"Gibbs, meet me in MTAC. Bring DiNozzo," Tom Morrow stated.
"Yes, sir." Gibbs stepped out of the elevator that would take the director to the next floor. "DiNozzo, with me."
Tony DiNozzo didn't hesitate. He jumped up, following Gibbs without a word, though he did give him a curious look. Kate Todd and Tim McGee, their teammates, looked after them. MTAC had low lights, to make the screens easier to see. Data streamed in from around the world. Gibbs watched it for a moment, DiNozzo to his right and a pace behind. The main screen was suddenly dominated by an execution. And older man was sitting in his easy-chair, a drink in his hand. A dark haired young man walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head at point-blank range.
"Jesus," Tony whispered. Gibbs turned his head at the broken sound. Morrow had been watching for the reaction, that much was obvious. DiNozzo wrapped his arms around his middle. "Tell me that wasn't real."
"It was. I apologize, Agent DiNozzo, but you understand my reasoning."
"I wouldn't kill my own father!" Tony snapped. He shivered. He looked at Gibbs with wide eyes. "Boss?" he said pleadingly.
"Sir, who's working the case?"
"NYPD." Morrow grimaced. "And the FBI. There are questions of national security though, given who he worked for. Your full cooperation is assumed."
"Of course, sir," DiNozzo said, voice soft.
Morrow's face softened. "Take some time. You've got three days personal leave. Five if you need to make arrangements."
"No, his wife will make arrangements. She doesn't like me. I don't need to go anywhere."
"Not even for the reading of the will?"
"I'm not in the will as far as I know. If the lawyers call me, I'll go. I'd rather work."
Morrow nodded a dismissal. Gibbs put a guiding hand to DiNozzo's neck. "It'll be okay," he said quietly.
"Right, boss." Gibbs ran his thumb against the column of throat, gently soothing the younger man. DiNozzo arched into the touch. "The one that killed him, he wasn't human, you know." That brought Gibbs up short. He turned to face his senior agent. "He was a bot. Not a particularly fancy one either. A reprogrammed butler or pleasure bot. He might have been sent for repairs even. Papa always took back malfunctioning bots and reprogrammed them. Hell, it could concievably be suicide."
"Let the FBI worry about that. It's not your problem. As long as you didn't shoot him."
"Oh, yeah, because I've been so out of contact recently."
Gibbs chuckled at that. They worked together and lived together. He'd have noticed if Tony had gone to New York. "Okay, get back to work."
The relieved, "On it, boss," made him smirk. Tony hated heavy emotions.
"Hey, boss, you need coffee?"
Gibbs glared. Tony interpreted that to mean, 'get back to work.' He sighed and played with his pen. Kate and McGee were giving him odd looks. His restlessness surprised him. He didn't exactly miss his father. He was much more attached to Gibbs. Hell, he missed his old partner George more. It was just that the case disturbed him on a deeper level. It was the fact that a bot had done it, he supposed. Bots were only supposed to kill to protect a human life and there was no way that what he'd seen encompassed protecting a human life. He didn't have to close his eyes to replay the images. No, that had been deliberate murder or suicide. Papa was perfectly capable of programming a bot to kill. There were governments unlike the Americans who'd pay good money for it.
"Mr. DiNozzo?" an unfamiliar voice asked.
Tony looked up. "Yes, and you are?"
"I'm Agent Brown, this is my partner Agent Mueller. We'd like to ask you a few questions." Brown and Mueller were terribly average men and he pitied them for that. They looked to be almost twins with brown hair and brown eyes. The only difference was in size. Brown was larger through the chest than Mueller. Their suits were off the rack and their shoes, he confirmed with a look as he stood up, were Rockports.
"Sure. Boss, I'm gonna take them to the conference room if it's empty, interrogation if it's not." Tony waited for Gibbs' nod. Then, he led the FBI agents to the small conference room on the floor. The one no one used if they could help it because it didn't have a projection screen. He waved them to seats. "What can I do for you?"
"Where were you yesterday?"
"Here until about six. Then, I went home. I made dinner, then watched DVDs most of the night." Tony shrugged.
"Anyone who can verify that for us?" Brown asked tapping the record function on his handheld.
"Well, the team could tell you were I was during the day. And the security logs will show when I badged in and out. I rent Gibbs' spare room, so he'd be able to tell you if I was home or not. Sorry, no hot and heavy dates or anything." It wasn't the best alibi and he knew it. He couldn't exactly tell them that he slept in Gibbs' bed could he? Gibbs hated when Tony went out alone. "But what is this about?"
"Your father was murdered."
"I know. I saw the footage." He studied the smooth tabletop. He rubbed at the edge of it, picking at the worn spot.
"Why'd he write you out of the will?" Brown asked.
"Because his wife told him to. She doesn't like me. Isabella, not Mama. He started drinking before Mama died, but it got worse after that. Isabella and I didn't get along. I was too young to hold my tongue and called her a gold-digger." Tony winced at the memory. "And she is, but Papa never wanted to hear it. He sent me away right after that. We never talked about it. He hated that I'm a cop too. He thinks it's a waste."
"So that's why you killed him."
"I didn't. I wouldn't kill Papa!" He looked up quickly.
"Of course you would," Mueller countered. "He wrote you out of the will. Ignored you. Treated you like crap. Why wouldn’t you?"
"I haven't talked to him in years. Why the Hell would I kill him now?"
"Because you're smart. You know what the cops are looking for. What I'm figuring is that you reprogrammed a pleasure bot, maybe even one of the ones from that Philly gangster you got in good with, sent him in to kill your father. Funny that he looks so like you though isn't it? Easier to project onto though. Easier to imagine it was you pulling the trigger."
"I can't reprogram a bot. I'm not into computers. My degree's in Phys Ed." Tony stared at the men. "But I still don't have any reason to kill Papa."
Mueller looked at him for a long moment. Tony wondered if the man thought he was intimidating. He couldn't come close to a Gibbs glare. "You hated your father."
"I didn't like my father, but I didn't hate him." Tony wrapped his arms around his waist, replaying the scene in his mind. "And that. . . That was just so cold."
The FBI agents exchanged a glance. "I'll need your contact information," Brown said. "And we'll need your fingerprints."
"They think I killed him, boss," Tony said softly. He was working on the toaster that had busted again. It was a newer model than the one Gibbs had had when Tony moved in, but it didn't work nearly as well. The soft sound of carving stopped.
"They think I programmed the bot to kill him."
"Idiots," Gibbs muttered. He dropped his arms around Tony in a quick hug.
"You didn't do it. And if we need to, we'll be able to prove it."
"They'll think I got McGee to program it, since I can't."
"Look at me, Tony." Tony turned on the stool and looked up through his lashes. It was an uncosciously coy gesture that he'd used for ages. Gibbs sighed, shaking his head fondly. "You didn't kill him and I'll do whatever needs to be done to keep you out of prison. Got it?"
"And what have I told you about 'boss' at home?"
"Unless it involves work, your name is 'Jethro'. It's just a tick. Besides, it turns you on. I know these things."
"Tony," there was a warning note now.
"Yeah, I know. I can call you 'Gibbs' right?"
"But not 'boss.'" Tony pouted.
"Are you sulking?" Gibbs asked, eyes narrowing. "That doesn't work on me and you know it. So how does it feel to know he's dead?"
The young man squirmed a bit. Gibbs leaned closer, overwhelmingly so. "I can't think when you hold me."
"I'm not asking you to think. How do you feel?"
"Lost. I mean, I knew he was there. I didn't have contact with him, but I knew he was there. I was supposed to follow him into business. I don't know what changed, but I'm glad I'm here not there." He wrapped his arms around Gibbs' neck. The older man held him firmly, stroking his hair. "It's just so confusing." He let Gibbs comfort him, not sure he had the right to accept it. "I'm fine, Gibbs. Honestly. I'll deal with it."
"You're not alone. This isn't just your fight."
"I understand that. I really do. Just, don't leave me alone tonight. Please?"
"Or any other night, babe," Gibbs whispered.
"Tony? Are you okay?" Kate asked. The young man didn't look as well-kempt as usual. His hair was sticking up in random spikes and his shirt was a Hawaiian print that seemed vaguely familiar. He had a blazer folded across the filing cabinet and a black tie on, so it was technically within dress code. Tony wasn't smiling. He didn't look tired exactly, but he didn't seem to be focussing too well either.
"I'm fine." He gave her an imitation of his usual smile, but it didn't work. She knew he was lying.
"Something happened yesterday. That's why the FBI was here."
"You know, with a mind like that you should be an investigator."
"Ah, Tony, I, um. . ." Tim said, pausing as he came into the bullpen.
"Spit it out, McGee."
"I heard the news. I'm sorry."
Tony looked up. He shrugged. "As long as they don't arrest me for it, I'll be fine."
"Tony?" Kate prompted. "Tim, what's happened?"
"Tony's father was murdered. It's on all the news stations."
"You're Vincent DiNozzo's son? I'm so sorry, Tony. I didn't know."
"It's okay. It's not like I tell people," he said quietly. "If you don't mind, I'd rather work than talk about it, okay?" The defensive tone hid shades of fear and confusion and Kate nodded. She understood, not knowing how she'd feel if her father were murdered and she became a suspect. She looked up when Gibbs walked by, surprised when Tony didn't.
"DiNozzo, you have that information?"
"On your desk, boss." Gibbs glared at the senior agent, but it lacked the usual heat. Well, then, if Tony wanted to pretend everything was fine and Gibbs was willing to respect that, why should she be any different?
Abby plopped the steaming hot chocolate onto Tony's desk. He looked up. He smiled. "Abby!"
"Could there be any other?"
"No, you are definitely one of a kind."
"And don't you forget it." She settled on the side of his desk, school-girl skirt giving him a good view of her legs. He always looked, which was the point of wearing a short skirt. He took the cocoa. "So, spill, boy," she ordered. "What's got you running for eighties nostalgia?"
"Papa DiNozzo's dead and the FBI seem to think I'm responsible." He sipped at the liquid, absently licking a mustache of foam off of his lips.
"But you'd never hurt anyone! That's just wrong."
"It may turn out to be nothing. I didn't do it. The evidence should show that."
"And if it doen't, we'll figure out what they did wrong."
Tony smiled at her. He settled his hand on her thigh and gave a brief squeeze.
"That means a lot to me. Thanks."
"De Nada. So are you going up to New York? Need moral support?"
"No, I'm not going to the funeral. They cut me loose years ago." Tony's tone was bitter, but resigned. Abby ached to tuck him into her arms and rock him. Gibbs would kill her though, even if no one else knew about him and Tony. Well, no one knew officially, but if they watched they'd have to be blind not to notice. She ruffled his spikes.
"So where'd Gibbs and the little lemmings get to?"
"Caught a case. I'm on desk duty for three days."
"Because I'm supposed to be on personal leave." Tony shrugged. "I just don't see how sitting around the house will make me feel any better than working."
"Some people find it soothing. Those people aren't like us, but some people. Well, I better get back to the lab before Gibbs spanks me."
Tony pouted. "Can't I watch?"
She laughed. "That's my Tony." She kissed the top of his head. Then went back down to the lab.
"DiNozzo, where's Gibbs?"
"Out on a case."
Fornell studied the young man. DiNozzo was putting on a good face, but he looked lost without Gibbs around him. "When will he be back?"
The young man shrugged. "I'll let him know you stopped by and have him call you." He looked back to his work.
Fornell shook his head. "Why did you kill your father?"
"Look at me, DiNozzo."
The blue-green eyes focussed on his. They were more green today. "Why did you kill him?"
"I didn't kill him. I didn't cause him to be killed. I didn't even know he was dead until the Director showed us the video footage. That was not the way I wanted to find out." The young man shivered. "I was thinking I'd get a phone call, you know? Someone would call and say, he died today. Drank himself to death. I don't know why anyone would want to kill him."
"You hated him."
"No! Why does the FBI think that? The other two idiots who were here said the same thing." There was nothing but truth and resigned anger in those eyes. Fornell sighed. "DiNozzo, we have the evidence of abuse. You wouldn't be the first to kill your abuser."
"I. Didn't. Kill. My. Father. I can say it in three languages, maybe you'll understand one of them!"
"Fornell! Stop harrassing my agent." DiNozzo's eyes immediately turned to his supervisor. His spine stiffened a little as he practically came to attention.
"Hey, boss. FBI here to see you." A hint of a grin played across DiNozzo's lips. Fornell saw something else there too. Well, well, that explained a lot. He hid his own smile as he turned to greet Gibbs.
"Tell your boy to cooperate." He jerked his head in DiNozzo's direction.
"He didn't do it."
"How do you know?"
"He was busy. Like he should be right now."
"Right, boss. Background on Parker is in your inbox. Finances are solid, doesn't live above or below his means. He's so average it hurts, so I'm digging deeper. Blaise has a girl. Name's Sarah. She's agreed to meet with us at three."
"Give Kate the address. Kate, take McGee."
"On it, boss." McGee answered. The two junior agents left. Fornell and Gibbs stared at each other.
"What do you want, Fornell?" Gibbs asked finally. He didn't shift his gaze, so it wasn't a complete victory, but Fornell would take it.
"Cooperation, but not on the murder investigation. Background on Vincent DiNozzo."
"Tony?" Gibbs looked around Fornell. "Fine. Use McGee's chair." Gibbs retreated to his desk.
"Oh, thanks, boss," DiNozzo muttered, glaring at Gibbs' desk. "Stay over there."
Fornell chuckled. He grabbed McGee's chair and pulled it to the space between the two desks. DiNozzo didn't retreat, but it was a near thing. "How long had your father been making assassin bots?"
The young man bit his lip. "I'm not sure. It's not like it's an official business line that's on the website. Officially, they're gaurds, I think. They're supposed to be for the very rich and only react defensively. But if an owner indicated that someone was a threat, they could over-ride the laws, but it would be hard." He shrugged. "But if you were a good programmer, you could reprogram a bot with more clear-cut instructions. A stunt-bot they use for movies maybe." He considered. "But beyond that, I'm not sure if he ever programmed an actual assassin bot. I don't think the government would pay for one."
"What about mafia?"
"They like more disposable means. Like teenagers."
"Disposable?" Fornell frowned.
"You don't have to pay a million dollars for a teenager. They'll do it for a few hundred. And you can just kill them afterward. That's how Valentine Manny did it out in Chicago."
"Tell me about Isabella DiNozzo."
"She's a gold-digging bitch who hates me just as much as I hate her. She moved in when Papa was still mourning Mama, played him really well, got me sent away and written out of the will. She wouldn’t kill the golden goose."
"There's a pre-nup on file. If they divorced, she wouldn't be able to touch his money."
"She's not smart enough to program a bot."
Fornell ignored that. There was still a lot of hurt little boy talking there. "And you? Can you program one?"
DiNozzo considered. "No, not from scratch. I might be able to hack one, on a good day, but only the simple hacks. You know the kind you can get on the internet to teach your maid to do the hustle." Gibbs snorted from across the way. "Hey, I'm not Probie. He's the one who'd be able to hack a bot. But he's got the government over-ride codes, so I don't think that counts."
Fornell shook his head. "No."
The young man looked at him calmly for a long moment. "Okay, if you aren't going to say anything, I'm going back to work."
"What was it like growing up second to a lot of busted up sex toys?" Fornell ducked the flying mug. Luckily it was empty. That was a much better reaction, a real reaction. There were tears shining in the green eyes now.
"Go back to your little hole under that slimy little rock you call an office and leave me alone you bastard."
Fornell surpressed his smirk until he'd left the bullpen. DiNozzo was barely coping. He'd be able to tell the investigating officers to look elsewhere no matter how attractive the boy looked as a suspect. You're going to owe me one soon, Jethro. The very thought had him practically whistling as he got to his car.
"Tony, go home. Get some rest," Gibbs said quietly.
"I'm fine, boss," the younger man replied.
"That wasn't a suggestion."
"Yes, boss." That was said with the little submissive bob of his head that Kate recognized well by now. It wasn't exactly a courtier's bow. Still, a little duck of Tony's head and a glance up through his lashes and suddenly the boisterous frat-boy disappeared. Tony still hesitated as though he was going to ask for something. "Anything I can do from home?"
"Right. Night, Kate, Probie." He left them in the bullpen. The air seemed to darken a little bit. She hadn't realized how much Tony kept the place light, even when he was in a bad mood. Gibbs snapped at her four times that night and left her and McGee to do more legwork while he did. . . something else. She was fairly certain he was in the building, but that wasn't necessarily so. He'd left her there with only Tony for company overnight before. She sighed and got back to work.
Tony looked up from the measuring cup. "Hey, Jethro. Dinner'll be ready by seven. It'll keep if you aren't hungry."
"You really are too domestic sometimes."
"If I don't cook, you'll end up eating crap. Besides, I need to keep busy."
"Hyperactivity is useful," Gibbs said with a smirk. "And, of course, reading the Good Wife's guide had nothing to do with it."
"Nothing at all. I didn’t go for the apron, but I probably should. Egg could ruin silk."
"Take your tie off before you start cooking."
"I did that too. Silk's good for more than just ties you know. Shirts for example." Gibbs hit the start button on the coffee-machine, half-listening to his partner rambling on like Ducky tended to. The difference was that Tony didn't drift from topic to topic. Gibbs settled at the table. "And that's why silk's so expensive," Tony finished. "And if you want me to shut up, just tell me."
"I like your voice." The young man looked at him shyly. "So, tell me what evidence Fornell thinks he has of abuse."
"I don't know. You've read the medical file, right? All I can figure is that he doesn't believe it's true. He thinks someone lied. Well, someone did, but you already know about that."
"I read it. All I saw was normal injuries for a sports-minded rambunctious little boy."
"Maybe it's too normal. That might set them off. I just don't know, boss. I didn't kill him. I couldn't have. It's against every code I live by." Tony pulled the pan off the heat. He turned off the burner. He served dinner. "You get the dishes tonight."
"I figured. Kate doesn't like the fact that I'm not treating you with kid gloves."
"Kate is an idiot."
Gibbs shook his head. He started to eat. "Not hungry?"
"No." Tony settled across from him with a mug of tea and some of the fresh garlic bread he'd made. He nibbled on the bread. "Do you think we should tell Kate about us?"
The older man considered. "No. She won't accept it like Abby did."
"Well, duh. No one accepts things like Abby. She's the most open person I know. She'd probably accept the fact that I was sleeping with you before you hired me too." Tony winked.
"You are not allowed to tell her that." That got Gibbs and earful of bright laughter. He smiled. "Did you get the car fixed?"
"That shimmy? Yeah, not a problem. Oh, I might have a lead on that other matter that we don't discuss because it turns you into an obsessed bastard."
"Yeah. Friend of a friend, so it's hearsay, but it's a lead."
Gibbs nodded. "Good work."
Kate leaned back in her chair. "That was anti-climactic."
"Sometimes guilt does make a good motivator," McGee said meditatively.
Tony snorted. "He was scared spitless that someone was going to find out so the instant he saw the investigation was heading his way he freaked. Not guilt, fear."
"You're looking better," Kate said with a smile. "Any word on the progress?"
"Just that the bot was programmed to do it and they don't know how. Not surprising. There's hackers out there who specialize in bots." Tony shrugged. The phone rang.
"DiNozzo." He scribbled notes into his handheld. Gibbs strode in with his usual cup of coffee. He didn't bother to settle at his desk. "Case, boss. Dry dock in Norfolk. The bots seem to have been sabotaged."
Gibbs' brows rose. "Get your gear. McGee bring your laptop. Tony, get the car." They were on their way to Norfolk not ten minutes later. Tony was on his phone, scribbling down notes in that personal short-hand he used. Kate leaned over the front seat of the car to see if she could decipher the words or not. She couldn't. She cocked her head to the side, it looked like he was using Bot-script. She didn't know anyone who actually used the language when they didn't have to. Her PDA was programmed to her handwriting. Still, Tony was Vincent DiNozzo's son. It was probably simply second nature for him to use it. She settled back. Tony hung up. "Report."
"The dry-dock bots have been allowing certain cracks to remain. They have not been repairing things correctly. The supervising geek noticed before any of the ships went out this week, but he doesn't know how long it's been going on. He only does physical spot-checks once a month. None of the other shift-supervisors noticed anything. We'll have to check the logs to see who accessed the bot areas when we get there. They aren't linked up to an external system. The badge access is controlled within the dry-dock facility."
"What sort of repairs to the bots do?" Kate asked.
"Everything from welding hull-breaches to fine-tuning the steering to baseline. The bots are also used in dangerous areas, such as the nuclear power in subs. Any place that needs repairing they can send a bot or a human. They normally use the humans in anything that's exceedingly delicate or that needs a certain amount of judgment. The bots they have on the docks don't exactly have the learning systems of a PDA or even a sex bot. Half of them probably don't have verbal interface skills." Tony's voice was faintly derisive. "The hacker programmed around the three laws. The bots wouldn't know that their work could endanger a human being, so there was no conflict."
"McGee, I want you to go over the programming with a fine tooth comb when we get there. Find all variations from the norm. Check back at least three months. Kate, check all the ship records for the past six months. I want to know what ships were in and out of the dock. DiNozzo, pull the personnel records of everyone associated with the dock."
Kate rubbed her eyes. She never would have imagined that so many ships rotated in and out of the docks. She had the maintenance records for all of them downloaded onto the computer station she was using.