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Box Steps 6: Chasse

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Gibbs stamped his feet on the mat near the door, trying to forcibly remove the snow that remained stuck to his boots and pant legs.  The benign and uncharacteristically warm weather of December and early January had given way to the full force of winter, blanketing the D.C. area with several inches of snow and freezing temps.  Gibbs sipped his hot coffee, grateful for the warm beverage.  He tried not to think about how the cold bothered him more than it used to.

 

 

Gibbs made his way to metal detectors and security station.  He nodded to Tom Ackley, acknowledging the man’s presence without actually greeting him directly.  Ackley nodded in return.

 

 

“What time did DiNozzo leave?” Gibbs asked as he put is badge, gun and knife in the small tray for scanning.

 

 

“He didn’t.”

 

 

Gibbs’ gaze narrowed.  Ackley didn’t quite fidget under the force of icy blue eyes but he came close.

 

 

“He took a call a little around three as he was leaving.”  Ackley cleared his throat.  “He said something about calling you from upstairs when he headed back up.”

 

 

Gibbs’ jaw tightened.  Outside regular business hours, most of their case calls went to senior field agents.  Gibbs hadn’t realized Tony called from the office to tell him they had a case.  His caller ID had shown Tony’s cell phone, making it easy to assume the younger man was calling him on his way to the office from home.  Gibbs cursed silently, pissed at himself for making such a stupid assumption.  He should know better than that.   

 

 

Gibbs holstered his gun and sheathed his knife in neat, efficient movements, annoyance as obvious in his body language as if he’d been shouting.  Spending a few nights a week apart made sense when he’d agreed to it months ago.  It was an easy way to maintain the illusion of separate lives, and keep up their usual routines around the office.  But now he wasn’t so sure.  It didn’t sit well with Gibbs that he’d gotten a good six hours of sleep while Tony likely hadn’t even had so much as a cat nap. 

 

 

Gibbs shook his head.  He should have made Tony promise not to work too late when he’d said he wanted to make up time used yesterday for a doctor’s appointment.  They had sick leave for a reason, but Tony’s bout with Y. Pestis and trips to the emergency room over the years had made the younger man leery of using leave if he could find another way.  He usually saved his sick leave for emergencies.

 

 

So while Gibbs knew Tony was staying late, he hadn’t expected him to be quite so late. Eleven, maybe even to midnight , but certainly no later than that.  There wasn’t any reason for him to stay longer than that.  They had most of the paperwork taken care of on their current case so there wasn’t much that could have kept him busy.  For him to still be at the office in the wee hours of the morning, Tony had likely gotten involved in helping one of the other teams. 

 

 

It wasn’t an every day occurrence, but it had happened often enough for Gibbs to make note of it.  Tony always downplayed it as his just being readily approachable.  But Gibbs knew better.  It wasn’t just because Tony was so easy to talk to that had other teams coming to him for input.  As a senior agent with experience outside NCIS, Tony had a lot of practical knowledge to draw on and insights to offer. 

 

 

“It’s really just a bunch of guys, sitting around throwing out facts and debating theories,” Tony had told Gibbs, dismissing the late night, early morning sessions as having little consequence.  He jokingly referred to the sessions as ‘campfires, without the s’mores’.

 

 

“Know he got dinner,” Ackley offered, abruptly truncating Gibbs’ thoughts and forcing the former Marine to refocus on the security guard.

 

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow, unsure of why Ackley would offer up that bit of information.  He had occasionally asked if Tony had eaten, but it wasn’t a standard question like his wanting to know when Tony left.  Or it least it hadn’t been until after Tony had gotten the plague and Gibbs realized just how much food it took to keep him running in peak form.

 

“And you know he ate something because---” Gibbs made a ‘go on’ motion with his hand.

 

“Marcus Vizoric went out for Chinese around eleven thirty.”  Ackley smiled.  “Pretty sure he came back with Tony’s favorite, if the smell was anything to go by.  And I know he got forks.”

 

Gibbs nodded.  While Tony had finally figured out how to use chopsticks, it was still faster and easier for him to eat with a fork.  And Tony had told Gibbs he usually got repaid for his time and effort at one of these ‘campfire’ sessions with food.  His favorites were sufficiently well known to be clearly recognizable to security guys like Ackley who undoubtedly knew every place that stayed open past midnight or delivered as well as Tony did.   Knowing Tony, he probably asked if whoever was on duty if they wanted anything when he went.

 

“Anything else I should know?”

 

“Well, Justin Andrews finally popped the question to his girlfriend.  Don’t know if she said yes or not, but Cynthia says the size of the rock he got should have been enough to get her to at least consider the idea.  And.…” Ackley trailed off, shrugging one shoulder as he caught the look Gibbs gave him.  “No, Special Agent Gibbs, there isn’t anything else you really need to know.”

 

Gibbs waited until his back was turned and he was headed for the elevator before grinning.  He already knew all that and more.  He knew what Special Agent Andrews girlfriend’s answer had been when he’d proposed.  Tony usually filled him in on anything he thought Gibbs might find worth hearing about.  But he really didn’t want other people thinking he actually gave a damn about office gossip.  It wouldn’t be good for his image as a gruff, no nonsense, hard ass.

 

Gibbs sipped his coffee.  It was already starting to cool.  Damn.  He really hated winter.

Although the recent cold snap did give him a chance to finally wear the deep blue silk and cashmere scarf Zeke had gotten him for Christmas.  He never would have guessed something so soft and lightweight could add so much warmth.  And the sheepskin lined leather gloves Sammy had gotten him were definitely higher end than he’d have ever considered buying for himself.  Definitely nice to have when the temperatures never even made past freezing.

 

Christmas with Mike’s family had been every bit as enjoyable as Thanksgiving.  Maybe even more so since now they all knew one another and there was no tension like there had been at their first meeting.  Gibbs sighed.  Seemed like the holidays were ages ago now instead of just a few weeks.  He was already looking forward to going to the Outer Banks in March. 

 

Gibbs stepped off the elevator.  Tony was the only one there, attention on his computer screen, phone trapped between his right shoulder and his ear. Green eyes moved back and forth, obviously checking whatever was on his screen against what whoever he was talking to was saying.

 

“Yeah…Blue four door Ford Focus.  License number Delta, Mike, Lima .  Eight. Seven. Zero. Three.  You got that?  Thanks.”  Tony hung up. He smiled at Gibbs. “Morning, Boss.”

 

“DiNozzo.”  Gibbs kept his greeting short, his attention focused on assessing his lover than on what he was saying.  The younger man didn’t look like he’d been up all night, but then he rarely did.  It wouldn’t be until mid-afternoon when the effect of not sleeping would catch up to him.  Then it would be a cup of coffee and a candy bar to power him through the rest of the day.  Gibbs had seen it before. 

 

“What’ve you got?”

 

“Dead sailor.”  Tony stood up, holding a small notepad in one hand.  “Petty Officer Eli Warren.  Maybe.”

 

“Maybe?”  Gibbs frowned.

 

“ID hasn’t been confirmed.”  Tony shrugged, looking apologetic.  “LEOs found a body around two this morning.  The cop I talked to said the victim’s face was too damaged for them to make a positive match.”

 

Tony winced, clearly thinking about how extensive the injuries had to be to make a visual identification impossible.  Gibbs could understand his reaction.  There was always something disturbing about facial features being mangled beyond recognition.

 

“We got the call based on the military ID found on the body.”   Tony glanced down at his notepad.  “I pulled Warren’s file.  Called home phone and cell number that was listed in his file.  No answer at either one.  Just put out a BOLO on his car.” 

 

“It wasn’t at the scene?”

 

“No.”  Tony shook his head.  “No bars, nightclubs or restaurants in the immediate vicinity that he could have walked from.  No metro or bus stops nearby either.”

 

Gibbs considered that.  “Basic body dump?”

 

“Could be.”  Tony shrugged. 

 

There was no way to know for sure until they saw the scene for themselves.  “LEO’s securing the area?”

 

Tony nodded.  He stuffed his notebook into his backpack before reaching for a long, black wool coat that hung from the back of his chair.  “Cop said they didn’t touch anything after they’d found Warren’s ID.  They’re waiting for us to get there.”

 

Gibbs nodded. “Ziva and McGee?”

 

Tony grinned when the soft ping of the elevator announced the arrival of the rest of the team.  “Looks like the gangs all here, Boss.” 

 

Ziva tolerance for the cold was practically non-existent.  Gibbs thought she looked like she was planning an expedition to the artic; wool hat, parka with a hood, snow boots, gloves, the works.  He wondered how exactly she’d get to her gun under all those layers, but was confident she’d find a way.

 

McGee was the only one who looked like had just rolled out of bed.  Four in the morning was obviously not the computer geek’s normal wake up time.  With his bleary eyes you’d think it was McGee who didn’t get any sleep, Gibbs thought with a wry, internal smile that he was careful not to let show.  He gave the younger man points for carrying a tray with several cups of coffee.  He was definitely learning to anticipate.  

 

Gibbs finished the coffee he had in hand, tossing the empty away even as he reached to take one from McGee’s tray.  “Let’s go people.” 

 

Tony was a step behind him, on his left as usual.  Gibbs didn’t consciously acknowledge how complete that made him feel, how much more confident he felt simply to have Tony on is six.  He really wished there was some way they could be alone in the elevator so he could get a good morning kiss.  It was one more thing he hated about nights spent apart.

 

Tony gave him a sidelong glance, green eyes sparkling with good humor.  It was obvious he knew was Gibbs was thinking.  It made Gibbs’ fingers itch to cuff the back of Tony’s head, but without some obvious reason he couldn’t.

 

With Ziva and McGee in front of them, Gibbs could at least reach out and rub his hand down Tony’s back.  He patted the younger man’s ass, giving Tony a wink and small smile.  Tony smiled back and pursed his lips, blowing a silent kiss.  It was as physical as they dared to get at the office. 

 

Gibbs sighed silently in regret.  Hopefully this case wouldn’t be too complicated.  Not only was spending hours outside in frigid conditions unappealing, Gibbs wanted to make damn sure Tony went home at a decent time. 

 

Gibbs nodded to himself as the elevator doors opened at the garage level. His bed was way too damn big, and too damn cold without Tony in it. It was time they rethink spending nights apart.

Chapter Text

Tony parked the truck behind the sedan.  He got out, taking a deep breath of the frigid air, enjoying the sharp, crisp bite of it.  Winter wasn’t his favorite time of year, but he didn’t hate it either.  As long as he was dressed for it, the low temperatures didn’t bother him unduly. 

 

Thinking of dressing for the weather, Tony’s gaze slid over to Ziva.  “You okay there Nanook?”

 

Her scowl was partially obscured by the heavy scarf that hid the lower half of her face.  “I hate the cold.”

 

He grinned back at her.  “You leave any clothes in your closet?”

 

Her gaze narrowed, assessing him.  “At least I’m not wearing the same clothes I had on yesterday.” 

 

She pulled her scarf down, smirking at him.  “Will your secret lady friend not allow you to leave any of your things at her place?  Or perhaps you are afraid she will think it would be a sign of something more permanent?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “There is no secret lady friend, Ziva.”

 

She snorted, arching an eyebrow.  “You are lying.”

 

Tony bit the inside of his cheek to keep from denying her assertion.  Blending truth and lies was tricky business.  For now, Tony was fine with her thinking he was involved with someone, as long as she didn’t know who.  He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be ready to confess to that the love of his life was not only male, but also their boss.

 

“If you two are done discussing the status of your wardrobes, maybe we could actually get to work, “Gibbs growled, walking passed them, coffee in hand.

 

“On it, Boss.”  Tony responded with a quick grin, settling his backpack more securely on his shoulder.  He didn’t have to look to know Ziva was moving next to him and McGee was brining up the rear.  After a ride with Gibbs it usually took the younger agent a moment to recover his balance. 

 

Tony stifled a yawn as they closed in on the site blocked off with yellow police tape, halogen lights mounted on tripods pushing back the predawn darkness.  He hadn’t intended to spend all night at the office.  But when Marcus had stopped by his desk asking if he’d mind helping out, Tony considered saying no for all of a second.  Helping out another team was definitely more attractive than going home alone to his empty bed.  And Marcus was quick to sweeten the deal by offering him dinner.  So Tony stayed, thinking he could still leave around midnight.  He hadn’t expected them to actually make a major break through on Marcus’ case.  Most of the time his ‘campfires’ spawned new theories or avenues for them to investigate, but rarely solved a case outright. 

 

A uniformed cop stepped forward to meet Gibbs.  Tony stopped, behind Gibbs, just to his left in his usual position.  He resisted the urge to reach out and touch, to make a physical connection.  The brief contact they’d shared in the elevator seemed like a long time ago.

 

Tony shook his head.  There was a dead man waiting for them to find his killer.  Now was definitely not the time or the place.  Head in the game, DiNozzo, Tony told himself, keep your head in the game.

 

“I’m Special Agent Gibbs. This is Agents DiNozzo and McGee.  And Officer David.”  Gibbs brusquely told the cop, waving a hand in the direction of his team. 

 

The cop’s introduction was just as abrupt.  “Officer Delcray.”

 

“What do you have for us, Delcray?”

 

“Like I told Agent DiNozzo on the phone, we think the guy is one of yours.”

 

“Think?”  McGee asked, frowning.  “You don’t know?”  He traded a look with Ziva, both of them clearly wondering what they were doing out in the cold for a case that might not be theirs. 

 

The cop grimaced, pointing behind him with his thumb over his shoulder.  “You’ll see.”

 

“DiNozzo, sketch the scene.  Ziva, McGee work the perimeter.”  Gibbs ordered, blue eyes still focused on the cop.  “Tell me what you’ve done so far.”

 

Tony unpacked his camera and began taking pictures.  He frowned, glancing around.  The body lay in the center of the alley, visible from the street.  There had been no effort to conceal it. 

 

Eyeing the body, Tony nodded as his initial thought that this might be a dump site and not where the murder took place was confirmed by the lack of blood under or around the corpse. There was no cast off blood splatter on the building walls either.

 

The only footprints Tony could see were all the same size and depth in the snow.  Eyeing the size of the victim’s feet and his shoes, it was clear the prints weren’t his so he didn’t walk into the alley.  The footprints were probably from the cops and not their perpetrator.

 

The dusting of snow on the body and lack of tracks made it clear the body had been lying in its position before the snow that fell around one.  He looked around, hoping to spot a security camera, but given the surrounding buildings were warehouses he wasn’t too surprised not to find any.  No way to find out what vehicle might have been used to dump the body. 

 

 Gibbs walked over, leaving the cop behind.  “Body dump?”

 

“Looks that way, Boss.”  Tony’s eyes narrowed, as he continued to study the body.  “Did Officer Delcray saying anything about our guy missing body parts?”

 

“Yeah.”  Gibbs pursed his lips, checking his notes and then the body.  “His hands.”

 

Tony made eye contact with Gibbs.  “Where did they find his ID?”

 

“Wallet was in his jacket pocket.”

 

“So why beat the hell out of his face and take his hand then fail to take his wallet if whoever killed him didn’t want us to ID him?”  Tony swallowed hard, suddenly feeling the need to step back from the body.  “You don’t think this might be like with Ari? Where they want us to know he’s Navy?  Draw us out for target practice?”

 

Tony didn’t feel so foolish about his reaction when he saw Gibbs looking around warily.  There didn’t appear to be anything nearby that would explode.  Tony reminded himself, the local cops had gotten close enough to the body to locate his wallet.  If the body had been wired they likely would have triggered it then.  In spite of that fact, Tony still measured the distance between himself and the rest of the team, unconsciously making sure he could get Ziva and McGee out of the alley quickly if he had to. 

 

“Warren’s file say what he did?” Gibbs asked.

 

“Worked in the budget and accounting office.”

 

Both of Gibbs’ eyebrows rose.  “Anything related to weapons of any kind?”

 

Tony shook his head.  “No top secret clearance was listed in his file.”

 

“So no palm print or actual fingers needed to operate anything?” 

 

“God, I hope not, but I don’t know for sure.”  Tony winced. “I didn’t have time for a thorough review of the intell, Boss.” 

 

Tony cursed mentally.  He should have checked.  He should have made sure that Warren wasn’t vital for some product development or research before they left.  He should have made sure Warren wouldn’t have been the sort of target a terrorist would find attractive.  Tony started eyeing the dark rooftops, looking for any tell-tale sign they were being watched. 

 

“Took both hands this time, Tony,” Gibbs said quietly, neatly cutting off Tony’s thoughts and stopping his rising anxiety.  “Ari only needed one, so he only took one.”  Gibbs rested one hand on Tony’s shoulder, steadying him.  “Taking both implies whoever did it was looking to make identifying the victim harder.  Could have just overlooked his wallet.  We’ve had sloppy killers before.”

 

Tony nodded, accepting Gibbs’ logic and calm reassurance.  This case wasn’t like the one that got Kate killed.  He shouldn’t have to worry about a sniper taking out one of his teammates. 

 

“Get back to work, DiNozzo,” Gibbs ordered, squeezing Tony’s shoulder once before letting go.

 

“Right, Boss.”  Tony nodded, raising his camera again. 

 

He was glad no one was looking at him when Ducky and Palmer pulled up in their truck.  Tony didn’t want to have to explain why what should have been familiar made him flinch.  He took a deep breath and told himself to stop letting his imagination run wild. 

 

Tony’s expression turned wry as he considered how their cases always surpassed anything he’d ever come up with anyway.  Even his favorite movies didn’t have plots as far fetched as some of the things he’d encountered at NCIS. 

 

“Probie, did you check the dumpster?” Tony asked as McGee made his way past him, still working the perimeter.

 

“Not yet.”  McGee looked up, making eye contact.  “Why?”

 

Tony pointed to the body.  “Our vic is missing some pieces.”

 

McGee glanced at the body.  He lost a little color as his eyes took in the extent of damage done to Warren’s face.  He swallowed hard before once more looking at Tony

 

“Both hands are gone.”  Tony kept his tone neutral, his posture relaxed.  No reason for McGee to get spooked the same way he’d been just a moment ago.  If he didn’t look or act worried, McGee might not think any more of it than just and odd case detail.

 

McGee cleared his throat.  “Guess I know what Delcray meant now.” 

 

Tony nodded.  “Unless his hands are in this alley, it’s going to be up to Abby to confirm if it’s Warren or not.” 

 

“DNA doesn’t lie,” McGee murmured. 

 

If this was Eli Warren, his DNA should be in the armed service database.  If it wasn’t they would have to figure out who John Doe was and why he had Warren’s wallet on him.  Tony wondered why anyone would want to kill a guy who according to what little he’d read of Warren’s file was basically the military version of a CPA.  It was no doubt something Gibbs would expect them to find out.

 

“Good morning, Ducky,” Ziva greeted the ME.

 

“Good morning, my dear.” Ducky smiled warmly at her.  He greeted the rest of the team before turning his attention to the body. 

 

Gibbs crouched next to the older man.  “Time of death, Duck?”

 

“That will be hard to determine, Jethro.”  Ducky looked up, shaking his head.  “The freezing conditions will have a dramatic impact on his liver temperature, and will have hastened the onset of rigor mortis.”   He sighed heavily.  “I’m afraid an accurate time of death may have to wait until I get him home.”

 

Ducky studied the extensive damage the face.  “Judging by the discoloration and swelling still apparent, as a rough estimate, I’d say he was alive eight to ten hours ago.”

 

He raised one arm, tsking as he regarded the damage to the wrist.  “It appears his hands were removed after he died.  Given the shaky hand that undertook the act, it is no doubt small comfort to you, young man, to be unaware of the desecration.” 

 

“What do you mean?”  Ziva asked, looking over Ducky’s shoulder.  “The killer was nervous?”

 

“If not nervous, then certainly unfamiliar with the task.  You can see here,” Ducky pointed to the ragged edges along the upper side of the wrist, “that whoever removed his hands was most likely new to the act of dismembering a body.  The cut is not smooth, and far more force than necessary was applied than would be required if the one doing the cutting were comfortable with the process.” 

 

Ducky shook his head.  “There is a science to removing limbs, you know. It isn’t just hack and slash.  The first—“

 

“Thanks, Duck.”  Gibbs cut him off.  And for that Tony was grateful.  He really didn’t want to know how people discovered the right way to cut up a body.  From the look on McGee’s face, he wasn’t the only one grateful for Gibbs’ intervention.

 

“McGee, Ziva, check those dumpsters.”

 

“On it, Boss.”  McGee sighed, looking unhappy by the prospect but smart enough not to argue.  Ziva shot Gibbs a dirty look but like McGee she knew better than to say anything.

 

“You done sketching, DiNozzo?”

 

“Yes, Boss.”  There wasn’t much to record of the scene.  The photographs he’d gotten covered everything readily visible.  The dusting of snow wasn’t enough to obscure any details. 

 

The asphalt wouldn’t have left them much even without the snow.  Their best bet was whatever evidence lingered on the vic’s clothing or body.   Ducky and Palmer would sort out most of that back in the lab and get it to Abby for analysis. 

 

“Help McGee and Ziva then.”

 

Tony reluctantly nodded.  Dumpster diving was never his favorite activity.  At least they weren’t in the restaurant district.  Hopefully the trash would be paper and cardboard or something equally innocuous.  Tony didn’t really care as long as it wasn’t putrid.      

 

He was relieved to find the dumpster he picked for his search contained nothing.  No garbage, nothing rancid, and no rats.  Unfortunately, there were no hands either.    It was strange to consider that a bad thing.

 

“Damn.” Ziva cursed softly, letting the lid on her dumpster slam shut.

 

“No joy in Mudville?”

 

“Mudville?”  She frowned at him.  “Is that movie?”

 

“Poem.  Casey At The Bat.”  Tony grinned, knowing his answer surprised and confused her.  “There is no joy in Mudville--mighty Casey has struck out.”

 

“Baseball?” She asked hesitantly.

 

“Very good, Officer David.”  He pointed to her dumpster.  “No hands?”

 

She sighed, breath frosting out in front of her in a cloud of white.  “Just bags of shredded paper.”

 

“Probie, any luck?”

 

“Lots and lots of cardboard and a months worth of old newspapers, but no hands.”  McGee looked at him.  “You?”

 

Tony shook his head.  “Empty.”

 

Ducky and Palmer loaded the body for transport.  The snow created a crude outline of where the body had been.  Gibbs waited for them to report, and took their lack of success in stride.  Although the search was necessary, he clearly hadn’t expected them to find the hands nearby any more than Tony had.  It wouldn’t have made sense for their perp to have dumped the body and the hands in the same place…even if he was careless enough to leave the wallet behind. 

 

“Okay people, lets head back to the office and see if we can find out why anyone would want to kill Petty Officer Eli Warren.”

 

“If that even was Eli Warren,” McGee pointed out.

 

Stating the obvious was never well received by Gibbs.  So the hard look he gave McGee came as no surprise.

 

“Yeah, McGee, that too.” 

 

McGee ducked his head, looking sheepish.  Ziva looked smug.  Tony could understand both reactions.  They’d all earned sarcastic barbs from Gibbs and probably would again, which was what made it fun to see someone else getting the edge of his tongue and temper. 

 

Tony made sure he got shotgun position in the sedan on the way back to the office.  It really wasn’t that hard.  He’d already agreed with Ziva to let her drive back.  And Gibbs’ dig at McGee practically guaranteed the computer whiz would want to put some space between himself and their boss.

 

Tony sighed as he settled into the seat.  “Might want to make sure Ziva’s not too close behind us.”

 

“She’s not that bad, Tony.”

 

Tony snorted, turning to look at Gibbs.  “Three fender benders in less than a year.  Four, if you count the one where we cut off the ambassador’s car.”

 

“Good point.”  Gibbs chuckled dryly.  “Think McGee is okay riding with her?”

 

“He was willing to show her around D.C.”  Tony chuckled.  “Course that was when he was driving, and I’m thinking he doesn’t have as much confidence in her driving is he once did.  He’s quicker to say something to her about it than he used to be.”

 

“More like he’s less afraid she’ll gut him for speaking his mind.”

 

Tony smirked.  “That too.”  McGee was definitely coming into his own a little at a time.

 

Gibbs held out his hand in a blatant invitation.  Tony took it, intertwining their fingers.  He unconsciously checked the review mirror, making sure the truck was far enough behind, before raising their joined hands to place a soft kiss on Gibbs’ knuckles.

 

“You think we can stop by some where for a donut or something?”  Tony asked, his stomach rumbling loudly.  “I didn’t get breakfast.”

 

“Sure.”  Gibbs nodded, squeezing his hand. 

 

“Thanks.”

 

Gibbs smiled.  “I could do with more coffee anyway.”

 

Tony laughed.  “Naturally.”

Chapter Text

Gibbs sipped his coffee, watching as Tony talked to Warren’s supervisor.  By 7:30, Warren should have called in sick or been at work.  From the expression on Tony’s face it didn’t appear as though Warren had done either.  It was looking more and more like their corpse downstairs in Ducky’s morgue might just be Petty Officer Eli Warren.

 

Tony hung up.  Green eyes met blue.  “Warren didn’t call in, and he isn’t at work, Boss.”

 

Gibbs nodded, accepting the confirmation of what he suspected.  He glanced at his watch.  Hopefully, Ducky would have something for him by now.  Or Abby, although even Gibbs knew it was a bit early for any sort of DNA confirmation.  Still, talking to them would give him something to do while he waited. 

 

“DiNozzo, take Ziva with you and head over to Warren’s home.”

 

“Will do, Boss.”  Tony settled his heavy coat more comfortably on his shoulders.  He’d never bothered to remove it when they’d gotten back to the office.  It made Gibbs smile internally to see his senior agent anticipate and react accordingly.  Checking Warren’s home was the next logical step.

 

It could also be the original crime scene.  Gibbs wanted to tell Tony to be careful.  But there was no obvious threat that would make the order seem normal, natural or common place.  Tony knew his job; he had good instincts and knew how to take care of himself.  Gibbs forced himself not to say anything. The quick smile Tony gave him before heading for the elevator made it clear he understood what was going on inside Gibbs’ head. 

 

Watching them leave, Gibbs reminded himself that Ziva was good back up.  She was definitely the sort to shoot first and ask questions later.  More so than McGee, which was the main reason Gibbs sent her with Tony. 

 

It wasn’t the only reason though.  Ziva was a better shot, but McGee was definitely better at the techno babble bullshit and math.  Given that Warren worked in accounting and finance, McGee’s skills would definitely be more useful delving into what their dead Petty Officer did while he was alive. 

 

Gibbs tossed his empty coffee cup into the trash as he headed for the elevator and the morgue.  “McGee, I want access to Warren’s files and everything he’s worked on in the last year when I get back.”

 

“Ah…On it, Boss.”

 

Gibbs smiled to himself.  McGee’s hesitation was so brief most people wouldn’t have even notice, but Gibbs caught it.  Some day the younger man might answer with the immediate conviction Tony often did.  Gibbs would like for McGee to have the same level of confidence in his own ability that the former Marine had, and the computer whiz was getting closer.  Time spent in the field and on the job was definitely giving him a greater level of comfort in his ability to do what Gibbs asked of him. 

 

The automatic doors to autopsy opened smoothly for him.  Gibbs hated those damn doors.  They made it almost impossible to slip in unannounced.  Not that he really ever needed to, Gibbs just liked knowing the option was available.

 

“Ah, Jethro, I was expecting you.”

 

“That mean you have something for me Duck?”

 

“Indeed.”  Ducky smiled, nodding to the wall mounted light tables where several head X-rays were backlit.  “The initial, obvious assumption that blunt force trauma as the cause of death seems to have been accurate.”

 

Ducky pointed to various lines running from the temple. “These fractures alone weren’t been enough to kill him, but they were the ultimate cause of his death.”

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  The damage to the skull looked severe enough to him to be fatal. “They weren’t enough?”

 

“I’m afraid not.” Ducky shook his head.  “His blood alcohol level was close to twice the legal limit when he died.  That much alcohol in his blood would have made the subdermal hematoma…that is the bleeding into his brain from the fractures…rather more severe, killing him with far greater speed than they otherwise might have.”

 

Ducky looked at the corpse’s battered face.  “You’d have done well to practice more moderation, young man.  Sober you might have been able to seek medical assistance or the very least defended yourself more effectively.”

 

“Any chance this was accidental?”

 

“He could have fallen against something hard enough to do some of the damage.”  Ducky clucked his tongue. “But I can’t imagine anything short of jumping from a plane without a parachute or forcibly being ejected from a car at 90 miles an hour that would allow for self infliction of the extensive damage his face ultimately suffered.”

 

Gibbs eyes narrowed silently asking the older man to expound on that.  Ducky cleared his throat.  “Two or three of the initial blows resulted in the swelling I noticed at scene, and were likely the cause of the initial fractures.  Had someone offered aid, he would likely have survived to drink himself silly again.” 

 

Ducky shook his head, expression a mixture of disappointment and remorse, before sighing heavily.  “It isn’t clear if anyone made an effort to render aid, but it there is definitive evidence that a blunt object was vigorously and repeatedly applied post mortum.  The bludgeoning of his face is obviously deliberate.”  The ME grimaced.  “It most likely about the same time the man’s hands were removed.”

 

“Who beats up a corpse?” Palmer mused aloud, looking befuddled by the very idea. He immediately ducked his head and began working at something else when Gibbs gave him a very pointed look.

 

“I do remember one case where a young woman—“

 

“Time of death, Duck?” Gibbs asked, cutting off Ducky before he could get too far along on a tangent.

 

“It would appear this young man died between the hours of eight and ten last night.  His body was left in the alley sometime before it began to snow.” 

 

“Anything else?” 

 

“I sent blood and tissue samples to Abby.”  Ducky pulled down his face shield, picking up a scalpel.  “It will be up to her to determine if our John Doe is in fact Eli Warren.”

 

Gibbs nodded and headed out.  The removal of the hands and damage done to the face were evidently done to obscure the man’s identity.  So was their killer careless in leaving Warren’s wallet behind?  Or was that a deliberate act?  Perhaps it had been placed not to lure them out as targets, but more to convince them that their corpse was Eli Warren for some reason.  Which opened another line of investigation; just who would benefit from people believing Warren dead and if Warren was still alive where was he?

 

Gibbs stopped to get Abby a Caf-Pow before he went to see what information she could give him.  She should have finished her first by now and be more than ready for her second.  Gibbs got himself a fourth cup of coffee while he was at it.  He’d finished his third, the one he’d gotten while in the car with Tony, before going to see Ducky.  At this rate it was going to be a ten cup day.

 

Gibbs winced at the music he could hear blaring from Abby’s lab.  It was a damn good thing she knew sign language because he was sure some day she’d need to use it later in life.  Gibbs was glad Tony wasn’t prone to playing his music or movies anywhere near as loud as Abby.  But then Tony’s hearing was better than most and he took pains to keep it that way.  It was something Gibbs had secretly approved of.  Having all five senses as sharp as possible was an asset in the field. 

 

Gibbs didn’t even bother trying to get Abby’s attention.  He just turned off the music. 

 

“Hey!” Abby protested, looking up from her microscope to scowl at him.  She smiled brightly.  “Gibbs.”

 

“Abby.”  He handed her the oversized cup, wondering anew how she could relish drinking such foul tasting stuff.  “What do you have for me?”

 

“Our dead guy was cheap.”

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  “And this is important because?”

 

“Real leather doesn’t hold finger prints as well as vinyl or pleather.”  She grinned brightly, before sucking enthusiastically at her Caf-Pow, cheeks hollowing as she gulped. 

 

Abby deftly tapped a few buttons on her keyboard.  Her computer monitor immediately revealed a split screen.  One half showed an enlarged fingerprint.  The other half showed a government ID photo of Eli Warren. 

 

“Only prints on the wallet were his.”  Abby shook her head, pigtails wagging.  “Doesn’t prove it belongs to our dead guy, I know, since I can’t actually get prints from him.” 

 

She tapped another series of buttons.  “Blood type is a match to Warren’s, but given forty percent of the population is O positive, that isn’t conclusive either.”  She pursed her lips.  “Universal donor is a misnomer, by the way.  People who are O negative, B negative, and AB negative can’t—“

 

“Abby.”  Gibbs held up his hand.  “Focus.”

 

“Right.”  She nodded.  “The fibers I found on his clothing are low end carpet fiber.  Nothing revealing there.  Well, if you don’t count the fact that it confirms he wasn’t killed in the alley you found him in. Which you already knew.”  She scowled at her computer as if the equipment had let her down in some way.  “Nothing unique or special in anyway about the clothes themselves either. Generic, off the rack stuff.”

 

“Not everyone wears Armani.” 

 

“If they wore it as well as Tony does, they should,” she declared.  “He looks amazing in that dove gray suit he got last week. Yummy.”  She licked her lips.  “And that green tie he has goes well with his eyes.”

 

He knew there was nothing between Abby and Tony.  They interacted and teased each other like siblings; nothing truly sexual or with any real intent that Gibbs had seen.  They were good friends and Abby was just stating her opinion on his appearance which she’d done any number of times before.  Even knowing that, Gibbs still had to clamp down hard on his instinctive jealous reaction to her blatantly appreciative statements. 

 

At least he knew she wasn’t really interested in Tony, unlike half the women in the building.  Gibbs had seen more than one of them eyeing up Tony like he was a steak dinner and they hadn’t eaten in a week.  He took comfort in the fact that Tony no longer eyed them back, at least, not as much as he used to.

 

“Let me know when you’ve got the DNA results,” Gibbs said as he left Abby’s lab.  Maybe McGee had something more substantial for him to look at.

 

Leaving the elevator, Gibbs overheard another team discussing a recently closed case.  He stopped when he heard Tony’s name mentioned, moving to where he could see who was speaking without being seen himself. 

 

“DiNozzo pulled all that together, Vizoric. We can’t really take credit for making a connection there.”

 

The speaker was a leggy, attractive blonde Gibbs recognized; Agent Stoddard.  She’d been with NCIS about as long as McGee had.  Gibbs thought she had potential, but not enough to warrant a spot on his team.   

 

“Hey…it wasn’t just him, you know?”  Vizoric countered, sounding put out. “We were the ones who did all the leg work.”

 

“We wouldn’t have even known where to look if DiNozzo hadn’t suggested it.”  Stoddard snorted.  “Glad it only cost us dinner to get his input.”

 

“I’m glad it was Wednesday, otherwise Tony would have left long before we thought to invite him to our little pow-wow.”

 

 “Campfire,” Stoddard laughed softly, “not pow-wow.”    

 

“Whatever.”  Vizoric rolled his eyes.  “You think the rumor is true?”

 

“Oh yeah, he’s definitely seeing someone.  I’m betting it’s more serious than casual too.”

 

Gibbs blinked, surprised by her confident assertion.  He knew Ziva and McGee thought Tony was involved with someone, but he hadn’t realized other agents in the building might have also noticed anything.  Tony thought they might have, and from the sounds of it, he was right.

 

Vizoric asked, “What makes you so sure?”

 

Stoddard gave him a look Gibbs recognized as one he got a lot from his second ex-wife.  It always managed to imply he was an idiot for not seeing the obvious.  “He hasn’t looked down my shirt once in the last six months.”

 

Vizoric cocked his head to one side.  “But he was flirting with you last night.”

 

“There is flirting and then there is flirting.”  Stoddard shook her head.  “What he was doing last night was tame.  He wasn’t going anywhere with it.” 

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  He hadn’t realized women in the building perceived a change in Tony’s flirting.  It was more lighthearted, playful and lacking any clear intent. From the look on Vizoric’s face he hadn’t made the same connection Stoddard had.

 

“Shame, really.”  Stoddard sighed heavily.  “I wouldn’t have objected to giving him a go.”

 

Vizoric stared at her.  “You told me you didn’t date coworkers!”

 

“I didn’t say that.”  She laughed.  “I said I don’t date teammates.  He’s not on our team.”

 

“Seems like a fine line there.”

 

“It’s my line, Marcus, I can draw it anyway I want.”  She shrugged.  “It’s all moot anyway at this point.”

 

“Might not be serious,” Vizoric offered.  “Tony doesn’t seem the sort to be faithful for long.”

 

“Six months is a lifetime for a guy like him,” Stoddard said.  “If he’s made it that long, DiNozzo is in for the long haul.  Trust me.  He’s in hook, line and sinker.”

 

Gibbs knew it was stupid to find her conviction so reassuring, but he did anyway.  Not that he had any doubts about Tony’s commitment.  No.  He was sure the younger man was as invested in their relationship as he was.  Still, it was nice to hear someone else read Tony the same way.

 

“The one who needs to get laid more is Gibbs.  Dear God but that man is wrapped tight.”

 

Gibbs was torn between being amused and angry.  On one hand, he agreed with her.  He wouldn’t mind have sex with Tony every night, but to do that he needed for them to be together every night.  And on the other hand, he was pissed that a woman who could make such an insightful comment about Tony could read him so wrong.  He wasn’t wrapped tight, he was dedicated to his job, and damn good at it.  If she were equally dedicated, their team wouldn’t have needed Tony’s input or kept his lover up all night when he should have been getting some sleep.

 

“You’re still pissed at him for not giving you Todd’s place on the team.”

 

“I am not!” Stoddard protested.  “Besides, it was the Director’s decision to put David on Gibbs’ team.”

 

Now Vizoric was giving her the ‘you’re an idiot’ look.  “You really think Gibbs would have kept her on his team if she wasn’t up to snuff?”

 

“That’s not the point.”

 

“And what is?”

 

“If the Director hadn’t placed David there, I might have had a chance.”

 

Same chance as a snowball in hell, Gibbs thought as he walked away.  This was why he didn’t pay much attention to office gossip.  Not only was it a huge waste of time, most of it was just crap.  He had a case to solve, then he could work on finding a way to have Tony in his bed every night. 

Chapter Text

Letting Ziva drive to Warren’s apartment was probably a mistake, but Tony had lost the coin toss and it was better to give in than risk her trying to emasculate him.  Not that he couldn’t hold his own against her, Tony knew he could.  Working out with both Sammy and Gibbs had definitely taught him how to handle himself.  But having gotten no sleep last night, Tony didn’t feel like fighting with her over control of the car.  He’d rather save his energy for working the case.

 

Traffic was heavy with commuters headed for work.  Tony grinned to himself thinking he should have put out an APB out to warn the commuters a mad woman had gotten behind the wheel and they were taking their lives in their hands sharing the road today.  He shook his head.  Ziva drove like she’d learned how in a demolition derby, but he had to admit she certainly knew how to get the most out of the car. 

 

Not without a cost though.  Tony made a mental note to check on his bet with the agent in charge of the motor pool.  It was a tie at the moment between Gibbs and Ziva which one’s car needed the most engine and body work.  Tony was betting Ziva would pull ahead this month, which was another reason he hadn’t fought harder to drive.

 

Letting Ziva drive also made it easier for Tony to concentrate on the copy of Warren’s file he’d downloaded to his PDA.  He wasn’t really expecting to find anything useful that McGee wouldn’t.  Tony’s goal in reviewing the file was to hopefully keep him from being surprised by anything the found at the Petty Officer’s apartment.  He didn’t want any more moments like the one he’d experienced in the alley. 

 

“Anything of interest in his file?”

 

“Not much.”  Tony shook his head, keeping his focus on the screen in front of him.  If he didn’t look up he wouldn’t have to know just how close Ziva cut it when she merged back into the right lane. 

 

“Warren’s been in the Navy for about six years. Stationed stateside for most of that time.  He’s worked in accounting and finance his entire stint.”  Tony grimaced.  “Not even a geek as much as he is a nerd from the way this reads.”

 

“There is a difference?”

 

“Oh yeah, there is a difference.”  Tony looked up to meet her expectant gaze.  “Geeks are smart, like McGee.”

 

“And nerds are what?”  She arched an eyebrow.

 

Tony bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.  There was so much he could do with that. Tony cleared his throat.  “You remember going undercover at that singles event?” 

 

She gave him a wary look, answering slowly.  “Yes.”

 

“The guy we thought was our man, the one who took liberties with your ass…that’s a nerd.” Tony smiled wolfishly, still amused by both the man’s utter lack of survival instinct and Ziva’s reaction to him.  “Socially awkward.  No sense of fashion.  Not enough money to be eccentric.  And not smart enough or technology savvy to be a geek.”  Tony shrugged, eying her pointedly, knowing he was implying she fell in that category as he did so.  It was just too easy to tease her for him to let it pass completely.

 

She opened her mouth to no doubt deliver a stinging retort about his judgment of people and her in particular, but Tony stopped her by pointing to the exit.  “That one is ours.”

 

 

Ziva cursed and cut off a Cadillac Escalade as she swerved to make the exit ramp.  Tony had a firm grip on the ‘oh shit’ handle. He was very glad that all he’d eaten for breakfast was a donut and that was more than an hour ago.  It had only taken three years of riding with Gibbs for him to get used to the older man’s reckless driving.  Tony had a feeling it would take twice that long to get truly comfortable with Ziva’s.

 

She pulled into the parking lot at Warren’s apartment building with a squeal of tires.  Tony winced, grateful the lot was nearly deserted, signifying most of the residents had already gone to work.  As it was, Tony was fairly certain anyone within a three block radius was aware of their arrival. 

 

“Nothing like announcing our presence to the world,” he muttered quietly as he got out of the car, resigned to there being no such thing as a subtle arrival when Ziva drove.  He stuffed his PDA into his coat pocket.

 

 “Which apartment is Warren’s?” Ziva asked, shivering in the cold air, pulling on the gloves she’d removed while driving.

 

“Twenty-one A.”  Double digits made Tony think it was probably not a first floor place. 

 

His expectation was confirmed as they noted the floor plan map mounted in the lobby.  The mail boxes were all labeled with both the apartment number and tenant name.  Ziva snorted as she regarded the set up.

 

“Not exactly the safest arrangement.”

 

 

“Place isn’t considered a secure building.”  Tony pointed with this thumb over his shoulder to the door they’d used to enter the building.  “Note the absence of a locked door, or gate on parking lot entrance.”

 

 

“Do we want his mail?”

 

 

Tony pursed his lips.  “If he’s home, we’ll ask for it.  If he’s not—“

 

 

“I’ll pick the lock on our way out.” 

 

 

Tony nodded.  That worked.  Although, if Warren got the same crap in his box Tony usually got, he doubted the man’s mail would tell them much.  Still, maybe they’d get lucky and a threatening letter would be there, complete with signature and return address. 

 

 

As they headed up the stairs, Ziva gave Tony a side long glance.  “I still do not understand why you won’t talk about your new girlfriend.  It’s not as if you haven’t shared such details before.”

 

 

Tony sighed. He should have known she wouldn’t drop it.  She just kept asking, although usually not quite as pointedly as she’d started doing recently. Two months ago it was more like she was feeling him out, checking her observations and weighing his responses accordingly.  Now, she clearly knew he was seeing someone, and there was no point in continuing to deny it.  While he could obfuscate and dissemble with the best of them, Tony knew he was lousy at outright lying.

 

“It’s complicated.”

 

“Naturally.”

 

Tony ignored the sarcasm in her tone, eyes more focused on the apartment doors, looking for the Warren’s.  He stopped at 21-A.  He rapped sharply on the door, immediately reaching for his gun when the door swung open.   Ziva pulled her own gun, the many layers she was wearing not slowing her down much at all.  Together they searched the apartment, calling out ‘clear’ as each room was checked. 

 

Tony didn’t breathe easy until they confirmed the apartment was empty.  He holstered his weapon slowly, still eyeing the living room warily.  “Haven’t seen furniture this ugly since my mother redid the living room when I was eight.”

 

 

“It does seem a bit…dated.”

 

 “Avocado green hasn’t been popular in decades.  Not sure why it ever was, truth be told.”

 

Ziva cocked her head.  “Retro is in, or so I’ve heard.” 

 

“There is that.”  Tony chuckled. The furniture itself wasn’t old or worn.  In fact, it looked practically brand new.  There was no accounting for taste, he told himself. 

 

Ziva gestured to the door.  “You think he just forgot to lock it?”

 

Tony gave the door a quick once over before shaking his head.  “Not if the door jamb is anything to go by.”  He pointed to where the door had obviously been forced at some point.  When he spotted small bits of wood on the floor, Tony estimated the damage had happened in the last day or so.  The lock wasn’t all that substantial.  One well placed kick would be enough to cause damage he was seeing.

 

Ziva frowned, once more looking around the small apartment.  “Nothing seems out of place.”

 

Tony nodded.  Other than some of the usual bachelor living mess like dirty dishes in the sink, odds and ends piled on the counter, and a thin layer dust on nearly every flat surface, the apartment appeared to be essentially in order. 

 

“Maybe whoever broke in knew exactly what they were looking for?”  Ziva suggested.  “No need to search for it.”

 

“Yeah, but the usual MO is to still tear the place to make it harder for other people to figure out what was taken.  More plausible Warren simply gave them whatever they wanted.  No muss.  No fuss.” 

 

Ziva shook her head.  “In that case it would have been easier to kill him here, and other than the door there is no sign of a struggle.  More likely they took him with them to get whatever it was and then killed him, dumping his body in the alley.”

 

Tony sighed silently.  She had a good point.  “Would be easier if we knew the what and the why.”

 

 

“And who.” Ziva grimaced.  “Shall we search this place then?”

 

“Yeah, maybe we’ll get lucky and find something.”

 

Warren’s bedroom, like the living room, had a dated 70’s décor, but was neat and organized.  Tony’s eyebrows rose when he opened the closet.  He was expecting to find clothing that was moderately priced and a few uniforms.  There were two uniforms, but the remaining space was full of designer labels.  Virtually everything Tony saw would have been right at home in his own wardrobe.

 

Tony frowned.  The clothes they’d seen on the body weren’t high end.  Even without seeing the tags, Tony knew that.

 

He checked the valet box on the dresser.  The watch in it was just as expensive as the clothes in the closet.  And the gold cuff links he saw rivaled some of those Tony’s father frequently wore.  Tony whistled softly.  There was a lot of money in that little box. 

 

“So just where does a Petty Officer with an annual salary of around $35,000 a year find the sort of discretionary income to buy stuff like this?” Tony asked himself as he headed back out into the living room to see what Ziva found.

 

She pointed to the desk.  “Does it strike you as odd that he has no computer?”

 

Tony arched an eyebrow.  “Think that might have been what they took?”

 

“It would make sense since so many things worth killing for could have been stored there.”  She looked confused.  “But that would not explain why they didn’t also garbage his apartment to disguise the theft.”

 

Tony cocked his head, mouth moving as he repeated what she said before he chuckled.  “Trash, Ziva.  Trash this apartment.”

 

“Trash.  Garbage.  Whatever.”  She glared, waving a hand in dismissal. “You knew what I meant.”

 

Tony pushed open the door of the large armoire for a closer look, whistling softly.  Inside was a large flat screen TV and a state of the art sound system.  There was also a collection of CD’s and DVD’s that rivaled Tony’s own collection.  “It would appear Eli Warren was living rather well.”

 

“Little too well, I think.”  Ziva looked up at Tony.  “Rich family perhaps?”

 

Tony shook his head.  “According to his file his family is in the lower middle class income bracket.” 

 

Tony’s own file didn’t go into specifics but clear references were made to the wealth his father possessed, citing the company name and net worth.  It also noted the trust fund he’d gotten from his grandmother and real estate he inherited from his Uncle Salvatore.  Tony had learned early on to make those details part of his official files.  Doing so kept Internal Affairs from seeing anything suspicious in his spending habits.  Warren may not have been as conscientious or forthcoming, but Tony doubted the Navy would have overlooked it if he were related to someone rich.  Money often equaled political influence, something every military branch was increasingly more sensitive too.

 

“Inheritance?” Ziva suggested.

 

 

“Mother and step-father are still alive.  Father is too.”

 

“Step mother?”

 

“Father got divorced about the time Warren joined the Navy.”

 

Ziva clucked her tongue.  “Then he is definitely doing something he shouldn’t to be able to afford such things.”

 

“Question is what.”  Tony sighed. 

 

“Espionage?”

 

Tony shook his head.  “Warren’s job wasn’t the sort that gave him access to anything top secret that might be valuable to anyone else.  And he didn’t have sufficient clearance to get access.”

 

“Drugs?”

 

“Unlikely.”

 

“Why?”  Ziva frowned.  “They are certainly lucrative enough.”

 

“True.”  Tony held up both hands, palms up as though balancing something between them.  “But he would still need access to a supply to sell.  He didn’t have that.  Or the wherewithal to cook is own.”

 

“Munitions?”

 

“Same situation.”  Tony shrugged.  “No real access.  He wasn’t working supply or handling shipments of any kind.”

 

Ziva nodded grimly. “If it were a drug deal or sale of arms that had gone bad, I doubt the killer would have shown any hesitation in taking his hands.  Ducky said it looked like the work of an amateur.”

 

“They’d have also taken anything easily made into cash.” 

 

Ziva scowled.  “So where does that leave us?”

 

“Clear sign of forced entry but wherever Warren was killed, assuming the stiff in the alley was him, it wasn’t here.  We got evidence that Eli Warren was definitely living above his means, but no real indication of how.  And his computer seems to be missing, but we haven’t found any reason why someone would want him dead or hate him enough to bludgeon his face beyond recognition.”

 

Ziva’s scowled deepened.  “Gibbs is going to love that.”

 

Tony winced. “Well, if we’re lucky, Ducky, Abby or McGee will have come up with something more substantial.” 

 

“Perhaps if we came back with coffee it would help.”

 

“Little bribe never hurts.”  Tony grinned.  It rarely helped either, but there was no reason to tell Ziva that.  She’d figure it out on her own soon enough.  “Let’s see if any of his neighbors are home before we help ourselves to Warren’s mail.”

 

Tony closed the door, doing his best to make it secure. He called NCIS and requested they send a probationary agent to swing by and keep an eye on the place.  He made sure they had a ‘do not engage’ order should anyone come by.  Last thing Tony wanted was for a junior agent to do was get involved in a potentially dangerous situation without back up.  But a little stakeout time would be good experience for someone still learning the job. 

 

There was no one home on Warren’s floor, or the floor below his.  So while Ziva picked the lock to Warren’s mailbox, Tony made a note of the names on the other boxes.  If they needed to they could come back later and talk to his neighbors.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll have a busybody in his building like I have in mine, Tony thought.

 

Ziva pulled out the mail in the box, holding it up for Tony to look at as she sorted through the half dozen envelopes.  As Tony suspected, it was mostly just junk.  One letter caught his eye though.  It was a bank statement. It had the right address but the wrong name.  Instead of Eli Warren it was addressed to Earl Kinsac.

 

“Former tenant?”

 

“Warren’s file had this as his address for the last three years.” Tony told her. “Roommate  maybe?”

 

“One bedroom place,” Ziva countered, arching an eyebrow.  “All the clothes you saw were the same size, yes?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Everything in the kitchen was single serving.” Ziva pursed her lips, taping a finger against her chin in thought.  “Even the arrangement for furniture in the living room suggested a solitary resident who habitually favored the recliner over anything else in the room.”

 

Tony nodded, thinking about the lay out of the living room.  The remote for the TV and stereo system was within easy reach for someone in the recliner.  As were several magazines. The only light other than the one overhead was on the end table.  Ziva was right, it was definitely a one person set up.

 

“Well, let’s see if we can find out who Earl is then and why he’s having his mail sent here.  Maybe he can shed some light on what our Petty Officer was doing that made it possible to live so far above his means.”

 

Ziva nodded, putting the junk back in the mailbox, keeping only the bank statement.  Technically, they should have had a warrant to even enter Warren’s apartment or rifle through his mail.  But Gibbs wasn’t too big on technicalities, and they could justify their actions if needed.  They didn’t have definitive proof that it was Warren’s body they found in the alley, but the damage to his door and his ID on the body implied his life was in danger if he was still alive.  It was a gray area that Tony would have someone in the legal department working on as soon as they got back to the office.  It was one of the things he was responsible for as Gibbs’ senior agent. 

 

Tony pulled out his cell phone, hitting one on the speed dial as Ziva pulled out of the parking lot.  He smiled when he heard Gibbs gruffly bark out his name, answering on the second ring.

 

“Hey, Boss.”

 

“Tony.”  Gibbs’ tone softened noticeably, warming from curt to welcoming.  “Warren at home?”

 

“No.”  Tony changed his phone to his left hand so he could grab the ‘oh shit’ handle with his right hand, preparing for Ziva to merge with traffic.  “Signs of forced entry but definitely not the kill site.”

 

“Damn.” 

“Yeah.”  Tony sighed.  It couldn’t be that easy.  If they knew where the vic had died they would have a better chance of getting more evidence to pin down who had killed him.  “You want us to swing by his office?”

 

“Yes. Talk to his CO.  Coworkers.”

 

“Will do.”  Tony cast a quick glance at Ziva before giving her the address.  He tightened his grip on the handle, bracing for the expected acceleration. 

 

“And—“

 

“Get his computer and anything he was working on.  Will do, Boss.”

 

“Good.”  He could hear the smile in Gibbs’ voice.  “Still don’t have confirmation the body is Warren.”

 

“Waiting on DNA?”

 

“Abby says she’ll have it in about three hours.”  Gibbs’ impatience carried clearly through the line.  “Want you back here by then.”

 

“Understood.”

 

“And Tony—“

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You watch your six because I expect you to be in one piece when we get home tonight.” The soft growl promised so much.  “We clear?”

 

Tony fought to keep the grin off his face.  “Crystal, Boss.”  He waited until Gibbs cut the connection before he shut his phone.  “He wants us back in three hours.”

 

Ziva nodded and pressed the accelerator to the floor.  Hearing the engine whine in response, Tony figured he might win that bet this month yet. 

Chapter Text

Gibbs liked heights, he always had.  His fondness for them was one reason the platform outside the Director’s office and MTAC so appealing. Another was the fact that it simply made for an ideal observation point.  From it, he could see the entire bullpen below.  He could watch agents coming and going, busy with whatever case they were working on.  The locked door behind him would announce anyone coming up behind him, making Gibbs feel secure enough to relax as he watched the bustle of activity going on below.

 

At the moment, Gibbs’ focus was mainly on the elevator.  He’d told Tony he wanted him and Ziva back at the office in three hours, and that time was nearly up.  He eyed the clock on the wall, debating if he should call Tony or wait another fifteen minutes.  It wasn’t like the younger man was late…yet.

 

Gibbs sipped the last of his coffee. It was too soon for another cup, but he wanted one anyway.  Gibbs glared at the elevator doors.  He wasn’t going anywhere until he saw Tony was back in the building. 

 

Gibbs told himself he wasn’t really worried.  There was no reason to be.  Well, other than the obvious fact that Tony was out in the field without Gibbs.  It wasn’t like something bad always happened when Tony went anywhere without Gibbs…it just seemed more likely.  Gibbs sighed.  He’d been in contact so Gibbs knew the younger man was fine when they last spoke; no crazy killer waitresses, no bottle wielding bitches, no gun toting nut cases, or knife waving maniacs.  Just the every day, ordinary, follow through of an investigation. 

 

Gibbs knew Tony had spoken to McGee just over an hour ago.  The name and bank information Tony gave McGee were things the computer savvy junior agent could easily research while working on getting everything Warren had worked in the past year.  Gibbs was proud of how well his people multi-tasked and they were smart enough to communicate not just with him but also each other.  They should be able to depend on their teammates, trust them they same way they trusted him.   

 

From where he stood it was impossible to hear the elevator ding, but he could see the light flash above the door indicating the car had arrived.  Gibbs eyed Tony as he strolled out, studying him carefully, relaxing when it was apparent Tony was as healthy and whole as he’d been when he left.  The younger man was moving easily, clearly teasing Ziva about something as he shrugged out of his heavy coat before placing his badge and gun in the top drawer of his desk. 

 

Gibbs grinned when he spotted the beverage container in Ziva’s hand.  Looks like I won’t have to go anywhere for my next cup of coffee, Gibbs thought cheerfully.  He rearranged his face into his usual almost pissed off expression as he headed down the stairs.  It wouldn’t do for Ziva to think bearing gifts could guarantee he would be any easier to deal with.  Would set a bad precedent.  Bribery was no substitute for solid results.

 

 

He waited until Ziva’s back was turned as she began removing her hat and coat before he tossed his empty cup into her garbage can knowing the action would startle her.  He ignored the dark look Ziva shot him and her aborted move to pull a weapon.  Gibbs just helped himself to a cup of coffee.  He sniffed it discretely, making sure he didn’t grab something with sugar and cream added.  He considered it damn near sacrilegious to dilute good, black coffee that way.  And no amount of argument from Tony would change his mind. 

 

“What do we have people?” Gibbs asked. 

 

“Someone definitely forced their way into Warren’s apartment,” Ziva said.  “But the only thing taken, so far as we could tell, was his computer.  Nothing else seemed to be missing or out of place.”

 

 

“And he definitely had a lot of stuff worth taking,” Tony added.

 

 

“Oh?”  Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

 

 

“His taste in clothing rivaled, Tony’s.”  Ziva smirked.  “He was jealous.”

 

 

“No, I was envious.” Tony’s green eyes twinkled.  “There is a difference.”

 

 

Ziva snorted.  “Semantics.”

 

 

“Semantics are important,” Gibbs said just loud enough for Tony to hear, making eye contact, catching his lover’s quicksilver grin. 

 

“Besides a killer wardrobe,” Tony said, “Warren has some very nice jewelry, a very expensive TV and one hell of a stereo system.  Anyone just looking to rob the place would have taken that.” 

 

Tony grabbed a cup of what Gibbs suspected was not coffee but hot chocolate from the carrier on Ziva’s desk.  The younger man preferred the sweeter, richer beverage.  Gibbs knew Tony wouldn’t be looking for coffee until later in the day when a night without sleep caught up with him.

 

Tony casually offered another cup to McGee.  “The clothes on the body we found don’t match anything we saw at Warren’s place.”

 

“Doesn’t prove it wasn’t Warren.  Maybe he was slumming,” McGee took the cup, nodding his thanks to Tony.

 

“Could be.” Ziva shrugged one shoulder.  “Would help if we knew where he was when he got killed.”

 

“Ya think?” Gibbs gave her a hard look.  That was a missing detail they already were aware of.  Saying it aloud didn’t exactly move the case along. 

 

“His CO told us Warren was competent if not exactly brilliant at his job.”  Tony said, drawing Gibbs’ attention back to him.  “Coworkers all said he was quiet, kept to himself.  Never caused any trouble or did anything to really get attention.  Basic worker bee.”

 

“Then how did he afford the things you found at his place?”

 

“I think I might have an explanation for that, Boss.”

 

 

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed at he looked at McGee.  He didn’t sound all that confident.  “You don’t know, McGee?”

 

“Ah…No, Boss…that is not for sure.” McGee swallowed nervously.  “I mean, I’m good with numbers, but it would take a forensic accountant to figure out exactly how Warren was manipulating his figures.  All I can say for sure, at this point, is that the accounts Warren was working on don’t add up the way they should.  I can’t really prove he was stealing.  And I couldn’t even track how much money was missing….at least I couldn’t until Tony gave me Earl Kinsac’s name and bank account number.”

 

“Partner in crime?”  Tony asked. 

 

 

“Or an alias?”  Ziva countered. 

 

“Patriot Act requires banks to keep proof of identity on file.”  McGee hit the control for the plasma screen display. Next to Warren’s military ID was what looked like a scanned driver’s license for Earl Kinsac.  There were similarities between the men depicted, but they were obviously not the same people.

 

“Not an alias then.”

 

“But I don’t think he’s involved with Warren either, Boss.”  McGee hit the control again. A mug shot of Kinsac appeared next.  “For the last five years, he was serving time Georgia for statutory rape.  Only got out three weeks ago.” 

 

“Maybe he and Warren knew each other before he went to prison.”  Ziva suggested. 

 

“Might have.” McGee shrugged. “Kinsac opened the account before he went to prison, but until two years ago there was little activity.”

 

“And in the last two years?” Tony asked, frowning at the screen.

 

“Regular monthly deposits were wired in, only to be withdrawn in cash a few days later.  No link back to Warren or Kinsac that I’ve been able to find. All the amounts were under the required reporting limit.  Never enough to warrant a suspicious activity report or notification to the IRS.” 

 

“How much did he steal?” Gibbs demanded.

 

“I don’t know.”  McGee winced, fidgeting under the force of Gibbs gaze.  “It looks like just under a million dollars so far.”

 

Given how much Warren might have had access to of the Navy’s budget, that wasn’t actually as large as it could have been.  Spreading it out over two years was probably why no one had noticed sooner.

 

“Ziva—“

 

 

“Check with the prison and find out if Kinsac had any visitors or mail in the last two years that might link him to Warren .”

 

“And see if you can establish if they knew one another before Kinsac’s arrest or Warren ’s enlistment,” Gibbs added for good measure. “McGee—“

 

“I’ll keep working on the financial records.”

 

“Get help if you need it.”  Gibbs ordered.  “Agent Lee might be able to figure out some of that.  She seems good with numbers.”  As anal as she was about legal things, Gibbs figured she was a good choice.

 

“DiNozzo, you’re with me.”

 

“On your six, Boss.” Tony left his cup on his desk, following closely behind Gibbs.  It wasn’t until they were in the elevator that Tony asked, “Where are we going?”

 

 

“To see what Abby’s got.”

 

Tony gave him a sly look.  “You don’t need me along for that.”

 

“No, I don’t need you along for that.”  Gibbs agreed, reaching for the emergency stop button.  “I want you along.”  He turned, pushing Tony back against the wall, leaning in to hold him there while he cupped Tony’s face with one hand. 

 

This was probably a mistake.  It was a violation of their ‘no messing around at work’ edict they both felt was necessary.  But at the moment, Gibbs didn’t care.  

 

“Missed you,” he whispered before capturing Tony’s mouth in a hard, passionate kiss.  He loved the way Tony let him take control without just passively submitting. Tony was always an active participant.  His tongue welcoming Gibbs’ warmly in, teasing, tasting, massaging. 

 

Gibbs reveled in the rich taste of chocolate that overlaid the essential flavor of Tony’s mouth.  Combined with the coffee he’d just had, it was an intoxicating mocha combination.  Rich, heady and so very satisfying.

 

Gibbs reluctantly pulled back, forcing himself to step away.  If they kept going, it wouldn’t take long to graduate from just kissing to more, much more—and that wasn’t something they could really afford to do.  Not at the office. 

 

It wasn’t something Gibbs really wanted either.   He preferred to make love where he couldn’t take his time and really explore Tony’s body.  He didn’t want to have to worry they might be taking too much time…or making too much noise.  And he sure as hell didn’t want to make love in an elevator where comfort was minimal.  

 

Tony’s breathing was a bit ragged, but his eyes glowed.  “I should get out of the office without you more.”

 

“Like hell.”  Gibbs growled. 

 

“You can’t miss me if I never leave.”

 

“I’m okay with that.”

 

Tony smiled shyly.  He raised a hand, caressing Gibbs’ cheek with his knuckles.  “You are a hopeless romantic.”

 

“And you love that about me.”

 

“It’s not all I love about you.”  Tony grinned. 

 

Gibbs dropped his eyes feeling a little shy himself.  He reached for the stop button, putting the elevator once more in motion.  “We get this case solved—“

 

“Then we can finish what we started here.”

 

“Amen.”

 

Tony laughed.  “Definitely like this religion we got better than my old one.”

 

Gibbs snickered.  “Won’t get any argument from me.”

 

He hesitated outside Abby’s lab, making sure there was no evidence of the kiss they shared showed---clothes in order, breathing normal, lips…a little swollen but nothing too obvious.  Not that he didn’t think Abby would be okay with them, she was open minded and accepting that two guys in a relationship wouldn’t likely faze her much.  But he’d agreed to wait until Tony was ready for more than just Mike and his family to know.  Even if she knew, Gibbs didn’t want her speculating on what he and Tony did together, or worse, asking outright.  Gibbs thought discretion was the better part of valor. 

 

“We’re good,” Tony said, easily following Gibbs’ line of thought, lips quirking upward in a slight smile.

 

Gibbs nodded, stepping silently into Abby’s lab.  He was relieved that her music wasn’t as loud as it had been the last time he’d been down.  Whatever she was playing wasn’t nearly as harsh or grating either.

 

“What do you have for me Abby?”

 

She spun around, Cal-Pow cup in hand, grinning.  “Our dead guy isn’t Petty Officer Eli Warren.”

 

“You sure, Abbs?” Tony asked.

 

“Of course I’m sure.”  She gave him a wide eyed look of disbelief.  “I ran the test twice.” 

 

“No offense Abbs.” Tony raised both hands, palms out in a gesture of surrender.  “Now we not only have to track down Warren, we have to figure out who our dead guy is and how he ended up with Warren’s wallet.”

 

“No you don’t.”  Abby grinned widely, excitement practically bubbling out of her.

 

“Come again?”  Tony leaned forward, head tilted in a listening pose.

 

“You don’t have to figure out who our dead guy is.  I already know who he is.”

 

“Sweet.” Tony held up a hand for Abby to high five him, which she did without hesitation.

 

“Is he another serviceman?”  Gibbs frowned.  The only thing worse than a dead sailor would be two dead sailors.

 

“Nope.  He wasn’t listed in any of the service record data bases. So I broadened my search.”  Abby shook her head, pigtails bouncing.  She tapped several keys on her keyboard.  “Guy has a criminal record, so his DNA was in the system.  It was actually used as evidence to convict him of rape.”  She frowned.  “Ugly crime if ever there was one.”

 

“So is murder.”  Gibbs pointed out dryly. 

 

“True.  The veneer of civilization is only so deep.”  Abby sighed.  “Anyway…Our dead guy was just released from prison in Georgia three weeks ago.  His name—“

 

“Earl Kinsac.”

 

“Gibbs!”  Abby objected.  “Why do you always do that?  It takes all the fun out of it when you already know the answers.”

 

Gibbs turned to leave only be to stopped by Abby calling his name.  “Gibbs, I’m not finished.”

 

He gave her an expectant look.  “Well?”

 

“Earl Kinsac and Eli Warren are definitely related.  They got too many alleles in common to be anything else.”

 

Tony scowled.  “Warren’s file mentioned two step sisters, but no brothers.” 

 

“If you had a brother who raped a woman, would you claim him?”  Abby asked.

 

“Probably not.”  Tony winced. “I should have dug deeper into his family history.  Sorry, Boss.  I’ll--” Tony was cut off by the ringing of his cellphone. 

 

“DiNozzo.”  Tony answered brusquely.  He nodded at whatever was being said.  “You got an address…uh-hunh…got it.  Tell the LEO to just sit tight.  We’ll be there in half an hour.  Thanks.”  Tony snapped his phone shut.  “Got a hit on the BOLO I put out his morning on Warren’s car.  They found it apparently abandoned about ten miles from where we found Kinsac’s body.” 

 

Gibbs nodded, heading out of Abby’s lab, Tony in step with him.  It was a quick, silent trip up to the bullpen.  McGee and Ziva both looked up, obviously surprised to see them back so soon and moving with clear purpose.  Tony grabbed his coat and his gear. 

 

“Our corpse isn’t Warren, it is Earl Kinsac.  According to Abby, he and Warren are brothers.”  Gibbs informed them tersely, pulling his gun from his desk drawer, grabbing the car keys too.  “McGee, keep working on those financial records.  I want to know how Warren stole that money and just exactly where the hell it went.  Ziva, dig deeper into Warren ’s history and find out exactly how it is he has a brother we didn’t know anything about.”

 

“Where are you going?” Ziva asked, dark eyes readily relaying conveying her desire to go along. 

 

“Got a hit on the BOLO I put out this morning on Warren’s car,” Tony told her. “Going to check it out.”

 

“McGee, put out an APB on Warren.  I want that son of a bitch found ASAP.”  Gibbs ordered, giving both McGee and Ziva a fierce glare to make sure they were suitably motivated. He had some unfinished personal business that he wanted to take care of…and that wasn’t going to happen until they had Warren in an interrogation room answering some questions.

 

“Let’s go, DiNozzo.”

 

“Right behind you, Boss.”

Chapter Text

Eyeing the position of the car, half buried in a snow bank, Tony could see why it had been abandoned.  He was certain getting out would be more than the car was capable of on its own.  Tony was glad he’d already called for a tow truck to bring the vehicle back to NCIS for Abby to look over when he and Gibbs finished the initial inspection.   They’d have needed it just to pull the car out anyway. 

 

 

Tony stifled a yawn as he deftly worked the slim jim to pop the driver’s side door.  He resisted the urge to rub at his eyes.  Fortunately being tired didn’t really affect his ability to jimmy the door.

 

 

Once he had the door open, Tony immediately hit the lock switch to give Gibbs access from the passenger side.  The interior was relatively clean. A few candy wrappers, two empty water bottles, and a pack of gum in the console.  But no blood or any indication that anyone had been injured when the car became mired in the snow.  Tony documented the interior with several photos.

 

 

Seeing the keys still in the ignition, Tony frowned.  The car obviously hadn’t been stolen. But that didn’t mean Warren had necessarily been driving.  Hopefully they’d get a good set of prints from the steering wheel and the door handles.  Tony figured it would be better to wait and let Abby do that.  Not only was she better at it, once the car was inside where it was warmer they improved the odds of getting clean, usable prints. 

 

 

Gibbs riffled through the glove box.  He held up the registration card, reading it before offering it to Tony. The car was definitely Warren’s.  No mistake there. 

 

 

“Pop the trunk,” Gibbs ordered, getting out of the car. 

 

 

Tony hit the switch before joining Gibbs.  He whistled soundlessly as he surveyed the interior of the trunk.  A sheet of heavy clear plastic that had probably been a shower curtain at one time was covered in congealed blood and lined the floor of the trunk. 

 

 

Tony took several more photos before noticing the garbage bag that was also in the trunk.  He opened it carefully.  Inside was a bloody two by four and an ugly looking knife. 

 

 

“No hands,” Tony reported, torn between relief and disappointment.  Body parts still had a tendency to give him the creeps, but he knew finding the missing hands would only help their case.  At least all the blood they found would be useful.  “Abby and Ducky should be able to confirm if the two by four and knife were used on Kinsac.” 

 

 

Blue eyes studied the trunk before meeting green.  Tony raised an eyebrow.  “You think Warren killed Kinsac?”  The evidence seemed to be pointing that way, but Tony didn’t want to assume that was what Gibbs was thinking.

 

 

Gibbs’ jaw tightened.  “Wouldn’t be the first time one family member did in another.”

 

 

Tony nodded grimly.  For all the news and TV would have people believe, violence was rarely random and more people knew their attackers than not.  He bit his lower lip, mentally reviewing the case. 

 

 

“Okay….for the moment, let’s go with the idea that Eli Warren killed his brother.”  Tony looked at Gibbs silently asking if he could continue.  It wasn’t common for him and Gibbs to toss ideas back and forth but Tony often needed to verbalize the details to have things make sense to him.  And there wasn’t anyone else nearby to serve as a sounding board.  Gibbs waved his hand, giving Tony room to keeping theorizing.

 

 

“Warren then beats Kinsac’s face beyond recognition and takes his hands to further conceal his identity---”

 

 

“Not just to conceal it,” Gibbs interjected quietly. “He planted his ID on the body.  Only prints on the wallet we found were Warren’s.”

 

 

Tony cocked his head slightly, thinking through the implications of that bit of information.  “What benefit is there in having people think Warren is dead?”

 

 

“Or what benefit is there in having people think Kinsac is still alive?”

 

 

Tony frowned, nodding slowly.  The driver’s license and military ID photos of each man had shown a resemblance.  They both had the same eye and hair color, similar facial features, were alike in general height and build.  Without them being side by side and not knowing either man well, it could be possible to mistake one for the other. 

 

 

“Warren was the one with access to lots of money, and the relative freedom to use it,” Tony pointed out.  “He’s also the one who would be investigated for embezzlement.  Having everyone thinking he’s dead could be an advantage since we couldn’t prosecute a dead guy.”

 

 

“We wouldn’t even have known to look into his records if we hadn’t thought he was dead,” Gibbs countered, shaking his head.  “He’d been getting away with it for two years already.”  Blue eyes narrowed.  “Why kill Kinsac at all?  Why draw that sort of attention?”

 

 

“Maybe Kinsac found out about the activity with his account when he got out of jail and somehow linked it with his brother.  Fresh out of jail…either he’s afraid of going back…or—“

 

 

“Or he wanted a piece of the action,” Gibbs interjected.  “Either way, they would have argued. Ducky said Kinsac’s blood alcohol level was well over the legal limit.  Enough to impair his judgment—“

 

 

“And make him an easy target to take out once things got passed verbal sparring.” Things escalating usually didn’t take long, in Tony’s experience, when alcohol was involved.

 

 

Still thinking it through, Tony continued speaking, trying to work out a possible scenario.  “Warren kills Kinsac.  And for some reason he either needs people to think Kinsac is alive, or is hoping we wouldn’t figure out Warren isn’t our vic until he’s managed to get the money and run.  He made sure the obvious things like the face and hands are taken care of.  Either he forgot his DNA is in the data base, or thought it would take us longer to definitively ID the body than it did.”

 

 

“He dumps the body where by all rights it could have gone unnoticed for at least a day,” Gibbs picked up the thread of Tony’s theory, grimacing as he looked toward where they’d found the body only ten miles away just a few hours ago.  “He probably tossed the hands out somewhere between here and there.”

 

 

“He presumably planned to scatter the rest of the evidence the same way, making it harder to link it all together, but he had a little mishap with the icy roads.  Had to abandon his car here.”  Why he would leave the keys locked inside or bloody items in the trunk rather than toss them in a dumpster was a mystery that Tony added to the list of everything they didn’t know. 

 

 

But they could track where Warren went from here…maybe.  Assuming the guy didn’t just walk to wherever he was headed.  Tony pulled his cell phone, shaking his head at his own stupidity.   He hit number two on the speed dial, not even giving Ziva a chance to offer much of a greeting when she answered.  “Pull Warren’s cell phone records.  See if he called a cab some time early this morning.  Check his home phone too.  Find out who he’s been in contact with since Kinsac got out of jail.”

 

 

Tony broke the connection before she could ask any questions.  “Sorry, Boss. I should have thought to pull those records sooner.”  Those records could have shown it wasn’t Warren’s body even before Abby’s DNA confirmation if he was using his cell phone after Ducky’s estimated time of death.  Or provided a link to Kinsac long before they even knew his name if the two had been in touch with one another recently.

 

 

“We both should have.”  Gibbs grimaced, lightly cuffing the back of Tony’s head, the gesture more of a light pat than true slap.  “McGee and Ziva too.”

 

 

Tony pursed his lips, eyes narrowing in thought.  He walked back to the driver’s side of the car, pulling the key ring free so he could study it closer.  “House key,” he murmured quietly, nodding to himself.

 

 

“DiNozzo?”  Gibbs leaned in, looking at him intently, clearly wanting an explanation.

 

 

“His house key is still on the ring.”  Tony grinned, holding up the key ring for Gibbs to see.  “Thinking he didn’t mean to lock his keys in the car or leave the stuff in the trunk.  That was just bad luck or stupidity.  I’m betting the damage Ziva and I saw to his door was something Warren did trying to get back into his apartment. Would explain why nothing looked like it was out of place.”

 

 

“Works.”  Gibbs agreed with a small nod.  “But it doesn’t get us any closer to where Warren went.  Or where the hell he is now.”

 

 

Tony sighed silently; eyes dropping as he unconsciously read a reprimand in Gibbs’ remark.  He expected another head slap, honestly thinking he deserved it.  Being tired was no excuse.  It was his own damn fault for staying at the office all night.  Tony was pleasantly surprised when the slap he was expecting didn’t materialize.  Instead, Gibbs just laid his hand on the back of his neck, squeezing once. 

 

 

“Not your fault, Tony.”  Gibbs shook him gently.  “If I thought you screwed up, I’d tell you so.  Got it?”

 

 

“Got it, Boss.”

 

 

“Good.”  Gibbs’ thumb caressed the side of Tony’s neck before he released him.  “Any more the car can tell us?”

 

 

“Not until Abby gets a look at it.” 

 

 

Gibbs nodded.  “Tow truck is due when?”

 

 

Tony pointed up the street to where it was rounding the corner.  “About now.”

 

 

“Lock it up.  Trunk too.”

 

 

“On it, Boss.”  Tony secured the car while Gibbs talked to the tow truck driver.  The guy had done work for them before, and no doubt knew what Gibbs was going to say word for word before he opened his mouth.  But Gibbs prided himself on being thorough. 

 

 

Tony’s cell phone trilled as he made his way back to the sedan.  He checked the caller ID before answering. “What do you have for me, Probie?”

 

 

“Last call on Warren’s cell phone was made at one fifteen this morning.  Called a cab company and according to the driver’s log book he dropped his fare off at a Super 8 motel.”

 

 

“Address?”  Tony asked.  He repeated the address to Gibbs when he slid into the driver’s seat.

 

 

Ziva’s voice carried through clearly, letting Tony know McGee had his phone on speaker.  “The woman on duty at the motel said she rented to a room to Earl Kinsac, but she’s never heard of Eli Warren.  I faxed her pictures of both men, but she couldn’t ID either one.”

 

 

There was no mistaking the disgust and disappointment in Ziva’s tone.  Tony could sympathize.  It wasn’t the first time they’d run into someone who could be more helpful and proved to be useless.

 

Tony fastened his seatbelt, bracing one knee against the dash as Gibbs put the car in gear.  “How long was his reservation for?”

 

“One week.  Paid in cash.”  Ziva and McGee said together. 

 

Tony fought to keep a smile off his face as he pictured them both trying to be the first to answer.  ”Home phone records?”

 

“Calls back and forth between the hotel and Warren’s home phone for the last three days.” McGee told him.  “Nothing since yesterday.”

 

“Ask McGee if he’s found the money,” Gibbs directed, executing a sharp turn across traffic without signaling. 

 

“You find the money, McGee?”  The silence he got was a clear ‘no’, even though McGee didn’t actually say so. 

 

“He’ll have it for us when we get back, Boss.” Tony told Gibbs, making sure McGee could hear him.  Even the way Gibbs drove that should give the junior agent another two hours, maybe two and a half, to get it figured out.  Hopefully that would be enough time.

 

Tony ended the call, tucking his cell phone back into his pocket.  He grabbed the ‘oh shit’ handle reflexively more so than out of any real need.  “Think we’ll find anything at the hotel?”

 

“Only if Warren is a complete idiot.”

 

“Not looking good for him so far.” Tony snickered.  “Guy did lock his keys in his car and lock himself out of his own home.”

 

“He’s still a potential killer, DiNozzo.”  Gibbs growled.  “Don’t forget that.”

 

“Won’t forget,” Tony promised. 

 

Gibbs gave him a piercing look.  “Good.”

 

Tony wished the drive to the motel took longer.  It usually took a good twenty minutes for him to relax enough with Gibbs’ driving to feel like he could take a nap.  Although, the upside of a short ride was having it be sufficiently hair-raising that Tony felt more awake. 

 

An older woman was on duty behind the desk when they walked in.  Tony guessed her age at somewhere between Gibbs and Ducky.  Her name tag read ‘Maxine’.  She smiled hesitantly at them, looking a little uneasy.  Tony couldn’t blame her.  Gibbs’ purposeful stride and no-nonsense expression had that affect on a lot of people.

 

“May I help you?”

 

“NCIS.”  Gibbs showed his badge.  “You have a room registered to an Earl Kinsac?”

 

“Yes, Sir.”  She nodded, brown eyes giving him a nervous glance over her half moon reading glasses.  “I told the woman from your office when she called that I wasn’t on duty when he rented the room.  Don’t think I’ve even seen the man to be honest.” 

 

She rolled her eyes.  “It was Jolyne who rented the room.  She should have taken a copy of his driver’s license, but neglected to do so.   Standard policy for all cash customers is proof of ID.”  Her tone took on a prim, judgmental note.  Tony had a feeling Jolyne was going to be hearing about following policy in the future.  Assuming she managed to keep her job.

 

“We can’t have just anyone here.”  Maxine clucked her tongue disapprovingly.  “I mean he could be on the run from the law.  A murder or terrorist for all the more we know.”  Her eyes widened.  “He’s not, is he?  I mean—“

 

“We can’t discuss that, Ma’am.” Gibbs brusquely cut her off.  “What room is he staying in?”

 

“214.” She answered promptly.  “It’s just up the stairs outside and to the left.”

 

“I need a key.” 

 

“Oh yes…of course.” 

 

Tony raised an eyebrow, genuinely surprised that when she offered Gibbs a real, metal key.  Most hotels had gone to electronic locks, the sort that took a credit card like key.  They were easier to replace if lost or stolen. 

 

“Still a bit old fashioned here.”  Maxine gave him an apologetic glance.  “The manager is putting off installing a newer system for as long as possible.”

 

Gibbs took the key.  “Has anyone been in or out of the room today?”

 

“Not that I’ve seen.” Maxine shook her head.  “But I didn’t come on duty until eight this morning.”

 

“Did Jolyne get any information on Mr. Kinsac at all?” Tony asked.

 

“The type and color of his car.  A gray Toyota .  And a partial license plate number.”  Maxine’s lips pursed in annoyance as she studied a registration form. “Stupid little twit.  How hard can it be to—“

 

“Maxine, we’ll need that partial number please,” Tony cut her off gently, knowing if he didn’t Gibbs would.  Impatience practically radiated from Gibbs in waves. 

 

She hastily copied down four numbers on a bright pink post it note, handing it to Tony.  He smiled.  “Thank you, Maxine.” 

 

He followed Gibbs out, both of them jogging up the single flight of stairs.  Tony pulled his gun as a precautionary measure.  If Warren had any brains he’d already be gone by now, not waiting in Kinsac’s room, but it never hurt to be prepared.   

 

Gibbs inserted the key into the door lock.  “Ready?” he mouthed silently, his own gun in hand.  Tony nodded, standing on the opposite side of the door. 

 

Gibbs pushed the door open, immediately moving to the left. Tony followed, moving to the right.  Gibbs checked the bathroom before calling out ‘clear’.

 

Tony holstered his gun, green eyes scanning the room, searching it closely for anything that might give them a lead on Warren.  Other than an unmade bed, several pizza boxes and Chinese take out cartons there was nothing to indicate anyone specific had been staying in 214.  The room could have been used by anyone.  No luggage, no clothing, no personal items left behind.  A room key, identical to the one Maxine had given Gibbs, lay on top of the night stand. Tony knew anyone from the management or housekeeping staff would have assumed Kinsac had checked out without stopping in at the office first.  Since his bill had already been paid in advance just leaving wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. 

 

“Shower curtain is missing.”  Gibbs told him as he stepped from the bathroom.

 

“No blood,” Tony noted absently, giving everything in the garbage can a closer look.  “Didn’t kill or dismember Kinsac here.”

 

“No, he didn’t.” 

 

“So Warren’s here once to grab Kinsac’s stuff and the shower curtain, why come back a second…” Tony looked up, snapping his fingers.  “He took Kinsac’s car.”  There weren’t any Toyotas in the nearly deserted parking lot when they’d pulled in.  “That’s why he didn’t need a cab from here to get back to his place…assuming of course he went back to his place from here.  He wouldn’t have needed the cab at all if his car hadn’t gotten stuck.”

 

Tony tossed the odds and ends he’d found back into the garbage can.  Taking Kinsac’s car would make it seem more likely that he’d just checked out.  Abandoning it in the parking lot would have been suspicious.  Whereas leaving his own car somewhere obvious but unlikely to be noticed immediately, would have added credence to the idea that it was Warren’s body in the alley.

 

Tony pulled his cell phone.  He called in a BOLO on Kinsac’s car.  “Think he wiped the place for prints?” he asked Gibbs once he’d finished relaying what little information Maxine had been able to provide.

 

“Wouldn’t matter.”  Gibbs growled. “All fingerprints could tell us is what we already know.  Warren was here and so was Kinsac.”  Gibbs glared, looking around the room in disgust. “Nothing here to tell us where he went.”

 

It wasn’t a total dead end, but Tony refrained from saying so.  Getting a hit on Kinsac’s car would be a long shot.  He knew that.  But it was still better than nothing.  At the moment though, their best bet to finding Warren was for McGee to locate the money. The man had spent two years stealing it, might have killed to keep it, he wouldn’t go too far without it. 

 

Gibbs stalked out of the room.  Tony made sure the door was locked behind him.  He stopped in the office to tell Maxine that the room was part of an on going investigation and that a team would be by to secure it. No one was to have access in or out until they cleared the room.  While there might not be anything useful...examining the scene would be good experience for the rooky techs that the Director recently hired, and they might get lucky. 

 

Tony’s stomach rumbled as he got into the car.  Breakfast had been a long time ago and the one donut he had wasn’t really enough for him to run on for long.  He hadn’t even had a chance to drink more than half his cup of hot chocolate before they left the office.

 

Gibbs shot him an amused glance. “Hungry?”

 

Tony shrugged, looking sheepish.  No point in denying it.  “Yeah.”

 

“We’ll pick up something for McGee and Ziva too.”  Gibbs glanced at his watch.  “That should give McGee another twenty minutes or so to find the money.”

 

Tony was sure McGee would appreciate the added time.  Likely more so than the food. 

He rubbed tiredly at his eyes.  He’d appreciate a nap more than a meal himself.  Tony knew he should have gone home last night and gotten some sleep, but once they’d started making progress on the case, he just couldn’t leave.  He wanted to see it through.  Feeling the weight of Gibbs stare, Tony made eye contact.  “What?”

 

“You okay?”

 

Tony forced himself to sit up straighter. “I’m good, Boss.”

 

Gibbs snorted. “Working all night would make anyone tired, Tony.  Not something to be ashamed of.”

 

Tony sighed.  “Tom told you I didn’t leave.”

 

“Yes.”  Gibbs answered, even though it wasn’t a question.  “Heard you solved Stoddard and Vizoric’s case for them.”

 

“You listening to gossip now?” Tony grinned.  “Shame on you.”

 

“You saying you didn’t?”

 

Tony waved hand dismissively.  “They’d have figured it out without me.”

 

“Doubt it.” Gibbs rolled his eyes.  “Not the brightest crayons in the box those two.”

 

“Just a little young,” Tony argued.  “Naïve is something they’ll grow out of.  Whereas stupidity—“

 

“Is a life long condition” Gibbs snickered.  “I was the one who told you that.”

 

“You sure?” Tony blinked, looking innocent.  “Because I could have sworn it was something Sammy told you—“

 

“Shaddup.”

 

Tony laughed.  “That doesn’t work, you know?”

 

“I live in hope.”

 

“Suuurre you do.”  Tony grinned.  He opened his mouth to say tease Gibbs more but found himself yawning widely instead.

 

Gibbs reached over to caress his cheek, cupping it with one hand.  Tony leaned into that gentle touch.  “How about you close your eyes and catch a quick nap?”

 

“But--”

 

“Nothing either of us can do on this case until we get back to the office.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I’m sure.”

 

Tony’s eyes drifted closed as he relaxed further into the seat.  He didn’t really think he’d be able to sleep, given the way Gibbs usually drove, but he wouldn’t mind a chance to rest his eyes for a bit. 

 

“Wake me—“

 

“I’ll wake you.” 

 

Tony sighed.  He didn’t need to see Gibbs’ smile to hear it.  A little power nap and he’d be good to go for the rest of the day.  Hopefully, they’d have Warren in a cell by then and he could go home with Gibbs.  That thought definitely made for sweet dreams. 

 

Chapter Text

Gibbs forced himself to back off the accelerator, keeping the car’s speed only a little above the posted limit. Driving cautiously wasn’t something he was used to doing and it took more effort to maintain a sedate pace than he expected.  But Tony had been sleeping soundly for the last half hour and Gibbs was hoping he’d sleep all the way back to the office.  For that to happen, he couldn’t drive at the same break-neck, reckless speed he usually did. 

 

 

What sleep he got would be little more than a catnap.  Hardly enough to make up for an entire night without sleep for most people, but for Tony it would be sufficient.  Gibbs had seen him do it many times before. 

 

 

Not long after he started working at NCIS, Tony mentioned the benefits of meditation and power naps.  Gibbs had thought it was all just bullshit, a way to justify sleeping on the job.  And he made damn sure Tony knew his feelings about goofing off on Gibbs’ time.  It was the third case they worked together that changed his mind. 

 

The case involved the kidnapping of a little girl, time had been of the essence, and they hadn’t clocked out for three solid days.  During the slow moments when there was nothing more to do than wait, Gibbs had tried to send Tony home to get some rest.  The younger man refused, just settling in at his desk to take brief naps.  He never slept for more than forty-five minutes.  And that was all he seemed to need to keep up with Gibbs. 

 

After that Gibbs’ investigative nature got the better of him.  And he began unconsciously testing the limits of Tony’s endurance.  Tony was easily good for an all nighter, but he needed a pick me up to stay sharp.  Hardly a shortcoming Gibbs could find fault with since coffee had been a mainstay for him for years for the same reason.  But for Tony it was caffeine and sugar; less caffeine that Gibbs thought possible and more sugar than he thought practical, but it worked.  When that wasn’t enough, some down time was needed… usually when Tony had been up for thirty six to forty hours.  Gibbs’ own limit was closer to three full days. 

 

Curiosity had made him study Tony’s napping behavior, something he’d selfishly justified at the time as a need to know the younger man’s limits as an agent rather than admit to being truly concerned for his well being.  Gibbs found that less than twenty minutes wasn’t enough to recharge Tony’s batteries, meaning he’d need another nap in five hours or less to continue functioning at even close to ordinary.  More than an hour was too long, making Tony more groggy and sluggish than when he’d closed his eyes.  Something in between seemed to work the best.

 

Gibbs wasn’t sure if Tony consciously knew his own limitations.  He suspected the younger man had no idea because it seemed more instinctive than intentional on his part.  He simply kept going until he ran out of steam and rested for as long as he thought he could get away with.

 

Even when not working on a case, neither of them slept the solid eight hours most people considered normal.  The only time Gibbs could really remember either of them sleeping deeply for long was at Tony’s cabin. The quiet, semi-isolation naturally encouraged them both to relax and unwind. 

 

He glanced over when Tony shifted in his seat, stretching and clearly wide awake.  Gibbs grimaced internally, checking the clock.  Thirty-five minutes.  He was hoping Tony would sleep for longer but hadn’t honestly expected him too.

 

“The sandwich on top is yours,” Gibbs nodded toward the brown bag on the seat between them.  He’d learned that stopping the car wouldn’t necessarily wake Tony, but turning it off always did.  So when he’d spotted a ‘Manhattan Bagel’ shop on the way back to the office, Gibbs had pulled in, left the car running and grabbed what he thought the others would like for lunch.   Tony and Abby’s favorites he knew; McGee and Ziva he guessed at.

 

“Thanks, Boss.” Tony tore into his sandwich with undisguised enthusiasm. 

 

Gibbs pulled a bottle of sickeningly sweet fruit juice from the cup holder and offered it to Tony.  He wasn’t sure when the younger man started favoring this papaya, strawberry and kiwi blended crap but Gibbs figured Ducky would approve since it was about as close at Tony came to eating fresh fruit on a daily basis.   And it had to be better for him than the five or six sugar packets he would dump into his coffee.

 

Gibbs kept his attention focused on the road, not wanting to see the muscles of Tony’s throat work as he finished the bottle in three long swallows.  Why the younger man couldn’t just sip that stuff was something he couldn’t bring himself to ask.  It came too close to revealing the effect Tony’s actions had on Gibbs.

 

“Any word from McGee?”  Tony asked toying with the now empty bottle.

 

Gibbs grimaced.  “No.”

 

“I’ve heard no news is good news.”

 

Gibbs snorted.  “Never known that to be true.”

 

“Yeah, me either.” Tony sighed.  “Makes me wonder why people say it.”

 

“It’s another of those useless platitudes.”  Gibbs rolled his eyes.  There were a lot of those people liked to use.  They were essentially meaningless, but they gave people something to say in times of stress when silence was so pressing it made saying anything seem like a good idea, no matter how stupid or inane.

 

Gibbs once more fought the urge to push the accelerator to the floor.  Tony had just eaten.   He’d need a few minutes for the rapidly consumed food and drink to settle or he’d puke.  Gibbs didn’t relish the idea of vomit in the car.  Getting back to the office sooner wouldn’t make McGee work any faster; it would only make him nervous. 

 

“You eat anything?” Tony asked, riffling through the bag on the seat, grinning when he pulled out a large chocolate chip cookie.

 

“Had a sandwich,” Gibbs told him. The rest of the team might think he ran on coffee alone, but Tony knew better. 

 

“Want half my cookie?”

 

“Sure.”  Gibbs grinned, taking the half Tony offered.  “Not as good as Mike’s,” he noted after eating it, knowing he sounded disappointed. 

 

“Never are.” Tony shrugged one shoulder.  “But it’ll do in a pinch.”

 

“You ask him to send us more cookies?”  Gibbs had eaten most of the tin Mike sent home with them after Christmas.  He didn’t think of those as ‘junk food’ or being nothing but sugar…no…Mike’s cookies were just too good to be anything but an absolute necessity.

 

Tony shook his head.  “Asked for caramel brownies this time.”  He gave Gibbs a sly look—the brownies were even better than Mike’s chocolate chip cookies, and were definitely Gibbs favorite. “Means you’re the one who has to come up with something for him to give Heather in trade.”

 

Gibbs grimaced.  He knew Mike would make anything Tony asked for, just because Tony asked, but Tony often felt it necessary to give something in return.   Since finding out that Heather, the young woman Mike had been dating exclusively for the last two months, had a sweet tooth that rivaled his own, Tony sent delicacies that were hard to find in rural Virginia .  Things like Godiva Chocolate Truffles, fudge from the Fudge Factory, and Jelly Belly jelly beans. 

 

“Why can’t she just be happy with the stuff Mike makes,” Gibbs grumbled under his breath.

 

“Because…unlike us, she can get that any time.”  Tony chuckled. 

“Something special makes it look like Mike went out of his way.  Put forth some effort to make her happy.”

 

Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “Baking is an effort.”

 

Tony held up both hands, palms out in surrender.  “Not disagreeing, just explaining the logic.”

 

“Suggestions?”

 

“I’m not telling you what to send.”  Tony shook his head.  “That would be cheating.”

 

“I’d help you out.”

 

“Like you helped the last time?”  Tony rolled his eyes.  “Please.  We both now that doesn’t qualify as help.”

 

The shrill ring of Gibbs’ cell phone cut off his protest before he could even begin.   It was probably just as well since he knew his argument would be a weak one anyway.  His ideas, at the time, were intended to be funny and to tease Tony, each one more outlandish and inappropriate than the last.  They weren’t meant to be taken seriously, nor were they, and while they’d both had a good time laughing, he should have known Tony would call him on trying to lay claim to any serious offer of assistance. 

 

“Gibbs,” he barked into his phone.

 

“Boss, I got something.”

 

The excitement in McGee’s voice nearly vibrated through the phone.  Gibbs waited a beat and then snarled, “Are you going to make me guess?  Or are you going to give it to me?”

 

“R…right.”  McGee cleared his throat.  “Warren spent some of the money on real estate.  Three different properties that I’ve found so far.  The name on each deed is holding company with only one stock holder listed.”

 

“Earl Kinsac.”

 

“How did you…never mind,” McGee muttered, making Gibbs smile.  He didn’t always steal their thunder on purpose, but it could be so much fun.

 

“Any of those properties within an easy drive for Warren?”

 

“Only one.”  McGee spit out the address in staccato fashion as though afraid he couldn’t speak fast enough to suit Gibbs. 

 

“Get a team out—“

 

“Already sent a team out to keep an eye on the place and be on the lookout for Warren.”  McGee interrupted.  “But I don’t think that’s where he went.”

 

“Why?”

 

“So far the money trail I’ve managed to track is all at one bank.  Not a single branch within twenty miles of the townhouse.  And if he’s going to get anything out of the last two years and run with it, it has to be cash.” 

 

“Explain.” Gibbs ordered.

 

“Everything I’ve found so far seems indicate Warren was planning long term.  Given how well he hid his tracks and the relatively small amounts he was stealing, he could have kept at it right up until he retired without anyone being any wiser.  Most of the money was invested in things….primarily bonds and real estate.  Not liquid stuff.  It would take time to sell those things and turn them back into ready capital.”

 

“McGee is right,” Tony said surprising Gibbs.  He hadn’t even realized Tony could hear McGee, but given how good he knew the younger man’s hearing was, Gibbs shouldn’t have been surprised.  Gibbs looked askance at Tony, giving him the floor to explain what he meant, holding the phone away from his ear so that McGee could hear as well.

 

“If he was in it for a fast buck and ready to be gone, he’d have taken it all in one go and not bothered with the rest.  Instead, he opted to take lesser amounts and invest it in things with a guaranteed rate of return; the kind that take years to recoup the initial investment.” Tony frowned thoughtfully.  “If he’s that cautious, then probably enough to keep a portion in ready cash just to be on the safe side.”

 

“You hear all that, McGee?”

 

“Yes, Boss.”  Gibbs would hear McGee typing.  “What I’ve been able to locate that he invested is less than a quarter of what I can confirm was taken.”

 

“So where the hell is the rest of it?”

 

“I don’t know.”  McGee’s frustration was obvious. 

 

“Find out.”  Gibbs growled, killing the connection. 

 

“Little harsh there, Boss.”

 

Gibbs sighed, fingers flexing as he clenched the steering wheel.  He knew it wasn’t McGee’s fault.  “I’m not going to apologize.”

 

“Didn’t say you should.” Tony laid one hand on Gibbs’ shoulder, squeezing once.  “Just don’t think you need to snap at him any more to get him to do his best.  He is doing it now.”

 

“I know.”

 

Tony nodded, accepting Gibbs’ acknowledgement, not pushing for more.  “So…now what?”

 

“We regroup at the office.”  Gibbs was hoping a review of what they already knew might spark a new avenue of inquiry.   

 

“Campfire,” Tony murmured, with a small smile, green eyes bright and eager.

 

“Well, hell, it worked for you last night, didn’t it?”  Gibbs gave Tony a quick grin.  “Let’s see if lightning strikes twice.”

 

“If it does, I’m buying a lottery ticket.” 

 

“Why?”

 

Tony laughed.  “Because solving two cases in two days is one hell of a lucky streak.”

 

It was on the tip of Gibbs tongue to say that wasn’t luck, it was skill.   But the faintly superstitious part of himself that he liked to keep hidden kept him from saying anything.  If luck was involved, he didn’t want to risk jinxing it.   So he just nodded and floored the gas pedal.  At this point, he’d take all the help they could get to solve this one. 

Chapter Text

“I don’t get it.”

 

Tony glanced up, raising both eyebrows as he looked at Ziva.  “Don’t get what?”

 

Ziva stood up, waving a hand to the plasma screen that showed images of Warren and Kinsac.  “Why would he not just wire the money into a foreign bank account and then flee the country?  It would have been so much simpler than the numerous accounts and safety deposit boxes we’ve found so far.”

 

Tony leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he considered her question.  It was a valid point; one Tony had been asking himself since he and Gibbs returned to the office.  Most people embezzling money did their best to hide the ill gotten gains where banking laws were less restrictive.  But so far nothing they found showed any wire transactions of any amount to a bank outside the US.  All the accounts Warren had established appeared to be with only one bank; the numerous safety deposit boxes were scattered among half a dozen branches of the same bank.  Rather than freeze the accounts or immediately confiscate the contents of the safety deposit boxes, Gibbs ordered them to be allowed to remain active and watched, hoping they might be able to trace any activity to Warren.   There hadn’t been any hits so far. 

 

They were stuck waiting for something to happen.  And waiting sucks, Tony mused, as he contemplated an answer to Ziva’s question. 

 

“He knew how easy it was to steal from Uncle Sam, so it maybe he was leery of having someone else rob him the same way.”  Tony frowned, as he made a mental note to double check his own accounts when this was finished.  He raised a hand to rub his chin.  “Or maybe he was greedy enough that he didn’t want to pay the fees wiring and currency conversion would generate.”

 

Ziva shook her head.  “If he were that greedy he would not have stuck to such small amounts.”

 

“Not necessarily,” McGee countered from where he sat at his desk with Agent Lee, both of them still working to find exactly how much was stolen and where it all went.  “By taking small amounts, he could cover his tracks better, which gave him more time to keep stealing.”  Pale blue eyes met brown and then green.  “By doing that, he could get more money in the long run than he might score in one shot.”

 

“So patient and paranoid?”  Ziva cocked her head to one side looking at Warren’s image on the screen. 

 

“Could be.”  McGee shrugged. 

 

Tony stood up, moving to stand next to Ziva.  “He’s been stealing for two years and getting away with it.  Maybe he never thought he’d get caught, so he didn’t think he’d ever need to deal with a foreign bank or leave the country.”

 

“Patient, paranoid and over-confident.”  Ziva rolled her eyes.  “Wonderful.”

 

“Methodical,” Lee added hesitantly, brown eyes dropping when Tony looked at her with a raised eyebrow.  She cleared her throat and looked up again, brushing long dark hair away from her face.  “Everything he set up was well planned, Special Agent DiNozzo.  He chose his investments carefully.  Even the bank he selected is well rated for both security and performance.” 

 

“Fair enough.” Tony gave her an approving nod, politely ignoring the way she blushed delicately in response.  “Wonder if killing his brother was part of his plan?”

 

“Probably.”  Ziva grimaced.

 

Tony agreed with her.  Every account, deposit box and investment was in Kinsac’s name.  If they were partners it would have made more sense to see both their names on everything.  With only Kinsac’s name on things…it created a level of anonymity for Warren, but it left him vulnerable to not getting anything at all if Kinsac claimed everything his brother had stolen.  Tony was more inclined to see a greedy man as being willing to kill to keep his money than share it.  It was a familiar pattern.

 

“Do we know he wasn’t in touch with Kinsac at all before Kinsac came to D.C.?” Tony asked.  Much of their theory hinged on Warren not knowing his brother was going to show up and ruin his plans. 

 

“According to the warden, the only mail Kinsac received was from his mother.  And she was the only person he wrote to.  She was also the only one who phoned or visited him.   His cellmate said Kinsac mentioned a brother but claimed they weren’t very close.”

 

“He ever say why?”  Tony frowned.  There didn’t have to be a reason.  He knew not every family was as close as Mike’s…his own being a shining example of that, but it usually took a lot to actually decide to kill one’s own brother. 

 

“Apparently Steve Warren left his wife, Karen Warren, and his son, Eli, for another woman, Cindy Kinsac.”  Ziva snorted delicately.  “Steve evidently knew Cindy for a number of years before then.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Ziva smirked.  “Cindy and Steve were supposedly high school sweethearts, but they went their separate ways after graduation.  Given the fact that Earl and Eli are related, and their respective ages, Cindy was pregnant prior to that initial break up.”

 

Tony hit the remote on the plasma screen zooming in on the birth dates of both Eli and Earl.  They were born only six months apart.  Tony whistled soundlessly.  Steve definitely hadn’t wasted any time.

 

“After ten years apart, Cindy and Steve rekindled their flame, leaving Karen Warren and Eli up and arid.”

 

“I think you mean high and dry,” Tony smiled, shaking his head.  He could see McGee struggling not to smile as well.

 

“High and dry.”  Ziva sighed, giving him a dirty look.  “Karen Warren, now Mrs. Karen Avery, said they struggled for years trying to make ends meet.  She still blames their hardships on her ex-husband, and I quote, ‘his bastard boy’.”

 

“Ouch.” McGee winced.

 

“I don’t imagine it helped that they were all living in the same town at the time.  Both Earl Kinsac and Eli Warren attended the same school until Cindy Kinsac and Earl moved away, leaving Steve Warren in 1999.”

 

Tony remembered Warren’s file mentioning his father getting divorced in 2000.  There was no indication he’d stayed in touch with either of his sons.  Not that it mattered.  The damage had already been done.  Warren and Kinsac’s shared history certainly was more than enough to create the depth of emotion needed to kill a brother then bludgeon his face beyond recognition.

 

“Kinsac was not scheduled to be released for another six months.  He got an early out for good behavior.”  Ziva’s moue of disgust showed clearly what she thought of that.  “His arrival in D.C. would likely have upset any plan Warren made, assuming he knew when his brother was due to be released.”

 

“So, while smart and methodical, Warren might not be good at thinking on his feet,” Tony surmised.  “He’s making this part up as he goes along, or he’s trying to force it to fit a plan he already had in mind but wasn’t prepared to put in motion now.”

 

“That certainly fits the evidence we have.”  Ziva pursed her lips.  “The way the hands were removed, murder weapon left in the trunk of his car along with the key to his house, the money still in the bank…it all suggests Warren wasn’t prepared to run now.”

 

“How did Kinsac know where to find Warren?”  Tony asked.  “The guy just gets out of prison and heads for D.C. on a whim?”

 

“Perhaps his mother mentioned Warren working here.  She was his only point of contact,” Lee offered, looking as surprised to have spoken as Tony was to hear her speak.  He’d almost forgotten she was there.

 

“But if they hated—“

 

“Warren may have hated Kinsac,” Tony cut off Ziva, “but that doesn’t mean Kinsac hated Warren.” 

 

Ziva frowned.  “But if Kinsac knew Warren hated him, why would he even come anywhere near him?”

 “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” Tony said quietly by way of an answer.  

“What?” 

“Robert Frost.”  Tony shrugged, ignoring the incredulous look McGee gave him.  That he preferred movies to books didn’t mean he’d never read anything.   

“How does that—“ 

“Kinsac may have been looking for someone to help him get back on his feet.  Even family that hates you is usually good for something.”  

“Voice of experience.” Ziva tilted her head to stare up at him.  “Anything you’d care to share Tony?” He didn’t like the speculative gleam in her eyes.  They were on better terms than they had been when Ziva started at NCIS, but Tony didn’t trust her enough to divulge deep, dark family secrets. 

Tony smiled tightly, measuring her with a probing look of his own.  “I’m sure you got a wealth of experience with your family to draw on Officer David that would make it possible for you to relate.”  He dropped his voice to little more than a whisper, making his next comment for her alone.  “I’ll bet Daddy Dearest left you with great memories, and there had to be some heartwarming quality time with your brother.” 

Her expression went hard and cold for a moment.  She took a breath before nodding once, letting his comment pass unchallenged.  Tony suspected she had some emotional scars that weren’t too dissimilar to his own, and she didn’t feel the compulsion to share any more than he did. It was heartening to see her give his boundaries the same respect he tried to give hers. 

“You find anything that would locate Warren?” Gibbs asked, startling Tony with his sudden appearance.  He stifled the urge to flinch.  Some days he really hated how quietly the older man moved. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning as he remembered Abby making similar comments and theorizing that a bell around his neck might help. 

“Nothing new yet, Boss.” Tony told him.  Gibbs had been in MTAC almost from the time they’d returned to the office.  He’d only been around long enough to get a quick briefing before heading up the stairs.   

Gibbs scowled, glaring at all of them.  McGee and Lee both ducked their heads, main focus still on the computer screen as they tried to locate more of the money Warren had stolen. Ziva straightened her spine, almost coming to attention.  Tony resisted doing likewise.  He wasn’t sure what else they should be doing that wasn’t already being done, and he knew that uncertainty showed in his expression as he waited for Gibbs to give him direction. 

“We hear anything on the BOLO on Kinsac’s rental car?”

 

“Checking it now,” Tony said even though he had his computer set up to audibly signal as soon as there was a hit on the BOLO.  It gave him something to do and would shift Gibbs’ focus to someone else. 

 

Tony was surprised to have his computer peep as he pulled up the BOLO announcement.  He was beginning to think Abby was right---maybe Gibbs was psychic or something.  He read the information, quickly noting the address for where the car had been spotted.  Tony raised his head to relay the information when Gibbs’ phone rang.

 

Gibbs’ conversation with the caller was brief.  From the older man’s tone and short answers, Tony guessed someone had spotted Warren; possibly the same cop who’d responded to the BOLO.  Tony traded a look with Ziva before they pulled their guns from desk drawers.

 

“Ziva, Tony, grab your gear.”  Gibbs hung up.  “Warren’s been spotted.”  Gibbs pointed a finger at McGee and Lee.  “You two keep working on finding that money.” 

 

“He anywhere near 101st?”  Tony asked, falling in step behind Gibbs.

 

“Yep.  The bank on the corner.”  Gibbs looked over his shoulder.  “Why?”

 

“Kinsac’s rental was seen in the area.”

 

Ziva blinked.  “He didn’t trench the car?”

 

“I think you mean ditch the car.” Tony grinned unable not to correct her, stepping into the elevator.  “And evidently he hasn’t found another means of transportation yet.”

 

“Never hurts to have the bad guys be stupid now and again,” Gibbs noted dryly with a gleam in his eyes.

 

 It was a look Tony knew well.  He could feel his own pulse quicken in response.  The thrill of the chase was almost….almost as good as sex.  Tony could feel himself grinning, ready and eager.  He wished they were in the elevator alone, but that would have to come later.  Warren didn’t know it yet, but his ass was about to be toast. 

Chapter Text

Gibbs cursed as he wove around a car moving too slowly for his liking.  He wanted to be at the bank in a position to spot Warren before being spotted by him.  Ideally, Gibbs hoped to catch Warren outside the bank rather than still inside.

 

Trapped inside, and if armed, it was far more likely Warren would do something desperate.  And desperate often equaled violent.  The last thing Gibbs wanted was for an innocent bystander to get hurt or to end up with his team embroiled in handling a potential hostage situation.

 

On the street, where it looked like escape might be an option, nine out of ten perps would run.  For the one who decided to stand his ground, in the open, it was virtually impossible for a lone gun man to trap more than one or two people at a time.  Gibbs preferred those odds to having a room full of people with no where to go, no where to hide.  In the open, Gibbs was confident Warren could be taken down, permanently if need be, before the petty officer could get off more than a shot. 

 

Gibbs barely slowed as he made a sharp right.  He ignored the blaring of a horn behind him. He also ignored the Ziva cursing quietly in Hebrew from the back seat.  She should have taken Tony’s advice and belted herself in as soon as she got in the car.  It wasn’t his fault if she couldn’t wrestle the stupid thing on now that they were in motion.

 

“You okay back there, Ziva?”  Tony asked, looking over his shoulder, white teeth flashing as he grinned, clearly enjoying her discomfort.

 

“Fine.”

 

Gibbs didn’t have to see her expression to know she was gritting her teeth.  He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.  It wasn’t like she didn’t know what riding with him was like.  She should be used to it by now.  And her own driving wasn’t any better than his so it wasn’t like she could claim any sort of moral high ground.

 

Gibbs eased off the gas pedal as he got within three blocks of their destination.  While he wanted to catch Warren in the right place, he also knew announcing their arrival wouldn’t help do that.  The noise of squealing tires tended to carry well, no matter how busy the streets were.

 

“Rental car is on the right.  Two blocks up.” Tony said with confidence, pointing it out with his left hand. 

 

Gibbs nodded, trusting the younger man’s keen eyesight.  From this distance he knew Tony could probably read the plate even though all Gibbs could really see for himself was the make, model and color of the car. 

 

Gibbs spotted the black and white that had called in Warren’s location.  It was directly across the street from the bank.  Gibbs would have liked them to be somewhere less conspicuous but there wasn’t much he could do about that now.  Asking them to leave would just draw more attention to them, and it wouldn’t hurt to have backup on hand.

 

Gibbs jaw clenched as he scanned the street. It was far busier than he’d like.  People were strolling up and down the sidewalk, going casually about their daily business.

 

“Too much to hope for they’d all have to be somewhere else about now,” Tony murmured, voicing Gibbs’ thoughts with his usual insight.

 

Gibbs snarled silently when he saw Warren leave the bank.  He didn’t need Ziva’s curt ‘there he is’ to see their missing Petty Officer.  Not wanting to give the man a chance actually make it to his car and lead them pell mell on a high speed chase, Gibbs accelerated, bringing the car to a screeching halt, stopping next to Kinsac’s rental car.

 

Warren’s startled expression lasted for only a moment before he bolted, running up the street. Gibbs didn’t even need to say anything to Tony.  He was already free of his seat belt and out the door, long legs stretching easily into a ground eating stride only a second later. 

 

“Ziva…go!”  He ordered curtly when she failed to move fast enough to suit him.

She was out the door in a moment, but that time was more than enough for both Warren and Tony to have already sprinted half a block away.

 

Gibbs stomped on the gas.  He couldn’t really predict where Warren was headed, but he knew he could herd him, direct him to some degree.  Hopefully, it would be enough for Tony and Ziva to be able to stay with him.

 

Gibbs pulled into the intersection, tires protesting loudly as he forced the car to turn sharply at a higher rate of speed than factory specs recommended.  The move directed Warren to go right, shoving people out of his way.  Without losing focus or much speed, Tony dodged to around one man, and lent a hand to steady a woman in heels that Warren knocked off balance.  Ziva darted around, weaving through the slow reacting pedestrians with familiar ease. 

 

Warren kept looking over his shoulder as he ran.  His needing to keep an eye on his pursuers slowed him down, but Gibb wasn’t going to complain about it.  He grinned wolfishly at the scared expression on Warren’s face when looked toward him.

 

Gibbs gunned the car again, trying to get ahead of Warren.  He grimaced when the son of a bitch darted into an alley.  With the recent snow plowing to clear the streets the alley was too narrow for the car.  Gibbs could see the alley was open at the end, a clear avenue for escape. 

 

Gibbs watched Tony hesitate at the entrance of the alley, hugging the wall of one building before peering around the corner.  He was clearly making sure Warren wasn’t waiting with a weapon to blind side him.  Gibbs mentally saluted Tony’s caution, pleased to see he wasn’t being careless even as the desire to catch Warren made him want to yell at Tony to stop wasting time and get going.

 

After verifying that Warren was still running, the younger man was off again.  Ziva’s shorter stature meant she was taking two steps for every one of Tony’s, but having caught up, she managed to match his pace.  Gibbs left them too it, racing up the street to the nearest intersection, turning right.  He hoped to be able to block Warren in the alley from the other side.

 

He made it to the next intersection in time to see Tony and Ziva continue running forward, staying in the alley.  Gibbs grimaced and pressed the accelerator to the floor, coaxing more speed out of the car.  He made another hard right turn, smiling smugly when he realized he’d made it in time to trap Warren in the alley.  Gibbs got out of the car, weapon drawn and trained on his quarry. 

 

Warren spun around, trying to retreat, only to be halted by Tony and Ziva.  Both had their weapons drawn and aimed at the Petty Officer.  Gibbs couldn’t help feeling proud of the fact Tony was breathing easily, looking more like he’d been out for a casual stroll than running hard for half a dozen city blocks.  Ziva looked equally fresh, dark eyes flashing with annoyance as she measured Warren.

 

“If you do not surrender now, I will shoot you,” Ziva said calmly.

 

“Best to just do what she says.”  Tony smiled disarmingly.  “She means it.”

 

“And if she doesn’t put you down, I sure as hell will,” Gibbs growled. 

 

Warren looked like he wanted to break away, to attempt another desperate bid for escape.  Gibbs tightened his focus and knew Ziva was doing the same. 

 

“Warren ,” Tony said softly, getting the younger man’s attention, still smiling, appearing the least threatening of the three agents.  It was a neat trick to appear harmless while holding a semi automatic pistol with unwavering aim.  It never failed to amaze Gibbs how neatly Tony could pull it off. 

 

“You really don’t want them to shoot you, do you?” 

 

Warren eyes nervously judged the distances, obviously weighing the odds.  He had to know he couldn’t get away from them.  There was no where to run to.  Warren looked at Tony, expression seeking guidance. 

 

“Walk over to that wall, put your hands against it, and spread your legs.”  Tony ordered, making it seem like the most reasonable thing in the world to do. 

 

Warren hesitated, eyes darting from Ziva and then over his shoulder to meet Gibbs’ implacable gaze.  He sighed heavily, shoulders slumping before he raised his hands and stepped over to face the wall. 

 

“Stand still while I pat you down and cuff you.  Any sudden moves and they will shoot you.”  Tony told him quietly.  “Nod your head if you understand.” 

 

Warren gave a jerky nod. Tony holstered his weapon, careful to approach Warren in a way that didn’t block either Ziva or Gibbs’ line of sight.

 

Tony patted him down, careful and efficient.  “No gun, Boss.” 

 

Gibbs hadn’t expected there to be one.  When they’d cornered him would have been the time to pull it, if Warren had a weapon he’d intended to use.  And given that Kinsac was beaten to death, not shot, suggested Warren didn’t have a gun on hand. It didn’t mean he hadn’t obtained one in the last twenty four hours, but Gibbs doubted getting a gun had ever been a priority for Warren.  According to his file, he barely qualified on the shooting range during basic training, and his scores had never improved. 

 

“But we do have several keys.”  Tony held up a small key chain that pulled from Warren’s jacket pocket.  It had nearly a dozen keys attached. 

 

“Guessing this is what you picked up at the bank, ay Warren?”  Tony gave Warren’s shoulder a friendly pat before cuffing his hands behind him. 

 

It made sense that someone as cautious as Warren seemed to be would store most of the keys to his safety deposit boxes in another yet another box.  And Warren hadn’t left carrying any sort of bag or briefcase that would have held the money he’d taken.  They would have to check the keys against the boxes they knew about.  Hopefully, McGee and Lee would have tracked all there were to find by the time they got Warren back to the office. 

 

Tony spun Warren around and walked him to the car, putting him in the back seat.  Gibbs didn’t holster his weapon until Warren was belted in.  The seat belt was not only for Warren’s safety, it also acted as another means of restraint.  With Ziva riding in the back seat, it was unlikely Warren could attempt much of anything, but Gibbs wasn’t going to assume anything.

 

Gibbs slid into the driver seat, adjusting the review mirror so he could see Warren easily.  Once they got back to the office, he planned to let Warren stew in an interrogation room while the team found every box the keys opened.  Whenever possible, the former Marine preferred to be fully prepared before going into an interrogation. 

 

Warren swallowed hard and then licked his lips nervously.  “Aren’t you going to read me my rights?”

 

“If you know enough to ask, I’m sure you already know what your rights are.” Tony turned to look over his shoulder.  “But to answer your question…as a matter of procedure, we’ll go over your Article 32 rights when we are in back at NCIS headquarters.”  Tony grinned.  “Wouldn’t want you to miss anything while we’re driving.  We’d just have to do it over.”

 

“Waste of time,” Ziva said, giving Warren a cold look.  “And you have already wasted enough of ours.”

 

Gibbs ignored the way Warren tried to shift away from her, attempting move closer to the door.  Ziva could truly exude menace when she chose.  It was one of the things he liked about her.  Not that he needed her for that, Gibbs could do that just fine on his own, but there was something about a cold blooded woman that could figuratively make guys like Warren wet their pants faster than anything Gibbs could say or do. 

 

Gibbs glanced over at Tony when he heard keys rattle.  Tony was flipping through the collection he’d taken from Warren’s pocket.  They were nondescript little bits of metal.  If they hadn’t known what bank Warren favored it would have been impossible to know what the keys were even to.  There was no guarantee they would open any of the boxes, but Gibbs’ gut told him they couldn’t be keys to anything else.

 

“After we get Warren booked, take Ziva and go see if you can find what those go to.” 

 

Tony made eye contact with Gibbs.  “Our very own little treasure hunt,” he murmured, green eyes sparkling with curiosity and good humor.  He looked positively delighted with the prospect of getting to search out what safety deposit boxes went with which key.

 

Gibbs fought down an answering smile.  It was hard to resist a happy Tony.  He cleared his throat, struggling to keep his tone dry.  “Just don’t come back with a parrot.”

 

Tony grinned.  “Aye, Aye, Cap’n.”

Chapter Text

Tony watched Warren through the one way glass.  The guy looked as wired and tired as Tony felt.  He probably didn’t sleep last night any more than Tony had.  Killing his brother, dumping the body, cleaning out Earl’s hotel room and then trying to figure out what to do from there likely kept Warren busy.    

Tony yawned, rubbing at his gritty eyes.  Spending two hours running around D.C. visiting various branches and searching Warren’s safety deposit boxes had been invigorating at the time, but now left him feeling drained.  It was oddly disappointing to find only money.  Tony kept hoping there would be something exotic, something interesting like jewelry, antique coins, even stocks and bonds would have been more exciting after the fifth box filled with hundred dollar bills.    

 Tony grimaced.  As a rough guess, he estimated each of the ten boxes they’d found held almost two hundred thousand.  If he was right, they’d recovered nearly two million in cash.  Combined with the investments and real estate McGee and Lee had located, they’d managed to track down just under three million.  It was a tidy sum of money, one Tony briefly fantasized about what he’d do with if he’d stolen it the way Warren had.    

Maybe he could convince Gibbs to indulge his secret desire to travel.  The former Marine had told him he’d never gotten to go anywhere just for fun.  Every trip he’d ever taken had been courtesy of the Corps or NCIS.   It didn’t matter where they went or why.  They could afford to go anywhere, for months on end.  Hell, they could even take Mike and his family… maybe a cruise to the old country.  It would be fun for everyone.  No need to worry about Momma C’s dislike of flying that way, and stuff to interest everyone with enough space they wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves; it was perfect.   

Once they got done with traveling, he could help Zeke open his own design firm.  Could pay off the mortgage Sammy had on the farm.  And see to it Sammy’s soon to be born son or daughter could go to the college of his or her choice.  He could fund more research for Gabe.  Set up a workshop for Gibbs—one bigger than the former Marine’s basement so he could build a sailboat large enough to spend weeks on.  They could explore the coastline, spend weeks by themselves.  And if there was any money left over, he might even get himself a Ferrari, a red one like Magnum had.  

Tony rolled his eyes at his own imagination.  Hiding it was obviously the last thing he’d have thought to do with three million at his disposal, especially not in US currency, in banks in D.C.  But then, courtesy of his father’s influence, Tony knew a lot about how off shore accounts worked.  For all his ability to embezzle, it was possible Warren simply didn’t know how or didn’t have the contacts necessary to set up something outside the country.  It wasn’t as easy as they made it look on TV.  

If Warren’s apartment was anything to go by, the guy did spend a nice piece of change on clothes and jewelry.  Not nearly as much as Tony might have, but there was no denying the man had good taste.  Shame all those clothes would become evidence and probably be lost in the system.  Tony sighed again.   At least most of what was stolen could be returned with relative ease.  Tony was glad Warren hadn’t stocked his boxes with anything smaller than one hundred dollar bills.  Counting all it, logging each bill into evidence was going to take hours as it was.  Tony was very grateful that job had fallen to Lee, McGee and Abby. 

 

“Who knew paper could be so heavy?” McGee mused when he’d hefted one of the bags Tony and Ziva had dropped off in Abby’s lab.

 

“Think of it as positive proof that paper used to trees,” Tony had responded with a wan smile.  He’d lugged the bags from the van.  He knew how damn heavy they were.  “And one more reason to carry plastic.”  

“This is going to take forever,” Lee had said, staring in horror at the small mountain of bags.  

“Not forever,” Abby countered with a bright smile before it morphed into a grimace, “it will just feel like it.”  

Ziva held up a drink tray she’d brought with her.  It held two cups of coffee and a Caf-Pow.  “I brought you this.”  

Abby had grinned, taking her drink and sucking on the straw with obvious delight.  McGee took a coffee with a casual nod.  Lee was more hesitant, demurely taking the offered beverage with a quiet ‘thank you’, barely making eye contact.  Tony wondered how long it would take before Lee stopped being afraid of Ziva.  Given how long it had taken McGee, Tony added another month to his initial estimation.      

Tony refocused his attention to Warren.  He watched him fidget, hands constantly in motion---rubbing his face, brushing through his hair, tapping against the table.  Oh yeah, the guy was more than nervous; he was scared to death.  You should be scared, Tony thought, studying Warren as the man gave in and got up to pace.  Gibbs was just outside the door, reviewing the evidence file.  It would be show time soon.  Tony glanced at his watch.  He gave Warren less than twenty minutes before he broke. 

 

 “Do you think we got it all?” Ziva asked, looking away from Warren to make eye contact with Tony.

 

 “God, I hope so.”  Tony did not want to continue looking for stolen funds.   What he wanted most was to lay down for eight hours—with Gibbs.  

 

 Tony’s gaze returned to the interrogation room when Gibbs opened the door and stepped inside.  He stifled a shiver.  He loved watching Gibbs do this.  The man was so clearly in control of the room, strong and confident, sharp and focused.  God, what a turn on.  Tony mentally reined himself in.  Now was not the time to lose his focus.

 

 Warren had stopped pacing when Gibbs entered, putting his back to the wall.  He reminded Tony of a mouse suddenly aware of a cat nearby.  Tony smirked.  Freezing was instinctive and positively useless.

 

 "Sit down," Gibbs ordered calmly, no inflection in his voice.

 

 Warren licked his lips nervously, hesitantly stepping over to the table and sitting down so he faced the one-way mirror.  Gibbs pulled out the other chair, angling it slightly so that when he sat down, Tony had a clear view of Warren’s face and Gibbs’ profile.    

The silence stretched for several minutes.  Ziva looked askance at Tony, clearly wanting an explanation for why Gibbs had not immediately started to question Warren.  Tony smiled.  

“Thinking he’s not going to have to ask any questions.”  Tony murmured, nodding to Warren.  The man was still fidgeting apprehensively.  He’d start talking in another minute or less.  

”Such a nervous ninny.”  Ziva snorted derisively.  “Hard to believe he could kill anyone.” 

“Thinking the murder was more a crime of passion.”  Tony shrugged.    “So pissed on his brother he lost it and beat him to death?”

 

 “Pissed at, or pissed off,” Tony corrected softly, unable to not chuckle.  “Pissed on is an entirely different subject.”

 

 Ziva shook her head, sighing heavily.  “English, as Americans speak it, makes no sense.”  

“Are you telling me that Israeli doesn’t have any colloquialisms?”  

“Not as many as you have…or quite so…so…colorful.”  Tony grinned.  “Pity.”    

He sobered when he heard Warren start speaking.  Attention once more drawn to the tableau in the other room.  

“Are you going to read me my rights now?”  

Gibbs handed him a piece of paper.  “Everything you need to know is there.”  Icy blue eyes appraised Warren before offering him a pen.  “When you are finished, sign the bottom.”  

Warren’s hand shook when he took the pen.  He bit his lower lip as he read over the rights.  He looked up, a desperate gleam in his eyes.  “What if I don’t sign?”  

“Then I sign.”  Gibbs tipped his head toward the glass.  “And the people in there will witness that I gave them to you.  And the video tape recording of this meeting will be offered as corroborating evidence that you had the opportunity to review your rights.”  

That was directly out of the procedural manual.  It wasn’t something they usually had to do.  But there was no way this case would get thrown out on some technicality.  Even if all they had to tie Warren to Kinsac’s murder was circumstantial, the embezzlement would stick. 

 

 Warren swallowed hard, eyeing the mirror apprehensively before finally signing the form.  Gibbs took back both the sheet of paper and his pen.  He then laid out photos of Kisnac’s body in the alley and a shot of his face in the morgue.  Tony knew the usual reaction was to look at the photos, natural curiosity got the better of most people and they couldn’t resist glancing at what was put in front of them.  Warren was no exception.  He looked down, paling considerably before looking away. 

 

 “Hard to look at, aren’t they?” Gibbs asked, his tone soft.  “Not every day you see handiwork like this.”  Warren swallowed hard.  He kept his eyes fixed on a point over Gibbs’ shoulder.  Gibbs tapped one of the photos making sure Warren was still aware of its presence even though he refused to look down again.  He idly shifted one, studying it closely before spinning it back toward Warren.

 

 “Must have hated him a lot to do that kind of damage.”

 

 “I didn’t hate Earl!”  Warren denied, eyes blazing with righteous indignation.

 

 

“No?”  “No!”  Warren clenched his jaw, looking away again.

 

 Tony traded a look with Ziva.  Warren sounded like he actually meant that.  So why the hell did he do all this?  

“Tell me what happened,” Gibbs ordered.  

“Why?” Warren hissed.  “You won’t believe me anyway.”  “You are going to jail for murder.  It is only a question of how long,” Gibbs informed him calmly. 

“Could be a long time.  Could be short.”  

“Short?”  Warren frowned.  “Murder with this sort of forethought and brutality could get you the death penalty.”  

“Forethought?”  Warren choked.  “It wasn’t…I didn’t kill him.”  

“No?”  Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  “So how did he end up dead?”   

“It was an accident,” Warren protested earnestly, hands making helpless gestures. 

 

 “You accidentally bludgeoned him to death?”  The sarcasm in Gibbs’ tone was biting.   

Warren flinched, sitting back as though he’d been slapped.  Tony could sympathize.  That tone got the same reaction from just about everyone.  

Warren shook his head.  “He was already dead.  When I did…when I did that…he wasn’t breathing.  No pulse.  I swear.”  

“Our medical examiner says he was alive.”  Tony’s eyes narrowed at Gibbs’ bald statement.  According to Ducky’s report a few of the blows Kinsac had received had occurred before he died.  Had the man received aid, he likely could have survived the initial trauma.  The ME had indicated the rest of the damage occurred post mortum and hadn’t actually killed him.  If Gibbs was trying to get a reaction out of Warren by saying he’d beaten Kinsac to death, he succeed.  

Warren leaned forward, eyes wide, breathing harsh.  “No.  No, that…can’t be.”  Warren shook his head.  “He went to a bar and got drunk.  He got into a fight.”  

A fight?  Tony cocked his head.  Kinsac didn’t have any defensive wounds, and there wasn’t any bruising on his torso or hands.  But he was definitely drunk.  So maybe he was too drunk to fight back…and if hit hard enough in the head to fracture his skull, Kinsac likely went down without ever hitting back.  

“What bar?”  Gibbs asked.  “The Hayloft.”

Ziva immediately pulled her phone and started seeking information.  Tony left her to it, still watching Gibbs and Warren.  

“The bouncer…he said Earl started hitting on some biker dude’s girlfriend.  They dumped him in the alley when they were done letting him know he should leave her alone.  It’s where I found him.  He…he wasn’t breathing when I got there...I…I…didn’t know what to do.”  

“CPR wasn’t an option?”  Gibbs leaned forward as well.  “Maybe calling 911?” 

“He wasn’t even supposed to be in Virginia!”  Warren shouted.  “If his PO found out, they’d have sent him back to prison.”  

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  “Why would you care about where he ended up?”  

“He was my brother,” Warren said as though it explained everything.  

“Cain and Abel were brothers, too,” Gibbs noted without missing a beat.  

“We weren’t like that.”  

“So tell me what you were like.”  Warren ran his fingers through his hair, clearly agitated.  “My mom hated his mom and didn’t think Earl and I should even speak to one another, much less hang out together.  She beat me black and blue for even mentioning his name.  Couldn’t even act like we’d give each other the time of day in school in case my mom talked to teachers or the other kids.  But we were friends.”  

Warren looked like he wanted to get up and start pacing again, but Gibbs’ gaze held him firmly in his seat.  “When Earl and his mom moved away, we stayed in touch.  Letters, couple of phone calls when I could sneak one in.  I don’t know what the happened with that girl in Georgia …To hear Earl tell it, she said yes and only cried rape after her parents found out.  Don’t know if that was the truth or not, but…I stuck by him.”  

“Stuck by him?”  Gibbs raised both eyebrows.  “How exactly did you do that?”  

Tony was wondering the same thing.  The warden said the only letters or calls Kinsac had gotten were from his mother.  And Kinsac had told his cellmate he and his brother didn’t exactly get along.  Why lie about it to a guy who probably didn’t give a damn?  But then, not everyone saw a need to be honest with his cellmate.  If Warren was telling the truth, they’d been lying about the true status of their friendship for years.  Maybe it was just second nature.   

“When Earl got arrested, my mom made me promise I wouldn’t contact him.  She said he was just bad news and his being in jail proved her right all along.”  Warren snorted. “Like we were so much better or something.  She can be such a bitch.  No wonder my old man bailed when he could.”  

“How did you stick by Earl?”  Gibbs asked, obviously trying to get Warren back on track.  

Warren sighed.  “I got around my promise by sending letters to Earl’s mother.  She was nice enough to pass them on.  She’d send me e-mails every couple of months or so to let me know how he was doing.  I told him I'd help him when he got out.  Find a way for him to get a fresh start.”  

“So you knew he was getting out early?”  

“Yeah.”  Warren bit his lower lip.  “I was going to surprise him.  Help him get a new life, put being in jail all behind him.  Show him how much money—“ Warren stopped speaking abruptly.  

“We already know about the money, Eli,” Gibbs told him quietly.  “We found you at the bank, remember?”  

Warren nodded jerkily.  “R-r-right.”  

“You’ve been stealing for several years now, haven’t you?”  

“Yeah.”  Warren sighed.  “Since I offered to help Earl when he got out.  Was so damn easy. Just a little at a time.  No one even noticed.  Not like the Navy needed all of it.”  

Gibbs jaw tightened.  The former Marine was clearly not pleased by the lack of remorse in Warren’s tone. 

“You said you found Earl dead in the alley?”  Gibbs asked, his voice painfully neutral.    

“Yeah.”  Warren looked a little green.  Tony would bet good money Warren had puked when he realized Earl was dead.  If the vomit was still there, it would tie Warren to the scene.  

“If you didn’t kill him, why did you to bludgeon his face and cut off his hands?”  

Warren swallowed convulsively.  Doing it apparently hadn’t been easy for him.  He took a deep breath, trying to pull himself together and explain.  “I thought if…no one could ID him…”  Warren shook his head and started again.  “All the money was in his name.  I couldn’t give it back.  And I didn’t want to!  I liked having nice things.  Never got anything I really wanted.  This was supposed to be Earl’s chance at a new start, no reason for that to be wasted.  Could have been my new life too!”    

Ah yes, greed.  Tony’s lips curled in an ironic smile.  Warren might claim to have stolen the money for his brother but it wasn’t all just for Earl.  Not even close.  He saw Gibbs expression harden and knew he was thinking the same thing.    

Warren’s hands tightened into fists on the table, knuckles bleaching white.  “I figured as soon as the cops found Earl, they would know he wasn’t even supposed to be in Virginia.  They’d have started looking into why he was here.  Wouldn’t have been that hard to link him to me.  I mean, you guys did.”  

Tony blinked.  They’d only linked Kinsac to Warren because they needed DNA to confirm the identity.  NCIS never would have been called in on the case if Warren hadn’t left his wallet and military ID on the body. And while Warren might have thought his brother’s death would result in a thorough investigation, having worked for local law enforcement, Tony doubted police in either DC or Georgia would have looked into it as closely as NCIS had. Parolees ran often enough not to make it out of the ordinary for Kinsac to have ended up in Virginia without any discernible reason.  They might not have even been aware the stolen funds if not for the bank statement in Warren’s mailbox with Kinsac’s name on it.    

Tony shook his head.  Had Warren left Earl’s body where he died, NCIS would never have been involved.  The investigation would likely have focused on the bar and the ‘biker dudes’ that he fought with.  Warren’s name might never have come up at all.  Lord, what a mess.  

Warren sighed heavily.  “I thought if…it looked like I was the one who’d been killed, I’d have more time to get the money.  There wasn’t anything to tie me to Earl. Nothing that I thought would lead anyone to me so fast.”  

“Just your DNA .”   

Warren flushed and looked away.  “I didn’t know his was even on file.”  

Tony could see Ziva rolling her eyes.  “He is pathetic.”  

“Not quite the criminal mastermind we were expecting,” Tony agreed, “but he did manage to steal a nice bit of money without too much difficulty.”  

Ziva pursed her lips.  “True.”   

“Hayloft?”  

“I have the address for the bar.  We can go as soon as Gibbs is finished.”  

“Looks like he’s wrapping up now.”  There wasn’t much more to ask Warren that they didn’t already know.  “You want to gas up the car?”  

 Ziva grinned.  “Only if I’m driving.”  

Tony let slip a heavy, put upon sigh. “Fine, you can drive.”

 

 Ziva all but danced out of the room.  Tony grinned to himself.   He was going to ask Gibbs to send McGee with her.  It wasn’t like he needed to verify Warren’s story.  Tony was certain the man was telling the truth.  Kinsac’s murder wasn’t their case any more.  Everything related to it would be turned over, with the exception of the money.  That was definitely not going anywhere, any time soon.

 

 Tony slipped out to wait by the door to the interrogation room.  Gibbs gave him a look when he stepped out.  He clearly thought as little of Warren’s intelligence as Ziva had. 

 

 “You get an address for that bar?”

 

 “Yeah, Boss.”  Tony nodded, walking with Gibbs as he headed down the hall.  “Ziva’s gassing up the car.”

 

 Gibbs nodded.  He stopped, blue eyes appraising Tony.  Tony raised an eyebrow, not sure what Gibbs was looking for.

 

 “You okay?”

 

 Tony smiled, relaxing.  “Tired, but I’ll live.”

 

 “We should already be done with this damn case.”

 

 Tony shrugged.  “I know.”  Having to verify Warren’s story, and then turn everything over to local law enforcement just added several hours to their day.

 

 “Send McGee with Ziva.”  Gibbs raised hand, using one knuckle to gently caress Tony’s jawline.  “You might be able to catch another cat nap.”

 

 Although the very idea sounded incredibly appealing, Tony couldn’t resist the instinctive need to protest.  “Gibbs, I’m fine.  I-”

 

 “I know you are.”  Gibbs smiled softly, blue eyes warming. He lowered his hand, stepping away. “And I’m going to see to it you stay that way.”

 

 “Boss—“

 

 “DiNozzo.”  Gibbs gave him a hard look.  “This case has already taken longer than it should have…I need you to be ready for it, if it drags out any longer.”

 

 Tony nodded.  As long as Gibbs wasn’t coddling him…well, not just coddling him, Tony was okay with it. “You going to tuck me in?”  Tony teased, winking.

 

 “Later.”  Gibbs grinned.  He called back softly over his shoulder as he walked away.  “Being ready for the job, isn’t all I need you for.” 

 

 Tony could feel his face warm, but it didn’t dampen his smile.   He was sure the agents he passed on his way to his desk wondered about it, but at the moment, Tony didn’t give a damn. 

Chapter Text

Gibbs sighed softly, reviewing the case file in front of him.  According to McGee’s final count, which was confirmed by Petty Officer Warren’s confession, a total of three million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars had been stolen from the Navy.  The bulk of it had been recovered and was still being logged as evidence.  What they couldn’t recover outright was in Warren’s apartment; hanging in the closet or part of his entertainment system set up. 

 

For all Warren’s skill with numbers, he was no murderer. That much was blatantly obvious.  And fortunately could be corroborated by what McGee and Ziva had found out at the bar. 

 

The bartender at The Hayloft not only remembered Earl Kinsac, he remembered the altercation that probably killed him.  He reiterated the same story he’d evidently told Warren when the Petty Officer had come looking for his brother.  Kinsac, after drinking heavily for more than an hour, hit on a biker’s girlfriend, something said biker objected to---forcefully.  He’d slammed Kinsac’s head several times into the solid brass rail that decorated the top of the bar. 

 

The bartender hadn’t thought much of the incident, telling Ziva, “Guy was drunk, and Darien’s a big dude.  Figured the combination was enough to put the other guy down for the count.  I thought he’d be safe enough sleeping it off in the alley for a bit.  Less trouble to leave him there until Darien and his old lady left.  When another guy showed up looking for him, I told him what happened and where he could find his buddy.  Figured he made it home okay since they didn’t come back in.”

 

Gibbs suspected Ziva had come very close to hurting the bartender for his callous disregard.  The man hadn’t even considered the possibility Kinsac might be seriously injured, or that leaving an unconscious man outside in the middle of winter could result in his dying from exposure.  Gibbs shook his head.  Some days he really hated people just on principle alone.

 

Fortunately for the bartender, locating ‘Darien’ hadn’t been hard to do.  The man didn’t deny ‘smacking some sense’ into Kinsac as he put it. Until McGee informed him he was being arrested for murder, the man thought he was being charged with assault and battery and was muttering about how he’d get back at the ‘pansy ass for siccing the cops on me’. 

 

Darien and everything related to Kinsac’s murder, with the exception of the money, had been turned over to local law enforcement.  Gibbs hoped they’d be able to get a conviction, but given the damage Warren had done to his brother’s body, it was a toss up. Darien and the bartender would probably be charged with negligent homicide.  There were enough witnesses to the beating and abandonment in the alley to get at least that much to stick.  Murder one would be a reach that most prosecutors wouldn’t even bother trying to make.    

 

Gibbs closed the file.  It wouldn’t be complete until the team’s summations were included.  Ducky’s final autopsy report wouldn’t be available until tomorrow, and by then the others should have finished their own paperwork. 

 

Abby told Gibbs she planned to stay late to get every single serial number documented.  Having lost Ziva and McGee when they went to the bar to check out Warren’s story, she still had a lot record.  She’d asked for help, big blue eyes flickering toward Tony’s desk when she did.  Cataloging evidence was something they’d done together many times, catching up with one another and covering all sorts of topics at the same time.  Helping each other out was one of the ways Tony and Abby became friends when the younger man joined the team.  Gibbs knew Tony wouldn’t refuse her silent request, so Gibbs did it for him; Tony had already logged enough hours. 

 

Gibbs gave her Ziva instead.  Ziva was making the effort to be a true team player.  And for the most part, she’d been doing rather well, but Abby still had yet to completely accept her.  Scuttlebutt had it Ziva and Abby had gotten into a fight when shortly after Gibbs had been caught in an explosion and was then in a coma for several days.  Gibbs didn’t want the details; he just wanted them to work it out.  Spending a little time together should help them iron out their differences, and maybe find some common ground. 

 

Gibbs looked up to survey the bullpen, unconsciously checking on Tony, making sure the younger man was still sleeping peacefully.  Or at least as peacefully as you can in a chair, Gibbs thought with a wry smile.  He should have told him to find somewhere to lie down.

 

He caught McGee sending a concerned glance toward Tony.  Under normal circumstances dozing off would have warranted a head slap and a scathing remark.  Gibbs wasn’t known for his tolerance of goofing off on the job.

 

“It’s not what it looks like, Boss,” McGee said softly, light blue eyes meeting Gibbs’ warily, his expression earnest. 

 

Gibbs arched an eyebrow, surprised by McGee’s effort to defend Tony. He kept his voice low, tone dry when he casually noted, “It looks like DiNozzo is sleeping.”

 

McGee winced.  “Okay…so it is what it looks like, but it’s not what you think.”

 

“And what do I think, McGee?”

 

“That he’s wasting time. That he’s slacking off.”  McGee stood and approached Gibbs’ desk.  He wasn’t quite whispering, but he was definitely doing his best not to draw attention to himself or disturb Tony.  “He’s got a really good reason for sleeping at his desk, Boss.  He does.”

 

“And you know this because…”  Gibbs made a ‘go on’ motion with one hand, curious to hear what McGee had to say.

 

“When you were checking out Kinsac’s car and hotel room, Agent Stoddard stopped by.”  McGee shifted his weight nervously.  “She said she wanted to thank Tony for helping them with a case.  She made it sound like they couldn’t have solved it without him.  I think Tony might have been here all night.”

 

“He was.”

 

“You already knew—“ McGee blinked.  “Of course you did.  Tony told you.”

 

“No, he didn’t.” Gibbs shook his head.   Tony only ever mentioned his ‘campfires’ with other teams if Gibbs brought it up first.  He rarely offered any information.

 

McGee frowned.  “Why wouldn’t he tell you---“ He swallowed hard.  “You aren’t pissed that he helped out another team, are you?”

 

“Do I look pissed?”

 

“With you, some times it’s hard to tell,” McGee muttered, looking just a bit horrified when he realized he’d said that aloud. 

 

Gibbs couldn’t resist giving McGee an evil, little smile.  He liked honest.  Especially when it wasn’t something he was expected to overhear. 

 

He softened his smile. “I’m not pissed Tony that helped out another team.”  That Tony didn’t get any sleep as a result was another matter.  And he wasn’t pissed, he was concerned.  There was a difference. 

 

McGee studied Gibbs’ face before sighing and nodding.  He bit his lower lip.  “So if you don’t mind Tony helping out another team, and you knew about it, why didn’t he just tell you he was here all night?”

 

“Because he’s not looking for me to make excuses for him.”

 

“But—“

 

“Do you want me to cut you slack?”  Gibbs asked, arching an eyebrow.  “Make allowances?  Maybe let things slide for you?”

 

McGee looked offended.  “No.”

 

Gibbs nodded, seeing McGee understood.   All his agents took pride in meeting or exceeding Gibbs’ expectations.  No one who worked with him and lasted for more than a few months wanted him to go easy---it meant they didn’t or couldn’t measure up.  It was an insult and meant they couldn’t be trusted to get the job done.  They learned not to make excuses, and ultimately wouldn’t accept them either.  Part of not apologizing really boiled down to not needing to apologize in the first place.

 

“You want me to wake him up?”

 

“No.”  Gibbs shook his head.  If anyone was going to wake Tony it would be him.  “Go home, McGee.”

 

“Home?”

 

“You did good today, Tim.”  Gibbs stood up, reaching out to lightly pat his shoulder.  “Go home.”

 

“Are you sure I shouldn’t go help—“

 

“Positive.”  There was no need for McGee to stay.  Abby and Ziva would probably appreciate the help, but having Tim around would skew the dynamics.  Better they were left to their own devices for tonight.

 

McGee nodded slowly.  He went back to his desk, powered down his computer and grabbed his backpack.  He hesitated, looking at Tony again.  It was reassuring to know McGee cared, to have that small proof of friendship, but Gibbs just wanted him gone.   

 

“Go, McGee.”  Gibbs ordered softly.

 

McGee bobbed his head.  “Good night, Boss.”

 

“Good night.”  Gibbs stepped over to Tony’s desk.  Before he could even reach out to touch his shoulder, Tony’s eyes opened.  

 

Green eyes stared at him blankly, making Gibbs smile.  Tony could and often did come awake with fight or flight instinct fully engaged, but when relaxed and feeling secure in his surroundings Tony was usually slower to respond, taking his time to really become conscious. 

 

Gibbs put a hand on Tony’s shoulder.  “You awake?”

 

“Yeah.”  Tony blinked, focusing on Gibbs before he smiled warmly.  “You need something, Jethro?”

 

The use of his first name told him all he needed to know about just how awake Tony truly was.  He had never used Gibbs first name anywhere but in private.  So while he looked coherent, he probably wasn’t.  Gibbs wished they were anywhere else---the car, the elevator, his bedroom---anywhere he could just take advantage of that half asleep state.  Gibbs sighed and forced himself to maintain a polite distance so anyone watching video feed from the camera wouldn’t see anything unusual.

 

“It’s time for us to go home, Tony.”

 

Tony frowned, tensing as he looked around, now wide awake.  Seeing their location, he grimaced, rubbing his face.  He winced when he sat up straight, tilting his head right and then left to work out the kinks his position had no doubt caused. 

 

Tony looked at his watch.  “Shit…didn’t mean to sleep for so long.”

 

Gibbs rolled his eyes. Tony had only nodded off a little over an hour ago.  Before falling asleep he’d pulled together most of the stuff Gibbs had been reviewing in the case file, fielded a few phone calls, and had gotten another Caf-Pow for Abby.

 

“Just let me get my report finished and I’ll—“

 

“No.”

 

Tony raised both eyebrows.  ”It won’t take me—“

 

“No.”

 

“But—“

 

“Tony, it can wait until tomorrow.” 

 

Tony looked doubtful.  For all his tendencies to goof off with computer games and pointless conversation, Tony was very conscientious when it came to his paperwork.  Not that anyone but Gibbs knew it.  Tony liked to surprise his teammates, making tasks look effortless and easy, preferring to do a lot of his work late at night when no one could see.  And goofing off during the day made it a lot easier to maintain the façade of a carefree, frat boy.  Although, given what McGee had recently discovered about Tony’s work ethic, it was going to be harder for Tony to pull that off in the future.  

 

“McGee’s isn’t done.  Ziva’s either.  Abby hasn’t finished logging in all the money.  And Ducky’s final autopsy report won’t be on my desk until tomorrow.”

 

“And you’re okay with that?”  Tony gasped, eyes twinkling it was what an obvious tease.  “Letting them get away with taking more than a day to finish up a case.” Tony tsked.  “What will the Director say?”

 

Gibbs smirked.  “That we cost too much in overtime.”

 

“We’re salary.”  Tony grinned.  “We don’t get overtime.”

 

Which was why Tony shouldn’t have to worry about ‘making up time’ when he had to step out for a doctors appointment or needed to run errands.  But he did anyway.  Hanging around the office made him fair game for everyone needing help who wouldn’t approach when Gibbs was around.  Gibbs decided he was going to have to find away to stop that.  And getting Tony to agree to spending every night together might just be the way. 

 

“Home.”  Gibbs stated, leaving no room for argument.

 

“Home, it is.”  Tony agreed with a smile.  He stood up and shrugged into his heavy coat.   “Mine, yeah?”

 

“Yours.”  Gibbs agreed.  They traded off where they spent the night when they spent it together.  Gibbs wouldn’t admit it, but he preferred Tony’s bed to his own…or rather he had until Tony had sprung for several of sets of high end sheets and a new comforter. 

 

Together they headed for the elevator.  Gibbs took advantage of their being alone in it to offer his hand to Tony.  He loved the way Tony’s hand fit so well with in his.  All of his wives had such small hands, he was almost afraid to hold too tightly for fear of hurting them.  Tony’s hands were strong and capable, and always warm.

 

Gibbs was tempted to reach for the emergency stop button, but resisted.  If he started anything now, without a pressing case and a mostly empty building, he’d give in to those basic urges that good sense argued against.  Sex in an elevator wasn’t something he really wanted.  Sex in an elevator was for guys whose knees didn’t ache every time it rained.  And the romantic in him wanted time to enjoy the afterglow. 

 

“Won’t take that long to get home.  Half an hour tops.”

 

Gibbs chuckled.  “Have I always been so easy to read?”

 

“Always…no.”  Tony grinned, leaning over to give Gibbs a quick peck on the cheek.  “But I am getting better at it.”

 

Better all the time, Gibbs thought with a fond smile.  He winced when Tony yawned wide enough to make his jaw pop. “You okay to drive?”

 

Tony nodded.  “I’m okay to drive.”

 

Gibbs studied him.  “I’ll follow you.”

 

“Mother hen,” Tony muttered, sounding more affectionate than annoyed.

 

“I prefer cautious.”

 

“More like overbearing.”

 

Gibbs countered, “Concerned is more accurate.”

“Uh-hunh.”  Tony snorted. “Semantics.”

 

Gibbs laughed. “And it is so important.”

 

“That it is.”  Tony’s eyes sparkled.  “Love you.”

 

 Gibbs squeezed Tony’s hand.  “I love you, too.” 

Chapter Text

Tony concentrated on keeping his driving smooth and even.  He didn’t want Gibbs to think he lied when he said he was okay to drive.  He checked the review mirror, noting with amusement his normally impatient, reckless lover was driving with uncharacteristic care, staying exactly two car lengths behind Tony. 

 

Tony shook his head.  It was still a bit disconcerting to have Gibbs be so blatant in showing concern.  Tony knew his lover cared about his health and well being before they became a couple, but he had never been as vocal about it then as he was now nor had he showed the same level of interest. 

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  Gibbs didn’t need to worry.  He was an adult, and he’d been taking care of himself for years.  It wasn’t like he’d suddenly become incapable of judging his own limitations just because he and Gibbs were sleeping together. 

He reminded himself Gibbs asking if he was okay to drive hadn’t been about him doubting Tony’s stamina or ability; it was genuine concern for his safety.  And Tony couldn’t deny how much he liked having consistent proof Gibbs cared about him---as more than just a teammate, more than just a bed partner.  It was one more thing that made his relationship with Gibbs different from just about every other romantic liaison Tony had. 

 

“You are such a sap,” Tony muttered to himself, grinning. 

 

He unconsciously patted his chest, fingers seeking the coin pendant under his shirt that Gibbs had given him for his birthday.  The pendant was more tangible proof of the older man’s feelings.  Tony wore it almost constantly; he felt naked without out it. 

 

He considered wearing it openly, rather than hiding it under his clothing.  It wasn’t as if anyone other than Gibbs knew what it represented or where it had come from.  Well, Palmer knew…sort of.  The Assistant ME was aware of its presence due to a small mishap on a case, and he knew it was important to Tony, but not why or who it was from.  Tony found himself reluctant to deliberately expose something so personal to public view. 

 

Tony yawned widely.  God, he was tired.  It had been a very long day. 

 

With the ingrained ease of long habit, Tony navigated the streets to his place. They hadn’t left the office exactly on time so traffic was thinning out from the usual rush hour.   “Small favors,” Tony murmured.  He didn’t want to have to deal with stop and go congestion.

 

He pulled into the parking lot, parking in his usual space.  Tony was glad the complex had additional spaces for more than just one car per tenant.  It meant there was always room for Gibbs to park next to the Mustang when he stayed over. Even if space had been limited, it wasn’t like Gibbs’ car was there every night.  One or two nights out of the week and an occasional weekend wasn’t anything to upset his neighbors. Not when several of them traveled regularly for work and didn’t come home every night, or were like Aggie Kjelgaard, who didn’t even own a car.    

 

Tony grinned when he spotted Aggie heading for the front door, cane in hand.  She had probably just finished up her evening walk.  Twice a day, no matter what the weather was doing, she took a walk.  When he’d asked her about it, she told Tony that the only way to keep her joints from freezing fast was to keep moving.  He hoped to be as spry when he was her age. 

 

He waved to her as he got out of the car, getting a wave and a smile in return.  She waited, leaning casually against her cane, giving Gibbs’ a disapproving look as he pulled into the lot with more speed than she probably thought wise.  Tony snickered.  He was still waiting to see what would happen if Aggie ever decided to give Gibbs a piece of her mind about his driving habits.

 

“Good evening, lovely lady,” Tony said to her, bending down to kiss her cheek.

 

She chuckled.  “Good evening yourself, you handsome man.”

 

“You really shouldn’t walk after dark.”

 

Aggie snorted delicately.  “And you shouldn’t work such long hours.”

 

Tony bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.  One of the things he liked best about Aggie was just how feisty she was.  She wasn’t one to be told what to do for her own good any more than Tony was.  She always gave as good as she got.

 

“Hello, Jethro,” Aggie greeted Gibbs with a smile as he approached. 

 

“Aggie.”  Gibbs nodded.  “You have a good walk?”

 

“My husband would have called it bracing.”  Aggie chuckled.  “I’d just call it damn cold.”  She sighed. “I’ll be glad when winter is over.”

 

Gibbs nodded, opening the door for her.  “Me too.”

 

“You boys have something warm for dinner?”  Aggie asked as she limped past them. 

 

“Yes, Ma’am.”  Tony had leftovers of some kind that could be heated.  At least he thought he did. If not, he’d have something delivered. 

 

Aggie stopped to give him a measuring glance making Tony aware that his last thought had probably been obvious to anyone who knew him.  “Something other than pizza?”

 

Tony grinned. She reminded him of Momma C some days.  “Something other than pizza, Aggie. I promise.”

 

“Good.”  She nodded.  “You can’t stay healthy eating junk food.”

 

“So people keep telling me,” Tony muttered, not sure why pizza was considered junk food.  It had bread, cheese, meat and tomato sauce…seemed like a fairly balanced meal to him.

 

“People are right,” Gibbs said quietly, leaning in to almost whisper in Tony’s ear. 

 

Tony forced himself not to shiver in response to having Gibbs’ breath against ghost over his skin.  It was a damn good thing the man didn’t do that at work.  Tony would never be able to concentrate. 

 

“You boys have a good night,” Aggie said as she continued down the hall to her apartment.  

 

“Good night, Aggie,” Gibbs and Tony said together making her giggle like a little girl. 

 

Tony shook his head, sharing a grin with Gibbs before heading upstairs.  He liked the way Gibbs put a hand on his back. Not that he needed the support, but he definitely enjoyed the feel of Gibbs’ warm, strong hand on the small of his back. 

 

Tony unlocked the door, turning on a light as he entered. He sighed when Gibbs wrapped his arms around him from behind, pulling him in close.  Gibbs nuzzled his neck, placing a soft kiss against his skin.

 

“You mind if I a grab a shower before dinner?” Tony asked, unconsciously relaxing further into Gibbs’ embrace.

 

“You mind if I join you?”

 

Tony chuckled.  “Have I ever minded?”

 

He could feel Gibbs’ smile against his skin.  “First time for everything.”

 

“Not tonight there isn’t.” 

 

“Good.”  Gibbs nuzzled his neck again.  “Cause I’m not sure if you could have kept me out.”

 

Tony grinned.  “Locking the door wouldn’t work?”

 

“Nope.”  Gibbs nibbled Tony’s earlobe.  “I always got my picks on me.”

 

“Boy Scout.”

 

“Bite your tongue.”  Gibbs squeezed him.  “Marines are a damn sight better than a Boy Scout.”

 

“You going to prove that?” Tony deliberately roughened his voice, dropping it an octave, knowing what it did to Gibbs.  “Put your money where your mouth is?”

 

“Would rather just put my mouth everywhere.”

 

Tony shuddered.  God, the image that created.  “Please,” Tony whispered, not sure what he was begging for, but knowing Gibbs would provide it.

 

Gibbs loosened his hold enough for Tony to turn within his arms.  Their lips met in a kiss that was almost savage in its intensity. Tony moaned when Gibbs nibbled on his lower lip, tugging gently.  He could feel Gibbs’ fists clutching at his coat, trying to pull him in closer. 

 

Gibbs growled low in his throat. “Too damn many clothes.”

 

“Amen,” Tony murmured, frustrated to find soft wool rather than smooth skin under his fingers. 

 

“Off…now.”

 

Tony laughed, hands moving to cup Gibbs’ face.  “Love it when you get all cave man like.”

 

Gibbs arched an eyebrow.  “Don’t make me drag you the shower by your hair.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” 

 

Tony stepped back, shrugging out of his heavy coat.  He watched Gibbs do the same, eyeing the scarf draped loosely around the older man’s neck.  Tony had helped pick it out so he knew first hand just how soft it was, how nice it felt against skin.  Tony’s eyes darkened at the thought of using it against more sensitive areas.  Taking a deep breath, Tony told himself they’d get to that…later.  There were still toys he hadn’t shown to Gibbs yet.

 

Shoes were toed off and left where they lay.  A suit jacket and tie were abandoned along the hallway to the bathroom.  Dress shirts took a little longer to be tossed aside as both of them got distracted by having access to skin.

 

Tony was always fascinated by the feel of Gibbs’ skin.  The warm, smooth expanse was broken by an occasional scar, ragged lines and imperfections that only served to pique Tony’s interest no matter how many times he’d encountered them.  He knew where some of them came from, but had no idea about others.  He never asked about them, mentally referring to them as badges of honor.  They were like Gibbs’ medals, and while not entirely off limits, they weren’t usual topics of conversation either.

 

Tony whimpered when Gibbs licked and sucked his way down from just below Tony’s ear to his right nipple.  His fingers carded through silver strands of hair, holding Gibbs where he was, mutely begging for more.  Tony’s head tipped back against the wall with a dull thud. His eyes closed, and he bit his lower lip to keep from making any more embarrassing noises, as Gibbs expertly used his tongue and teeth to worry that small nub hardened by stimulation and need. 

 

“God…” Tony breathed out in a harsh whisper, struggling not to lose it completely.  His fingers clenched as he struggled with himself, torn between wanting to pull Gibbs away and totally giving in to his assault.

 

Gibbs raised his head, blue of his iris little more than a small ring around passion dilated pupils.  “You okay?”

 

Tony gave a shaky laugh.  “Other than about to make a hell of a mess in my pants…I’m golden.” 

 

Tony tilted his head to lay his cheek against Gibbs’.  He whispered, “Don’t think anyone has ever gotten to me like you do, Jethro.” 

 

He sighed softly as he breathed in the scent of Gibbs’ skin: coffee, sawdust, and musk. He loved that fragrance.  If it could be bottled, he’d make a fortune selling it as an aphrodisiac.   

 

Gibbs moved just enough to place a kiss on Tony’s temple.  It never failed to amaze Tony how much his lover could convey with one touch.  The only word he could find to describe how he felt at that moment was cherished…not that he’d ever say it aloud.  No, they both had reputations as manly men to protect.

 

Gibbs stepped back, offering his hand to Tony.  “C’mon.”

 

Tony took his hand, feeling suddenly shy.  The gesture was more intimate than anything they’d done just a few moments ago.  It spoke of more than lust and love; it was an offer of trust and welcome.  Tony laughed softly to himself. He really was a hopeless romantic. 

 

In the bathroom, Tony started the water in the shower while Gibbs got rid of the rest of his clothing.  Tony turned to slip out of his pants and then hesitated for a moment, taking in the picture Gibbs presented.  Well muscled legs that bespoke of daily exercise, the hard planes of his abdomen lacked any of the usual softness that often marked men of Gibbs’ age, strong shoulders still square and unbowed by the rigors of his chosen profession, the chorded muscles of his forearms that were silent testimony of many hours spent working with his hands. 

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow.  “What?”

 

“Anyone ever tell you that you are a beautiful man?”  Tony was surprised to see color rising to Gibbs’ cheeks.

 

“Women are beautiful.”

 

“So are you.”  Tony smiled, slipping off his pants.  “Smart and sexy too.”

 

Gibbs chuckled, blue eyes sparkling.  “You think so?”

 

“Know so.”  Tony was delighted to see the blush in Gibbs’ cheeks darken.  Who knew an honest compliment could cause such a reaction?

 

Tony ducked his head to hide his smile.  He didn’t want Gibbs to think he was laughing at him.  Tony took off his pendant, placing it in the small marble bowl on the vanity for safe keeping until he got out of the shower. 

 

He stepped into the shower, holding out a hand in an inviting gesture to Gibbs. Gibbs took his hand and stepped into the stall.  Tony ducked his head under the water for a moment before pulling Gibbs into the path of the spray, sharing the rejuvenating heat and massaging force of the water. 

 

Their lips met in a kiss that was gentle, nearly chaste.  Tony opened his mouth under Gibbs’ tender persistence, allowing the older man take control of the kiss.  He pulled Gibbs closer, shivering in response to heated skin touching his own.  Tony’s hands skimmed over Gibbs’ back, retracing familiar, well loved territory. He loved the feel of strong muscles and smooth skin gliding under his fingertips. 

 

Tony let his hands slide down further, kneading the firm globes of Gibbs’ ass. He swallowed the moan his touch caused, enjoying his lover’s reaction.  Tony let out a low moan of his own when Gibbs started rubbing his erection against Tony’s. 

 

Gibbs pulled back.  His grin made Tony just a little uneasy, unsure what the older man might be planning.  He swallowed hard, eyes going wide when Gibbs gracefully sank to his knees, mouth poised over the head of Tony’s cock.  It wasn’t like Gibbs never did this, but he didn’t do it often.  Tony shivered.  Just the image of Gibbs on his knees raised goose bumps along Tony’s arms.

 

Tony’s right hand latched on to the soap caddy, knuckles whitening when Gibbs took the tip of his cock into his mouth.  When the warm, rough pad of Gibbs’ tongue swirled over the head it took all Tony’s willpower not to thrust forward.  He gasped for breath, shuddering as he held himself in check. 

 

Gibbs looked up at him, eyes mesmerizing, holding Tony in place as surely as any physical contact could have.  His expression was an odd blend of innocence and sensual devilment. Gibbs knew what he was doing, knew just how sensitive Tony was, but he always seemed fascinated by Tony’s reaction.  It was almost as if he was seeking confirmation even as he tested the limits of Tony’s control.

 

“Bastard,” Tony breathed out in a soft whisper, the word more of an endearment than a curse.  Gibbs just smiled, tongue moving over the head of Tony’s cock again like a cat licking cream.

 

Tony reached out with his free hand to card his fingers through Gibbs’ hair.  The water had darkened the usual silver to something closer to what it must have looked like when he was Tony’s age, but it still felt the same sliding through his fingers.  Tony cupped the back of Gibbs’ head, resting his hand there, not forcing him forward the way he so desperately would like to do.

 

Gibbs took more of Tony’s cock into his mouth, cheeks hollowing out as he sucked. Tony whimpered, eyes drifting to half-mast.  He instinctively massaged Gibbs’ scalp, fingers matching the movement and rhythm Gibbs established.  

 

Gibbs worked his throat, the motion of swallowing, squeezing and releasing, made Tony moan low in his throat.  His hips moved instinctively, small thrusts held in check by his desire to not let go just yet.  He loved this and he wanted it to last for as long as possible.

 

He bit back a curse when Gibbs’ upped the ante by humming.  The vibrations seemed to build as they traveled, leaving Tony shaking with hunger for more.  His hips rocked and Gibbs moved with him, following his movements easily.

 

“God…Jethro…” Tony panted.  He was sure there was something he’d meant to say but he couldn’t remember now. 

 

He released his hold on Gibbs’ head, hand moving to rub across his own chest.  When Tony pinched and twisted a nipple it was like he’d completed an electric circuit. He gasped for air, leaning back against the shower wall to brace himself.  The cool tiles against his skin made for an exquisite contrast to the heat rising from everywhere else. 

 

Gibbs sucked harder, sliding easily up and down Tony’s shaft.  He hummed on every down stoke, sucked hard on each up.  Tony had no idea what the man was doing with is tongue; he only knew he didn’t want Gibbs to stop.

 

Every muscle in his body tensed, a tingle started at the base of his spine.  Tony tried to warn Gibbs, to let him know he was close, but he couldn’t seem to get enough air to actually speak. The small mewling sounds of pleasure that escaped him were easily discernable in spite of the running water. 

 

His breath caught, mouth open in a silent cry, when Gibbs fingers found that spot just behind his balls and pressed.  White light exploded behind his eyes as he came, his entire body shaking with the force of it. 

 

Tony wasn’t sure how long he got lost in that blissful fog.  All he was aware of when he came back to himself was that Gibbs was no longer on his knees.  His lover’s strong arms were holding him, keeping him from just sliding down the wall.  Tony wrapped his arms around Gibbs, resting his head on the other man’s shoulder. 

 

“You with me?” Gibbs asked softly.

 

“Yeah.”  Tony blinked, surprised by how hoarse he sounded.

 

Gibbs pulled back.  He put a finger under Tony’s chin, gently forcing him to raise his head and make eye contact.  Gibbs smiled tenderly before kissing him. 

 

Tony sighed when Gibbs broke the kiss.  “Think I needed that.”

 

Gibbs grinned. “Ya think?”

 

 “Okay, I know I did.” Tony laughed.  “Happy now?”

 

“Very.”  

 

Gibbs looked decidedly smug.  Given the orgasm he’d just given him, Tony figured Gibbs deserved to be smug.  It wasn’t often he had a complete white out like that. 

 

More aware, Tony realized just how one-sided their lovemaking had been.  Feeling a little selfish, Tony hesitantly offered, “You need me to—“

 

“No.”  Gibbs shook his head, looking sheepish.  “Came when you did.”

 

Tony nodded.  He’d had that happen once or twice himself since he’d gotten involved with Gibbs.  Initially, he’d been embarrassed, until he realized just how connected that made them.  He got off on Gibbs’ pleasure; Gibbs got off on his. 

 

Tony smiled lazily.  “Quite the pair we are.”

 

“That we are.” Gibbs chuckled, kissing the tip of his nose.  “You ready to actually get cleaned up and then get something to eat?”

 

“You mean we’re not clean now?” Tony asked, adopting his most innocent expression.

 

Gibbs smirked, and then lightly cuffed the back of his head.  “No.”

 

Tony laughed, reaching for the soap.  He waggled his eyebrows.  “You want me to do your back for you?”

 

Gibbs smiled warmly.  “What do you think?”

 

“I think you’re insatiable.”

 

“But you love me anyway.”

“Yeah, I do.” 

Chapter Text

Gibbs made short work of picking up the clothing they’d left scattered about Tony’s apartment while Tony checked to see what would qualify as edible in his kitchen.  Gibbs bundled up the clothing and tossed it in the hamper somewhat relieved that at least this time Tony’s shirt hadn’t lost any buttons.   

 

It had happened before, when things got a little intense, and Gibbs was a bit too ravenous to wait.  Time apart could do that to him---like on a hot case that kept them working for days with no real down time.  The younger man never objected to those bouts of rough and ready love making where they often didn’t make it any further than the front hallway.  But he always made Gibbs pay for his tailor to repair his shirts.  Gibbs grinned to himself, it could get expensive, but he couldn’t really say he regretted anything.  

 

Glancing at Tony’s closet, Gibbs was surprised to realize how much of his own clothing was now in residence.  Hanging there, it wasn’t readily obvious that his dress shirts cost less than half of what Tony typically spent on his.  But touching them, it was readily apparent that Tony’s were of better quality material and better made.  Most were tailored to fit rather than just off the rack like Gibbs’ were.    

 

Given Tony’s height, tailoring made sense.  Finding something to fit well was probably not easy to do.  And like Abby, Gibbs readily appreciated how good Tony looked in his designer threads. 

 

Gibbs fingered the sleeve on one of Tony’s silk shirts.  He never seriously considered getting something so expensive for himself. But since getting involved with Tony there were times when he was tempted.  Not that he’d ever said so aloud.  No way in hell was he going to admit to envying Tony’s wardrobe. 

 

Gibbs headed for the kitchen.  He could hear the microwave humming.  He tried to remember when they last ordered something in, wondering if whatever Tony was heating was actually safe to eat.   

 

“Soup’s on,” Tony said when he saw him. “Literally.” 

 

“Soup?” 

 

Tony held up a can.  Gibbs’ squinted to read the label.  Healthy Choice Vegetable Beef.  He couldn’t remember if he’d eaten that before, but it was definitely a better choice than leftover take out of dubious age.   

 

“Not as good as home made, but it is hot and not pizza, so I think that covers my promise to Aggie.”  Tony shrugged.  “And nuking it is faster than using the stove.” 

 

Gibbs was going to ask why the rush when Tony’s stomach rumbled loudly. Lunch had been a long time ago, and there hadn’t been time for even a snack since.  His own stomach rumbled in sympathetic response, reminding him that he needed more than coffee to run on too.   

 

Tony pointed to the table where a plate sat in the center.  Crackers, cheese and apple slices were laid out in a neat circle.  Gibbs helped himself to a piece of cheese knowing Tony favored varieties he hadn’t even known existed before meeting the younger man.  This one was something sharp and tangy.  Tony would probably know what wine went well with it. 

 

“You want a beer?” 

 

Gibbs nodded.  He preferred beer to wine…if he wasn’t going to have bourbon.  Given the few comments Tony had made regarding his father’s drinking habits, Gibbs knew it would be a cold day in hell before the younger man stocked any of the hard stuff in his apartment.  He didn’t object to Gibbs having it in his home; Gibbs suspected it was a byproduct of that ingrained politeness than any true acceptance on Tony’s part. It wasn’t a huge concession for Gibbs to have only one shot or to simply go without when Tony stayed at his place.  He really didn’t mind doing whatever it took to make sure Tony was comfortable in his home.   

 

“Sit.”  Tony handed him a beer.  He turned back to the microwave when it beeped, carefully withdrawing two steaming bowls of soup.  He set one in front of Gibbs before taking a seat across the table from him.   

 

Tony picked up an apple slice, crunching it between his teeth, while idly stirring his soup.  Gibbs stirred his own, helping it cool enough to eat.  He tossed in a few crackers while he was at it, before snagging another piece of cheese.     

 

“I’ve been thinking.” 

 

Tony raised an eyebrow, clearly not expecting that sudden conversational gambit.  “About?” 

 

“Our sleeping arrangements.” 

 

Tony’s wary expression made Gibbs realize that his bald statement could be taken the wrong way.  He reached out to capture one of Tony’s hands, entwining their fingers, offering physical reassurance while he tried to work out what to say.  He hadn’t meant to just blurt things out like that, but since he’d already started, Gibbs decided there was no way to back peddle, better to just continue. 

 

“I don’t like sleeping alone,” he confessed with a quiet sigh.  Truth was he hated it.  And he resented starting his day without a morning kiss or a chance to cuddle even if only for a few minutes before getting up to face the day.   

 

“Don’t much like sleeping alone myself.”  Tony smiled softly.   

 

Gibbs took a deep breath.  It wasn’t exactly forbidden territory, but he still felt compelled to tread lightly.  He didn’t want to scare Tony by pushing too hard.  And Tony had good reason to be cautious.   

 

“I know…we’d agreed to spend a few nights a week a part to keep up appearances. And to make sure we didn’t get complacent at work.  But…” Gibbs’ thumb caressed Tony’s knuckles, “I think we’re capable of keeping our private lives private, even if we spend every night together.”   

 

Tony smirked playfully.  “You think?” 

 

“Yeah, I do.”  Gibbs returned seriously.  He wanted Tony to genuinely consider what he was saying.  “We’ve been a couple for months and no one has noticed anything.”  He frowned, remembering the conversation he overheard between Stoddard and Vizoric, and comments made by Ziva and McGee.  “At least nothing concrete anyway.” 

 

Tony cocked his head.  “Meaning?” 

 

“Half the building thinks you’ve got someone special.” 

 

“I knew that.”  Tony’s eyes sparkled.  “And I do have someone special.” 

 

Gibbs fought down the blush he could feel rising. He cleared his throat, telling himself to stay focused.  “But they don’t have any idea who…and it is decidedly unlikely any of them are going to jump to the right conclusion.  At least, not without us doing something blatant.” 

 

“By blatant, you mean…”Tony arched an eyebrow.  “Like me going down on you in the elevator?  Or maybe in the car?  Or if I planted a big old sloppy kiss on you in the--” 

 

“Yeah, like that.”  Gibbs tightened his grip on Tony’s hand, halting the flow of words and images they engendered.  “If they haven’t figure it out by now…our spending every night together shouldn’t be a problem.” 

 

Tony’s brows pulled together, expression sobering.  He worried his lower lip. “I don’t—“ 

 

“This isn’t Peoria, Tony.”  It was a calculated risk to even hint at what had happened to Tony’s lover, Caleb, so many years ago. 

 

Tony winced and looked away, but didn’t try to pull his hand from Gibbs’.  He took a shaky breath, nodding slowly.  Green eyes measured Gibbs.  “You can take care of yourself.” 

 

It wasn’t a question, but Gibbs felt compelled to answer just the same.  “Yes, I can.”  He could take care of Tony too, if need be.  No one was going to come after either of them in a dark alley with a baseball bat.  Not if Gibbs hand anything to say about it.   

 

He could feel the uncertainty radiating off Tony in waves.  Gibbs squeezed the hand he held and waited.   

 

“We don’t have to say anything, right?” 

 

“Not talking about coming out of the closet here, Tony,” Gibbs reminded him gently, not surprised Tony would seek reassurance on that point.  He understood all to well the sort of scars and uncertainty losing a loved one to violence could leave. So while he wanted to publicly declare his love for Tony, he was prepared to wait until the younger man was ready.   

 

He could wait until Tony was sure all his teammates could be trusted to support them as a couple.  Abby would not be a problem---she already knew Tony wasn’t as straight as he pretended and was decidedly open minded.  But Ziva and McGee were unknowns.  And if they told one, they would have to tell them all.  Gibbs always thought Franklin was right when he said, “the only way three people can keep a secret is if two are already dead.” 

 

It wasn’t a hardship to wait until Tony believed the agents at NCIS weren’t like the homophobic cops that had only managed to solve Caleb’s murder because of the gross ineptitude of the perpetrators.   The majority weren’t like the service men and women that the team occasionally dealt with who saw gays as abnormal, in need of punishment for being different.  They weren’t like Caleb’s father either---disowning his son for being gay and likely the principle cause of his death.   

 

Tony bit his lower lip.  “So…just no more spending nights apart?” 

 

“No more nights apart.”  Gibbs nodded, confirming that he wasn’t pushing for more.   

 

The tension seemed to drain away from Tony.  Gibbs understood then that Tony had wanted this as much as he did, but had been too skittish to bring it up or ask outright. They were both still feeling their way through this relationship a little at a time.   Both of them were sometimes shy of asking for too much, pushing too hard, of doing irreparable damage to what was the best thing in their lives.  And deep, meaningful emotional conversations weren’t exactly either’s forte.   

 

Tony smiled.  ”I think I can handle spending every night together.” 

 

Gibbs rolled his eyes.  “Ya think?” 

 

Tony gave him an amused look.  “Shaddup.”   

 

“Doesn’t work for you either.” 

 

“True.”  Tony chuckled.  He grabbed another apple slice.  “You want to alternate nights between your place and mine?” 

 

Gibbs decided against bringing up the idea of moving in together the second Tony asked that question.  It was a clear indicator that Tony wasn’t ready for that step yet.   And to be honest, Gibbs wasn’t quite sure he was ready for that it either.  It was the first long term relationship for Tony, and the first serious one Gibbs had ever had with a man---they both still needed that sense of independence having their own places implied…at least for now.  The more time they spent together, Gibbs knew that need would diminish until ‘living together’ didn’t seem like such a monumental step.   

 

Gibbs just smiled and shrugged a shoulder.  “As long as we end up together, the where doesn’t matter much.” 

 

“You sure about this?” 

 

Gibbs made eye contact and held it.  “I’m sure.” 

 

Tony’s smile brightened.  “Okay.” 

 

Gibbs raised an eyebrow, his innate skepticism rising. He had expected more… resistance…discussion…something.   It was anti-climatic to have it be this easy.   

 

“That’s it…okay?” 

 

Tony fluttered his eye lashes, countenance one of exaggerated innocence.  “You want me to make you work harder for it?” 

 

Gibbs grimaced.  No, he really didn’t want to have to fight Tony on this…even in a lighthearted way.  “No.” 

 

“Then just accept the easy answer.”   

 

There were times when he really despised how quickly Tony could shift emotional gears.  When he detested how easily Tony could make complex things simple and simple things complex.  It was maddening at times. 

 

“I hate you.” 

 

“No, you don’t.”   

 

“No, I don’t.” Gibbs agreed.  Maddening, yet so damn endearing. And Gibbs didn’t really want him any other way.   

 

Tony laughed softly before ducking his head to place a quick kiss on the back of Gibbs’ hand.  “Eat your dinner before it gets cold.” 

 

At they ate conversation drifted to safer topics.  They touched on their upcoming trip to see Gabe and what to send Mike for Heather that would convince him to send Gibbs brownies.  They briefly rehashed the case, and compared notes on how their theories about what the evidence indicated compared with just how pathetic Warren actually was. The man would likely have never spent a day in jail if he had the good sense to leave his brother’s body in an alley.  Now, he was looking at a minimum of fifteen years for embezzlement and obstruction.  By the time Gibbs started asking for details on Stoddard and Vizoric’s case, Tony was yawning repeatedly. 

 

“Think it’s past your bed time.”  

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “It’s not even nine.” 

 

Gibbs cocked his head, waiting out another yawn from Tony before asking, “Your point?”  

 

“Yeah, yeah.”  Tony rubbed his face tiredly, pushing his chair back from the table.  “Let me just—“ 

 

“I’ll clean up here.”  Gibbs smiled, taking both bowls and piling them on the now empty plate.  “You cooked…well…sort of.” 

 

“Hey!”  Tony protested with quicksilver grin.  “I slaved over that microwave for a good three minutes.” 

 

Gibbs snickered.  “Oh yeah, absolute agony.” 

 

“Worked my fingers to the bone.”  Tony declared with a put upon expression.  “No appreciation.  None.” 

 

Gibbs gave him a look, letting his eyes run over Tony suggestively.  “I’ll show you my appreciation.” 

 

Tony shivered and then made a soft growling noise deep in his throat.  “Promise?” 

 

“Promise.”  Gibbs waved a hand toward the bedroom.  “Go warm up the bed.” 

 

Tony leaned in.  His lips barely touched Gibbs’.  It was a brief kiss, so quick as to be almost not existent, and yet promising so much more. “Don’t make me wait too long.” 

 

Gibbs struggled to breathe normally.  “Wouldn’t dream of it.” 

 

“Good man.”  Tony said before sauntering out of the kitchen. 

 

Gibbs watched Tony’s ass sway.  The man was such a tease.  So tempting, so alluring.  Maybe…yeah…he decided.  The dishes could wait until tomorrow.