To love a person is to learn the song
That is in their heart,
And to sing it to them
When they have forgotten.
~ By Anonymous ~
The scent of the sawdust is the first thing he smells when he's shoved into the holding pen. His bout is the next but one, and his gut clenches in anticipation, the heat rising in his blood. He can’t wait to get out there and start fighting.
The drugs they force into him before every fight are coursing through his body, making him angry, horny, and desperate to slam his fists into an opponent he hasn't even seen.
There’s someone else in the pen with him – the kid who is going to fight before him. He’s naked apart from the black hood around his head, fastened in place with a chain. Gibbs sighs. A newbie; newbies are always hooded before their first fight.
The gate to the holding pen is opened, and the kid’s guard leans down and jabs him on the shoulder with a cattle prod. The kid makes a startled, gasping sound and runs forward into the pit.
The referee removes the kid’s hood, and the crowd roars their approval as the fight commentator introduces the newcomer. He has brown hair, a soft body and pale skin, and he looks like what he is – a lamb to the slaughter.
The gate to the holding pen slams shut, and Gibbs watches through the bars as the kid stumbles around in the pit, looking bemused. The poor guy has no idea what’s in store for him.
Over on the opposite side of the pit, another fighter is released from his holding pen and goes careening out, roaring at the top of his voice to psych himself up. Gibbs recognizes this one as the veteran of several fights. He’s a tall, lean, scarred man, covered in tattoos, who likes playing up to the crowd to get them on his side. Gibbs grunts; this won’t be much of a fight. It won't be long before it's his turn.
The smell of the sawdust they use to line the pit always puts him in fight mode, ramping up his adrenaline, and making him eager to get out there and get on with it. As he waits his turn the other, familiar scents of Fight Night filter in too; he can smell hot meat, as the sick bastards watching from the bleachers munch on burgers and hotdogs. Then there’s the sweet, sickly scent of the oil he rubs into his skin in his pre-fight prep, to make it harder for his opponents to get a grip on him. He can also smell blood; there's plenty of it, mingled with the sawdust in the pit.
A huge roar goes up from the watching crowd as the newbie goes down. He won't be getting up again. The tattooed guy runs around the edge of the pit, stoking up their frenzy, doing a victory lap, yelling and screaming his head off at them. They yell back at him, enjoying the show he’s putting on.
Gibbs watches as the crowd starts collecting bets. A hell of a lot of money rides on these fights – the gambling is an integral part of the night's entertainment. As is what comes next…
The victor finishes doing his victory dance around the pit and then turns back to the newbie, who is scrabbling frantically to get away, his fingers opening and closing feebly in the sawdust, looking for purchase. Gibbs watches impassively. The kid would be better to just give in and take it; it's going to happen anyway, and the alternative is so much worse.
A hum of anticipation rises from the crowd, and they start screaming as the victor returns to claim his prize for winning. A loud chant of "Fuck him! Fuck him! Fuck him!" arises from the audience, and the victor grins – and obliges.
The kid's mouth opens in a howl of pain mingled with disbelief. As a newbie, this is his first experience of what losing means. Tattoo guy is as much a showman with the fucking as he is with the fighting, and he spears the kid on his cock and takes his time, enjoying his reward. The crowd’s chanting fades, and Gibbs can see them watching with a kind of sick intensity as the kid is fucked into the sawdust. There’s no lube. No stretching. No condoms. It’s as raw and basic as the fighting was. It’s no more than rutting. A few short months ago it sickened him, but now he’s seen it so often that he has no reaction.
Then it’s over. Tattoo guy comes with a roar that the crowd echoes back at him, and then the blond kid is being pulled through the sawdust and thrown back into a holding pen over the other side of the pit. He's now the property of the victor's owner, who already has an impressive stable of fighters. The kid was badly beaten, and his nose looked broken at the end, but Gibbs is sure he'll live to fight another day. Maybe next time he'll fight harder now he knows what losing feels like.
Behind him, Gibbs hears the next fighter being shoved into the holding pen. He glances at him and sees that it's someone from his owner's stable – a skinny man in his early twenties called Steve – an average fighter with no killer instinct. Gibbs barely spares him a glance before turning back to the pit.
Fresh sawdust is being strewn on the ground, and Gibbs concentrates on getting ready for his own fight. He takes a final handful of oil from the trough in the holding pen and rubs it over himself. He can see his opponent in the holding pen on the other side of the pit. He's a big guy – bigger than him – but that has never made Gibbs afraid of an opponent yet. Gibbs watches him oiling himself up, applying one last coat before stepping into the ring, just as Gibbs has done. Gibbs studies him carefully – and smiles when he sees what he's looking for.
"Why are you smiling?" Steve asks. Gibbs glares at him. He doesn’t like anyone talking to him just before a fight; he needs to focus.
"Because he just lost the fight, right there," Gibbs snaps, picking up a handful of sawdust and rubbing it over his hands to dry off any remaining oil from his palms.
"How?" Steve is looking at him with an expression of combined awe and fear. They all look at him that way. He's the veteran of more fights than he can remember, and he's won every single one of them. His victories have swelled his owner's stable with new fighters and made the bastard a small fortune in the process.
"He oiled his asshole. That means, in his head, there's the possibility he might lose." Gibbs shrugs.
"It's true then. You don't ever oil your asshole?" Steve asks in barely more than a shocked whisper.
"Never." Gibbs looks straight ahead.
"But if you lose…"
"Then I'd better make sure I don't lose," Gibbs growls angrily, turning on the other man.
Steve shrinks back against the bars of the holding pen, and Gibbs controls his urge to slam his fist into his face. He turns back to the pit instead, forcing himself to concentrate.
The pit is ready, and the crowd settles back into their seats. It's time.
A hush descends on the pit, and the gate to his holding pen opens. One of his owner’s men sticks a cattle prod through the bars to force him out, but he jumps away from it and strides out into the pit. He goes there on his own terms. They might make him play this sick game, but he won’t give them any more control than he has to.
A roar from the crowd greets him. He's become notorious in the past few months, and they love watching him fight. He never pays them any attention. He doesn't work the crowd like some do. He doesn't play up to them, or roar back at them. He doesn’t try to get them onside, or win their support. He ignores them. They seem to love him for it, enjoying his complete contempt for them.
He knows they love watching him win, but he also knows they’d love to see him lose even more. They want to see him go down, brought to his knees and humbled. They long for him to be beaten to a pulp and then fucked into the sawdust by his opponent. They want to see him punished for his disdain even as they love him for it.
It won't happen. He made himself a promise when this started, and he'll keep it. He'd rather die than be fucked for their enjoyment.
There are no weapons. There's just him and his opponent. They are both naked, both oiled, and both hopped up to their eyeballs on the drugs their owners have forced into them.
Gibbs measures up his opponent the way he always does before a fight. He doesn’t look at the man's features. He can't afford to see him as a person; he’s just someone to be vanquished.
His opponent is about six one or two. He has broad shoulders, muscled forearms, and big, strong legs. He looks like one of the tougher opponents Gibbs has faced. He's probably military or ex-military; most of the best fighters in this vile tournament are. He's clearly an experienced combatant – his skin is laced with scars and bruises, and the majority of them are recent, probably gained in the pit. Gibbs’s skin is the same – among all the old scars is now a network of new ones that he’s acquired over the past few months.
There are no rules. You fight until someone goes down and stays down. Nobody gives a damn about fairness or a clean fight. Hell, this audience loves some dirty moves. That’s another reason they love him; he’s never afraid to land a low punch, or use his nails and teeth to win a fight. He knows he’s hurt and maimed during fights. He doesn’t think he’s ever killed; he never lets himself go that far. But it’s possible some of the men he fought died of their injuries later. He doesn’t allow himself to think about that.
Gibbs forgets the audience. He forgets everything but the opponent in front of him. He can hear the sound of his own breathing, feel the blood thrumming through his veins, and the surge of fighting energy that rises up inside.
He circles his opponent warily, mentally mapping the guy’s likely weaknesses and strengths. The other man is listing slightly to the left, probably the result of a sprained ankle or a pulled calf muscle. He’s compensating well, but it might make him unsteady if he’s hit from the right angle.
When they first threw Gibbs into the pit, they thought he'd get wiped out in his debut bout. He's a hell of a lot older than most of the fighters he's encountered, but it's his age and experience that have given him the edge. It’s not just that though – it's also his raw determination. Unlike Steve back there, he does have killer instinct. He always has. It's what enabled him to be such a good sniper when he was in the Corps. He can kill, he has killed, and he's prepared to kill again. It’s that simple.
He breathes deeply and evenly, oblivious to everything but his opponent now. He is cool and calm, but under the surface he nurses every old wound he’s ever had, needing to feel them again now, to use them to fuel him to victory.
He only killed Pedro Hernandez once, but since then he's killed him countless times again in his head. This time is no exception. Gibbs remembers his dead wife and child and how they were torn from him in an act of cowardly violence, leaving his life in ruins and his future shattered. He remembers the hate and anger he felt towards Hernandez, and he gathers it in, channels it, and when his opponent moves towards him he explodes.
He lands several fast, hard punches to his opponent's jaw and then dances back out of reach, taking just a glancing blow to his ribs in the process. His opponent is growling loudly, trying to psych himself into the fight, but Gibbs remains silent. His right shoulder is still sore from last week’s fight, but he never lets it show. He can’t afford to give anything away – no glimmer of weakness, or anything to give his opponent hope.
They move forward again and exchange a few more blows. Gibbs continuously probes the man’s weaknesses, landing several punches that confirm his suspicion that his opponent’s left leg is his weak spot.
They draw back, and Gibbs controls his breathing so it doesn’t look as if he’s winded by that last punch to his gut. He doesn’t acknowledge the blood he can feel dripping down the side of his face from a cut above his eye. No weakness. No weakness. No weakness. He remembers a long line of fresh-faced boys he trained back in the Corps; he is putting into practice all the lessons he taught them. He remembers the boxing ring back at NCIS too, and another young man he trained how to fight…and he pushes that thought away. He can’t afford a moment’s lapse in concentration.
He stares his opponent out, looking him straight in the eyes, and he sees a glimmer of fear there. Then he knows that he has won. His reputation has gone before him. His run of victories has given him an aura of invincibility and that gives him the edge. Half the battle always takes place in the mind; Gibbs knows he can win, but his opponent has doubts, and it’s the doubts that will take him down.
His opponent is still gazing at him, trying to find some chink in his armour. He won't. Gibbs goes in fast, feints sideways, and then shoves his knee into the man's balls – hard. His opponent goes backwards with a groan, but Gibbs gives him no time to recover and goes after him. He throws a punch, shoves a foot against that weak left ankle, and wipes the man’s legs out from under him. His opponent lands on the sawdust with a thud, and Gibbs is on him immediately, landing one good punch after another.
It feels satisfying to crunch his fist into flesh, and he goes fast and hard, wanting to end this with the minimum amount of damage to them both. He can feel his opponent’s erection poking into his thigh, but that's not unusual during a fight. God knows what all these drugs have done to their body chemistry, but Gibbs spends half his time wanting to fight and the other half wanting to fuck, and often both at once. It's no different for any of the other fighters.
He senses it when the resistance leaves his opponent but he stays alert; playing dead is a common tactic, and he is not going to be toppled when he's this close to victory.
The fight referee steps in for the first time – he’s really only there to declare if a fight is over or not – and to use his cattle prod if the fighters refuse to engage or are slowing down too much.
Looking down into his opponent's green eyes, Gibbs sees that he's definitely gone down. There is something about him that is familiar, something that Gibbs thinks he should recognize, but in his drugged, fight-heightened state he can't place it. Gibbs steps back warily, never taking his eyes off his opponent. The referee waves a hand in his direction, confirming his victory, and the crowd erupts.
"Wolfman! Wolfman! Wolfman!" the chant goes up. All the contestants in this surreal version of WWE have stupid names: Bone Crusher, Caveman, Fat Prick…and his is Wolfman. Maybe it’s the wolfish way he pursues his prey around the pit and silently dispenses each and every one of them, or maybe it’s because his shorn grey hair gives him a grizzled appearance. He has no idea why, and he really doesn’t give a damn.
He looks back down at his defeated opponent. What comes next is, like the fighting, something he has no choice about. It’s an integral part of this nightmare world he was plunged into all those months ago, and something he has to do to survive.
He tried to refuse the first time, only to be told that refusal isn't an option. Either he fucks his defeated opponent, or the baying mob decides whether the winner or the loser pays the ultimate price for his refusal.
Gibbs believes the stewards of this nightmare game from hell whenever they threaten him; he knows the cost of refusal. He once watched from behind the holding pen bars as the winner of the bout before his was unable to get it up. He saw the mob screaming out their verdict, and a well-dressed man in the stands making the final decision. He witnessed the referee delivering a swift shot to the losing contestant’s head, like a horse being put out of its misery, and the sudden, shocked silence after. He remembers the long river of blood flowing into the sawdust and the way they dragged the poor, dead bastard from the pit, leaving an angry, red stain where he’d died.
Gibbs has always been able to get it up. He has the drugs to thank for that because he sure as hell finds nothing attractive about the bloody, sweaty bodies of the poor bastards he defeats in the pit. He knows they have as little choice about fighting in this obscene arena as he does, and once the fight is over he can’t hate them. He always does his best to make it as fast and painless as he can.
His opponent's glassy eyes are fixed on him, filled with hopeless resignation. Gibbs doesn’t say a word. He just rolls him over, pulls him onto his knees, and enters him with one quick, hard thrust.
He is both glad that his body responds and hates that it responds at the same time. He knows he has no choice, but his body feels the pleasure anyway, and he needs to feel it in order to finish the job.
Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS is appalled by what he’s doing, but his dark side seizes the moment, taking pleasure in the fruits of his victory, and relishes being able to claim the prize he has won. He knows he doesn’t have the luxury of all these conflicting emotions, so he shuts them down as ruthlessly as he just fought.
He puts an arm around the man’s midriff and pulls him up and back against his own body, fucking him quickly but forcefully. It feels good to ease some of his sexual frustration in this guy’s body. The drugs make him think about sex all the time – when he’s not thinking about fighting.
Then he’s done. He comes with a growl, allowing himself to savour the moment for just a second, and then he pulls out, releasing his tight grip on the defeated fighter’s body. The man drops to the ground and sprawls face down in the sawdust, panting heavily.
Gibbs gets up and strides back to his holding pen. Steve is waiting there, smiling and clapping as Gibbs returns.
"Wow, you really took him down! He was a big fucker too! Shit, you’ve got some good moves."
"What the hell are you doing?" Gibbs roars at him, and Steve falls back against the bars of the cage. "Get ready for your own damn fight. Focus on that!"
Steve's eyes widen, and he nods and turns away. Gibbs remembers him now that the red mist of the fight is over. He fought him – and beat him – a few weeks ago; that's how Steve came to be in his owner's stable.
“You can’t afford to lose concentration for a second," Gibbs growls, and then he's prodded out of the holding pen by McGuire – one of his owner’s men – and escorted back to the truck at gunpoint. McGuire starts wrapping the familiar chains around his wrists and legs while Ellis holds a gun to his head, and within seconds he's weighted down again.
His owner comes over, smiling broadly. He's in his mid-fifties, bald with a big, soft paunch. His name is James Scott, and he’s some kind of businessman. He's the kind of guy you could imagine going to the opera or the ballet. Somehow he seems incongruous in this setting, but this sport seems to attract all kinds, judging by the audiences Gibbs has been performing to.
"Good fight, Leroy," Scott says. "Well done! He was a tough opponent too – been on the circuit the entire season and won most of his fights. This was another great victory!"
"Some victory. I still get to go back in chains – as usual." Gibbs jerks his head at the chains.
Scott ignores the complaint. "I had no idea you'd prove to be such a good investment when I bought you! The way this season is going, I'll have enough to take on the big boys by the end. You're my passport to the big time, Leroy!"
"Great," Gibbs says, flat and sour.
"I'll see you get a glass of the finest bourbon for your victory, Leroy," Scott tells him, patting his arm as if he's a prize racehorse. Maybe he is.
McGuire chains him into the truck to await transportation back to the stable. There are no windows in the truck, and his chains are fastened to the wall to keep him secure. It’s always the same – a very smoothly run operation with never even the smallest chance of escape. Whoever runs this sick tournament has money and connections. Gibbs has seen gleaming limos coming and going, and the stable and holding pens he’s moved between are all expensive.
He's caught sight of what he suspects were a couple of Saudi princes and some wealthy Texas oilmen. You have to be rich to afford the fighters. His own price was just a few thousand on first sale, but now he knows he’s worth about $250,000 to Scott. He’s a winner, and winners go up in value with every single successful fight. Not that Scott would sell him. He’s grooming him to win the entire season and give Scott the kind of clout and influence within the cartel that he craves so much that Gibbs can almost smell it.
Gibbs is in the truck for what feels like an hour or two, while the night’s entertainment continues outside. He can hear the occasional roar from the crowd. He’s still naked, but he’s become used to that. They don’t let them have clothes, maybe because it makes it harder for them to run away, or because they don’t want them to have access to anything that might aid them in a suicide attempt; no belts, or shoelaces, or anything they could tie together to make a noose. Or maybe it’s because they want to make it clear to the fighters that they are nothing, that their old lives are over, and they have no identity outside the pit. Their sole purpose is to fight and fuck on cue to entertain the audience and bring glory to their owners. Nothing else exists for them.
He’s tired – the drugs are starting to wear off and that, combined with the adrenaline high fading, makes him feel suddenly drained. He’s so weary of this, and if he has too much time to think the dark moods take over. He can’t think about what he just did back there, or who he has become. He can’t allow himself to do anything except survive.
The truck door opens, and a man is thrown inside. Gibbs recognizes him as his defeated opponent of the evening. He is Scott's prize – his winnings – and the new addition to his stable, won for him by Gibbs’s skill and ruthlessness in the pit.
The newcomer is chained too, and his head lolls back against the wall. His skin looks almost grey in colour, and Gibbs hopes he isn't too badly hurt. Scott's doctor will check him out when they get back to the stable in the usual post-fight examination.
As he studies the man's face, that niggle of recognition he had earlier suddenly hits him.
"Hurrell? Lieutenant Sam Hurrell?"
One of the man's eyelids flickers open. The other is swollen shut. "Yeah," he mutters. "How did you…?"
Gibbs gives a tight, ironic smile. "You're the reason I'm here. Your wife told me you weren't a deserter, and I believed her."
Hurrell's good eye glows in the dark truck and then the glow fades sadly, and shame floods in instead. Gibbs almost wishes he hadn't mentioned the man's wife.
"Jan's okay?" Hurrell asks huskily.
"She was fine when I last saw her, but she’s worried about you. She convinced me that you'd never go AWOL, so I came looking for you."
"Agent Gibbs. NCIS." Or at least that's who he was once. Now he's not so sure.
"Oh fuck." Hurrell's grey skin is tinged with a flush of pink. "Sorry I got you dragged into this, Gibbs. They took me…was out drinking with my friends…"
"I know. They gave statements."
"On my way home…walking…the bastards must have been following me. Just took me."
"Seemed like you'd vanished into thin air. We investigated – found nothing. But I must have asked the right questions in the wrong place because…" He shrugs.
One minute he'd been drinking while working in his basement, and the next he'd blacked out. Whatever they'd laced his bourbon with was so strong he went down fast and was out of it for hours. He had been mercifully groggy throughout the whole humiliating ordeal of being purchased by Scott – a middle-ranking member of the cartel that runs these human dogfights, or 'modern-day gladiatorial contests' as Scott grandly likes to call them.
“Sorry,” Hurrell says again, looking down.
“Don’t apologise. Sign of weakness,” Gibbs snaps back automatically.
Hurrell still has an erection. He flushes again and glances up at Gibbs. “Damn it, what the hell is in that shit they inject into us before the fights?”
“Viagra. Testosterone.” Gibbs shrugs. “And fuck knows what else.” He wonders what Abby would find if she looked at his blood through her microscope right now.
Then there is suddenly nothing else to say. Gibbs thinks he’s should feel something, some kind of connection to the man who is the reason he’s here, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t feel anything. It’s as if that Gibbs was someone else. He felt the same way after Shannon and Kelly died; the life he had when he was a husband and father died with them. Now the life he once lived as an NCIS agent has gone too. He’s not that man anymore.
Since he was taken, he’s been forced to fight once a week in various venues. After each fight he is returned to Scott’s stable and made to perform a physical exercise regimen and daily training fights in preparation for the next contest. It’s relentless, and it’s been his life for so long now that he finds it hard to remember who he once was. Not that it matters; he doesn’t have the luxury of dwelling on the past if he’s to stand any chance of surviving the present.
Hurrell clears his throat, and Gibbs knows what he is going to say before he says it.
"So, if you're here…is there…any chance…?" Hurrell looks almost afraid to be asking the question, and Gibbs understands his dilemma. He wants to know if there's any chance of rescue, but at the same time he doesn't want whatever small nugget of hope he's been nursing to be taken away.
"No," Gibbs replies shortly, removing that hope as swiftly and cleanly as he fought and fucked back in the pit.
Gibbs shuts his eyes and leans his head back against the wall of the truck. It’s been five months since he was taken, and in his darker moments he can’t help wondering if his team is even still looking for him.
"Director Vance." Tony nods his head at the director as he takes his place at the conference table in his office, for their usual weekly briefing meeting.
"Agent DiNozzo." Vance nods back curtly.
Tony places the bulging case file on the table in front of him and opens it. Vance sits back in his chair, and Tony notices the toothpick between his fingers. That isn’t good. He’s become proficient at reading Vance over the past few months, and the appearance of the toothpick is never a good sign.
Tony launches into an update, talking fast, aware that he doesn't have his audience's full attention. Vance has crossed one leg over the other and is tapping the toothpick impatiently on the table.
"So, what you're saying, Agent DiNozzo, is that you're no further forward this week than last week?" Vance interrupts him.
"That's not entirely true…"
"And I have my best team working a case that's rapidly turning cold."
Tony looks up sharply. "It's not a cold case, Director. We still have leads. We will find Agent Gibbs."
"And in the meantime, this agency's solve rate is going down the pan because you and your team are occupied elsewhere."
Tony shuts the file with a terse flick of his wrist. "It would help if we got some co-operation but every warrant I file gets refused, and every avenue of investigation I open up leads to a dead end. My calls don't get returned, and the local LEOs obstruct me wherever I go. How the hell am I supposed to find Gibbs when there's a wall of silence around this case that not even my badge and this agency's name can penetrate?"
Vance sticks the toothpick in his mouth and gazes at him mutely.
"Is there something going on that I don't know about, sir?" Tony emphasizes the last word sarcastically.
"I don't know what the hell you mean," Vance says, but Tony can see a flicker of something in his almost inscrutable brown eyes. "SecNav is concerned about our solve rate. I can't keep one team working one case indefinitely. You've had five months. At some point we have to call it a day, DiNozzo."
Tony sits back in his chair. "And have we reached that point, Director? Is that what you're telling me?"
Vance has the grace to at least look uncomfortable. "Yes, I am."
"You're really telling us to give up on one of our own people? To give up on Gibbs?" Tony doesn’t raise his voice, but he thinks his white hot anger is clearly conveyed all the same.
Vance gives a heavy sigh. “It pains me, Agent DiNozzo, but you’ve tried hard enough for long enough – and it does you credit that you haven’t given up long before now. But you can’t go on forever. It’s time to move on. You’ve been running the MCRT for the past five months, so I’m going to make that official, and give you the job title and pay raise to match.” He gives a big smile. “You’re the special agent in charge as of now, DiNozzo. Congratulations on your promotion.”
Tony gives a disbelieving laugh. "Oh my God, I must have a problem with my ears!” He slaps both his ears dramatically with the palms of his hands. “Because I could have sworn I heard you trying to buy me off! Is that what I heard, Director?”
Vance grits his teeth. “Of course not. I’m just saying – it’s time you were paid your due. You’ve led that team and led it well for the past few months. Take the promotion and the pay rise, DiNozzo. You’ve earned it.”
Tony shakes his head. “Have you no shame, Director Owens?"
Vance stiffens and sits up at Tony’s use of that particular name. "What the hell…?"
"I thought it was time to stop pretending," Tony interrupts. "Your real name is Tyler Keith Owens, and unlike the real Leon Vance, you were never a Marine. Want to know how I know this?"
Vance's eyes flicker angrily. “You’re on very dangerous ground here, DiNozzo.”
"I know this because if you were, you'd never leave a man behind. ‘Semper fi’, remember? If you were missing, if you'd been taken, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Gibbs would never give up on you, Director. He's a Marine. You never were."
“How did you…?”
“I’ve been through everything Gibbs ever touched with a fine toothcomb these past few months. It’s surprising what he had stashed away.” Tony shrugs.
"Damn it, DiNozzo – I'm not the one shutting this down!" There is a hint of guilt in Vance's eyes, and Tony knows his barbs have hit home. "We all have our orders, Tony," Vance adds softly.
So that's it. SecNav is behind this; he's the one shutting down the investigation. Tony isn't surprised; it's become very clear to him over the past five months that his investigation is being hampered at the highest level.
"You need to understand…" Vance begins.
"Oh, I understand, sir." Tony gives a tight smile. "You're just following orders. I understand that very well." His voice drips sarcasm.
Vance slams his fist on the table. "I don't give a damn what you think you understand, DiNozzo. Just understand *this*. Your investigation into the disappearance of Lieutenant Hurrell and Agent Gibbs is over as of now. You're done here."
Tony nods slowly. Then he stands up. He's planned for this; hell, he was expecting it. "I believe I have six weeks leave accrued, sir. I'll be taking it with immediate effect."
Vance sighs. "Fine. Do this the hard way, DiNozzo. You can have your six weeks, but when they're up I expect you back at your desk, working the cases *I* give you."
Tony gathers up the bulging file and walks stiffly towards the door.
"And DiNozzo? Don't use the badge during your leave. If I hear you've used this agency's name in your own private investigation…"
Tony turns, and for a second his usual controlled mask isn't in place, and he sees Vance visibly recoil from what he sees on his face. Then he gets himself under control and forces his mask back on.
"That's fine. Here – I'll leave it with you for safe-keeping. I’m not feeling too proud about wearing it these days anyway."
He walks back over to the table, removes the badge from his belt, and puts it down with deliberate disdain in front of Vance.
Vance reaches out and grabs his wrist. "Don't be an idiot, DiNozzo. Read between the lines; this is way out of your league."
Tony laughs, and Vance looks up at him, a surprised expression on his face.
"Sorry…" Tony says between chuckles. "See, I can live with being thought an idiot, Director. Hell, I'm used to it! That won't keep me up at night!" He snaps off the laugh and leans in close. "What I can't live with is the thought of abandoning a friend. Now that, Director, really would keep me up at night. Maybe you’ve found a way to live with yourself, but I know I never could if I did that."
Vance shakes his head. "Look, DiNozzo, I know how you feel about Gibbs…"
Tony stiffens and pulls his arm out of Vance's grasp. "No. Really. You don't. If you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Then he turns and walks out of Vance's office without looking back.
It’s probably mid-morning by the time they get back, but inside the stable they work to a different timetable. When it’s daytime outside, it’s nighttime within, keeping the fighters’ body clocks tuned so they’re alert to fight at night.
The venues for the fights change regularly; sometimes they’re close to the stable and other times they’re a long drive away. This one was several hours’ drive, but Gibbs has no idea where the stable or the venue are because the truck has no windows.
The truck drives straight into the stable, and the fighters are removed one by one, with a heavy escort. It’s a long, slow operation, and Gibbs snoozes through most of it. Finally it’s his turn.
He knows the routine. He’s taken to the showers first and that’s where his chains are removed. Armed guards watch him shower, and then he’s escorted along the hallway to the doctor’s office.
Dr Tanner is a young, skinny guy with red hair, and freckled skin. He’s on Scott’s payroll, and Gibbs long since stopped trying to appeal to the man’s better nature. When Gibbs first arrived, he spent some time trying to win the doctor over, but Tanner’s weak and likes his regular large pay check too much. He’s also got a gambling problem, and he loves the high he gets off the fights.
Gibbs hopes Tanner won his bets tonight. When the doc wins, he floats his way through the post-fight medical exams, and they go much easier. When he loses…then the bastard can be brutal with his patients.
He clearly won tonight. He grins as he checks Gibbs over, examining his knuckles and ribs, assessing the damage.
“Saw you take a punch here,” he says, pressing down hard on Gibbs’s ribs. Gibbs sucks in a low growl. “Not broken – just bruised. You’ll be fine to fight again next week.”
He removes his latex gloves, reaches for his clipboard, and fills in some details on Gibbs’s chart.
“I’m increasing your meds. The fights only get tougher from here on in, Leroy. Gotta make sure you’re at your best.” He gives a little giggle. The good doctor also has a coke habit, and Gibbs can see he’s been indulging tonight; he usually does on Fight Nights.
“By increasing the amount of that shit you inject into me and shove down my throat?” Gibbs growls.
Tanner shrugs and looks up, meeting his eyes, suddenly serious. “You wanna win, don’t you?”
Gibbs stares at him for a long moment and then gives a taut nod. He does. That’s a promise he made to himself during his first fight, and he intends to keep it.
“Then trust me.” Tanner giggles again. “I’ve been getting the dose right so far. I’ll keep you good and angry and horny when you step into the pit. I’ve got everything riding on you to win, Leroy! It’s in my best interest to keep you fighting fit.”
“Glad to hear it,” Gibbs says sarcastically, but it’s lost on Tanner. "These drugs even licensed, Tanner?"
Tanner shrugs. "Some of 'em."
Gibbs doesn't even want to think about what the long term side effects might be – if he lives long enough for that to ever be an issue.
The doctor mixes a concoction of drugs into a plastic cup of water and then hands it to Gibbs. When given orally, the drugs are always dissolved in liquid; there’s never any chance you can pretend to swallow but keep them in your mouth. “Drink.”
Gibbs takes the cup and gazes at it distastefully. His personal guard shifts, his hand going to the whip tucked into his belt, his meaning all too clear. Gibbs tried to get out of taking the drugs once and took a whipping for his defiance, so he knows there’s no point refusing. He downs the liquid in two gulps, refusing to gag on the vile taste. The doctor hands him a clean cup of water, and he drinks that quickly too, to wash the unpleasant taste of the drugs out of his mouth.
He’s signed off, and the guards escort him back to his stall at gunpoint. The stall is a narrow metal cell, with a toilet in one corner and a mattress on the floor. There’s one pillow and one blanket. But today, something is different. There’s another mattress on the floor and another occupant: Lieutenant Hurrell.
“Get out,” Gibbs snaps.
Hurrell sits up, looking confused. “But they said I was to sleep in here…”
“We’re running out of space because of all the fighters you keep winning for us,” McGuire tells Gibbs with a grin.
“I said, get the fuck out. I don’t share with anyone,” Gibbs growls.
“Don’t be so hasty. You might want the company,” McGuire murmurs into his ear. “Your dose just went up. You’ll be horny all the time…you’ll want someone to fuck to take the edge off it, or it’ll drive you nuts. If this one’s not your type, then how about that kid Steve?”
Gibbs makes no reply. He just turns, slowly, to glare at McGuire. They can make him fight, and they can make him fuck his defeated opponent in the pit, but they can’t make him fuck anyone just for his own pleasure, to “take the edge off it”.
McGuire shrugs. “Your choice. I just thought you’d like a fuck buddy. You’ll change your mind when your cock is hard all night long, and you wanna bury it balls deep in some piece of ass just to stop it aching like a motherfucker. I’ve seen it before.”
The guard jerks his head, and Hurrell grabs his thin mattress and bedding and scuttles out of the stall.
McGuire pushes Gibbs inside and shuts and locks the door behind him. Gibbs lies down on the mattress and gazes up at the ceiling, relieved to finally be alone.
It might have been nice to have the company though. It might have helped stop the dark thoughts he sometimes gets in the middle of the night.
“Better to be alone,” he growls, clamping down on the desire for company, conversation, and human connection. It’s a weakness he can’t afford right now.
“Is it really better to be alone?” a little voice whispers inside his head. “Or were you just afraid of the temptation? Maybe you were afraid you might wake up and find yourself holding that poor bastard down while you pump into his tight hole…”
His cock is hard and aching at the thought, the new drugs causing waves of sexual energy to sweep through his body. He ruts helplessly into his hand and even when he comes his cock remains half hard afterwards.
He closes his eyes. Sleep is the one respite he gets from this nightmare; he hopes he won’t have to wait too long for it to claim him.
Tony sits in his car for a few minutes before finally getting out and forcing himself into Starbucks. He isn’t looking forward to this.
Jan Hurrell is a neat little woman with a sleek, dark brown bob. She looks up and sees him, and her face breaks into a pathetically hopeful smile. He manages a smile in return – one of his big, bright ones that never reach his eyes – and goes over to the table. She gestures to the cup of coffee waiting for him.
“I hope that’s the way you like it. I think it is,” she says. “I’ve watched you order it often enough!”
He takes a sip and finds it’s just how he likes it. He nods and smiles his thanks, another of those big, bright smiles.
“You have bad news,” she says, and either his smile wasn’t big or bright enough, or this brave, patient woman has learned to read him too well over the past five months.
“Yes.” He’s always been honest with her; he’s not about to stop now. “I’m sorry, Jan, but the case has been shut down as of this afternoon. I’ve been forbidden to work on it.”
“Classified as officially AWOL. A deserter. The case has been closed.”
“A missing person.” Tony shrugs. “No link has ever been found between their disappearances. Apart from the big, fat coincidence that they both disappeared without a trace within a month of each other and nobody heard from them again,” he says bitterly. “And the fact that Gibbs disappeared while investigating your husband’s own disappearance.”
“So that’s it? I mean, there’s no recourse? Nobody we can go to? No way we can change their minds?”
“No.” Tony shakes his head. “To be honest, I’m not surprised it’s come to this, Jan. I’ve told you several times recently how hard it’s been. Everything I do, every way I turn, I come up empty. At first I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. Now I realize it’s deliberate. Someone has something to hide; something big.”
Jan’s face is a picture of pinched misery. “Who?”
“I wish I knew.”
“I don’t understand. Do they think we can just wash our hands of them? That we can just move on and forget about Sam and Gibbs?” she asks in a tone of disbelief.
“We’re the little people. We don’t matter to them. Sam and Gibbs don’t matter to them,” Tony replies bitterly.
“Sam’s my husband! We’ve been married for nine years! I love him. It kills me every single hour of the day, knowing he’s out there, being held somewhere against his will. How can I forget him?”
“You can’t, and neither can I.” Tony shakes his head. “I’m taking the six weeks leave I’m due, so I can continue the investigation.”
“Alone?” She raises an eyebrow. “What about your team?”
“They support me, but they’re more use to me at NCIS so I told them to stay put.” He gives a rueful smile as he remembers how hard it was convincing Abby to do that. She wanted them all to resign and go looking for Gibbs, but he couldn’t see what use that would be. Haven’t they already spent virtually every waking hour for the past five months looking for Gibbs with all the facilities of NCIS at their disposal?
“And what happens when your six weeks are up?” Jan asks. “What then, Tony?”
“Then we’ll see where we’re at when we reach that point.”
Maybe then it’ll be time for the entire team to resign and go renegade in their search for Gibbs. He has to see what he can turn up during the next six weeks before he can make that decision.
She looks suddenly afraid. “Be careful, Tony. Remember what happened to Agent Gibbs when he first started poking into Sam’s disappearance – they took him too. I don’t want that to happen to you. Promise me that won’t happen to you too!”
“I can’t promise that, but I can promise that I will never, ever give up on Sam or on Gibbs. You have my word.”
“I know.” She puts her hand over his, where it’s resting on the table. “I know that, Tony.”
“Someone is shutting this down – someone at the very top,” Tony tells her. “They took away my badge, Jan.”
“As if that would stop you,” she says scornfully. “If they thought that would stop you then they don’t know Tony DiNozzo very well!”
He glances at her, a little surprised by her certainty, and she smiles at the question in his eyes.
“They can try their best to try to make us go away, but we won’t. I’m not the kind of person who would ever give up on someone I love, and neither are you, Tony.”
He blinks, startled. “How did you…?”
“I see it in your eyes every time we meet. You feel the same way about Gibbs that I feel about Sam. I saw through the big smile a long time ago. I know you’re hurting as much as I am right now. How long have you been in love with him, Tony?”
It’s the first time anyone has ever called him on it, and now that it’s happened, he finds it’s the most natural thing in the world to talk about it.
“Since the day I first met him.” He stirs his coffee aimlessly and then looks at her again. “He was undercover, but I didn’t know that at the time.” He smiles at the memory. “I had to arrest him – took him down with a full body slam, and I think the minute he looked up at me I was gone. I didn’t know it then, of course, but looking back…” He shrugs. “That was ten years ago. I was a cop at Baltimore PD, and he…kind of recruited me.”
She gives a little smile. “Ten years – that’s about the same time as I’ve been with Sam.” She squeezes his hand firmly. “He doesn’t know, does he?”
“I have no idea.” Tony shrugs. “I never told him, because he never showed any interest. Me, I’ve been sleeping with guys as well as girls since I was old enough to have sex…but he’s never shown any signs of being bisexual. It’s annoying,” he gives her a little grin, “because I was always so good at never falling for the straight boys. I used to look down on the idiots who did. And I guess I always hoped that when I did fall in love, it’d be with a girl…just because that’s easier.”
“I don’t think we can choose who we fall in love with, Tony,” she says softly.
“You think?” he laughs out loud. “’Cause if we could, I promise you I wouldn’t have fallen for an ornery Marine with a bad taste in haircuts and an even worse taste in clothes!”
She laughs too. “Sounds like Sam. I swear, when we first married I used to throw away one item of clothing per week and smuggle in new things when he wasn’t looking. No taste whatsoever!”
“Oh, if I could ever get my hands on Gibbs’s closet, I would make a bonfire of his terrible Sears collection. Then I’d take him out and buy him some silk shirts in just the right shade to show off those beautiful baby blues of his.”
They smile, faded, tight little smiles, and then they fall silent, each of them lost in their own memories.
After awhile she picks up her purse and gets up. He gets up too, and she folds him into a fierce hug, and they cling on to each other for the brief moment of comfort it affords.
“Same time next week?” she murmurs into his shoulder.
“Well…maybe…” He hesitates and then draws away from her. “If I’m not here, it’s because I’m out following a lead. Don’t worry about me if that happens. Just…wait it out.”
She knows what he has planned; he can see it in her eyes. And she’s worried for him, but she wants her husband back, so she doesn’t try to talk him out of it.
“I’ll be here,” she says firmly. “I will be here, Tony, same place, same time, every week, until you come here and tell me what happened to my husband.”
She gives him another firm hug, and then she leaves. Tony sits back down at the table after she’s gone and stares into his coffee. It feels strange, after all these years, to have been called on the one thing he has tried so hard to hide. He’s surprised to find that he feels relieved that someone finally knows. Someone knows, and understands, and isn’t shocked, or horrified, or judging him for it. It’s a small relief, in the grand scheme of things, but it unlocks something inside him.
He’s on his own now, a free agent, and it’s time to start acting like one. He’s no longer bound by the rules and regulations that came with wearing that badge, or the restrictions that came with always hiding his true feelings. He’s not going to do that again. He is who he damn well is, and he’ll be damned if he pretends to be someone else.
He isn’t an NCIS agent right now. He’s just a guy named Tony, who has been crazy in love with a guy named Gibbs for nearly ten years.
Tony downs the coffee and then gets up, a decisive new energy thrumming through his veins. What he knows, and what the people who stole Gibbs don’t know, is just how dangerous a Tony DiNozzo in love can be.
But they’re about to find out.
He’s woken by the blare of the klaxon, as he has been for the past five months and the lights are turned up to full blast in the hallway outside, flooding into the stall through the inset window in the door. There are no lights in the individual stalls; there’s no need for them as the fighters only go there to sleep – and to fuck. Gibbs often hears the unmistakable sound of them fucking each other in the adjacent stalls.
His stall door is opened, and he blinks as he steps out into the bright, artificial light in the hallway. The building is made of a lightweight metal material, clearly intended to be a temporary structure, easy to take down and reassemble somewhere else.
It’s hard to tell in here, under the constantly bright lights, but he judges that it’s probably evening outside.
There’s a subdued feeling in the air, the way there always is the day after a fight. All that adrenaline and the extra drugs they’re given on Fight Nights have left them drained. Several of them are nursing bruises, and some of them have more serious injuries.
Gibbs glances around to assess the situation; he was too out of it in the truck last night to pay much attention to who was coming back with them and who wasn’t. Steve must have won his fight because he’s there, although he’s limping badly. Gibbs glances down to see that his ankle is covered with bite marks.
“Think they’ll let me off next Fight Night?” Steve asks him, as they’re herded towards the showers.
“For just a few bites? Not a chance,” Gibbs snorts.
Several broken fingers might win you a few weeks respite – no owner wants to risk losing a fighter by fielding one too injured to stand a chance of winning. But other than that, if it’s just a pulled muscle, cuts and bruises, or a minor sprain, they’ll throw you out into the pit to fight again the following week.
Gibbs knows that any fighters requiring serious medical help for internal injuries or complex fractures are taken out back and shot. Tanner can deal with bruises, strains, and minor sutures, but Gibbs is sure that any kind of internal surgical procedure is beyond him.
They shower together as usual, and Gibbs is aware of some of the men staring hungrily at others. He meets any such impertinent gaze directed his way with a dark glare. He knows they’re all hopped up on drugs, and they’re all feeling the same strains and pressures as he is, but he wants them to be clear that he’s not an option. They’re all scared of him in any case. His reputation has been growing with each successful fight, and the way he carries himself and his frequent glares make them wary of him.
“Hey, Gibbs, how long have you been here?” Sam Hurrell asks as he soaps himself.
“Five months,” Gibbs replies tersely.
“No, I mean, how long in Scott’s stable?”
“Five months,” Gibbs repeats. “Never been anywhere else. Never lost a fight.”
“Never? Not even in the early days?” Hurrell looks surprised.
“I lost my first three. To be honest…” Hurrell glances down and then up again, looking ashamed. “I thought it’d be better to lose than to win and have to…” He chews on his lower lip.
Gibbs shrugs. “If I win, nobody dies, but I only have control over that if I win. If I lose, and the other guy refuses…one of us is dead.”
“So it’s pure survival?” Hurrell asks.
“Yes.” Maybe. He doesn’t like losing, and the thought of being raped out there for the pleasure of the bastards running this sick tournament doesn’t appeal, either. Maybe it’s not just survival, and maybe he’s not that altruistic.
“Took me a long time to get my head around it. Wasn’t sure if I could do it the first time…” Gibbs sees that same ashamed, almost guilty look in his eyes that he saw last night in the truck when he mentioned Hurrell’s wife. “The drugs help,” Hurrell finishes with a shrug.
“Yeah, the drugs make me so horny I’d fuck my own grandmother,” Steve butts in with a ribald laugh.
Gibbs gives Hurrell a thoughtful glance. He’s surprised the man hasn’t asked him about his wife. Jan Hurrell insisted her husband was devoted to her, so it’s only natural that he’d want whatever news he could get of home. Maybe Hurrell is biding his time, waiting to get Gibbs alone.
Gibbs glances down at his body as he soaps himself. He’s always been lean but now there’s no spare flesh on him. His muscles are tautly defined and much bigger and bulkier than they used to be, partly because of the drugs and partly because of the relentless daily exercise regime.
“You’re such a winner, Wolfman,” Steve says, daring to make conversation with him, which is unusual. Hurrell has broken the ice; usually the other fighters are too scared of him to initiate conversation – and he hasn’t exactly encouraged them. “What’s the secret? I’ve lost more times than I’ve won; been in about eight different stables.”
“Are they all like this one?” Gibbs asks.
“Pretty much.” Steve shrugs. “Some are worse. One of them had a Jacuzzi! I liked that one. I heard that in one of the stables, if you win your fight they give you a woman for the night,” Steve adds, soaping his cock obscenely. “I always wanted to end up in that stable!”
“Myth.” Gibbs shrugs. “They wouldn’t risk it. Any woman they brought in might talk to the cops, and they’ve got this whole operation nailed down tight.”
“Damn it.” Steve looks disappointed. “What is it with the whole gay thing anyway?” he asks furtively. “I mean…in the ring…what they make us do at the end of each fight?”
“It’s not about sex; it’s about domination and humiliation,” Hurrell says quietly, and Gibbs gets a sense of the man as intelligent and thoughtful, just as his wife said. “I’ve been thinking about this, and I think maybe it started out as a side effect of the drugs. They made the fighters horny, so this got to be part of the whole performance – a sort of literal climax for the audience. And it gives the fighters more incentive to put up a good fight, knowing there’s a price for losing.”
“You think it started out as just a fight club type deal?” Steve asks. “You know, like the movie?”
Gibbs gazes blankly into the distance, his stomach clenching as he remembers Tony telling him about that movie once.
What the hell is Tony doing right now? Is he out there, looking for him, or has he given up on him and forgotten all about him? Is he even now working some other case, standing at a crime scene, handing out orders and head-slaps? No. He has to clamp down on that dark thought before it runs away with him. He doesn’t believe that. Tony is either working his ass off to find him, or he’s dead. There are no other options.
Tony wouldn’t forget about him.
Tony opens the fridge door and fishes out the remains of a pizza. He tears off a slice and bites away a big chunk, and the cold, congealed cheese sticks to the back of his throat as he swallows. He grimaces – it’s some weird combo of olives and anchovies – not exactly his favourite choice of toppings, but hey, it’s pizza, and he’s starving. He devours the slice, then takes the box containing the rest of the pizza and a cold beer out of the fridge and goes over to the sofa to sit and wait.
It’s nearly 11 p.m. when he hears a key turning in the front door. There’s a slamming sound as the door is shut, and a few seconds later a man walks into the living room. He turns on the light, humming softly to himself, and then he sees Tony sitting on his sofa and draws his gun quickly.
“Hey, it’s only me!” Tony puts up his hands.
“DiNozzo? What the hell are you doing here?” Tony hates the way Fornell always pronounces it ‘DiNotzo’. It might be the correct Italian pronunciation, but it’s not one they use in his family, and Fornell knows that. Tony is sure he only does it to piss him off.
“What? A guy can’t visit the old friend of a friend?” Tony asks with a raised eyebrow.
“Visitors knock on the door and wait to be invited in. They don’t let themselves in and steal all my pizza and beer,” Fornell grumbles, eyeing the empty pizza box and beer bottle on the coffee table.
“I was hungry. And bored.”
“You couldn’t have called and arranged to come over some time I was home?”
“I didn’t want anyone to know I was here. And trust me, you don’t want anyone knowing I’m here, either.”
Fornell’s expression changes, and he takes off his jacket and sits down cautiously in the armchair opposite Tony.
“What’s going on, DiNozzo?”
“Gibbs is missing,” Tony says bluntly.
“I thought the bastard had been quiet. How long?”
“Five months?” Fornell gets to his feet. “And you’re only just telling me now?
“I tried before, but you were unavailable.”
Fornell runs a hand through his straggly hair. “I was working an undercover case; been out of circulation for the past eight months. Only wrapped it up this week. Haven’t even damn well had a chance to get a trim.”
“I can see that. It’s a really bad look on you.” Tony makes a face.
Fornell ignores him. “Why are you here, DiNozzo? Does NCIS need the FBI’s help on this one?”
“No.” Tony shakes his head curtly. “Tony DiNozzo needs Tobias Fornell’s help. The FBI won’t help, and I’m on leave from NCIS.”
“I already asked. I got stonewalled, just like everywhere I go. Even NCIS. Vance shut me down earlier today.”
“Vance shut you down when you’re looking for Gibbs? The son of a bitch!”
Fornell goes into the kitchen, and Tony can hear him opening the fridge door. Then he returns to the living room with a beer in his hand.
“Tell me everything,” he says, sitting down.
Tony gets Gibbs’s case file out of his bag and puts it down in front of Fornell.
“He just disappeared – no sign of a struggle in his house…although…there was no bourbon in the place, and I’ve never known Gibbs not to have a bottle of bourbon in the basement.”
“You think they kidnapped Gibbs *and* his bourbon?” Fornell raises an amused eyebrow.
“No. I think they drugged his bourbon and then took it when they took him, to hide the evidence,” Tony says curtly. “He was investigating the disappearance of a Marine lieutenant called Sam Hurrell. Since then, I’ve found a number of men who went missing in the exact same way – some military, some not. A few weeks ago, we got a lead and went to this place.”
Tony opens up the file and removes a set of photographs. He points to a hollowed out pit in the ground, covered in sawdust.
“We found blood there. Did a DNA test and found it belonged to a missing army corporal called Peter Hendricks.”
“And since then?”
Tony sits back with a sigh and takes another sip of his beer. “Since then nothing. The land where we found the pit belongs to a property company waiting for permission to build. They said they didn’t have a clue about the existence of the pit. I asked around, but I keep coming up blank.”
“Well you would,” Fornell says slowly.
Tony’s head jerks up. “What makes you say that? What do you know, Fornell?”
“Nothing much. Just…a couple of years ago there were these rumours… DiNozzo, have you ever been to a dog fight?”
“Busted a few when I was a cop,” Tony replies. “Why? What the hell have dog fights got to do with this?”
“Think dog fights – but with men instead,” Fornell tells him quietly. Tony stares at him, trying to make sense of that. “I didn’t even believe them at the time,” Fornell continues, “but there were these rumours of illegal prize fights – no holds barred, that kind of thing. I heard it was highly organized and very lucrative.”
“So why the hell isn’t the FBI all over this?” Tony demands angrily.
Fornell shakes his head. “Because, from what I heard, the cartel running the fights is made up of some of the wealthiest men on the planet. There is…political pressure…from high up. Threats that investment will be withdrawn and careers destroyed if certain investigations aren’t dropped.”
“Horse-racing and gambling aren’t enough for these rich bastards then?” Tony asks sarcastically. “They want the thrill of bare knuckle fighting too?”
Fornell shrugs. “It’s kind of the rich man’s version of a dog fight. A lot of money changes hands at these fights – and there’s some kind of on-going contest, leading to one big fight at the end of the season – some kind of winner takes it all deal.”
“Christ, there’s a season for it?”
“Yeah – spring through until late fall, while the weather holds good.”
“Damn it, Fornell, you’re sitting there just telling me about this? You never did anything about it?” Tony growls.
Fornell leans forward. “I didn’t know they were kidnapping men to do the fighting. I thought the fighters chose to do it – that they got paid. And I was warned off, like everyone else.”
Tony stares at him, dumbfounded. “Five months? Gibbs has been fighting in these pits for the past five months?”
“I don’t know. I’m just saying…it sounds like the thing I heard about a couple of years ago.”
“Fuck.” Tony sits back in the couch, feeling winded.
“Yeah.” Fornell stares at him for a moment. “So what’s the plan, DiNozzo?”
“Oh, you didn’t come here without a plan. I take it Vance has warned you off, so now you’re exploring other avenues.”
“Yeah, I am. That’s where you come in. And McGee. But mostly you.” Tony reaches into his pocket and then hands Fornell a cell phone.
“You’re going to do something stupid, aren’t you?” Fornell sighs.
Tony grins. “Probably. See, we need to be a hydra.”
“A what?” Fornell looks at him as if he’s gone insane.
Tony laughs. “Did you never watch those great movies as a kid? Man, I loved ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. Ray Harryhausen did these fantastic special effects – okay, so compared to today’s CGI it’s primitive – but he was a genius with what he did at the time…”
Fornell clears his throat, and Tony winces and delivers a slap to the back of his own head. “Thank you, Boss,” he mutters, knowing Gibbs would have given him the slap in person if he’d been here.
“A hydra is a monster – if you cut off one head it just grows two more. Gibbs was the head of this investigation. He was asking too many awkward questions, so they got rid of him the best way they know how – and if what you’re saying is true then they got themselves a new fighter into the bargain.”
“And you’re the second head,” Fornell says. “I have a feeling I won’t like where this is going.”
“Yup, I’m the second head,” Tony confirms. “No point in them cutting me off because I wasn’t a threat – until Vance shut me down, and I decided to investigate alone. Now I’m vulnerable – there’s no telling what I might do now I’m off the grid and outside their control, and if I keep on pushing away at this, then I figure they’ll come for me too.”
“And I’m guessing I’m the third head. This is your plan? We all get kidnapped, one by one, until there’s nobody left? Your plan sucks, DiNozzo!” Fornell glares at him.
“Keep your hair on!” Tony looks at Fornell’s haystack mess of a hairstyle and grins. “That’s not the plan. Well, it’s not the whole plan.”
“You can forget about wearing any kind of transmitter under the skin,” Fornell tells him with a snort. “I can tell you straight away, these guys will sweep you for bugs the minute they’ve got you.”
“Well duh.” Tony rolls his eyes. “That’s not the plan, either. Not that it’s a great plan…just it’s all I’ve got. I need you to be my backup, Fornell. I need to know that if McGee calls, you will come roaring in with twenty trucks full of FBI agents. I need to know that I can trust you to do that; day or night, no matter what else you’ve got going on, you have to swear you’ll do that for me – for Gibbs.”
Fornell shakes his head. “Gibbs is one of my closest friends. Don’t tell him I said that,” he adds quickly. “Of course you can damn well count on me, DiNozzo! Christ, man, do you think I’d turn my back on Gibbs if he’s really been kidnapped by these people?”
“No. I wouldn’t be here if I thought that.”
Fornell gives a slow nod. There’s silence for a moment, and then Fornell leans forward. “How do you know he’s even still alive?”
Tony feels his gut clench. “I know,” he says firmly. Fornell raises a quizzical eyebrow. “I would know if he was dead. Gibbs might be a bastard, but he’s my damn bastard. So I know he’s still alive, Fornell. I just know.”
After showering, they’re escorted at gunpoint into the dining room for breakfast. The food is healthy – wholegrain bread, low-fat milk, cereal, fruit, eggs – it’s all deliberately calculated to keep them in the best physical condition possible. Not for their own sake, but so they’re the best fighting machines they can be.
There’s a kind of irony in how healthy the food is in juxtaposition to the injuries they all bear and the drugs they are made to take on a daily basis. Looking around the table, Gibbs can see black eyes, missing teeth, bruises, scratches and even some sutured wounds. He’s got off relatively lightly himself. He always does; he knows that the longer a fight lasts, the more injuries he’ll sustain and the harder it will be for him to recover. He has to take his opponents down quickly and ruthlessly; it’s what’s kept him alive all this time.
The choice of food irritates him. He longs for coffee, but that’s never been on the menu. There’s only fruit juice. He wants to taste pancakes and chocolate sauce and cookies – anything but the dour, worthy food that’s placed in front of him. And it’s not even as if he wants to taste them for their own sake – that ornery part of himself that has always hated being constricted and told what to do by people he doesn’t respect wants to taste them precisely because they are being denied.
He squashes down the anger, as he has to do a thousand times a day, and eats the food. He’s seen the results of a hunger strike, and it wasn’t pretty. Watching a man being held down and force-fed through a tube is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.
After breakfast, Tanner examines them and determines what they’re capable of in their training regime for the day.
Gibbs is cleared for his usual heavy workout. He’s aware of the other fighters watching him as he enters the gym and heads for the weights. He tries to keep himself separate from them. The more they know about him, the more they’ll see his weaknesses. He has to stay in control of himself at all times, so he doesn’t give too much away.
It’s hard to keep up that level of control, to never let them see that he has a weak knee and his eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be. Today, these fighters are in Scott’s stable – but next Fight Night they could lose and go to another stable, and the week after that he could be facing them in the pit. They are all potential opponents.
Steve jogs over to him, limping slightly on his injured ankle. “Hey, Wolfman!” The way he calls him by his fight name irritates Gibbs, just like the choice of food at breakfast irritated him, and the constant presence of the guards irritates him. He takes those small irritations and nurses them, so he can use them during the next Fight Night to give his anger edge and improve his performance.
“I was thinking; that advice you gave me before I went into the pit last night, you know, about keeping focused – well that really helped. So I was wondering if you could coach me. I know I’m scrappy – I’m not a good fighter like you – but I could learn. You could teach me.”
Steve puts up his fists and does a little dance, and Gibbs has a moment of déjà vu so strong it almost overwhelms him. He remembers Tony dancing around in front of him in the boxing ring in the NCIS gym a few years back, and how he took him down. He remembers the look of surprise on Tony’s face as he landed on his back, and the feeling of pride he’d taken in training his second in command. He enjoyed training Tony the way he always enjoyed training his men in the Marines, making them into strong soldiers to give them a fighting chance on the battlefield. Isn’t this exactly the same thing?
“No,” he snaps, glaring at Steve. He isn’t doing that again. He isn’t going to open himself up to how it feels to train these young men and then watch them fight in the pit. He doesn’t want to watch them lose and suffer the indignity of the rape that inevitably follows – or worse. He doesn’t want any of that to be his fault for not teaching them well enough and not making them strong enough. “Do your own damn training. I’m not here to nursemaid you.”
He sees the flash of hurt in Steve’s eyes but ignores it. Maybe the kid thought their conversation in the showers this morning and their brief rapport in the holding pen last night made them friends, but Gibbs doesn’t make friends that easily. He can count his real friends on the fingers of one hand, and none of them are in this building.
“I’ll help you,” Hurrell says quietly to Steve. “Go get into the ring. I’ll just go tape my hands, and then I’ll come show you some moves I learned in the Marines.”
Gibbs turns away and goes over to the weight stack to begin his prescribed workout, and Sam Hurrell follows him.
“Why did you talk to the kid like that?” Hurrell asks softly as Gibbs sits down and begins lifting. “You were in the Corps once, just like me, weren’t you, Gibbs? I know you were. I can tell. I can always tell another Marine when I see one.”
Gibbs raises an eyebrow but makes no reply.
“What I mean is ‘Semper fi’, Gibbs. We’re all in this together. We have to help each other.”
Gibbs snorts. “No, we’re all in this alone, Hurrell.”
“Are you scared you’ll teach him too well and if you ever have to face him in the pit he might beat you?” Hurrell pushes, his nostrils flaring angrily.
Gibbs drops his weights with a loud crash and turns to glare at the lieutenant.
“No…I’m more worried that if I ever meet him in the pit again I might have started to care about him too much and not be able to do what I have to damn well do,” Gibbs hisses. “Same for all of you.”
“You think that’s keeping us safe – and you too – but it’s not. It’s just another way they’re dehumanizing us,” Hurrell tells him in a low, angry voice. “They want us to forget our humanity, Gibbs. They want to turn us into these efficient fighting machines. The rapes are part of that – a way of making us ashamed of ourselves, a way to turn us from ourselves. We have to be better than them. We have to remember who we are, who we really are inside. We can’t let them strip that away from us.”
“Who you are,” Gibbs snaps. “That’s who you are, Hurrell. You need to justify everything in your own head, to somehow make it okay. You have this little system of checks and balances, don’t you? It’s okay to fuck this guy today as long as I help him tomorrow. It’s okay to beat this guy to a pulp if I teach that guy a few moves. It’s a constant stream of justifications and excuses and if that’s what gets you through, then fine. But don’t kid yourself that it’s nobler, or more human, or just plain better than my way of handling it.”
He stalks over to the treadmill, feeling angrier than he has all morning. The minor irritations were bad enough, but Hurrell just pressed all his buttons, and he’s not even sure why.
If only he could think straight. If only the damn drugs didn’t make him feel so angry and horny the whole time, and if only he could have some goddamn coffee!
There’s a giant bowl of popcorn, two big pizzas, and a case of beer on his coffee table. It could almost be movie night with a group of friends, but it isn’t. More like the last supper, Tony thinks as he takes his seat on the couch between Abby and McGee. Ducky is sitting opposite, on the armchair, bow tie slightly askew, an anxious frown on his face. Jimmy is sitting on the floor at Ducky’s feet, and Ziva is perched on the edge of his armchair.
Tony throws the bulging case file onto the table and extracts the latest updates from it, which he passes around. He’s already emailed them the information he received from Fornell a few nights ago.
“I took these photos yesterday. I couldn’t get access – I had no warrant and it was private land, heavily guarded by armed men.”
He gestures to the pictures of a large metal structure, as big as an aircraft hangar.
“It remained locked nearly all day – I watched,” he explains. “But at one point they opened it up to let in a truck of what might have been food and other supplies. The truck was unmarked so there’s no way of telling for sure.”
“And you think this is where they keep the fighters?” Ziva asks, studying the photograph.
“I think it’s one possible stable of fighters. There are clearly many, at many different locations.” Tony shrugs. “No telling where they’re holding Gibbs.”
“Why don’t we just go out there and storm the place?” Abby demands.
“No warrant for a start – and no judge apparently willing to sign off on one – and they’re armed, Abby. That’d just end in a gunfight that I’m not sure we could win. Also…” Tony sighs. “They saw me snooping around and chased me off, and when I went back this morning…” He puts another photo down on the table. “Gone. Not a trace of them. That structure is clearly portable.”
“These people are slippery like…like…slippery things!” Ziva exclaims, making frustrated gestures with her hands.
“I agree. Which is why we have to be just as slippery, Ziva,” Tony tells her. “So, here’s the plan.” He leans forward and begins explaining it to them, watching their faces become progressively more troubled with every word he says.
“I don’t like this, Tony,” Abby says when he’s finished.
“It’s not a great plan, Tony,” McGee agrees, his pale face more anxious than usual.
“Look, I’m not exactly thrilled about it, either, but we’ve spent the past five months drawing blanks, and I have no expectation that’s going to change,” Tony says firmly. “We’re running out of options, guys.”
“But this…this is so reckless, Tony,” Jimmy says, shaking his head.
“Your entire plan does rather rest on a cell phone, Anthony,” Ducky murmurs. “And on your own ingenuity of course. Not that I’m impugning that; I think we all agree that you have the best improvisational skills on the team. But still, I fear it leaves much to chance.”
“And to Tim,” Tony says, flashing McGee a quick smile. McGee doesn’t return it. “Look, like I said, it’s not great, but it’s all I’ve got. If anyone else has got anything better then I’m happy to hear it.”
There is silence. The entire team is gazing at him with doubtful looks on their faces, and Tony realizes just how scared they are right now.
“Hey! You’re forgetting one important part of the plan!” he tells them.
“We are?” Jimmy asks, looking confused.
“Yes – in fact you’re forgetting the most important part of the plan.” Tony pauses for dramatic effect and milks it for so long that in the end Abby elbows him in the ribs to make him get on with it. He grins. “It’s Gibbs, people! Gibbs is the most important part of the plan! He’s my secret weapon. I mean, c’mon, this is Leroy Jethro himself we’re talking about! If anyone can outwit these bastards, it’s him!”
“I don’t know, Tony,” McGee says, manfully ignoring Abby’s glare at him for doubting Gibbs’s superhero status. “Uh…it’s just…Gibbs has been missing for five months. You’d think if he could have gotten out of there then he would have done it by now.”
He doesn’t say what Tony knows they’re all thinking, what Fornell was thinking too, and what Tony refuses to acknowledge.
“Gibbs is NOT dead,” Abby says helpfully, saving him from having to say it. Of them all, it’s the two of them who are most convinced of that fact. “We would know if he was dead, wouldn’t we, Tony?”
“Yes,” Tony replies in such a firm and final voice that nobody argues again.
“I think it is a viable plan,” Ziva says unexpectedly. The others all look at her, and she shrugs and flicks her long dark hair impatiently. “Tony is right – we have run out of other options and it is time for a bold move. This is certainly that. It will move things along, change things, if nothing else. It is simply what we must do.”
“I agree. Thank you, Ziva.” Tony flashes her a smile. “So, it’s settled.”
They don’t look too happy about it, but then he didn’t expect them to be. He goes through the plan with them again, talking them through some of the details he’s uncovered over the past few days since he took his leave from NCIS.
Then he gets up and goes into the kitchen to get more beer, leaving them to talk about it amongst themselves. When he turns around he finds Ducky standing right behind him.
“You do realize the possible cost of this, don’t you, Anthony?” Ducky asks, gazing at him quizzically.
“C’mon, Ducky – you know I have to do this!”
“Yes, I do.” Ducky’s eyes are serious and concerned behind his spectacles. “I just wanted to be sure you know precisely what it is you are risking.”
“My life?” Tony raises an eyebrow. “Don’t we all risk that, every day on the job?”
“Yes, we do, but I fear in this instance you might be risking something a good deal more, in a way,” Ducky says quietly.
“I know I’ll probably have to fight…”
“And risk serious injury. This won’t be anything like the brawls you might have encountered in your job, my dear boy. I once witnessed this kind of pugilism as a young man on a trip to the Gorbals area of Glasgow, and it’s brutal. I know you have faith in your own prowess, and with good reason, but do not be under any false illusions about what you’ll face if your plan works. You could end up maimed for life, or brain damaged, if you are not killed.”
“Gibbs has been doing this for five months, Ducky. He’s had to handle it – why the hell shouldn’t I?”
He knows the answer. He can see it in Ducky’s eyes. Because Gibbs is Gibbs; he’s larger than life, invincible, and Tony has never yet seen him lose a fight.
“Hero-worship is all very well, my boy,” Ducky says quietly, “and maybe in this case even well justified. But at the end of the day Gibbs is still just a man, like the rest of us, and he possesses the same frailties that we do too.”
“Gibbs is a man?” Tony feigns shock. “You’re kidding me right, Duck? I always thought he was a god!”
They stare at each other for a moment, and Tony begins to regret his facetious comment as Ducky’s searching look penetrates all his defences. Tony looks down, unsettled, and Ducky touches his arm gently.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize,” Ducky says, in barely more than a whisper. “And I should have, of course, long before now.”
Tony keeps his gaze fixed on the floor. First Jan, and now Ducky; when did he become so damn transparent? Or maybe it’s this situation making him that way. He promised himself that he wasn’t going to hide anymore; he’s not even sure it’s possible anyway. Jan was right – losing someone you’ve loved so steadfastly for so long hurts – and it’s far easier to hide love than pain.
He jerks his head up to look at Ducky defiantly…only to find a sadly benign expression in the other man’s eyes that completely takes the wind out of his sails.
“So you can see why it has to be this way?” Tony says seriously, dropping all trace of his usual deflecting mask.
“Yes. We are all fools where love is concerned.” Ducky gives a little smile and pats his arm. “But you…all these years to love where you saw no hope of it being returned, and now, to make what might be the ultimate sacrifice for a man who has shown no sign…”
“I know,” Tony says abruptly. “It doesn’t matter. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do this. I’m not doing it to win his love, or any shit like that. I won’t lay this on him, or make him feel guilty, even if we do make it out of this alive. It just is what it is.” He shrugs.
“Yes. It is.” Ducky surprises him by putting his hands on either side of Tony’s face and drawing his head down. Then he bestows a gentle kiss on Tony’s forehead. “You’re a brave man, Anthony DiNozzo.”
Tony doesn’t feel brave. He feels stupid and full of doubts, the way he’s always been, his entire life. But he does know there is no other choice. If he loved Gibbs less then maybe he could choose a different path, but he won’t lie to himself about that, the way he’s lied to everyone else all these years. He loves the man, and he’ll throw himself straight into this lion’s den if it’s the only way to save him.
Ducky releases Tony and then he takes a couple of the bottles of beer from Tony’s hands and carries them out to the living room, talking aimlessly as he goes, giving away nothing of the conversation they just had.
Tony follows him. He hands out the beer, and then he beckons McGee over to one side and gives him the file.
“You’ll need this. Fornell has another copy with everything I know in it.”
“Don’t do this, Tony,” McGee says, and Tony can see just how frightened he is.
“I have to, Tim.” He gives what he hopes is a reassuring smile.
“At least let us follow you when they come for you. We can find out who they are and…”
“No.” Tony shakes his head firmly. “For a start, I think they’re too good to allow themselves to be followed judging by how smooth Hurrell’s and Gibbs’s abductions were – and I can’t risk you and Ziva getting hurt in the process because I need you both out here. But also, we’ve seen how quickly they can move their operations. If they think you’re onto them, they’ll shut things down before we get anywhere near Gibbs, and then we’ll never find him.”
“You don’t know you’ll get anywhere near Gibbs as it is,” McGee points out.
“But I have to try. I’m viewing this as being deep undercover, Tim. I’m not going to make a move to get out of there until I find Gibbs.”
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” McGee has a look of respect in his eyes. “I mean, I know you’ve done brave things before, Tony, but this…”
“Has to be done.” Tony pats his arm firmly. “Now look, you and Fornell are the next two heads on the hydra.”
“On the what?”
“Never mind. Just…if this doesn’t work, if you don’t hear from me within the agreed timescale, or if you or any of the rest of the team is threatened, then you go to the press.”
“Yeah. If these guys have taken out both me and Gibbs, then there’s no point risking the rest of you in the same way. You’ll find it hard to get the press on board – for the same reason that investigating this case has been so damn hard. There are too many backhanders involved and too much corruption at the highest level. Talking of which…” He takes a much slimmer file out of his jacket and hands it to McGee. “This is important. I did some digging on SecNav…”
“You did WHAT?” McGee asks, a horrified look on his face.
Tony puts a finger under his chin and pushes his jaw shut. “Come on, Tim. Think! Vance shut me down and his orders clearly came from higher up. These guys pretty much own the planet, Tim. They have enough money to buy anyone – and SecNav clearly has a secret they’ve uncovered that he doesn’t want to get out.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because everyone has secrets, Tim.” Tony grins.
“Do you?” McGee asks, a challenge in his eyes.
Tony laughs. “Ooh boy, yes! Question is – how much are you prepared to corrupt yourself to protect your secret? In my case…I’m not. If my secret comes out, then I’ll handle it and be damned with the consequences. I have a feeling that SecNav’s secret is much bigger and more damaging than mine though.” Tony gestures to the file he’s stuffed into McGee’s hands. “I haven’t figured it all out, but there’s something there – something to do with money and defence contracts – that’s my gut feeling. I want you to continue digging – discreetly. Do not put yourself in danger. Do not ask questions in the wrong places. Just do that computer geek thing you do so well. Do your digging electronically.”
“I will, Tony.” McGee folds the slim file and tucks it in his jacket pocket. “Look, Tony, in case I don’t have the chance…”
“Don’t say it, Tim.” Tony slaps McGee’s arm cheerfully. “I’ll be back. Just make sure that gizmo you created works.”
“It will. It does.”
“Good. I’ll be relying on it.”
Tony goes and sits back down on the couch. He puts his arm around Abby and draws her close, knowing that she’s as afraid as he is right now, and all they can do is comfort each other.
She snuggles in close, and he kisses her hair, wondering when he’ll see her again. It might not be for some time. He refuses to believe it’s never. He can’t go into this with that kind of negative attitude. He has to be strong for the rest of them – and for Gibbs.
He’s spent the past few days asking all the right questions in all the right places. He’s irritated the exact same people Gibbs irritated. And he’s off the grid. He doesn’t have the protection of NCIS. He’s a loose cannon with no backup, no support, and no friends in high places – or at least that’s what they think.
So very soon they will be coming for him, to silence him the same way they silenced Gibbs.
But unlike Gibbs, he’ll be ready for them. And if he gets cut down then he’s got two others to put in his place – Fornell and McGee.
“Like a many-headed hydra,” he mutters to himself.
Abby glances up at him, a questioning look in her eyes, but he just smiles one of his big, bright smiles to try and reassure her.
It won’t be long now. He’s sure about that.
Scott turns up at the stable the day before the next fight. Gibbs is called out of training and escorted into the dining room at gunpoint by one of the guards. He sees Hurrell, Steve, and a couple of the other fighters at one set of tables, on one of their routine breaks, and he can feel Hurrell’s eyes on him as he’s escorted over to where Scott is sitting. He wishes Hurrell would stop looking at him like that, as if he wants something from him or is expecting something of him.
Scott gives that big, amiable smile of his and waves his hand at the bench across the table from him. The guard begins to push Gibbs into the seat, and Gibbs turns, a growl on his lips. The guard draws back slightly, and Scott laughs.
“It’s good to see you’re in a fighting mood, Leroy,” he says. He’s always called him Leroy; Gibbs has never told him his preference is to be called by his second name. He doesn’t want that degree of intimacy with this bastard.
Gibbs takes his seat on the bench opposite Scott as if by his own choice, which it clearly isn’t.
Scott smiles at him benignly. He reaches into his pocket and draws out a whisky flask.
“I believe I promised you this!” he says, twisting off the lid. He gestures with his hand and one of the guards brings over a couple of plastic cups and puts them down on the table. There are no glasses in this place, and the knives and forks are plastic too – there is nothing that could be used as a weapon.
Scott pours a small amount of the bourbon into each of the cups and then hands one to Gibbs.
Gibbs raises it to his face and takes a cautious sniff. It’s good stuff – Gibbs can tell that just by smelling it – and it’s been so long since he last tasted bourbon. He wants to throw the amber liquid in Scott’s smug face, but he craves the liquor too much. He takes a sip, feeling like he’s supping with the devil, and Scott grins at him, clearly delighted by this small victory.
“See – you and me can be friends, Leroy,” he says.
Gibbs says nothing. He just concentrates on the way the fiery liquid feels on his tongue and how good it feels warming his body as it goes down.
“We should be friends. Our partnership has been very beneficial to me,” Scott tells him.
Partnership? Gibbs raises an eyebrow at that, but still he says nothing. He takes another sip, running it around his mouth, savouring it. It’s a taste of normality, a reminder of what seems like a different lifetime, and in that sense it hurts, but he can’t stop wanting to taste it all the same.
“See, you’ve brought me a certain amount of kudos, my friend,” Scott continues. “I’ll be honest with you, I only bought you because you were cheap. I wasn’t able to compete with the big boys in this game, but I wanted to be part of it all the same. And you…you were this washed up old wolf of a man. Nobody thought you’d turn into the great Wolfman!” He laughs out loud at his play on words.
Gibbs looks back at him without moving a muscle, still relishing the warm tang of the bourbon on his tongue. It’s the smoothest, most expensive bourbon he’s ever tasted.
“Good huh?” Scott takes a sip from his own cup. “Only the finest for my best fighter, Leroy!”
Gibbs takes another sip, still ignoring him.
Scott leans forward. “I’ve had offers to buy you,” he says. Gibbs raises an unimpressed eyebrow. “Big offers too, but I turned them all down. I don’t want the money – I want the triumph of owning the best fighter in the pit!” Scott crows. Then his smile fades. “Of course, it’s risky…if you lose a fight, then I lose you. But you won’t lose, will you, Leroy? You want to win too much.”
Scott sits back, looking pleased with himself. “I recognize that in you, Leroy. I can see it, burning inside you, like a hunger. I find you intriguing, my friend, so I had one of my people do some digging on you.”
Gibbs can feel the growl rising in his throat and it’s out before he can stop it.
Scott laughs. “Oh, I’ve made you angry now. You’re such a private person, and you hate anyone knowing you, really knowing you, don’t you, Leroy?”
Gibbs bites back another growl and downs the rest of his drink in one gulp.
“But I know you very well,” Scott says, a twisted little smile on his fat face. “I know about your lovely wife Shannon, and your beautiful daughter, Kelly, and how they were murdered.”
Gibbs crushes the plastic cup in his hand with vicious force, squashing it into oblivion. Scott glances down at his tightly clenched fist, nodding to himself.
“You killed the bastard drug dealer who murdered your family, didn’t you?” Scott says silkily. “That’s what you think about when you’re in the pit, isn’t it, Leroy? You’re an angry man, and I think that anger is the source of your strength.”
Gibbs throws the plastic cup onto the floor and then speaks for the first time since he was brought in here, forcing himself to keep his voice steady.
“You think you know me, but you don’t. You can’t know me from reading a dossier, Scott.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Scott has that smug look on his face again. “I read your school reports. You were always getting into fights even when you were a kid. Your mom was killed by a drunk driver when you were eight, and you were angry about that. You wanted vengeance, and you hit out at everyone around you.”
Gibbs finds his hands curling into fists and longs to smash them into Scott’s smirking, self-satisfied face.
“Your folks were separated, and you’d been living with your mom when she died. So you had to go live with your dad, and you were angry about that too, because you blamed him for not making it work with your mom, who you adored. You’ve been angry your entire life, Leroy. It’s what you are. It defines you.”
Scott has a point. Maybe that’s why his words are making Gibbs so angry, or maybe it’s the drugs; Gibbs isn’t sure he can tell the difference these days.
“Oh, it’s not a bad thing!” Scott laughs. “It’s a good thing. A very good thing. You’re mad right now, Leroy. You’re mad at me for keeping you here and making you fight because you don’t like not being in control of your own destiny. But, see, here’s the thing…”
Scott leans forward again and beckons Gibbs forward too. Gibbs stays sitting stiffly in his seat. Behind him, the guard shoves the gun into the back of his neck and forces him forward, so that his nose is almost touching Scott’s.
“See, I think there’s a part of you that likes what I make you do every Fight Night, out there in the pit,” Scott says silkily into his ear. “I think it gives you a chance to really enjoy all that anger inside you. You’ve always had to rein it in and control it before, but I give you permission to enjoy it.”
Scott sits back, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. “I make it possible for you to become that anger, to feel it running through your veins, as fiery as the bourbon inside you right now. It warms you, Leroy. You’re hungry – hungry like the wolf you were named for. When you walk into that pit we all see that, and that’s why you’ve gained such a reputation on the circuit. And you will always be that way. It’s who you are. So you should be thanking me really.”
Gibbs raises a questioning eyebrow, and Scott shrugs.
“Because I’m giving you the chance to be who you are – who you really are inside, Leroy.”
“You’re a sick bastard, Scott,” Gibbs replies stonily, but there is no passion in his words. Maybe Scott has a point. Maybe he’s right.
“And so, my friend, are you.” Scott beams. He raises his cup in a mock toast and downs the contents in one go. Then he glances around the room, his gaze lingering on Hurrell and Steve.
“McGuire tells me you never fuck any of the other fighters,” he says abruptly.
Gibbs frowns. “So what?”
“You should.” Scott shrugs. “You’re the alpha around here, Leroy, and it’s a way of reminding them of that and keeping them in line. They should know you have the right to fuck them, whenever you want. That’s what you get for being a winner.”
“I don’t want to fuck any of them.” Gibbs knows what the man is doing. He’s trying to make him complicit in this world, to make him believe he’s part of it, that he accepts its warped morality, and that he even enjoys it.
“Yeah, you do. I know you’d probably prefer a woman, but Tanner has been feeding you enough drugs to make you want to fuck anything with a pulse.”
Scott smiles. “Fuck any of them you want. Just ask for them to be put in your stall and fuck them all night long. You deserve it.”
Scott lets out a long sigh. “Stubborn bastard. Look, Leroy, you have some big fights coming up.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes – and you can win them too, but you need to stoke yourself up. I want you pumped, Leroy. I want you to feel like the big banana around here. I want you to enjoy that status so much that you never want to let it go. See, I think you can win the whole season for me.”
“And what’s in it for me? You gonna set me free if I do that, Scott?” Gibbs gives an ironic grunt.
Scott waves his hand expansively in the air. “You know I can’t do that, Leroy. You know too much about us. But I can promise this – during the off-season, I’ll let you live a life of luxury. You’ll still have to train, but it’ll be a much looser regime than this. I’ll set you up in one of the houses I own – you’ll have a pool, and you’ll be allowed out into the yard.”
Gibbs thinks, briefly, of how good it’d be to feel the sun on his skin again.
“You’ll still be under lock and key and guarded 24/7, of course,” Scott says. “But it’ll be much nicer than it is here. You win the season for me, and I’ll give you that, Leroy.”
Gibbs gazes at him impassively. He’ll win because he’s made a vow to himself that he won’t let any of the other fighters defeat and rape him; Scott’s incentives are irrelevant.
Scott stands up and grabs his hat. He’s wearing a cream-coloured suit and the hat matches it. He looks like a standard dapper businessman, and Gibbs wonders how the hell he got caught up in this obscene game in the first place.
“You’re a winner, Leroy. That’s what you are in your heart,” Scott tells him firmly. “You’re an angry man who can’t bear to lose and who refuses to bow his head to anyone. Not to me, and not to any of those other fighters in the pit. That is what will make you the greatest winner this tournament has ever seen.”
He tips his hat to Gibbs and then leaves, taking his whisky flask with him.
Gibbs gets up, and as he does so he catches Hurrell’s eye. He wonders how much of that conversation the lieutenant heard and feels an odd sense of shame. Does Hurrell think of him the same way Scott does? An angry man who can’t bear to lose?
He sees something in Hurrell’s eyes that rouses the fury always simmering inside him these days, and he turns away, growling to himself as he’s escorted back to the gym.
It’s nearly midnight when Tony gets home the following evening, and he’s tired after another fruitless day trying to find the stable where they might be holding Gibbs. All he wants to do is take a hot shower and sink into bed…but he knows immediately that won’t be happening tonight.
His apartment is just as he left it. There is nothing suspicious about it. But Tony hasn’t worked with Gibbs all these years and not developed a gut instinct, and right now that instinct is making all the hairs on the back on his neck stand on end and his spine tingle.
So it’s going to be tonight. He can’t pretend he isn’t scared, but he’s relieved too, in a way. The game of cat and mouse was becoming tiring. He’s good at being annoying, and God knows he’s tried his best to annoy the hell out of whoever is running this game, but he’s glad that particular phase of his plan is coming to an end.
He goes into the kitchen and turns on the light. His gaze flickers briefly around the room and comes to rest on the fridge. This morning, using one of his favourite James Bond movies as inspiration, he took a single strand of his own hair, wet it, and placed it across the fridge door. Nobody would have noticed it. And now it’s not there; someone has been here and opened his fridge, dislodging the hair.
He goes over to the fridge and opens the door. There are two pieces of leftover pizza from last night sitting on a plate and his guess is that’s the most obvious item of food to have been drugged.
He gets out the plate and puts it on the small kitchen table. Then he gives an extravagant yawn and glances around the room. His gaze finds the tiny black dot above the door; a camera. That means they’re waiting outside, watching him.
He gets out his cell phone. He could scrap the plan. He could call McGee and Ziva right now, and they could go out there and find whoever is spying on him…but that wouldn’t get them close to Gibbs, and he’s pretty damn sure there is nothing he could threaten these bastards with that would make them reveal whoever is behind this.
Even if they did, he knows no judge will give him a warrant to go in there and search. He’s equally sure that if he did go in, with or without a warrant, Gibbs would be long gone before he got there. Gibbs would be gone the minute he arrested whoever is sitting outside his apartment right now. No, he’ll have to find Gibbs the hard way, by catching an actual fight in progress. That’s the only way to nail these bastards.
He texts McGee the coded word that will let him know that the plan has worked. It’ll be torture for his probie to sit on his hands and wait for the next phase of the plan to kick in, but he’ll do it because Tony has ordered him, and McGee won’t let him down. For all their bickering, McGee has never let him down when it mattered most.
Tony sits down at the table, picks up a slice of pizza, and takes a bite. Then he glances up at the tiny camera above the door…and smiles.
Gibbs feels restless, the way he always does the night before a fight. It’s probably the middle of the day out there, but in here it’s night and his windowless stall is in semi-darkness as usual, lit only by the glow cast by the muted light in the hallway filtering through the small window on the door.
Tonight’s guard, Ellis, likes listening to music during his night shifts, and that means they all have to listen to the medley of mellow, cheerful songs that blare out all night long from the radio in the hallway. Gibbs feels an almost overwhelming urge to go out there and slam his fist into the damn thing, then throw it repeatedly against the wall until it’s crushed to a pulp.
He turns onto his side and stares at the wall in front of him, trying to control his growing sense of frustration. There’s no point to it; he knows that from experience. He just has to find a way to shove the anger down and then bring it back out when it’ll be the most use – in the pit.
There are hooks in the wall; in the beginning, before he learned there was no point to resistance, he used to cause the guards trouble all the time. They frequently chained him to the wall in his own stall, often for nights on end. He felt like a stallion they were breaking in, flanks heaving, head down, fighting them with every ounce of his will.
Does that mean he’s broken now? It’s been weeks since they last chained him to the wall, or tazered him, or beat him with the whips they carry tucked into their pants.
The music is almost unbearably cheerful, and it’s such an incongruous counterpoint to his misery that he can’t stand it. He turns back the other way on his thin mattress…and now he can hear a different sound coming from the next stall. The walls are thin – just hollow metal – and he finds himself listening to the sounds of two people having sex. Someone moans and another murmurs something in reply. Gibbs hears little whimpers of pleasure, accompanied by the slick sound of balls slapping on skin. It’s not a rape; God knows, those are common enough around here, but this is clearly consensual.
“Oh shit…yeah…that’s good…you’re good,” a voice moans, and he recognizes it as belonging to Steve.
“Fuck me harder,” another voice rasps. “Please…Christ…fuck me, Steve…fuck me…”
“You got it, Sam. Hold still…gonna fuck you good…”
Gibbs gazes blankly at the wall. He isn’t surprised that Steve is fucking Sam Hurrell. Nothing about this nightmare surprises him anymore. Hurrell is bigger, stronger, and a much better fighter than Steve, so there’s no way Steve has overpowered him and forced him into this. They’re both willing.
Gibbs almost envies them. Maybe sex would take the edge off the combined horniness and anger that he feels all the time. Maybe Scott is right, and he should take one of these men and fuck him into the mattress. It wouldn’t have to be rape, judging by those ecstatic little noises Hurrell is making right now. There are probably plenty of fighters in Scott’s stable who’d suck his cock or let him take them up the ass…and it’s so tempting.
His cock is hard just thinking about it, but it’s just one more way they’re manipulating him, and he refuses to let them beat him, just as he refuses to let anyone beat him in the pit. He has to hang on to some shred of who and what he is. He has so little control over anything these days, least of all his own body, but this, here, is one way he can get a little control back, by fighting the drugs coursing through his body, and struggling, in this small way, to be his own man.
Besides, fucking might create caring. He could have some kid’s soft lips around his dick one day and be smashing his fist into his face in the pit the next. He can’t do that. He doesn’t know how Hurrell can do that, either. He has to wall off those parts of himself that he can’t afford to acknowledge right now, those parts that are weak and scared and could bring him down. He has to stay strong.
His cock is still hard and aching, but he refuses to jerk off tonight. In a few hours he’ll be fighting in the pit, and he wants to channel all that anger and sexual frustration into the men he fights…and to the fucking that comes after each victory.
He hates the little part of him that is looking forward to the fucking. He’s always tried so hard not to take pleasure in it, but he can’t help himself. He wants to fuck so badly it’s all he can do not to grab his dick and masturbate fast and furiously to the sound of Steve fucking Sam Hurrell in the adjacent stall.
The sweat is running down his body, every muscle strained and aching with the struggle not to jerk off. He grabs the thin pillow and bites down hard, and then roars out his rage, helplessness and frustration into it, in a long, silent scream that nobody hears.