Blind Loyalty

"What do you mean we can't get this translated until next week?" Fornell demanded of his subordinate.

"Well, Joanne's out on maternity leave until next week and we don't have another Braille reader so we had to get someone from the Justice Department and he's not available until Tuesday," the man said in a rush.

"Unacceptable." Fornell sighed. "I'll get it taken care of." He picked up the phone and dialed.

"Gibbs residence," a familiar voice answered.

"DiNozzo, Gibbs still keeping you on a leash?"

"Fornell," the young man's voice went flat. "Why are you calling the house not the office?"

"Because I wanted to talk to you."

There was a disgusted snort. "Fine, what's happened that you don't understand and are too afraid to ask Gibbs about?"

Fornell chuckled. "Nope, I need your skills."

"For what?"

"I've got a diary written in Braille that I need translated."

There was a long silence. "Dinner's at seven. Bring red wine. And I'll warn Gibbs you'll be here. Might want to bring coffee as a libation."

"Chai tea?"

"Flirt." DiNozzo hung up on him and Fornell snorted, shaking his head. The kid was picking up all sorts of bad habits. Of course, he'd outlasted the last two wives, so there was probably something to that.

****

"Hang up your coat and come to the kitchen," DiNozzo called. "And don't be stupid. Gibbs is upstairs not the basement. He just got in a few minutes ago."

"How do you know it's not some burglar?"

"First off they know better. Second, I know your car."

Fornell stopped in the doorway. "Where should I put the wine?"

"Set it on the top shelf of the wine rack. The labler's right there. Just type in the name, type and year and it'll make up the label for the bottle. Just in case we don't finish it off tonight."

"Can I hire you?"

"To cook? Nope. But if you beg really well, I'll send leftovers home with you. So tell me about the case? Nothing as simple as murder?"

"Not my field."

"Yeah, I know. So tell me. My clearance is still active you know. If the Director didn't dislike me so much, I'd be sitting in the office learning to type, not playing house-spouse." Tony stirred the sauce once more. He raised his voice. "If you don't get down here soon, I'm feeding your share of the manicotti to Fornell!"

"Like Hell!" Gibbs yelled back down the stairs. Both of them had above-average hearing so conversations between floors were fairly normal to them. Tony cocked his head to the side, trying to hear Gibbs moving. He had put the manicotti onto the table and was moving to get the salad when Gibbs bopped him lightly on the head in greeting. It wasn't really a head-smack. It was just a light tap to let him know he was there. "What can I get?"

"Make sure Fornell labled the wine, then pour me a glass. I don't smell any coffee, so I'm guessing someone didn't actually bring it."

"I left it in the car."

"Then go get it. It's going to be getting cold." Fornell's footsteps were quiet, steady, determined. Him, Tony could hear moving around. Gibbs he had to track by scent when he could. When they went running it was touch. After the first few weeks of insanity and occupational therapy, they'd settled into a routine. They could run together because Tony trusted Gibbs completely. The neighbors had buzzed a little bit when Tony moved in, but it had settled down quickly when the little old lady next door had figured out that Tony was blind. She'd clucked over him and lectured Gibbs on proper behavior for three hours. Her daughter was blind, happily married, and a professional chef. Suzie had been giving Tony cooking lessons in exchange for self-defense lessons. They were both having fun.

"What are you smirking about over there?"

"My torrid affair with the chef."

Gibbs snorted. "Brat." Tony grinned. "You didn't tell me what he wants."

"Said he had a Braille diary he wanted someone to read for him." Tony shrugged.

"And I wanted to irritate you."

"You were bored."

"In a word, duh. It's getting to me. I mean, McGee can train me on all the adaptive software in the world, but it will never be the same as actually being allowed to investigate. This sounded like something I could do, but I don't trust him like you do." Tony's nose twitched.

"Special delivery," Fornell stated. "Nasty black coffee for Gibbs and chai tea with skim milk."

"Now, if you brought dessert too, this will be the perfect bribe." Tony wrapped his hand around the cup. Fornell was old-school enough not to coddle him and

Tony was overjoyed by that. "Sit down, it's time to eat."

****

"So, I'll translate this for you and you'll owe me and everyone will be happy," Tony grinned. "I just hope she doesn't use shorthand."

"What do you mean?"

"Personal short-hand. She meant this to be personal, so she might not have spelled things out completely."

Fornell sighed. "Fine. Just get it to me as soon as you can?"

Tony shrugged. "I'll start on it tomorrow after I get done torturing McGee about the dictation program that doesn't like my vocabulary."

Gibbs chuckled. "You taught the computer to curse in three languages. That's impressive."

"Yeah, well," Tony felt his cheeks heating. "He wants to move the equipment to the office tomorrow. We'll make sure it works when there's more ambient noise. I'll call you when I finish it. You can send someone to pick it up."

"Chocolate cake a sufficient payment?"

"No way. You'll just have to owe me one." The smile felt surprisingly nasty and he heard Gibbs swallowing his laughter.

Fornell grunted an agreement. "This is urgent."

"What do you want me to look for?"

"Just translate it."

"Open mind. Yeah, I hear you. Now, I'll leave you two to talk. Don't stay up too late or you'll scare McGee when he gets here in the morning." Tony excused himself. He'd known Gibbs' home backwards and blindfolded before the explosion had blinded him, so it was easy enough to go up the stairs and to the bedroom. He sorted through his clothes, feeling for the little studs Abby had helped him put in so that he could match his outfits. He still felt the need to lay out his clothes the night before. Gibbs never interrupted him in the middle of something like this. The first time he'd tried to help and all the frustration and anger had poured out of Tony and right onto him. Gibbs had caught him in a tight hug and held him until the rage left him and he could only breathe raggedly, choking like he had the plague again. Gibbs had never interfered again. He could hear the two men talking in the front room. They'd go down to the basement soon.

Tony caressed the diary's cover. "Let's see what you have to say, Melissa Hartness," he murmured. Braille had been easy for him to learn. He'd always had sensitive fingers and he knew if he didn't learn it, he'd have to rely on a computer to read to him. He didn't want that. Granted, he wasn't a big reader, but without his movies, he needed to have something to do. He grinned as he started to read. "Dear Diary, God that sounds pathetic."

****

"Well, how do you want to do this?" McGee asked quietly. Tony was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, hands clenched together in his lap.

"I want to go hide in the basement under the boat."

"I can turn the car around, but the longer you're gone, the harder it's going to be."

"I know. This is going to be akward. God, Tim, I'm sorry. I'm going to be a total bastard today."

"I figured on that. It's okay. I'm used to you PMSing."

Tony gaped at the younger man. A brilliant smile slowly replaced the look.

"Finally. I wondered how long it would take."

Pleased that he'd finally gotten Tony smiling, Tim grinned. "Thanks. Come on, get out. Abs and I set up the equipment last night."

"You know, you could try going out on dates instead of staying at the office."

"Tony," McGee let his frustration leak into his voice. He wasn't as good at it as Gibbs was, but Tony was better at reading people than Tim was. The senior agent took a moment to breathe, then opened the door.

"Coming, Probie?"

McGee didn't answer, just got out of the car and let Tony lightly grip his arm, like when Tony asked him to take him shopping. He tried to keep himself calm and walk steadily. He wasn't as tall as Tony, and he was sure that his pace had to irritate the other man. They scanned into the downstairs elevator. Tony's fingers gripped tightly for an instant, then released slowly. He didn't apologize and Tim didn't expect it. The floor was quiet. They were in early so that Tony could orient himself with some privacy. Gibbs wouldn't be in for a few more hours.

"Hey, DiNozzo, welcome back." Tony lifted a hand at the hail.

"Hey, Balboa. What do you think? Should I get him a little apron?" Balboa laughed. They made it to their desks without another interruption. There were eyes on them though and McGee wasn't sure how Tony would react to that. "Hmmm. Is my tie crooked or is it just my natural good looks?" Tony said, voice carrying easily across the bullpen. "As the resident closet case, you can tell me," Tony said. He patted McGee's shoulder and batted his lashes, "do you think all these people just don't know what to say because I'm so far out of their league?"

McGee watched sheepish faces disappear behind cubicle walls. He hid his smirk. Gibbs would be so proud. Tony'd intimidated an entire room with three sentences. "Okay, so, it's the same system we've been using at the house," McGee began, "but we need to set it up so you know where everything is."

****

Gibbs strode to his desk, dropping a light rap on top of Tony's head as he went by.

"I can smell the sawdust you know," Tony said, not bothering to lift his head.

"So?"

"We've got a missing Marine from Quantico, or a fraud case from the infirmary."

"Details," Gibbs said, settling into his seat and checking the new papers.

"Marine didn't report for his morning duty. Name is James Morton. He's works on the motor pool. He was last seen at eight o'clock at the Commisary. He bought a box of soda and a bag of chips. No known history of drugs, alcohol, or violence. No known enemies."

"Girlfriend?"

"She lives in California. Her name is Suzanne and she doesn't like to get phone calls in the early morning hours. Seems she's a night-owl programmer. She's supposed to be flying out next weekend to see him."

"You talk to her?"

"Yep. Sounds like honey. She's from South Carolina. My money says she's the first member of her family to go to college and make good."

"Why?"

"Speech patterns."

"You don't sound like a rich New Yorker."

"That would be the work of three speech therapists and an acting coach."

"What have you got on the fraud?"

"Seems there's been a boatload of mischarged costs from outside vendors. New person caught a glimpse of the charges and tipped the nod to the MP's. They called for an outside perspective."

"What else came across that didn't catch you fancy?"

"Missing mid-shipman who's late back from liberty. Possible drug ring in Annapolis." Tony shrugged.

"Get the girlfriend on the line again. Full background on Morton. McGee, get the car. Ziva get your gear."

"On it, boss," Tony replied, picking up the phone. Gibbs didn't bother to hide the pleased grin. Ziva had been uncharacteristically quiet the entire day. She'd either adapt, or he'd get rid of her.

****

Tony's knee bounced as he worked. He typed, using the voice interface to confirm his work. He paused, sensing someone looking at him. He raised his head, and put his headphones around his neck. "Yes, Director?" He gave her a charming smile.

"Status report."

"The team is in Quantico. I'm running the backgrounds on our missing Marine and his honey."

"And the Johnson paperwork?"

"Should be arriving on your desk with the next interoffice mail batch. Billi just took the load."

"Agent McGee put in a request for a new scanner."

"He did?" Tony blinked. "I'll check on the paperwork and the justifications."

"Come up to my office at 1300."

"Yes, Ma'am." Tony made a quick time-check and made a mental note of the meeting. She walked away. He listened to the click of her heels on the stairs and smiled to himself.

"Yo, Tony!" Balboa called across the room. "You got a minute?"

"Sure." He waited for the other man to cross the room, surprised that he recognized the sound of his breathing. The other agent cleared his throat. "I know you're there. It's okay. I know it's going to take getting used to."

"Yeah. Well, rumor is that you're about to score a promotion."

"Right. Do you have any idea how many negotiations it took to actually keep me at this desk as opposed to being shuttled off into filing?" Balboa laughed. "I heard about Gibbs giving the HR department a dressing down. Anyway, I have a cold case I'm looking at, can I bounce some ideas off of you?"

"I've got to finish these backgrounds, but how about over lunch?"

"It's a plan."

"You're buying."

"Right. Good to have you back."

"Yeah. I missed this place."

****

Tony sighed. "I've got to meet with the director at 1300," he informed his friend.

"We can talk some more later if you want?"

"Sure thing, man. I. . . You need anything?"

"No, I'm good. Thanks."

"Okay. I'll clean up." Tony listened to Balboa gathering up the trash. "This is strange, Tony. I never expected to see you out of the field."

"Trust me, I'd rather be out there. Even blind, I'd rather be out there. But that's beyond the point even Gibbs can push."

"So, what's it like sharing a place with him?"

"Regimented. It's not bad, really. We get along pretty well off duty. I'm learning to cook."

"That's a scary thought."

"Can't stay a bachelor forever, Balboa. Well, you can, but if you don't learn to cook you're going to need to work harder at taking off the weight."

"That's what girlfriends are for."

Tony laughed. He gathered his cup and toothbrush. He didn't want to meet the director without having brushed his teeth. He was aware of someone watching him in the bathroom. "What?" he asked sharply.

"Sorry, Agent DiNozzo, it's just. . ."

"Palmer? What are you doing here?"

"Dr. Mallard sent me up to check on you."

"So you followed me to the men's room?"

"Yes, I mean no. I was here and I didn't want to startle you, so I. . ."

"Figured you'd stare at me until I got paranoid. I'm fine, Palmer. Now, go." Palmer scuttled off and Tony took a breath to calm himself. He'd expected Ducky to check up on him for Gibbs, but he'd never expected him to send Palmer. He finished up his brushing his teeth and went back to his desk. He wasn't sure what she'd want from him, so he took his PDA with him to take notes. He tripped once, and cursed softly. He knew this place backwards and forwards. Hell, he'd walked down these stairs backwards more than once to talk to Kate. The memory of her didn't hurt as much as it used to, but it was still enough to dampen his mood further. He made it to the director's office.

"She'll be with you in a moment, Agent DiNozzo," the director's assistant said loudly.

"I'm not deaf, I'm blind. I can still hear you perfectly well," he said bluntly. He heard her flustered inhalation as he sat down. He tried to stay still. There really wasn't anything else he could do. He couldn't play games on his phone. He couldn't read a magazine. His phone rang. He blessed Gibbs' timing. "DiNozzo."

"What have you got for me?" Gibbs demanded.

"His financials are fine. Nothing outstanding in any way. He's got a fairly normal background. He was written up twice in his first couple years for minor infractions. Nothing that would indicate he was involved in anything shady. Since the end of his first year, he straightened up and is considered a fine soldier. I'm still waiting on some calls to his family. His fiance is doing better financially than he is. She's never been in legal trouble beyond a speeding ticket. Good student. Got straight A's. Probably give McGee a run for his money."

"You think she's a hacker?"

"She's got the knowledge. It's possible."

"Find out."

"Right, boss." Tony grimaced at the assignment. That meant he'd have to venture down to talk to the tech geeks. Their area was dangerous on a good day. Maybe he could convince Abby to go with him. "I’m still running searches, but right now, they're coming out clean."

Gibbs grunted. "You get lunch?"

"Yeah. I'm good."

Gibbs hung up. Tony shook his head and stowed his phone.

"Director Sheppard will see you now."

"Thanks." Tony gave her a smile. He moved carefully into the director's office. She had a lot of chairs in there which he knew were never in the same place. He was surprised when she met him at the door.

"Can I take your arm?" she asked.

Tony's brows raised. "Yes, ma'am." She took his arm just above the elbow.

"The floor is clear. Here's the chair." She put his hand on the back of the chair.

"Did Ducky talk to you?"

"I wouldn't say talked." The door closed with a soft click. Tony waited until he heard her chair squeak to sit down. "Agent DiNozzo, I've been unfair to you. We're going to be working together more closely now and I want to clear the air a bit." She sighed. "I know you don't particularly like me, but I want to build a good working relationship with you."

"It's not you I dislike, ma'am."

She laughed a little at that, leaning back and making the hydrolics squeak again. "Then what don't you like?"

"Permission to speak freely, ma'am?"

"Granted."

"The way you try to subvert Gibbs' authority. The way you use Ziva to spy on us, while pretending to be her friend. And I can not stand jealousy. You aren't a field agent anymore. If you involve yourself in the day to day efforts of the teams, you're going to over-load. Your job is to over-see the operations, not to control them. And, Director, you are not Gibbs' partner anymore. You may be his friend. You are his director. But you are not his partner any longer."

"You think I'm jealous?"

"Yes. You aren't his focus. Your relationship with him has changed. And I'm not talking the personal level. He doesn't look to you for answers, doesn't bounce ideas off of you - officially at any rate. How did you like the flounder last week? It's a new recipie."

"You made that?"

Tony nodded. "I have an exchange program with a chef. She teaches me to cook. I teach her to fight."

"Really? Does she hire out?"

"Of course. I'll give her your contact information." Tony paused, shaking his head. "Where was I? Oh, yes, you aren't his partner and I think that hurts. You couldn't live with it day in and day out anymore, but you still trust him with your back because you know Gibbs will be there when you need him."

"I'm not jealous."

"Could have fooled half the office. It's been in the gossip streams since your first week."

"What do you mean?" her voice sharpened and Tony sat straight, chin lifting.

"Just what I said. The gossip says that you and he were an item as well as working together."

"We were in deep cover together as a couple."

"Oh, good. I'd hate to think he had a wife he hadn't told me about."

"How many do you know?"

"All of them. And a few girlfriends. There's things you have to know when you're answering the phone in the man's house."

She laughed at that. "And what do they think of you?"

"They like me."

"What has Gibbs told you about your new duties?"

"That he's condeming me to Hell?" He batted his lashes at her, knowing what the effect would be.

"In other words, he's told you about the meetings."

"Yes. The monthlys, the weeklys, all the meetings he usually skips."

"He wants to keep you busy."

"He always does. He's got this strange idea that I get into trouble when I have free time."

"I know." The director was quiet for a moment. "Agent DiNozzo, this may be out of line, but I heard more than one argument between you and Agent Gibbs about what duties you'd have when you returned."

"Yeah, well, neither of us are exactly accomidating. He wanted to push for me to be able to go to scenes. He doesn't care that all I'd be doing is witness reports. That's part of why he hired me. I told him not to do it. He hates when I tell him what to do."

"There's no way I'd allow you into the field."

"I know that. I'd just be a liability. Gibbs just wants to keep a close eye on me and he can't do that when I'm here." There was a moment of silence. "I'd end up getting him killed. I couldn't handle that."

"That's the only reason you're here and not next to him right now," Sheppard said quietly. "I have no argument with you being on the scene, talking to witnesses, or taking down a suspect. I've seen the surviellence tapes of what happened."

"But I'd distract him."

"Yes."

Tony shrugged. "Which is why I didn't let him fight for it. You're still going to let me do interviews and interrogations here, right?"

"That's all ready been approved."

"Is there anything else we need to discuss, ma'am?"

There was a long moment. "Is there anything else you need to be able to do your job here?"

"No, ma'am. Agent McGee and Abby set me up."

"Then, I'll see you at the monthly meeting tomorrow."

"Yes, ma'am."

****

Gibbs bit back his instictive reaction to turn to Tony once again. Damn, this was hard to get used to. McGee and Ziva just weren't Tony. They didn't have his instincts, his talent, or his knowledge. McGee was getting better. He was starting to anticipate rather than follow. He just didn't have the experience under his belt. Gibbs took a gulp of coffee and surveyed the quarters again. They were missing something. "Ziva, McGee, canvass the neighbors again. I want to know exactly when he disappeared."

The younger agents moved off after a quick "On it, boss," from McGee. Gibbs walked into the apartment. His gut told him that what they were missing was here in this room. He stood in the middle of the living room and turned slowly. He stopped, looking at the wall of pictures.

Gibbs opened his phone and dialed. "DiNozzo, I want everything there is to know about his family by the time we get back."

"On it, boss," Tony said cheerfully. Gibbs felt the hunting smile on his lips as he hung up his phone.

****

Jenny Sheppard would never admit to watching her agents working, but this time she couldn't help herself. She wasn't the only one watching DiNozzo work either. There were other agents who were stopping and staring for a moment as they walked by. He looked perfectly relaxed. He was leaning back with his feet up, headphones on his head, keyboard in his lap as he worked. It was a shock to see him there after six months. First, there'd been the injury, surgery, and recovery. Then, there'd been the negotiations with HR and occupational rehab services. There had never been any intention of firing him, of course, but it had been a bitter pill for the organization to leave him listed as a senior agent as opposed to moving him to clerk status. Gibbs had been adament that he wasn't giving him up. Jenny had reluctantly found herself in DiNozzo's corner as well.

After reviewing the tapes of his injury, she couldn't help but be impressed. The young man had been escorting a witness to interrogation. He was serious, but not threatening. At least, not to anyone viewing the tape. For some reason, the witness had bolted, moving instantly from witness to suspect. DiNozzo tackled him with perfect form, taking him to the ground. The ensuing fight was dirty, full of harsh blows and nasty grips. The suspect knocked DiNozzo into the edge of a desk. The doctors they'd brought in all agreed - he'd been blind from that moment on. DiNozzo had gone after the man a moment later, blood drenching the back of his suit. He took the suspect down to the ground and cuffed the vitriol spewing man. He knelt on the man's back, holding him in place until Gibbs had arrived. The witness reports provided the words they had passed between the partners.

"Boss?" DiNozzo asked as Gibbs touched his shoulder. He grimaced at the sight of blood on Tony's collar.

"Let go, Tony."

"Why didn't you turn the lights on?"

"They're not off. Let go, Ziva's got him covered." Gibbs pulled the younger man to his feet. Tony wavered on his feet, putting a hand to his temple.

"Sort of dizzy, boss." Gibbs put an arm around the young man's waist. He guided DiNozzo's arm to rest across his shoulders for support.

"Lean on me. We're going to the hospital."

"Not gonna make it that far." Tony'd collapsed into Gibbs arms then. He awoke blind, even after the surgery to stop the internal bleeding. She'd stopped in to see him in the hospital. He looked diminished somehow, bandaged and huddled under extra blankets. Abby had been sitting with him, one dark-fingernailed hand wrapped around his as he lay still, tears dripping down his cheeks, even asleep. She didn't know how he'd managed to go from looking fragile and young in his hospital bed to relaxed and confident at his desk, but she had to admit that it was an impressive feat.

Gibbs strode into the area and DiNozzo sat up. "Morton's got three sisters and a brother. His younger sister had twins last month, but he hasn't been to see her yet. I left a message for his mother to call me back. His brother is in Iraq. He went Army. One of the other sisters is in college. She's in class right now. I left a message with her roommate. The other works for an advertising firm. I got her voice mail at work, but she should call back in the next hour. His father died from lung cancer last year."

Jen gave herself a mental shake and went back into MTAC.

****

Gibbs grunted in response to the information. "Any ex-wives?"

"One. They married in Vegas, then got it annuled a day later. Her name was Rose Vine, I kid you not. She's a showgirl at the Tropicana. Does the Follies. She's got to be in excellent shape. They reaudition every six months for that one."

"DiNozzo."

"Right. Ah, Rose Vine. She hasn't heard from him in about six months. She said the wedding was a matter of being totally blitzed that night and can still laugh about it. They didn't even do the deed, just fell asleep together in his hotel room. Said he was a nice enough guy and they have kept in contact, but only the 'I'm still alive' kind of thing. She's happy about him finding a girl to settle down with and figures that's why she hasn't heard from him in awhile."

"You get a date?"

"Right, because you'd give me time off to go to Vegas."

Gibbs smirked, not bothering to answer that comment. "Any pressure points she knew of?"

"Nope. She was the closet he had, but she'd met his girl. Something's missing."

"Airport lists?"

"Four people with the same name. Seattle to NYC, Chicago to Ft. Worth, Allentown to San Antonio, and Miami to Chicago. I've got footage coming from Allentown. It's the only one that's close enough for him to have driven to by now. I've got the system flagged to tell me if any more decide to travel."

"Ziva, start running down his coworkers. I want to know when they last saw him and what was going on. DiNozzo, I want the family tree on my desk. Call the sisters again. I want to know when his brother was last in town."

"On it, boss." Gibbs settled at his desk, frowning.

****

"Hey, I've found a plus to not being able to see Gibbs," Tony said to McGee, knowing Gibbs was at his desk.

"Oh?" McGee said absently.

"He can't glare at me."

Gibbs smacked a ruler down on the desk. Tony jumped at the sharp sound. He still wasn't used to loud noises and Gibbs knew that. "There's other ways of motivating you," Gibbs stated. Tony could hear the smirk in his voice.

"Cold, boss. Really cold." He pouted in the older man's direction and heard the snorted huff. He knew he'd accomplished his goal of lightening Gibbs mood and went back to work. The team worked in silence for a long moment. The sound of clicking keyboards disappeared as Tony put on his headphones and turned back to his computer. The frowned at the information he was hearing. Something was missing, but he wasn't sure what. He tapped his fingers restlessly on his leg.

"Talk to me, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped.

"Something's missing in his family records. I'm checking his parents families now."

"Missing?"

"There's something that feels incomplete."

Gibbs didn't respond and Tony figured he'd gotten at least a nod. Gibbs seemed to forget he couldn't read body language anymore. Or maybe Gibbs was being good to his word and trying to treat him normally. That was more likely. Tony shook off the musings and got back to work. It took four phonecalls, but he found the missing piece. "His mom has a brother who just happens to be posted in Quantico. He works the at the pharmacy."

"Isn't that interesting. Who's on the embezzelment case?"

"Martins and Cummings."

"Call them. We need to meet. Now."

"On it, boss."

****

Tony collapsed into his favorite armchair with his laptop and the diary he was translating for Fornell. Palmer had driven him home. It was a relief to get away from the stumbling stories of the young man and back to the intriguingly voyeristic job of reading a woman's diary. It wasn't the first time he'd had to do it, but this time was a lot more interesting. She wasn't a suicidal teenager or a barely literate woman trying to keep a record of her life. Melissa was well-spoken and had a Master's in Engineering. She reminded him somewhat of Abby, only with a more deliberate turn of phrase. The silence of the room was comforting. He put his feet up and got to work.

"Met with Billy today. God, that man is going to drive me to drink. Can you believe he actually thinks I'm stupid just because I can't see him? I went to college blind and this idiot thinks he can mess with my designs because he can see and I can't. Does he really think I'm not going to notice? I gues it doesn't matter, since I always catch his interference, but I'm really getting tired of having to triple check my work."

Tony continued to read dictating softly into the headset. Gibbs tapped him lightly in the top of the head as he passed by on his way upstairs to change. The younger man wasn't surprised, he'd heard the front door. "Going back in to the office?" Tony called upstairs.

"No, just waiting on McGee and Ziva's reports," he called back. He came down the stairs a few minutes later. "What's for dinner?"

"Shrimp and chicken. It's in the fridge. Nuke it for a minute and a half."

"Thanks."

"You know, if I told people you were polite at home, they'd never believe me."

Gibbs snorted. He went to eat his dinner. The smell of the dinner and the fresh scent of coffee made Tony relax. He always felt more secure when Gibbs was home. It had to do with protecting as well as being protected. He couldn't be with Gibbs in the field and hadn't been for six months. He was afraid - and no, torture couldn't make him say it out loud - that if Gibbs got hurt, they'd forget to tell him. When they were both home, Tony felt the knot in his shoulders untense. He put down the diary and saved his file. He made his way to the kitchen. He misjudged the doorway by a few centimeters, grazing his arm. "I'm in the chair nearest the door so if you run into something furry it's the back of my head."

"Did you just give me permission to smack you?"

"Do it and I'll start aiming lower when I smack you."

"Don't make Abby jealous." Tony settled in his chair. "I'm assuming you're waiting on paperwork from Tim and Ziva?"

"I left them working on their reports. I signed off on yours already."

"So about the meeting tomorrow?"

"The monthly status review?"

"Yes. Do we have to go over cold cases or just active ones?"

"Just active."

"Which means we've only got two right?"

"Right. Browns and Hollister."

"I think I can handle that."

"Better you than me."

"You're just happy that you've found a way to torture me."

"You're being promoted. That means you deal with the meetings and the paperwork."

"Paperwork? I hate paperwork."

Gibbs chuckled. It was a nasty sound.

"Sadistic bastard."

“You’ve known that since we first worked together.”

Tony grinned at that.

"So, how's your light reading going?"

"Fascinating. Too bad she's dead. I think I'd like to date her."

Gibbs snorted. "She's female. Of course you want to date her."

"I'm not that bad," Tony replied. "I'm not dating Suzie."

"That's because it's a business deal. You're mercenary when it comes to that."

"Had to learn something from my father, didn't I?"

"Not sure why."

Tony was startled at that. He knew on some level that Gibbs didn't approve of Daddy DiNozzo, but he'd never really said anything to confirm it before. "He's not a bad guy."

"I monitored your background checks, Tony. His assistant knows you better than he does."

"Well, we're sort of the same age."

"Don't make excuses for him."

Tony blinked, jaw hanging open. He worked his jaw a few times, then closed his mouth.

Gibbs sighed. "I shouldn't have snapped."

"Why did you?"

"Because I hate seeing you hurt and he hurt you."

"He never laid a hand on me."

"Bet he never hugged you either."

"He's reserved."

"He's a drunk who ignored you unless you were acting out and disowned you when you were twelve."

"Warren Buffet's not supporting his kids."

"He's supporting them through college."

"Papa sent me to school."

"Then why did you need a job at fourteen that his assistant had to forge his signature for?"

"She admitted to that? Oops."

"Answer the question."

"When did this turn into a therapy session?" Tony crossed his arms. "When did you get all touchy-feely?"

Gibbs sighed. "I won't push anymore tonight."

"Why push at all?" Tony cursed the shake in his voice. His emotions were up and down enough that he was on Zoloft.

"Because I care, Tony. Because I hate seeing what a memory of him does to you. Because sometimes I want to drive up to New York, grab him and shake him for throwing away all the love and compassion that flows out of you. I want to yell at him for hurting the best thing in his life."

"That was my mother. She's dead."

"Did you ever blame him?"

Tony felt the tears pricking at his eyes. "Can we change the subject now?"

"Sure. Did Abby tell you that she's taking you to a club sometime soon?"

"A club with Abby? I'm not insane you know."

"She wants to get you used to being oriented in a crowd."

"That's not being oriented in a crowd, that's being molested."

"Ask her sweetly enough and maybe she won't take you any place extreme."

"Right. Maybe she'll let me use a leash on her. She's got this idea that I should just jump into that sort of thing with both feet." Tony leaned back.

"She might have a point. It's been working for you so far."

"What do you mean?"

"You've been doing better than anyone expected. Well, except for me. The doctors thought it would be another three months before you got back to the office."

"So, I could have spent three more months as a kept man and you didn't tell me?"

"You'd have shot me if you'd been on sick-leave any longer."

"Well, poison at least."

Gibbs laughed. "I'm having second thoughts."

"What?"

"I sort of like coming home to a home-cooked meal. As soon as you get back to speed, I won't have that."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, that when you start sleeping at your desk, I'll be back to living on take out."

"Nah, check out the freezer. Suze and I set up extra meals for just that occasion. They have instructions on them."

Gibbs chucked Tony under the chin with a finger. "That a boy." Tony smiled at him. Any sort of praise from Gibbs made him feel all tingly. He was pretty sure the fact that he was head-over-heels for the man might have something to do with it. "I'm going to work on the boat for awhile. You want to come down?"

"No, I think I'll finish the diary up. I hate having projects hanging over my head."

"Okay. I'll be up at the usual time."

Tony nodded.

****

Tony whimpered in his sleep. Gibbs tightened his grip automatically and the younger man settled with a sigh. Gibbs blinked awake about an hour later when Tony yelped and woke. The young man was panting, looking around frantically, even though the action would do him no good. Gibbs gathered him into his arms quickly. He hugged Tony close and started talking. "Tony, you're okay. It's Gibbs. I've got you. You're at home. You're safe. It's Gibbs. Listen to my voice. Slow your breathing. You're okay."

"Gibbs?"

"I'm right here. I've got you."

Tony turned in the circle of Gibbs' arms. He buried his face in Gibbs' shoulder. Gibbs stroked his hair until the shivering stopped. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No."

"Okay. Hush, I've got you, partner."

"I was dreaming that I was blinded. Turns out that wasn't just a nightmare."

"Oh, Tony."

Gibbs was pleased when Tony's arms wrapped around him. "I hate this."

"Being held?"

"Stop fishing. No, being weak. I just feel helpless, Gibbs."

"You can call me 'Jethro'," Gibbs reminded.

"Right, boss," Tony murmured. His arms tightened. Gibbs returned the hug. They'd pretend this conversation hadn't happened in the morning, but Gibbs was fine with that. He had Tony's trust. Tony fell back to sleep, body snuggled close to the older man's. Tony technically rented the spare bedroom, but during the first few weeks, Tony had needed too much help to make separate rooms practical. Then, when the nightmares started, they'd discovered that Tony need help orienting himself to the real world. His therapist claimed that the nightmares would ease as his stress decreased, but neither man was willing to trust the young woman on that count. "Love ya," Tony whispered, half-asleep. Gibbs smiled into the younger man's hair.

"I know. Love you too, Tony." Tony was already asleep when Gibbs whispered the words.

****

"Great, so where's this meeting I don't want to go to being held," Tony muttered under his breath as he checked his email.

"Stop whining," Gibbs snapped.

"Why, boss, I'm so pleased to be given these responsibilities that you have always hated and continue to despise." Tony tried for his best breathlessly enthusiastic tone. He knew he'd succeeded when he heard McGee coughing.

"It's in Conference Room 358."

"Oh, great. That's helpful."

"Down the hall from MTAC. Should be the fourth room on the left."

"Thanks." Tony sighed and gathered his PDA and his cane.

"Maybe we should get on the waiting list for a dog."

"Dogs shed, Gibbs," Tony said firmly. "With what I spend on my suits, I will *not* have a dog in the house."

"But think of the benefits."

Tony snorted. "You want a dog, get a dog. It's all yours, boss, just keep it away from me."

Gibbs snorted. Tony smirked in his direction, then made his way up the stairs. He trailed his fingers along the wall as he walked, needing the extra guide. He was getting better with the cane every day, but he still got disoriented easily. He found the sign for the room he was near. He'd never have guessed that he'd be thankful for the raised type and Braille translations in the building. He frowned, no that wasn't the right room. He continued on. "Which room do you need?" an unknown voice asked.

"358."

"I'm heading there myself. Tom Miller."

"The new team lead in from San Diego?"

"That's me."

"Tony DiNozzo. Reluctant proxy for Gibbs." Tony offered his hand and was reassured by the strong handshake.

"Do you want to take my arm?"

"I don't know. You going to ruin my reputation?"

Miller chuckled and guided Tony's hand to his arm. "Depends on your reputation. Should I be worried?" The conference room wasn't too far away.

"I don't know. Don't let it get back to my boss that I'm following another lead. He'll hit the roof."

"Cheating on Gibbs, Agent DiNozzo?" Director Sheppard asked as they entered the conference room. "He'll be crushed."

"I'd never cheat on Gibbs. I like my job, ma'am."

"Where's the best place for you to sit?" Miller asked.

"Near the door." Miller guided his hand to the back of a chair.

"Delivered safe and sound."

"DiNozzo! I didn't know you were back." The man gave Tony a hearty pat on the back.

"Hey, Lassiter. Heard you were down in Norfolk."

"I was until this morning. So, we'll actually be getting updates from Gibbs' team for once? I never thought I'd see the day."

"Don't get too used to it. If he buzzes me, I'm out of here. No disrespect, ma'am."

He didn't hear her response, but was fairly certain it involved a pointed ignoring of his comments. He settled in his chair and put on the "hands-free" headset he used with his PDA. He listened to the chairs creaking as people sat down around the table. He could smell the director's perfume. It had a sharp, biting undertone that he hated. It was French, he believed, but couldn't identify it any further than that. He needed to go shopping again. Maybe Old Mrs. B from next door would go to the mall with him. "For those of you who don't know him, Agent DiNozzo will be speaking for Agent Gibbs. Tom Miller has moved to the area from the San Diego office. He'll be working with Carson and Liebowitz."

Good luck, Tony thought snidely. He couldn't stand Liebowitz. The man was a prude.

"Agent Marks, the Williams case?"

Tony hated being so out of the loop that he didn't know anything about the cases that were open. He realized with a shock that Balboa had been the only person to approach him about a case in the two days he'd been back. The day after he'd gotten back from having the plague, people had been asking his advice.

"Joe Williams is still missing. His wife claims she has no idea where he's gone, but she doesn't seem to care either. He cleaned out everything but the joint checking account. We've got a BOLO out on him."

"Lewis case." The director had a list, Tony realized.

"We're dead in the water. No witnesses. No body. No missing money. No strange history. Lewis is just gone."

"Agent Hillier, Garrison case."

"It's murder. Single gunshot to the head. We're interrogating his girlfriend, but she's got a tight alibi."

"Goetz."

"Blackmail induced suicide. We're looking for the blackmailer now."

"Linz."

"She's pregnant by the rape." There was fury in Hillier's voice now. She never took cases like this easily. "She's being given a medical discharge. We have DNA evidence and pictures of the bruising, but he gave her Rophynol. She has no memory of the event."

"Agent Graham, Williams case."

"We're at a dead end. The trail's cold. The money gets to China and we can't trace it any further. We're on the computer task force's list, but they're over-run right now."

They proceeded around the table until they got to Tony. "Agent DiNozzo? Brown case."

"McGee is tracking the money through the China bounces. Until it gets to the states or to an allied country, we're stuck. The Hollister case is pending. We got a report from a LEO in Missouri. He's holding a man who's fingerprints match our suspect on a petty theft charge. Ziva and Gibbs are traveling out to question him in about three hours."

"Graham, talk to Agent McGee about tracking your money while in China. Tell me, why have we had a decrease in closures over the past six months? Our close rate has steadily decreased every month. This is unacceptable. Find the problem immediately," she ordered. "Dismissed."

Tony let the room clear a bit before he stood up. "Can I walk you back to your desk?" Miller asked.

"No, I'll be fine. Thanks. Unless you want an introduction to Gibbs. He's being snappish this morning though."

"I'll walk you back. You can introduce me to your team."

"Suit yourself. So, tell me, why did you trade the beaches for concrete?"

"All the interesting cases seem to happen out here. Besides, I'm from the area originally."

"You were born around here?"

"In Frederick, Maryland. After I joined NCIS, I worked at Norfolk for awhile before I moved out to San Diego. How'd you end up at NCIS?"

"Gibbs hired me." Tony shrugged, not wanting to go into any more detail. They went down the floor by elevator. "He doesn't shake hands, by the way."

"DiNozzo, flight details!" Gibbs snapped when they'd stepped out of the elevator.

"I sent them to Ziva's email," Tony replied as he led the way towards his desk.

"And if she lost them, they're in your email and loaded onto your PDA. McGee, go get the car."

"I'll drive," Gibbs stated.

"No way. My car is not going to be left at National Airport. It's not happening. McGee will drop you off."

"DiNozzo."

"Gibbs."

"Who's your tail?"

"Tom Miller, Jethro Gibbs. He's the new team lead. He's got Carson and Liebowitz."

"Nice to meet you," Miller said.

Gibbs grunted.

"You know, you could attempt to keep people from hating you as soon as they meet you. Smile. Shake hands. Little things."

"That's what I've got you for. Get me a print out of Wichert's file. Miller, we've got work to do."

"It was nice meeting you," Tony said, offering his hand. "I'll see you next week, if not before." Miller shook his hand, holding it a second longer than Tony expected.

"Just give me a call if you need anything."

"Thanks." Tony settled at his desk, putting on his headphones and unlocking his system. Miller whistled as he walked away. Tony cocked his head to the side when Gibbs leaned down to talk to him.

"He's not your type."

Tony laughed. "I know. His suit's too cheap for me."

"Abby's going to drive you home tonight. That way your car gets to stay safely in the parking ramp."

"Okay." Tony toggled through his files until he found Wichert. He hit print. Gibbs was leaning against Tony's desk. Tony leaned against Gibbs' thigh as the older man gave him his orders quietly.

****

Gibbs ignored Ziva's startled look as he gave Tony's shoulder a squeeze. "I'll call you when we get to Missouri. If the Director tells me you're slacking, I'll smack you stupid when I get back."

"Boss, you wound me." Tony pout was pure fractured innocence. "I don't slack when you're gone. I abuse my authority."

Gibbs heard McGee choke back a laugh and glared at the young agent. McGee never looked away from his screen. Gibbs turned his attention back to his senior agent. "Call me if anything comes up."

"Got it, boss. You're being over-protective, Gibbs. Just relax. Annie said she'd take care of me in case of an emergency."

Gibbs frowned. "Remember to tell her when you're here and when you leave."

"I got it, boss. Honest."

Gibbs gave Tony's shoulder another squeeze. He stood up. He was more worried about Tony being home alone all night. Abby would probably stay for dinner at least, but she wouldn't be there to ground him when the nightmares came. Then again, he was never sure what Tony and Abby's relationship covered. For all he knew, they might end up sleeping in the same bed if she stayed the night. He was disturbed by the mental image of the two of them curled up in his bed. He considered Abby his daughter. Tony had somehow wriggled out of the son role within minutes of their meeting.

He banished the image of them together by studying the printout that he'd just picked up from the team's shared printer. He frowned as he picked out a few pressure points. McGee left to sign out a car.

Ziva gathered her things, including a small overnight case. Gibbs picked up his own case. Tony held out a piece of paper. He grabbed it on the way by. It was the flight details that he hadn't bothered to print out. Ziva followed him, taking Tony's usual position. He was getting used to having her there. He didn't like it, but then, he hadn't been given the choice. She at least waited until they were in the elevator to speak. "Do you think it's wise leaving a blind man in charge?"

"Let me worry about whether or not DiNozzo's doing his job."

"He will take advantage of McGee."

Gibbs grunted.

She frowned. "Part of Tony's talent is in reading people. He cannot do that when he can't see them."

He looked at her. "He'll adapt."

She crossed her arms, not saying anything more until they were on the plane.

"I think you're pushing him too hard," she said quietly.

"He's met all of my expectations," he replied.

"He's a distraction."

"That's why he's on desk duty."

She was quiet for a long moment. "He has earned the right to a quiet life."

Gibbs looked at the young woman. "Like your sister?"

Her dark eyes jerked up to his. "Yes."

"It was his choice, Ziva. He'd go crazy if he didn't have something to do."

****

"Tony! Tony! Tony! I've got the coolest thing to show you," Abby said as she bounced into the bullpen. She waved at McGee. Tony looked up at her, his eyes not focusing on her. "Give me your hand." He frowned suspiciously at her, but offered his hand. She placed it onto the picture. His frown deepened. His fingers twitched. Then, his brows rose. He put his headphones around his neck and took the picture from her hand.

"Is this what I think it is?"

"Hollister crime scene. There's still going to be details to work out and it'll probably take awhile for me to get it done quickly, but I can do it for you now." He put the picture down carefully. He took off his headphones. Then, he opened his arms for a tight hug.

"Thank you," he whispered. She returned his hug, ignoring the tears that pricked at her own eyes. It was just a thought she'd had after too much caffeine and a really long night. She hadn't told him because she didn't want to get his hopes up. It would crush him to have one more thing taken away. Between her, Ducky and McGee, she didn't think there was an adaptive technology that they hadn't investigated. She settled in behind him, her hands settling on his wrists to show him the crime scene while she talked. He leaned his head against her arm and she smirked a little bit. She liked being friends with Tony. It made people jealous. "So this is evidence piece number five?"

"Exactly."

"Perfect. And this is the body?"

"And these figures are the pieces of furniture." She guided his finger along the edge of the bed. Tony nodded.

"How did her hairbrush end up over here? Did you pull blood or anything off of it?"

Abby blinked. "I didn't notice any, but I'll check it again. Why?"

"She might have thrown it at her assailant. Maybe it hit and bounced. Because if the suspect was coming towards her this way, the bounce off of his head or body would probably send the brush that way."

"I'll do a mock up of what might have happened. Anything else?"

"I'll let you know. Oh, McGee, you're still tracking the China jumps right?"

"Yes."

"Graham has the Williams case. They're stalled over some money in China. Think you can help them trace it?"

"Sure. Money's moving again. It's heading for Canada."

"Sorry, Abs. I'll be back with you in a few." Tony put his head-phones on and quickly toggled through his open files. "Brown has family in Canada. Get me a location. I'll contact our counterparts and see if they can help out."

"Think they'll extradite him?" Abby asked.

"It's Canada. All I have to do is ask nicely. Besides, I know someone who knows someone."

"You always do. Good luck, boys."

****

The theme from Shaft startled McGee from his computer screen. Tony picked up. "Hi, boss. Get in safely? Well, I'm working with the director to get the Canadians to arrest Brown for us. The money stopped at a bank in the town where his uncle lives. Brown's good. McGee's better." Tony was quiet for a long moment. "Want me to chase down his favorite bartender?" Tony laughed at something Gibbs said. McGee's brows rose. He glanced away from the screen in time to catch Tony's wide grin. "Okay, okay, relax boss. I'd have to take McGee with me and he's still tracing money and family. We'll be here until we get the arrest squared away. Abby's checking some evidence on the Morris case." Tony's smile faded. "I'll be fine, Gibbs. I'm a big boy. Don't let Ziva kill anyone." Tony hung up. "You have anything more for me to take up to the Director?"

"I have the uncle's registration for his car."

"Great. Let me have that too."

The Director came down the stairs. "Agent DiNozzo, Agent McGee. The Canadian officials are willing to hold Brown for you, but they need you to go pick him up."

"I'll make the arrangements," Tony said quietly. "Up near Niagara Falls?"

"Toronto proper."

"McGee, is your passport up to date? You're taking a trip. How long will they hold him?"

"No more than three days."

Tony's lips pulled into a sharp frown. "Is Dobbs still in cold cases?"

The Director's brows lifted. "He is."

"Good. He owes me."

Director Sheppard laughed at that. "What did you do for him?"

"Kept Gibbs from shooting him. He won't see it that way, but I can convince him. If you don't have any objections, ma'am?"

"He's worked with Gibbs?"

"He was here for a few months back when we got Blackadder. He requested a transfer. Still, he's a got a good head on his shoulders."

"Make the arrangements. I'll inform his lead."

"Yes, ma'am."

McGee stared after the director. He shook himself. Tony was on the phone alternately threatening and cajoling someone that McGee assumed was "Dobbs". He emailed Abby to let her know he'd be heading out of town. Tony hung up, but before McGee could ask him any questions, he was dialing again. A black man, about McGee's height walked into their area a few minutes later.

"You must be Agent McGee. I'm Dobbs." The man offered his hand. McGee shook it.

"Nice to meet you."

Dobbs gave him a long, evaluating stare. "You too. This is my replacement, DiNozzo? I'm hurt."

"He's smarter than you are."

"I think you just couldn't stand the competition." Dobbs preened a bit and McGee laughed. Tony flipped Dobbs off and the dark man laughed. "So, what's the flight look like?"

"You'll be leaving in three hours, so go ahead and get packed. I'll have the paperwork for your weapons and the extradition papers for you here in one hour. If you're not back by then, I'll find someone else."

"You really need to get away from Gibbs. I mean that sincerely. He's turning you into a clone."

"Not a bad thing."

"Not a good thing either. See you in an hour. I want first class seats."

"Pay for an upgrade," Tony snapped back.

"Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Should I pick up a girl for you while I'm there?"

"No way. Your taste sucks."

"You're the one that dated the serial killer."

"She was not a serial killer. She was an assassin. That's completely different."

"Details. Details."

"Go! Get packing!" Tony ordered. Dobbs winked at McGee and left, laughing.

****

Tony sat alone in the quiet office. Anne stopped by his desk. "Tony, I'm leaving for the day. I think Marsha's still upstairs."

"I'll call her," he promised. "Abby's going to run me home as soon as she finishes her tests."

"It's late. You're still on light duty. Don't let Gibbs drive you too hard, okay?"

"Anne, I'm okay. Really. I might be a little tired, but it's a good-tired. Have a good night. And thanks."

"No problem. Remember, I like the dark chocolate with the nuts and currents in it."

"The organic stuff. Got it."

"I've trained you well." She laughed as she moved off. The office around him seemed to shrink. Tony leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. He was waiting for Abby to come upstairs, or someone to call. He heard the click of the director's heels on the stairs.

"Ma'am?"

"Did your ride abandon you?"

"No, ma'am. Abby's going to run me home. We'll catch dinner or something. McGee's supposed to call when they touchdown. Gibbs will call if he needs something Ziva can't provide."

"Is this going to work, Tony?" she asked quietly. "I know Gibbs has been pushing for you to come back full-time, but I haven't heard your voice involved in the yelling."

"Gibbs enjoys it. It's the Marine thing." Tony waved away the concern with a casual hand. "I'm glad to be back. Gibbs' house is nice and all, but the walls were closing in on me. I hate not working."

"How do you like living with him?"

"We haven't killed each other yet," Tony hedged. "It's been a close thing a couple of times, but my aim's off." He pouted in her direction and got a soft chuckle out of her.

"You never answered me. Is this going to work?"

Tony sat up. He took a breath to think about his answer. "It has to or I'll end up going crazy. This isn't a game to me, Director. It isn't a movie. I'm a cop. It's what I am, not what I do. If that's gone?" he shook his head. "I can do this."

She touched his shoulder and he jumped. She gave the tense muscle a squeeze. "Gibbs isn't the only one on your side."

"Thanks, ma'am." She left him there, waiting for his team. He shook his head. If anyone had told him seven months ago that the Director would be trying to be his friend he'd have laughed them out of the building. He didn't know what really had changed her mind about him, or if it was a permanent change, but he wasn't going to question his good fortune. He sought out the crime scene photo Abby had made for him. He smiled to himself as he ran his fingers along the outlines of the furniture. The desk phone rang. "DiNozzo."

"Got the translation. We might have more work for you. Our translator decided not to come back after her maternity leave."

"Sure. But Gibbs still comes first."

Fornell snorted. "He's not really God you know."

"Yeah, but he can still smite me for fraternizing. We'll need to negotiate. I'm not going to do any more out of the goodness of my heart."

"Five dollars per translated page. Plus expenses."

"Works for me. Email me the paperwork."

"Tomorrow." They hung up at the same time.

"Hey, gorgeous, any word from McGee or Gibbs yet?"

"Gibbs is terrifying a suspect. He's making arrangements on that end because he's not sure how long the paperwork and crap is going to take. McGee hasn't called in yet. I tried his cell, but it's still off."

"Get your stuff then and let's catch dinner."

****

Abby tried to restrain the bounce in her step, but she couldn't. She was just too pleased to have Tony back at work. "So, where do you want to get dinner before I take you out on the town."

"Abs, really, why not just eat at home?"

"Because I'm paying."

"In that case, where are we going?"

"Greek?"

"Works for me."

She wrapped her arms around his arm, knowing he was steady enough on his feet to handle her hanging on him. She waited until they were in the elevator before she murmured softly to him. "You will never know how much I missed you. Everything was just wrong without you around."

"Could have been worse. Could have been Gibbs. I don't think I'd have been able to break through his walls as easily as he got through mine."

Abby laughed. "You two are so cute in your denial."

"Denial?"

"My lips are sealed. The hearse is this way. So, are we still on for shopping this weekend?"

"Depends on the boss." Tony shrugged. They made their way through the garage. "I never noticed how much this place echoes at night."

"Well, sneaking in past security sort of took most of your attention."

"I wasn't sneaking past security. I just came and went quietly."

She set his hand on the top of the car. "So, what's better for you?" she asked, after they were both settled. "Do you want me to read you the menu or just order?"

"My wanting you to read the menu has nothing to do with what I want to eat."

She glanced over at him. "Oh?"

"I just like the sound of your voice."

She felt a pleased little smile tug at her lips. "Really?"

"Really. And I've got a new Pratchett novel at home if you're ever in the mood?"

"Coolness. Want to do a chapter or two tonight?"

"If you want to."

"It's fun. I get to do all the voices. Not as well as you do, but well. . ." she shrugged. She saw him smiling out of the corner of her eye. He looked relieved. "What? Did you think that now your back at work I was going to abandon you to Gibbs alone every night?"

He laughed at that. "There are worse things. He's sort of like a cat: quiet on his feet, eats what he wants rather than what you feed him, and smacks you to show affection."

Abby giggled. "Now I've got to get a set of cat ears on him next time he falls asleep at his desk."

"He'll kill you. Well, he'll spank you at least."

"You think?"

"Why Abigail Scuito, are you lusting after Gibbs?"

"Like you don't."

"Shush."

"Be honest."

"Okay, so I do. A little bit. It's been a long time since I hooked up with a guy for a night."

"You two are so freaking oblivious. I love it. Anyways, what do you want for dinner? Slouvaki? Gyro?"

"Gyro platter and anti-pasta."

"Gotcha. Which club do you want to hit tonight?"

"Abby."

"I'm taking you out. Deal with it."

"You leave me alone for more than twenty minutes, I will strangle you. Do we understand one another?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

That launched them both into laughter.

****

Tony winced as the music slammed into him. "Abs," he pleaded, "my ears are going to start bleeding."

She put a finger over his lips. "You'll be fine." She led him to the bar. "Two Red Bulls and a beer," she told the bar-tender. She pressed the beer into his hand. "I'll be back in a flash. I just saw Tina."

"Hey, cutie," an unfamiliar voice said cheerfully. "You shouldn't be drinking alone. Folks around here like to bite."

"That's true in pretty much any bar."

"I'm Mickey," the woman said.

"Tony."

"Your date abandon you here?"

"We're just friends. She's in cahoots with my roommate to get me out of the house tonight." Tony shrugged.

"Come dance with me."

"I'm not that good at dancing," he told her, letting regret tinge his words. They were standing closely enough for him to feel her breath on his cheek as she spoke. There was something oddly comforting about the club scene. Personal space wasn't really an issue.

"I don't mind." She paused. He felt a gentle finger turn his face just a bit. "You're blind?" she asked, voice full of shock.

He shrugged. A few months ago the words would have shattered him. He didn't have any choice but to accept it now. "Yes."

Her breath caught. "What a shame. Here I am putting on a show like you wouldn't believe and you can't appreciate it properly."

He chuckled at that. "There's more than just sight to explore." She took that as an invitation and guided his hand to her hip. He took his time, checking the thread-count and determining the type of fabric. He stroked down her hip, hooking his fingers into the chain belt she was wearing and drawing her in closer.

"You work fast. I like that."

Tony yelped when Abby wrapped her arms around his waist from the back. "See, I told you we should go out. Hi, I'm Abby!"

"This is Mickey," Tony said, not bothering to move his hand, thumb stroking the exposed skin between her shirt and hip-hugging skirt.

"Hey, Mickey. Take good care of my boy here or I'll never get him out of the house again."

Tony smiled at that. He let his fingers move up her side gently. There was light boning near her waist. Corselet, he decided as the silky fabric slipped under his fingers. Abby kissed the top of his head, then left them alone again. "Now, where were we?" Mickey breathed, voice silky and soft in his ear.

"I think we were examining your look," Tony said smiling.

Mickey plastered herself against him. "That is a very good idea."

"Oh, no you don't," a male voice growled. "Five minutes, Mickey. You can't even stay away from another guy for five minutes?"

"Something you didn't tell me, sweetheart?" Tony asked, voice cold. He let his hand drop away from her.

"This is Chris. He's my boyfriend. Emphasis on the 'boy' part. He wouldn't have blinked if we were on the dancefloor."

"Boyfriend? You said you'd marry me! Forget it. Keep the ring. Find your own way home." Chris snorted. "Good luck with her, man."

"Oh, Christ. I've got to catch up with him. Damn it."

"Go." Tony shook his head. He turned to reach for his beer. The bartender put it into his hand without missing a beat. "Thanks," he murmured, not knowing if the man was still there.

"You're welcome. Saw you came in with Abby. She your sister?"

"Close enough." Tony smiled fondly.

"I'm Jim."

"Tony."

"I wouldn't figure this for your crowd. Not in that suit."

Tony laughed at that. There was a trace of bitterness in the laughter and he wondered where that had come from. He didn't miss being undercover at raves and anywhere else they cared to put him. Well, he didn't miss it too much. "It's as much my scene as anything."

"I've got customers. Stick around. We'll trade war-stories."

Tony nodded. He sipped his beer slowly. He wasn't supposed to have alcohol with his meds. He didn't much care, but he'd have to quit after this one and go for ginger-ale. He chatted up Jim and anyone who introduced themselves. Some of the younger ones, and damn was he getting old, were fascinated by the fact that he couldn't see them. He wanted to take the little idiots and shake them. He sipped his ginger-ale waiting for Abby to come find him. He couldn't exactly go looking for her, not in this crowd. He sighed. "Jim, next time Abby comes up for a drink, send her my way?"

"Sure. You looking for a sweet young thing to take home for the night?"

"You offering?" Tony raised a brow. Jim laughed at that.

"I'm not that young."

"I'm not that picky." Tony grinned. "But, no, Abby's supposed to get me home." He paused, feeling his phone vibrate against his hip. "DiNozzo," he snapped into it. "Speak up, McGee!"

"We're here. We're in the hotel. The police are holding the suspect until morning. Do we have transport?"

"Details in your email. You'll have to drive him down."

"Tell Abby 'Hi.'"

"Talk to you tomorrow morning." Tony hung up. "One down." He relaxed a bit more against the bar.

A gentle touch on his shoulder startled him. "Sorry. I wasn't sure how to get your attention." The man's voice was soft with a hint of foreign language in it.

"You can call me Tony," he said with a smile.

"Hello, Tony. I'm John."

Tony offered his hand, only to have it kissed. He felt a brush of teeth against his knuckles. He raised a brow. "Why, John, are you a biter?"

"Only when begged." Tony laughed and shook his head. John didn't release his hand. "Come dance with me," he said, tugging gently on the trapped hand.

"I don't dance."

John laughed. "You don't dance with vapid little fools, no. I'm not vapid, nor young. Dance with me. Jim will watch your drink and your cane. I'll return you directly here. Just a dance. Jim knows I'm a man of my word."

"Don't worry. If he messes with you, Abby'll kill him."

That made Tony laugh. There was a more insistent tug on his hand. He gave in, letting John lead him into the dense crowd of bodies. He relaxed into the familiar motions. John never broke contact with him. "There now, not so bad to trust," John purred into Tony's ear. His breath stirred the soft hair there. He let his teeth graze Tony's neck. "Tell me, why have you tied yourself to the bar? You move so wonderfully."

Tony shrugged. "This is new to me."

"A lovely creature like you hasn't been in the clubs? That's a shame."

"Since the accident," he defined, waiting for John to let him go.

"An accident? Your knee seems to pain you some, but I see no trace of injury."

"My eyes."

"A lovely green. Like trees in the summer."

Tony's smile was sad. "I was blinded in the accident."

"I see." John's voice was sympathetic, but held no pity. "Then, I shall have to keep you dancing to make up for lost time. Have I stolen you away from a lover?"

"No." Tony's smile was genuine. "Was that an offer?"

"That depends on what you came looking for." John's grip grew a little more possessive and a little more intimate. Tony tilted his head and received the silently asked-for kiss. His phone rang startling them both.

"DiNozzo," Tony answered, not moving out of the embrace. "Boss? What? Crap. Okay. Okay. Let me find my ride and get back to the office. McGee's in Toronto. I'll talk to you as soon as I get in front of my computer." Tony hung up. He placed a contrite kiss on John's shoulder. "I have to get back to work."

"Let me program my number for you. Call me." Tony let himself be steered back to the bar and turned over his phone. "John Rozzi." Another gentle kiss to his hand presaged the return of his phone.

"He's cute," Abby said without preamble. "Bossman phoned me. He's sort of bitchy."

"What do I owe you, Jim?" Tony asked.

Jim chuckled. "Don't worry about it. Your fan club's been standing your drinks. See you around sometime."

"Yeah. Probably." Tony slipped the handle of his cane around his wrist and took Abby's arm. They were back in the office less than an hour later.

****

Tony collapsed onto the couch at three a.m. He didn't dare go to bed. He'd never be up in time to get to the office and McGee would need him there. Abby leaned against him. "We need caffeine," she announced. "Black, dark, bitter and nasty."

"The maker's in the kitchen and I don't feel like getting up," Tony informed her. She laughed into his shoulder.

"So, are you going to call him?"

"Call who?" Tony snuggled into the cushioning, offering his arms and lap to Abby. She climbed into his embrace and curled up like a tired kitten against his chest.

"You know who. The adorable vampire who programmed his number into your cell."

"Oh, him. Maybe. It all depends on whether or not Gibbs is up to his old tricks."

"You mean being a jealous bastard who glories in ruining dates? Or are you perhaps referring to the fact that you don't even bother to get dates most of the time because you promised him you'd be his bitch?"

"Abby! I never promised him anything like that." He was distracted by the possible scenarios that might involve. Abby laughed into his ear.

"Come on, baby, let's get some coffee going and some food into us. You get changed. I've got a bag in my hearse that I'll go get. We'll just head back into the office. Maybe we can stay awake there."

"By the time we change, we'll just be on time."

She pinched his nose, then got up. She pulled him to his feet. "Go. Make coffee."

****

"I thought your ride didn't abandon you," the director said, amused at the picture in front of her. DiNozzo'd changed clothes and shaved, but he'd been running his hands through his hair and it was just long enough to stick up wildly.

"She didn't. Gibbs called us in last night to get him some info. McGee's supposed to be calling me in ten minutes to verify that they've got the prisoner secured. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Come upstairs with me." She guided his hand to her arm and led the way to her office. "Tell me, Agent DiNozzo, are you just naturally stubborn or is it Gibbs' influence?"

He chuckled at that, flashing her a stunning grin. "I think it's a combination."

She closed the door behind them after dropping his hand onto the back of the closest chair. He settled into the chair, rocking it back and forth. The motion was almost hypnotic. "Tell me why the close rate is down around here."

"Gibbs wasn't working with a full deck?"

She couldn't restrain a smile at that, but since he wouldn't see it, no one would know. "Try again."

"I really couldn't tell you." He shrugged. He thought for a long moment. "The only thing I might be able to account for is the cold cases. Abby and McGee have been busy helping me with everything, so we couldn't work the cold cases we usually would."

She raised her brows. "You, Abby and McGee. Gibbs doesn't know about these cases?"

"As long as the work gets done, Gibbs doesn't really care if something catches our attention. And I was using McGee before Gibbs decided that he'd make Abby happy and keep him here." Tony shrugged. "I like puzzles."

Jen studied him for a long moment. "I asked three of my team leads to explain why the solve rate is down. Do you know what all three said? Ask DiNozzo. So, I'm asking."

Tony fidgeted. His fingers twitched along the crease in his pants. He shrugged defensively. "Can't help you out. Sorry."

"I thought we had a truce in effect?" she commented mildly.

His lips twitched up into a sardonic smile. "Hey, we just agreed to stop being catty. No one said anything about telling the truth about anything."

"You lie to superiors a lot?"

"Gibbs would shoot me. Before him? Usually." Tony shrugged. "I just don't know what you're expecting me to say. They're probably just referring to the fact that they can't sweet-talk Abby as well as I can." She didn't say anything, letting silence fill the room. It was something she'd picked up from Jethro's interrogation techniques. She wasn't sure it would work on one of his agents. Tony closed his eyes, head cocked to the side, listening for something. His hand moved to his hip and he picked up the cell-phone there on the first ring. "DiNozzo. Well, it's about time. Tell Dobbs to stuff it. You two need anything? Any problems with the paperwork? Okay, regular check in schedule. Later." He hung up and put his phone back into its clip. He settled in silence, waiting for her to dismiss him or ask him something.

"Agent DiNozzo, why did my team leads tell me to ask you for answers?"

Finally, he sighed. "Because people talk to me when they have problems. I guess they figured you might want to too."

"So they've been missing their father confessor?"

"Gossip makes the world go round. Isn't that what the intelligence agencies are all about?" He grinned at her. "Um, on a more personal note, I don't want to cross the line or anything, but well, I've got a standing appointment with a stylist up in DC. I won't be able to make it. Can I offer it to you?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Has someone been talking about my hair?"

He bit his lip, looking for all the world like a naughty little boy. "I believe the words 'weed-whacker' and 'cheap bottle color' were used."

She sighed, rubbing her temples. "And you think your stylist is. . ."

"An absolute miracle worker. His name is Jean-Phillip. He's in Dupont Circle."

"The Jean-Philip?" She was surprised. Rumor had it that he was the best stylist in the area. It was practically impossible to get onto his books. "You really do have a trust fund in Geneva don't you?"

"That's immaterial to the question." A quicksilver grin flashed in her direction. "Besides, JP likes me. He'll take good care of you."

She shook her head with a rueful smile. "Yes, I'll take the appointment."

"I'll call and let the salon know."

"Thank you."

"De Nada."

****

Tony collapsed onto the bed. It smelled faintly of Gibbs. He'd be home tomorrow, but tonight Tony hoped that just the smell of him would stave off the nightmares. He'd managed to get his clothes off and hung up before dragging himself into their bedroom. "Our" room, he thought. When did I start thinking that way? He shook his head firmly. They slept in the same bed because of necessity and simplicity, not because of anything else. He laughed out loud at that. He wanted Gibbs so badly that he could nearly taste it, but there was no way that was going to happen. Gibbs looked after him, slept next to him, but Gibbs was a Marine. He'd been married three times and slept with Jen Sheppard. There was no way that he was going to fall for one messed-up Tony DiNozzo. And Tony didn't want a pity-screw. He wanted Gibbs all the way. He curled up on top of the covers. He listened to the traffic and the hum of the alarm clock. He didn't know he'd fallen asleep until he woke with a start. His heart was racing. He automatically found the gun that Gibbs kept in the side drawer. He slipped to the floor next to the bed.

"DiNozzo!" a sharp voice called from downstairs.

"Fornell," Tony whispered, relaxing slightly. He got to his feet slowly and made his way across the room. "What the Hell do you want, Fornell? It's the middle of the night!"

"It's only eleven. You didn't answer the phone."

"Turned off the ringer in the bedroom." Tony made his way down the stairs, gun tapping against his thigh. "You haven't answered my question."

"Tell me that's not loaded."

Tony snorted.

Fornell laughed. "I came to drop off some documents. I saw your bag in the hall. Lock the damned door when Gibbs isn't here." v"Thought I did." Tony frowned, nose twitching to see if he could smell fresh sawdust. He turned slowly toward the back door. Fornell took a step closer. Tony heard the gun leave its holster.

"Whoa! Whoa! Man, it's Billy. I came to drop off some groceries. I didn't see the cars or lights so I came in. Gibbs always leaves a light on when he's here, so I figured I'd just finish up the delivery."

"Billy, it's eleven o'clock at night! You're supposed to be here before nine."

"My car broke down. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to mess with your head. I used the spare key. I'll put it back."

"You know this kid?"

"Yeah. Billy Johnson. He delivers the groceries. If you tip him well enough he'll even put them away in the right places."

"I labeled it all for you too, Tony."

"Thanks, kid. You wanted to drop something off for me?" Tony said, turning his attention back to Fornell.

"I need some documents translated."

"Casework?"

"Office documents from the scientist who's diary you translated."

"Damn. I'll get Abby to proof it for me. She'll catch anything that looks too wrong."

"And I brought the contract."

"Send it to my lawyer. I'll get you the address." Tony moved confidently towards the front of the house. He paused a few steps from the door, head cocked. He groaned. "Billy, will you run upstairs and find my cell-phone. It's still in my suitcoat."

"Sure, Tony."

"Gibbs is going to kill me."

Fornell chuckled. "Just tell him you're entertaining."

Tony winced. "No dates in the house. House rule 435."

"What's 434?"

"Don't let the stray cat in from the back porch no matter how pitifully it mews or how soft it is."

"And number 1?"

"Always answer the phone."

Billy jogged back down. "Two missed calls, Tony."

"From whom?"

"It says 'pick up or die'."

Tony held out his hand. He flipped it open and hit speed-dial number one. "Hey, boss. No, I'm fine. Billy's delivering the groceries and Fornell's flirting again." Tony laughed. "Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow. Don't let Ziva kill him. Yes, boss. No, boss. If you call Ducky I will burn the boat and the rotgut you call whiskey, boss." Tony's voice was sweet and light and Fornell choked on his laughter. Tony winked at him. "Goodnight, Gibbs." Tony hung up. "I swear I'm going to start putting Prozac in his coffee."

"Lawyer's address?" Fornell prompted when the laughter ran out. Tony got the address and ushered the FBI agent out of his house.

"Tony, I'm going to head out. Sorry I creeped you out."

"Don't worry about it, Billy. I'll try to remember to leave a light on when I'm here alone."

"It's okay, man. Just don't shoot me."

"Don't worry. You heading out?"

"Yeah. See you next week. Night, Tony."

"Night, Billy." The young man locked the door behind himself and stored away the key. Tony sighed and rubbed his head. He stowed the documents in his backpack and went back to bed.

****

"DiNozzo, if you ever get it into your head not to answer the phone again, I'll hunt you down and kill you. Do you understand?" Gibbs growled into Tony's ear. The younger man winced, waiting for the head-smack that would usually accompany that sort of comment. Gibbs had restrained himself for months, but he just couldn't do it any longer. The smack was sharp. Tony's jaw dropped. "Answer the question."

"Understood, boss."

"Good. Now, what the hell was Fornell doing in my home?" He kept his voice low. He had one hand on Tony's desk, the other on the back of his chair, hemming the young man in.

"Dropping off some documents he'd like translated. Seems their Braille reader decided not to come back after her maternity leave. It's cheaper for them to hire me on a per page basis than to hire on a new person."

"That doesn't explain what he was doing in the house."

"He didn't see your car, but the front door was unlocked." Tony put a hand up. "It wasn't me. I lock up. Billy left the door unlocked when he brought in the groceries."

"You didn't know he was there?" Gibbs frowned.

"I didn't leave a light on. I didn't even think about it, so he didn't think anyone was home."

Gibbs relaxed. "And you didn't answer your phone because?"

"I left it upstairs in my suitcoat when I went downstairs to talk to Fornell."

"You do not go anywhere without your phone. You take it everywhere. Do you understand?"

"It's not waterproof," Tony pointed out.

"I don't give a damn. Put it on the sink. No where. And you pick up."

"Right, boss."

"Good boy," Gibbs murmured. That got him a quick elbow jab to the stomach and he laughed. "Remember the budget meeting today."

"I'm going to poison your manicotti."

****

"May I help you?" the young blonde at the front desk of Jean-Phillip's asked.

"My name is Jen Sheppard? Tony DiNozzo said he was going to call?"

"Oh, Director Sheppard, Jean-Phillip's been waiting for you. He's got the private room ready. Let me buzz him." The blonde smiled with even white teeth. She looked like a cartoon character. Jen perused the magazine on the front desk.

"Director Sheppard, come in, sweetie," Jean-Phillip gushed. "Who did this to your hair? This way, darling and we'll just get rid of that." Jen tried vainly to imagine DiNozzo dealing with this absolute flamer, but her imagination failed her. She allowed herself to be swept away to the back room. "Okay, sit here and I'll start washing your hair and you can tell me where the Hell Tony is. It's been over six months since I've seen him and he's not answering at his apartment."

Her brows rose in surprise.

"I'm from Philly. Tony convinced me to put on the role when I came down here. It works. You can call me, JP, Director."

"Call me Jenny." She settled in the chair. "Did you hear about the incident?"

"Incident?"

She sighed. She laughed almost bitterly. "No one's told you in six months that Tony was hurt? I don't believe it."

"No. He's gotten me ten new customers, but no one's spilled anything." He started washing her hair, fingers working in the lather and massaging her skull. She relaxed into the chair and started talking.

****

Gibbs opened the door. "Okay, where is he?" Jean-Phillip snapped.

Gibbs smirked. JP was Tony's best character reference. "DiNozzo! It's for you."

"I'm not expecting anyone. I'm in the middle of something."

"Tony DiNozzo, get your pert little ass out here and take what's coming to you."

There was a crash and a fervent curse before Tony made his way out of his room and down the stairs. "Um, hi?" he tried, not getting to close to the door. Gibbs stepped back with a wink in JP's direction. The hair-dresser stalked into the front room. He grabbed Tony's arm. The young man startled back, but the grip didn't move.

"Come on. You've got an appointment."

"JP. . ."

"Don't test me, Tony. You know I'll find creative ways of making you pay." JP started walking, assuming that Tony would follow him.

"Gibbs," Tony yelped. The older man chuckled.

"Not my fault you get caught up with forces of nature."

"Oh, God." Tony stumbled when JP moved too quickly for him. The stylist quickly adapted, ushering Tony out of the house and into the car.

****

Tony tried to even his breathing. There was no reason to be scared. JP would take care of him. He always had. "Put on your seatbelt." Tony did as he was told. He leaned his head back against the head-rest. "Now, you want to tell me why I had to crack on of your friends to find out where you were and what you've been doing?"

"It's not, I just. . ." Tony trailed off. He felt tears pricking in his eyes. "This is permanent," he whispered. "And I wanted something to stay the same."

"Ah, kid." JP gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You remember calling me at one a.m. before you went to court?"

Tony thought a moment. He groaned. "God, you mean when I got burned and half my hair was singed off?"

"Yup. I picked you up at the hospital, figured out something that you could take care of when you could barely hold a brush and helped you get your suit on. Did you really think you had to hide this from me?"

"I wasn't hiding."

"Liar."

"Okay, so I was hiding. I just got back to work a couple weeks ago. I still can't walk to the store and back without getting lost and having to rely on the little old lady who lives next door to get me home. I couldn't face the salon. I barely wanted to be around my co-workers. Someone who means more than that?" Tony sighed. "You're a friend. I do trust you. But, Phil, I'm not who I used to be. I don't know who I am anymore. I used to be able to see the stitches on a baseball flying towards me. Now I can't even manage to match my ties."

"You're still the irritating little brat I've known for eight years. But, your look is also my responsibility. You've taken to running your hands through your hair while you're working again. I thought I broke you of that habit."

"Nah, I just never let you catch me. I didn't think you'd come after me."

"Why not?"

"Director Sheppard cracked, didn't she? She was the one I didn't think would."

"Oh, honey, a woman will tell me anything when I do her hair. Actually, most of the boys will too. Now, don't worry so much. I'll make sure that it's easy to care for." They gossiped for a while about people they both knew. Then, they had to get out of the car.

"I didn't even get to grab my cane," Tony muttered, anger tingeing the words. JP seemed to ignore his mood and ushered him into the private room. Tony's nose twitched. "You are not going to dye my hair."

"Of course not. Just a few highlights. So that when you run your hand through your hair it will still look incredible." JP pressed down on a shoulder and Tony found himself sitting without thinking. The sensation of having his hair washed was comforting as was the quick run-down of the business from JP's mouth. "What's this scar?" JP asked, running his hand along the back of Tony's skull. Tony shivered.

"That's. . . that's the problem. That's where I hit and cracked in my skull. They tried to drain the blood and pulled out the little pieces of bone that went into my brain. It didn't work. I'm still blind."

"So there was no actual damage to your eyes, just your brain?"

"Yeah."

"Damn." JP's fingers were gentle as they traced the line of scar-tissue. "Okay, so a little longer in back to hide the scar. Something simple without an obvious part for the front. A few highlights and you can just towel it dry and go." He tapped his fingers on the top of Tony's head. It was an irritating, old habit. Tony's eyes pricked. He bit his lip, trying to stave off the tears. He'd been on an emotional roller-coaster for months. It had gotten bad enough that two months ago Ducky had put him on a low-level dose of Prozac to even his emotions out. He didn't notice he was actually crying until JP pulled him into a tight hug. "Let it out, Tony. There's no one to see, no one but me and a row of hair-care products that would cost a month's salary if I sent them home with you."

JP was all of three years older than Tony, but he'd also come from a much more stable environment. His parents loved him and supported him. He'd adopted Tony as his little brother almost instantly. Tony had wandered into the shop he worked at, miserable and hurting, and needing nothing more than what his mother had called "retail therapy." Within ten minutes JP had him spilling his guts about a bust gone wrong and another partnership broken in two. All the while, JP was cutting, snipping and styling. "I'll see you in two weeks or I'll come to the station and drag your cute little ass to this chair. Got it, sweetie?" he'd said.

Tony wrapped his arms around JP's neck. He let himself cry for all the things he'd lost, his movies, his pictures, his sketches, his photos, and his car. He cried for all the things that went with those things: his social life, his memories, his crime-scenes, his freedom. JP didn't try to quiet him. He simply held on until the tears were gone. "You've got to get the right to prescribe," Tony muttered. "Or do you just charge extra for the therapy sessions?"

JP chuckled. "You're my special case, kiddo. Now, let's get back to work." JP rinsed Tony's hair again. "Green or purple." Tony laughed a little shakily at that.

"How about something a little more tame?"

"I have just the thing."

****

Tony picked up his desk phone and dialed. "Can I speak with the director? I only need a minute." The secretary transferred him through.

"Agent DiNozzo?"

"You are a rat," he informed Jen. "And if he died my hair to match yours, I'll make you pay." He hung up on her as abruptly as Gibbs might have. He'd have to see what repercussions might come from the call, but he couldn't resist.

"Making friends, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked as he walked by.

"Not at all. Please tell me you have something for me to take to the staff meeting?"

"Nope."

"Bastard."

He heard Gibbs snort. Tony got back to work. The time slipped passed in familiar banter and the occasional phone call. Soon enough the team was called out to a scene. Tony made sure not to be looking up as they left. His heart felt like it was being torn from his chest every time they left him behind. A few minutes later there was a knock on the wall near his desk. "Yes?"

"Ready for the meeting?" Miller asked.

"Let me get my notes." Tony gathered up his PDA and its ear-piece. He'd recorded the information he needed on it. Miller settled Tony’s hand on his arm. “You okay on the stairs?”

“Yeah. Not a problem. So, family member or what?”

“Partner.” There was no additional information forthcoming.

“This partner come to DC?” Tony queried softly.

Miller chuckled. “Maybe.”

“Maybe, huh. So when do I get to meet this partner?”

“Are you this pushy with everyone?”

“Part of my charm.”

“So you’re the one who started that rumor about my suits?”

“The fact that they’re from Men’s Wearhouse?”

“How the Hell?” Miller’s voice was full of shock. Tony smirked at him. “I know, never ask the magician how he does his tricks. Did you know your highlights are the same color as the director’s hair?”

“I’m going to kill him.”

“Your barber?”

“Stylist. Barbers are just so done.” Tony gave the words his best New York sneer. Miller laughed.

“Heard your team got called out.”

“Just before you showed up.”

“Must be hard.”

“You don’t know me well enough to be asking that question.”

“And yet you want to know about my partner.”

“Well, duh, in the words of the inestimable Abby, you’re like, new.”

“He should have done them in blond.”

“Already did that once.” Tony’s grip tightened momentarily as his toe hit one of the chair-legs.

“No, sit by me today.”

“You can’t steal him, you know,” Director Sheppard stated. “Gibbs would shoot you.”

“I just want to get filled in on who’s doing whom,” Miller said.

“Hm. My color looks good on you. I like the new cut.”

“Thanks. He dragged me out of the house and cut it. It was like an ambush makeover.”

She laughed at that. Miller guided him to a seat, not being too solicitous, but not leaving him in the middle of the conference room. Tony took a breath to settle himself. Then, he put in his headset.

****

Tony listened to what Gibbs wasn't saying. "You want me to train McGee to go undercover?"

"No, I'm borrowing Fontaine."

"Oh, Christ. Do you have to?"

"Yes."

"I can teach McGee. He's got the potential. He does the online role playing and he writes. He's got the creativity."

"If there were a little more time, we'd do that. Get started on training him. Set up with Abs to monitor the wires."

"Right, boss." Something dark and hollow took residence in Tony's chest. Undercover was just one more thing he'd lost. God, it hurt. He got his PDA and cane and went to see Abby. He needed the practice. He was relieved that Gibbs simply gave him orders and expected them to be taken care of. That at least had stayed the same. He slipped onto the elevator, using the Braille to find the right floor number. The throbbing music of Abby's lab made him smile. He could feel it on his skin. He just wished that he was able to figure out where she was in the room without calling her name. She didn't turn off her music if she was going to the bathroom or running up to see Ducky. He made his way towards her desk carefully. Abby was prone to random redecorating when she could get away with it.

"Don't worry, Tony, I left everything in the same place. I'm just changing out photos these days. What's up?"

"Undercover op. Gibbs is borrowing Fontaine."

"God, I can't stand the slimly little toad."

Tony smirked at her. "We need to set up for wires and tracking."

"Oh, great. Maybe *he* won't be a baby about getting injected with a GPS transmitter."

"I want to be here for that conversation. And I want you to inject it someplace painful, okay?”

“I’ll just give him a suppository.” She growled a little bit and he laughed at her.

"Careful now. He might like that a little too much."

"Me-ow. Okay. Go get my victim for me."

"Bossman sent me down to figure out a cover for him."

"Oh, really?" Abby purred. "Well, sit down and talk to me, sweetheart."

****

Troy Fontaine smoothed his hair back. He strolled into the lab, not surprised to find DiNozzo talking to the lab tech. DiNozzo turned slightly tracking the sound of his movements. It was a pity that the other man couldn't see him. He'd gotten a new suit that a few months ago would have turned DiNozzo green with envy. He really didn't know why Gibbs had fought to keep the cripple, but he had to give the man points for loyalty. "Fontaine."

"Hey, Abby, Tony," he greeted.

"Fontaine," Tony said, voice dry and flat. "Abby's got your ID's ready and we've hacked up a profile for you. Abby's going to put a GPS tracker on you and wire you up."

"GPS tracker?"

"Sub-cuetaneous. It's the newest thing. Well, it *was* the newest thing, but someone was a chicken." DiNozzo snorted. Fontaine looked between them. He smirked.

"Chicken huh?"

The other agent flipped him off. Fontaine laughed. "Okay, gorgeous." He looked Abby up and down. He licked his lips, feeling his arousal growing. It was her own fault for wearing short skirts like that. She frowned at his leer. He winked at her.

"You are so not my type, Fontaine. Give it up. We're going up to autopsy. Ducky'll put in your tracker. Tony, you coming?"

DiNozzo sighed. "Time to face my daily lecture."

"Poor Tony," Abby said without sentiment. DiNozzo rolled his eyes. Fontaine watched the senior agent move confidently towards the door. Abby's face showed a trace of concern when DiNozzo came a little too close to one of her machines. DiNozzo chuckled.

"Abby, you know I know your lab. I won't hurt your precious babies."

"Better not. You have to do the paperwork to get them fixed if you do." The gentle smile made Fontaine want to take her right there against the desk. As she passed him, he took the risk of patting her ass. She glared at him over her shoulder. "No touching." In the elevator, he risked running his hand down her back. "I said no touching. Don't make me call Gibbs down on you," she threatened. He gave her a smirk and held up his hands.

DiNozzo frowned at that, but didn't say anything. The elevator opened, leaving them in the autopsy hall. Fontaine's brows rose as DiNozzo stopped by the door. Abby shook her head. "Tell me Ducky won't be torturing me today."

"With Fontaine here? Of course he won't. Unless you pissed him off yesterday."

"Great."

Ducky smiled in welcome as he saw them. "Ah, do come in. If you'll just sit here, Troy, I'll get the transmitter." Fontaine let the rambling story wash over him. The general gist involved an intelligence agency, experimental technology, and a dashing lady's man Ducky had known in his youth. He didn't mind the doctor. Who could really? But he didn't listen to the stories. DiNozzo seemed taken with the story and even asked questions about it. Well, it was something out of a bad movie. Abby had tucked her arm through DiNozzo's as they stood there. They did look a lot more like siblings that way. He'd always pegged them as one of those couples that actually "stayed friends" after they broke up. Well, that was assuming that DiNozzo really was straight.

"Jesus!" he yelped as the needle slid under his skin. That hurt like hell.

"There we are. All done, my boy." Ducky patted him on the knee. "Anthony, a word." DiNozzo sighed. He crossed the room slowly, like a toddler facing punishment. "Yes, Duck?"

"I do believe you had an appointment yesterday."

"Oh, yeah, that. I didn't go."

"I know that as well. Why?"

"Because I didn't feel like it."

"Anthony Daniel DiNozzo," Ducky snapped, "you will not lie to me."

"Last I checked you weren't Gibbs and he's the only one I've ever made that promise to," Tony snapped back.

"Tony!" Abby's voice was sharp. "You're supposed to tell me when you need a ride."

"I didn't need a ride, because I wasn't going to the appointment. I wasn't going to the appointment because it's absolutely useless. They can't do anything and one more damned scan of my brain is not going to make any difference. I called and cancelled the day after it was set."

"You cannot be cleared for field duty unless. . ."

"I'll never be cleared for field duty." DiNozzo's voice was cold and Troy couldn't help but stare. He'd never actually seen the danger in him that other people had reported. It was interesting. He could actually believe that the man stood up to Gibbs on a regular basis. "I will never be cleared for field duty and you will stop putting that thought into Gibbs' head. Do you understand me, Duck? I've already talked about it with the Director. Come on, Fontaine. Time to learn your lines." The cold voice was gone as suddenly as it came.

"If there's one thing I don't need, it's you trying teach me how to do my job."

"You're good, Troy," Tony said with a smirk, "but I will always be the best. See you around, Doc."

It was subtle, but Troy saw Ducky flinch at the emphasis on his title. Abby bit her lip. She dashed over to the other man and gave him a hug. She whispered something into his ear before she let go. Troy grabbed Tony's arm and found himself on the floor a moment later. "Christ, DiNozzo, get a grip."

"Don't touch me without warning. You're not Abby. Tommy cologne isn't unique enough. Although, you do have the girlish figure."

"When'd you get so fast?"

"About the time Gibbs started making me spar with him." The man straightened his suit and ran a hand through his hair. The haphazard spikes and red tint were perfect. Maybe the rumors were true that DiNozzo was responsible for getting the Director's hair to stop looking like a weed-whacker ate half of it. The elevator dinged.

"Stop lying down on the job, Fontaine," Gibbs snapped. Now, didn't that just figure.

****

Tony collapsed onto the bed. It had been four days of grueling day and night work.

Gibbs prodded him with a finger. "Strip down or you'll be regretting it in the morning."

"Just let me sleep for a few."

"No way. If you sleep now, you'll never get into the shower. Up."

Tony was moving before he'd finished processing the order. Gibbs ordered. Tony obeyed. That's how it worked. There was something comforting in going back to the routines of military school. It had been close enough to basic for him to understand. He'd been spacing his clothes hangers evenly since high school. Gibbs had nearly laughed himself sick when he'd noticed that in his old Baltimore apartment. It was the first case they'd been worked together. Gibbs had ended up on Tony's couch. He'd investigated the entire house like a border collie establishing his territory. He checked everything from the locks on the windows to what was in the closets. For some reason, it had been so reassuring that Tony hadn't even bitched about it. Tony smiled at the memory while his hands automatically ran him through his evening routine. He showered and shaved quickly. He was curled up in bed and half-asleep when Gibbs joined him. He didn't have a single nightmare.

****

"Where's your report, Fontaine?" Gibbs snapped. The young agent smiled at him. It wasn't anything near Tony's smile. It was a customer service smile and the former Marine did not like it. He narrowed his eyes. Fontaine straightened up a bit.

"It should be in your inbox. I emailed it to you about twenty minutes ago."

"DiNozzo."

"Already working it, boss. You'll have the status report in time for the meeting."

Tony perked up. "Which you'll be going to today right? Since you're in the office."

Gibbs snorted. "Never figured you for that big of an optimist."

"Hope springs eternal," Tony rolled his eyes.

"So, like I was saying, Barbie, she's about Ziva's height but her hair hangs down to her waist like pure silk. Real black too, not dyed."

"Really? Native American or Spanish?"

"Italian, actually."

"Barbie Frangio? She's back in town? I thought she moved."

"She did. She moved back. And she's still single."

"Just remember, she's allergic to shrimp. Nothing kills your chances more than spending the night in the emergency room."

Gibbs cleared his throat. That wasn't true. He made a habit of breaking Tony's dates and no, there was nothing wrong with that damn it.

"Well, nothing kills your chances *faster* than a get your ass to work call from Gibbs, but the emergency room just puts a damper on the whole thing."

"Lobster bisque?"

Tony shook his head. "Cross-contamination of the spoon the chef was using." Fontaine winced at that. "I'll keep it in mind."

"Fontaine, if you want to get to that date, you'll let DiNozzo work."

"I am working, boss."

The younger agent took Gibbs to heart and wandered over to peer over McGee's shoulder instead. Tony cocked his head to the side, trying to figure out if Gibbs wanted anything more. Gibbs sent him an instant message that covered what Fontaine was up to and that there was going to be a very loud noise if the man didn't back off and get to work. Gibbs reviewed Fontaine's printed report. It was literally sitting under McGee's tech report and it should have been on top. It should have taken Fontaine longer to write his sections than it took McGee to outline the tech support and transcripts that he and Abby had been doing in real time. He knew Tony was incorporating it into the main report, but two paragraphs in and the work was sub-par. Gibbs frowned. He pulled out his red felt-tip pen and started adding comments. He threw the report at Fontaine, surprised when the man didn't catch it. "Redo it," he stated. Fontaine gaped at him. Then, he grabbed up the papers and headed for his desk in the main part of the bull-pen.

"Bastard," he muttered as he left.

When he seemed out of earshot, Tony hissed, "Do *not* make him redo it seven times."

"Don't try to incorporate it until it's complete," Gibbs ordered quietly. "He's got to learn."

"I want to have this done by review time and that won't happen if you ask for too many reviews."

"Deal with it."

"See if I cook dinner tonight," Tony muttered, getting back to work.

****

"Ten times, Gibbs? That's just being cruel," Tony informed his boss. "You gave McGee's back without revisions the first time out."

"McGee can write. Fontaine was sloppy and incomplete. You weren't. You just had trouble getting what was in your head onto the paper." He was quiet, but Tony knew there was something more. It was odd how he could still read Gibbs' silences.

"I never sent back another one of your reports. It'll take me at least four or five more times with him before he gets it. If he ever does."

"You actually see potential in him? Clothes sense. An ability to push buttons within ten seconds of meeting someone. Those I can see. I'll even grant that he's vaguely attractive."

"Blond not your type?" Gibbs asked mildly.

"I like my women younger and my men older," Tony said without hesitation. He smirked a little bit so that Gibbs could take it as a joke if he wanted to. Gibbs snorted.

"There may be something there, but he needs to be knocked around a few times before it shows up."

"You believe what you want, Boss." The younger man shook his head. "If he hits on Abby one more time, she's going to kill him and hide the body."

"That's okay. We'll cover for her."

Tony laughed at that. "I have some pages for Fornell. You going down to the boat?"

"Yeah. You coming down? You can work just as well down there. I'll even let you have something alcoholic."

"What you have down there is not alcohol, it's paint thinner. I'll bring my own beer. Thanks."

Gibbs huffed out an affronted laugh at that. "I'll clear off the end of the bench near the stairs."

Tony settled down to work on his translations. The soft sound of Gibbs shaping the boat and the familiar scent of sawdust made his shoulders loosen. Having this place almost made up for losing his car. Before the accident, on a night after a simple day, he'd be behind the wheel of his baby. He'd drive for miles and miles, soaking up the night air and the freedom to run away. Before NCIS, that freedom was all that had kept him sane. Some nights he'd even slept in his car and headed back in to work with a story and a rumpled suit. Once Gibbs had gotten a grip on him though, he always ended up back at his apartment. There was something about the rhythm of working and the safety of being in Gibbs' inner sanctum that equalled that freedom. He was becoming domesticated.

Gibbs set down his mug with a clink on the workbench. Tony remembered those first nights, when Gibbs had been his guide dog and body-guard. He'd brought Tony to the workshop and just sat with him under the boat. He'd wrapped the younger man up in a blanket and held him as if he were a child. Somehow, in the past five years sawdust and had replaced garlic and fish as a sign of home. It had taken Tony two hours to stop shaking then. Now it didn't even take ten minutes before his shoulders stopped tensing and his lips curled up into a satisfied smile.

****

Gibbs watched Tony as he worked through another cold case with Balboa. He wasn't sure when the word had gone out, but the quiet day ritual of consultation had finally started again. It was mid-afternoon and McGee was at the range and Ziva was battering probies in the gym. Abby was recording that for his future amusement. Balboa was laying out the case for the fifth time. It wasn't a matter of Tony not getting the information on the first pass, it was simply Balboa's way of incorporating new information.

He felt eyes on him and looked up. It was Miller. The new team lead seemed intent on stealing his senior field agent away. He wasn't about to let that happen. He lifted his travel mug and raised his brows. Miller startled. He held his hand up to indicate five minutes. DiNozzo, oddly preternaturally aware, paused Balboa's presentation and cocked his head in his boss' direction. "I'm going for coffee."

"Don't forget a libation for the goddess."

Gibbs snorted. "Abby does not need any more caffeine today."

"You heard him. If she kills him, it's his own damn fault."

"I was right here and I saw everything." The African-American agent narrowed his eyes at Gibbs. Gibbs inclined his head. Balboa was DiNozzo's friend. They'd gotten closer after Pacci's murder. Balboa had felt adrift losing his partner and DiNozzo felt guilty. The friendship had alleviated both conditions. He was also the only non-teammate Tony trusted to watch Gibbs.

"You have anything you need me to do?"

"No."

"See ya, boss. I want chai."

"Then get it yourself."

DiNozzo grinned. Gibbs knew he'd lost. There'd be a hot Chai tea and a Caf-Pow on his tray when he left the shop. Miller caught up with him at the elevator. He had his travel mug – a green and white monstrocity that looked like a seasick snake. Once the doors closed, Miller opened with, "It was a present from my god-daughter. I keep hoping it'll break."

Gibbs grunted. He had a skull-emblazoned mug from Abby and a John Wayne mug from Tony that lived in his bottom drawer. He could honestly say that he'd never wanted them to break. He kept them with the picture of Shannon and Kelly. Once they had their coffee, he spoke. "You can't have him. It took me five years to get him the way I like him and I don't share."

Miller blinked. "Oh, no, it's not like that. Honestly." He held up a hand. "I swear."

Gibbs cocked his head to the side. He left the silence between them interrupted only by the banging of the barista.

"My partner's blind. Didn't Tony tell you? I figured that not only could I get the inside scoop on the office, I could make things a little easier on him. Since we seem to be at all the same meetings. Some of us don't have the reputation that lets us skip them."

The former-Marine smirked at that. "This partner still around?"

Miller grimaced. "Still alive? Yes. Still in law enforcement? No. Not former NCIS either. But just knowing Tony's around makes it easier."

"Dinner. Next Saturday. Both teams are off. DiNozzo will cook. You'll bring your partner."

Miller's jaw dropped.

"I need more coffee."

****

"You made a play date with Miller?" Tony laughed as he tossed the salad with ginger dressing. It would make a nice counter-point to the stir-fry. "I'll finally get to meet the mysterious partner then. So, are you thinking male or female?" Gibbs tapped his finger on the table to show he was thinking. It was a new habit that he'd started about a month after Tony moved in. "I'm thinking female. His security file shows him as straight."

"Security files are wrong all the time."

"He also was living with a woman during his last posting."

"And her name is?"

"You'll have to ask Miller."

"Bastard. You know and you aren't telling me."

"Nope. You want Sake?" Gibbs moved across the room to get the glasses and silverware.

"No, just water tonight. Unless we have Coke or something?"

"I think there's some left from the last pizza party." The fridge opened with a soft slurp. "Remind me to fix the weather-stripping on this thing this weekend."

"Right, Boss."

There was a hiss of carbonated air. "Not even flat."

"It must still be new. So, next Saturday we're booked with Miller and Guest. Tomorrow, it's JP. You going to actually stay tomorrow or are you going to hide with the boat?"

"That's up to you. You want time alone with him?"

"Nah. That's what the salon is for. If JP wants to talk to me privately, he'll just tell you to fuck off and leave us alone."

Gibbs laughed at that.

****

"To-ny." Abby drew his name out into a whine.

"Yes, my goddess?"

"You have to come out with me again. The last time was cut short."

"We do have a novel to finish."

"I'll read while you get ready."

Tony called downstairs to Gibbs. "Abby wants to take me out. Tell me there's something you need me to do!"

Gibbs' laughter drifted up in answer. "Make sure he doesn't get drunk."

"You are so not helpful, boss."

Abby prodded Tony up the stairs. He sighed and picked out a simple all black outfit. "Oh come on, a little color won't kill." Abby rummaged in his closet. "Here we are." She handed him a shirt. He ran his fingers over the studs in the tag. It was red. Silk, if he remembered correctly. He put it on over his black teeshirt.

"Out, so I can change pants."

"Really? Please? I promise to be very good and only look."

"I'd like my head attached to my body. Out." She clomped out the hall. He shut the door behind her. His nose twiched at the familiar scent of black powder perfume. He had to smile. He changed into his jeans and dug out his combat boots from the bottom of the closet. If he was going with Abby, he needed to match her. He stuck his collapsible cane in small of his back under the shirt. He strapped his hold-out gun to his ankle. It would only work if he were close to the perp, but he felt naked without it. He slipped an extra knife into his boot. Abby tackled him with an ambush hug and he stiffened. His breathing was shallow, but that was more because she'd glomped him into the wall than actual fear. That was his story at least. Let her think whatever she wanted.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?"

"For trusting me."

"Just don't abandon me. And someplace that won't give me a headache?"

"Ha!"

"Yeah, I figured." He offered her his Abby-only smile and she melted against him for a moment. He counted it as a smile back."

****

"Hangover?" Gibbs smirked at his second.

"Why did I agree to go out with Abby?" Tony groaned. He sipped at his coffee.

"The question is, why were you drinking with your meds?"

Tony carefully presented Gibbs with his middle finger. Gibbs snorted. "You're going to be hammering today, aren't you?"

"It's time to fix the back of the couch in the basement."

"Wonderful. Sadist." Gibbs whistled cheerfully as he headed for the basement, content that Tony could get his own breakfast when his stomach was ready for it. He looked up when he heard Tony on the stairs about half an hour later. "Need a hand with that couch?"

"Sure. Far side of the room. Way's clear."

"Aspirin finally kicked in. I haven't had a hangover since I was, Christ, 20?"

"Underage drinking?"

Tony snorted. "I started drinking at fourteen. I only stopped when I met you."

Gibbs left that alone. "Have fun last night at least?"

The younger man was quiet. "Sort of? Flirting is sort of odd when you can't complement her eyes or clothes."

Gibbs grunted. "Good to know you've always used those lines."

"One hundred percent genuine, I'll have you know." Tony made his way to the couch. "So what are we doing anyway?"

"I cut a new back piece from a two by four. We're attaching it so we can sit on the damn thing when we're down here."

Tony snickered.

****

TBC

NCIS Bedroom