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Something was up with Tony, that much Abby was certain about. He looked like he wasn’t getting sleep, was distracted and pale. More telling was actually Gibbs’ reaction to it. He looked worried sometimes, when no one was watching, his eyes frequently flickering towards his SFA.

 

If Gibbs was concerned but not angry, it meant that whatever was troubling Tony wasn’t his fault.

 

Abby wanted to do something; wanted to help Tony but the man wouldn’t talk and neither McGee nor Ziva knew what the problem was. She had come to the bullpen, she had in mind to invite Tony for a weekend movie marathon. But, they had a fresh case and Tony had only given her a pale smile before rushing to follow Gibbs out.

 

She was worried.

 

With a sigh, she sat down at Tony’s desk, swinging in his chair. She wondered if Gibbs would tell her what’s wrong if she asked. Perhaps, she would ask. If Gibbs saw she was worried, he might tell her something.

 

But somehow, she doubted it.

 

She absently moved the mouse of Tony’s computer and arched a brow when she saw the computer unlocked and email open. With a small, guilty look around, she looked into the correspondence. She bit her lip as she read. Most of them were innocent, work related.

 

She, out of sheer curiosity, looked into the trash folder.

 

Her brow arched when she saw a mail from a very popular magazine. Wondering why Tony had deleted it, she opened the mail and ready through it.

 

At first, she was simply stunned, her eyes wide. On her second read, a slightly gleeful smile overtook her lips. This was just they needed to cheer Tony up. She didn’t know why Tony was just ignoring such an amazing offer, but she decided to accept on his behalf.

 

Just as a surprise, she replied to the email and then deleted all evidence of it, smiling a bit.

 

Tony would be so surprised and also happy. And he would thank her, and perhaps come out of his off mood.

 

Whistling under her breath, she swept out of the bullpen, happy with her decision and impatient for the results.

 


 

Tony swirled his wine in his glass, eyeing his companion discretely. He didn’t know why Marcel Biancardi asked him out for dinner, but something was stirring in his mind, an alarm going off at the back of his head.

 

Biancardi was the son of a big man on the mafia scene. It was huge network including everything from white collar crimes to arms. He wasn’t a man one said no to, especially when you’re trying to find out how the Biancardi famiglia was involved with some Navy personnel.

 

Marcel was intense, passionate and extremely handsome. He possessed the refined Italian good looks that any man would envy. And it wasn’t often that Tony felt envious of someone’s looks.

 

Even while Tony’s first inclination was to say no, it had been hard to resist those green-blue eyes, hard to resist that powerful, magnetic presence.

 

But he had said no.

 

Tony should’ve known better than to expect it to end there. That brief hesitation before replying had been enough for those perceptive eyes to lighten, amused. He had just set a challenge and the other man was all too ready to rise up to the occasion.

 

“Why am I here?” Tony asked softly after a long moment of silence, peering at the other man over the rim of his wineglass.

 

Cool, piercing green-blue eyes studied him, a small smile lingering on those lips. “Come Antonio,” Marcel drawled, his Italian accent making his voice musical to Tony’s practiced ears. “A man of your age and beauty can hardly pretend to be so innocent.” He said, leaning back, confident like a predator comfortably situated in his domain.

 

Tony looked away for a moment. “Maybe I’m not comfortable with that.”

 

“Are you lying to me, or yourself?” Marcel asked with a smirk. He nodded to the waiter as the brought their order, “Your eyes gave much away.” He said casually as he cut into his steak. “You could say you accepted my invitation because your were frightened of me.” He commented, “But your eyes are too strong for that. You met my gaze head on, not many do that these days.”

 

Tony could understand.

 

“You’d say that you’re not interested in men, but again, your eyes give you away when they linger.” Tony flushed.

 

Marcel learned forward, an intrigued look in his gaze. “It is, perhaps, that you fear reprisal from my father. If so, then I assure you, you are safe. My father, you’ll find, is very liberal regarding such matters.”

 

“I’ve met your father. He doesn’t seem so liberal to me.” Tony said, deflecting as he took a bite of the delicious food.

 

The man before him chuckled, “He is fond of you.” He commented. “He won’t mind welcoming you into the family.”

 

Tony carefully curtailed his instinctive alarm, his gaze flickering towards the steady gaze on him. “I don’t think this is a good idea, Mr. Biancardi.”

 

“Marcel, please.” He waved his hand elegantly, “Now, the only reason you would hesitate so much is if you had someone in your life.” Tony stilled and Marcel smirked, “Ah, so you do. Or you wish you do.”

 

“I don’t understand why that concerns you.” Tony said sharply before visibly biting the inside of his cheek, “I’m sorry, Mr. Bian-”

 

“Make no mention of it,” Marcel waved him off, “I like this fire in you, it lights up your face. And yes, it does concern me. Have you not yet guessed, Antonio, that I always get what I want?” Marcel took a sip of his red, his eyes intense and heated. “I consider myself quite capable of inciting love in my lovers.”

 

“You speak as though love’s an easy emotion to incite.” Tony replied, looking at Marcel. “Half the world wouldn’t be as miserable if it was.”

 

“Caro,” Marcel whispered with tenderness, reaching across the table to gently grasp Tony’s chin. “I can see you are breaking your heart over someone undeserving.”

 

Tony pursed his lips. “Undeserving?”

 

“I mean no offence.” Marcel said, caressing Tony’s cheek and the SFA locked his jaw, allowing the touch. “But if this person does not see your various charms and merits, they aren’t worth your attentions. Come to my bed,” Marcel coaxed, his voice low and seductive, “Let me help you forget that cretino.”

 

“That’d be an insult.” Tony replied just as softly, keeping his expression serious, not giving an inch.

 

“To whom?” Marcel asked, pulling away, “To the person you are pining after.”

 

“To me. To you.”

 

Biancardi’s expression cleared, those stunning eyes lightening with respect. “Ah, forgive me.” He replied, dipping his head elegantly. “I would not ask you to sacrifice your self-respect to give me the pleasure of your company.”

 

Tony nodded, “Thank you.”

 

“Though, I must warn you, you haven’t dissuaded me yet.” Marcel’s lips’ curled in amusement, “As I said, I always get what I want.”

 

That sounded too much like a threat to Tony.

 

He couldn’t honestly say he didn’t enjoy being wined and dined. That he didn’t like being the center of attention of such a man. Any other circumstance and he might actually consider.

 

But Jeanne had taught him a valuable lesson and he wasn't going fall into the same trap once again. Vance hadn’t asked him to seduce a member of the famiglia. In fact, he was pretty clear that Tony didn’t need to do that.

 

But how to convince Marcel?

 

That question bothered him throughout the dinner as he tried to get a read on the man. A lot relied on him successfully infiltrating the family and this was the best way. However it went completely against the grain and Tony wasn’t ready to get into that mess again.

 

Problem was, he was attracted to the man.

 

“You’re in deep thought.” Marcel said as they walked out of the restaurant. “Have I alarmed you?”

 

Tony grimaced, “Not alarmed but I don’t understand.” He glanced at Marcel, “Why so interested in me?”

 

“Are you saying you’re not worthy of my interest?” The Italian asked, amused, “Or you don’t want my interest?” Marcel walked forward, trapping Tony between him and a car. He leaned in, speaking softly in the NCIS agent’s ear. “Either way, you will find I don’t give up so easily.”

 

"You're wasting your time." Tony replied.

 

Marcel chuckled, “It is my time to waste.” He murmured, grasping Tony’s chin and holding him steady as he brushed his lips against his cheek. “Men with beauty and honor united in them are rare… rarer still are men of courage and gentle spirit.” Tony swallowed at the low, sensuous tone. “My father would have your friendship but you’re an innocent walking into a tainted world.”

 

“Who talks like that?” Tony asked, attempting to joke but his voice was rough, his throat dry. “Strange of you to call a grown man innocent.”

 

Marcel grasped Tony’s hand and lifted it up, studying his fingers. “Innocent in our ways.” He corrected, pressing a delicate kiss to Tony’s palm, “You have gentle hands, long fingers… do you play an instrument?”

 

Tony licked his lips, “Piano… and guitar.”

 

A pleased smile curled at those pale lips. “I look forward to hearing you play then.”

 

“You’re assuming I will play for you.” Tony said before shaking his head and pulling away. “I’ve no interest in pursuing a relationship at the moment.” He insisted. “And you won’t convince me otherwise.”

 

Marcel chuckled, “Caro,” He drawled, brushing a thumb against Tony’s lower lip, “You don’t know me yet. If you did, you’d know that such feeble protestations would not faze me.” That green-blue gaze intensified, “I promise you, I’ll have a willing kiss from these lips yet.” The man pulled away with a smirk and started to walk towards his own car, “Ciao, bello. I’ll be seeing you.”

                                                               

Tony allowed himself to curse only when the man’s car was completely out of sight. He got into his car and headed for a small house that had been rented for him in a posh area of Northwest DC. His cover identity was simple and so stunningly close to the truth, it was a gamble in itself.

 

He was a former FBI agent who came into some money from his grandfather, decided to quit his job and purchase a vineyard in Tuscany and get out of the hustle and bustle of DC. He was particularly keen to purchase the vineyard up for sale in the neighbourhood of Biancardi family. The identity was reinforced by not only NCIS and FBI but also the Interpol. It had true international validity.

 

Gibbs didn’t think that had been a need for that but both Tony and Fornell disagreed. Establishing contact with anyone from the famiglia in DC would’ve raised flags. They had no common ground in DC but in Italy?

 

Tony had a near encyclopedic knowledge of wines and a keen interest in winemaking. It was easy to speak about it passionately when he went to tour his potential purchase in Tuscany. A small conversation in a local bar, an invitation to a Baptism and charming a few Italian grandmas with his eagerness to learn about his heritage, and soon he was in.

 

He went from being the strange American man invading their territory to Antonio De Santis, the good Italian boy returning home.

 

He worked over three months just setting up background before he had an accidental meeting with Ricardo Biancardi, the old but formidable head of the Biancardi famiglia. Tony didn’t believe it to be accidental. His plans had been to meet Biancardi in Tuscany, pretending to be the eager to please, eager to learn wine enthusiast.

 

And he certainly hadn’t anticipated Marcel.

 

As heir, Marcel Biancardi was certainly worthy of his family’s legacy. He had the same quiet, intense power about him that Gibbs possessed. The inner core of steel and a fierce fire hidden by a veil of impenetrable ice. He possessed none of his father’s boisterous, deceptively open charm but was just as efficient in scaring the shit outta people as him.

 

It was attraction at first glance and if Tony hadn’t been so impossibly in love with his boss, he would’ve given in, even if for a moment.



As he reached his temporary home, Tony felt uneasy. Marcel’s attention was never a part of their plan and only trouble would follow. He needed to talk to Vance and Gibbs because continuing like this would only lead to dangerous waters.

 

Every instinct in his screamed that Marcel Biancardi was not someone to be trifled with.

 


 

Abby gleefully opened the envelope, taking out the agreement from inside of it. She knew what she was doing was somewhat illegal and Gibbs would be so mad if he ever found out. But she knew Tony would cover for her. No one understood and accepted pranks as much as Tony did. He’d probably preen and grin about until Gibbs slapped some sense into him but it’d bring him out of the weird mood he had been in.

 

Timmy wouldn’t like her giving Tony more arsenal but hey, her bestie deserved some appreciation sometimes. They always got too caught up in teasing him that they sometimes forgot to show him just how much they loved him.

 

Tony was second only to Gibbs in her heart and this was her way to prove it.

 


 

“Damn it, DiNozzo, I’m not going to flush months of hard work down the drain just because someone’s trying to get into your pants!” Vance snapped. “We’ve invested too many resources in this to back out now!”

 

Tony locked his jaw, looking straight ahead as Vance paced. “Your job was to get in with the Biancardi family and you’ve done that. If Marcel Biancardi’s showering you with attention, grin and bear it!”

 

“We’re playing a dangerous game.” Tony replied sharply, “I’ll not have history repeat itself.”

 

“History will repeat itself only if you lose your head.” Vance said, pointing at him. “Are you some soft-hearted beggar who falls in love with anyone who shows you favor?” Tony paled at the accusation, his green eyes spitting fire. “I don’t think so. This is no different than going on one of your various one-night stands.” Vance said derisively. “And don’t even try to pretend you’re not interested in men.”

 

“I’m not some whore and this agency a pimp.” Tony bit out and Fornell cut a glance at the stonily silent Gibbs. The Marine was watching Vance with a deadly and intent gaze and if the Director had been less of a man, he’d have long backed down.

 

“If it saves the lives of dozens of Sailors, you will-”

 

“Another word out of your mouth and you’ll not like the consequences.” Gibbs spoke softly but his tone was ice.

 

Vance looked at Gibbs, furious. “Who do you think you’re talking to?”

 

“I hope I’m talking to the Director of a respected agency, not a pimp.” The Marine said, “Because I didn’t just hear you ask my agent to use his body to gain information.”

 

Fornell intervened before blood spilled. Gibbs was protective of every member of his team but Tony? He stood above everyone else. The Marine had once confessed, after the whole Frog fiasco, that the kid suffered too much in the span of a few months. That he’d sooner see Tony resign or transfer to FBI than have him go through that again.

 

“We can’t withdraw from this op. Tony’s already gotten the attention of Biancardi and his son.” Fornell explained reasonably and nearly cringed as the joint power of green and blue eyes focused on him. DiNozzo must’ve been taking lessons in intimidation from Gibbs or he was formidable enough on his own when all masks were discarded. “If we don’t see this through, Biancardi might come after DiNozzo and we’d have nothing on him to prevent that.”

 

“Fornell-” Gibbs growled.

 

“Hey, hear me out!” The FBI agent protested, “I didn’t say DiNozzo needed to be cozy with the man. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t decide anything prematurely. Let DiNozzo continue to reject Biancardi Jr. If it becomes too much, he can simply cut ties by informing the Senior that Junior’s attention was becoming too much for him. That way, we have a legitimate out.” He turned to look at Tony, “This man will respect the boundaries you set, right? He won’t force the issue?”

 

Gibbs pursed his lips while Tony sighed, combing his fingers through his hair. “As far as I know at the moment? Yeah, he’ll respect any boundaries I set.”

 

“This is risky, Fornell.” Gibbs bit out, “I’ll not have Tony out there relying on the integrity of a member of the mafia.”

 

“Well you’ve no choice.” Vance snapped, “Don’t forget who runs this agency, Gibbs.”

 

Gibbs stood abruptly, slapping his hands on the desk and leaning forward dangerously. “If a single hair on Tony’s head is outta place because of you, Leon, I’ll make you regret it. Director or not.” He spun around and grabbed Tony’s arm, dragging the younger man out of the office.

 

Vance scowled, “I should just fire him.”

 

“And see the agency fall around your ears?” Fornell scoffed, “What you just asked DiNozzo to do? Gibbs isn’t above using that to end you. You think he can’t slip it to the papers and bury you so far in the ground that you’d never see the light of day again?”

Vance stilled and Fornell smirked, gathering his files and standing. “Gibbs’ a simple, straight-forward guy but don’t take that as a weakness. Neither of them are where they are in life because other, better opportunities were out of their reach.”

 

“Yes, I know DiNozzo denied a promo-”

 

“Not a single promotion, Director. As long as Gibbs works here, DiNutzo would play second fiddle. The moment that man retires, the kid'll be threatening your throne so fast, you won’t even see him coming.” Fornell chuckled, “This is the kid who talked circles around the Director of Mossad. In comparison, you’re but a small fish.”

 


 

It was proving to be a futile effort.

 

Tony sometimes felt like he was fighting the battle on two fronts. On one hand, there was Ricardo Biancardi, who despite his apparent fondness for him, would divulge nothing of importance. On the other hand, Marcel Biancardi was relentless in his pursuit of Tony.

 

Fortunately, Tony had judged the man right because aside from that one date, Marcel had been respectful of his boundaries at all times. He tried to woo and charm with his best efforts but never overstepped the line.

 

For which, he was deeply grateful.

 

Nevertheless, it was starting to look like the only way to break into the famiglia was to bed the man. Since their discussion with Vance, two more Petty Officers had been found executed and while they suspected the Biancardi, they had no proof. Military grade arms, ammunitions and explosives were on the market and they couldn’t trace who was responsible for it. In all, they needed more information, urgently.

 

Problem was, they couldn’t rush such an assignment. One wrong move and it’d be Tony’s neck. While Vance might be happy to sacrifice that, the SecNav, Gibbs, Fornell, the FBI’s Director and higher-ups in the Pentagon were nowhere near willing to do that.

 

Thank God.

 

So here he was, in some multi-million dollar mansion in Woodland-Normanstone, dressed to the nines for some intimate family gathering.

 

Italian family gathering. Which meant music, awesome food, too many relatives, too much quality wine and danger everywhere. Tony had spoken more Italian in one evening than he had in his entire life. He was Marcel’s arm candy for the evening, at Ricardo’s behest. Apparently a foil against match-making aunts.

 

This was a different world.

 

“You look overwhelmed.” Marcel murmured, dipping his head to speak in Tony’s ear. “Does this not bring back memories of your childhood?”

 

Tony shrugged, “I wish it did.” He admitted, “But no. My childhood’s not something I like to recall.”

 

Now, why did I say that?’ Tony asked himself in dismay. This was a sign that he was getting too damn comfortable in Marcel’s company. Nearly two months, the man still hadn’t backed off but he hadn’t done anything to raise alarm-bells either. It wouldn’t do for Tony to be lured into a false sense of security.

 

Still, as the evening passed, he felt himself relaxing, a pleasant sort of haze surrounding him. Marcel was an absolute gentleman and it was a break from Gibbs’ general bastardness.

 

And he sorta felt like taking a break.

 

So he went with the flow, mingling with the guests, charming the ladies, sipping the wine and relaxing against the solid presence by him. He didn’t even think to protest when Marcel drew him away to the balcony, leading them in a slow, sensuous dance. “It’s pleasant to have you like this, pliant, unwary.” Marcel murmured in his ear, brushing a kiss against his cheek. “You’ve fought me at every turn, never giving in. Your loyalty to whomever you love is admirable. Something I desire for myself.”

 

Tony sighed, “I’d give it to you, if I could.” He replied, blinking his eyes, words scattering in his mind. “Would’ve been less painful.”

 

“I can make it so, Caro.” Marcel coaxed, swaying them gently, “In a few months, your land in Tuscany would be settled. You may never return to this place, never see this person. Why cling to the shadow of the past?” Tony looked up into those eyes and in the dim, evening light, could almost imagine them blue. A smooth thumb brushed against his lower lip and he could almost imagine calluses on it. “Imagine how it would be, away from this crowded, noisy place, in the serenity of our homeland.” He murmured, his accent making the words alluring. “Away from the one who ignores you, in the arms of someone who adores you.”

 

His lips quirked, “Adores me… no one adores me.” He spun away from Marcel and leaned against the railing, looking up at the night sky. “I’m a challenge. And you adore that challenge.”

 

Careful, Caro!” Marcel snapped as Tony stumbled, catching his arm and pulling him away from the edge.

 

Tony blinked, “I didn’t drink so much.” He murmured, almost to himself, looking down at his half-full wine glass. He missed a look of concern and anger in Marcel’s eyes as he looked beyond Tony and met his father’s eyes.

 

“Father?” The younger Biancardi questioned.

 

Ricardo smiled and there was nothing jovial about it. “Have your fill of him tonight, Marcello. Come tomorrow, I have use for him.”

 

“What.” Marcel bit out, “What’ve you done?” He demanded, he looked down to see Tony sag against him, looking more than dazed.

 

“You wouldn't be so quick to defend him, my son, if you knew the truth of him.” Ricardo said. “And I won’t disillusion you tonight. Have your fill without guilt. There’s no need for you to show him kindness, not when he has already abused it. You’ll know all tomorrow.” The elder Biancardi glanced at Tony one last time before leaving.

 

Marcel looked down at Tony and frowned, “Caro, what did you do?”


 

“Gibbs! What the hell is your boy thinking?” Vance snarled as he walked into the bullpen, furious. “If DiNozzo can’t do his job without preening he doesn’t deserve a place here.” He bit out.

 

Gibbs frowned, “What are you talking about, Director?”

 

This.” He slapped a magazine down on Gibbs’ desk. “Not only he did this without permission, he exposed himself to the entire world! What use are those vaunted undercover skills now? This is one of the most read magazines in the US, Gibbs.”

 

The Marine flipped the magazine open and felt all color drain from his face. “DiNozzo wouldn’t do this.” Gibbs growled out. “Especially not when he’s been working on a sensitive undercover op for the better part of the year.”

 

Vance scowled at him, “Find out what happened. Call DiNozzo and if he’s not here with an explanation by noon, tell him his job’s history.” The Director warned before leaving.

 

Gibbs called Tony, his own temper fraying. He knew without a doubt that Tony had no hand in this. His SFA had joked about it to him the day he got the email, muttering something about changing careers and trying out acting. Of course, he wasn’t serious and Gibbs hadn’t even bothered to ask whether he replied. Tony had pretty much admitted that he had deleted the email, after all.

 

Straight to voicemail.

 

His gut sounded the alarm as he tried the other number, the one issued for the op.

 

Voicemail again.

 

With a low curse, he snatched the magazine and headed for Abby’s lab. McGee and Ziva were already there, discussing some weekend plans. In the elevator, he read the article, fuming silently. Obviously someone had hacked into Tony’s computer, read the email and replied it. Even then, shouldn’t the magazine people need a signed permission from Tony? Did they go on and publish without consent? Was this a round-about way to kill DiNozzo? Or compromise the op?

 

“Ziva, get me the someone from this magazine, I wanna know who gave them permission to publish that article involving NCIS.” He said sharply, “McGee, I want you to trace DiNozzo’s phone. He’s not answer-”

 

“My God! They published already?” Abby asked excitedly, grabbing Gibbs’ attention. “How’s it? Did Tony see it? Aww, is he scared you’ll be pissed at him?” Abby asked with a smile as she flipped the magazine open. “Wow! He looks really good in that picture. I mean, I know, he does… let’s see, ‘Senior Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo makes our list of Top Ten Real Life Law Enforcement Hotties because of his classic Italian good looks, charm and ever-present smile. He graduated from Ohio State, originally a star athlete before a tragic injury-’ Hey! I was reading… that.” Abby trailed off, staring with wide eyes at Gibbs furious expression. “Gibbs?”

 

“What do you know about this?” The Lead Agent demanded icily. “DiNozzo told me he deleted the email.”

 

Abby swallowed, “Yes, he deleted it… I mean, I found it in the trash folder. I just, he looks so serious and tired these days! Not like our usual fun and jokes Tony! I was worried. When I saw the email, saw that he deleted it, I got even more worried. I mean, our Tony would never let a chance like this go by! I thought he was just scared you’ll disapprove so he deleted it. I sent a reply agreeing on his behalf. It was just to cheer him up… I meant no harm by it.”

 

Gibbs felt lead line his stomach. “McGee, trace!” He bit out.

 

“On it.” McGee worked quickly while Ziva read the article, looking faintly troubled.

 

“Gibbs, this piece is giving out a lot of personal information.” The former Mossad agent said softly, “Tony would be at serious risk.”

 

“Ya think?” Gibbs snapped, his sharp blue eyes focused on Abby. “You’re the smartest person I know.” He said slowly, his voice dangerous. “And almost as perceptive as the members of my team. Did you think, for a moment, what kinda risk you’re putting Tony in?” He demanded.

 

“Gibbs-”

 

“Boss, the phone’s here.” McGee interrupted, “I mean, just outside this building.”

 

Before Gibbs could even give the order, Ziva was racing towards the door, already on the phone alerting security. Gibbs followed her, his heart thundering with fear. They had no patience for the elevator, hurrying up the stairs. Gibbs had McGee on phone, giving him directions and soon there were standing before a dumpster just outside their building.

 

“Ziva, call the number.” He ordered as he looked into the dumpster. No body, thank God. They found the phone tossed in the corner and Ziva quickly bagged and tagged it.

 

“Gibbs, blood.” The former Mossad agent murmured.

 

Gibbs just nodded curtly, ice settling in his veins. Tony was in trouble. One simple, stupid mistake by Abby and his SFA might very well pay the price. They headed back to Abby’s lab and he couldn’t even bring himself to look at her. “Take a sample of that blood and analyse it against DiNozzo’s. McGee, take the phone and see what’s in it.”

 

“Got it, boss.” Once the search was on, he turned to Gibbs again, “Boss, what’s going on? Why’s Tony is trouble over this article? It seems like a harmless puff piece.” McGee commented as Ziva rubbing Abby’s back soothingly as the Forensic expert struggled to hold back her tears.

 

Gibbs scowled, “If it was harmless, DiNozzo wouldn’t have deleted it. He’s working deep undercover for over six months now. Looking into the Biancardi mafia family. Had the personal attention of the head and his son.” Abby paled while McGee and Ziva turned to look at him in shock. “Was doing good work too, cautious, steady and against his own judgement.”

 

“Oh God!” Abby covered her mouth, her eyes wide and teary, “Gibbs-”

 

The Lead Agent raised his hand and silenced her, “Ziva, check the surveillance videos. You,” He looked at Abby, “get to work.” Gibbs turned around and called Fornell, heading out of the lab to gain some privacy. His gut was screaming at him, worry making him restless and angry. “Fornell.”

 

Gibbs, I was just about to call. Who the fuck played that prank? McGee? David?” Fornell demanded and the Marine was pleased to know that his old friend didn’t believe DiNozzo did it.

 

“How do you know Tony’s not responsible for this mess? The Director’s already threatening to fire him.” Gibbs asked, combing his fingers through his hair. He was struggling to understand what exactly had happened. Despite her best intentions, Abby had messed up, big time. This wasn’t something that he’d allow to go unpunished.

 

If Tony lost his life…

 

Are you fucking with me, Gibbs? The way your boy went about this op was so clean, it smelled like roses. No slips, no mess, no risk just smooth. A seasoned professional like him would never make such a big mistake.” Fornell snarled, “And if Vance kicks him out and you support him, I’m gonna snatch him up, make no mistake.

 

“He’s going nowhere. This is Abby’s mess and she’ll pay the price.” Gibbs said, rubbing a tired hand over his face. “But Tony’s MIA, Fornell. Remember that RFID we put in him? I need your people to start tracking it.” It was a security measure that Gibbs had personally insisted for the mission and as of now, his trust in his team was too shaky to let them know about it.

 

On it. When did he last check in with you?” The FBI agent asked after murmuring something to someone in the background.

 

“Yesterday evening, before some family gathering or party. The location was secret but he was certain it was inside DC.”

 

Yeah, looks like it.” Fornell admitted, “Woodland-Normanstone, Jethro. From what I’m seeing, the place’s a heavily fortified mansion.” Gibbs cursed under his breath. “We can’t just so in there with gun’s blazing.

 

“I know, Tobias.” Gibbs growled out, pacing. “But I’m not gonna sit on my ass and do nothing. They’ll kill him!”

 

“Boss!” McGee exclaimed as he rushed towards him, “There’s… there’s something.” He said, looking reluctant.

 

“Fornell, I’ll call you later.” He spoke into the phone before raising a brow at his Junior Agent.

 

McGee hesitated before pointing towards the screen. Gibbs looked over the younger man at the plasma, his heart seizing at the video. Tony was asleep, half-naked , the sheet pulled up to his hips. He looked dishevelled but otherwise unharmed. His hands were cuffed to the bed but he looked like he was undisturbed by the fact.

 

Drugged.’ His mind supplied him. He saw red when the strange, tanned hand crawled up Tony’s abdomen before settling at the base of his throat with distinct possessiveness. From out of the screen, a pair of gloved hands appeared and injected something into Tony. It made the unconscious man jerk at the unexpected pain, his hazy green eyes blinking open once before falling close again.

 

“God damnit!” Gibbs snarled, punching the wall. McGee looked at Gibbs, alarmed while Ziva comforted the distraught Abby.

 

“I’m so sorry!” Abby wailed, “I didn’t mean- Gibbs-”

 

“Shut up.” Gibbs hissed out and the Forensic Analyst jerked back, stunned by the venom in the older man’s voice. “McGee, Ziva, with me.”

 

“Gibbs-” Abby reached for him.

 

Gibbs spun around and glared at her, “Do your job. Your tears aren’t gonna help Tony.” He commanded before heading out of the lab, McGee and Ziva following swiftly. Gibbs went straight to Vance. Under different circumstance, he might have tried to cover Abby’s culpability but this was just too much. There was too much at risk. She had not only compromised a very important operation, she had placed Tony in danger.

 

Whatever her intentions were, she’d have to face the consequences.  

 

“Gibbs, did you find DiNozzo?” Vance asked irritably, “Because I’ve been fielding calls from everywhere demanding explanations.”

 

“And I’ve one for you.” Gibbs replied grimly. “DiNozzo had no hand in this.” He said, “Abby replied to the email the magazine sent him. DiNozzo had deleted it.” Vance sat back, stunned. “She was looking to cheer him up,” He waved his hand and sat down, “But we’ve a bigger problem. They have him.”

 

Vance cursed, ignoring the problem with Abby for now. He stood, “MTAC, now.” Gibbs nodded curtly and followed the Director. “What do we know?”

 

“Tony’s in a mansion at Woodland-Normanstone.” Gibbs admitted and Vance let out a slow, frustrated breath. The place was a nest of Embassies with four just in that neighborhood. They couldn’t be reckless about it. Not to mention, some very high-profile, high-income political heavyweights lived there as well.  “We found his phone in the dumpster outside. It has a video of him getting drugged. No doubt, Marcel has him.”  

 

Vance’s eyes darkened with anger and he glanced at Gibbs, who looked furious himself. He may not have liked DiNozzo much, but during this undercover, after considering Fornell’s words of caution, he had come to respect the man. He may not be an IT expert or a professional agent, but he was pure grit when it mattered, with a keen mind and razor-sharp instincts.

 

And Vance was under no illusions. If Gibbs lost DiNozzo, they’d lose Gibbs and without the two pillars, one of the best teams in NCIS would be shattered.

 

“Get me SecNav, the Directors of FBI and CIA and the Interpol Rep for conference.” Vance ordered, watching Gibbs pace anxiously.

 

They needed to work something out.

 

Fast.

 


 

Tony blinked his eyes open, his head feeling heavy. For some reason, his shoulders ached. He shifted a little and stilled completely.

 

His hands were tied.

 

Carefully, he calmed his mind and took stock of his surroundings. He was in bed, naked from waist up. He could feel the smooth fabric of his trousers against his legs. If his hands had been tied for long, it could explain the soreness of his shoulders. Forcing himself to focus, he tried to recall his last clear memory.

 

He was with Marcel, wondering why he let something about his childhood slip. To be frank, his alarm bells had started ringing then. He should’ve called Gibbs, just to warn him but maybe to have an out. He should’ve acted at the first hint that something was wrong.

 

Gibbs would have his hide for being so careless.

 

He shifted a little, knowing he was alone but aware that there might be a camera somewhere. He was on a luxurious bed, high-thread count sheets. He could feel fresh breeze and the heat on the sun on his face. Maintaining the illusion that he was asleep, he tried to determine as much as he could about his situation.

 

With how heavy his head felt, it was a no-brainer that he had been drugged. He had slipped somewhere. He just didn’t know how the famiglia had been clued in. They had been so careful. Tony had actually maintained a lot of distance, only circling the periphery of the famiglia, never appearing eager or too willing for their company.

 

In fact, Tony had used Marcel’s attraction to him as an excuse to stay away. He created an illusion that it was the Biancardi family that desired his company not the other way round. He had been looking for a long con here.

 

What exactly had given him away?

 

“How long are you going to pretend to sleep, Caro?” Marcel’s smooth voice interrupted his thoughts.

 

Tony tilted his head a little and fixed his eyes on the man. “You wanna tell me why I’m here?” He asked hoarsely. “Because, I gotta tell you, bondage isn’t one of my kinks.”

 

“Your sarcasm is noted.” Marcel said dryly, taking Tony’s mind back to Eli David when he had voiced the same sentiment. “You took a gamble, Tony.” The SFA controlled his reaction, not even blinking. “And stepped into a dangerous world.” Tony frowned as Marcel picked up a magazine and and flipped it over. “‘Senior Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo makes our list of Top Ten Real Life Law Enforcement Hotties because of his classic Italian good looks, charm and ever-present smile. He graduated from Ohio State, originally a star athlete before a tragic injury ended that plan. Before coming to DC, the charming Tony DiNozzo was a detective in Peoria, Philadelphia and Baltimore, a very young and successful one at that. He was picked up by NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. This time, he stuck to one place and built a long, successful career. ’ It goes on to describe your illustrious career and mentioning the commendations you earned.”

 

Tony stared at Marcel, caught off guard completely. With a vague, disbelieving horror, he wondered what exactly had happened. He clearly remembered deleting the email. Did they go ahead and publish it without his permission?

 

Why would they do that?

 

Marcel stood and sat down on the bed, reaching out to caress Tony’s cheek. He leaned forward and whispered against Tony’s ear. “I’d speak on your behalf to father.” The man promised, “If you agree to cut your ties here, come with me to Italy and settle in our homeland, Caro.” He cupped Tony’s face, “I may be able to save your life.”

 

“At the cost of my freedom?” Tony asked seriously.

 

“At first perhaps.” Marcel conceded, “Until we’re certain of your loyalty to me. After that? You’re free as anyone. Think, Caro. This is the only route you can take if you want to keep your life. What do you have here worth staying for?” The man asked, “No lover, no kids, a distant father and a thankless job that nearly kills you on several occasions. My father would welcome you into the family, as a son, with open arms.”

 

“Wow. That’s a great sale’s pitch. You have done your research, haven’t you?” Tony asked, ignoring the darkening light in Marcel’s eyes. “Poor little Tony, disowned by his father, living alone as far away from the American dream as one can be.” He met those dangerous eyes with a smile, “I may not have much, but I’ve my integrity, bud. Not gonna give myself away to be somebody’s boytoy.”

 

Marcel pulled away sharply, his lips pursed, “You’d prefer death to being my lover.”

 

“I don’t prefer death at all.” Tony replied, shifting a little, “Would you mind easing these ties a little? My shoulders are starting to ache.” At Marcel’s derisive look, he smiled and shrugged, “Alright.”

 

“You’re very calm for one being held against his will.”  Marcel commented, crossing his arms, suddenly suspicious.

 

“This isn’t my first time.” Tony replied with a cheeky smile. “In fact, my friends will tell you I get in trouble like this often. I’m kinda used to this.”

 

“Cazzo! Have you no concern for yourself?” Marcel demanded and the genuine concern in the man’s expression gave Tony a pause. Until now, he had taken Marcel’s advances towards him lightly but seeing the distress in those light eyes, he wondered if he had taken it too lightly. “My father will have your head! He’ll torture all information out of you and then kill you in the most painful way possible.”

 

Tony studied him intently, watching the man pace before sighing, rolling his shoulders. “I didn’t step into this blind, Marcel.” He replied softly. “And I’ve known the risks all along.”

 

“We can have everything.” Marcel insisted, “The world at our feet. Do you think anyone cares about your nobility? That they’d remember your name for this useless self-sacrifice? What would you gain by this?”

 

“I gain nothing but the satisfaction of doing my job.” Tony replied, “I protect people, bring justice to those you needlessly lose their lives.” He leaned forward as much as his ties allowed, “What I gain, Marcel, is a clear conscience that the bread I eat everyday isn’t stained with blood of innocents. Can you say the same?”

 

“You claim to be sinless?” Marcel scoffed, “You know nothing. You may not have had the ideal childhood but you never had to hunger for food, cling to bare threads in the middle of the winter. You think the mafia was born out of greed? They-”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Tony snarled and Marcel stilled, seeing the first hint of true anger from the generally mild-mannered man. “Nothing justifies us having to face a mother and a young son and telling them the father is dead. Nothing justifies telling a father his daughter OD’d or seeing dead-bodies of sailors, good men, shot down like dogs.”

 

“Caro-”

 

“Suffering doesn’t entitle you to bring suffering on others.” Tony said firmly, “Whatever your reasons are for doing whatever you do, that’s on you. I’ll not be a part of it! If it means your dear ol’ dad kills me? Fine!”

 

Marcel locked his jaw and surged forward, grabbing Tony by his neck and leaning forward. He squeezed without hesitation, his eyes wide and furious. “Don’t mistake my love for you as mercy, Caro.” He growled, “I’ve been patient with you, I’ve been understanding and respectful but no longer! Father would deny me nothing, not even you and I will teach you your place!”

 

Tony choked as the hold threatened to strangle him. Marcel leaned forward and pressed his lips against Tony’s even as the man struggled. He loosened his hold just enough to let the NCIS agent draw a sharp breath before diving into the kiss, grabbing Tony’s jaw to keep him from biting.

 

He pulled, savage satisfaction written clearly on his face. Tony was furious, his eyes spitting fire, bright and piercing. “You can no more force love than you can incite it, Marcel.”

 

The man pulled away and stood, staring down at Tony with a grim smile, “But I can force everything else.” He said before turning around and heading for the door. “Pain, I find, is an excellent motivator.” When he opened the door, two slick looking men entered. They were carrying a case and the way Marcel glanced at it, stiffened and locked his jaw told Tony everything.

 

Tony took a deep breath, calming his racing heart and clearing his mind. ‘Remember Anthony, accept pain, let it pass, let it go and have faith.

 

When Marcel walked out of the door, his last layer of security fell away and Tony braced himself.

 


 

It was a testament of how much Tony was loved and respected that the very best people in NCIS and FBI volunteered to join his extraction task-force. They had all the facts lined up, all the right permissions and court-orders in their vests.

 

Every single detail was by the book.

 

But it had still taken too damn long. Their surveillance had confirmed that Tony hadn’t been moved and the RFID was still functioning. Still, to organize everything, it had taken them a little over two days.


Two fuckin’ days and God knows what horrors Tony was being subjected to.

 

No one was surprised when Gibbs lost his temper in the middle of the first day. But it was a surprise when Vance started snarling threats down the phone and Fornell kicked everyone’s ass into high-gear. Ziva was at her frigid best, coldly determined to rain hell down anyone who stood between her and Tony. McGee worked with a focused precision that he rarely showed even though sometimes, his hands would strike the keyboard hard and loud in frustration.

 

No one could bring themselves to think of Abby. The situation was too intense, the tempers too short and the dread too real for anyone to do her any justice.

 

Vance had reached out to the owner of a neighboring mansion, hoping that they might be able to set-up shop there for the rescue op. Surprisingly, the owner not only agreed, but provided cover. He set up a small party for all his business associates and allowed the NCIS and FBI teams to slip into the mansion as guests, unnoticed by the famiglia.

 

Ziva and Gibbs immediately went around the house, looking through the windows and doors to see if they had any vantage. FBI’s top sniper was with them and he was the one who got first glimpse of anything.

 

“Is that one of our primary targets?” The sniper, Ruben Starc asked, concealing himself and peering through his binoculars. “Southwest, leaning over someone in the bed. Second floor, third window from the right.”

 

The two NCIS agents immediately tried to find the target. When they did though, Gibbs’ eyes went wide, furious while Ziva cursed Hebrew. The bed was fuckin’ soaked with blood and they could see Tony, though not properly.

 

There was no doubt, though, that the blood was his.

 

Leaning over their SFA was Marcel Biancardi, gently stroking his hair like he had every right to do it. Gibbs snarled and immediately left the room, rushing down the stairs while Ziva, Starc and a spotter, Ray Williams set up a hide.

 

“We need to move, now!” The Lead Agent snarled, “We need a EMT on stand-by, looks like Tony’s lost a lotta blood.” He said and McGee immediately got on the phone. “Fornell, let’s get this done. Everyone, grab your gear. We need to clean that house. I want silence and I want efficiency. Take as many as you can alive. The two heads are Ricardo Biancardi,” McGee brought the picture of the man on the plasma, “and Marcel Biancardi. I want at least one of them alive.” Everyone nodded. “Agent DiNozzo’s our top priority and we want to reach him fast. We’re dividing ourselves into five teams.”

 

“Agents David, Starc and Williams will form Snipping Unit White and keep eyes on Tony at all times. Snipping Unit Grey will have Rogers, Johnson and Crane. You’ll give us cover.”

 

“Got it.” Rogers agreed, the former Navy SEAL sniper had a sternly determined look on his face.

 

“Ground units with be Alpha, Beta and Delta. Alpha has me, Fornell, Jackson and Reeves. Our goal’s to reach Tony as fast as possible, secure him and get him out.” They nodded. “Balboa, you lead team Beta and clean the house with your people. Booth? You’re leading Delta trying to secure Ricardo Biancardi, that’s our secondary priority.” The former Army Ranger nodded firmly. “We want to rescue Tony but we don’t want his work to go to waste. The moment we clear the house, I want forensics on it, gathering every single piece of evidence you find. By harming Tony, they’ve already tied a noose around their neck, I want us to tighten it. Got it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“McGee, I want you, Patil and Christenson to co-ordinate the op. Have you hacked into their security system?” Gibbs asked.

 

“Yes boss.” McGee answered quickly, tucking a earwig into his ear. “I’ll direct your path, give you the quickest and safest route to Tony.” The IT expert said firmly. “Patil and Christenson will cover the other teams.”

 

Gibbs knew there was no point arguing with that, so he nodded and everyone suited up and did their final arms and coms check. When everything was set, they split up into teams and headed for two different entry points, slipping into the estate quietly.

 

The snipers stayed in constant communication with the ground teams and Gibbs had both Ziva and McGee at his ear. “Take the west entrance, boss. It goes through the basement, there should be a stairway on your left as soon as you enter.” McGee recommended as the Alpha team slipped into the garden, nearing the mansion.

 

Gibbs, sentry at 4 o’clock.” Ziva warned and Gibbs signaled his team. Reeves was the first to act, lightening fast as she grabbed the sentry and quickly knocked him out. They quickly took his radio and all equipment, before handcuffing him out of sight.

 

Once he was carefully hidden, they moved forward. Sticking to the shadows, they slipped closer to the door. There was a soft pop and Gibbs spun around, growling when he saw that had missed another sentry. He nodded, knowing one of the snipers had their back. “You’re clear but quickly, hide the body because you have heat heading your way.” Ziva warned.

 

They hid the body away, making sure it wasn’t visible from any angle. Fornell made sure to disable the radio before they got into the building.

 

Now, they were mostly on their own. The basement was empty but they still proceeded with caution. Out of the basement, they came to a well-lit passageway and Gibbs bit back a curse. “It’s ok, boss. Give me a moment. Overwriting the security cameras there. Ok, you’re good to go, quickly, boss.

 

Gibbs mentally made a note to pat McGee on the back for this before they hurried through the passageway. “Take right and then the stairs. Quickly, you have a guard heading your way from the south corridor.” The Marine signaled his team and they swiftly scaled the stairs, landing on the first floor. “Now, duck into the room behind you.” They did as they were told. “The guards won’t enter the room. It’s a master study and library.

 

“McGee, we need to get to Tony.” Gibbs murmured into his mic, scowling.

 

I know boss. Tony’s being kept in the secondary master bedroom on the floor directly above you. The best way for you to get into the room is through the terrace. I’d hurry, boss.

 

“Ziva?” Gibbs demanded as they silently edged towards the terrace.

 

You’re clear. Marcel Biancardi has his back to the window, most likely watching the door.” Ziva informed him. “You’ll have to scale the stairs-

 

Shit, boss, the Beta team tripped an alarm!” McGee announced, “We’ve a lot of movement.”

 

Gibbs, Biancardi is grabbing Tony off the bed. He-” Ziva hissed suddenly, “Hurry Gibbs, Tony looks bad.” Gibbs felt alarm race through him and they immediately rushed to the terrace. It took very little time to climb the stairs and reach the secondary master but Biancardi and Tony were already gone.

 

Fornell made an angry sound, while Reeves and Jackson frowned at the bed. “That’s too much blood, Agent Gibbs.” Reeves murmured and Gibbs would hear the resignation in her voice.

 

He refused to give up.

 

He never thought he’d be grateful that Tony was bleeding but it left a clear trail for them to follow. This time, Gibbs went on a full on march, no sneaking about. He dropped anyone who came to his sight with grim, focused determination.

 

Boss, Agent Booth has apprehended Ricardo Biancardi.” McGee informed him, “And he’s alive. We don’t need Marcel.

 

Gibbs lips twitched despite the circumstances at the blatant suggestion. The next time Tony said this boy didn’t appreciate him, he was gonna get a head slap. “Indeed.” Ziva added, “Perhaps you could lead him into my crosshairs, Gibbs?”

 

The Marine knew what they were trying to do. They wanted to give themselves and him hope. Hope that they weren’t too late and Tony would come away from this mess alive.

 

A hope that was fading by the moment. Gibbs had seen too much combat not to realize that Tony was losing blood by the bucketful. They might find him alive but might not be able to keep him so until they reached a hospital. Gibbs didn’t even have a mind to bring some bandages for emergency, just to stanch the blood loss for a moment.

 

The next turn, and they had them. “Freeze! NCIS!” Gibbs growled out, watching as the man spun around, dragging Tony with him and using him as a shield.

 

At the first sight of his SFA almost took all the strength from his knees. Tony was ashen, blood dripping from so many wounds that Gibbs wondered in disbelief if he was even alive. Most concerning was a hole in his left shoulder, very close to an artery, Gibbs knew. If that had been nicked, Tony would’ve already been dead.

 

“You must be Agent Gibbs.” A smooth Italian accent said and Gibbs focused his icy gaze on Marcel. Tony had once said that this man made him feel insecure about his looks, but Gibbs saw none of that. Nothing that could compare to warm, kind green eyes, the ever smiling mouth complemented by classically handsome features.

 

This man wasn’t worth the ground Tony walked on.

 

“Look, Caro.” Marcel drawled, “Is this not the man you wouldn’t leave to come with me? The man you chose to die for?” He kept the gun at Tony’s temple even as he grabbed the NCIS agent’s chin and lifted it up.

 

Those sharp green eyes were hazy with pain, one swollen shut and Jesus Christ, Gibbs felt his heart seize in his chest at the right.

 

“Greet him!” Marcel snarled, his handsome features twisted by rage.

 

Tony swallowed, drawing Gibbs’ attention to the finger shaped bruising on his neck. “Let. Him. Go.” The Marine bit out, holding his gun steady. The man was smart, even his head was half hidden by Tony’s. It was too risky a shot to take and while he could shoot through a harmless spot in Tony, it would kill his man before Gibbs took two steps towards him.

 

“I would’ve given him the world.” Marcel snarled, “I would’ve treated him well, got him anything he desired. But he wouldn’t listen, he would defy my father till his dying breath, refusing all the comfort and affection I had to offer. For what? A thankless job where he was languishing? With no friends who’d realize his worth?”

 

“Let. Him. Go.” Gibbs repeated with a tight snarl.

 

“No. If he wishes for death, he-” Tony’s open eye flickered towards him, a single moment of defiant courage making them as bright as ever. “-it. You’ll watch him-” Abruptly, Tony’s legs folded under him and he easily fell out of Marcel’s grasp.

 

Gibbs wasted no time, firing three, precise shots and killing the man before surging forward. He caught Tony before the younger man fell flat on his face, his arms wrapping protectively around his SFA. “Easy,” He murmured gruffly against a bloodied ear, “Easy.” His breath caught when Tony’s hand feebly grasped his vest and the younger man buried his face in his neck. “You’re gonna be alright.” He promised fiercely, “You got me, Tony?”

 

Tony was silent for so long, he was so still that Gibbs heart nearly stopped. He raised a shaky hand to the younger man’s neck, feeling a weak, thready pulse with gut-wrenching relief. He turned his head, pressing a hard, desperate kiss to Tony’s forehead, “Please.” He begged quietly but he didn’t know who he was begging, Tony? God?

 

“I screwed up, Boss.” Tony rasped shakily and Gibbs just tightened his arms, rocking slightly. At Reeve’s whispered reminder, he laid Tony down. Jackson acted quickly and tucked a small foot stool under his feet. “Is Vance mad?”

 

“No darlin’.” He whispered and Tony was so out of it that he didn’t even notice the endearment. Gibbs quickly pressed against the bleeding shoulder wound while Reeves searched for any other wounds that were bleeding too severely. “He’s not. And you didn’t screw up, so you keep fighting, ok? Reeves, Jackson, help me get him-”

 

“Gibbs!” Gibbs head snapped up and he nearly sagged in relief when he saw EMTs rush towards him. “The house is clear.” Balboa said, staring at Tony in anguished horror, “My God, Tony!”

 

“Quick, he need to get him on the gurney.” One EMT said and they all helped Tony get comfortable. Once he was safe, they rushed out of the mansion with one EMT checking the pressure and the other monitoring the pulse. “The patient’s in hypovolemic shock.” The EMT announced as they loaded him into the ambulance.

 

“Sir, are you coming with us?” The EMT asked and Gibbs nodded, immediately climbing in. He watched, somewhat stunned as they covered Tony in blankets to keep him warm. By now Tony was already unconscious. He heard several medical phrases being flung over his head but he focused only on how rapidly Tony was breathing, how cold his skin felt and how his heart was thundering in his chest.

 

They had already administered IV and were giving Tony oxygen but they were monitoring Tony’s heart too closely for Gibbs to relax.

 

Thankfully, Tony’s heart continued to beat as they reached the hospital.

 

Now came the worst part of his ordeal, waiting.

 

Gibbs paced in the waiting room, worried and unable to do anything. McGee and Ziva had already given him the reports. They had Ricardo Biancardi, Marcel was dead and they had managed to capture a few key members of the famiglia. In the end, Tony’s mission was actually a stellar success. They had all the evidence they need, the net had been cast wide enough to bring the entire family down. Tony’s careful observations and notes allowed them to ensure everything was done legally and therefore it was admissible in court. Tony’s own testimony would do the rest but Vance was actually content to leave the SFA out of it entirely.

 

There was already talk of commendations and medals and even a promotion, though everyone knew Tony would reject it. But despite all that, Gibbs got no satisfaction from their success. Not until Tony recovered completely, without complications.

 

And he’d be damned if he ever allowed Tony to go undercover again.

 


 

“Miss Sciuto,” Vance began, grim and stern. Gibbs was a silent, aloof presence in the room, his gaze focused on Abby with piercing intensity. “Before we discuss the consequences of your actions, I’d like to know exactly what you did and how you did it.”

 

Abby was unable to meet the gaze of either man in the room, her reddened eyes clenched shut. “I noticed Tony was acting hinky for the past few months.” She replied, her voice hoarse, “I thought I’d do something to cheer him up. I originally planned a movie marathon, you know… and maybe make my famous Gumbo for him.” She admitted, “I came to the bullpen to invite him but the team was out for some case, so I sat at his desk. His computer was unlocked, I guess he forgot to lock it. His email was open and I was curious. Maybe I could get a clue about what’s going on with him.”

 

“So you read his personal emails.” Vance said, his voice devoid of emotion.

 

“I didn’t get anything… so on a whim, I looked into the trash folder. I saw the email and replied to it. I figured Tony wasn’t because he was scared Gibbs would scold him. I mean, when does Tony forego a chance to preen?” She asked, sniffling a little.

 

“When he knows it’ll risk his life.” Gibbs replied, razor-sharp.

 

Vance raised a hand to silence Gibbs while Abby flinched. “Go on, Ms. Sciuto.”

 

“I told the mail office that if they get a something from the magazine, they should send it to me because I’m playing a prank on Tony. There was an agreement Tony had to sign… I sorta… forged his signature?”

 

Gibbs growled while Vance narrowed his eyes in disapproval. “Go on.”

 

Abby licked her lips, sneaking a glance at Gibbs and cringing at the wrath she found written on his face. “I sent it back signed.” She said finally. “I didn’t mean any harm by it! In fact, it might even pump up recruitment! How was I supposed to know Tony was working undercover?”

 

“And it never occurred to you that even if he wasn’t, you’ll be effectively denying him and this agency that particular skill-set forever?” Vance asked sharply as Gibbs locked his jaw against saying harsh words. “There’s a reason why Agent Gibbs takes the limelight in all high-profile cases, Ms. Sciuto. It allows the others in the team to maintain a certain level of anonymity!” The Director snapped, “Especially DiNozzo! For all his talk about Facebook and Twitter, did you notice that no trace of Agent Anthony DiNozzo Jr. can be found online? It’s not easy to link him to NCIS and that’s how he prefered it. He never asked to be the poster-boy for this agency.”

 

Abby fell silent and Vance shook his head with disbelief. “I’ve been going over all his reports for the past few years, and I noticed several discrepancies. I was grossly mistaken when I thought Agent DiNozzo wasn’t capable of being professional.” He admitted, “It’s become clear to me that he’s the only one in MCRT that actually is. Jokes during office hours and breaking small rules aside,” He waved his hand. “He’s absolutely by the book when it comes down to it, making the legal department very happy.” He glared at Gibbs who only tilted his head to the side in acceptance.

 

“And in one fell stroke, Ms. Sciuto, you’ve nearly ruined all his hard work.” Vance bit out, “And I’m on the verge of losing one of my best agents.” Abby’s head snapped up and she looked at Gibbs pleadingly. No news had reached the NCIS about Tony’s health, they only knew that he survived the first day and the doctors were optimistic.

 

“Now, I’m well within my rights to arrest you. Forging someone’s signature on a legal document is a crime, I’m sure you know.” Abby bit her lip and nodded. “But I won’t. However, I can’t allow this to go unpunished. You’ll continue to work here, under strict supervision, until an acceptable replacement is found. After that, I’m afraid, there’s no place for you in NCIS.” Abby clapped her hand on her mouth, stifling a sob. “You’ve shown a great error in judgement, Ms. Sciuto and have done so on several occasions. Most of the time, you’ve been forgiven without so much as a reprimand. You seem incapable of realizing the consequences of your actions and didn’t even let illegality of an action stop you from your prank.” Vance said stoically. “You’re dismissed.”

 

Abby looked at Gibbs with teary eyes but the older man met her gaze squarely, without emotion.

 

Ducking her head, she spun around and rushed out of the office, slamming the door shut behind her.

 

Gibbs let out a small sigh, rubbing his face tiredly.

 

“You look exhausted.” Vance commented, “How’s DiNozzo?”

 

Gibbs let out a helpless smile, “Alive.” He straightened and headed for the door before hesitating. “Leon… I can’t leave his side for a while.”

 

The Director nodded, “I understand. Would a month be enough? There are a few agents I’d like to train in leadership positions that can take over your team for a while.”

 

The Marine nodded, “Yeah, a month’s enough. I’ll let my team now, thanks.”

 

“And Gibbs,” The Lead Agent paused, “Try to get him to come back, ok?”

 

Gibbs ducked his head, a faintly pleased smile crossing his lips. “Don’t worry Director. DiNozzo’s not going anywhere. He’s my chosen successor after all.” He left the office and as he headed down the stairs, he caught Ziva and McGee’s attention and gestured them towards the elevator.

 

“McGee, ask Ducky and Palmer to meet us in Abby’s lab.” McGee did that as Ziva looked at Gibbs questioningly.

 

“I’ll tell you everything there.” He had a file for Ducky from the hospital. The ME had been on leave and had just returned after hearing what happened to Tony. He’d want to know the details.

 

By the time they arrived at Abby’s lab, Ducky and Palmer were already there, the older man soothing a crying Abby. “Ah, Jethro, perhaps you could-”

 

Gibbs shook his head, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. “You guys wanted to know what’s going on with Tony.” He focused his eyes on Abby, wanting to get the message through. “He went to hypovolemic shock.” He explained and before Ducky could ask, he continued, “Class 3.”

 

Ducky drew a sharp breath, “Which means hypotension, tachycardia, tachypnoea, co-”

 

“It means low blood pressure, fast heart-beat, fast breathing and a very confused Tony. He lost approximately 32 percent of his blood.” Gibbs said stoically as Abby sobbed, pressing herself against Ziva. “The blood loss happened over the period of forty or so hours, where Tony was slowly tortured. He has shallow cuts all over his body, some that’ll scar. That’s the only reason his condition isn’t worse. He was few steps away from brain-damage and multiple organ failure.” He continued despite how horrified McGee look, how distraught Abby was and how angry Ziva seemed.

 

He was making a point.

 

“His left shoulder is shattered and we don’t know if he’ll regain full use of it yet. His throat’s somewhat damaged because Biancardi tried to strangle him. Some of the wounds on his back are infected and need careful tending. Doctor says there’s no risk of Gangrene.” He assured Ducky who breathed a sigh of relief. He handed a file to the ME. “That should have it all.”

 

He focused his gaze back on Abby, who was on the chair, her head bowed. “By sheer miracle, he avoided a heart attack or any damage to his heart. Miracle. Somehow I don’t like hearing that word from a doctor.” He said dryly before continuing in the horrified silence, “It’ll take over a month for him to recover from blood loss itself, after that, we’re talking about a few more months of physical therapy for the shoulder. I don’t know if he’ll re-certify with his SIG and if he’ll ever be allowed to go on the field.” Abby curled into herself. “But his undercover days are over. The magazine’s publishing an apology for causing the mess, and Vance’s allowing it despite my opinion.”

 

Gibbs took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I need to get back to the hospital.” He turned around, ignoring Abby’s cry for him.

 

“Jethro, perhaps some forgiveness wouldn’t be amiss here.” Ducky said gently before he left. “Her intentions-”

 

“Forgiveness isn’t in my power.” Gibbs said stiffly and Abby let out a sob.

 

“Jethro-”

 

The Marine spun around, pinning his friend with a furious glare. “Yer outta yer mind!” He demanded, his voice thick. “I’m half tempted to pack Tony up and leave this place.” Everyone stilled, eyes wide. “I can bear anything, Ducky,” He said dangerously, “Anything but what I saw yesterday. He looked dead, do you understand?” He demanded, “My Tony looked dead.”

 

The silence was deafening.

 

Gibbs looked at Abby, knowing that he should be able to take a step forward and comfort her, that he should melt at her tears. That’s what he had always done.

 

But he couldn’t bring himself to. Not with Tony in the hospital, not when he had seen the wounds, including a telling bite-mark that nearly wrenched his heart from his chest.

 

Not when he looked at her and only felt anger.

 

Shaking his head, he turned around and walked out of the room before he could say something unforgivable.

 

The ride to the hospital was filled with black thoughts. There were things in the file he had given to Ducky that he hadn’t mentioned to his team. When he had explained Tony’s condition, he had done it with such starkness to punish Abby, to show her the consequences of her actions.

 

But there was more. It still wasn’t clear whether Tony had been sexually assaulted or not. They still hadn’t found out if there was any damage to Tony’s kidneys or if his shoulder would ever heal completely. His back was infected and that could still take his life.

 

Because not only was Tony’s immune system lowered, there was a very real threat that an infection could settle in his plague-scarred lungs.

 

They were looking at four months in recovery time and that was if Tony managed to survive, to beat the infection.

 

His boy had been lying in a bed soaked in his own blood, at the mercy of a man who claimed to love him with fierce possessiveness. All because someone wanted to cheer him up.

 

He parked outside the hospital and lingered in his car, pressing his forehead to the steering wheel and gathering his strength. Tony needed him to be level-headed in this. There was a long road of physical and emotional recovery ahead, worse, if his fears were actually true. Tony would need patience and understanding.

 

He would need Gibbs.

 

Taking a deep, steadying breath, he got out of the car and headed into the hospital. As he walked, he carefully cleared his mind of all anger and frustration, feeling it with nothing but determination and resolve. All he needed to do was focus on Tony. Abby’s mistake, though thoughtless, had been made with good intentions. Despite the consequences of her actions, there was one thing he could spare Tony.

 

Abby hadn’t done it out of spite. It would be small comfort, but it would be comforting nonetheless.

 

“Agent Gibbs! I’m glad to have caught you.” A female voice drew his attention and he turned around, meeting the eyes of Tony’s doctor, Emily Gibson. “Do you have a moment?”

 

“Yeah.” Gibbs nodded and followed her when she gestured towards her office, frowning.

 

“I just thought we should have this conversation in private.” Dr. Gibson said and at his alarmed look, she shook her head, “Please, don’t worry. Sit.”

 

One they both were comfortable, she took a deep breath, “Let’s start from the top. No signs of concussion to add to our worries. MRI turned out clean so we can confirm my diagnosis regarding brain-damage. Aside from a headache that might linger for a while, there’s nothing we need to worry about there.” She assured and Gibbs appreciated her plain language. “The shoulder wasn’t as bad as we feared. Our orthopedic surgeon just confirmed to me that the low caliber bullet, despite the proximity of the shot, didn’t do too much damage. There might be some lingering mobility issues.” She explained, “But being a daughter of the serviceman, I can tell you that Tony’s ability to shoot wouldn’t be one of them.”

 

Gibbs nodded in relief.

 

“Now we turn to my main area of concern. We have some damage to the ribs and lungs, which, in itself, wouldn’t have bothered me. However, taking into account his medical history, we were right to be cautious. His lungs are showing signs of distress and we’re working on fighting pneumonia at this stage. His back was just addressed this morning and we’ve cleared the necrotic tissue and the wounds are showing all signs towards healing.”

 

She took another breath and smiled a little. “As for the question you had asked yesterday,” She began solemnly, “I can tell you, with utmost certainty, that there was no sexual assault.” Gibbs sagged in his chair, rubbing his face. “We found no evidence at all to suggest it though you were right to ask us to check after seeing the bite-mark.”

 

“Thank God.” Gibbs murmured to himself.

 

Dr. Gibson nodded in agreement, “Indeed, we didn’t need that to add to Tony’s ordeal. In any case, you’re still looking at the possibility of PTSD, Agent Gibbs.” The Marine nodded, accepting that. “Moving along, his kidneys are showing proper function and that’s another burden off our shoulders at the moment. In all, Tony was extraordinarily fortunate.” She admitted, “I was prepared to give you a far worse report, to be frank. Should we successfully keep his lungs clear, we’re looking at a near complete recovery here.”

 

“So there’s still some danger.” Gibbs asked.

 

The young doctor nodded with a slight frown, “Tony’s very resilient, his body healthy and strong. His lungs, however, are compromised and blood loss always takes a lot away from the immune system. There’s danger. If pneumonia sets in? We’re looking at a possible loss of life.”

 

Christ.” Gibbs breathed.

 

“But we are optimistic, Agent Gibbs and have every reason to be. I’m going to keep him in observation for four days. I’m only willing to release him when I’m sure his body has some recovery from blood loss. We need to look into the aftercare options though. He’ll need physical therapy and a few visits to a psychologist wouldn’t be amiss.” She took in his grimace and smiled, “But talking to someone close and someone who understands and will support would be just as effective.”

 

Gibbs returned the smile briefly and nodded. They discussed a few more things before Gibbs took his leave and headed straight for Tony. Vance had a private ICU room arranged for Tony, to ensure the best recovery. The younger man would spend at least two more days in the room before being moved to a regular room should he escape infection.

 

Still, Tony made a gut-wrenching sight. He was pale, the swollen eye stark against his skin, and the bruises around his neck a chilling reminder of what he had been through. The good eye flickered towards him and Tony smiled feebly but didn’t speak, just weakly waved him in.

 

“How are ya doin’, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked gruffly, sitting down. “Giving nurses trouble?”

 

Tony shrugged his good shoulder, wiggling his fingers with a faint grin. The fact that he chose not to speak was telling. Gibbs felt his heart twist and he leaned forward, gently cupping Tony’s cheek. The younger man stilled at the gesture, surprised. “Keep fighting.” Gibbs ordered, low and fierce. “Ya got me, darlin’?” Tony drew a sharp breath, wide-eyed. “Keep fighting with all you have because if you give up, it’ll kill me.”

 

Tony studied him silently for a long moment before smiling like the everything was fine. Like it was fuckin’ golden. Cool fingers grasped his wrist before the younger man pressed a quiet, tender kiss to his palm. “Got it, Boss.” He rasped.

 

Gibbs swallowed before leaning forward and brushing a soft kiss to Tony’s forehead.

 


 

Gibbs felt a curious sense of disbelief when Tony was discharged five days later and he was allowed to take him home. Somehow, everything had gone their way. Tony didn’t get pneumonia, avoided organ damage, his shoulder might be completely healed and he was recovering at a reasonable pace from his blood loss.

 

Still, Gibbs felt like they had escaped by the skin of their teeth. It felt like a miracle.

 

It also felt like a warning, a sign that next time, he might not be so lucky. That he might lose Tony before he had the chance to cherish him. He had been dangerously on the verge of taking Tony for granted, convinced that he might never lose the younger man, that he had all the time in the world.

 

After all, Tony had survived a lot of shit.

 

But this had been a solid punch in the gut, knowing just how close it had been. It was mere chance that Tony didn’t catch an infection.

 

His SFA had survived because of luck and nothing else.

 

“What’s that wall done to deserve your best glare, Boss?” Tony asked, drawing his attention. The younger man was on the bed, peering at him from over a book with an amused smile on his face. “Sometin’ on your mind?”

 

Gibbs shook his head and settled down by him, wrapping an arm around those broad shoulders and pulling Tony to rest against his side. He pressed a kiss against brown strands, smiling mysteriously as Tony drew a careful breath before relaxing against him.

 

“This is new.” He murmured hesitantly, pausing before placing a hand on Gibbs’ chest, fiddling with the old NIS jersey.

 

“You mind?” Gibbs asked, combing his fingers soothingly through Tony’s hair.

 

The SFA shook his head, “Nah… but gotta say, Boss, I didn’t expect it. I mean,” His voice dipped, turning low and embarrassed. “I’ve been pathetically obvious.” He murmured self-derisively, causing Gibbs to scowl and tighten his arm gently, mindful of the injured shoulder. “You haven’t ever shown interest in reciprocating before.”

 

“‘cause I’ve been an idiot.” He grumbled, “I thought you could do better, darlin’.” He admitted gently, “But you keep attracting attention from bastards and assholes. Might as well go with the safest bastard.”

 

Tony coughed a little from a surprised laugh, looking at his boss in disbelief. “Jesus.” The Marine smirked and rubbed his back. “Who could be better than you?” Tony asked incredulously.

 

Gibbs softened in an instant, dipping his head to nuzzle Tony’s cheek. “Hundreds of people, darlin’.” He replied with rough affection, “If your biased eyes cared to see beyond me.” He gently nudged Tony’s chin, a thumb caressing his lower lip. “This felt like a lesson for me, Tony. A warning.” He said, his voice serious. The SFA looked puzzled but paid full attention to Gibbs.

 

“What do you mean?” Tony asked, wincing at the twinge from his shoulder and shifting a little. “Warning?”

 

Before he replied, he dipped his head, unable to resist the urge. Tony stilled, caught completely by surprise when Gibbs held his chin and brushed a gentle kiss against lips. The older man pulled back a bit, smiling as Tony’s eyes fluttered close, before leaning in again. One brush turned to two and then three before Gibbs was cupping Tony’s face, sweeping his tongue in.

 

It took a lot of restraint to keep the kiss simple and delicate, when all he wanted to do is push Tony on his back and just take.

 

Before he could get carried away, Gibbs pulled back, chuckling when Tony followed him. He brushed the younger man’s cheeks and pressed a last kiss against those tempting lips. He waited until those gorgeous green eyes opened to smile at him before speaking. “Just how many times did I come close to losing you, Tony?” He asked gently, tapping his finger against the recently kissed lips. “And how many chances am I gonna get before I wise up?”

 

“Gibbs, I’m gonna be fine.” Tony assured, “Didn’t the doc say that danger for pneumonia had passed?”

 

The Marine shifted a little so that both of them were lying down comfortably. “Yeah.” He replied, “But I kept hearing the word lucky everywhere. Lucky your shoulder wasn’t too bad, lucky there wasn’t brain-damage, lucky that your kidneys were alright, lucky the infection on your back didn’t escalate, lucky you didn’t get pneumonia. Lucky, lucky, lucky.” He growled fiercely and Tony felt the worry, the agony in Gibbs voice like a punch. “And I thought, how much longer am I gonna continue to be lucky?”

 

Gibbs slipped a hand under Tony’s head, pillowing it before ducking to look into his eyes. “Every breath you now take is a blessing, darlin’.” He whispered, caressing Tony’s lower lip.

 

Tony was silent for a long time before he smiled a helpless smile, “ I guess this,” He tapped Gibbs’ chest, “is a blessing in itself.” He bit his lip uncertainly, “But, are you sure, boss? This isn’t just some sort of… you know? Reaction?”

 

Gibbs arched a brow, “Reaction?” He asked, amused, “Yeah, DiNozzo, it is.”

 

Tony scowled at him, “I’m serious. Because, I gotta tell you, boss, if this,” He gestured between them, “happens… it can’t be some temporary thing. It can’t be just a reacti-”

 

“Ya think I’m not serious?” Gibbs demanded, shifting until he was hovering above Tony, peering into his eyes. “That this is temporary?”

 

The younger man hesitated before raising his good arm, sinking his fingers into silvery hair. “The timing’s a bit iffy, you’ve gotta admit.” He whispered, “It’s not like I haven’t been in life-threatening positions before. Yeah, you used to get all grumpy about it, but never to this extent.” He observed, “I mean, you haven’t let Abby-”

 

“We’re not talking about her.” Gibbs said bluntly, rolling off Tony to settle down on the bed again.

 

“Jethro.” Tony said softly, his voice mildly reprimanding, “You love her. Don’t ruin that relationship just because she made a mistake.”

 

“That mistake nearly got you killed!” Gibbs snapped. “And you were-” He shook his head sharply, “You aren’t even angry with her!”

 

Tony sighed, closing his eyes tiredly. The conversation was taking too much energy already. He reached for the glass of water on the bedside table as he tried to find the right words. “Abby didn’t do it out of spite.” He said finally, looking down into his glass. “Hard to be angry with her when she was motivated by friendship and concern.”

 

Gibbs snorted and Tony narrowed his eyes at him. “Now this, I won’t forgive.” He said sharply, “Abby already lost her job, she can’t lose you! She loves you too much, it’ll destroy her!” He snapped. “Besides, I’ve already forgiven her so you’ve got no right to be so angry-”

 

“No right?” Gibbs snarled, turning his furious blue eyes on him, “I have every right.” He said tightly, “Because I saw someone I desperately loved looking like death warmed over!” Tony froze, “Because I thought I’d never get a chance to be like this, to have you here, willing, warm… beautiful.”

 

“Jethro…” Tony whispered, stunned.

 

“So, yeah, I’m angry, darlin’. I have every fuckin’ right to be. That stupid, disastrous mistake nearly cost me everything.” Gibbs said heatedly, “And if I had lost you that night… it would’ve been like losing Shannon and Kelly all over again.” Tony’s breath caught at the comparison, his eyes wide. “And you know what? Maybe this time, I would’ve pulled that damned trigger.”

 

Tony went white at that confession, “No!” He protested immediately, “You can’t think like that!”

 

“Yeah?” Gibbs asked hoarsely, “Then don’t put me that position again.”

 

The younger man studied him intently before smiling faintly. “Ok. I won’t.” They both knew that was one promise neither of them could keep, not with their jobs. “And Boss?”

 

Gibbs shifted a little, settling down. “Yeah?”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

The Marine stilled before chuckling, ducking his head to press a loving kiss to Tony’s head. “I know you do, darlin’.” He whispered, “I know you do.”



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