Note: In View of the World is the sequel to Out in the Open, which is the sequel to A Life Lived Undercover, which is the sequel to Look but don't Touch by luna_altyerre on LJ's ncis_spankyfic community. 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 /.


It's three days before we catch a new case. Three days of paperwork and cold cases, of people stopping by the bullpen to check out my new collar, of learning how to belong to Gibbs.

On the surface, nothing's really changed, except for the way that everything has because the foundation of my life has changed. I'm not alone any more. I don't have to rely on myself for everything. I don't belong to myself any more, I belong to Gibbs and he is responsible for my well-being. It's a job he's taking seriously and to be honest, I'm a little freaked out.

Being freaked out and bored and the center of attention without having to pull any pranks first is never a good combination, leaving me with no way to blow off steam. That is, until Tuesday mid-morning, when Gibbs tugs me into the men's room and fucks me hard and fast in one of the stalls. And if that's what he thinks my well-being needs, who am I to argue?

Oddly, the hardest change to get used to is Ziva's absence. No needling comments, no little toppy games and inappropriate flirtations that piss me off and take my mind off my fixation with Gibbs. Instead, my fixation is allowed, even encouraged and in return, Gibbs keeps an eye on me even when I could swear he's paying no attention at all and when I'm on the verge of doing something stupid, he's there, giving me exactly what I need. Sometime's that's a headslap, but it's as likely to be his hand resting warm and heavy on the back of my neck, calming me down, a coffee run, or half an hour in the gym even though sparring is out until my arm mends.

I can't help wishing he thought what I need is a repeat of Tuesday morning. Or several repeats. Now would be a good time. I realise I'm staring at Gibbs again, only now I've got a hard-on. And I'm still bored. Great. I force my attention back to the cold case in front of me and do my best not to give in to the temptation to throw things at McGee.

And speaking of McGee, he watches us all the time, staring like we're the latest, greatest freakshow in town, until I borrow a small but powerful rare-earth magnet from Abby's lab and hide it in a photo frame by his monitor. It takes him three hours to figure out why his screen is a weird hot pink in one corner. After that, he makes a token effort at not staring at us, at me.

Thursday afternoon, Gibbs takes a call, grunts a thanks and slams the phone down. He's on his feet and coming round his desk as I scramble to my feet.

'We got a case, boss?' I ask hopefully, reaching for my jacket.

'You aren't cleared for fieldwork, DiNozzo,' Gibbs says. He lifts a hand to my neck and a second later, I'm leashed. 'McGee, get Abby and meet us in Conference 1.'

'On it,' McGee says and I barely have time to register a flash of... something... in his eyes before he's looking down at his desk and lifting up his phone and Gibbs is striding off, with me hurrying to catch up before the leash snaps taut.

Once we're in the conference room, Gibbs pulls out a sub bench from under the conference table. I look at it, then at Gibbs. He doesn't look like he's joking.

'You really want me to kneel?'

'I want your attention on the case,' Gibbs says softly. He presses a gentle kiss to my lips, then to my forehead. I can feel myself begin to slide. The hand on my shoulder is warm, firm, dependable. As I sink to my knees, Gibbs strokes the back of my neck and says, 'Listen carefully, Tony. I want your input later. Unless I ask you a question, stay quiet for now.'

My head rests against Gibbs' thigh once he's taken the chair beside me, my hand around his ankle, the contact enough to send me into a state of calm detachment. If I'd known how much I crave this, how much Gibbs' care means to me, I'd have thrown myself at his feet the day we met.

He pets me as the door opens and someone enters. From the footsteps, it's McGee. He stops just inside the doorway and says, 'Uh... boss?' I hear the shock in his voice. It's understandable: this is the first time he's seen my full submission.

'Take a seat, McGee,' Gibbs says with a hint of impatience, but below that, there's a dry amusement that I know McGee won't pick up on.

The door opens again. It's Abby, from the sound of her boots on the cheap nylon carpeting and the sharp intake of breath. She sits down in the chair to my right and ignores me completely. In that moment, I love her.

'So, bossman, any particular reason why you requested my company? I mean, I know I'm awesome and I'm not saying you need a reason, but we don't usually hang out up here.'

Before Gibbs can answer. the door opens again and several people come in. Gibbs doesn't get up.

'You know, I'd heard a rumor, but...' There's a low whistle. It's Fornell, which means that one of the other people is almost certainly Agent Slacks. Sorry, Sacks. Before I can tense up, Gibbs squeezes the back of my neck and without any conscious thought, my body is relaxing further into his hold.

'Holy crap, I never thought I'd see DiNozzo on his knees for anyone.' That supercilious tone is pure Slacks. I know he'd love to say more, but he's skirting the line of questioning my submission as it is and I know Gibbs won't hesitate to call him on it. Sacks knows it too. What I can't work out is whether or not he wants Gibbs to strap him. I don't think he knows either. The guy's dynamic is a mess.

'Fornell, Sacks,' Gibbs says. 'Want to tell me where you fucked up and why my team should save your asses?'

'Gibbs.' That mild rebuke is the director. He closes the door and everyone takes their seats. Once everyone is seated and at least nominally paying attention to the director rather than myself, Vance says, 'The FBI have been investigating a link between several escort agencies, organized crime, prostitution and sub abuse.'

'You forgot blackmail and extortion,' Fornell says. 'We found a couple of links to the navy, but the agent we placed undercover...'

'He tripped over a kneeknocker and broke his ankle,' Vance says. I can hear he wants to laugh, not at the hapless agent, but at the FBI, but he's too professional to do that in front of us peons.

'And?' Gibbs asks drily.

'We need to get someone close to a couple of high-ranking officers,' Fornell says. 'Given DiNutso's already served as Agent Afloat and he's good at undercover work, we thought he could go in-'

'No.' Gibbs' refusal is firm.

'Hear him out, Agent Gibbs,' Vance says.

'I don't need to,' Gibbs says. 'My team is down by one anyway and Tony has a broken arm. There's no way he's going into the field until that's healed up.'

'Oh! I wasn't aware DiNutso was injured,' Fornell says. He doesn't sound happy. 'When did he break it?'

'A week ago,' Gibbs says. 'It'll be at least another five before he can requalify.'

Fornell sighs. 'Damn. That's going to be a problem.'

'Why? Surely the FBI has more than one person capable of going undercover at sea? And NCIS has more than one team,' Gibbs points out.

There's a pause and I can imagine the sour expression that's crossing Fornell's face right about now. 'No one as good.'

Surprised, my eyes fly open at the unexpected compliment and my hand twitches around Gibbs' ankle. For a moment, his hand presses down on my neck, fingers digging into the pressure points, releasing the start of a tension headache I hadn't even noticed. Then his fingertips slide under my collar and I shiver, sighing into the wool-blend of his trouser leg. My eyes slide shut again and I regain my detachment in time to hear Abby speak.

'Why do we have to get a person close to these guys?'

'I don't follow,' Sacks says, sounding about as sharp as he was when he tried to send me down for murder, which is to say not very.

'Go on, Abs,' Gibbs says.

I feel her lean forward, practically vibrating with excitement. 'These guys, they're on the same ship?'

'Yes,' Fornell confirms.

'And you want to get a person in close to them because, what, you want them to snoop through files, computers, search their quarters, that kind of thing?' Abby asks.

'That's the general idea of getting an undercover operative close to a suspected criminal.' Fornell again.

'But if we already have an Agent Afloat on board,' Abby says, 'can't they do, like, the physical searches and stuff? And McGee and I, we can whip up a few things that'll let us know what's going on with anything more technological than a post-it note. That way, nobody needs to go undercover.'

'Fornell?' Vance asks and there's silence that I can tell McGee is dying to fill with technobabble. Enough of my teaching has sunk in that he only shifts in his seat and taps his fingers on the leg of his chair. I'll have to have a word about fidgeting. And yes, I'm aware of my own propensity to fidget; that's how I know when it's a good idea to sit still.

At last, Fornell says grudgingly, 'That might work. I'll have our tech guys work with you on it.'

'Which ship is it?' Gibbs asks. 'And how soon can we get something aboard?'

'It's the Harry S. Truman and they're in dock in Norfolk at the moment,' Fornell says. 'They're heading back out to sea next week.'

Gibbs grunts. 'Gives us a few days to get things set up, then.'

'We're still going to need some way of getting surveillance in place without suspicion,' Slacks puts in.

'What're they in port for?' Gibbs asks and this time it's Vance who answers.

'The Truman's been in for a PIA for the past seven months. Maintenance, upgrading systems, resupply, full maintenance on all the aircraft, that kind of thing. Standard stuff.'

'What's a PIA?' Abby asks.

'Planned Incremental Availability,' Gibbs says. 'Rolling upgrades to get all Nimitz class aircraft carriers up to modern specs. So who're we after?'

'A Lieutenant-Commander and one of the doctors on board.'

'That's it?'

'Yeah, they're the only ones we've found with any links to these agencies.'

'You have their files?' Gibbs asks and a second later I hear a couple of folders slide across the table.

The meeting breaks up pretty quickly and Gibbs stays in his seat until everyone else has left. Then he lifts my head, urging me up until I'm sprawled half across his knees. With one arm wrapped around my shoulders, the other hand kneading my ass, he kisses me until I am pliant in his arms and he can feel my cock pressing hard against his thigh.

He pulls back, breathing hard. 'God, what you do to me, Tony,' he murmurs. 'Seeing you kneel like that... I wanted to take you right there, in front of everyone.'

I laugh shakily. 'I don't think I'd stop you,' I confess.

'I figured.' Gibbs runs his thumb over my bottom lip, looking very much as though he's ready to take kiss me again, take my lip and suck it, bite it... Instead, he slaps my ass. 'Come on, up. Before I forget we have work to do.'

With an exaggerated pout, I get to my feet. Gibbs laughs as he stands and pulls me in for another quick kiss. When he lets me go, I'm leashed again.

'You're keeping me on a short leash? A tight rein?' I tease.

'Until I'm sure Fornell and Sacks are out of the building, yes. I don't want you talking to them.' Gibbs says and his tone is serious again.

'Why?'

'Because it pisses me off when Fornell calls you DiNutso and Sacks is just begging for a strapping. And if I have to see him without his pants on, I think my libido's going on permanent hiatus,' Gibbs says, leading me out of the room.

'Ouch! Can't have that. I know we're new friends, your libido and I, but I'm pretty sure I'd miss it if it took off.' My grin fades as I see Fornell leaning against my desk. 'I suppose it was too much to hope he'd leave, huh?'

'Read through these,' Gibbs says, leading me round Fornell and settling me at my desk with the case folders. I ignore the ass that's nudging my keyboard aside and make a mental note to disinfect everything once Fornell's gone.

'What, not going to say hello?' Fornell asks.

'He's busy,' Gibbs says, scowling at the fed. 'Don't you have a case to run?'

Fornell shrugs. 'I wanted to know what DiNutso thinks.'

Gibbs snorts. 'You want to wind him up. You've given us next to no information and you expect Tony to have some insight for you?'

'I have to admit, I'm a little curious,' Fornell says with a shrug. 'He's not exactly your usual type.'

Gibbs glares at Fornell, then jerks his head towards the elevator. 'My office.'

Fornell stands and saunters off after Gibbs; I watch the elevator doors close behind them. I'd love to know what's going on, but if Gibbs gets really angry, chances are the whole bullpen will hear what he has to say anyway. I open the top folder and start reading through, making notes as I go. I'm only a couple of pages in when a shadow falls over the paper and when I look up, Sacks is doing his best to loom over me. His best isn't very good.

'So Gibbs finally found a better use for your smart mouth, huh?'

I put on my most annoying smirk before getting back to work. It's all of five seconds later before Sacks slams his meaty hand down on the page I'm trying to read. 'What's the matter, DiNozzo? Think you're too good to talk to me now you've managed to get that collar round your neck?'

I want to tell him to fuck off, I really do, despite Gibbs' order not to talk to the Feebs. But then Sacks reaches up and grabs my collar and before I realise what I've done, I'm on my feet and I have him face down over my desk in an armlock that's half an inch away from breaking his wrist and elbow.

Of course, that's when the elevator doors open.

Gibbs takes in the scene in an instant and I can see his temper ignite. 'DiNozzo! What the hell's going on here?'

With a wince, I let go and step back, my chair bumping the back of my knees. 'Sorry, boss. I was just showing Sacks how to put someone in an armlock.'

'Uh huh,' Gibbs doesn't believe me. 'And how's your arm?'

I shake it and wince again. 'Not too bad?' I say hopefully.

'Try again,' Gibbs says grimly.

'Okay, that was stupid. It's a little sore,' I admit. It hurts like a, well, like it was broken only a week ago, which is about right. Damn.

'So you were just chatting with Sacks and offered to show him this?' Gibbs ignores the agent in question, who has stood up and is bitching loudly.

'Not exactly...' I grimace.

'You weren't chatting, or you didn't offer to show him an armlock?' Gibbs asks, his voice that shade of low that's deadly.

McGee steps out from behind his desk. 'Sacks was harassing Tony and tried to touch his collar,' he says quietly. The bitching coming from Sacks' general direction gets even louder.

'I didn't ask you, McGee,' Gibbs says. 'I asked my sub what happened.'

Shit. It doesn't matter what I say now; I'm in trouble. I've dug myself into a hole and I know Gibbs well enough to know there's going to be some form of punishment before I can climb out of it. 'I... Sacks said a couple of things, then touched my collar and I overreacted,' I say, feeling my cheeks heat.

'Did you talk to him?'

'No.'

'That's something,' Gibbs sighs. 'Fornell, take Sacks away before I have to demand a formal punishment. If he says anything to Tony without me being here, if he's even in the same room as Tony without me being there, I'm having him up on charges. I don't know what his problem is, but you'd better see that he fixes it before I fix it for him.' He waits until Fornell has hauled his wayward agent over to the elevator before he calls out, 'Oh, and Fornell? My sub's name is DiNozzo. I don't give a damn how they pronounce it in Italy. If you mispronounce it again, we're going to have words.'

The elevator doors close on the two scowling Feds, then Gibbs pulls his chair out from under his desk and sits down. 'Come here, Tony,' he says in a tone that brooks no argument.

'Yes, boss,' I say, coming to stand in front of him. The disappointment in his eyes brings a lump to my throat and I can't look at him any more.

'Over my knee.'

With a nod, I undo my belt and push down my trousers and shorts, glad I have my decent Calvin Klein boxers on today. Awkwardly, I bend over Gibbs' knee, feeling his strong thighs press into my stomach and ribs. One arm wraps around my shoulders, pulling me tight against Gibbs' body. The other rests on my bare ass.

'Uh, boss...' It's McGee. I try to convince myself it's the head-down position that has blood running to my face, not the humiliation, but I can't quite manage it. 'Sacks deliberately provoked Tony.'

'I have no problem with Tony standing up for himself,' Gibbs says, his thumb rubbing small circles on my hip, 'but he lied to me about it and he lied about his arm and I have a problem with that.' His hand lifts and I have a split second to take a breath before his hand comes down again and my god, that hurts! I jerk in shock and he spanks me again and surely nobody has a hand this hard! He spanks me again and again until my breath catches in my throat and I can't see for the tears welling up in my eyes.

And then he pulls up my boxer shorts, raises me up, presses a kiss to my forehead and his arms wrap tightly around my shoulders as I bury my head in his curve of his neck. He rests his chin on the top of my head and holds me until my breathing is no longer ragged, until I have stopped shaking.

'Back to work, Tony,' he says softly.

I stand, tug up my trousers, fumble with my belt. With care, I sit down at my desk and pull the folders to me. My hands are trembling and although my ass is burning, it's the kiss I can still feel on my forehead that steals my concentration.

A long, silent hour later, Gibbs sets a coffee in front of me. I can feel his eyes on me as I keep my eyes on my notes, running through a summary of the files and my initial thoughts on the officers. When I'm done, Gibbs takes my coffee back.

'Come with me.'

I follow him into the elevator, which for once he doesn't stop between floors, then into Abby's lab. She's listening to something quiet, jazz, gentle melodies passing from clarinet to horn and back again. Not her usual, but then she's not actually in the lab, she's in her office with the door open an inch. The futon has a fleece blanket draped along the back and Gibbs leads me over to it.

'Lie down, Tony.' His voice is gentle and makes me shiver. I do as I'm told. He places my coffee on the floor, within easy reach, then covers me with the blanket and kneels down beside the futon. He strokes my hair with the same calloused hand that he used to spank me. 'Close your eyes.' After a couple of minutes, his hand rests warm and heavy against the back of my neck, his fingers slipping beneath the warm links of my collar and a couple of minutes after that, the tension has drained out of me, leaving me limp, exhausted, but with that floating feeling, almost as if the futon is a boat or a hammock, rocking gently with every breath I take.

Gibbs rises and I head him walk quietly over to Abby's office, but the sounds are devoid of significance. He told me to lie here, to close my eyes, so that's what I'll do until he comes back and tells me to do something else instead.

'What did you do to him?' I hear Abby hiss. 'I've never seen him like this, not ever! So help me, Gibbs, if you break him I'll, I'll, I'll think of something really bad to do to you.'

'He lied to me, Abby,' Gibbs says.

'You could have waited until you were home!' she retorts. 'God, Gibbs, didn't you stop to think what this would do to him? He's never been punished as a sub before! He's never been a sub before!' Her voice drops. 'Gibbs, I don't think anyone has ever cared enough to want to punish him like this, not for his own good. He's seen you spank Tim, but Tim's always been free to be a sub, he's always been treated like one. He doesn't know any different. If you hadn't collared Tony, what would you have done this afternoon?'

Gibbs hesitates, then says, 'I'd have given him a smack round the head, told him not to play too rough with the Feebs.'

'Exactly,' Abby says emphatically. 'You wouldn't have cared enough to make a big deal out of it.'

'So you think this isn't about me spanking him?' Gibbs asks.

'How long did it take him to let me hug him?' Abby asks in return. 'You collared him a few days ago. That doesn't mean he knows how to let you love him.'

There's a long silence, then Gibbs says, 'Would you look after him for an hour? I don't want to leave him on his own but I can't take him home yet. And I don't want him to have to talk with anyone until he's feeling a little more like himself.' He sounds sad; I can hear a shuffling and a rustling and I know Abby's hugging him. He should have more hugs, I think. He's been alone too often and for too long. Maybe I'll suggest it to Abby, but not now, not while I'm lying here with my eyes closed, because that's all Gibbs wants me to do right now, so that's what I'm doing.

Gibbs leaves the office, the lab, and Abby comes and sits beside the futon. She rests her head against my shoulder and after a while, her breath is warm through the blanket, through my shirt. 'Oh, Tony,' she says softly and together we listen to the music.

Some indeterminate time later, Gibbs returns to take me home. He keeps me leashed until we're in the car, leashes me again for the few brief steps between the car and the front door. He makes me change into loose jeans and a sweatshirt, sits me down on the couch in front of the TV and leaves me with the remote. When I turn it on, there's the early evening news, so I leave it on that, although Gibbs gives me a funny look when he comes back with a large plate of lasagne.

He feeds me as the newscasters fill us in on the events of the day, leaves me sitting there while he washes up our one plate and it occurs to me that without any fuss or fanfare at all we're sharing a plate. Anthony DiNozzo, collared sub, sharing a plate. My frat brothers would probably have something to say about it if they could see me now; a lot, and loudly, knowing them.

When Gibbs comes back into the room and sees me sitting exactly where he left me, with the news now on the last few human interest stories, he looks almost angry for a moment, then he just looks sad and I can't work out why he'd be either, unless it's something I've done, and that thought is enough to send me slipping from the couch to my knees, my head bent, my neck bared.

With a choked sound, Gibbs crouches awkwardly in front of me in the narrow space between the couch and the coffee table. Roughly, he pulls me into a tight hug, one hand gripping the back of my head, until my forehead rests against his shoulder.

'I never meant to do this to you,' he says in a voice that's little louder than a whisper.

Slowly my hands drift up to fist in his shirt until they're holding him in place as tightly as he's holding me.

'Talk to me, Tony,' Gibbs says. 'Please talk to me.'

I open my mouth, then close it again, take a breath, another, try again. My voice emerges rough, muffled, into the cotton of his shirt. 'I was...' I say, then I have to stop and swallow, 'I was jealous. When you spanked Tim for screwing up. I would have given anything to have that, to have you care that much.'

'What happened?' Gibbs asks quietly.

'I got older,' I say. 'Another few years of learning to live without you. You know, they say you should be careful what you wish for because you might get it.'

'Are you saying this isn't what you want after all?' Gibbs asks and even though he keeps his voice light, there's such a depth of pain that for a moment I can't breathe. He starts to stiffen, tensing himself for my rejection.

'No! God, no, Gibbs! I'd never- Of course I want you!' The words tumble over themselves in my haste to get them out. 'Don't think, don't ever think- I just, I can't- You kissed me!' My voice breaks on those last three words and the tears that stung my eyes this afternoon make a reappearance, finally dampening Gibbs' shirt. A sob takes me by surprise, shaking my entire body with its force. 'You kissed me.'

Gibbs holds onto me as the emotional storm sweeps through me, leaving me wrung out and empty. When I'm done making an idiot of myself, he sits me back on the couch and comes back with a tall glass of water and a cool, damp cloth. I reach out to take it from him and he shakes his head, putting the water on the coffee table.

'Let me,' he says, so I do. He wipes my face, makes me blow my nose, hands me the water. 'Drink it.'

I drink and he goes off into the kitchen and returns with two bottles of beer. He sits down beside me, flips the tv channel to a football game, then leans back into a corner of the couch, pulling me to him until I'm resting against his chest. Beer in hand, we watch the game in silence for a while until eventually someone speaks and I'm surprised to find it's me.

'I'm tired of being a mess,' I say softly. 'I screwed up this afternoon and you were right to punish me for it. I just didn't expect it to mean that much.'

'When I kissed you?' Gibbs asks.

'Yeah. It always seemed patronising, you know? That kiss on the forehead? But I guess deep down I always knew it wasn't. Isn't.'

'No, it isn't,' Gibbs agrees.

'If you didn't care, you wouldn't have called me on it.'

'Tony, I've always cared,' Gibbs says and his voice is warm and there's a hint of exasperation that lets me know we're okay, we aren't broken. 'When you were a beta, my beta, I wasn't allowed to do that for you. It was on your own head if you screwed up, if you didn't take good care of yourself. But I always cared. Now you're mine like you should have been right from the start, and I won't let you hurt yourself. Not any more.'

I take a few minutes to let that sink in, then I say, 'I can still feel it.'

'Your ass? I should hope so,' Gibbs says with mock-seriousness. 'It'll be a sad day when I can't give a proper spanking.'

'No.' I fidget, picking at the label on my bottle. 'That kiss.'

Gibbs looks away from the game, looks down at me, then sighs and takes my half-empty beer away from me. He puts both bottles on the coffee table and with a knuckle under my chin, tips my face up towards him, before leaning in and closing the few inches between us. Gently, he kisses my forehead, my eyelids, my nose, my chin, then he takes my mouth and kisses me sweetly, tasting of beer and under that, lasagne, and under that, a day's worth of coffee.

The arm that's around my back slips lower, his hand finding the bottom of my sweatshirt and sneaking back up inside to curl around my bare ribs. With the back of his other hand, he strokes the column of my throat, kissing me until I feel drugged, until I would let him do anything to me. Then his hand drops to my groin, rubbing over the denim and I'm almost surprised to find I'm hard, so much of my attention has been on his mouth, those kisses.

Gibbs breaks off kissing me for long enough to say, 'Come to bed,' long enough for me to climb unsteadily to my feet and lead the way to the bedroom, long enough for us to strip and lie down naked on the bed. Then he kisses me again and strokes over my chest and stomach, down my sides, my legs, wraps me around him. He reaches for the lube, but the expected fingers don't breach me. Instead, he distracts me with those incredible kisses and when his slick hand touches me, it wraps around my cock, making me whimper underneath him.

'Shh,' Gibbs murmurs against my lips. He rolls to the side, tugging me with him, disentangles our legs, pulls back a little. Then he lifts his leg up and over my hip, reaches down between us and guides my cock to his entrance. He's slick and hot and it's only the surprise that's keeping me from coming right now. With a wriggle, he gets me in position, then with a squeeze from his leg, I finally take the hint and push in.

Gibbs is hot and tight and when the head of my cock is inside him, I have to stop a moment and think of McGee, Fornell, Sacks: anything to pull back from the brink. Gibbs watches me with amused affection. 'Ready?' he asks and I nod. I push in further, harder, until I'm as far in as I can get in this position, then carefully I pull back again and start to fuck him.

I can't quite get as deep as I need to reach Gibbs' happy place, but Gibbs seems happy enough with my dick inside him and my hand on his cock, up and down, not too hard, rubbing that bundle of nerves just under the head with my thumb. I lean forwards and kiss him, biting at his lower lip and his eyes slide shut and he groans.

Before I know what I'm doing, I've rolled us again so that Gibbs is underneath me. I reach down and slip my good arm under his leg, opening him up more so that I can get further inside him, deeper, thrusting harder, kissing him with hot, sloppy kisses, driving deep, animal grunts from him until I hit his prostate and he shouts, convulsing around me, his hands so tight on my ass that I know I'm going to have bruises on top of today's spanking. Gibbs comes in long, hot pulses across his abdomen, smearing between us as I thrust again once, twice into that tight velvet sheath and then I'm coming too with a hoarse cry, my hips stuttering, locking against Gibbs as I come apart.

It's a while before either of us can speak.

'I didn't know you, uh...' I trail off. I'm lying half-sprawled across Gibbs, as much of my weight off to one side as I can without slipping out of him.

He huffs an amused smile, the slight tensing of his muscles almost enough to force me out anyway. 'What, caught? I don't.'

I look down to where we're still joined, then back up to meet his smile with a raised eyebrow. 'I hate to break it to you, Jethro...'

'I wanted to,' he says, stroking my hair with one hand. 'I wanted to feel you inside me, see if you're really as good as you make out.'

'And?' I ask cheekily. 'Any complaints?'

'Nope.' He pulls me in for more kissing and when I finally slip out, he pushes me onto my back, kissing me again until my brain has melted completely and dribbled out of my ear, until he's hard inside me, rocking slowly, until I'm out of the mind I don't have any more, begging wordlessly against his lips even though I don't know what I'm begging for. Then he leans up on his elbows, snaps his hips and drives a low cry from me.

'Open your eyes, Tony. Open up. I want to see you. Come on, baby, come on, open those gorgeous eyes. That's right, stay with me. You're mine, Tony, don't ever forget it. You belong to me now, all mine. Never letting you go, going to keep you always.'

He keeps up the litany as he fucks into me, each thrust pushing cries and moans from my throat. I can tell he's getting close by the way his thrusts get shorter, harder, faster, then he cries out, 'Tony! Love you!' and that's it, I'm gone, tumbling over the edge harder than I remember ever coming before.

I wake at some point during the night. Gibbs is asleep on top of me and it feels as though we're glued together, but I don't feel any urge to move. Warm and sated, physically and emotionally, for the first time I can remember, I slide back into sleep. I'm with Gibbs, where I belong, and he loves me.

Gibbs wakes me early the next morning by thrusting into me. I'm loose from sleep and from having Gibbs inside me for such a long time last night and there's barely a hint of resistance as he slides home. It's all I can do to hold onto him as he takes his pleasure in me. Barely awake, I'm wide open to him, head, heart and body, and when I come, it feels as though I come forever with everything that I am.

He laughs at me as I blink stupidly at my reflection in the mirror as I brush my teeth, but is kind enough to make sure I don't slip and break my neck in the shower, even though the way his long fingers rub over my scalp as he washes my hair is enough to turn my newly-solid knees back to jelly.

Things are a little strained at work right up until McGee chokes on his coffee.

'Liquid soap? You put liquid soap in my coffee again?' he splutters as I laugh myself silly at the faces he's pulling. 'You couldn't even think of a new prank?'

'Ah, but sometimes the old ones are the best,' I grin and just like that, things are back for whatever level of insanity passes for normal around here.

I make a few suggestions for how to get close to these two guys on the Truman but by and large, Gibbs keeps me off to one side of Fornell's investigation. I don't see Sacks at all and I only see Fornell at a distance. It doesn't bother me. I'm busy trying to solve any and all cold cases back to the year dot; until Ducky pronounces my arm healed, I can't requalify for fieldwork and until I requalify, I'm stuck at my desk on cold cases. Or in Abby's lab. Or pestering Ducky to check my arm until he shows me graphic photos of what too high an exposure to X-rays does to the human body, complete with half-hour lecture on the history of radiology.

Finally, six weeks to the day that Michael Rivkin broke my arm, Ducky pronounces me free to requalify. I practically bounce my way to the range and it seems as though the minute I step back into the bullpen waving the magic piece of paper that'll let me get back to my job, we're gearing up and heading out to a crime scene. I can't wait! Not that I like it when people get hurt, get killed, but after weeks of nothing but cold cases - even though I've solved three of them - I'd kill for a nice, juicy murder.

Well. You know what I mean.

It looks like a robbery gone wrong and Gibbs has me taking photos and sketching the scene while McGee prints and he liaises with the local LEOs. Which means he glowers at the LEOs while I take a couple of minutes out from taking photos and sketching the scene to make nice and find out what they know.

What they know turns out to be not much. The younger of the two chats with me while I finish up; she's a couple of years out of the Academy and she's trying out a street beat after a stint in traffic. I'm in the middle of telling her about some of the things some of the guys got up to when I was going through the Academy, the one with a traffic cone, two goats and a flagpole and most unfortunately, the contents of the sergeant's underwear drawer, when Gibbs comes up with a face like thunder.

'Flirt on your own time, DiNozzo,' he scowls.

'What? I wasn't flirting, boss! Why would you think that?'

The officer is trying not to smile when Gibbs steps right up into my space. 'You want me to leash you?' he asks, his mouth to my ear, voice dangerously quiet.

I drop my head. 'No, boss. It won't happen again.'

He grips the back of my neck hard, verging on painful, and gives me a little shake. 'It better not.' With that, Gibbs lets me go and walks away. Over his shoulder, he says, 'Search the alley. We're looking for a knife.'

I take a breath, put on a smile. 'On it, boss.' When I look over, the officer is watching me with concern. 'He probably needs more coffee, or something.'

'What was that?' she asks quietly, but I can hear suspicion shading into certainty in her voice.

'That was Very Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs,' I say, putting away my sketchpad and preparing to search the alley. 'Lead agent for the Major Case Response Team. My boss,' I add, crouching down and peering behind a half-demolished crate. 'My dom.'

'Wow, you're braver than I thought,' is her response. 'I, uh... I'd better get back to...'

'Yeah, nice meeting you,' I say, moving forwards a couple of half-steps, keeping my head down.

That sets a pattern for the next eight scenes we work. I end up running interference between Gibbs and any LEOs or other agencies we come up against, but just as I'm getting into my stride, doing what I can to make sharing or transfer of information and jurisdiction easier, Gibbs invariably ends up getting toppy and not in a fun way.

The last straw comes when I get as far as opening my mouth to say hello to a detective and before I can speak, Gibbs is standing right in front of me, glaring as though I've messed up an entire case. We're up in Baltimore, my old stomping ground, but the detective isn't one I've worked with. She's pretty, sure, and smart and in the past I'd have spent a while talking about people I used to work with, people she might know, maybe asked if she wanted to grab a coffee so I can catch up on the news. A little top-on-top flirting never hurt anyone, right?

Since Gibbs collared me, though, I have everything I ever needed, everything I ever wanted, in one incredibly pissed off ex-marine. Part of me wonders when I turned into a masochist. The rest of me is busy getting pissed in return.

'What the hell, boss? What is up with you?' I ask, exasperated.

Gibbs grabs my upper arm and drags me away. 'I expect you to keep it in your pants and do your job, DiNozzo,' he snaps. 'A crime scene isn't the place for you to go around picking up dates.'

My jaw drops and for a moment I can only stare at him. Scowling, he turns away and my hand shoots out, stopping him. He looks down at my hand on his forearm, then back up at me with an expression that makes me swallow hard before I can speak.

'In case you hadn't noticed, I was trying to do my job,' I say, anger overcoming my sense of self-preservation. 'One of the reasons you hired me is because I get along with other people a little better than you do. Since you collared me, it seems as though every time I try to do my job and liaise with other LEOs, you get mad at me. News flash, Gibbs! You collared me. That makes me your sub and if you think I'd ever disrespect you by getting involved with someone else, I guess you don't know me at all. I have no problem with you being my boss and my dom, but I can't work for you if you don't start letting me do my job. If you can't cope with me being your sub as well as your agent, you need to work out which you want most from me, because this isn't remotely fair.'

'I never said I was fair, DiNozzo,' Gibbs says, his expression thunderous. 'Go bag and tag and stay the hell away from the LEOs.' He stalks away, leaving me shaking with anger and adrenaline and something I'd rather die than admit is fear.

'What did you do to piss him off?' McGee asks when he's close enough to do so without Gibbs hearing.

'Got within ten feet of another dom,' I mutter, keeping my head down and my attention on the ground in front of me. I shuffle forwards, wincing. Gibbs has had me crawling around doing fingertip searches for evidence at every crime scene we've been at since I was allowed back out into the field and the knee I blew back in college feels as though it's ready to pop.

'You're limping,' McGee says as we make our way back to our desks in the bullpen. Gibbs is downstairs with Abby.

'You think? If Gibbs doesn't work through his issues soon, I'll be out of the field anyway because my damn knee will have fallen off,' I say sourly, dropping my backpack behind my desk and turning on my monitor.

'Is it true you worked alone with Gibbs for a couple of years?' McGee asks, fingers rattling away on his keyboard.

'Yeah, mostly. Oddly enough, no one else seemed to stick around for long.' I sit down and stretch my leg out, wishing I had something to prop it up on.

'How did you manage it?' McGee asks, pausing to look over at me. 'I can barely get through everything without Ziva here, and there's three of us doing the work.'

I shrug. 'Early starts and late nights. Coming in on my days off. I don't think I worked under eighty hours a week for the first year. It was over a hundred until I managed to streamline things. Work smarter, not harder, Probie, and always have at least three changes of clothes in the building so it doesn't look like you haven't made it home in days. HR gets a little upset when they notice.'

'You're kidding!' McGee stares at me, then, 'You're not kidding.'

'Nope. Words of wisdom. I hope you were taking note.'

Gibbs appears like the stealth ninja assassin I'm sure he was in a past life and I put my head down and concentrate on work. The rest of the day is simultaneously insanely busy and incredibly slow. Time drags, but there isn't enough of it to get everything done.

It's almost ten when Gibbs calls it a day and takes me home. He stops to pick up the Thai food he ordered before leaving the Yard and the whole drive passes in silence. By the time the front door closes behind us, I'm itching with the need to talk, but there are some times when even I know it's better to keep my mouth shut.

'Strip,' Gibbs says, briskly drawing the curtains before striding into the kitchen.

'Excuse me?' drops reflexively from my lips before I realise I've spoken. So much for keeping quiet.

Gibbs comes back out with a bottle of beer and a glass of water. 'What are you waiting for? I said strip.' He busies himself taking cartons out of the bag and setting them on the coffee table while my hands finally catch up with his order and begin to fumble with my shirt buttons. By the time I'm naked, he's waiting impatiently, tapping chopsticks against the top of a carton.

'Come here and sit.' He gestures and just as I'm about to sit down on the couch, I spot the cushion dropped on the floor by his feet.

'Oh, come on!' I protest. 'If you're pissed at me, be pissed, but don't jerk me around.'

'Do I have to repeat everything?' He isn't scowling, but he looks far from happy. 'Sit. I want to enjoy dinner with my very annoying sub before I have to go to bed late and get called out in the middle of the night for another damn case. So unless you've changed your mind on that whole sub thing, sit your ass down so we can eat.'

I sit.

Gibbs nudges the water in my direction, keeping the beer for himself. He opens up a carton and, using the cheap balsa-wood chopsticks, feeds me a mouthful of chicken and noodles. Then as I chews, he helps himself.

By the end of the meal I'm still pissed, but now I'm sitting down, I'm tired and confused, a little embarrassed and my knee feels like I've shoved a hot wire underneath the kneecap and given it a good wiggle around.

And really all that, the being hand-fed while sitting naked on a cushion on the floor by a man who doesn't want to talk about whatever this damn issue between us is and won't even put the TV on for background noise - all that is fine. And then Gibbs puts the emptied cartons and disposable chopsticks back into the bag, stands and says, 'Bed.'

I do my best to get up smoothly, easily, like my leg isn't about to fall off, but the coffee table is too close to the couch and I can't help lurching sideways, nor the undignified yelp as my knee objects to how it's been treated over the past two weeks.

Gibbs is there, steadying me with an arm around my back, a hand under my elbow. 'What the hell, Tony?'

'It's nothing, boss. I'm fine.'

'Yeah, because you make a habit of nearly face-planting on my table. Try again.'

I look away from his scrutiny. 'It's just my knee playing up, that's all.'

'You hurt your knee again and didn't tell me?' I can tell Gibbs is gearing up to be angry at me again.

'No! It's just...' I limp across to the other side of the room. 'What do you expect when you have me crawling over every damn crime scene, Gibbs? We've had, what, nine primary crime scenes in the last two weeks and you've had me doing every fingertip search and bag and tag by myself.'

'You should still have told me,' Gibbs says, frustration evident in his tone, in the set of his jaw.

'When should I have?' I snap. 'When you were busy chewing me out for trying to do my job? When you weren't talking to me all afternoon? I hate to break it to you, but you aren't exactly the most approachable of people at the best of times.'

'If necessary, yes!' Gibbs explodes. 'Yes, you should have said something this afternoon, or yesterday, or the day before.'

'Really? So if I'd said, hey, boss, I know we need to get this bag and tag done, but my knee's playing up because you've had me crawling on it for the past two weeks, so how about McGee does it, you'd have listened? You wouldn't have said suck it up, DiNozzo and given me a lecture on how tough I'm supposed to be?' I scoff.

Gibbs has the decency to look a little shamefaced at that. 'Maybe,' he says after a moment. 'But we'll never know, will we?' He picks up the bag of trash from the coffee table and takes it through to the kitchen.

With a sigh, I limp upstairs to bed.

Later, in the dark, with Gibbs spooned up behind me, an arm thrown over my hips, his hand low on my belly, he says softly, 'I'm not doing too well at being your dom, Tony.' My denial dies in my throat as he continues. 'I know you wouldn't cheat on me. I know you didn't sleep around nearly as much as you made out. But every time I see you smiling at another dom, I get a little...'

'Insecure?' I offer. 'Cranky? You know, you could always leash me when we get out of the car, at least until after we've met with whoever's on scene.'

'No, that wouldn't be safe,' Gibbs says, his hand pulling me even closer. 'Unless there's a damn good reason, I'll never leash you at a crime scene.'

'Then you're going to have to work this out, Jethro,' I say, 'because I've been your senior field agent for years and your sub for a few weeks, but I don't want to give up either.'

Gibbs is quiet for a long time, but just as I'm on the verge of sleep, he says in a voice so quiet it's hardly more than a breath, 'I know, Tony. I know.'

It seems as though the summer has brought with it a wave of petty crime and violence, serious enough to involve NCIS, but petty enough to have us all annoyed at yet another 4am call out.

'Seriously, is the heat melting what little brains they have?' Gibbs complains to Ducky as we wait for the ME to bag the latest victim of what's almost certainly a bar brawl. Outside, the cracked and sticky pavement is still warm underfoot even though the sun hasn't yet risen.

'It wouldn't surprise me,' Ducky says. 'I could check when I conduct the autopsy if you like.'

Gibbs grunts and I carry on taking statements from the few people still hanging around the bar. As I work, I can feel the weight of his gaze pressing on my shoulders. When one young man, seated in a booth at the very back of the bar, doesn't want to talk, can't meet my eyes, I have a feeling I've found the cause of the brawl.

I slide into the booth opposite him. 'Hi, I'm Tony. Wow, it's warm in here.' I undo another button on my shirt; in the low light, my collar gleams dully as I lean back. 'Sorry, Special Agent Tony DiNozzo.' I don't offer my hand; his eyes fix on my collar, then snap up to my face.

'You- You're a sub?' he stammers.

'Uh huh.' I give him my most unthreatening smile. 'You?'

He blushes. 'Yeah.'

'It can be hard, can't it?' I say, looking around to see if I can catch the attention of one of the bar staff. I can't, but out of the corner of my eye I can see I've got the sub's attention. When I look back, I add, 'Being uncollared around a bunch of military doms. They can get a little too toppy, aggressive, don't you think?'

He sucks in a shaky breath. 'Yeah.'

'You come here with someone?' I ask casually. 'Because this really isn't the kind of bar you should be hanging out by yourself.'

'I know.' His eyes drop to the table. 'I was with a couple of friends, but they, uh... They left early.'

'And you stayed?'

'Paul said he'd be back in twenty minutes. I thought I'd be okay for twenty minutes, I mean, it can take that long to get served in some places, right?' He looks up again. He can't be older than nineteen, with an air of innocence and vulnerability that screams virgin. Oh yeah, I'm certain I know why the fight started.

'So what happened? He didn't come back?' I ask sympathetically. 'And someone started hitting on you? Maybe more than one someone?'

He looks up, horrified. 'I... It was like they homed in, like sharks, like you see on TV, you know? And then one of them was drunk and he pushed one of the other guys, and then they just all piled in.'

'Ouch.' I wince. 'Did anyone hit you?'

'No! No, a couple of guys put themselves in front of the booth and stayed there until the fight ended,' he says.

'Did anyone say anything inappropriate? I mean, I know it was pretty much all inappropriate, that kind of thing always is, but...' I trail off, leaving him space to answer.

He blushes. 'Yeah, it was all... phew. I didn't know they'd be like that.'

I smile sympathetically and wait. It isn't long before his blush deepens and he drops his head.

'He said... The guy that, uh... He said whoever won got to take me home and show... show me what being a sub meant.' His voice drops to a whisper. 'He said he was going to b- break me in.'

I nod. 'I'm going to need you to come in with us, just so I can get your statement typed up and you can sign it and then you can go home and forget all about tonight. Is that okay? Is there anyone you need to call?'

'I should... I should phone Paul...' he says hesitantly.

'Tell you what, why don't you give me the number and I'll call him, let him know where you are. And I'll get someone to run you home after, so you don't have to worry about that.' He nods and gives me Paul's number and I jot it down. 'Are you okay to wait here just a minute? I need to go have a word with my boss.'

'Is that him?' He nods towards Gibbs, who's scowling at the bartender. I spot the fresh pot of coffee that's just brewing and smile.

'Yeah, that's him.'

'He looks fierce,' the sub says. 'But he doesn't look mean.'

'He's not,' I say in surprise. 'He's a good man, a good dom. You can trust him.'

'Is he yours?'

My smile grows. 'I'm his.'

'You're lucky,' he says wistfully. 'I don't know any tops like that. They're all out to prove they're alphas.'

'Ah, that's the thing,' I say with a wink. 'The real alphas don't need to prove it. What's your name, by the way.'

'Joey,' he says. 'I'm Joey Robinson.'

'It's a pleasure to meet you, Joey,' I say. 'Be right back.'

I head over to Gibbs and wait while the bartender hands him a coffee. 'I found out why the fight started.'

Gibbs raises an eyebrow. 'Don't tell me they were fighting over the sub?' At my nod, he groans. 'Go on.'

'He came here with friends, they hooked up and left him alone, promised to come back and didn't. I have a number for one of them, by the way. Our dead guy apparently offered to take him home and break him in.'

'Great.' He scowls. 'We're leaving in ten. Bring him with us. And give me that number.'

I hand it over and he gives it back to me with his phone. Without a word, I punch it in and pass him the phone, then tap on the bar. 'Could I have some water, please?' The bartender gives me a black look, but hands over a grubby glass of tap water, which I take back to Joey, who looks about ready to cry.

I do my best to block his view of the dead sailor as Ducky and Palmer lift him into the body bag, chattering away about the latest rom-com just hitting the movie screens: Joey seems like the rom-com type. Surprisingly, he turns the conversation to Predators, which we both agree has startlingly little in the way of actual Predator action, and then Gibbs' voice gets loud enough to be heard throughout the bar.

'You had a duty to protect your friend and you left him alone! I don't care if you landed the best damn alpha on the east coast, you don't ditch someone like that! Do you know what doms like that do to subs like him? Well he came very damn close to finding out. You get your ass down to the Navy Yard and you'd better hope like hell I'm not still pissed when you get there.'

He snaps his phone shut with a scowl, then looks over at where we're sitting, frozen, and jerks his head.

'Come on, Joey,' I say. 'Fancy getting out of here?'

'Uh...' He's still staring at Gibbs, hunched like a rabbit trying to avoid attracting a predator.

'You don't have anything to worry about.' I stand and pat his shoulder reassuringly. 'He's not pissed at you, he's pissed because he doesn't believe in leaving someone behind. Semper Fi, and all that. If he had his way, he'd keep every sub safe.'

As I speak, I hear the truth in my own words. Habit keeps my smile in place, lets me guide Joey out to the car. I couldn't say what we talk about on the ride back to the Yard; my mouth's on autopilot while the rest of me is mentally slapping the back of my head.

I honestly thought Gibbs was jealous when I talked with other doms at crime scenes. I thought he didn't like my usual flirty method of getting along with LEOs because some part of him was still hurting over being cheated on, being left, and maybe that's true, at least in part.

But no, Gibbs wants me safe. In collaring me, in outing me as a sub, even if it's only as his sub, he's made me vulnerable. I'm not used to dealing with law enforcement doms as anything less than a beta. And that's something only time and experience can sort out.

Back in the bullpen, I take down Joey's statement in the interview room. McGee runs evidence down to the lab, then brings coffee and a couple of chocolate bars from the vending machine. I'd feel bad about giving him the tape to type up into a written statement, but he types a lot faster than I do and it isn't as though this crime requires his particular high-tech expertise.

Once the statement's typed and Joey's had chance to read it over and sign it, I take him back into the bullpen, where Gibbs is slogging through the avalanche of paperwork that accompanies every crime scene. Standing beside my desk and looking very uncomfortable is a dark-haired young man. By the tear tracks on his cheeks and the way he's deliberately not sitting down, I'm guessing this is Paul and Gibbs has made his point about not leaving a vulnerable friend behind in a dangerous situation.

Joey looks at Paul with huge, wounded eyes and Paul flushes and looks down.

'Where were you?' Joey asks quietly, pain evident in his voice. 'I waited for you, but you didn't come back.'

'I got caught up,' Paul says. His voice is as small and lost as Joey's; he sounds like a kid. 'I didn't mean to leave you that long, I just...' He trails off as Gibbs fixes him with a gimlet-eyed stare, flushes again, and says, 'I'm sorry, Joey. I shouldn't have left you alone. I won't do it again.'

Gibbs nods in satisfaction and returns to his paperwork. Joey stares at his friend for a long, long moment, then walks up to him and hugs him, letting Paul hug him in return. I hear Joey whisper, 'I was so scared!' and the two young men stand like that for long enough that I'm halfway through my own report by the time they break apart.

Without looking up, I hand over a box of tissues that I've swiped from McGee's desk. We all ignore the round of nose-blowing, then Gibbs tosses me his keys and says, 'DiNozzo, make sure they get home okay.'

'On it, boss,' I say, locking my computer. 'Come on, guys. I bet you're about ready for a hot shower and a comfy bed, am I right?'

'Oh, god, I'd kill for a hot shower,' Paul says, then turns bright red. I do my best not to laugh as I escort them to the elevator and down into the parking garage.

'We can get a cab,' Paul says and I shake my head.

'If the bossman says I'm taking you home, I'm taking you home. Trust me, I'm not about to disobey him. Here, get in.' I unlock the car. 'Paul, if you'd be more comfortable, you can lie down on the back seat.'

'Why? What's wrong? Are you hurt? What happened?' Joey fusses until Paul shakes his head and eases himself into the back.

'Your boss has a hard hand,' he says with an attempt at a grin. 'What, does he, like, soak them in salt water overnight?'

'Nah, he does woodwork,' I say, climbing into the driver's seat and leaving Joey to scramble in shotgun.

'He hit you?' Joey asks, outraged. He sounds as though he's about to go storming back upstairs to tear a strip off Gibbs, a mouse roaring at a lion, so I hurriedly start the car and get us moving.

'He spanked me for leaving you alone in the bar,' Paul says. 'He was right. I shouldn't have left you there. You could have gotten really hurt, Joey.'

Joey's indignation carries us through the start of the morning's rushhour to his door and lets me know he's going to be okay despite nearly becoming some rough dom of a sailor's cabin boy.

'Paul, are you okay to stay with Joey for a little while?' I ask.

Paul nods, but Joey protests. 'I can look after myself! I don't need a babysitter.'

'I know that,' I say with as much sincerity as I can muster. 'But don't you think maybe your friend needs someone to put some lotion on him and keep him company? If Paul had a dom, he wouldn't leave him alone after a spanking.'

'Oh! I'm sorry, I hadn't thought of it like that.' Joey's indignation collapses into concern. Wisely, Paul keeps his mouth shut. 'Of course you can stay. Come on, Paul. I think I've got something that'll help.'

Paul lets Joey help him out of the car and into the house. I watch them until they get inside, then with a sigh, I turn the car around and set off back to the Yard through what's now the height of the morning traffic, which adds forty minutes to the drive and gives me plenty of time to think.

I don't remember ever being that young and naive. I can see the attraction for a lot of doms, alphas and betas alike: those two have an air of innocence that's just begging to be taken, to be turned into submission. Around them, doms either want to protect them or corrupt them and I'm not entirely certain which I'd wish on them. At least they'll stay away from top-heavy dives like that bar for a little while, maybe have a chance at finding doms who won't break them.

I don't wonder what my life would have been like if I'd been allowed to be a sub from the very start; I have too much invested in my life as it is to ever want my past to have been different. It's been a long, hard and very lonely road, but it's brought me to Gibbs and that makes it all worthwhile.

With my newfound insight into Gibbs' behavior, I have a little more patience. I'm right, in that he needs to back off and let me do my job, but still, it's nice to know he's got my six.

A few days later, we broach the subject of getting a new team member. There really is too much work for just the three of us to do and though I hate to say it, with a woman on the team, a beta, between us we can handle a wider range of cases. For all the issues Ziva had, for all the issues she raised by being here, her presence balanced us and we all miss that.

Gibbs hates hiring new people and won't let me pick our new team member, at least not by myself. So McGee and I go over a list of beautiful, competent betas. There's one in particular who could almost be an alpha in her own right, and we get her an interview with Gibbs. After only a couple of minutes she runs out of the conference room. In tears. So much for that: back to square one.

As we go over more files, I can't believe I'm actually missing Ziva. We didn't exactly part on good terms, so I'm hardly surprised she hasn't been in touch. But as I talk to Abby, Ducky, McGee, it becomes apparent that she hasn't been in touch with anyone.

Finally, after even Director Vance is starting to get a little concerned, we do some digging. Mossad - her father - sent her straight out to Africa to infiltrate a terrorist camp. He literally shipped her out. And the ship sank.

Ziva is dead.

NCIS, Mossad, the Joint Chiefs, no one will sanction an operation to find her body, to take out the bastard of a terrorist who killed her and who even now looks as though he's gearing up for something big. But Gibbs gets Vance to agree to a two-man fact-finding intel-gathering expedition, which is how McGee and I wind up bound and beaten and locked in a room within the terrorist's camp.

My collar is gone: yanking it off is pretty much the first thing the bastard did when I woke up tied to a chair. McGee is either unconscious or, wisely, pretending to be in a heap on the floor. Then begins a round of questioning in which I very much doubt Saleem Ulman, the terrorist bastard himself, realises he's giving away far more information than I am.

He injects me with some kind of a truth serum and, feeling very much as though I've stepped into Arnie's role in True Lies, I do what I do best and provoke him until he leaves, only to return with another prisoner. Bound, clearly suffering, with a bag over her head, the prisoner is seated opposite me.

And when the hood is removed I can see that it's Ziva.

Saleem tells us he wants answers, that one of us must give them and the other will die, then he leaves us alone.

'Well, how was your summer?'

Ziva blinks. 'Out of everyone in the world who could have found me, it had to be you.'

We come to an understanding, I think. It's a little too tentative for a reconciliation, but at least she doesn't want me dead any more. In fact, she orders me to tell Saleem what he wants to know, to save myself and let her die.

I've had enough of letting women die. And besides, that would spoil the plan. I like our plan. There's even room in it for me to tell Saleem just how much this all reminds me of that scene in True Lies, you know, the one where Arnie's strapped to the chair and shot full of truth serum, then he picks his cuffs and kills everybody.

I tell Saleem he has 30 seconds to live. He doesn't believe me, which is stupid, because he was the one who was just boasting about how good his truth serum is. I mean, I can't lie right now. Maybe if he'd remembered that, maybe if he'd taken it seriously, things would have been different.

But he doesn't. And then Gibbs shoots him.

Somehow, everyone forgets that when Gibbs was in the marines, he wasn't just a Gunnery Sergeant: he was a sniper. And some skills just don't get that rusty.

Between us, we cut ourselves free and I take a moment to rifle through Saleem's pockets.

'What's that?' Ziva asks as I stuff my collar back into my pocket.

'Collar,' I say, wrapping an arm around her as McGee takes the other side. 'Let's get out of here.' And we do, and Gibbs is there, and on this particular flight back from the Middle East - well, not the Middle East, because it's Somalia, but hey, it's several thousand miles closer to the Middle East than Washington D.C. - even though we're all exhausted, it isn't the soul-sucking exhaustion of the flight back from Israel.

I hand my collar to Gibbs for safekeeping. I knew it was a risk; Gibbs offered to take it off for me before I went in, but I wanted it close and I wanted the anger that losing it, having it taken from me, would bring.

What I didn't expect was the pain. I've only been collared for just over a couple of months, but when Saleem ripped it from my neck, it felt like he'd torn away a part of my soul.

We sit close, none of us much in the mood to talk, and eventually, one by one, we manage to sleep.

Back in Washington, we head straight for the Yard. Tired, covered in dust and sweat, still with sand in places sand shouldn't be able to creep, especially while we're fully clothed, we make our way into the bullpen. It's so quiet you could hear a pin drop: all eyes turn to us. Then, led by Vance, who stands on the balcony overlooking the large room, the other agents start to clap.

They applaud us: we get a standing ovation. Despite everything, this beautiful woman, this Mossad liaison is one of ours and we look after our own.

Abby comes up to Ziva, who looks so tired and lost that she could drop where she stands, and envelops her in a hug. With a corner of my brain that isn't wanting to beg Gibbs to take me home and recollar me, I think, So that's how it is... If I were any less tired, it'd be giving me full-color pictures of the two women together, but I'm not and it isn't.

We don't stay long, but even an hour seems unbearable. Abby takes Ziva home, although Gibbs offered his spare room. Ducky tells us in no uncertain terms he'll be making home visits to check us all over, and before McGee realises what the sneaky ME is up to, he's lined up for keeping Jimmy company while Ducky's busy. It's his way of making sure none of us are left alone tonight. We could all use a little company.

Gibbs drives and I rub my chafed wrists and think longingly of soaking in a hot bath. He doesn't go straight home, though: when I start paying attention again, we're pulling into the parking lot of the mall.

'I thought maybe you'd want to...' Gibbs begins awkwardly. 'Unless you'd rather wait, now Ziva's back?'

I shake my head. 'She was never on the cards, Jethro,' I say softly. 'Flirting with her kept me from going nuts because I couldn't have you. That's all.' I squeeze his hand. 'Come on, let's go get my collar fixed so we can go home and get cleaned up. I'm thinking a long, hot bath and then a full-body massage and then a blowjob.'

'You really want pampering, don't you?' Gibbs says, amused. Hand in hand, we walk into the mall and make our way to the shop he bought my collar from just a few short weeks ago. Somehow, it feels like a lifetime.'

'Not for me, for you,' I tease. 'I could use a soak, sure, but right now I want to take care of you.'

'Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?'

I stop him in the doorway to the store and wait until he's looking at me before I speak. 'When I was in that cell, tied up, I had McGee there with me the whole time, and then I had Ziva. And I always knew you were there, waiting for the right time to make your move. But you were out there all on your own, and if something had gone wrong, you could've lost all of us. I just want to make sure you know I'll never leave you on your own, not if I have the tinyest say in it. You mean everything to me and I guess I want to show you how much I...' I take a deep breath and try again. 'I want to show you how much I love you.'

Gibbs looks at me for a long, long moment, then pulls me to him and kisses my forehead. 'Okay,' he says, then pushes open the door and we go in.

The same clerk is there; I know she was watching us through the window. When she sees my bare neck, her eyebrows raise.

'Oh dear! It looks as though you've had a spot of trouble. Are you both all right?' She actually sounds genuinely concerned as she takes in our sunburn and my bruises.

'We're fine,' Gibbs says, placing a gentle kiss on my temple. 'Nothing we can't handle.' He pulls my collar out of his pocket and lays it out on the counter. 'Can you fix this?'

Nicole leans down and casts a critical eye over it, turning it over and examining it from end to end. She straightens up and smiles. 'It's just the break-link that's gone. The rest of it isn't damaged. If you'll give me two minutes, I'll have it ready for you. Do you still have the key?'

'Right here.' Gibbs pulls the chain out from under his t-shirt, then lifts it over his head. The tiny gold and emerald key flashes under the overhead lights as he puts it down beside the collar.

Nicole nods approvingly. 'If you want to take a seat in the back room, I'll bring it to you.'

Gibbs won't sit down on the room's one chair and leave me to sit on the floor: he's not convinced I'll get back up and neither am I, so we end up leaning against the wall, our arms around each other, kissing long and slow until Nicole taps politely on the door and comes in. She hands Gibbs my collar and his key, then retreats as Gibbs unlocks it. He stops me when I pull away so that I can kneel.

'We've done that, Tony. I don't need you to kneel for me this time. I just want to get this back on you.' His voice is low, rough, and it stirs something primal deep inside me.

'Do it,' I say, leaning my forehead against his. 'Make me yours.'

Gibbs wraps the collar around my neck and snicks the padlock shut. He pauses long enough to run his thumb over the nametag, then his hand is cradling the back of my head, fingers buried in my hair and his mouth is on mine in a bruising kiss.

I open to him, kissing him back as savagely as he's kissing me. I lean into him, feeling the hard lines of his muscled body press into me.

Then just as suddenly as he started kissing me, Gibbs stops. 'Home!' he gasps, pulling back. 'Or God help me, I'll take you right now over that chair.'

My cock jumps in my pants at his words. 'Jethro!'

Gibbs can see just how turned on the idea makes me and with a growl, he pushes away from the wall, pushes me through the door and marches me out of the store.

'Thanks!' I call over my shoulder, giving a quick wave as Naomi giggles.

'Good luck!' she calls back, but then Gibbs is manhandling me out of the mall and into his truck and, far quicker than the speed limit allows, we're pulling up outside the house.

Home. Our home. Right now, I'm so desperate to feel Gibbs inside me that I'd jump him in the front hallway if I thought he'd allow it. Instead, we make it as far as the bedroom, where we concentrate on stripping as fast as we can, dirty clothes dropping to the floor at our feet.

'How do you want me?' I ask, climbing onto the bed.

'Face up,' Gibbs replies tersely, rifling through the drawer of the bedside table for lube. He slicks himself up, gives my asshole a cursory swipe, but then he's kneeling between my legs, guiding himself to my entrance. With one hard, fast shove, he's all the way in. I shout in surprise and he pauses for a second to let me adjust.

I whine, wriggling underneath him. 'Come on, Jethro!' I have to have him: it doesn't matter that it still hurts; I need him to... 'Move, dammit!'

With a growl, Gibbs moves, pulling back and thrusting into me. He fucks me hard, leaning down to bite angry kisses at my mouth until I tear my head away, turning my face away so that I can breathe. I gasp like I'm on the last mile of my morning run, my chest heaving. I can't get enough air into my lungs, I can't get enough air into my soul: Gibbs is tearing me apart with every slam of his hips, with every bite at my neck, my shoulder, with every grunt.

My orgasm is ripped from me, spilling between us in a harsh cry that I barely recognise as coming from my throat, and Gibbs comes too, sounding as much pain as pleasure.

When we drift back to ourselves, we're still entwined, his arms holding me as tightly as mine hold him.

'Mine,' Gibbs murmurs.

'Yours,' I echo.

Eventually we have to move, to go shower and dump the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, to get dressed and order in takeout. I don't get my soak in the bathtub and Gibbs doesn't get his massage and blowjob, but curled up together on the couch, a game playing on the TV in the background and a couple of pizzas, still hot in their boxes on the coffee table in front of us, I can't think of a better way to spend the evening, and neither can he.

Ducky drops by to check us over. He nods approvingly at my restored collar, raises an eyebrow at the lovebites scattered over my neck and shoulders, then reminds us to use a light moisturizer unless we want to peel horribly over the next few days.

'I remember seeing one young man, his first tour in the Middle East, I believe. He was on guard duty at noon and had forgotten to use any protection. By the time he was relieved, his face was so badly sunburned that a couple of days later, he managed to peel off the entire top two or three layers of skin in one go, rather like a mask,' Ducky says as he looks over my bruises.

'Yeah, okay, thank you, Ducky. I'll remember to moisturize,' I say with a grimace. The skin pulling tightly across my forehead would be reminder enough.

'How is she?' Gibbs asks quietly.

'You know there are things I can't discuss with you, Jethro,' Ducky chides. 'But despite everything she's been through, Ziva is a remarkably resilient young woman. And right now, she's in Abby's very capable hands.' He hesitates. 'Far be it from me to suggest how you treat your team, but maybe you could all get together, informally, maybe for lunch? Just to reconnect.'

Gibbs stares at him for a moment, then nods. Vance gave us a couple of days off, time to get ourselves straightened out before we're back to the grind. 'Not a bad idea. Thanks, Duck. Tony, you want to set that up?'

'You coming, Ducky?' I ask.

'No, my dear boy. I think I'd be better served by helping young Mister Palmer revise for his exam. It's in a couple of weeks, you know, and the poor boy is worrying himself silly over it. I tell him it isn't the end of the world if he doesn't pass it first time, but I rather think he doesn't want to be a disappointment.' Ducky shakes his head, an expression of fond exasperation passing over his face. 'No matter how often I say it, I don't think he truly understands that he could never be a disappointment to me.'

I smile: Ducky and Palmer are a May-December pairing, but their innate gentleness makes them ideally suited for each other. Then Ducky pats me on the shoulder, pronounces me a relatively clean bill of health, and makes Gibbs bend down so that he can check his eyes out.

I tug my sweatshirt back on, then send a text message to McGee and Abby: Lunch, 12:30, Del Rio's. A bring Z. I'll bring LJG. By the time Ducky's finished with Gibbs, I have replies saying they'll be there.

Then the ME takes his leave and there's nothing left to do except straighten up the living room and go to bed.

Lying on my side, with Gibbs spooned up behind me, arms and legs wrapped around me, I feel something inside me settle back into place. It's as though a subtle current that had been passing through me all this time has been switched off, and tension I wasn't even aware I was carrying simply falls away, leaving me boneless, content.

'You okay, Tony?' Gibbs asks, the large, strong hand resting below my belly pulling me back against him, holding me close.

'Yeah,' I sigh. 'Got my family back together. Why wouldn't I be?' It takes me a moment to register that I said family when I should have said, when I meant to say team, but I can feel Gibbs smile against the back of my neck.

'Yeah, you did. Good job, Tony.'

'You too, boss,' I murmur, my eyes drifting shut. He smiles again, places a dry kiss on my skin, and wrapped in his arms, breathing in his scent, surrounded by his care, I sleep.

Gibbs isn't one for sleeping in, but he sleeps later than usual and when he wakes, he takes me down, blanketing my body with his own and pinning my wrists to the mattress while he thrusts into me, long and slow, leaving me whimpering incoherently as he takes his pleasure in me. Gibbs covers me, owns me, fills me; he fills all my senses. He is my world entire. By the time he lets me come it feels as though I'm never going to stop and even then, my orgasm is incidental: I'm flying because Gibbs makes me fly, my every need satisfied because Gibbs satisfies himself in me, coming with a final thrust and a possessive snarl as he bites down on my throat.

Eventually we shower together, taking it in turns to wash each other, to stroke soapy hands over long legs and muscled chests. Gibbs takes me again, from behind this time, harder, faster, up against the tiled wall, his hand on my cock, unmoving until he's about to come, then he pumps me hard and fast until I spill over his hand and he shudders and groans and when he pulls out, a thin trail of come drips down my legs and is washed away by the shower.

I'm still buzzing as we enter Del Rio's. It's a little Italian place that does a nice range of pasta, soups and salads for lunch. You can even get pizza if you want, which I do, but Gibbs shakes his head and makes me get the lasagne with a side order of seasonal vegetables.

'You had pizza last night,' he says when I look at him. 'There's still some in the fridge if you want any later.'

'Okay,' I shrug. 'So, everyone feel better for a good night's sleep? Get that sand out of those hard-to-reach places?' I look around the table.

Ziva sits between McGee and Abby, who's taken today off to be with her. She looks better than yesterday, clean and in new clothes. Her beige slacks and teal blouse are simple, plain, but they suit her. Despite the heat, her blouse is buttoned up to her throat, the long sleeves buttoned at the cuffs. Maybe not so much clothing as armor. She doesn't meet my eyes.

McGee nods. 'I swear I found sand in my underpants. I mean, how the heck does it get in there? And after I showered, I had to rinse a layer of grit down the drain.'

'It was nice to have a proper shower,' Ziva says, not looking at any of us. 'My accommodation was not en suite as I had requested.'

As jokes go, it's a pretty poor one, but it's a good sign. It's about the only good sign there is: lunch is awkward, stilted. There's so much we're not saying that we can't seem to talk at all. After my third attempt at making conversation, Gibbs puts a hand on my shoulder, silencing me.

'So, McGee, any idea when you'll have your next book finished?' he asks.

McGee's sigh of relief is audible and, without much input from the rest of us, he manages to keep talking about his novels, how his agent rides his ass almost as hard as Gibbs does, about possible film options, and I chime in with casting suggestions, Abby joins in too and Gibbs looks blankly at us when we suggest Richard Dean Anderson might play the Tibbs character.

We let the discussion take us through lunch and out into the late summer heat, where we separate. Abby herds Ziva into her car; she doesn't say when we'll see her again. It hasn't escaped my notice that she hasn't once said anything directly to me, that she hasn't looked right at me. It's unexpectedly painful: I guess even now she doesn't trust me, even though I went halfway round the world and rescued her. Some things can't be forgotten, can't be forgiven.

The morning's buzz is gone and all I feel is tired and sore; around Ziva, I suppose I should be used to it. Then Gibbs pulls up at a red light and looks over at me.

'Richard Dean Anderson? I thought O'Neill was Air Force.'

I'm startled into laughter. 'You watch Stargate SG1? Really?'

Gibbs smiles back, then reaches out and pats my cheek. 'Nope. But the actor was made an honorary brigadier general. News gets around.'

I shake my head. 'Did you ever see the original movie? No? I'm pretty sure I have it somewhere. Fancy watching it this evening?' A sudden thought strikes me and I wince. 'Actually, on second thoughts, let's not. Bad choice, not your kind of movie. Not my kind of movie either.'

I babble about other movies I have in my DVD collection that might be more to Gibbs' taste until we pull up outside the house. When I move to open the door, Gibbs stops me with a hand on my arm, fixing me with his usual perceptive gaze, one eyebrow raised in silent query.

'What?'

'Tell me why you don't want me watching the film.'

I wince again. 'It's nothing, Jethro. Really.'

'If it's nothing, why don't you dig it out and we'll watch it after dinner?' Gibbs asks mildly.

'You wouldn't believe me if I said I lent it out, would you?' I sigh. 'It's... the main character...'

'Richard Dean Anderson's character?'

'No. Well, yes, but no, O'Neill's played by Kurt Russell in the film, and Daniel Jackson's played by James Spader, not Michael Shanks, so...' Gibbs makes an impatient gesture and I swallow the rest of my comments on the casting differences between movie and TV series. 'O'Neill goes on the mission because it's probably a suicide mission. He, uh... He lost his son and he blames himself.'

Gibbs lowers his eyebrow, then nods. 'His son shot himself with O'Neill's gun.'

For the second time that afternoon, I stare at Gibbs, amazed. 'You've seen it?'

'Nope. I told you, news gets around. Dig it out for later.' Gibbs climbs out of the truck, leaving me to trail in his wake.

Stargate isn't Gibbs' kind of movie, but we watch it through to the end, even if we do wind up discussing the feasibility of taking a pocket nuke on a mission like that, the problems inherent in encountering pre-industrial feudal desert-based societies, technological exchanges and the Prime Directive. When the film is over and I've put the DVD back in the case, Gibbs stands and stretches.

'What I don't get is why he didn't just collar Jackson. Why the hell would he leave his sub behind on that planet?'

I eye Gibbs in disbelief. 'You think Jackson's a sub?'

'Well, yeah, Tony. That girl he ends up being given is too young and naive to know the difference, but O'Neill's not,' Gibbs says. 'There's no way that dynamic could ever work out, and Jackson's going to be left with a whole heap of guilt when it falls apart, because he should damn well have known better too.'

'Who are you and what have you done with the real Leroy Jethro Gibbs?' I ask suspiciously. We spend almost two hours discussing the film and the subsequent TV series down in the basement while Gibbs works on his boat. Finally heading to bed as midnight chimes, Gibbs pauses in the bathroom, toothbrush in one hand, toothpaste in the other.

'So you're telling me they never get together?' he asks, frowning.

'Nope, never do. By the time Daniel figures out he's a sub, they've been working together for years and I guess he figures if O'Neill had ever wanted to make a move, he'd have done it a long time ago,' I say, stripping off and tossing my dirty clothes into the laundry hamper.

'Maybe O'Neill didn't know he was allowed to make a move,' Gibbs says huskily, staring at me in the mirror.

I stare back, transfixed. 'Sometimes it's easier to keep on being alone than to risk losing everything,' I say softly, and we aren't talking about Stargate any more.

Gibbs sets his toothbrush down and turns to face me. 'Come here, Tony.'

I take the three steps to close the distance between us. Gibbs takes my hands and guides them behind my back, holds my wrists in an unbreakable grip, and I feel a thrill of excitement as I start to fall. He kisses me, owning my mouth completely. When I'm open and groaning, he moves on to my throat, licking and kissing, biting and sucking until I'm having to fight myself not to wriggle away or simply collapse at his feet.

Gibbs turns us, urging me up to sit on the counter, letting go of my wrists only to grasp my knees and push up, out, until I'm curled back against the wall and he is investigating the crease of my thigh with his tongue. He nuzzles into the hair at the base of my cock, teases the loose skin of my sack with his lips, with a delicate graze of his teeth, presses against my perineum with the point of his tongue. I'm a whimpering, quivering mess: it's too much, it's not enough, and if Gibbs doesn't stop ignoring my cock, doesn't fuck me now, I'll die.

I don't realise I've said anything aloud until Gibbs chuckles against my balls and the vibration makes me twitch and curse. He leans over and snags the shower gel and drizzles it over my hole, the cold liquid making me cry out.

'Want this, huh?' he says, pulling down his jeans and freeing his cock, rubbing the head over my opening.

'Yes! Please, Jethro!' I'm trembling, aching with need. Balanced on the counter, curled up with my legs splayed open, there's nothing I can do, no leverage I can bring to bear to get Gibbs inside me. With no effort at all, he has me pinned open and vulnerable, ready for him to take me, use me, do anything he wants to me. It should be terrifying, but it's incredible; I feel possessed, owned, cherished: I am loved.

I stare up at Gibbs, naked all the way down to my soul, and he smiles such a gentle smile, as if he sees all that I am laid bare just for him, and he approves. Then without warning, he pushes in and with a shout I welcome him inside. He fucks me hard and fast and it isn't long before he stills, groans, and I feel him empty into me. My cock lies untouched, hard and leaking against my abdomen. I try not to whimper in frustration, to keep myself still and open for Gibbs, and he watches me, quietly amused in the aftermath of his orgasm.

'It's okay, Tony,' he says, picking up the shower gel once more. 'I won't leave you hanging.' He squeezes the cold gel onto my overheated cock, huffs in amusement as I squawk at the sensation, then finally he takes pity on me and wraps his hand around me. With a firm grip, he strokes me, getting faster as I pant. Tension builds up in my belly, in my balls, in the curve of my spine, until lightning flashes through me and I come in long streaks, all over my chest and up to my chin.

As I clench around him, Gibbs finally slips from me with a hiss of breath. He stands close, holding me until my muscles relax, then he grabs a washcloth, wipes me off and slowly lowers my legs. He pulls me upright until my forehead rests against his shoulder, then he massages my neck with one hand, the other warm and reassuring against my back.

'You okay?'

'Mm,' I nod, but I'm overtaken by a yawn and Gibbs chuckles. He maneuvers me to the toilet so I can clean up while he kicks off his jeans, wipes down the bathroom counter and washes his hands and dick in the sink.

'Come on, bedtime,' he says with gruff affection and I smile dopily at him.

'Haven't brushed my teeth,' I mumble and he shakes his head.

'Won't matter for one night. Come on, before you fall asleep on the throne.' He helps me up, washes my hands at the sink as though I'm a little kid, and steers me into the bedroom. We fall into bed in a tangle of limbs and Gibbs pulls a sheet over us; it's too hot for anything more. Thoughts buzz against the edges of my subspace, but like moths against a screen door, they can't get in and, untroubled, I sleep.

Gibbs keeps me in some degree of subspace throughout the weekend and while I'm aware there's an entire herd of elephants I'm not thinking about, I appreciate the break and I don't fight it. I feel a twinge of regret at coming back up on Monday morning, but even after all these years, I still love my job and I can't do it while half my brain is, if not asleep, at least taking a break.

Things are a little odd, being back at work and knowing Ziva's around, but not knowing when or if she'll be rejoining the team. I see her around from time to time; she even helps out with a case, but we don't talk. It's all evasion and the herd of elephants in the corner of the room just keeps on getting larger. I know Abby's talked with Ziva, because Abby can't not talk. And I know Ziva's seen Vance, Gibbs, is working her way through a psych assessment. She's been my partner, she's been the thorn in my side; if this team is my family, she's been the beautiful-but-deadly cousin I don't quite want to kiss. But right now, she's a stranger, and that hurts.

Gibbs keeps me busy, the case keeps me busy, but I feel as though I'm off balance. I'm working hard, working well, but something just isn't clicking.

And then Ziva corners me in the men's room. Of all the things that bug me about her, I hate this the most. It's the men's room for a reason - it's for men, doing their private manly business, and thinking about the private manly business Gibbs and I did in here a few weeks ago really isn't helping my state of mind. Ziva doesn't take my not-so-subtle hint and finally we're talking about the elephant in the room. One of them, anyway. She explains, she apologizes, she kisses my cheek. I'm about to raise the other elephant of Gibbs and me, but something she says sparks an idea and I have to run back to the bullpen, back to the case.

Just like that, I'm back in balance, in fine form, on top of my game, and it's all systems go as we close in on the bad guy, who turns out to be not so much a bad guy, and then a dead guy, and in between saving a smelly homeless man from being hit by the dead guy's car and catching the actual bad guy, who turns out to be a bad woman, there's barely time to grab a coffee, but I do find a moment to talk to Gibbs.

'Ziva and I... we're good,' I say.

He searches my face for a moment, then nods. 'Okay. I'll pick up steaks. See you at home.'

Then it's back to arresting the bad guy and McGee and I are left to slog through the paperwork, until a triple homicide gets called in and just like that, we're off and running again. Gibbs and I get to eat our steaks eventually, in a state of absolute exhaustion, and there's enough blessed sleep that I'm something approaching conscious for the next day's trip into work, awake enough to try getting details out of McGee about his date - and how he had enough energy to go on a date, I'll never know - but then we're back in the bullpen and Ziva's there and all is right with the world.

Only it's not, not really. After everything that's happened, it's not enough for Ziva to apologise and walk straight back into the team. It isn't that I want her to be kept out for longer, that I want anything at all from her over and above her apology. It's as simple as needing some time to get used to her presence again. We had a summer without her and nothing's the same.

So we work cases and Ziva adjusts to being back and through it all, it feels as though I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I act out a little, which isn't exactly professional of me, but it's not as though it's the first time either. Eventually Gibbs has enough and he takes me down in the bullpen in front of everyone.

In front of Ziva.

I spend the rest of the morning on a sub bench beside Gibbs, with my leash hooked round the arm of his chair. When he brings me back up, he kisses me, slow and sweet, then kisses my forehead.

'Ready to work now?' he asks, his voice low, intimate, patient.

'Yes, boss,' I say, feeling happier, calmer, centered. My stomach disagrees, though, rumbling loudly, and Gibbs laughs.

'It's a good job McGee brought sandwiches,' he says, opening the white paper bag on his desk. He breaks off a piece and feeds it to me. We eat together and Gibbs catches me up on the things I've missed while I've been out of it. It isn't much, but Gibbs feeding me, talking quietly together, spending five minutes together as dom and sub, give me the grounding I hadn't known I was missing. When Gibbs unhooks my leash and puts his hand on the clip, I put my hand over his.

'Can we... If we aren't busy with a hot case, do you think we could do this again some time?' I ask. It's alien for me to ask outright for something that matters, to expose a weakness, a vulnerability in front of other people, but I make myself ask, make myself meet Gibbs' eyes, show him what I'm feeling.

He strokes the back of my head and kisses me again. 'Sure. I didn't think you'd be comfortable with doing this here. I should have asked.'

I grin. 'If you'd asked, I probably wouldn't have been comfortable with it.'

Gibbs unclips me and coils the leash, putting it into his pocket. 'So you're saying rule 18 applies?'

'Looks like it,' I say thoughtfully. 'I needed that. Definitely better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.'

My phone rings and I nearly fall over the sub bench trying to get up and across to my desk. It's a suspected kidnapping, and two minutes later we're out of the door and on our way.

Ziva watches me. I'm happy, humming as I work, taking photos and sketching the scene. Every time I turn around, she's looking at me. It doesn't bother me, and that only seems to increase her fascination with me. Over the next couple of weeks, she gets more inquisitive, more pushy, plays little toppy games with me and flirts unsubtly with Gibbs. I won't let her push me: I'm still the senior field agent and she's a probie. And, surprisingly, I'm not jealous, not any more. Gibbs collared me. He chose me, he collared me, and I get to go home with him at the end of the day. It's all I've wanted from the moment we met back in Baltimore, and now I have it.

Still. Ziva's a little annoying.

There's a moment when we're alone in the elevator and she flicks the emergency switch. The emergency lighting kicks in and she moves close, backing me into the corner. Ziva puts a hand over my shirt, resting it lightly directly over the nametag on my collar.

'This is the collar you took back from Saleem, is it not?' she asks and her eyes are dark, unfathomable.

'Yes.'

'I thought... Part of me thought... that you had brought it for me. To put on you,' she says quietly. 'But I knew you thought I was dead, and so the rest of me knew that could not be correct. I never thought that you would submit to Gibbs. It seems... right, somehow. You fit together, like a dom and a sub should.'

Before I can say anything, she steps back and flips the switch again, sending the elevator jerking back into life. As with so many other talks, confessions, conferences, we leave it behind when we step out into the bullpen. And hours later, when we're eating takeout from cartons because it's yet another long, long day and Gibbs feeds me as we're trying to work out how antivenom for a snake found only in select regions of South China made its way into a lieutenant in the leafy suburbs of Washington DC, I catch Ziva watching us with nothing more in her expression than a little wistfulness. Maybe she really is okay with me and Gibbs being together.

Halloween approaches, Ziva finally gets to be a proper NCIS agent and we catch a case, a murdered prankster. I fancy the wife for it; I'm wrong about that, but I still win the Baltimore PD larceny lotto, guessing the number and type of Mischief Night calls. The money comes in handy for helping underprivileged kids maybe to stay away from the types of activity that lead to those calls in the first place, and anyway, it's nice to have a reason to be in touch with the guys still, all these years later.

Best of all, though, when I head into the men's room in the middle of a mobile campfire, leaving my probies outside for once, Ziva objects loudly to being called a probie and Gibbs is there. He grins at me, gives me a quick grope, then goes out and reminds Ziva that she's only been an agent for a week, making her a probie in anyone's book. She isn't a Mossad liaison officer any more.

When I've suppressed my own grin enough to rejoin them, Gibbs gets our mobile campfire back underway and we go over what we have. When Ziva and McGee leave to go conduct interviews, I stare at Gibbs.

'What?' he asks, not looking up.

'I was just thinking we've come a long way,' I say softly. He knows I'm talking about a few years ago when things were rocky in the wake of his return from Mexico, when he rudely dismissed my 'campfires', dragging everything back to the way he was used to running the team.

He glances up, nods. 'Yeah, we have.' His face softens. 'I like it better this way.'

'Me too, boss. Me too.'

Thanksgiving comes and goes and I have a great deal to be thankful for this year. Surprisingly, Gibbs is thankful too; for some reason he hasn't changed his mind about keeping me as his sub. He shows me just how thankful he is by tying me up and tormenting me for hours. The next day we're both short on sleep and I'm definitely walking funny, but I can't stop grinning and neither can he. McGee and Ziva take one look at us and keep as far away as possible until we've toned it down a bit.

All in all, it's looking very much as though life as a sub, as Gibbs' sub, is doable. The sky hasn't fallen, the world hasn't ended simply because I'm collared, because finally I'm a sub.

Then Christmas arrives and brings with it a reckoning in the shape of Jackson Gibbs. We get along just fine; I like the man. But meeting him as a member of Gibbs' team, as his senior field agent, is very different from meeting him as Gibbs' collared sub.

We have a case; it keeps us busy. Jack is distracted; there's clearly something on his mind, something he needs to talk through with his son. So I stay away from Gibbs, junior and senior, and I tell myself it isn't cowardice. I don't want to get in the way, that's all. Jethro and Jack don't spend much time together. They've got a lot of catching up to do. Years of catching up.

But it's lonely. I sleep over on the futon in Abby's lab for the first time in months. She catches me and wonder of wonders, doesn't make me talk about it. Which is good. I mean, I don't want to talk about it. Really. Which doesn't mean she isn't going to talk to Gibbs.

It's late Christmas Eve and I'm working my way through the mountain of paperwork that never seems to get done, all the forms that aren't urgent but are required solely thanks to some bureaucratic decree. The bullpen is quiet; almost everyone has gone home to spend time with their loved ones. Deliberately, I'm not thinking of how I'm putting off finding somewhere to stay tonight, tomorrow. Christmas is just another day, after all. Lots of people don't celebrate it. Plenty. And I'm not thinking of how many people aren't celebrating it because their boss, their dom hasn't told his father that he collared me, that I live with him...

As I scrawl my signature on the bottom of yet another form and consign it to my out-tray, the elevator dings. Reflexively, I glance up, expecting security on their rounds. Instead, out stride Gibbs and Jack.

'Tony, what the hell are you still doing here?' Gibbs asks, exasperated.

'Uh... I thought I'd take advantage of the quiet to get some of this out of the way.' I indicate the stack of paperwork in my out-tray.

'Not tonight.' Gibbs is firm. He reaches out, tugs at my sweater, and then I'm leashed. 'We're going home.'

'But-'

'Now, Tony!' Gibbs grabs my backpack and I barely have time to stand up before he's heading back the way he came. Skipping to keep up, I struggle into my jacket as we pile into the elevator.

'Why didn't you come home last night?' Gibbs asks quietly, clearly furious in a way that makes my heart sink into my stomach and my stomach sink into my boots.

'I was busy with the case!' I protest.

'Try again,' Gibbs says, his voice clipped. He won't even look at me.

I find myself on my knees, my head bowed before I have time to think about it. 'I didn't want to intrude,' I whisper. It's almost impossible to talk, the lump in my throat is so large. And it is impossible to look up, to face Gibbs' anger, his disappointment, let alone Jack's.

Gibbs flips the emergency switch and the elevator stops. After a moment, his hand comes to rest on my head.

'Why would you think you were intruding? It's your home too.' Gibbs sounds genuinely puzzled.

'I... You and Jack don't get to see much of each other,' I mutter. 'I didn't want to get in the way.'

'Anthony-' Gibbs is back to exasperated, but Jack interrupts.

'I didn't mean to push you out of your home, Tony. You wouldn't have been in the way. Besides, I've been looking forward to spending some time with you ever since Jethro told me he'd collared you.'

I blink. 'Gibbs told you...'

'That I collared you, yes. What, did you think I wasn't going to tell my dad about you?' Gibbs sounds as surprised as I feel, and almost as hurt.

I swallow, hunching down as I confess, 'I didn't know. I thought...'

'Oh, for goodness sake! Tony, stand up,' Gibbs says. He reaches down and takes my arm, pulling me up and into his arms. He holds me tightly, my head buried in the crook of his neck. 'I told him about a week after we got back from Israel. He'd have come to visit sooner, only-'

'Only I thought you might want some time to settle in together without an old busybody like me poking my nose in,' Jack says. 'You should have told him, Jethro.' He tuts.

'I didn't think I needed to,' Gibbs says drily. 'Obviously I was wrong.' He flips the switch again and when the doors open, we're at the parking garage. As Gibbs leads me towards his truck, he says, 'So where were you going to stay over Christmas?'

I shrug. 'Hadn't thought that far.'

'Idiot,' Gibbs says, but there's a wealth of affection in the word and as we pull out of the Yard, I can't wait to be home.

After that, we sail through the holiday season and the dreary winter days. It isn't until one of my frat buddies calls me about coming on a Spring Break cruise that I realise how much I've been missing sunshine. I leap at the chance, only to backpedal.

'Damn, no, I've got to check first. I'll get back to you,' I say. I can almost feel the sea breeze on my face, the warmth of the sun...

'Dude, you never take your holiday time! Aren't HR begging you to use it?' my friend laughs.

'Yeah, but... It isn't just that.'

Something in my tone alerts him, because he says, 'Oho! You met someone? Someone you have to clear Spring Break with? Wow, it must be serious!'

I take a deep breath. 'It's about as serious as it gets, yeah.'

There's a pause, a silence, then my loud, fun-loving, party-going frat brother clears his throat and when he speaks, all the humour is gone, leaving a sincerity that chokes me up. 'It's about time, Tony. Good for you.'

It's only after I've put the phone down, after I've asked Gibbs for his permission and received his blessing, after I've called back with a whoop of joy that it hits me: my frat brothers may have talked about collars for years, but they won't be expecting to see the collar on me.

Resolutely, I push that worry to the back of my mind and concentrate on trying to access my money, which turns out to be surprisingly difficult. My father's left his name on the account and he's never the easiest man to get in touch with. I haven't spoken with him in- well, it's been a while.

In a truly bizarre coincidence, my dad turns out to be mixed up in our latest case. He actually comes into the Yard to see me, colliding my past and present in a way I hoped would never happen. He's his usual charming self and I don't even try to compete, just keep my head down and get my job done.

I wear my shirts buttoned all the way up, my ties a layer of armor against detection. My father knows about Gibbs, sure, but I haven't talked to him in months. I haven't told him about us.

I haven't told him I'm living as a sub.

Good old Daddy DiNozzo's too busy working out his next scam, too busy trying to pull the royal family into investing in his latest golden opportunity, to notice anything different about me. I wonder, when Gibbs takes him on a tour of the building, if he'll say anything about us to dad, anything at all, but he doesn't, and I can't.

We wrap up the case and, knowing that my father was a conman, knowing that my childhood was a lie, knowing that until last summer, my life was one of my father's greatest cons, I still can't bring myself to confront him. Instead, I con him, paying his hotel bill and presenting him with a first-class ticket to Geneva, all courtesy of the Crown Prince, of course. He accepts the largesse without question as his due, and is gone.

It's a relief to have my life, my name back; it's a relief not to worry that he'll find out I'm collared. It's even more a relief to discover I'm not worried: it's thanks to him that I lived most of my life as a beta, not a sub. It's thanks to him that I had the opportunity to meet Gibbs, to work with him, and ultimately, to submit to him. My father is only interested in me in so far as I reflect on him: we move in different circles. My reflection is on Gibbs.

I call Dan, my frat buddy, and break the news that I won't be joining him on the cruise after all.

'Maybe next year,' I say with genuine regret. 'I miss you guys.'

'Yeah, us too,' Dan says. 'About your sub, this special someone... Things going okay?'

'Fine,' I say. 'Better than fine.'

'So come on, tell me everything,' Dan chides. 'If you aren't going to come on the cruise so we can pump you for information, you have to tell me now, or I swear the next trip we make will be to come see you, you hear?'

I take a deep breath and walk into the kitchen and run my hand over the worktop. In Gibbs' house, surrounded by his presence, I summon my last reserves of courage. It's time to stop hiding.

'About that...' I clear my throat. 'We live together. I moved in last summer.'

'Awesome!' Dan exclaims. I can almost see him pumping his fist. 'So, you talking collars yet, or what?'

'We, uh... We don't need to,' I say. I can feel my heart racing; my hand is clammy, tight around the phone. 'We got that out of the way first thing. My special someone... It's Gibbs. And he collared me.'

There's silence on the other end of the phone, but behind me, I can feel Gibbs standing there, his presence a reassurance, lending me support.

Then Dan erupts down the phone. 'Holy shit, Tony! You let your boss collar you? Way to go, dude! The guy is a fox! Those links you sent of him being rude to the press on YouTube? I'd bend my neck for him, no question and I've never met the guy.' He quiets. 'Are you happy?'

'Yes, very,' I reply automatically, stunned by his reaction.

'Then that's all that matters. Gotta go, Tony-boy. Get that dom of yours to take good care of you, and warn him that you bet your ass we're coming to visit now.' Dan's voice is warm, pleased for me. I know as soon as I hang up, he'll be on the phone to all our frat brothers to tell them about this. Or maybe he'll wait and spring it on them on the cruise. Either way, he doesn't hate me for bending my neck for Gibbs, for hiding my submission, and with Dan on board, the rest will be fine.

'Attaboy, Tony,' Gibbs says with quiet approval. I hang up and turn around to face my dom and the rest of my life as a sub with pride.