Her name is Susie Beirne, and Tony forces himself to go out with her because she's pretty, and he's desperate. Jeanne is still a raw memory, but he's determined to get over her. Even if it hurts. And it does. But Susie is nice enough, and she listens to him. He tries not to whine. Much. She pats his hand and looks sympathetic, and he blushes when he realizes that he likes it.
She invites him to her house, but he waffles, unsure for the first time in his life if he even wants to get laid. Anything goes is pretty much Tony's motto in the bedroom. He loves it all, as long as it leads to an orgasm or two. He never worries if it's moral or dirty or all the rage. If it feels good and his partner thinks it’s fun, he's all for it. He and Jeanne did everything together, and he ducks his head away from the thought of her.
"Next Friday?" she asks in a soft voice when they're at her door. "Tony?"
He tries to look charming, not as if he's freaking out. "Seven okay?" He locks himself in to a time because he knows he wants to run.
"Sounds good." She gives him a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Call me if you just want to talk."
Nodding, he cringes at how pathetic he is. "Later." He manages his trademark grin. She laughs and goes inside, and he leans his head against the door. He has no idea what he's doing, and he's pretty sure that he should've given her his real name. The DiNardo thing had slipped out, and now it's far too late to take it back. It isn't as if he's going to date her very long, so it'll be fine. It will. He squares his shoulders and goes home. Another week to get through, working and avoiding Ziva is a full-time job.
Friday comes sooner than he thought it would, and he makes himself drive to her place. He's a few minutes late, but her smile is easy as she opens the door. "I thought you were going to bail on me, DiNardo."
He winces at the name. "Call me Tony." He winks. "And I never leave a pretty lady in the lurch."
She laughs, and he admires her again. She's a looker, and maybe he'll want to get in her pants tonight. "You ready to go?"
"Sure, but..." She yanks him inside. "We could stay in and watch a movie. I have popcorn."
Reluctance is overcome by one look at her plasma screen with Dolby surround sound. "I pick?"
"As long as it's nothing too sappy."
Against his will, Tony relaxes a little. "I can promise that." He picks something stupid; he can't take a chance that he'll get emotional. The popcorn is good, she makes fun of the picture endlessly, and he begins to think that he's not making a mistake with her.
"Hey, Tony, you kinky or vanilla?"
His eyes fly wide, and he fumbles the popcorn bowl. "What?"
Her smirk is a mile wide. "Never mind."
Feeling dazed, he scoots closer and nuzzles her ear. "We could find out."
"We might." She pats him on the face. The movie ends five seconds later, and then there's coffee, and she shoots a glance at the door when his mug is empty. He gets the message, but he's not going to give up on her yet. He was almost promised kinky, and that might help him forget.
Bounding around the corner, Abby stops in her tracks. "You okay, Tony?"
He jerks his head up off his hands, and his smile is so very fake. "Sure, Abs. What brings you up here?"
"Looking for McGee." She can see that he's already gone for the day. "What are you doing tonight?" she asks before Tony can say anything.
"Got a date." He doesn't look excited about it. "You?"
"Go home, DiNozzo," Gibbs' voice cuts across them both, but Abby hugs him anyway. By the time she gets back to Tony, he's getting in the elevator.
"Is he okay?" Abby isn't sure.
Gibbs shrugs. "Ziva's been riding him hard. He'll be fine."
Abby makes up her mind right then to keep a closer eye on him.
The popcorn fight is a natural opportunity to get his hands under Susie's blouse, but she wiggles away, and he respects that.
"Tony, before we do that, you have to learn a few things," she says in a breathy voice that’s very sexy.
"Good things?" He can almost smell the kinkiness in the air.
She tugs his ear. "It's a game I like to play. You up for it?"
"Do I get to take my clothes off?" Tony blurts, but he can see from the glint in her eyes that he does. Susie giggles as she drags him back to the bedroom. Tony tugs off his shirt and hopes she'll do the same. Instead, she digs in a dresser drawer and returns with a thick, black collar. He can't help but think of Abby.
"That for me?" he asks. He doesn't want it, not really, but it is something different, and he needs... different.
"Such a good boy," she whispers, and he makes sure she can buckle it by going to his knees. The next thirty minutes are a blur, but he ends up collared and leashed, leather mittens on his hands and a butt plug tail up his ass. Blinking several times up at her, he waits for the fun to start.
Tugging the leash, she leads him to the living room. She gets him a bowl of water, which he stares at in bewilderment, and then she drags him to the sofa where she curls up with a magazine. He waffles between joining her and sitting on the floor.
"This is crazy," he mutters, not sure he gets the point of this game.
The rolled-up magazine hits his nose hard, and he yelps from the shock of it.
Slowly, he backs away from her, pulling the leash taut. She glares and points at the floor.
He stares at the brandished magazine and sinks to the floor. He'd correct her English later. He tries to be patient as the TV drones on and on, but she makes no move to even take off her blouse, and he doesn't get this, at all. His dick goes limp, and he sighs. This isn't sex, or about sex. Jeanne would never do this to him. He frowns, wishing he could forget her. Forget all the things they'd done. This may be stupid, but it's new, and he'll try, for now.
Susie coaxes him to sit by her feet and pets his hair. "You be good, Tony."
Confused, he puts his face in her lap.
Tony is staring at her again, and Abby turns quickly enough to catch him at it. "What?"
"I like that collar." He doesn't meet her eyes now.
"It's one of my favs." She makes it jingle. "Still dating the same girl?"
He shrugs. "Maybe."
She wants to catch him in a hug, but McGee interrupts, and then there's evidence to process, and she puts it off until later.
The next Friday - he's determined not to break up with her yet - it's more of the same. Oh, she teaches him to sit and beg, and he reluctantly drinks from his water dish, but there's no sex. None. She does run her hands through his fur - hair - damn it, but no tits, no sucking, and his tail feels weird. He flops down on the floor, giving up.
"Oh, poor baby. Let me scratch behind your ears."
He raises his eyebrows and leans into it. That's kinda nice. He doesn't go home until Sunday night, and only then does he wonder what the hell he's doing.
"You buy that collar yourself?"
"Well, duh." Abby tries to make it less of an insult than some. "Did you think I had a boyfriend give them to me?"
"I never really gave it much thought." Tony rubs his neck. "Do they ever chafe?"
Now Abby leans up from her microscope and gives him a scorching look. She knows Tony likes to walk on the wild side occasionally, but this is twice now that he's asked about her collars. He turns red, and she laughs, knowing that he's being naughty with someone.
"Ow!" Tony instantly reaches up to rub the spot. "Hi, Boss. What did I do?"
"Get fashion tips from Abby later. I sent you here to get results!"
"She's not done." Tony smiles, but unfortunately, the machine beeps.
"Done!" Abby laughs, and Tony edges farther away from Gibbs' hand. Abby tilts her head, wondering what's up with him. They are going to have to have a long talk - as soon as this case is wrapped up.
He checks his calendar twice to be sure, but calendars don't lie. It's been two months, and he's learned exactly how to please her - as a dog. She has no interest in him as a guy, with a very hard dick. Sure, they went to out to eat that once, but now they hang out at her place. Him, on a leash, and her looking super hot in those tight little blouses that he can see her nipples through. It'd be the perfect relationship, if he were a German shepherd. He rubs his neck and decides that he's more of a golden retriever kind of guy.
He doesn't quite understand why he's still with her. Puppy play - he looked it up on the internet - is fine for some people, but not him. He's in this relationship - bizarre as it is - for the sex. He certainly doesn't like it. He could admit it's relaxing, and he does enjoy the petting, but it's not...
"Oh, Tony, you're so cute. Tonight, I have a special surprise for you!" She takes a deep breath, eyes sparkling, breasts straining the fabric, and he crumbles.
"Promise?" He's no fool, usually.
"Absolutely." She rubs her hand down his leg, and his dick is hard that fast. "Just get me home."
He drives like Gibbs, not Ziva, and she seems pleased. As soon as the door is shut, he reaches for the buttons on her top, and for one second, he thinks he's home free.
"Tony, you know the rules." Her voice is firm, and she's already reaching for Tony's collar. It hangs on the coat rack by the door.
For a second, he rebels, and then he can't help but relax as she wraps the collar around his neck. He breathes out a soft sigh and turns into a pup for her. The world is a calmer place, and he doesn't have to talk, and he nuzzles her hopefully, liking the treats she gives him.
"Yes, you're a good boy." She pets him, and he wiggles, prancing a little on his front paws. He likes being a good boy, being smacked by a magazine is no fun. She takes him back to the bedroom, helps him with his tail, and he steals a lick or two. "You've been so easy to train. Some men really put up a fuss."
Tilting his head, he takes the treat from her hand. He loves them, and he tries to gently paw at her leg. She laughs and ruffles his hair. "Come over here."
He follows quickly, hopefully, petting feels good. His gaze never leaves her, and he yelps in shock when he realizes there's a man sitting on the sofa.
"Hey, you were right. He's very handsome." The guy grins and pats his leg. "Come here, pup."
Tony's mind goes completely blank, but it isn't as if he'd never fooled around with guys, and she'd said there'd be a surprise, and threesomes can be fun. He and Jeanne had never, and Susie strokes her hand down him, helping him to make up his mind.
"Don't be a shy boy. Go say hello," she says, taking two more steps that way, and the leash is loose enough for him to reach the strange man. He whines softly, unsure, but the man pulls a treat from his coat pocket. Tony sidles over and takes it fast, backing away to eat it at a safe distance.
The man laughs. "I'll take him. How much?"
She giggles. "He's gonna cost you."
Tony sits back hard on his rump. He stares up at her in sheer disbelief. She never wanted him? He's never going to see her tits?
"Now, Tony, be a good pup. I've trained you, but it's time to find you a real owner."
"No family? No friends? Right?"
She nods. "His family is dead, and Tony DiNardo doesn't have a friend in the world."
The apartment starts to spin, and their words are hard to make out. He knows he should be hustling his tail out the door, but he can't seem to get his paws moving.
"Don't worry, Tony. You'll be very happy."
He passes out.
Abby calls first. Of course. It's polite. No answer makes her frown, but she doesn't give up. She dials his land-line, shifting back and forth impatiently while it rings. When the answering machine picks up, she talks fast.
"Tony, where are you? You've never forgotten our third Sunday of the month afternoon out before! Is it that new girl you're dating? I'm coming over. You better have pants on!"
There's not much traffic to slow her down, and she hurries up the stairs. Pounding on his door is satisfying, but there's no answer. She listens for sounds of movement. "Damn it, Tony. Where are you?"
"Hey, if you're looking for him, he hasn't been home since Thursday."
She spins. "What?"
The nosy neighbor guy, with a bad tat on his hairy arm, which is just wrong, nods. "Thursday. I saw him go out. Haven't seen him since."
"Do you always keep track of him?" She can't help but ask because the idea is seriously creepy.
"He's noisy, always singing and humming." Creepy guy shrugs. "He also dates hot women."
Abby refuses to ask if the guy likes to watch because the answer is obvious. "Okay, thanks." She heads back downstairs and waits until she's in her car before making the call. "Tim, we have a problem."
"Can it wait? I haven't had a weekend off in a month."
"No, Tony is missing." She's sure of it. Tony has never ditched her for a girl, never.
"Abs, he's sleeping over somewhere and probably has another infectious disease by now."
She glares at the phone. "Tim."
"Oh, gotta run." McGee hangs up, and Abby vows to make him pay, but first, she has to find Tony, She can't decide whether to call Ziva or not. Kate, poor Kate, hasn't been gone very long, and she doesn't know Ziva very well, even though Abby would pick her in a fight over just about anyone.
She calls Tony's cell again, gets no answer but voice mail - it really is a funny message - and takes matters into her own hands. The phone is on, and she's going to find it.
The punishments are bad enough that Tony becomes a good dog very quickly. If they'd let him out of the kennel, he'd be gone in a flash, a la Homeward Bound, but they're smart. Glad for the knee pads and mitts against the concrete floor, he edges his way to the door and sits - they'd taken his tail - to mournfully stare out. The pup - poor sucker like him - across the way slowly begins to wag his tail - he has one - and Tony begins to think he's the only one here who's been kidnapped.
It's Sunday, maybe. He worries about work, hoping they'll notice he's gone, or care that he's gone. He leans his face against the chain link, regretting that he gave her his fake name. His only hope is that Gibbs will find her by using his phone, which is... somewhere. His badge and gun were under the seat in his car, but his cell phone was in his pants’ pocket. He nearly tilts his head back to howl because he's pretty sure no one will ever find it.
All he can do is paw at the gate and hope.
Nauseous with true fear, her hands shake as she makes the call.
"Bossman, I'm in the alley behind Tony's building. Come quick." She hangs up because another second and she's going to drop it anyway. Of one thing she's certain, Gibbs is on his way, and there is going to be hell to pay.
She paces frantically until his Charger roars up the alley, screeching to a stop. She's in his arms before the engine is off, and she tries not to sob.
"Abby! Tell me what's going on!"
"Something terrible happened to Tony." Abby refuses to let him go. "His phone. His phone. In the dumpster."
"Did you touch it?"
Abby jerks back and glares. "I can't believe you asked that!"
"Sorry." Gibbs doesn't sound sorry. He wiggles away from her and strides to the dumpster. Pulling out his phone, he calls Tony's number, and they both hear it ring. Gibbs shuts it and looks at her. "Abby, what else do you know?"
"No one has seen him since work on Friday. He's not home. Gibbs, this is bad." She hugs him again, and he strokes her hair. That means she's right, and she trembles. "Crap. I knew something was up with him, but I didn't say anything, and now, and now--."
"Do you know his current girlfriend?" Gibbs' voice is soft and low, trying to calm her.
Abby thinks long and hard for two whole seconds. "They hang out at her place, Tony says. He seemed kinda bummed out about it." She's itching to get her hands on that phone. "Give me a leg up into the dumpster?"
Gibbs rolls his eyes and goes to open his trunk. She sees that he's on the phone the entire time, and she goes to peek in the dumpster again. Not too much trash in there. She bounces on her toes and hears Gibbs say, "McGee, I don't care if the Queen of England is visiting. Get your butt over here!"
Satisfied, Abby makes up her mind to find Tony's car. It's the obvious next step, and time is wasting.
He curls up in his basket and hides beneath his ragged blanket. His sanity is slipping away, and it's only been - he doesn't know how long. Three times they've put food in his dish while making sure he can see the cattle prods they're holding. They don't use them unless he exhibits behavior more along the lines of a human. Or he tries to leave. The kennel door is padlocked. Yesterday, the pup across the hall was led away prancing.
That pup had gotten a new home, and Tony could admit that he's wanted one for years. He'd almost had one with Jeanne. If she'd just given him a chance, instead of running away, they might've gotten that little bungalow. He whines, wanting to talk, yell and scream.
Burrowing deeper, he tries to believe Gibbs will find him. He doesn't know how, and he's not sure Gibbs will want to, but it's all he's got. Jeanne is gone forever. Any shot at a real life is gone. Tony shudders all over, knowing that all he has is right here. He's a puppy. Sighing loudly, he shuts his eyes.
She watches Gibbs circle like a panther, but the woman - this Susie woman - will not break. Twice now, she's told the same remarkably stupid story about how Tony broke up with her and stormed out. It's a lie. Abby knows it's a lie. Tony might've broken up with her, but he never stormed. He was always polite.
"I believe she is telling the truth," Ziva says.
Abby knows better. Her gut is telling her to break the rules, and she marches out of the observation room. Gently, she opens the door to the interrogation room, knowing Gibbs might break his rule about slapping her on the head.
She ducks her head, shuffles her big feet, and goes to him. There's nowhere to sit, and he looks confused, not angry, not yet.
"If you'd have told me about your bitch, this interview would have gone much easier!"
Gibbs spins back to the table, fury in every line of his body, and Abby gets it. She understands why Tony asked about collars, why they stayed home all the time, and why she had to intervene. Gibbs has never looked meaner, and Abby puts her hand on his forearm, forestalling his outburst.
"It's okay, Jethro. She knows about relationships like ours." Abby smiles brightly, making her ponytails bob. She should kneel, but Gibbs might implode. "I know you're shy about it, but I could tell she's one of us, you know?"
He narrows his eyes, looking from Abby to their suspect and back again. "We're both worried about Tony."
"He's so new to his collar," Abby says, making sure she sounds frantic. "He could be hurt or lost, behind a dumpster somewhere, whimpering, and I couldn't bear that."
Susie has the nerve to gasp. "No, no, no! I'd never allow that! Tony has a good home by now!"
Abby knows they have her. "Please, tell my master everything so we can go back to work without worrying."
"Everything," Gibbs snarls.
He's surprised how much he wants the safety of his kennel now that he's out in a big, open room. There's furniture scattered about but no windows, and the guards still have those damn cattle prods. There are too many for him to overpower, and they've already been treated to one puppy going berserk and being beaten. Tony rubs his head hard. It'd been a man, a man. They're humans.
"Ah, what a sweet pup!"
Tony flinches at the hand that runs through his hair. It was clean, at least, as they'd all been given showers earlier. He stares up at the unfamiliar faces, fear pulsing through him. A home would be nice, but if he leaves here, Gibbs won't have a chance in hell of finding him. Slowly, he backs away and growls deep in his throat.
Another pup takes his spot, vying for the woman's attention, and Tony slinks behind a sofa. They're obviously up for adoption, and he can understand the desperate need to get out of the damn kennels, but he has to stay, give Gibbs some time.
He doesn't move quick enough to avoid the hand that grasps his collar, and he wants to attack, run, but the guards move in on him.
"That's Shyboy," one of them says. "You might want one of the rowdier ones. He hides under his blanket most of the day."
Twisting, whining - it was allowed - he tries to get away.
"I don't know. Quiet might suit me."
Frantic now, Tony sinks his teeth into the arm of the man holding him.
"Son of a bitch!"
Anger rules him, and he clings harder, fighting the hands and howling. The pain drives him crazier until it all goes black.
"She sold him!" Abby wails for the fourth time. Her hands shake as she taps her fingers together, trying and failing to make sense of all the information Susie, the bitch, had finally given up. "Gibbs! She sold him!"
"I know, Abby." He takes her by the hands and pulls her close.
"I am not surprised that Tony participated in this stupidity and was sold. Always thinking with his--."
Abby turns fast and slaps her face hard. "Shut up, Ziva! You don't understand!"
Ziva's eyes blow wide, and Gibbs slides between them. "McGee, you and Ziva go back to Tony's place. Look for anything that can help."
"Will do, boss."
Burying her face in Gibbs' shoulder, Abby tries very hard not to panic further. "She sold him," she whispers one last time.
"Abby, don't hit Ziva again. She might kill you with a paperclip." Gibbs gives her a tiny shake. "It doesn't matter if Tony made a mistake. What matters is finding him."
"Puppy play is nothing to be ashamed of. It's relaxing," Abby mutters, going over all the evidence again. It's possible, but not likely, she missed something. She straightens her back and meets Gibbs' eyes firmly. "I have to go over the car one more time. Puppies don't drive."
"Especially unconscious ones." Gibbs quirks a smile at her. "I'm going to canvass. We'll find him."
"We don't have much time left." Abby grabs him by the arm, willing him to understand. "She sold him to a kennel. One more sale, and he's gone forever."
Gibbs' eyes flare. "That's not going to happen."
"Put him down."
"He's perfectly trained!"
"He bit a client. Rabid dogs are put down!"
"The guy was grabby. Scared him, and then the guards circled him. He felt threatened. We're not throwing away a fortune!"
Blearily, Tony raises his head, wishing they'd get out of his kennel. His mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton, and he stumble-crawls to his water dish. He almost face-plants into it. The water is so good, and he hurts, and they're just not nice people.
"Your morons hurt him!"
He shudders when a rough hand lands on his back. Ignoring the pat, he tries to move away, but his paw is killing him, and he has to hold it up off the floor. All he wants is some more water, but it's gone, and he knocks at the bowl with his good paw, whining softly.
"I know, pup." The guy picks up the bowl. "My kennel. My rules. If your ham-fisted guards are scared, they can collect their pink slips."
"You're soft on Suzie, so you're soft on her pup."
Tony looks up at the mention of her name. He knows he'll never see her again - or her tits - but he'd liked her, right up until she'd sold him to a kennel. In hindsight, he should've seen it coming. Jeanne would think this is exactly what he deserves. He can't think of an argument to that. It's time to give up on women. Give up on finding a life. He's nothing but a puppy. No one, especially not Gibbs, is coming to get him.
"He'll make us a ton of money. You just have to handle him right."
"Next time, you do it!"
His bladder aches, and he manages to get over the grate before peeing. That done, he retreats to his bed. He hurts, and he wants to bite them all.
"Don't worry, Shyboy. I'll find you the perfect owner." The hand is gentle on Tony's neck. "Private showings only now." He gives him a pat. "I'll get you more water and send for the vet. Be good."
He doesn't whine or even blink, but he can't help but tremble. The vet sounds like a terrible thing, and he can't bear to stay here any longer.
The car is clean, nothing, not a damn thing, and Abby abruptly gives up on it, kicking the tire. This is not the way to get Tony back. Instead, she's going to have to be creative. Susie gave them the guy's name - Dave - but she knew nothing else, not where he lived, or anything useful. Dave just shows up at her house occasionally and buys pups - people - from her. It's incredibly stupid, and yet effective, and the guy is smart. Not one fingerprint has been left behind.
"Got anything, Abby?"
"No," she growls, angry at the world. "This one time - and never again - I'm giving up on the evidence, because there isn't any. I'm going to have to handle this the old-fashioned way."
Gibbs stares. "And that means?"
"Think Facebook. Think Twitter. Think Snapchat. Think emailing everyone in my contacts, over five hundred people!" Abby throws her arms wide. "I will find him!"
"McGee, do you know what she's talking about?"
"Yes, boss, and if anyone can do it, it's Abby."
"Well, don't stand there. Help her!" Gibbs is gone to the elevator before Abby can slurp the last of her Caf-Pow. She sees the look McGee gives her.
"Ziva deserved it, and one bad word about Tony or puppy play and I'll make that slap seem like a love tap." She eyes his face, making a plan. "Got it?"
"Got it." McGee escorts her to the elevator. "Ziva was, not right, but she had a point."
"Dating isn't dangerous. Usually." Abby makes sure to qualify it. "And puppy play is harmless, especially compared to assassination!" She likes Ziva fine, but the woman needs to learn to be nicer.
"Hard to believe Tony would let someone lead him around," McGee says.
Abby pulls him from the elevator and into her lab where her army awaits. "In stressful jobs like ours, it's nice to step outside ourselves. You pretend to be some big shot author. Ziva kills people, and Gibbs is a sailor. So Tony enjoys being a pup? No big deal."
"I am an author!"
"This pup is in sorry shape. You should be ashamed!"
"I am, and I promise things will change around here."
"It better. I won't be party to such shabby treatment."
Tony looks from one to the other, trying to figure out how they could both be so incredibly stupid. His paw, stomped on, aches. He curls it to his chest, limping to his bed. The vet is awful, poking and prodding and smelling bad. Tony tugs his blanket over his body and wants the world to go away.
The talking goes on for a while, but he doesn't listen. He needs some rest, and the pup in the next kennel whines all the damn time.
Once again, the hand is gentle, and he doesn't flinch away, but he won't lean into it. Humans suck.
"I got him!" Abby bounces four or five times; her hands flying over the keyboard. She's counted the days, and she's worried she's late, but she won't be stopped now. "He thought he could hide, but I have minions! Minions!"
"Millions of minions, apparently." McGee's eyes are focused on the screen. "I'll call Gibbs."
"We have to do this just right." Abby knows they can do it. She grins and types even faster. "Hang on, Tony. We're on the way."
He eats a few bites and drinks from his dish. His paw still hurts, but he's better, and he carefully limps to the front of his kennel. Other pups bark at him, and he stares up at the padlock. He's getting out of here, somehow. Maybe the vet will help him, look the other way.
"He's not ready for a private showing!"
"You said you'd get a fortune for him. Here's your chance. Get rid of him."
Tony backs away, hoping they'll pass him by. They don't, and he winces at the leash that clicks to his collar.
"Come on, Shyboy." The man isn't cruel, just stupid, pulling hard to get Tony moving. "A quick in and out. I'm sure they'll want another pup, but they've rejected three already, and they specified a big dog."
Whining doesn't help, and he's too beat up to fight. Tucking his paw up close, he goes slow, and it's allowed.
"You have to be good this time, or bad things will happen to you."
The leash pulls tight, and he makes up his mind. He's getting the hell out of here. Maybe they have a yard. It won't be a home, but it'd be close enough.
"Abby, settle down." Gibbs keeps hold of her hand. "Now."
She tries harder. She's never been undercover like this before, and she has orders to get behind Gibbs if things get hinky, but it's still exciting. "I just want the perfect pup." She knows they're under surveillance. The cameras are dead easy to spot.
"As long as he's quiet, I don't much care." Gibbs feigns disinterest, and Abby admires his technique. She nods, and the door opens, and her breath catches in her throat. Maybe this is the one.
He keeps his face down, not looking, but he goes to their legs willingly enough. Sitting on command, he tilts his head to study their boots.
"This is Shyboy. He's new to his collar but very well trained."
"We'll take him. He's adorable!"
"Not so fast, sweetheart. He's hurt. I don't want a big vet bill."
"He had a small accident in his kennel. He'll be fine. The vet certified him healthy."
Tony frowns, knowing those boots anywhere, and slowly looks up, meeting her pretty eyes with his own. She smiles, and he blinks several times. Something inside him makes him whine, and he tucks his sore face on to Gibbs' thigh.
"Honey, he wants us to take him home."
"Dumb dog." Gibbs gently slaps the back of Tony's head. Tony sighs happily. This spot right here is his home. He never wants to move again. Whining, he smiles when a strong hand slides through his hair. He's home.
When guns come out and people shout, he stays right with Gibbs. He does take the time to bite one of the guards, but he doesn't snap or snarl when Gibbs pulls him off.
"I'm sure he deserved a bite on the ass, but that's enough."
Tony barks in agreement, happy to have helped.
"Abby, does he know he's not a dog?"
"He's in what I call pup space. It may take a while for him to come out of it."
"He's been brainwashed." The guy with ugly shoes is too close, and Tony tries to get behind Gibbs where it's safe.
"Not really, but sorta." Abby - he knows her name - crouches down. "Tony, you have to go the hospital now."
Now he whines, and he wants to run away, but Gibbs has the leash. Gibbs snorts. "Same old Tony. Let's get him to the ambulance, and McGee, watch your big feet."
"Stay with him, Gibbs," Abby whispers, overjoyed they found him, angry at the jerks who'd had him, and furious at how obviously hurt he is.
"Why?" Gibbs glares down at the leash. "This is stupid."
Abby takes him by the arm, giving him a tiny shake. "Tony needs you. To him, you're his owner."
"Just tell him to wake the hell up!"
Tony leans against Gibbs' leg and trembles. Abby steals McGee's coat, puts it over him, and tackles Gibbs again. The man has no idea what puppy play is all about, and it's her job to educate him.
"He'll come out of it. He needs you to take his collar off. Pet him. Reassure him that he's safe." Abby hopes the ambulance gets here soon. Tony is clearly exhausted, and that paw is probably broken.
"Stupid," Gibbs mutters.
"Please, bossman. Don't make this worse for him." Abby itches to snatch the leash and insist Tony accept her as his owner. "Please."
"I'll try. McGee, take charge of the scene." Gibbs sighs. "Abby, stay here and help. I'll handle getting Tony to the hospital."
She's not sure that's a good idea. "But--."
"There are other people here who need your expertise," McGee says, and he's right.
Abby crouches down and hugs Tony with a careful touch. "You'll be okay now. I promise."
He licks her face, and she laughs. She lurches to her feet and grabs McGee. "Let's get to work."
He wants to stand, maybe run, but something roots him to the floor. Gibbs makes that irritated noise Tony's heard a thousand times before, and Tony needs to help. He paws at Gibbs' leg and whimpers.
Gibbs kneels, wrapping the coat tighter. "I think I hear the ambulance. Come on, Tony."
Tony leans against him. It's safe to walk, talk, again, but it's not happening, and now he whimpers from frustration. Gibbs is here, finally, and Tony doesn't know what to do.
"Tony." Gibbs takes him by the chin. "You're okay." His hands go to Tony's neck, and Tony feels the collar slide away. It's gone, and he heaves out a huge breath of air and collapses to the floor. Gibbs puts his hand on Tony's back. "Tony? Tony!"
"Here, Boss," Tony wheezes. He clutches the coat, putting his head down. "Can I pass out?"
"No." Gibbs gives him a pat. "Stay put. You look like hell."
He hurts, and his puppy days are over, but his eyes go to the collar swinging in Gibbs' hand. "You would've bought me?"
A very strong hand brushes through Tony's hair. "I promise. Abby would've made me."
That's very true. The paramedics get to him moments later, and he doesn't much protest being put on a gurney and taken to the hospital. He's grateful for the scrubs they give him to wear, and he’s glad the mitts and knee pads are gone, even if his body feels weird. Gibbs goes with him, which is a surprise, and Tony catches him by the arm after they get to an exam room.
"Go clean up that mess. Please," Tony says, refusing to look him in the eye. "I'm going to be fine."
"Okay, what have we got here?"
Tony is off the gurney and tackling him before he thinks about it. Gibbs yells at him, but Tony hits him again. "This is the vet! The vet! They had a vet!"
Gibbs yanks him off. "Tony, slow down. Who is he?"
"The kennel. They had a vet. That guy!" Tony manages to kick him. "They beat me, shocked me, stomped me, and he did nothing!"
"That's not true! I mixed a painkiller in your water!" The guy's eyes widen and he tries to get up. Tony gasps as Gibbs puts the guy down with one punch.
Security runs inside, nurses are screaming, and Tony would've fallen if Gibbs hadn't caught him. Gibbs eases him up on the gurney. "Stay put this time!"
"Yes, boss." Tony cradles his hand - it's definitely broken - to his chest. It takes a while for Gibbs to calm everyone down, get the vet arrested, and find Tony a new doctor. Tony lets it all happen, trying not to worry. Suddenly, he sits bolt upright. "My car!"
Gibbs presses him back down. "It's fine. We found it two blocks from your apartment. Abby tore it apart looking for evidence, but I'm fairly sure she put it back together."
"It's a rental." Tony hopes she didn't void his warranty. He laughs, knowing it sounds crazy, but he feels that way. "How long, Gibbs? How long?" It's important for some reason.
"Ten days." Gibbs lets the doctor at him. "This guy okay?"
"Yeah." Tony doesn't put up a fuss this time. He winces several times during the examination and answers the questions truthfully because Gibbs is listening. "Cattle prod. They used a cattle prod." He had forgotten the burns on his thighs. "When I tried to walk, or stand. It, um, it wasn't allowed."
"Bastards," Gibbs whispers.
Tony flushes. The doctor swallows hard. "I'm admitting you. You need an x-ray for that hand, an IV for dehydration, and wound care."
"A shrink might be a good idea too," Gibbs says. Tony doesn't argue, but he's sure he won't know what to say. He must've looked skeptical because Gibbs continues, "And Abby will help."
"Nurse! Let's get started. Mr. DiNozzo, we're moving you to x-ray." The doctor looks pointedly at Gibbs. "Agent Gibbs can wait outside."
Gibbs clenches his jaw, and Tony has to say, "Gibbs, go make sure McGee isn't screwing it up. Some of the pups - people - were there of their own free will. They wanted owners."
"Positive." Tony notices that Gibbs looks almost grateful as he leaves. Gibbs wasn't the kind of guy to wait around in hospitals forever, and there was no reason for it. Tony's going to be fine. A cast for his paw, hand, and he'll be back on the job by Monday.
Abby stares down at the dog bed and the torn blanket. The kennel was big enough for a large dog, but it was still cruel beyond her wildest dreams. Tony had trusted that woman on some level, and she had betrayed him to doggie hell.
"This was Tony's kennel. They named him Shyboy." She clenches her fists over and over again, wanting to kick ass and understanding Ziva a little better.
"Tony? Shy? They should've named him Horndog." McGee laughs until Abby turns, and then he backs away a couple of steps. "Abby, I'm teasing."
"It's not funny!" She wants to cry. "Don't you see? Tony trusted her, not much, but some, and she sold him. He was tortured, brutalized, and he was a good boy. He didn't deserve this!"
"No one does," Ziva says.
"You wouldn't treat Jethro this way, and he's a real dog!" Abby has to wipe her eyes and somehow ends up getting a hug from Ziva. "It was mean, Ziva. Terrible."
"I know." Ziva lets her cling. "Did Tony say anything?"
"He barked a few times. Bit a guy in the ass. Same old Tony." McGee's pushing his luck. "Hey, I'll go do, something."
Abby pushes away and dries her cheeks. "It's not funny. It wasn't even about sex. The jokes at work will never stop." She slumps her shoulders. "Tony will quit. This is awful."
Ziva narrows her eyes. "We will see about that."
He's not surprised that he's alone through it all. Kate had stuck with him through the plague, but she's still gone. This isn't even serious, and he doesn't care, not really. He'll just flirt with nurses.
"Hey there, how are you feeling after your surgery?"
Panic isn't what he expected, and he can't help but check her hands for a collar or leash. She smiles big, and he clutches at the sheet.
"Whoa. Settle down." She raises her hands and stops before she touches him. He wants to smile and make a joke, but he can't, and she's very pretty. "I need to check your vitals. Are you feeling better?"
Tony nods, watching her hands. "Thirsty," he croaks, but he won't ask for a bowl of water. "My paw. My, my hand, is it okay?" He doesn't try to move the mass of bandages.
"The doctor will be in to tell you everything." She edges closer, and he tries to wiggle away. Not much room on the bed, but he takes that extra inch. She stops completely. "Mr. DiNozzo, you're safe. No one will hurt you."
"I know." He does, but it doesn't matter. With wide eyes, he watches her get him a cup of water. The door opens, and he flinches, and he knows that he can't stay here very long. He needs to go to his apartment, where his stuff is and make sure it's still there, and curl up on his bed. "I want to go home."
The doctor frowns. "Two or three more days, and we'll consider it." He starts to yammer on about infection, antibiotics, and surgery, and Tony tries to listen.
"I don't want to be here." He sits up, watches the room spin and agrees that maybe he should lie back down. Curling away from them, he refuses to listen to anymore of the blah-blah. He's heard it all before, and he'll get well, and there's no reason he can't check himself out as soon as the room stops twirling.
The day passes slowly, and he wakes up twice from a nap convinced that he's still in his kennel. The smells are all wrong, and that helps him not run out the door. He has plenty of time alone to wonder what happened to the other - people - at the kennel. He tries to convince himself that he doesn't care. The third time he wakes up, Abby is sitting next to him, flipping through a magazine.
For some reason, he expects her to pounce and hug the hell out of him. He steels himself.
"Can't hug you. Doctor's orders." She tosses a glare over her shoulder. "Gibbs, too."
"Oh, now that order I'd follow." Tony eases his good hand out between the metal bars, and she grabs it fast. "Thanks."
She squeezes him. "That bitch sold you. I still can't believe it."
"Neither can I," Tony says. "I was going to break up with her. Stupid, Abby, I was so stupid. How could I have done that?"
"Tony, you thought it was a game. Did you know about kennels? No. You didn't have enough information." She keeps hold of his hand. "Not your fault."
"I'm an agent. I shouldn't have trusted her even half an inch," Tony grounds out. "They drugged me, I think."
Abby sighs and scoots so she can sit on the bed next to him. They're both careful of his hand. Her eyes are big and sad. "She admitted that they did. Her job was to find men, or women, with no family, train them, and then Dave would show up to buy them. They're criminals, Tony."
"I should've known," he whispers. "She was my first, since Jeanne. It makes perfect sense that she'd sell me." He wouldn't mind hiding under the covers. Abby's acceptance helps him face another kernel of truth. "I liked it."
"That's nothing to be ashamed of, Tony." Abby's voice was soft and low. "Jeanne hurt you. Being a puppy was a way to escape all that."
"And here I thought I was in it for the sex." Tony tries to laugh at himself but fails.
"At first, I bet you were, but that wasn't why you stuck with it." Abby pets Tony's chest. "Rest. Get well, and then we'll talk. If being a pup is something you need, I'll help."
"My legs feel weird." Tony doesn't want to talk about Jeanne again, not ever. "I miss her."
"I know." Abby sits with him until he falls asleep again.
"Jethro!" Abby throws her arms wide and leans into the sloppy doggy kisses. She ends up on the floor with Jethro sprawled next to her. He accepts her tummy rubs happily, and she's happy to provide them.
"I thought maybe you'd like to see him," McGee says.
Abby isn't willing to smile at him yet, even though bringing Jethro to work is a huge olive branch. "I'm still furious with you."
"I know." McGee flops down on the floor and pets Jethro's other side. "Gibbs is mad at me too." He sighs loudly. "I screwed up."
"You did, and it was Tony, and he would've been gone if I'd have listened to you, and I'm not even discussing all the stupid jokes you made." Abby laughs when Jethro sneezes in McGee's face. Jethro understands how great it is to be a dog. "Don't even bother apologizing to me."
"I made a big donation to the local Humane Society," McGee says, and he sounds worried. "Stupid, I know."
"No, it wasn't." Abby is willing to scoot a few inches so Jethro is practically in their laps. She leans against McGee; he's such an ass sometimes. "The love of Tony's life screwed him over. You could cut him some slack every now and then."
McGee tucks his head on top of hers. "It's really hard."
She knows they compete, and she knows they argue, like brothers who occasionally hate each other, but she wishes McGee didn't take it all so personally. "Grow up, McGee."
"Always good advice." Gibbs sneaks up on them for the billionth time. He whistles, and Jethro lurches to his paws, leaving them in the dust, and dashes to his namesake. Gibbs glares. "Sit."
Jethro sits pretty in record time.
"What are you doing in my building without a badge?" Gibbs asks Jethro.
Abby smothers her laughter as Jethro tilts his head and McGee begins to stutter wildly. Gibbs ignores the man, focusing on the dog.
"Don't let it happen again." Gibbs pulls a visitor badge out of his pocket and clips it to Jethro's collar. Jethro turns his head to McGee, and Gibbs frowns. "Blaming it on him is no good. You know better."
Jethro hangs his head in shame, and Abby nearly falls over from keeping the laughter inside. McGee scrambles to his feet, but Gibbs is already gone to the elevator. Jethro trots over to them with a doggy sigh.
"I think he blames me," McGee says. He digs in his pocket and hands Jethro a treat. "My fault. My bad."
She smiles as Jethro takes the treat to the corner and settles down to munch it. "You went to see Tony, right?"
"Um, no," McGee says with a shrug. "I figured I was the last person he'd want to see."
"Leave Jethro with me. You go to work." Abby shoos him out of her lab. "Jethro, you've got to train him better."
Going AMA takes an amazing amount of paperwork. Next time, he'll sneak out while they aren't looking.
"Is there anyone we can call for you?"
Brittle laughter isn't much of an answer. He knows he should call Abby, but he doesn't, and it takes him three tries before he finds a cab driver willing to take a chance on him. His spare key is where he left it - in the mail box that he jimmies open - and he gets the cabbie the fare plus a big tip before considering real clothes.
That done, he waves at his nosy neighbor staring through the eyehole and shuts his door hard. He locks it, yanks his phone from the wall, and goes to bed. It isn't about sleeping. It's about hiding from the world and people who prefer him as a dog, not that he blames them.
His hand aches, but it's healing straight this time, and it's his left so he's not worried. A little physical therapy, and he'll be fine. The burns and bruises only hurt a little, but he knows the truth. Work isn't a possibility. He's not sure how much sick leave he has built up, and he's not calling to ask. He's going to hide here. It's not home, but it's not a kennel.
Sleep teases him, and when he finally admits that he hates the bed - it's been longer than a day - he relocates to the sofa. The milk is sour, but dry Lucky Charms save him from starvation; he fumbles with the spoon, but he's not all that hungry. He can tell he's lost weight, and it doesn't worry him.
The silence in his apartment is excruciating, but he doesn't watch movies. He doesn't care about anything, and he spends more time than necessary in the shower, sometimes with the water off.
When someone pounds on the door, he refuses to get it.
"DiNozzo! I will kick this door down!"
Tony doubts it, but then he hears himself, and he's whimpering, and he can't take it anymore. He picks up his blanket and goes to hide in his closet. Gibbs will never think to look there. Tony curls up, careful of his hand, and waits for everyone to go away. That's what they do. No one sticks around. Whether he's a human or a pup, no one wants him. They didn't visit him in the hospital - Abby did, of course - but no one else on his former team. He knows they don't care, and the knowledge doesn't hurt more than it should. It's just proof, that's all. Facts.
No one cares. He never should have believed that Jeanne loved him. She loved Tony DiNardo, but that wasn't him. He wishes sometimes it had been.
Tucking his face down on his pulled up knee, he knows he's to blame. Blame is something he's used to, and he thinks he wears it well. The door slides open, and he huddles back a little farther, sure he's out of sight.
"Yeah, I found him." Gibbs must be on the phone. "He's in the closet, Abby.
"No, I don't think he's coming out." Gibbs gives a huff of frustration. "I know the hospital is to blame. No, you shouldn't come over. He's probably naked.
"I'll call back."
The phone clicks shut, and Tony sees no reason to come out now. He wets his lips to say something, but the DiNozzo mouthiness fails him. The silence is no surprise. He doesn't expect Gibbs to talk to him. Gibbs might slap him or bark orders at him, but talk? Not damn likely. Tony tugs his blanket closer and melts into the corner.
"You gave Abby a scare," Gibbs says in a low voice.
Tony shifts, feeling bad about that. Abby cares about him. She does, and he needs to remember that. "I'll get her flowers," he whispers.
"Good idea." Gibbs sounds as if he's further away.
Silence falls between them again, and Tony thinks maybe Gibbs is waiting for him to talk. Gibbs likes to use that technique. Stare at people until they break and babble all over the place. Tony doesn't feel like babbling. He doesn't feel like talking at all. The words, all of them, didn't mean anything. He's lied, and lied, and lied, and Jeanne is gone, and he's empty now.
No more words. No more home. No more anything. But Gibbs is still sitting there. Tony breaks, trying not to whimper and failing.
"I knew you'd find me."
"Using your alias was dumb." Gibbs is always right.
Shifting, Tony itches his neck, still feeling the weight. "Where's my collar?"
"I have it." Gibbs doesn't sound as if it's a joke to him. Tony whines softly, needing it and not sure what that means. Gibbs snaps his fingers. "Come here, Tony."
Gibbs is sitting on the bed when Tony crawls out; his sore paw held high, and he sits his best at the boss' boots.
After several long minutes, Gibbs buckles the collar around Tony's neck. "Let's get some food. Pizza, okay?"
For an answer, Tony bumps Gibbs' leg with his head.
"I'll take that as a yes." Gibbs stands, and Tony follows him to the living room sofa. "Don't walk on that hand, paw, whatever." Gibbs sits and snaps open his phone, and Tony settles next to Gibbs' leg. It feels good to be there. He listens to the order and approves of the choices.
A gentle hand strokes through Tony's hair, and he leans into it, all of his worry and upset fading away.
"You're lucky I'm a dog person. I'm lucky you have sweats and a T-shirt on." Gibbs slaps the back of Tony's head. "You get naked for this, and I'll--."
Tony jerks his head up and stares into Gibbs' eyes. Whimpering seems appropriate.
"Just don't, and I'll build you a great doghouse." Gibbs smiles a little. "Do ya think ya took that faithful St. Bernard thing a little too far?"
The door bursting open forestalls Tony's answer, and Abby takes one look before falling to her knees and hugging the hell out of him.
"Abby! His whimpers make my ears hurt!"
"Sorry, bossman." Abby kisses Tony on the cheek. "Tony, why did you leave the hospital?"
Ducking his head, Tony puts his sore paw on Gibbs' knee. Gibbs rolls his eyes. "Why would he stay?"
"McGee didn't visit," Abby growls. Tony doesn't mention that Gibbs didn't either, not that it's expected. She sits on the sofa, close to them both. "Neither did Ziva. Tony probably felt unloved."
"Not sure Tony's ever felt anything else," Gibbs says, and Tony sees the discomfort in those blue eyes. The discomfort is from having to talk, not the truth of the words. They'd both known that truth forever.
Abby tilts her head. "Jeanne loved him."
"No, she loved DiNardo, and Tony knows the difference." Gibbs runs his fingers through Tony's hair. "Crazy mutt."
They laugh, and Tony finds himself smiling up at them. Abby turns on the TV, and the pizza arrives, and Tony tries to sneak into Gibbs' lap.
"Do you know how big you are?" Gibbs glares hard enough to send Tony back to the floor. "Abby, does the dumb mutt have medications he's supposed to be taking?"
"The hospital said he left without them." Abby adds her glare to Gibbs'. "Also? We should name him."
"No." Gibbs gives Tony another bite of pizza. Tony chews slowly. He's only had one piece, and he's full enough that he's slightly nauseous. Content, he curls up and puts his head on Gibbs' boot. Some small part of him knows he's crazy, but it's really old news.
"He needs a name. It'll ground him. Give him confidence."
"Not gonna happen." Gibbs leans and pats Tony on the butt. "Get some rest. I won't let her name you Frou-Frou."
Shutting his eyes, Tony smiles when he feels his blanket being tucked around him.
Her surprise at Gibbs' casual attitude towards Tony's puppiness is something she doesn't let show. Gibbs should be home, working on his boat, not hanging out at Tony's place, letting him be a big dog.
"He needs this, but I sure as hell don't get it." Gibbs frowns and stuffs his mouth full of pizza. He chews, obviously thinking. "When's he gonna get over it?"
Abby stares down at Tony. "I think he'll need it less as he goes along. Jeanne left a hole in him."
Gibbs shrugs. "That's what women do."
"Hey!" She punches him but not hard, and then gets to what's bothering her. "How are you going to do this? Your boat isn't here."
"It's not?" Gibbs looks around, smirking. "I'm taking him home with me. We'll stop and get his meds."
"You'd do that?" Abby can't quite believe it. She's been with him a lot of years, and he doesn't let anyone from work into his life, not like that. "For him?"
The look he gives her is one she'll never forget. "Oh."
"Yeah." Gibbs grabs another piece. "He didn't eat much."
"They barely fed him at that damn place. It kept him weak, docile." Abby hates them all again. She scoots closer to him, smelling the sawdust, bourbon, and his gun. He lets her curl up without glaring, and she thanks him by being quiet. Somehow, over all the years, the head slaps, and the yelling, she's missed the fact that Gibbs loves Tony. She's always known how Tony feels about everything - that's dead easy. Feeling a little stupid, she makes a mental note to pay more attention.
"That's nice," she whispers, and Gibbs hugs her close. Of course Gibbs loves her.
"Boss," Tony whines, knowing it will do no good whatsoever.
That motivates him faster than any leash ever had, and he trudges into the pharmacy. Thirty minutes later, sure he's going to need a cab, he emerges to find Gibbs patiently waiting for him. He makes a conscious decision to enjoy it for the one day before Gibbs throws him out. Happens every time, and he always sees Gibbs' point.
Gibbs peels away from the curb, and Tony puts his sore hand away from anything it could knock, say coffee for instance.
"Yeah." Tony feels like he should apologize. "It'd started healing wrong. I ignored the details about how they fixed it."
"Desk duty for you." Gibbs gives him a sour look. "Or you could take some time. You have it."
Tony doesn't think they should talk about it. Vance will never let him go back, but Gibbs will have to face that on his own. Tony fiddles with the sacks of drugs, thinking about his first pain pill.
"How'd that happen?" The question is sharp, pointed, and Gibbs doesn't allow evasions.
"They had an adoption day, and this guy liked me, and I knew you'd never find me if I was sold so I, um, bit him." Tony stops, not wanting to continue.
"Good thinking." Gibbs' praise always feels nice. "So, what were you thinking when they brought you to us?"
"Hoping you had a yard." Tony shrugs. "I was done, boss." He isn't proud of it. Gibbs drives faster, and soon enough, Tony's watching him head downstairs with his coffee. Tony stows his stuff in the guest room like always and goes to take a pain pill. That done, he sprawls on the sofa with a soda. He has plenty of time to think about everything: work, Abby, puppy play, Stockholm syndrome and more. Instead, he falls asleep and doesn't wake up until he smells Chinese food.
"Wake up, hairy butt. I have brought food." Ziva opens the basement door. "Gibbs! Food!"
Tony wonders if Gibbs comes when called and tries to sit up without wincing. He hears from Ziva's laughter that he failed. "Oh, shut up."
"I cannot stay. I have a date." Ziva strolls over to him and looks him over from top to bottom. "You will survive. Work on Monday?"
He can only stare. "I'm not going back."
"My ass," Gibbs growls from the kitchen.
Ziva tilts her head and stares Tony down. "You will, and no one will ever speak of this, or I will knife them."
"Vance doesn't want an agent like me," Tony says under his breath, knowing that Gibbs can hear him. "This isn't something he's going to let slide."
"You let me worry about that," Gibbs says. "I have some experience in writing reports that are slanted a certain direction."
"He does." Ziva walks away from him, and Tony makes sure to check out the rearview. Gibbs and Ziva whisper for a moment, and then she's gone out the door. Tony rubs his head hard before making his way to the table and food. He admits that he'd be grateful about the knifing thing, if Ziva means it, and she never jokes about knives.
"Eat." Gibbs hands him a fork. Tony takes it and eats until he's full. He fiddles with a fortune cookie but doesn't crack it open. He feels as if he should be talking, babbling, about movies, work, and women. Gibbs suddenly grabs the cookie. "Don't."
Tony knows what that angry tone of voice means. His limited time here is already up, but he hasn't beaten his record. One time, Gibbs sent him packing before they'd eaten.
"I'll, um, call a cab." Tony fumbles for his cell phone in his jean pocket. "Thanks for dinner." He tries to sound sincere.
Gibbs effortlessly smacks him hard on the back of the head. "You're not leaving."
"Not yet," Tony mumbles, but he puts the cell phone on the table. He rubs his head again and cleans off his trash. There's nothing to do at Gibbs' house besides watch him build another boat and wait to be thrown out.
"Take your medicines."
Before Tony digs them out, Gibbs shoves all the leftovers in the fridge and disappears downstairs. That's for the best, and Tony takes the antibiotic, skipping another pain pill. It isn't that bad. Bored, he reads the wound care instructions for his hand. He decides to leave it to Ducky because it sounds gross.
It's the sound of hammering that draws him to the basement, and he stares for a long time at what is clearly the beginning of a large dog house. He can't help but ask, "How are you getting it out?"
Abby keeps track of them because that's what she does. Tony's cell phone is still at Gibbs' house, and it's been two days. Tomorrow, one or both of them are going to work, and her curiosity is becoming impossible to contain. She'd only stayed away to give Tony time, content with letting other people visit. After all, Tony knows Abby loves him. At least, he better know it, after everything she'd done to find him.
"Gibbs, I'm coming over."
"You don't have to call."
"It's polite." Abby twirls her umbrella and heads for the door. She knocks before going inside, directly to the basement. Surprise makes her stop on the middle step, but she regains her momentum and grabs a hug from Gibbs. "Is Tony asleep?" she whispers.
"I think so. He took a pain pill." Gibbs doesn't even glance that way. "He growled about it, but my bite is worse than his bark."
She giggles, making sure to stay quiet. "Did he ask for his collar?"
Gibbs pulls her over to the workbench and puts her on a stool. He starts straightening his tools. "He got real twitchy. Usually, I throw him out. This time, I found another solution."
Her mouth drops a little. She, more than anyone, knows the cycle of Tony staying and leaving Gibbs' house at regular and irregular intervals. "Wow."
He shrugs, but she can see that he's not mad about having a large pup in his basement. She smiles. "At least he's housebroken."
"There is that. I'll buy him a few chew toys tomorrow." Gibbs' grin makes her hug him again. He tugs her pig tail. "You did good, Abby."
"I know." She knows her worth. "You're going to make McGee pay for blowing me off, aren't you?"
"Yup." Gibbs makes a tight gesture in Tony's general direction. "This is less crazy than some stuff I've seen."
Abby has one thing to say that she hopes doesn't make him growl at her. "Tony needed our help after the whole thing with Jeanne. We let him down." She hugs herself tightly, feeling the guilt. "He's so good at hiding his problems."
"Whole thing was stupid," Gibbs growls. She nods and sees Tony fidget. He's wearing plain grey sweats and a T-shirt, and she never thought for a second that Gibbs would allow him to be naked for his puppy play. Gibbs has limits. It's good that Tony's respecting them. All in all, they're a great match, and the doghouse looks awesome. She wonders if Gibbs would notice if she put a TV in there. Gibbs leans into her a little. "What was with the tails?" he whispers.
She can't help it. She busts out laughing.
Awkward is the word that Tony is beginning to suspect might define his life. Going back to work, hanging out at Gibbs' place, meeting Abby's eyes, letting Ducky see Tony's hand: it's all a big pile of awkward.
The doghouse is great. He'll admit that, but he doesn't get why Gibbs hasn't thrown him out. His hand is healing, still hurts like hell, but he can get along at his apartment, if he tries.
"DiNozzo, we're going home in fifteen. Get squared away."
"Yes, boss." Tony starts cleaning up. It takes him the entire fifteen minutes because he can't do anything with his left hand. Ducky makes sure to keep the bandages fresh and annoyingly large. Tony throws his lunch, mostly uneaten, away, and tries not to notice that McGee is staring at him. Again. Something else that's awkward. "Probie! Stop staring at me with those big--." He stops when the next word is going to be 'puppy.' "Just stop!"
McGee blushes. "I wasn't! I wouldn't!"
Ziva perches her butt on Tony's desk. "He was. Will you be a big puppy dog this weekend? That is what he is wondering."
Tony is sure he turns purple.
"You two jealous?" Gibbs' glare drives Ziva from Tony's desk. "Move it, DiNozzo. I have a date."
"Moving." Tony snatches up his backpack and falls into step right behind him. The elevator doors close, and he says what he's thinking, "Boss, take me to my apartment."
"No." Gibbs doesn't even hesitate on his answer. Tony slumps his shoulders, unable to understand how it had been so easy to be tossed out every other time. He opens his mouth, but Gibbs interrupts, "Last thing you need is to be living alone."
"How long are you keeping me?" Tony bites the question out.
Gibbs smirks in a way that's kinda scary but doesn't answer, and Tony frowns the entire way home. There's leftover pizza for him, and more meds, of course, and he answers the doorbell when it rings.
Her eyebrows climb, redhead, of course, and he waves her inside. "He's doing something." He knows he's acting like a brat, but he doesn't much care.
She smiles tentatively. "You're Tony. I've heard a lot about you. He said you were injured."
"Yeah." Tony goes back to his pizza. He eats a bite and ignores her. Gibbs shows up a few minutes later, and they leave, and he heaves a sigh of relief. He might sneak to his apartment. At that exact instant, Gibbs comes back in the house and marches over to him.
"Stay. Be good." The pointed finger is emphasis that Tony doesn't want. Tony can't help but whine. He ducks his head, and Gibbs gives him a stroke through his hair before leaving again.
"Crap." Tony isn't going anywhere now. Gibbs petting him has made sure of that. He cleans up the kitchen out of sheer boredom and is relieved when the front door opens again. "Thank God."
"Abby said to bring you this." McGee has a good-sized box in his hands. Tony points at the coffee table that's seen better days. He peeks in the box immediately. McGee huffs, "You're welcome."
"No problem." Tony pulls out the portable Blu-ray player, smiling wide. There's a stack of movies too, and a note stuck to the top one. He reads, "'Tony, wasn't sure how long you'd be under house arrest. Be good, Abby.'"
"I could love her." Tony does love her, just not like that. He flips through the movies, a mix of old classics and new ones he hasn't seen. "You bring beer?"
"Um, no." McGee flaps his lower lip. "You still mad at me?"
Tony points at the box. "Can you set this up for me? In here so I can lie on the sofa?" He waves his bandages. "Ducky would kill me if I screw this up."
"Oh! Sure!" McGee gets busy, and Tony sits down to watch. He isn't angry at McGee any longer, but it's clear that McGee is a co-worker, not a friend. Most of that is Tony's fault. Tony pushes him too hard at work. That stint as team leader hadn't helped things either. McGee pops the eject button. "Got one picked out?"
"Not sure." Tony looks through them again. "You leaving?" He tries to make the question harmless, and McGee's quick look of relief shows his true intentions.
"I have a thing, but it could wait." McGee almost hovers over him.
"Nah. Go. Have fun." Tony leaves out the words, 'with your friends.' "And thanks."
"You'll tell Abby, right? She was so mad at me." McGee practically moans. Tony nods and focuses on the screen, and McGee is gone before the opening credits can begin. It's a comfort movie with the comedic styling of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Tony lets it lull him to sleep. He wakes up with the sun on his face in his bed - he thinks of it as his - and knows Gibbs hauled him in here last night.
A long stretch, and Tony fumbles out to the kitchen to find coffee and Captain Crunch. Belly full, he wanders to the shower. It's Saturday; he should do something, and he's restless. Clean and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, he ends up in Gibbs' backyard, staring at assorted junk piles. It's not that Gibbs is messy, but the discarded stuff is a dead giveaway that there's no woman of the house.
"What're ya thinking?"
"Your backyard needs work." Tony sits down on the edge of the deck. "Good date?"
"Yup." Gibbs plunks down next to him, coffee in hand. He takes a slow sip. "We could clean it up."
Tony shrugs, wanting to do something but not sure about a group activity. "I wouldn't be much help."
"You never are." Gibbs grins, and Tony finds a quick smile at what he hopes is a joke. The silence is easy between them, and for once, Tony doesn't feel the need to babble into it. It's Gibbs who asks, "Did you want a name?"
Thrown off balance, Tony wrinkles his forehead. He tries to answer truthfully. "Sorta like Mutt."
"Abby will kill me." Gibbs takes another drink. There must be bourbon in it because he's awful talkative. "Women make us crazy."
"Did me at least." His sense of shame tugs at him. "Sorry, boss."
"At least you didn't kill a bunch of people."
Tony can tell that Gibbs isn't joking, but this conversation needs to be over now. He stands and takes a long stretch. "Dumpster?"
"I'll make a call." Gibbs heads back inside, and Tony drinks the abandoned coffee. No bourbon in it, which is a surprise. Some part of Tony wants to go to his place and mope around, but he's seeing something in Gibbs' eyes that's keeping him here. It's weird, that's for sure, and he's glad he didn't kill anyone, even though he understands why Gibbs did.
At noon on every second Saturday, Abby takes gumbo over to Gibbs' house, sometimes jambalaya, but always with cornbread. Cornbread is life. She calls first, no one answers, but she goes over anyway. She'll stick it in the fridge. She knows the real reason Gibbs doesn't lock his door - free food.
"Abby!" Tony waves and trots over, and she hands him the cornbread. "Food? For us?"
"Real food." Abby is glad to see him doing something other than sulking. "You're sweaty."
"And dirty." Tony smirks, and they go in the house together. "We should eat now. I'm hungry."
Abby can't help but laugh. "Men. So predictable. Kate was right about that."
"I miss her."
"We all do." Gibbs kisses Abby on the cheek. "Thanks for the food."
"You're welcome." Abby looks from one man to the other, thinking that she's rarely seen them so relaxed. "Why are you sweaty?"
"Cleaning up the backyard." Gibbs hooks his thumb down the hallway. "Go wash, DiNozzo."
Tony leaves smiling, and Gibbs washes his hands and arms at the sink. Abby hovers, close enough to whisper, "He looks better."
Gibbs shrugs, and Abby can't decide whether to sit with them or leave. Curiosity wins the day, and she sits.
"Aren't you eating?" Tony asks while grabbing a bowl. He's a polite guy, always has been, even when he's acting like a jerk. Gibbs is busy dishing it out, and the smell is amazing, as usual. She shakes her head, and Gibbs answers for her.
"She hates gumbo." Gibbs begins to eat before his butt hits his chair. Tony isn't far behind, and they make appreciative noises over the cornbread. She watches them, and something deep inside her relaxes. Gibbs isn't quite so lonely, and Tony isn't quite so lost. She hesitates to mention it as men are so dumb.
"How's your hand?" Abby goes with that.
"Better. Sore." Tony keeps his hurt hand in his lap.
Her phone rings, and she steps away from the table to get it. Tony and Gibbs both keep their eyes on her, and she's forcibly reminded how nosy they are. She speaks softly and then disconnects.
Gibbs raises his eyebrows.
"Nun emergency." She grins and leaves them to their food, which at that rate isn't going to last long. They're going to be fine.
Sunday is awful. He and Jeanne used to lie around her apartment on Sundays, read the paper, and make love. It was perfect. Now he's got nothing, and he can spend the rest of his life picturing her happily married to some other guy. He hangs his head and hates his job, his life in general, and Sundays in particular.
Tony grumbles and curses as he fumbles through a shower. He needs to go home, except that he doesn't have one, and he hates his apartment. Tomorrow is work. He can't stay here any longer, and he growls in pure frustration.
With some help from his teeth, he removes the bandage and flexes his head. That makes him yelp, and he's more careful as he dries off. Stupid hand. Stupid day. The whole world is just stupid.
"I can tell this is going to be a bad one," Gibbs says from the doorway.
Assuming that Gibbs is in the basement is never smart. Tony glares, wraps the towel around his hips, and growls, "Leave me alone. That's what you do so damn well!" He's not sure where the words came from, but they're true, and he's relieved - he is - when Gibbs does it. Gibbs leaves, without a word, and Tony sneaks to his room.
Clean clothes are at a minimum, and he struggles one-handed to put on boxers. When Gibbs pushes the door open, Tony flinches.
"You're not leaving." Gibbs flicks something Tony doesn't want to look at too closely back and forth in his hand. "Stupid mutt."
Tony wants to fight him, clenching his jaw. "I don't need that!"
"I think you do." Gibbs rolls his eyes in that infuriating way of his. He steps very close and pets his hand through Tony's hair. "It keeps you from flying to pieces."
Denying it would be easy, but Tony can't lie to him again. "Boss," he whines, and Gibbs points at the sweats on the chair. Groaning, Tony picks them up. Gibbs helps him get them on, but they skip the shirt, and Tony is sinking down to his hands and knees before he can complain.
"Careful with that paw today, Mutt." Gibbs goes to one knee and shows him the collar. It's a new one. "I tossed the old one," he says.
Nudging him, Tony tries to show his gratitude as the new collar is put around his neck. It feels right, even good, and he likes color of it. By the time it's buckled, his anger is gone, melted away, and he wants a treat. Thinking about anything grows harder with each passing second. Gibbs smoothes his hand across Tony's shoulders, calming him with that simple touch.
Tony sits, lifts his hurt paw, and whines. Gibbs nods. "Don't worry. It'll heal."
That's easy to believe when Gibbs says it, and Tony, in that instant, loves him. Loves him more than is reasonable for a man. He's sorry he said that stuff. It isn't true. Gibbs is always there for him. It's the one thing that Tony trusts in, and he trembles a little as he pushes against him.
Gibbs pets him for the longest time, and Tony leans into it, needing more, feeling as if his life is here now, and it's very scary.
"Okay. Enough. I have chores to do today. Oh, and I put a few things in your doghouse."
Careful not to prance, but he's feeling it, he follows Gibbs out of the room. The day slips away, full of sunshine, snacks, and the occasional pat on the head. He ends up trailing Gibbs down to the basement, and he goes to nose around in his doghouse.
There's a new blanket, a chew toy that makes him smile, a frisbee, and a plushy rabbit that makes a funny noise when he steps on it. He can't resist throwing the rabbit in the air by its ear.
"Down here, Duck!"
"Of course you are, where else would you be?"
Tony looks at his dirty paw, cringes, and slips under his new blanket where it's safe.
"I was actually looking for Tony. Abby mentioned that he might be here, and I had no luck on any of his phones."
Silence. Gibbs doesn't answer, and Tony holds his breath.
"So this is the way it's going to be?" Ducky asks.
"For now." Gibbs whistles loudly. "Mutt, get out here."
Digging in his paws won't get him anywhere, but he takes the rabbit with him. Gibbs chuckles and plays tug-a-war with him. Mutt lets him win because he's the boss.
"Oh, dear." Ducky sighs. "He chewed his bandage off?"
"Might have to get him a cone."
Mutt glares and barks. Gibbs just grins and teases him with the rabbit.
"Remarkable." Ducky crouches down next to him. "Sit. Give me your, um, paw."
The rabbit is so close.
"It's him or the vet."
The threat helps Mutt sit, and he places his paw in Ducky's hands. It hurts, but not as badly as it did, and he refuses to whine. Ducky is gentle but makes a terrible face. "Jethro."
"He's better." Gibbs shrugs and puts his hand on Mutt's head. Mutt likes that, and he moves so he can lean against Gibbs' leg. Gibbs rumbles, "Ducky, he's healthier than the rest of your patients."
"Very funny." Ducky works quickly to clean and bandage the paw, and Mutt tries not to wiggle as the rabbit is dangled right behind his head. The instant Ducky lets go of Mutt's paw, he lunges for it. A wild battle ensues but he is triumphant, and he takes his rabbit to his doghouse before Gibbs can steal it again.
"It's never dull around here," Ducky says. "Jethro, are you sure about this?"
Gibbs laughs, and Mutt peers around the door of the doghouse at him. "A good dog is hard to find, Ducky."
Mutt smiles and curls up around his rabbit to nurse his paw. He's home.