Summary: The week leading up to Cody's visit is a bit of a roller-coaster for Jethro and Tony, but once he arrives, it's all uphill.
Disclaimer: Yada-yada don't own 'em (except Cody), not mine, made no money... blah-blah-biddy blah...
AN: Yes, I'm aware that the item I describe doesn't exist, (at least I don't think so) but I'm sure I'm not the only one who's experienced, ummm... powerus interruptus at a critical moment... who wishes it was real.
MONDAY NIGHT: 6:30 P.M.
"Yeah... present. Sorry. I've thought about walking into one of these places... just never thought I'd actually have the guts to do it."
"Understood, but I need your input, here. These things we're getting are really personal. The color, size and style have to suit you."
"They come in *colors*?" Tony responded skeptically as he slipped his hand into Jethro's and let himself be led up the single step and into the large, tastefully decorated shop.
"You kidding?" Jethro chuckled, moving slowly forward and drawing Tony with him. "Every shade you can imagine. C'mon..."
"Wow... half this stuff... I mean, I've got a really good imagination and I don't even know where to *start*..."
"Don't sweat it. I've seen experienced doms and subs walk in here and have their jaws drop. Marcus works hard to keep this place on the cutting edge and stocks only top of the line items. No junk or crappy porn in here, I guarantee that."
Tony halted in his tracks and Jethro looked back at him, questioning.
"*That* Marcus?" the younger man asked quietly. "From the club, Marcus?"
"What, you thought he had leprechauns and elves supporting him?" the dom responded lightly. "Being who we are, being a community, is a huge part of our existence, but we all have jobs and everyday lives, too, Tony."
"Well, yeah... I knew that. It's...I'm still adjusting, I guess. So much to learn... thank God you're not pushing. If I couldn't take this at my own pace, I'd have balked by now, for sure."
Gibbs moved closer and placed one hand over Tony's heart..
"Maybe. Probably. I'm taking it slow for me as much as for you, kiddo... give me time to figure you out. I've always wanted to see inside this castle you've built to protect yourself, but sometimes, in the past... it felt like I was facing twenty foot high walls, boiling oil and a moat stocked with sharks, crocs and piranhas. I don't know if it's pain in your past or just the way you're wired... but you can make it tough to get to know you on the really deep levels."
Tony swallowed hard and had to fight the sudden, overwhelming need to go to his knees. Instead he tightly clutched the hand Jethro was pressing against him as if it were the driftwood keeping him from drowning. "Still? I thought..."
"It's gettin' way better, don't get me wrong. "
"I know you're trying."
"As hard as I can."
"I understand that, I do. Moat's half drained and the crocs and sharks have moved on to better digs."
"I... okay, so I've been hurt." Tony choked out "At the House, in the hammock, I told you... I gave you a piece of it, sir... don't make me regret that, please, God, don't..."
Jethro kissed him lightly to force Tony to take a break and a breath then slid his hand over to the other man's bicep and squeezed for a few seconds. "Yes, sir."
"I know what you need. Hang on for me until we get somewhere private, okay?"
Tony closed his eyes for a moment, pulling himself together, then nodded and went along when Jethro tugged him toward the counter, reached under the front edge and quickly pulled back. Soon the man Tony had met at the club appeared from the back of the store.
"Jethro! Good to see... uh-oh. Maybe not. Upstairs?"
"It's not that drastic. Can we use your office for a few minutes?"
"Of course. You know the way."
"Thanks." Jethro replied with a grateful smile, leading Tony off through a curtain and into the hidden sections of the building. In only a minute or two they were behind the closed door of Marcus' office and Jethro turned to face Tony, who had begun to tremble. "I know. Go ahead and drop."
Tony fell to his knees, his head bowed. At Jethro's soft reminder he managed to raise his chin enough to satisfy his dom.
"Ah-ah. Eyes up. Look at me, Anthony. Better. Why did you need this? What set it off?"
"I know you have to see all of it... all of me before I can take your symbol and be yours forever. I'm just scared because some of it is so damn ugly."
"I can take anything, love. Keep going."
Tony sighed, frowned and shook his head a little, but eventually he chose to speak.
"I started to open up to somebody... a long time ago. Didn't even get close to the worst stuff. They said they couldn't handle it... walked out, never spoke to me again. I was so close to this person. I thought everything was fantastic. When they turned tail and ran..."
"...it ripped you apart."
"Yeah... pretty much."
"You've thought about it since?"
"Only every time I start getting that comfortable with somebody. Hasn't happened much."
"And now it's you who backs away first."
"Hey, you were in the military..." Tony ground out. "You never heard of a pre-emptive strike? Shoot before you can get shot, right?"
Now Jethro knelt in front of his sub, holding his hands up palm out and letting the ache in his heart show clearly in his face.
"You see a gun, Anthony?"
"Why did they do that to you, Anthony? You're too smart not to have figured it out by now. Tell me why they left like that."
"Me. My issues, my crap... it's more than anybody should have to take on..."
"No lying, especially if you know it is one. But I didn't!"
"Three chances before a warning. That was one. Try answering the question again."
"I... Sir... c'mon. It had to be me... didn't it?"
Jethro stayed silent. "Damn it, Jethro, I don't... God. Okay, so maybe she had stuff of her own. Maybe she was at a tipping point, afraid one more thing would bring her world down and her with it. But she said it was *me*. Work, my friends... everybody said it was me."
"None of them agreed to rule 2, did they?"
"What?" Tony whispered, his eyes widening.
"Do you swear to always try, even if what I ask is unfamiliar and frightening, to believe that my priority is bringing you pleasure and seeing you grow and move beyond your own expectations, and to always trust in me... "
"... until the day you prove you no longer deserve it."
"Have I?" Jethro asked, swiping tears gently from Tony's face.
"No... and I don't think you will. I've just had this drilled into my head for so long... I can't get it out."
Jethro pulled Tony into his arms and held on tightly.
"That's my job. Betrayal is over, Anthony. It's not a part of your story anymore."
Tony sniffled faintly into his dom's shoulder and responded almost inaudibly.
"As much as I believe you can make it true just by telling me it is... I know it won't be that easy."
"Easy is boring. You're a challenge and I love that. I love you.."
"You never back down from a fight, I know that much..."
"Damn straight. You ready to go back out and do some shopping?"
Jethro released him and they helped each other up. Their inside hands tightly wrapped together, the pair moved back out into the store. Marcus looked intensely relieved when he saw that they both appeared to be much more relaxed.
"Thanks for the favor, Marcus. It did the trick "
"No thanks necessary, Jethro. You're both welcome to whatever, whenever, you know that. Now, what can I do for my new favorite couple, hmmm?"
"How about a fifty cent tour?"
"Ah, Anthony's first trip to the candy store, is it? I'd love to. Anything specific you're looking for? Just so we can pause in those sections when we get there." Marcus asked as he moved out from behind the counter.
Jethro grinned and handed over a small bit of paper. "Mmm. Excellent taste, old friend. Don't carry that brand anymore... their quality's begun to dip over the last year or so. I do have something that should more than satisfy, though. So to speak." He laughed lightly, leading the way into the store. "Books and DVD's here in the first aisle. Can't imagine you'll be interested in those anytime soon. Not as fresh and new as it all must be for the both of you. Boxed items in aisle two. Body paint kits, massage oil collections, aromatherapy, board games... things like that. The cuffs and harness/ring combos are on the back wall, we'll get to them in a minute. The vibrators, among other things, are on the side wall. Here... this is what I wanted to show you, Jethro. Lovely, isn't it?"
"Wow. Yeah, it looks... Tony?" Jethro questioned when he felt the other man release his hand and slip that arm around his waist from behind.
"I don't know. Needed more contact... like a comfort booster shot. If that's not okay..."
"Of course it is." The dom assured him, stroking Tony's wrist. "Anytime. How about some thoughts, here?"
"Can I hear more about it?"
"Absolutely." Marcus said, producing a key and opening the door to a tiny cabinet near the floor that Tony hadn't noticed. He pulled out an example of the item, free of its packaging, and showed it to both men.
"Silicone outer sleeve, for easy cleaning... but quality stainless steel inside and a thin layer of insulation between the two. " he described, twisting off a cap at the top. "I tested the product personally and the retention is excellent."
"Retention? Of, um... what?" Tony asked slowly, uncertain he wanted to know.
"Heat or cold." Jethro clarified. "You can put hot water or ice inside, whichever is your preference. The wiring is in the shell, Marcus?"
"Mmm-hmm. My personal one has stood up to nearly six months of frequent use. No problems."
"Tight seal, no leaks yet."
"Sounds perfect. Tony?"
"Yeah... batteries go where?"
"They don't. For the most part, batteries are out, thank God. Realizing they're dead in the middle of a promising play session will flatten the mood so fast, you can't imagine. See the contacts on the top of the cap?"
"Like my cell phone. You mean... it has a charger?" Tony asked incredulously
"Just make sure you keep the two far, *far* apart." Marcus advised with a mischievous grin. "If you end up grabbing the wrong one in the morning rush to get to work... embarrassing to say the least."
Tony flushed, but a small laugh emerged as well.
"Trust me, the people I work with... I'd never live it down."
Jethro squeezed the arm curled around him.
"Yeah. Yes, sir. Just... I mean if you don't mind..."
"The green one."
"For your eyes. Absolutely. You still keep the other sizes in the store-room?" he addressed to Marcus.
"I do indeed. Two sizes smaller?"
"That should do." Jethro agreed, sliding a packaged one off the wall rack while Marcus returned the sample to its cabinet. "Without the bells and whistles, though."
"Understood. I'll get that when you're ready to check out. On to the next item?"
Jethro nodded and, still firmly connected, he and Tony followed the store-owner toward the back.
"Sir?" Tony asked quietly.
"Can we... get the other things in green too?"
This show of boldness earned Tony a guffaw and a kiss on the cheek.