"Director Morrow?" Gibbs said with a frown. "What's going on?"
Gibbs' team was arrayed in the director's office. Kate and McGee were on the couch. Tony was sitting in the other guest chair, trying not to fidget.
"This is not going to be your case. We have a team working with the FBI on it."
The Director's reluctance made Gibbs frown more deeply. His blue eyes were icy. He could tell by the stiffening of Tony's back that he was a little too tense. He didn't know which man Tony would be trying to protect, but the instinct had obviously been activated.
"Originally, I was just going to ask you and DiNozzo to go undercover, but I want your team to do the monitoring. We have three places to set our bait, and I don't want any mistakes."
"What's the case? How are we involved?"
Morrow sighed. "The FBI asked for our assistance when one of the couples turned out to be Navy. There's a serial killer going after S&M couples in the area. There are six confirmed so far. One couple is Navy. Three of them are ex-military."
DiNozzo cocked his head to the side. "Guys? No girls?"
"Is that a problem?"
The younger agent shook his head.
"Who are we working with?" Gibbs demanded.
"Fowler's team on our side. Agent Patrick Byrnes on FBI side. Byrnes will fill you in. Conference room 354, Hoover Building."
Gibbs nodded. "McGee, get the car. Kate, call Abby and tell her we'll need wiring."
"Director," Todd said, bobbing her head. McGee followed her closely, obviously relieved to be out of the office. The door closed behind them.
think you two can guess what kind of bait we're looking for."
"Yes," Gibbs answered after a glance at his senior agent.
"Will this be a problem?"
DiNozzo laughed. "Nope. As long as I can requisition Gibbs into leather pants."
"Never going to happen. Just like that raise you keep asking about," Gibbs snapped back. Morrow raised a brow. Gibbs looked at him, willing him to keep his mouth shut about the commendation that was sitting on his desk.
"You're so mean to me, Boss," DiNozzo pouted, eyes glittering in amusement. "No, sir, it's not the first time for me, and I think Gibbs is a natural."
The Director nodded. "Good luck." He dismissed them. Gibbs could feel the man's gaze on his back.
"Boss, you take us on the best field trips," Tony quipped as he got out of the car. "Really, I've never seen those streets before. Very interesting. But could we go back and pick up my liver, I think I lost it about five turns back."
"Shut it, DiNozzo."
The joking was a stress reaction. Kate knew that in her mind. It was still irritating. Not that she didn't agree with Tony's assessment of the trip, of course. He'd just said something else that she'd missed, and gotten a swat to the head. Christ, the man should have a concussion from that one.
"Ow, relax, Boss. I was just kidding."
The security process was the same for all the buildings they visited on a regular basis. The conference room was familiar. It looked like every other government conference room Kate had ever been in. "Special Agent Byrnes?"
"Special Agent Gibbs and team, I assume." Byrnes was Gibbs' height, with chocolate brown eyes and skin. His voice was a pleasant rumble. Kate liked him immediately.
Gibbs didn't bother to shake his hand. "I'm Gibbs. DiNozzo, Todd, McGee, my agents. Fowler," he greeted the other team lead. Fowler's eyes narrowed.
"You don't get to take this over, Gibbs," Fowler said flatly, "so wipe the thought out of your mind."
Tony glanced back at Kate and crossed his eyes.
"Then talk, now."
Byrnes raised his brows at the command. "Special Agent Gibbs, take a seat. I assume you already know Special Agent Fowler's people. This is my partner, Brian Sayers, and this is Jaime Parsons our profiler. Mason Black and Lewis Tonner are our undercover team." They settled at the table. Byrnes started talking.
"The first victims are Brandon Cale and Jimmy Lakes." The picture on the screen was painful to look at. There were two men. One's lower face was mostly eaten away. The top of the other man's head was gone - obviously due to a gunshot wound. They were partially dressed in leather, but there was more skin visible than clothing. A leash ran from the collar of the man on the left to the hand of the man on the right.
"What did that to his face?" Kate found herself asking, mostly to herself as she reached for the coroner's report.
"Lye," Tony answered her absently. She scowled at him, not sure if he'd glanced at the report on the table, or just knew from some past experience. "Were they found in their own things, or did the killer dress them?"
"Their own things, as far as we can tell. Brandon is on the right. Jimmy is on the left. Jimmy was his partner in everything, including an architecture practice. Their friends confirm that they had a long-term relationship. They even had a ceremony two years ago. We haven't gotten much more than that out of them. They didn't frequent any club in particular, so there's no knowing which club they were taken from, and they were taken together. Brandon suffered the worst of it. There was severe damage to his face and throat, both arms were broken, shoulders dislocated, hipbone crushed, and fourteen stab-wounds in his stomach. Jimmy was battered and bruised, but died from a gun-shot wound to the head. Their deaths were close together, but we can't say for certain how close."
The litany of woe continued through five other couples. Kate had to close her eyes and take a minute before she could look at the last one. "He's escalating. What was the trigger?" There were lashes all up and down Doug's body. 'Push it down, make it a piece of paper,' she told herself firmly. The submissive partner was whipped to death. She didn't approve of these men's lifestyle, she was a good Catholic after all, but no one deserved to die like that.
When she opened her eyes, Tony was staring at the file in front of him. Gibbs was listening, stony-faced to the recitation of wounds from the last couple. Kate watched his jaw twitching. She'd have watched anything so she didn't have to stare at the picture on the overhead projector.
"We've had two teams out, but there are three possible clubs. That's where you come in," Byrnes stated. "We need a couple." He cocked his head to the side. "I'm assuming you've already discussed this?
Gibbs nodded. "It'll be DiNozzo and me. We'll need a day. Tony, talk to Abby."
"We have a tech team here," Fowler interrupted. Kate raised a brow. Abby was the best. Everyone in NCIS wanted her to work for them.
"No," Gibbs said flatly. "Abby and McGee will monitor us. Kate will be field back-up. It'll make your life easier. We'll link up to your feeds."
"Besides, that's not what I'll be talking to her about," Tony's voice was light, in contrast to the heaviness of the preceding discussion. His grin was infectious, and she saw the assembled team relax. It was one of the reasons she put up with his attitude. Despite what she'd originally thought, she knew he was a nice guy. He continued, "I'm gonna see if I can borrow a collar from her."
There was choked laughter from one of Fowler's underlings. He winked at Tony. Obviously he'd met Abby. Kate made a mental note to pull the man aside and ask him deep probing questions. Or rather, she'd at least gossip over a cup of coffee with someone who wasn't on her team for once.
"And cuffs," Gibbs added.
"And cuffs," Tony replied dutifully. "Hey, Probie, let me see your wrist for a minute." McGee looked at him suspiciously. Kate didn't blame him. Tony wrapped his fingers around Tim's wrist, then around his own. He was obviously measuring size. McGee raised his brows at Tony. "I don't know, might have to go shopping."
"No, you do not get the card, especially if you're talking about shopping with Abby." There was something comforting in bantering. It was familiar.
"Fifteen hundred dollars worth of perfume."
Tony blinked at him. "Wow, I thought it was closer to two-thousand."
"On it, Boss." Tony stepped out to call Abby.
"Kate, I want your read. McGee, background on our military men." Kate nodded, already preparing her preliminary profile in her mind.
"We've already covered that, Agent Gibbs," Fowler said. He was frowning. Obviously, he'd worked with Gibbs before. Or rather for him, no one really worked *with* Gibbs on a case.
"I need to know how they presented in the clubs," Gibbs said, ignoring Fowler's comment. "As a couple. What were they into?"
"Light bondage and not-so-light bondage, some humiliation, devotion. If they were into pain, they didn't do it at the clubs," Jaime replied. "It was all about dominance."
"The killer's looking for the mental connection, not the physical." Gibbs nodded. "So, he's looking for committed couples. What clubs are we talking about?"
"Two well-known, one private. You and DiNozzo get the private one," Byrnes said, smoothly retaking control. "It's called The Rose's Thorn. We're working with the owner to get you in."
Gibbs raised his brows.
"It's the newest one."
"You'll fit in the best."
"The owner isn't a suspect?"
"Parapalegic. There's no way he'd be able to do it alone, and this isn't a pair of killers," the profiler answered. "He's a nice guy, and he's not into the scene. I've talked to his wife. She confirms that it's merely one of several private clubs he owns, each catering to a different taste."
Tony came back in before Gibbs could respond. "I need to meet Abs at her apartment. I'll take McGee. He can bring the car back, and Abs will give me a ride to the office."
Gibbs nodded. He flicked the company card through the air, followed by the keys. "Get what we need. Keep it reasonable, or it comes out of your check."
"Gotcha, Boss. Come on, Probie. Sooner we get out of here, the sooner we get you to your computer. Wouldn't want you to go into withdrawal."
McGee ignored the sally. He left quickly, looking pale and rather green. Byrnes was studying Gibbs. "You're a natural for this aren't you?" he said, almost fondly. "I'll get the frequencies and everything else for your tech team. We have equipment here if you need it."
"We'll be fine."
Abby waved at McGee as he pulled off. She smirked at Tony. "So you and Gibbs, huh?"
"Hush you." Tony trailed after the Goth into her apartment. "So, what do you suggest? And ix-nay on the make-up."
"Aw, just a little eye-liner to make your eyes stand out, and a little gloss to make your lips shimmer. I promise. Gibbs'll jump ya." Tony tugged at her ponytail and she smirked at him. "Okay, we'll start at the top and work our way down. Stay with the spikes. They're cute. Collar, natch, and cuffs for your wrists." She opened the door of her closet. She studied him for a moment, then reached up for a box. She sifted through it. "Here we go." The collar had a ring on the front and small steel studs all the way around it. "It's broken in, and it'll be a breeze to rig with a GPS and wire transmitter, and I won't miss it if it ends up in evidence." She buckled it around his throat. She made sure that it was tight against his skin, but not enough to cause any trouble breathing.
She tugged on the front ring. He made a face at her. "That takes getting used to. Better than a tie though."
"I don't know. Gibbs leading you around with a tie could be interesting too."
"Abs." Tony's voice was full of warnings of dire retribution should she tease him too much. She batted her lashes at him. She put the box away and went searching through a drawer for cuffs. She buckled on one set, then shook her head.
"Too thin." She changed them out for a set of stiffer ones. Tony leaned against the wall as she checked the effect. "Well, they go well with the shoulder holster, but no. Last set." She changed them once more. Tony looked at the heavy cuffs in surprise. "Perfect. No one would buy that those others ones would hold you well enough." She traced the muscle in his fore-arm with one black-painted nail. "See, and these have a built in clip. No need for a lock. You lose them, they will be replaced. Those things cost me."
"I hear you. So, black jeans and a tee you think?"
"Yeah, emphasize your shoulders. Here, see if you can get these undone." She clipped the cuffs together. It took some work, but Tony got them unclipped. "It's easier with two hands. Gibbs should be able to do it quickly if he needs to. Just don't let anyone talk you into a lock on them."
"Hmm. I think leather pants, don't you?"
"For Gibbs? Sure. I even have the credit card." He grinned at her. "You have the measurements?"
"Of course I do." She looked at him. It was a good start, but the button-down shirt and trousers were a little odd with the leather. "Hang on a second." She practically skipped into the guest room. She rummaged through the drawers of "forgotten" clothes from past roommates, friends, and lovers. She found a tee-shirt and a chain belt. At least Tony was wearing black pants today. "Here, put these on. I need to study the effect. We need to get you some combat boots. Besides, if you go shopping all dressed up, everyone'll assume you're my boy." She winked.
"Oh, great. McGee will wipe out my records."
"Don't be silly. He knows I'm not sleeping with you." Tony raised his brows. "Gibbs would crucify me. He wants first shot."
"Don't make me turn Ducky loose on you, Abby."
"Please." She rolled her eyes. He was changing into the tee. He slipped his holster back on, but she knew he wanted her opinion on the look. The silver of the belt picked up on the glint of metal at his throat. With jeans and boots, he'd be perfect. She'd pay good money for him. "Come on. You only live once." She winked at him.
"Gibbs will freak if I show up in the office like this." He gestured at the cuffs. He tried to figure out how to get the cuffs unbuckled, but realized that they had to be taken off by someone else. The ends had been tucked in too firmly. He held a wrist out to her. She shook her head and patted the leather cuff.
"All the better, don't you think. So, you, Gibbs, and an S&M club. I get to listen right?"
"And watch, if you get something for Gibbs to wear the camera on."
"So what are we waiting for? We'll shop in the Bossman's closet first, then we'll hit the mall. I have a few ideas. So, is it a bad one?"
"Six couples so far."
"That totally sucks."
"Yeah. You have a jacket around here? I can't exactly wander around with my gun out like this."
"Wouldn't want you going unarmed. I think you left a coat here last Halloween."
"Is that where my trench ended up? I thought I lost it to the dry cleaner."
"It's black too. Perfect." Impulsively, she kissed his cheek. He grinned at her.
"If I didn't think Gibbs would shoot me, I'd kiss you properly." His eyes were twinkling though, so she knew he wouldn't follow through. She found his coat in the front closet and handed it over.
"Here we go. Let's go, boy toy. I'll bring your shirt to work for you. It'll do McGee good to get jealous."
Tony nodded. "They weren't pretty deaths. Lye, gunshots, knife cuts, whip cuts, missing pieces, too. Six bad mutilations, six gun shot wounds. He's torturing subs, and killing Doms."
Abby looked at him seriously. She took his hands. "Gibbs isn't going to like this."
"Not at all."
"Don't get hurt, Tony. I refuse to put up with him if you get hurt."
"Just feed him lots of coffee, and make him eat. He'll be less grumpy if he actually eats." They touched foreheads for a moment.
"I'll miss you if you're gone." Her voice seemed oddly solemn, even to herself. "Piercings never really go away, you know." It took him a moment.
"I'm not going anywhere, Abs. Gibbs won't let me."
McGee tried his best not to look at the crime scene photos too closely. They were lurid in their colors. He found he actually preferred Tony's and Kate's sketches to the reality of the photographs. He'd known that before this case, but there was something in these photos that made them so much worse than anything else. He couldn't seem to turn his eyes away from the pictures tacked to the bulletin board in the team's conference room. He shook his head and turned back to his laptop. He was searching databases that the FBI agents hadn't. He had a good idea of what Gibbs was looking for. He wanted to know the victims. Their enemies. Their friends. Their finances. Gibbs was nothing, if not thorough.
McGee wondered if he should be offended that no one had even considered him for the undercover position. He'd been with Abby often enough to know that he could handle, if not completely fit into, the sort of clubs they were going to be in. He looked up at the pictures again. No, it had to be Tony, he decided. The men in those pictures were more than "cute" and there was no way his baby-face would fit in to that lineup. His search pinged and he looked down. He had one profile finished. Time for the next name. His fingers flew across the keyboard. He saw Agent Byrnes watching him with a raised brow. He ignored it. He was getting good at ignoring people. Gibbs was far scarier than anyone else he'd met. Then, of course, he was used to Tony standing over him, and watching.
"McGee," Gibbs barked.
McGee handed over the pile of papers.
"Almost done, Gibbs."
McGee hated Kate for a minute. She was so confident. She always called Gibbs by name. McGee figured he'd never get to that point. Hell, Tony didn't call him Gibbs. "Boss" just seemed right. The door opened. He glanced at the pair there, then did a double take. Holy crap, that was Abby, and obviously Abby's handiwork. "Need you to try some stuff on, Boss."
"Not now, DiNozzo."
"Oh, come on, Bossman," Abby whined. "I need to make sure I get the camera height right when I install it."
"Camera?" Byrnes asked.
"Oooh, you're a hottie." Tony cleared his throat. "Well, he is." She smacked Tony in the shoulder.
"Agent Byrnes, FBI," Byrnes said offering a hand.
"Abby Scuito, NCIS."
"I can see why you provided the collar," he answered, smiling at her. It was a paternal smile, like Gibbs gave her.
"And oh, so much more."
"Abby," Tony shook his head. "Come on, Boss. You need to try these on so I can take the wrong size back."
"You know my size."
"Yes, but these run differently."
"How much did this little adventure set me back, DiNozzo?" Gibbs growled as he got up.
"Not a penny, Boss. The government, on the other hand...."
"Only about six-hundred, once I take back the ones that don't fit." Gibbs grabbed the offered bag violently and stalked out.
"You are so dead when he finds out."
"Sh." Tony held a finger to his lips. Lip gloss, McGee assessed. Abby's been busy. He felt his lips curling up. "Not a word, Probie!"
The door closed behind him and he jogged to catch up with Gibbs. Abby giggled. McGee smiled at her. "So, what's my favorite geek up to?"
"Sure I'm still your favorite?"
"There a computer I can borrow here?" she asked. "Besides, Tony's not a geek." McGee shook his head. Anyone who could reel off stats in any field was a geek in his book. It felt a lot better to be working next to Abby. With her, all the weirdness was normal. "Oooh, hey, can I get a blow up of that one?" she pointed to the middle picture. "Those marks will fit my theme." McGee watched with pleasure as Fowler squirmed. He'd obviously been down to Abby's lab.
"Lock the door, DiNozzo."
"Why, Boss? Embarrassed."
"Lock the damn door or you'll be doing desk-work until you're grey!"
Tony locked the door. He knew exactly what sort of position he'd be in soon, and he didn't want Gibbs to actually use the excuse to torture him. Gibbs stepped out of the stall. The leather pants fit very well. The murderous expression in Gibbs' eyes was a bad sign.
"What exactly were the two of you thinking?"
"Lunch money? We could make a mint off the pictures." Tony tried an innocent smile. Gibbs seemed to buy it.
"At least they're lined."
"Running in leather pants is not a good idea. We got jeans for you, too. We shopped your closet first, but you didn't have much. The blues would be nice, but probably not appropriate." That really was too bad. How often do you get to play sex games and flirt with a military, correct, even if he might be bi, boss, on the government's dollar? The uniform would have been a plus, but definitely wasn't going to happen.
Gibbs raised a brow. "There something you're not telling me?"
"Me, Boss? I'm an open book. There's a shirt in there. Abbs was pretty sure she'd be able to get a camera into it."
"It's a white button-down."
"With stays and a little bit of sheen that will look good under the lights of a club."
"Why haven't you taken that coat off?" Tony sighed. He pulled up a sleeve to expose the cuff. Gibbs smirked. "I see." He poked through the rest of the bags. He frowned, identifying some equipment he hadn't been expecting. He raised a brow.
"Do NOT blame me! Blame Abby."
"You'll be taking most of this back," Gibbs stated.
"Some of it, Boss. The rest we'll need. We don't know how long this will go on. What do you want me to do back at the fort?"
"I want backgrounds on the club owners. Discreet."
Tony nodded. That he could do. He liked talking to people, and hell, he could scout the clubs a little bit while he was at it. He'd start with gossip, though. He didn't want to be caught out. "So where are we going to be?"
"The Rose's Thorn."
"Eric's place? How'd they wrangle that?"
"You know the owner." Gibbs didn't sound surprised.
"Leave the pants on. Give Abs a thrill. Yeah, I set him up with his wife. He was paralyzed as a kid."
"You set him up with his wife?"
"He's a college buddy. He helped me with some of my problems, I helped him with his." There was a knock on the door. "Bathroom's closed. Come back in an hour," Tony called sharply. There was muttered cursing, but the person moved on. "Boss," he said quietly, "could you please get these off? Abs refuses. She thinks they look good." Gibbs stopped looking through the bags.
"You can't get them off alone?"
Gibbs frowned. "Let me see them." Tony held his wrists out for inspection. Gibbs manipulated his wrists, taking a good look at the construction. He fastened the clip, brows raised. He pulled at the connected wrists, testing the strength of the clip. He unfastened it a moment later. "Good quality. The padding keeps them from chaffing?" Tony shrugged. A moment later Gibbs was smirking. "Leave them on. Give Abby a thrill."
"You're a bitch, Boss."
"No, I play the audience. No one in that room will believe that you can do this; I know better. Half of this goes back, DiNozzo. I mean it." Tony sighed. He nodded. "Not everything in that bag was Abby's choice."
"Of course not." Tony smirked. "I know how to make people look good. Even if they don't always take my advice. Besides, Abs was advocating a leather harness, and there's just no way. You wouldn't be comfortable in it, and no one would buy it. Besides, if we're going to be at Eric's, there's a classier dress code. It's casual, but it's not a fetish club. That's, damn, what did he call it? The Last Step." Gibbs brows rose and Tony didn't need to hear the question. "Where do you think he got the venture capital? You did my background check."
"I didn't look at your stock portfolio."
"I buy more coffee related stocks now," Tony said. "They're going to want a demonstration, aren't they?"
"Probably." Gibbs was openly smirking. He went back into the stall to change. That was a shame. But it would make things more interesting.
"I just got these back from the cleaners too. Oh well. McGee working up backgrounds for us? I know he was going to bring his laptop along."
"Yes. Now that Abby's here, that will probably go more quickly. We need to know how they were captured."
"Drugged or attacked, you mean? I'm putting money on drugged, but hoping for attacked."
Gibbs grunted. "Go get some coffee. I'll bring the bags with me."
"For you, or for everyone? There's got to be a place I can get a pot around here. I'll go chat up a secretary or two."
"Leave that collar on." Tony dropped his hand from his throat. How did he know things like that?
"I'll meet you at the conference room." Tony left the men's room in search of the cafeteria.
Abby looked up. "Darn. I thought Tony'd convince you to keep the leather ones on."
"He was talking about pictures, and you know my thoughts on that."
She rolled her eyes. "So what's the read, Bossman. Returns?"
"Yes. These three bags are going back."
"No! That's the wicked leather vest and boots."
"I have boots, and there's no way I'm wearing that vest, and you know it."
Abby pouted. "But it would look so good on you. Even if you wear it over a shirt."
I'll take them back. I bet Tony'd be able to convince you to wear it."
"Unless that profile is finished, Agent Todd, keep your mind on your work. McGee?"
"Working, Boss. Give me half an hour."
"Abs, head back to the lab. Wire up whatever you need to. Fowler will give you the frequencies. Set up a surveillance bank. We'll need to be able to listen in on their frequencies. Find a way to get a GPS into one of those cuffs."
"But they look so cute on him, Bossman." Gibbs just looked at her. She put her hands up in surrender. "Fine. As soon as he gets back."
"Kate, get the door." Tony's voice broke her concentration. She pushed her chair back and opened the door without bothering to get up. "Thanks." He set the tray on the conference table. He started passing out drinks. "Gibbs, coffee. Kate, latte. McGee, Mountain Dew. Abby, Pepsi - sorry no Jolt. Fowler, cream only. Baxter, cream and sugar. Max, diet. Byrnes, coffee with Splenda. Jaime, two shots of vanilla. Sayers, coffee with cream. Mason, latte with mocha. Lewis, hazelnut. Gibbs, your second cup, try not to inhale it." Tony took the last cup for himself. The FBI agents blinked a few times before taking their drinks.
Kate's brows rose. "Thanks." She went back to her profile, not wanting to ask.
"Gibbs wants me to wire you up." Abby gestured Tony over. Kate watched them in the reflection on the lamp. The young Goth very carefully removed the studded collar, fingers lingering just a little too long for sisterly affection. Then, she reluctantly reached for Tony's wrist. She couldn't help it. Kate had to see what sort of bracelet Abby'd conned her "big brother" into wearing. She stared at the heavy cuffs. Even more surprising was the amount of force Abby was using to take them off. "Remember, no locks, Gibbs," she said absently. "If these get cut off, I will find a way to poison your coffee."
Gibbs signed something at her, and she shot back a quick reply. Then, she grinned impishly and signed something else. Gibbs smirked and continued the exchange. Tony looked between them, then caught Abby's hand. "Stop talking about me in front of my face, and don't try to lie about it either, Abigail."
"Fine," she huffed. "See if I try to convince him to wear his uniform."
"Like you'd be able to get him to do it?"
"You never know."
"I want pictures."
"You'll get them."
"In Hell, DiNozzo, because the only time I'll ever wear that uniform is at your funeral."
"He's such a bitch today. What did you do, McGee?"
"Yes, Boss?" Tony turned to look at Gibbs. Their eyes met for a long moment. "Yeah, on it, Boss." Tony pulled out his phone with his free hand while Abby freed his other wrist. "Hey, Eric, long time no hear. What? I can't call to talk? Okay, so maybe I'm a little predictable. Is Suzie still treating you right, or do I have to talk to her sister? I just like to keep track of my investments. You know that. I put a lot of time and energy into your relationship.
"Oh, you meant those investments. Something on your mind, bro? Yeah, I thought so. You can talk to me. No, you know I won't tell. Cross my heart. Scout's honor. All that shit. That's not exactly what I expected to hear. Anyone I know? Really? New members or guest night? I have my sources, and a password to your computer system; might want to change that. Guests? Any witnesses? Why would I tell the FBI? I don't make a great anonymous tipster, but I could fake it. Hell, just tell them that the Feebs got a warrant to get your members list. Yes, I know about the privacy clause, but I also know that there's a LEO's exemption in it. I know because I made sure the lawyer put it in there. Yeah, I've got friends that even scare lawyers. Just give me the names. I'll see that the right people get them."
Kate wasn't the only one watching in rapt fascination. Around the table, those who hadn't been shocked by getting their favorite drinks before, were shocked by this conversation.
"Anyone else have regulars go missing recently? I mean, you think it was just your folks being targeted, or is it that community, or what? Really? Billy Carson and Jenny Blue? I don't think I've met them. You like them? Better question, does Suzie like them? Yeah? So, Jenny's a bitch. She into the scene or something? That's harsh, Eric. How'd that happen? Car accident."
The conversation continued in rapid-fire bursts for fifteen minutes. "I'll talk to you soon, okay? Hey, if I want do drop in, my membership still good? Well, you know, there's something to be said for not standing out in the crowd. Maybe someone will let something slip with me, that they won't with a Feeb interviewing them. Thanks, bro. Yeah, someday I'll *not* be working a weekend, and I'll stop by. Nah, he hasn't been making me sleep at my desk as much anymore. He's got new fools to torture. Ciao."
"You're *that* DiNozzo?" Sayers said, staring.
"You're the DiNozzo from Philly who caught a mobster just by gossiping with his bodyguard at a downtown restaurant."
Kate stared at her partner. Tony was making a few of his chicken-scratch notes. Short-hand she realized. 'That's why Gibbs and I can't read it. He uses short-hand, the sneak.'
"I wasn't gossiping. I was talking. And he just happened to be in the place. He propositioned me, I just didn't take him up on it." Tony shrugged. "Things got a little out of hand. The owner of The Chameleon and The Void both had regulars go missing. I'm guessing those are our other clubs. Jenny Blue owns The Void and Billy Carson owns The Chameleon. They don't have private members, but there's a certain group of regulars that they get all the time. Jenny lost her life-partner about a year ago to cancer, and she's been a bitch since then. You might want to make sure someone strong interviews her, or she'll walk all over them. Eric says that everyone seems to know that Mark and Tennessee were missing. Rumor says they were taken outside the club by gun, but the people who saw it, the names are here, thought it was a scene." Tony shrugged. "Not the killer, but for fifteen minutes, I've got you four witnesses. Need more coffee?"
Gibbs frowned. "Kate, McGee, I want you to talk to Ms. Blue."
Fowler cleared his throat. "I told you, Gibbs, you aren't taking over this investigation. You set up your surveillance, but you are not taking over this investigation. And you're ignoring the blatant conflict-of-interest."
"Oh, you mean because I invested in Eric's company and set him up with his wife? You think he did it, Fowler? Or that he's even a suspect? Eric couldn't have taken any of those guys. He's a paraplegic, but beyond that, he can't get into his chair by himself. His arms don't have the strength. Believe me, I tried all sorts of weight training with him. I still do."
"What happened to him, since you know him so well?" Byrnes asked. Kate assessed him quickly. He was merely curious.
A flash of distress crossed Tony's face. "Car accident. Severed his spine and shattered his collar bone and shoulders. If he hadn't been seven, they don't think he'd have survived. The nerves never really recovered, so his arms don't work too well. He's a stubborn bastard. Went to the gym every day for an hour when I knew him. Tried his hardest, but there's only so much that can be rebuilt when you can't grip the weights well. If that drunk driving bastard hadn't died, I'd have found him and thrown him off a cliff years ago."
"You met him in college."
Gibbs was watching with his usual smug expression, as if he'd known all this. Kate considered. Maybe he did. He'd known Tony for two years when she joined the team. Tony wasn't even bothering to worry about the answers to his questions. That very lack of concern made him more believable. Tony DiNozzo helping a paraplegic at the gym? That didn't really sound like the man she knew. Setting him up with a girl? Well, she admitted, Tony would definitely do that. He'd inadvertently hooked McGee and Abby up. But to do that, he'd had to know Abby's preferences backwards and forwards.
Abby suddenly dropped her arms around Tony's neck and leaned down to talk into his ear. Tony smirked up at her. "If you're good." Abby squealed and kissed his cheek. "See you guys." She bounced out of the room.
"So, you really think that DiNozzo can pull this stunt off?" Fowler asked. He was glaring at the younger agent, who was now opening taunting the FBI agents with patently sarcastic comments. Byrne's lips had twitched up into a smile.
"Tony, heel." Tony's mouth shut with a snap, he turned to look at Gibbs, not even finishing his comment.
"Fowler doesn't think you're capable of playing this role."
"Well, I've known he was an idiot since Petty Officer Martinez OD'd on Meth and he called it natural causes. You could still smell the Ice in the air."
Gibbs lips curled into a half-smile. "And did you tell him that to his face?"
"I did. You were on sick-leave, and for some reason the Director didn't want me on my own with access to your files."
The head-smack was expected by every one on the team. The rest of the room flinched. Tony just smirked in Gibbs' direction. "What did I tell you about pissing off other leads?"
Tony thought for a moment. "Only piss them off if they're wrong." He mimicked Gibbs' inflection perfectly. Even Kate had to laugh. She hadn't noticed how much they played off of each other when tormenting someone.
"Prove it," Fowler snapped.
"Tony." Gibbs' tone was cold. Tony's smile left. His complete attention was focused on Gibbs. "Shoot Agent Fowler in the left shoulder, just below his collarbone." Tony's gun was out in an instant. His finger was tightening on the trigger. "Stop." He froze. The whole incident took less than thirty seconds. Kate was frozen by her shock for a second, but her hand moved towards her gun instinctively at hearing Gibbs' order. Tony wouldn't seriously shoot an NCIS agent just because Gibbs told him to. What was she thinking? Of course he would. He'd just assume that Gibbs had a good reason for it, and would get him out of any trouble. His faith was almost creepy.
"And you think that he won't follow my orders in a sex club? You're an idiot Fowler, and if you don't back off and leave my people alone, you'll be a dead idiot. Put it away." Gibbs' voice remained cold. Tony holstered his gun. Gibbs stood up. "Still, I suppose you want a demonstration. Give me your cuffs, Kate." Kate handed them over, wondering what exactly Gibbs would consider a demonstration. The older man stroked a hand through Tony's hair, then leaned to whisper in his ear for a moment. She watched through narrowed eyes.
"Yes, Boss," he said quietly, sweetly. He slid from the chair to his knees. He rested his forehead on Gibbs' hip.
"Of course, it's not really DiNozzo you're worried about is it, Fowler?" Gibbs pressed. He stroked Tony's hair as he spoke. He dropped the cuffs to the floor. "Put them on, key-side up." Tony did so without any hesitation. "What's the real question here, Fowler?"
Fowler glared. "How far will you go for this?"
"As far as I need to."
"He'll do what he needs to do." Gibbs stroked through Tony's hair. There was something surprisingly gentle in the motion. "This is not an issue for us."
"Do you think that Tony won't hit on every female in the place?" Kate couldn't help but smirk.
Gibbs snorted. "Not while he's on my leash he won't. He's the best undercover agent I've ever had on my team."
She made a small sound of disgust and went back to her work. Let Gibbs play mind-fuck with the other team leaders. Hell, she wouldn't put it past Tony to do anything Gibbs told him to when it came down to it, up to and including stealing Air Force One. Compared to that, kneeling in the middle of an FBI conference room with handcuffs on to fuck with the heads of a few agents was nothing.
"Boss?" DiNozzo's voice was sleepy. Byrnes was startled out of his correlations at the sound. He'd forgotten the young man was there. Fowler had given up on baiting Gibbs, but the NCIS man had left the young man on his knees by his chair. He had taken the cuffs off before sending Todd and McGee off to do interviews. Even when the other agents came back with their reports, DiNozzo hadn't moved away from Gibbs' side. Given the heads raising across the room, he wasn't the only one who'd forgotten he was there. "May I move?"
Byrnes studied Gibbs for a long moment. He looked older than he was, with his steel grey hair. His blue eyes were serious right now, as he looked over papers. He was squinting a bit at the files. Every once and awhile he'd get a verbal report from one of his subordinates. His posture was Marine straight and he was willing to bet that the man had Semper Fi down to an art-form. He didn't say it, but he obviously cared for his team. He also didn't take any shit. Byrnes understood why people would follow him.
His profiler was a pretty thing, or she would be if she smiled, as opposed to only smirking every once and awhile at DiNozzo's jokes. The victims' deaths disturbed her, but he wasn't sure why. She'd gone for her gun at the same time her partner had, but hadn't pulled it. She obviously trusted Gibbs. Her eyes had gone to Fowler first, as if she'd suspected he were a danger.
McGee was the epitome of a computer geek on the surface, but there had to be something more to him. He was obviously in a relationship with their lab tech, but it didn't seem exclusive, which is not something he'd have pegged the man for accepting. Then again, Gibbs had sent him to interview the owners of the clubs. Byrnes was leery. There was something about computer geeks that set his teeth on edge.
DiNozzo, well, if half the stories he'd heard from his partner were true, he didn't know why they hadn't recruited him for the FBI. In fact, he didn't know how Gibbs had found him. Sayers only had rumors, but those were pretty unusual. They were "legends" from Philly. A few probing questions had revealed that the young man had more than a few departments under his belt. Byrnes made a note to check with some other sources; he needed to know what he was dealing with there. He also needed to know who had spilled how he took his coffee. It was a good trick, but it shouldn't have been that easy to get that information. He dropped his pen. He leaned over to pick it up and glanced under the table. DiNozzo was actually asleep. Byrnes shook his head; he wished he could still do that.
"Get to work."
"On it, Boss. Forget your glasses, Boss?" he asked. Gibbs smacked the back of the man's head. He dropped the keys into the waiting hand. Kate glanced up.
"I'll ride back and pick up the car, Gibbs," she offered. Gibbs pinned her with a look. "Or, I can just keep working on the victim profile."
"See you, Katie. Any messages for Abby, McGee?"
"Don't call me 'Katie.'" DiNozzo smirked at her. McGee shook his head. The man left, running a hand through his hair. He was humming.
"He better not leave us stranded here," Todd grumbled.
"Is there a problem, Agent Todd?"
"Of course not, Gibbs."
"Then where the Hell is my report?" She flinched a bit, but handed over a sheet.
"Just preliminary, of course. I'm only half-way through. But, I don't think Cale was his first victim."
"You know? Then why?"
"These are the ones we have. Get back to work. I want that final report done in an hour. Use McGee's laptop if you have to, or commandeer something from the FBI. Fornell's computer."
She smirked. "I might have to try that. Think you could have Tony shoot *him* for me?"
"Don't tempt me."
Fowler's laughter was unexpected. "Gibbs, where did you just send your boy?"
Gibbs smiled. "You'll find out soon enough." There was a quiet knock on the door.
Byrnes went to answer it. There was a young woman on the other side, with a tray piled high with plates. She was nicely rounded and Byrnes couldn't help but smile. She was cute, if not traditionally pretty. "Hi, these are for you guys."
"We didn't order any. . ."
"Bring the damned food in here, Byrnes, and tell Tony's latest that he had to run some errands."
"Tell him I said no way, but I do have a sister he'd be perfect for!" she called back.
There was laughter from Gibbs' team. Byrnes took the tray. "What do I owe you?"
"Nothing. It's all taken care of, Agent Byrnes." She turned to leave with a cutely dimpled smile. "Oh, Agent Byrnes, tell Tony he's right. You are cute, and I'd love to give you my number some day." She hurried away.
He could hear McGee laughing as he set the tray down. "He must like him."
"I don't know, McGee, considering what I hear from Abby, he was vetting you for her the minute he met you," Kate said.
McGee frowned at her. Gibbs turned away to hide his smile. Byrnes guessed the secret. "Abuse of power?" he muttered to Gibbs. The man looked at him, eyes flat. "I'm never inviting you to the poker game."
"I don't play poker with FBI agents." Gibbs snagged the roast beef sandwich off of the top. Fowler's eyes narrowed and Byrnes wondered what was up. "Kate, your green crap is on top."
"Vegetarian Gibbs. Don't be afraid of a few vegetables. Sometimes you're worse than Tony!"
Tony worked quickly, tracing the backgrounds of the victims. He needed to find what Gibbs wanted - the link. He ran the member lists on Gibbs' computer, looking for the overlaps. He ran the backgrounds on his and Kate's computers. He didn't dare touch McGee's system. Probie had it tricked out to do strange crap if he tried to log into it. When he looked up from the screen, Director Morrow was standing just next to the stairs. "Yes, sir?"
"Is Gibbs playing nicely?"
"As nicely as he usually does. Byrnes hasn't threatened to shoot him, I think Fowler's got a few choice words for him, but it's okay."
"As I recall, you had some choice words for him as well."
"Did I ever thank you for not telling Gibbs about that?" Tony winced. Morrow inclined his head. Someday that was a favor he'd have to repay.
"What are you doing here?"
"Running backgrounds. I need all the computers. McGee has his laptop. I think it's linked up to his system here, so I'm avoiding it. Abby's in the lab still. Gibbs is keeping Kate and McGee at the FBI. I think he's hoping Kate will take a bullet if he needs her to." Tony grinned.
"And the undercover operation?"
"Abby's wiring up the collar and cuffs. We'll be going in tomorrow."
"What do you think of the agent in charge?"
"You know how I feel about Gibbs," Tony quipped. He sobered. "Byrnes is okay. He cares about this one."
Marrow nodded sharply. "Tell Gibbs that being out of the office is all well and good, but I still need the budget on time."
Morrow left Tony to his work. Tony rubbed the back of his head. It was going to be a long night. He gulped down more coffee and scanned through the lists.
"I've got a short list of fifteen male couples from all three clubs that were on the provided lists. Forty overlaps all together. I'll email them to McGee. I'm sifting through everything. I'll have a report in, well, soon. Want me to swing by and pick you guys up?"
Gibbs hung up. "Tony's on the way, pack up. We'll meet you tomorrow at 800."
"Wait a minute," Fowler started.
"Sounds good to me," Byrnes said, ignoring the NCIS agent's anger. "You two finish up this pissing match before you come back in here. I'm not dealing with it when we're sending six men out as bait tomorrow night."
Gibbs nodded sharply. His team had ignored the exchange, simply packing up. Gibbs would win. He always did. The fury on Fowler's face told him that the other man knew it too. "This is my investigation, Gibbs."
"Of course it is," Gibbs agreed. "You do your work. Let my team do theirs. Tomorrow."
"Don't screw with me, Gibbs."
"You're not my type. Move out." Kate and McGee were out the door before Fowler managed to find a response.
McGee was watching Tony and Gibbs as casually as he could. They were going over a list, heads close enough to be touching. Abby would kill him if he missed anything good. He missed the comment, but saw the head-slap. He felt his lips twitch up. It wasn't a normal day if he didn't see that at least once. There was nothing particularly normal about the situation they were heading into though. They'd done undercover assignments, but nothing this complex.
He was working with Abby to set up a laptop for Kate to use for support in the field. Abby was busy getting her up to speed on the technology. He kept his fingers moving, looking for the other cases Gibbs was sure were out there. A motion caught his eye, Gibbs was stroking Tony's throat with his thumb. They were looking each other in the eye. "I promise. I will always have your back."
"You know, you're the first guardian angel I've ever trusted when he told me that. Just don't let it go too long. Last thing I want is to not be able to come back to work."
"What's your read on his victims?"
"He's punishing them. The middle one lasted longest. Our Navy boy. Probably because he followed orders for a bit longer than the others. None of them were good enough to read what he wanted. Or maybe they panicked, or saw their lover's killed. It takes patience to wait for the right opportunity." McGee was quiet. He'd listened to Kate's pontificating about the killer, but he hadn't heard anything about the victims. He didn't want them to know he was listening and stop the flow of words, so he didn't ask the questions that were swimming in his brain.
"You think you can stay under if he hurts you?"
Tony grimaced, thinking. "It depends on where you are."
"What do you mean?"
"If he's hurting you, probably not. If he hurts me, it won't be as big of a problem."
"And if he won't tell you where I am?"
"I'll assume you're coming for me." Tony grinned. "I have an advantage. I'll know someone's listening. That someone's coming. Your gut's going?"
"Mine, too. Just in case, my will's in your filing cabinet." Gibbs cuffed Tony across the back of his head softly. "You're my executor. And Probie, wipe my hard drive at home, okay?"
"Just in case, or if something goes wrong?" Busted, McGee thought sourly.
"Don't let my family get their hands on anything but an operating system. Take all the backups, and trash them."
"Sure." Nothing would happen to Tony. Gibbs wouldn't let it. McGee had to keep that faith.
"Go home and get some rest, DiNozzo. It's gonna be another long night."
"Got it, Boss. How long do I have?"
"No later than four."
"Right." Tony left quickly.
"Where's Tony going?"
"Home. He'll be back at four. You two head home too. I want you all back by four. We're on stage by eight."
"You're going home too, right?" Kate asked, almost hesitantly.
"I'm going to see Abby."
McGee watched him leave.
"Okay, boys, have fun. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Abby grinned. "You're coming in loud and clear. Kate, you hear them?"
"I've got them."
"Why, Kate, I didn't know you wanted me," Tony purred. Gibbs smacked him across the back of the head. "Damn, already in character there, Boss." Gibbs smirked.
"Let's go, Tony." Tony grinned at Abby, then winked. She laughed. Then, Gibbs' hand was on the back of Tony's neck, guiding him out to the car. Kate and McGee headed to their car to provide back-up.
"I hate being left behind," Abby said softly to the empty lab. She adjusted her headset and turned her eyes to the camera on Gibbs' collar.
"Gibbs, please, I don't want to be green when we get there."
"What was that?"
"Didn't think so."
Abby snickered. At least this would be fun for awhile. Tony wasn't going to miss this opportunity, and neither was Gibbs. They both enjoyed flirting too much. There was a strangled gasp from Tony, and Abby's brows rose.
"Just getting into character."
"Ah, damn, you are a bastard."
"Shut it, or I will use some of that equipment I've got in the trunk."
"Bastard," Tony grumbled again.
"Time to go under, Tony. Just be there when I call."
"Always am, Boss." Tony's voice was softer now. "Any rules?"
"Keep a sharp eye. Follow orders. Don't flirt with anyone but me. I know you're a slut, but you're *my* slut tonight," Gibbs' voice made Abby shiver.
Kate's voice filtered over the com. "Geeze, Abby, they aren't even in the place yet!"
"Come on, Kate, it's hard to fake this stuff. You've got to totally practice it."
"They practice every day."
"Now that was snarky, Kate." Abby felt her lips quirk. "That's totally different. Tony would so buck anything Gibbs did that he didn't agree with."
"I've been sworn to secrecy." Abby smirked to herself. She knew more about both of those men than Kate would ever learn.
"Of course you have. How much?"
"You can't afford it."
"I can match whatever Tony offered."
"No, I don't think you can. Not unless you really are like that frog like you told Gibbs."
"With Tony?" McGee asked sharply. "That explains a lot."
Abby giggled. "Welcome to NCIS 22301."
"Tell me you're kidding," Kate begged.
"That's for me to know, and you to find out. Oh, good, they're in. You have visual on the front?"
"Got it," Kate replied.
"I've got the cars," McGee said. "Running plates now."
Tony surrendered to the role somewhere in the car. He could practically feel his posture changing. His head dropped forward a little, and his shoulders dropped. He let his lids drop half-closed. Gibbs settled his hand on the back of the younger man's neck and stroked with his thumb. "Good boy," he praised softly. Tony felt the small smile on his face. It was strange to be doing this with Gibbs, of all people.
His nose picked up the soft smell of sawdust and coffee that he associated with Gibbs. They got into the club easily. The bouncer knew Tony, though never as a sub. His grin said it all. "Congrats, kid," he said softly as they passed. Tony winked at him. Then, Gibbs was propelling him forward.
"What did I say about flirting?"
"Only with you, Boss." The cuff to the back of the head was gentler than usual. "Thank you, Boss," he said automatically. He'd played this same role before in Philly, in Baltimore. Hell, people probably thought he was simply not on the scene a lot because he hadn't found someone. He settled himself at Gibbs' feet at a center table. They had a good view of the alcoves and the bar. Gibbs clipped the cuffs behind Tony's back. A second clip leashed Tony to the chair. He made a small protesting whimper. Gibbs stroked his hair.
He heard Gibbs murmuring. He looked up adoringly. Most people would assume that Gibbs was talking to him. The truth was, Tony was an accessory here. Something to draw their killer's attention. Gibbs would do most of the reporting. Tony kept a quiet eye on what was happening, and added his own report on a few things that were happening behind Gibbs' back. There was no way that they'd know if the people watching them were merely enjoying the show, or if there was something more, unless the killer made a move.
Gibbs was petting him now. Tony settled his chin on the older man's knee. He rubbed his cheek on Gibbs' thigh in an unconsciously submissive gesture. Gibbs called over a waitress and ordered coffee. She nodded. She glanced down at Tony. "I'd get a thicker leash. I know that flirt." Gibbs chuckled.
"He knows better."
"I'll bet. Always said he just needed the right Dom to show him that this is his kind of place. Congrats."
"Thanks," Gibbs replied. Tony didn't look up. He couldn't actually. Gibbs' hand was firm and heavy, pinning him in place gently.
"Angela," he murmured as she walked away. "Tried to introduce me to the wild side, but I didn't want to play."
"She's not your type. Too smart." Gibbs tugged at Tony's hair. The younger man snorted.
"Careful, Boss." Tony closed his eyes for a moment. He wished he could see a picture of them right then. He had the funniest feeling that they were both showing a lot more emotion than the op required. What was it that Abs had told him once? Perfect love and perfect trust? Yeah, that was it. It was true. He'd do anything for Gibbs, and ask why later. The tantalizing scent of coffee made his eyes open again. There were two cups on the table, but he knew better than to say anything.
Gibbs held the cup and let him drink from it. "Thanks, Boss," he said quietly.
"Don't want you falling asleep on me, boy," he replied.
"Never without permission, Boss." Calling Gibbs "boss" was the most natural thing in the world. There were eyes on them again. Tony could feel them. He luxuriated in the attention for a moment before turning his eyes to the room. Gibbs' thumb was stroking Tony's jaw now. It was comforting. He smiled. He looked up. Gibbs smiled down at him with a wink.
"Let's get out of here," Gibbs muttered. He debated leaving the leash and cuffs clipped on, but didn't dare. Tony would never let him hear the end of it. Of course, the man would probably be teasing him about the lump in his jeans when this was all over too, but right then, it didn't mean anything. He couldn't help it. He left the leash on. Tony followed him out, sweetly docile. He took the leash off at the front of the building. He unclipped the cuffs and rubbed the tense muscles briskly. Being in one position all night had to be killing him.
"Thanks, Boss." The words were normal, but the tone of voice was still in character. Gibbs put an arm around his waist and led him toward the car. The former Marine stiffened. He turned to fend off the attack, but the taser was too quick. He slumped to the ground.
"Boss, shit." Tony caught Gibbs before he hit, reaching for where Gibbs usually kept his holdout.
"No," a voice snapped. "Get him up and into the van. Now." Still mostly in a submissive mind-set, and not wanting to have the taser turned on him too, Tony hauled Gibbs into the waiting black van. "Get in."
"Sir?" Tony questioned softly. A hard hand slammed into his face, knocking him into the side of the van. The world swam. He'd have a concussion, if nothing else.
"Don't question me."
"Sorry, sir," Tony said. His trembling voice wasn't completely for show. His hand sought Gibbs' pulse. He climbed into the van, pleased when he found Gibbs was alive. Taser hadn't been one of the scenarios they'd come up with. The taser sparked in his peripheral vision.
"Lock your wrist to the chain."
Tony swallowed hard. He fumbled with the padlock, locking his left wrist to the van. There was no way he was getting out without bolt cutters or a key. The lock effectively locked the cuff's strap closed. He didn't think his flick-knife was really going to be up to the job of sawing through it. The killer left him there, going back to the driver's seat. The van lurched, knocking the wind out of Tony as he hit the wall.
"Please, Boss, wake up," Tony pleaded. He knew Kate and McGee were following, but right now they only had evidence of kidnapping. His face was starting to throb. "Your heart is working. You're breathing. Just open those pretty blue eyes, okay?" he begged, not caring that anyone would hear. "If you don't wake up, I'm going to call your last ex-wife," he threatened into his ear. He stroked Gibbs' hair.
Gibbs woke a few minutes later, disoriented. He automatically reached out to pat Tony's cheek. "Hey, Boss, you're okay. Taser." Gibbs grunted. He sat up, eyes cataloging the bruise and swelling on Tony's face with a frown. Tony pulled on the chain that held his wrist. The van skidded around a corner. Another bruise knocked Tony senseless. He slipped into unconsciousness. "I'll come for you," he heard Gibbs whisper.
It nearly broke his heart, but Gibbs had to take the chance. "I'll come for you, Tony," he whispered, then dove out the back door. He hit the pavement hard, rolling. "Pick me up, Kate," he muttered. "Abs, you better have that GPS working, and I mean now."
"Damn. Damn. Damn," Frank Carson snarled. The Dom had just gone through the back door with a diving roll that had confirmed Carson's assumption that the man was military. The sub was still there. He wasn't going anywhere, not locked up as he was. He was boneless, unconscious. Well, Frank could deal with that. This one seemed much better trained than the others. Given his protectiveness, he might be a watchdog, but he'd submitted easily enough before. He'd just have to get the older man later. It would be nice to have a set, but he'd train the younger one first.
He pulled into his garage and closed the door. He opened the back, taser ready. The boy was looking at him blearily. His eye was already swelling. "On your stomach." There was a momentary pause, then the boy did as he was told. Frank locked his wrists together behind his back so that there was no give. Then, he detached him from the chain. "Up." He pulled the young man to his feet. There was a serious bobble on the stairs into the house. The boy bit back a cry of pain. Frank lifted him upright and took him to the basement.
"Now, here are the rules. They're very simple. If you obey me, I won't hurt you. Disobey me, I'll hurt you. Capise?"
The young man nodded. "Yes, sir." He wavered a bit, trying not to put weight on his ankle. "May I speak, sir?"
'One of the best-trained boys I've taken,' Frank assessed. "You may."
"Thank you, sir. What happened to my boss, sir? I can't remember."
"He went out of the back of the van. He stood up. I'll pick him up later."
"Thank you, sir."
"I will never punish you for your devotion. When I ask you questions, you will answer."
"Your name is Tony, correct?"
"And where do you work, Tony?"
"I'm a trader, sir. I work at home, sir." The boy wavered, barely regaining his balance.
"Tell me immediately if you are dizzy or nauseous. You don't need to ask permission for that."
"I'm dizzy, sir. May I sit, sir?"
Frank guided him to his corner of the basement. The mattress there was old and stained. There was a chain embedded in the wall. "Lean against me and I'll set you down." There was no hesitation this time. He lowered the young man to the mattress. He stroked the boy's hair from his eyes. Then, he wrapped the chain firmly around his waist, until it bit in just above the young man's hips and locked it. "You are sweet, baby, but that won't stop me from punishing you if you're naughty." He slipped a blindfold over the pretty eyes.
He took his time searching the young man for weapons. He found a switchblade. He used it to nick the bruised cheek. "You are not allowed weapons, baby." He let the cut bleed, enjoying the sight of it, and the little choked whimper the action had induced. "You're mine now, baby. You will do what I say."
"Yes, sir." The boy's voice was soft and bright. He kissed the young man's temple and left him to contemplate his captivity.
When the door shut and the footsteps faded away, Tony let out the breath he'd been holding. "If you don't come, I'll have to haunt you, Boss," he whispered. He shivered, drawing his knees up to his chest. He leaned against the wall. "Basement and garage. Got to be a suburb. Can't hear sirens or anything like that right now. Hope you've got a shot of him. He's not terribly strong, but he's not weak. He knows how to use his body, though. He's got me chained up, and he took my knife." He knew he should stay awake, but he was just too tired. He fell asleep, no longer noticing the strain on his arms or the throbbing of his ankle.
"Damn," Abby cursed. "Tony's asleep, or unconscious. He's not slurring, but I think he's hurt."
"Concussion," Kate informed her. "I've got Gibbs. We lost the van. Did you get any visuals on it?"
"I did, but the plate isn't registered to a van. It was stolen off of a station wagon."
Gibbs glowered at her from the back seat. "Hurry up, Kate. Get me back to my car. Then, get to the lab. I'm going to talk to Byrnes."
"You are going to talk to Ducky," Kate chided. "We don't know how much damage you did jumping out of that van."
"A hell of a lot less than will be done to Tony if we don't find him. I'm fine. My car. Now, Kate."
McGee was sitting in the passenger side of the car, fingers flying over the keyboard. "We lost the GPS signal," he said. There was anger in his voice that Kate had never heard before. "Abby, you have his signal?"
"No, McGee. The transmitter must be faulty." Kate, McGee, and Abby were all on the same frequency.
Gibbs fished out his cell phone. It was cracked beyond repair. "Kate, phone." She tossed her phone back to him. He dialed Byrnes. "Byrnes, the perp has Tony. We lost GPS, but we've still got vocal."
"Come on. Emergency." Mason Black told his partner, with a pat on the shoulder. It was close to time to wrap up for the night anyway. The bar would be closed in an hour. "Our guy took NCIS' bait."
"DiNozzo and Gibbs?" Lewis Tonner raised his brows. He turned out of the safety cuffs, they'd been using. They hurried out of the bar. The bouncer nodded at them.
"Family emergency, Joe."
"Hope it works out."
"Thanks." Mason herded his partner to the car. They'd change at the office. "What's the word?"
"I don't know yet. I know that Gibbs got away, and I've been warned not to approach him without one of his agents nearby."
"He's not happy, and DiNozzo's still missing." They tore out of the parking lot.
McGee and Abby were working in that strange tandem way they had when they were in their happy computer zone. Gibbs watched, but didn't interfere or question. The FBI team would be there soon. They'd closed up the other surveillance post.
Byrnes came into the lab, following Kate. He winced at the music. Black and Tonner were next. Tonner was still scrubbing glitter off of his face. Fowler's team showed up a moment later. "Do you have him?"
"We're working on it. Audio's still up."
"Wake up, baby. Can't let you sleep too long."
"Yes, sir. I'm awake, sir."
Fowler froze. "That's DiNozzo?"
"Yes." Gibbs' voice was hard. "Abs."
"We're recording. Tracker's weak. We get the occasional spark, but not long enough to keep hold of it."
"I'm going to wrap up that ankle."
"Thank you, sir."
"Such a sweet one." There was a grunt of pain. "Swelling nicely. Tell me, Tony, how long have you been with your boss?"
"Going on three years, sir."
"You love him?"
There was a pause. "Yes, sir. He's the best friend I've ever had."
"You'll see him again, once you tell me his address. I'll bring him back for you."
"If you train to my whip well enough, I'll train him as a companion for you."
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't hide your reactions, little one. If it hurts, don't swallow that cry. There's no one to hear you." Tony's breathing was ragged. "There, that's better. Let's get your boot back on. I'll take you to the bathroom twice a day, little one. You'll have food and water. I'll be leaving you alone, but I'll be watching. Open up." There was a crinkle of foil.
"Thank you, sir."
"Sleep well, Tony. I'll check on you in the morning." There was a sharp click.
"He's gone for now. Won't be able to get out of this alone, Boss," Tony whispered. "Ankle's supported now. Cheek stopped bleeding."
Gibbs' fist clenched. Fowler took and released a breath. He was smart enough not to say anything. Byrnes looked slightly sick to his stomach. "Abby, can you track the audio signal?"
"Working on it, Boss," McGee answered for her. "Unless he's talking, it won't transmit."
"Fuck. That's it. When we get him back, I'm having Ducky implant two GPS trackers in him."
Kate snickered. "Only two, Gibbs?"
"In case there's some sick bastard who tries to cut them out. Status on the facial recognition program?"
"Running against the FBI database right now. Then, I'll start pulling up the police departments. Might be a dead end if there's a place that doesn't have digital."
"On it, Gibbs." She grabbed a print-out of the photo and hurried upstairs to fax it to as many local departments as she could.
"We will not go public with this shot. He's too meticulous to get caught by panicking, and I refuse to lose DiNozzo to an FBI grandstand."
"I wasn't going to suggest it," Byrnes said mildly. Gibbs snorted.
"I need coffee," Gibbs growled. He hadn't bothered to change. There was still gravel and road tar on his white shirt.
"Go home and change, Bossman. Take the com, and I'll link it up. You'll hear anything we hear, okay?" Abby said suddenly. "Then bring me and McGee Caff-Pows on the way back."
Gibbs shook his head. "Abby," he said, warning her of something he didn't want to say out loud.
"You aren't betraying him by getting some clothes. I know you're doing an all-nighter. I need caffeine, and so do you." She paused, turning to sign at him. "Tony won't thank you for getting sick. We'll take care of him for a few minutes. You change."
"Don't order me around," he signed back.
"Then take care of yourself, or I'll set Ducky on you."
Gibbs sighed. "Fine." She smiled sweetly, then turned back to her keyboard. "I'll be back in thirty." He fixed the headset and headed up the stairs, legs eating up distance.
Byrnes watched as Fowler paced the NCIS conference room. "I was under the impression that you didn't like DiNozzo," he said, just to gauge the man's reaction.
Fowler glared at him. "DiNozzo is one of the best. He's Gibbs'. You don't know what that means, but anyone here will tell you that Gibbs is the best. He recruits his own team. The Director used to assign Tony to me when Gibbs was away. I think we only threatened to kill each other five times in the first day. Like him, hell no. Respect him, hell yes."
"So what's the story. What can I expect?"
Fowler laughed. He settled down in a chair, hands across his stomach. "I sent my men home because I know Gibbs and his team will be here all night and all day until they get him back. I've seen DiNozzo sleep at his desk for a week straight. Todd? Well, she was Secret Service. What can't you expect from his team? You can't expect them to be wrong or to lose." Fowler sighed.
"Do you think we'll get any evidence linking this kidnapping to the others?"
Fowler smiled. It was a brittle look. "We probably won't have to worry about prosecuting."
Byrnes laughed a little at that. "You're right. Sent mine home, too. Someone needs to be fresh for this. What would you do if it was Max on that wire?"
"Give it to Gibbs, and get out of the way." Fowler's lips quirked up.
"Glad to hear it. Sayers is bringing over the files. We'll do some work here."
"Don't get in Gibbs' way," Fowler warned.
"I've heard some stories."
"Half of them are true."
Byrnes laughed. "They always are."
Tony shifted uncomfortably. He couldn't really lay down. The chain around his waist made every position except sitting too uncomfortable to sleep. His ankles had been locked together expertly before he was left to sleep. The wall was dusty and cool, but at least it wasn't slimy. He could smell sweat and blood, but he didn't know if it was his, or someone else's.
His shoulders burned from being in the same position for so long. His captor had folded his arms behind his back so that they formed a straight line as opposed to normal cuffing position. His ankle was sprained, he recognized the throbbing. The chain that wound around his feet was loose enough to be irritating, and tight enough to keep his ankles together. On top of it all, the collar was starting to bother him merely by being there. The quiet of the room was broken by the hum of the water heater and the air filter.
He hated the blindfold over his eyes. If he could get a number or something off of one of those appliances, maybe Abby could find him. At least he'd be able to count bricks. The one thing no one ever talked about when in a hostage situation, was the boredom. He couldn't move. He didn't have anyone to talk to. And he couldn't even play at describing the place. Fear took a backseat when there wasn't someone there. Gibbs would find him. He trusted in that. He drifted into sleep.
Abby shivered. McGee stroked her back, but didn't say anything. They could hear the occasional muttered comment in sleepy Italian, but nothing important. It was nearly six a.m. McGee desperately wanted a bed. He didn't mind all-nighters, but only when he could sleep for a few minutes.
"Wake up, Tony," the unfortunately familiar voice said.
"Morning, sir," Tony said. Sleep still filled his voice.
The man explained the rules for the day. McGee watched a single tear roll down Abby's cheek. He wiped it away with his thumb. He set the program searching for the origin of the signal, but the man stopped talking before it could narrow tightly. They'd eliminated Maryland, but that left Virginia, DC, and West Virginia, given the time between the kidnapping, and the first time they heard Tony's voice. The van might have just been driving in circles to avoid a tail, but it could have spent all that time heading in one direction, they didn't know yet.
"May I speak, Sir?" Tony asked softly.
"Have you had other boys, sir?"
"Yes. They all failed in their training."
"Will you tell me about them, sir?"
McGee's brows rose. Tony was already fishing for a confession.
"Why?" The man's voice was harsh. Abby winced.
"So that I don't make the same mistakes, sir. So that I know how to serve you, sir." Tony's voice remained soft and sweet. McGee wanted to scream. It was wrong. Tony only backed down when Gibbs was mad at him.
"You're a sweet boy. I think we'll get along together just fine. I'll show you my scrapbook tonight.
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, let's get breakfast into you." There were two muffled clicks. "There, that's better. Turn. Kneel up. You know how to properly acknowledge your training?"
"How do you want me to respond, sir? Acknowledgment, counting, or silence, sir?"
There was a soft chuckle. "Acknowledgment."
Abby jumped at the crack of a whip. There was a grunt of pain, and then "Thank you, sir." She took off her headset.
"Tell me when it's over, Tim. I just can't."
McGee nodded wordlessly. He watched the spiraling search pattern. If only there were a conversation the signal would stay consistent and they'd be able to track it. He swallowed hard as he heard Tony crying. Thank God Gibbs wasn't... oh shit... he was still listening. They were still transmitting.
"Very good, Tony," the asshole said softly.
"Thank you, sir," Tony said raggedly. "Sir, may I know your name, sir?"
"My name is Frank," the man said, humor in his voice. "Not that you'll ever be using it."
"Thank you, sir. I just like to know, sir."
"Of course you do. Let's get you fed." There were quiet sounds of eating. McGee nodded to Abby and she put her headset back on.
Caitlyn Todd shuddered. She tore off the com unit she was wearing and threw it to the desk. An agent walking by paused. "You okay?" he asked. She nodded. "DiNozzo okay?" She shook her head.
"He will be when we get him out of there."
The agent nodded, then walked away. "Good luck."
"We don't need luck. We've got Gibbs." She summoned up a small smile. Gibbs swept through a moment later, face darker than a thundercloud. He looked at her. "No response back from any local LEOs yet."
He grunted. He pressed the com to his ear. "Frank. Shit, no last name. Run Frank and Francis through all the criminal databases we have. It's a long-shot, but possible. Cross-reference DC Metro area addresses to that list. If you can get pictures or descriptions, compare them."
Kate nodded. "On it." She turned to her computer. She paused. "Gibbs?"
"Is it safe to put the com back on?"
"What was the worst part of it?"
"I couldn't listen to him saying 'thank you' for being abused. It's wrong, Gibbs."
"Because it's not consensual, or in a larger sense?" His voice was cold and Kate wondered suddenly what he was hearing from the feed.
"In a general sense. It's not normal. It's not right."
Gibbs frowned. "Get to work. That's it, Tony, keep a signal going for us," he whispered. Gibbs was off, back down to the lab. Kate stared at the headset. She swallowed. If Tony could take it, she should listen to it, but it was just sick.
"Ave Maria piena di grazia, il Signore č con te. Tu sei benedetta tra le donne e benedetto č il frutto del tuo seno Gesų. Santa Maria, Madre di Dio, prega per noi peccatori, adesso e nell'ora della nostra morte. Amen."
"What's he saying?" Byrnes asked with a frown.
"Rosary," Gibbs answered.
"Italian," Abby answered. Her mascara had run a little bit. "We need to get him out of there, Bossman."
"He took his rosary with him?" Byrnes asked, feeling slow.
"He's using the chain," Abby said softly. "You can hear it rattle as he moves it."
There was a sigh. "Abs, we should buy stock in whatever company makes these cuffs. They're really good quality. Nice padding."
The lab tech laughed. Byrnes raised a brow. "Of course, honey," she whispered. "I'll email you the info."
"Email me at home and I'll hook you up. For a small fee, of course."
Gibbs simply watched the pictures cycling through the database search and sipped his coffee.
"You know, I could really go for one of Ducky's stories right about now. Maybe I can get him to tell me why he pushed a cop off of a cliff. You think if I get out of this Gibbs'll get me a date with his redhead?"
"Not on your life, DiNozzo," Gibbs muttered, a brief smile gracing his lips. "She's too much for you."
There was a sigh. "Probably not. Ah well." Byrnes could hear the shifting clinks of the chains. "Just need to rest, until boss gets here."
"I'll find you," Gibbs murmured. "McGee."
"He's in Northern Virginia."
"Not good enough."
"It'll limit the other searches, Boss. The address search that Kate's running, at least."
"He's got to own the place. He's not worried about a landlord showing up," Abby pointed out.
"Run the tax records for any and all versions of Frank, first or last name."
"On it, Boss," McGee answered. Byrnes watched Gibbs' team hurry to work. Then, he studied Gibbs himself. The man's eyes were hard and cold.
"Do I have to worry about building a prosecution case?" he asked.
"It better be tight, or I'll just kill him."
"What have you got, McGee?"
"Signal trace. Remind me to go to church this weekend."
"We'll go together," Abby replied.
"An address, McGee."
McGee handed over the address. "Boss, are we going to move in?"
"Not until DiNozzo gets us our confession."
Byrnes frowned. "It's too dangerous."
Gibbs looked at him. "I want to hear that bastard explain why he hurt those men, and I want to nail him. DiNozzo will get those explanations. Then, we'll take this son of a bitch down until all he can see is the dirt that surrounds him. If he's lucky, Tony won't drop a word into someone's ear that he likes to rape little girls before he gets into his new home."
Kate swallowed hard. She sat in the car. The FBI was going to do the actual assault. Gibbs was going to get Tony. Then, she and McGee were going to help with clean up. She was listening to the feed from Abby in one ear, and the feed from the FBI on the other.
"Hello, baby, miss me?"
"Yes, sir." The earnestness of Tony's response was just wrong. This wasn't her Tony - irritating, immature, smug, and occasionally brilliant.
"I'm sure you did. I watched you saying your prayers. Catholic?"
"Yes, sir." Kate started. She'd never pegged him as Catholic. It was stupid, she knew, but she thought he was an atheist. Gibbs was the only god Tony seemed to believe in.
"Once you're trained and collared, I'll take you to church as a treat."
"Thank you, sir."
"Kneel up. Silence this time. Do you need help with that?"
"I - I don't know, sir. Probably, sir." Kate tensed. How the Hell could anyone stay silent? Then again, how did Tony know how to answer that question without making his captor more upset? A memory whispered, 'She was so obedient.' She swallowed. Maybe Tony was impressed by that because he knew how hard it was. No, that thought had to be buried.
"There's no shame in needing help, baby. Open up." There were small sounds of metal. Then, she could hear the whip connecting. The choked whimpers made her want to damn the op and run in there. No one should take abuse like that willingly. A head slap from Gibbs was one thing, this was entirely different.
When it finished and the gag was removed, she heard Tony's voice, soft, rough from tears, "Thank you, sir."
The killer chuckled softly. "You're such a good little pain-slut. Bathroom, dinner, then I'll show you my scrapbook."
"Thank you, sir."
The time seemed to suspend as they waited for the signal or the confession, whichever came first. Thoughts ran around and around in her head about what the man would do to Tony if he figured out he was a cop. 'God, please, don't let us lose him like that.'
"There we go. Hands at the back of your head. Resist and I'll have to use the taser."
The killer hummed softly."Here we go. Let me get you settled and I'll take off the blindfold so you can see my boys." It was a few more agonizing moments. There we go, how's that?"
"Could you move it down a little, sir, the sheen. . ."
"Oh, of course. Better?"
"Yes, thank you, sir."
"This was Tim, my first boy. He was quiet, but he was weak. After the first time, he ran to his father, and I had to leave town before I could retake him. I'll go back for him one of these days."
"Back to where, sir?" Tony's voice trembled. Kate saw McGee's hand clench into a fist.
"Hush, little one, I won't leave you behind. North Dakota." A page turned. "This is a lock of hair from Wayne. He wasn't very focused. I had to take the skin off of his back more than once. The second time he had to go to the hospital. I never saw him again. Such a shame."
"Pretty color hair, sir. A real redhead, sir?"
"Yes, pale skinned too. He was a New England boy. Oh, this is Billy. He was interested in exploring his ancestors' history. At least in theory. He tried to run away. I had to shoot him. I used a period piece, so he'd get the full effect."
kind of gun, sir? My father used to collect, sir," Tony added quickly.
"Really? I don't know the model anymore. But I think the term for the bullet was mini-ball. It was Billy's. I had to get rid of it after that."
"Oh. Thank you, sir. He has nice eyes, sir. Like good chocolate, sir."
Frank chuckled. "I appreciate chocolate, but I don't prefer it."
"I'll remember that, sir."
"This is Brandon and this is Jimmy. Brandon just couldn't learn to be quiet. He kept screaming at me, and his language was horrible. And Jimmy, he didn't care for him at all. They were both so self-centered."
"How do you mean, sir?"
"Jimmy was more worried about his own survival than his sub's. Masters have a responsibility to their subs. To take care of them. Protect them. Train them. Jimmy failed on all counts. I shot him before he caused any more trouble. Brandon was obviously more invested in his Master's well being. His language degraded. He wouldn't take his training. I had to wash his mouth out with soap."
"What sort of soap, sir?" Tony's voice was trembling.
"Lye. No, don't look away, Tony, you need to see this, to understand. I will not tolerate misbehavior. Hush, you're not in trouble. See, this is what happens when slaves try to run. They have to be taught to stay put."
"What. . . what was his name, sir?"
"Paul. He tried to run away. Left his master behind, injured. Unfortunately, he didn't survive the lesson."
"How did you do that, sir?"
"And what made that mark on his back, sir? A paddle, sir?" The confusion was evident to everyone listening. McGee was looking slightly green. Kate wondered what Gibbs looked like. She didn't want to be in his way.
"No, it's an iron you use in woodworking."
Gibbs' hand fisted.
"To do what, sir?" Tony's voice was curious, the way it got when some strange fact had caught his attention in one of Ducky's stories.
"Iron on veneer."
"Oh. And it wasn't heated, sir?"
"No, but it was effective. Kept him from trying to swing at me again."
"He tried to fight you, sir?"
"Yes. I had to break his shoulder blade."
Gibbs growled low in his throat. "That's why you aren't going in first," Byrnes murmured. Gibbs glared at him. The FBI agent didn't back down. "We'll secure the area, you get your man out of there. Nothing else."
"Make sure he resists arrest," Gibbs stated. He could hear the ice in his voice. He'd have to make sure that was gone when he talked to Tony. The boy was deep in character. He'd probably freak if Gibbs indicated anger. The litany of woe continued for far too long. But they had it all on tape. Every single murder.
"Time for bed, Tony," Frank murmured. "Close your eyes. That's right. No blindfold for tonight. Tomorrow's soon enough." When they saw the killer upstairs in his bedroom, the FBI team moved in. Gibbs didn't bother to wait for the all-clear. He moved through the house quickly and carefully, bolt-cutters and a small bag in hand. He found the basement door easily.
DiNozzo was still, laying on his side, arms hammer-locked behind his back, a chain around his waist. "Open your eyes, Tony."
"Hey, Boss." A bright grin cheered him. The bruises were dark, but there didn't seem to be much damage. At least not on his face.
"All you have to do is ask." Tony rolled onto his stomach to give Gibbs a clear shot at his wrists. Gibbs snipped the locks open, freeing Tony's arms, then waist. The young man's tee-shirt was shredded and blood oozed from an especially deep welt. A low groan accompanied what was likely the first movement of his arms in hours.
Gibbs helped the younger man sit up, then held him close for a moment. Tony was trembling. "Let's get you to the hospital, then home for some real rest."
"You mind if I use your spare room tonight. Three flights of stairs isn't going to make my ankle happy."
"I was planning on it."
"Even with anchovies."
"Thanks, Boss." Tony held his wrists out and Gibbs took the cuffs off of him. He undid the collar too, without asking. Tony seemed startled, but it had the right effect. He could see the green eyes become instantly more alert. He packed the cuffs away in the bag and pulled out Tony's cap and windbreaker. He didn't know if there'd be press outside, but he didn't want to take the chance. Let them think he'd been hurt during the raid, rather than anything else.
"Can Ducky check out my back?"
"Hospital, DiNozzo. Ducky's going to meet us there."
"Did Abs get it all on tape?"
"Yeah." Gibbs couldn't help it, he cuffed Tony lightly across the back of the head. Tony grinned at him. He helped Tony zip his jacket. His fingers were clumsy and Gibbs wondered how much of that was loss of feeling. He pulled the young man to his feet. "Lean on me. I'll get you up the stairs."
"You're driving? I might be better off in the ambulance." There was a restrained whimper. "Let me limp. There's no way this is going to not hurt."
Gibbs felt his lip twitch up. Tony looked at him warily. "Boss? What are you... No."
"Any cracked ribs from bouncing around in that van?"
"No problem then."
"Oh, God, Gibbs, don't do this. Not when I know Kate and McGee are out there this time."
Gibbs couldn't help but grin. Tony wouldn't be embarrassed if the entire FBI were out there, but for Kate and McGee he'd wreck his ankle.
"It's well-supported, Gibbs. It'll be fine." Tony took a step and stumbled. "Okay, so I was wrong," he gasped into Gibbs' shoulder as the older man caught him. "You are still not going to carry me. Your back doesn't need that stress."
"It's not a problem."
"I'm not Kate, boss. I'm not Abby. There's no way you're going to do this."
"I've got two inches on you."
"You're getting desperate, DiNozzo," Gibbs chided. "Your ankle won't take it. I can't put an arm across your back. You want me to knock you out?"
"Fine. Just the stairs, not all the way out of the house. Promise me, Gibbs."
"Scout's honor. Just relax." Tony sighed deeply. He went limp over Gibbs' shoulder as if they'd practiced the move. He got the young man up the stairs and set him down. "Are you sure about walking?"
"Yes, Boss. Trust me, there is no pain in the world equal to getting ribbed by Kate over laying down on the job. You have coffee for me, right?"
"After the doctor checks you out." Gibbs let Tony set the pace out to the car.
"I hope they need Ducky for Frank."
"Yeah. Me too. You did good, DiNozzo."
Tony smiled widely. He winced. "Ouch. No smiling until my lip heals I guess."
Abby rushed into the hospital waiting room. "Where is my brother?" she demanded. "Tony DiNozzo." The nurse at the desk didn't look impressed.
"You'll have to wait."
Abby scowled at her. "Abs!" Gibbs snapped from the doorway. "He's fine. Mostly."
"Boss, I'm not using a cane. Tell them!" Tony's voice demanded.
"You'll do exactly what the doctor tells you or you answer to me!" Gibbs snapped over his shoulder. Abby hurried past Gibbs. She threw her arms around Tony's neck and hugged him, ignoring the medical personnel around them. The physician's assistant finished the stitches on his back. Abby buried her face in his shoulder.
"I'm okay, Abs," Tony whispered. "I'm sorry you had to hear all that."
"All I could think was that if I'd been cheaper you could have gotten out."
"No, honey. I'd have stayed." She shuddered in his grip. She felt Gibbs' hand on her back and relaxed. "We all did what we had to do."
"I lost you. That damned tracker cut out. It was fine all night until I needed it."
"Must have gotten knocked out by the taser," Tony soothed. She knew he was lying to her, but it didn't matter, because he was just that good, and she believed him when he told her things like that. "You found me, and I knew you were listening to me. It helped keep me sane."
"Yeah, you were just so, well, let's just say that some day I'm going to get a collar on you for one night, and damn the consequences."
"In your dreams, honey, in your dreams. I should warn McGee."
"I am much more careful with my toys," she murmured. She stepped back, looking him over carefully. She placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. Gibbs handed her a bag. She peered inside: collar, cuffs, and Tony's tee bagged and tagged.
"Get some sleep. You can process this tomorrow, okay?"
She nodded. "You take care of him," she signed, frowning fiercely.
"I will. Promise." Gibbs told her.
"You let him take care of you, honey," she told Tony, using her sternest voice.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, voice sweet. He winked at her. She felt mildly guilty for reinforcing the mindset, but not enough to take back the order. Gibbs needed to make sure Tony was safe, just as much as Tony needed to be safe. She felt better seeing him smile, even if it was just in his eyes. She left, forcing herself not to cry. She had to drop this stuff at the lab, and then catch some sleep.
"Ready to go, Boss. Still don't need the cane."
"You want me to carry you?" Gibbs asked mildly.
"Cane it is," Tony sulked. He perched in the wheelchair, back straight and away from the back.
"This is his pain prescription, and these are antibiotic cream and pills. Will someone be able to help him put it on, and change the dressing?"
"I'll do it," Gibbs stated firmly before Tony could open his mouth. Tony looked up at the older man. There was something inherently comforting in knowing that Gibbs would take care of him. He blinked, feeling faintly fuzzy from the pain pill the nurse had given him. Gibbs took the discharge orders, and soon they were heading for Gibbs' home. Tony's stomach growled. "Call the pizza place."
Tony grinned to himself. He reached into Gibbs' pocket and got his cell-phone to call the only place that delivered to Gibbs out in God's country. "Hey, delivery. Pan, half pepperoni, half pepperoni with anchovies. Extra-large." He reeled off Gibbs' home address and phone number. He tucked the phone back into the trouser pocket, faintly disappointed that Gibbs wasn't still wearing his jeans. "So, Boss, guest room, not the couch?"
"Depends on your ankle." Tony frowned. His ankle didn't hurt that much. Well, at least not unless he tried to stand on it.
"I guess we'll find out after dinner. You mind if I put my head down?"
"Nope." Tony rearranged himself so that his head was resting on Gibbs' thigh. They didn't have a thing going. There was no sex involved. But Gibbs didn't care if Tony flirted with him, or touched him, or snuggled up on the couch, and the sheer comfort of knowing that Gibbs would keep him safe was enough. It was an open secret that Tony wasn't leaving Gibbs' team unless Gibbs was dead, and that Gibbs wouldn't let Tony go if he tried to leave. So, for tonight, Tony would curl up on Gibbs' couch, and tease him about not having a television set, or he'd settle on the stairs and watch Gibbs work on the boat. His back spasmed. Okay, that was a bad idea. He had a better plan: eat pizza, drink a beer, sleep on the couch. He felt the gentle ruffling motion of Gibbs' fingers in his hair as he fell asleep.
"Welcome back, Tony," McGee said offering a cup of coffee.
"How's your back?"
"Not cleared for field duty," Gibbs answered as he swept into the room to settle at his desk. "Where is Kate?"
"Doctor's appointment this morning, remember?" Tony informed him. "We've got a couple of little things. A possible drug ring at Annapolis, and a group of six UA Marines from Quantico."
"How long have they been missing?"
"Get me more details."
"On it, Boss."
"McGee, you fixed that machine yet?"
"Almost done, Boss. There was a virus that. . ."
Tony's lips quirked up. Like him, McGee couldn't stand not giving Gibbs a title of respect. The phone rang. "Gibbs." There were a few grunts. Then, "We're on it. McGee, get the truck. Tony, call Ducky and tell him to meet us at this address. We've got a dead Marine."
Tony looked up into Gibbs' eyes, pleading.
"Call Kate and have her meet us as soon as she's done."
"On it, Boss." The young man sighed. If he hadn't needed twenty stitches to mend his back, he'd be grabbing his bag. Maybe... he reached for his pack.
"You are not cleared for field duty, DiNozzo," Gibbs called without looking back.
"Damn." Tony sighed. He hit his speed-dial for Kate. "Hey, Kate. Got a case. You have your PDA ready?" He read out the address to her. "Gibbs wants you as soon as possible. Don't come to the office first, in other words."
"How's your back?"
"I get the stitches out in two days."
"And Gibbs won't be rubbing in the ointment. Poor Tony."
"I'm sure I can find someone."
"Oh, talk one of your bunnies into playing nurse?"
"Ha. Ha. Don't keep him waiting too long."
"I'm at the doctor's Tony." She hung up on him. He sighed. He pulled up his final report on Frank Carson. He had to get it done so that Gibbs could pass it on to Byrnes. The sooner this case was put to bed, the better. He hoped to God that the tapes would be enough, and he wouldn't have to testify. His ankle was much better. He knew he was pushing it, but he'd had strained muscles before, and knew exactly how much he could take. It was comforting to know that he could still camp out on Gibbs' couch for another night, though. He didn't want to be alone just yet, though he wouldn't admit it except under duress.
"Tony! Come and look at evidence from our dead Marine. Courier just brought it." Tony was down a few minutes later.
"I forwarded my phone down here."
"Nice walking stick."
"It's Ducky's. He thought it went better with my suits than the old-man cane that the hospital tried to push on me." Tony struck a pose with the silver handled cane. Abby laughed and clapped her hands.
"Come on, you can schmooze for a few minutes."
"Gibbs will have my head if I'm down here too long," he warned. "But tell me embarrassing stories about McGee, and it'll be worth getting sent to the corner."
"Does he spank too?" Abby waggled her brows. They both laughed.
"You're better now?"
"You're safe," she answered simply. "Have a seat. Ducky will kill me if you hurt yourself." She started processing the evidence, talking cheerfully as she set things out in their assigned order. "I hear that there's a good deal on stock."
"Oh, yeah, I got you two shares in that company, like we talked about."
She looked at him. The split on his lip had healed, and the bruising was mostly gone. "Tony, I have to tell you that I couldn't listen to it all. Gibbs and McGee did, but I just couldn't."
"You shouldn't have had to, Abs. I wouldn't wish that on you, ever. It wasn't safe and sane, and it sure as hell wasn't consensual. I know that's not your thing."
"Did the other times go as badly?"
"In Illinois it did. Everywhere else I've managed to just be there for surveillance. Even when I was on the bait team, it was just prostitution they were going after. This one wasn't quite as bad, actually."
Her brows rose.
"They found out I was actually bi, but they didn't deal with it the way Gibbs did."
"By playing the don't ask game?"
"By looking me dead in the eye and saying 'don't you dare lie to me, ever' and 'just do the job, DiNozzo.' Sweetest words I heard in my life."
"Yeah, Gibbs is good about that stuff. Hold this for me, I need to get a snip off the end." She tossed him gloves. "So, we're good?"
"We always were."
"If you need it, my elevator actually works. You can share the coffin with McGee."
"I think not, thanks."
Back to the NCIS Bedroom