs, like he doesn't know every damn trick in the book and then some. What's worse is he'll let her play him with an amused, indulgent smile, like she's really an omega, like for him she'd find her submission, but only for him. In some weird, twisted way, she makes herself into a sexualized, fetishized daughter, trying out her powers of seduction on daddy.
I hate it.
It bugs me when she tries to out-top me, pushes my beta status, but I outrank her and when it comes down to it, Gibbs picked me for his team, not her.
Still. I'd give Gibbs my submission in a heartbeat. On the rare occasions he's held me, callused hand wrapped firmly around the nape of my neck, gripping my shoulder, it takes everything I've got not to drop to my knees in front of him. But I'm a beta, so I can't, not ever.
I pay the price for my mistakes in full. I take everything Gibbs has to dish out and I come back for more. It's killing me, but hey, I can take it! Or, if I can't, Tony DiNozzo, movie-loving, sex-obsessed, overgrown frat-boy and all-round typical beta jock can. It's like being undercover and I'm great at that, the best.
But there's no backup and there's no debrief in sight and after everything I've seen, every case I've come across, I know how easily the most carefully concealed secret life can be discovered. There's no hope of driving out of state to some bar where for an evening I can be another anonymous sub looking to go down on my knees for the right dom.
So I boast about the subs I play with, let the others draw their conclusions from the circles under my eyes. I don't mention the times I come back into work because I can't sleep, the nights I need someone to take me down and care for me, break me apart and put me back together. Beta. Beta. Beta. That's my heartbeat, my watchword, the ticking of my clock in all the long, dark hours of the night.
Gibbs gets blown up and loses his memory, gets some of it back just in time to lose a bunch of sailors to a fucked-up decision from higher up the chain of command. He leaves with a, 'You'll do,' that tells me finally, finally, he knows.
Losing his memories of me has made him see me clearer than he's ever done before. Without history and preconceptions and before I can say one damn word, he has me pegged as a sub.
He still leaves me in charge of his team.
I'm not sure what to make of that, only I'm too busy trying to hold everyone together. There are times when I should spank McGee for being rude, arrogant, for challenging my leadership, but I know how he feels. I know exactly how he feels. He's reeling from the loss of our alpha, trying to keep his feet the only way he knows how. I can't bring myself to slap him down, even if it might just make him feel better.
Ziva's instincts make her push and push and push some more now that Gibbs isn't there to keep her in check. At heart she knows I'm not the beta to carry them all through this. Were I half the beta I'm supposed to be, I'd turn on my toppy vibe, growl at her like Gibbs does, put her in her place without a fight. But I'm not and I have my hands full with Tim and with Abby, who's gone into mourning, and with Ducky, who's so angry about being betrayed by Gibbs, the rock, the epitome of strength and honor and all of those qualities that make people put him on a pedestal even though we know, we know, he's only a man with feet of clay, that all I can do is sit with him and drink tea and let him talk himself out. This is Ducky. It's going to take some time.
Jeanne is a relief from all of that. Would be a relief from the rest of my life, my undercover real life, if she didn't happen to be my mark on a real undercover assignment and didn't happen to be a sub just looking for her dom and if I didn't happen to be Tony DiNardo, professor of film studies and a kind, gentle, funny dom who cares for her very much and wants to keep her safe.
We talk about moving in together; we talk about collars.
And when Gibbs comes back and it all goes wrong, when no one really cares that my car blew up and it wasn't me in it, when it turns out that 'undercover' meant 'unsanctioned' and I'm on my own once more, I embrace the pain like hugging broken glass to my chest. It's no more than I deserve for a lifetime lived undercover, unsanctioned.
It doesn't matter, all the good I've done, all the good I've tried to do. I have lived my life as a beta when I am a sub. No one trusts me and that's as it should be: I have never trusted them with myself.
Jenny offers me Rota. I turn her down. Gibbs needs me; I can't leave him. I'm his beta, even if I will never be his sub. It's a twisted form of penance that keeps me quiet when McGee tells me I'm not worthy of my own team, that keeps me turning up to work. I don't think I'll ever know if it's penance or self-preservation finally kicking in decades too late that lets me follow Jenny's final orders, that lets her go off alone to die.
Somewhere in those months spent sitting on a beach drinking beer, Gibbs forgets me again. He regains his memories, mostly, but loses that clarity of vision. On his return, I am beta once more and I have to work twice as hard to maintain my place. He never touches me. He doesn't look at me except to scowl, to slap me down verbally, more painfully than he ever slapped me round the head.
I come in at one and two and three in the morning, working harder to solve cases, to go over cold cases, to help other teams with their cases. I know I'm pushing too hard but I can't rein myself in and there's no one to do it for me. I'm at my breaking point by the time Director Vance sends me to be Agent Afloat.
It's a respite and in all probability it stops me getting myself killed. I'd be thankful but I'm too exhausted to care. I do my best for the tops and subs on board, but every time I have to attend a sub's punishment, it brings home to me that no one has ever wanted to do the same for me, to judge me by those standards and to take care of me afterwards. It doesn't matter that I don't want to be seen as inferior, that I'd probably punch the captain if he tried to kiss my forehead after a strapping. These men and women don't want me to take care of them and no one has ever wanted to take care of me.
Even that wouldn't hurt so much if it didn't mean that Gibbs has never wanted to take care of me.
He takes advantage of a case to get me back to Washington, pull me back on his team. Everyone else has been back for months and McGee especially resents me for retaking my place in our dysfunctional family. Ziva's back to pushing and pushing and pushing. Abby, Ducky and Jimmy seem glad to have me back but have been equally happy getting on with their lives without me.
After months spent at sea, I can't quite fit myself back into my old beta shape. It's as though I've taken on the imprint of metal-walled rooms and corridors, of thousands of bodies pressed into the smallest of spaces. This bullpen with its double-height ceiling and open-plan desks is half an inch to the left of the reality I used to inhabit. I try to play my part, but I'm playing a part and it's becoming more and more obvious that a part is what it is, is who I am. It's just as obvious that not a single member of the team can see it.
I wake from nightmares with sub, sub, sub, drumming in my ears, my new heartbeat warring with the beta, beta of my clock in the small hours of the morning. Something has to give and I'm afraid it's going to be me.
It is. I kill Ziva's boyfriend.
He's another Mossad agent, an alpha. I don't want to know what twisted alpha/beta/omega daddy/daughter games she's playing with him. We've worked together for years, but still she doesn't believe me when I say he was a traitor, that he was going to kill me. Lying on the floor of her apartment, cradling my broken arm and staring down the barrel of her gun, I know she's going to kill me for it and I'm glad.
She doesn't, though. We go to Israel and pull the truth out of her father, the root cause of all these games she plays, the original alpha who has so thoroughly warped her that I don't know if she'll ever find out who she is. He thinks he can play me too, but like his daughter, he mistakes my cover for who I really am. I might never get the chance to be a sub, but at least I've never doubted that I am one. Instead, I get the answers that Ziva needs and it's one more thing she'll never forgive me for.
Sitting in the plane on the hot tarmac of the airstrip, I wait, resigned to being left behind. Gibbs has always chosen Ziva.
But he doesn't. The doors close and the plane takes off without Ziva on board and somewhere over the Atlantic I remember that Gibbs chose me. Gibbs chose me, Ziva was chosen for him. My world fractures yet again. I'd shout, but I can't seem to open my mouth. As McGee sleeps, restless, across a line of seats somewhere closer to the cockpit, Gibbs sits down beside me, curls his callused hand around the back of my neck and pulls my forehead down to his chest. He presses a kiss to the top of my head and holds me through the long hours of the flight.
Back in Washington, he drives us back to the Yard and we finish up the paperwork, then he goes up to the director's office and when he comes back down a few minutes later I'm still trying to summon up the energy to call a cab and go home.
Gibbs picks up my backpack, drops my jacket over my shoulders, walks me to the elevator, then to his car. I can't even muster the energy to ask him what he thinks he's doing, to protest and say I'll be fine. An exhaustion that goes profoundly deeper than the physical keeps me silent and Gibbs doesn't say a word.
We drive to my apartment, where Gibbs helps me up the stairs and sits me on my couch. I hear him moving around but I stare at the blank TV screen, too tired even to close my eyes. Moments later, it seems, Gibbs is standing in front of me, pulling me up off the couch. He has a bag, one of my small suitcases, but in my state of apathy, it doesn't even occur to me to question him. He guides me out of my apartment, locks the door and takes me back downstairs to his car. And then, between one blink and the next, we are outside his house and the door is open, my bag sitting in the hallway, and Gibbs is leaning into the car and helping me out.
He takes me into the bathroom, strips me, washes me down. Then he covers me in clean, comfortable sweatpants and a worn Ohio State t-shirt and puts me to bed. It's only when Gibbs turns out the light and climbs in beside me that I realize this is his bed. He registers my protest before it gets beyond a tensing of muscles in my shoulders and an indrawn breath. Then his hand once again wraps around my nape and pulls me to him. I fall asleep with my head on his shoulder, his heart beating steadily under my cheek.
I half-wake some time after three, panic shortening my breath and making me shake in a delayed reaction to all that has happened over the last few days, or maybe it's over the last few decades. But Gibbs is there, hushing me, holding me to him as though I'm something infinitely precious and I can't quite bring myself to disabuse him of that lie. I fall asleep again and when I wake it's to deliciously warm weight covering me, pinning me to the bed, my good wrist held securely above my head and a hardness answering my own rubbing against me.
Gibbs is kissing my neck, morning stubble catching the sensitive skin as he patiently traces my arteries, my Adam's Apple, before sucking a mark into the curve of muscle that leads to my shoulder. I gasp, my hips jerking involuntarily, but before I can ask him what he hell he thinks he's doing, he bites down and I come, wet heat blooming across my abdomen. Gibbs kisses me until I stop shaking, then lifts his head, looking down at me, amusement and affection dancing in his beautiful eyes.
'I remembered,' he says. Then he places a kiss on my forehead and all the long, lonely years of living as a beta come crashing over me and Gibbs lies on top of me and holds me down until the storm has passed, waiting out my struggles and my tears, my yelling, my fighting to be free. He ends up sitting propped against the headboard with me wrapped in his arms, my head tucked under his chin as though I'm a kid. He holds me until my fear wears off, until my panic is over and my embarrassment fades.
'How long?' he asks, rocking me ever so slightly from side to side, the fingers of one hand buried gently in my hair.
I don't have to ask what he means. 'Always.'
I shake my head, too worn out to be embarrassed again. 'Couldn't afford to.'
'May I keep you?' His voice is rough, the hand stills.
'I don't know how to be kept,' I confess.
'We can work it out,' he says, then presses another kiss to the top of my head. 'We can try.'
I think for a while, about living as a beta while being a sub, about how I don't remember anyone ever simply holding me like this before, about all the years of trying to top and knowing I could never get it right, about living my entire life undercover.
Gibbs knew and he was here; Gibbs would always be my backup if I let him, no matter how the rest of my life worked out.
As Gibbs' arms tightened around me, I felt myself relax into submission. In a heartbeat, I thought hazily, and as Gibbs' heart beat alpha, alpha, alpha, mine beat sub, sub, sub in perfect time.