A Sense of Timing


Tony tapped his pen on his knee as he stared at the computer screen. He seemed lost in thought, eyes not particularly focused on the screen. The case they had was bad - a kid who'd been kidnapped, abused, then killed. The boy had been about six. It wasn't the parents, thought Tony's mind had gone their first. The family had been with an NCIS agent since the kidnapping. They had the barest of trace evidence and no motive. McGee's fingers were flying over the keyboard. Ziva was in the lab bothering Abby for results. Gibbs had gone out for coffee and a think. There was something bothering Tony about the crime scene. He pulled up his sketches. Not the simple ones he normally kept as part of his reports, but the ones he did for himself to capture the feel of the scene and all the things that caught his eyes. The sketches helped him focus. But it wasn't his eyes that had been bothered by this one, it was his nose. There'd been a scent there that he couldn't identify and that bothered him.

Gibbs' phone rang forwarded to Tony's desk. "DiNozzo," he answered.

"We have a missing child in Quantico. The description matches your victim. Where's Gibbs?" the director demanded.

"Indisposed, ma'am," Tony said politely. "If you give me the details, we'll get on it." Tony took down the details as she spoke. He hung up. "McGee, get your gear. Ziva, get a car. We've got a missing child at Quantico." He picked up his cell and hit the speed-dial to reach Gibbs. "We've got a missing kid, boss. Same description." "Pick me up outside. Have McGee. .."

"Ziva's signing out a car."

Gibbs grunted. "Fill me in while you walk." Tony glanced up to see Director Sheppard watching him as he started to reel off the information. He had his gun and bag and a moment later he was moving. He grabbed Gibbs' travel mug and windbreaker on the way out.


Tony rubbed his forehead. "Christ," he said softly. He rubbed his nose. "What is that smell?" The words were soft and mostly to himself.

Ziva frowned at him. "I donít smell anything."

He glanced at her. "It'll come to me." He stared at his computer screen. He had the pictures of the children next to one another. They looked as if they could be brothers. Tony closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them again. They looked even more alike now. He wondered what else was similar about them. Did they have the same voice or the same laugh? Did they play the same games? He stood up. He needed to get outside for a few minutes to think.

"Going somewhere?" Gibbs asked, voice harsh.

"To the head. Unless you want me to pee in the trashcan."

"Don't tempt me. Go get coffee while you're up."

Tony gave him a sloppy salute. The office was mostly dark and that was a relief. He leaned against the cool tile of the wall in the men's room. Dead kids always made him sick to his stomach. He closed his eyes for just a moment. Visions of the little broken body assailed him, sending him to the stall to lose what little dinner he'd been able to eat. He rinsed out his mouth, then went to make coffee. Even Gibbs' favorite shop was closed at ten at night. He went through the motions of making coffee to Gibbs' specifications. What's wrong with the scene? Tony asked himself as he waited for the coffee to brew. He set out four of the large Styrofoam cups and started measuring out creamer and sugar for three of them. Gibbs' would be black of course. There was nothing there to find. He frowned. He needed to talk to Abby as soon as he delivered the coffee.

He poured out four cups of coffee and snagged a book to use as tray. He sorted out the coffee quickly. "I'm going to see Abby," he said, mind already spinning out scenarios. Gibbs gave him a small nod of acknowledgement.

"Bring Ducky's report up with you."

"Ducky went home, Gibbs. And I don't have his password."

"Abby has it."

"On it." Tony went to the lab, sipping his coffee. It was hot and strong and nasty. Abby's lab was pounding with music and Tony mentally steeled himself for the barrage as he got closer. He'd never show her that the music hurt his ears at that level. She spun on her chair. She waved at him with both hands. He grinned at her.

"So, my beautiful girl, what have you got for me?"

"Nothing. Nada. Zip. You didn't even bring me a fiber!" She shook her finger at him.

"All I've got are the blood and tissue samples from Ducky. He didn't even find traces. And that is mondo weird."

Tony nodded. He frowned. "There weren't any fingerprints on his toys?"

"There weren't *any* fingerprints."

"They were wiped?"

"Clean as a whistle."

"No way."

"Way. Look for yourself, eagle-eye." She gestured to the toys. Tony dusted them himself, not because he doubted her, but because he was getting a sick feeling in his stomach and he needed to do something to distract himself. Abby, being Abby, chattered on about the latest article she was writing. Tony listened with half-an-ear and nodded when it was required to keep her talking. He liked the sound of her voice.

"This is just wrong," he said. "Why would he wipe this? Was he playing with him before he took him? Did he wipe all the toys?"

"There were only three."

"But why?"

"He's OCD?" she hazarded. "I mean think about it. Even a neat freak doesn't clean a kid's toy like this."

"Were they wiped or dipped?"

Abby paused. "I don't know. There were no fibers on the toys."



"A dip then. But in what?"

Abby chewed the inside of her lip. "I have to look up a way to test for that. I think the print powder might interfere with a clean reading."

"Try it. If we know what it is, maybe we can trace it. I know the smell from somewhere, but I can't place it."

Her eyes narrowed. "Smell?"

"It's sort of sweet, but not like an artificial orange or something."

"A cleaner maybe?"

"Maybe. Maybe a perfume or oil, but not one of the ones we have down here."

"Go forth and bring me stimulants."

"Why, Abby, what will McGee say?" Tony winked at her.

"Away with you." She shooed him with both hands. "Wait, Tony. Just a weird thought.

You know how your eyes are better than normal?"


"Can you see prints without help?"

"On shiny surfaces sometimes, but not usually."

"Do you think someone who's eyes were even better could?"

Tony considered it. "Maybe. But I don't know how much better human eyes can get. Unless. . ." he trailed off.

"Unless what?"

"Let me see if I can find some information for you to take a look at. You can translate it into English for me."

Her brows rose. "Something sciencey that you can't handle?"

"Statistics and crap like that. There was a kid I knew in college who was doing research on heightened senses. His Master's might have that sort of information. I'll go get a Caf-Pow. You see if you can find a way to test for the cleaner."

She smirked at him. "It's cute how you get all Gibbs on me." She pinched his cheek.


She kissed his nose. "A Caf-Pow and all will be forgiven."


"Ducky's report," Tony said, handing over a sheaf of papers. "He didn't find anything in any of the wounds - no fibers, no metal shards, no glass, no fluids. And Abby says the toys have no fingerprints. Not even Michael's." Gibbs looked up sharply, demanding more information. "There were no fibers on them either."

The older man nearly growled and Tony slunk back to his desk. Ziva gave him a sympathetic grimace. McGee didn't look up. Tony opened up his system. He let the database searches run as he pulled up his browser. He closed his eyes for a moment to focus on the spelling of the name he wanted to look up. It had been more than ten years since he'd seen Sandburg and helped him out with his thesis. It took serious digging to find his papers. He frowned. It looked as if someone had been hiding those files. He stared in shock as the other articles started to come through. He frowned. So he'd finally found a Sentinel. He found a phone number after some creative searching.

"Ellison," a voice barked into the phone.

"Hey, can I speak with Blair Sandburg please?" Tony asked, keeping his voice light.

"Who is it?" he heard Blair ask.

"Tell him it's Tony DiNozzo."

"Tony DiNozzo?"

"Tony!" Blair's voice was excited, but he didn't yell as he picked up the phone. "Man! Where the Hell have you been? I heard you left Illinois, but I lost track of you somewhere on the east coast."

"Well, given what happened, that was sort of the point. I need to pick your brain."

"On what?" Blair was curious now.

Tony took a breath. "Is it possible for someone to see fingerprints?"

There was a long pause. "Yes. But my research. . ."

"You're a crappy liar, Blair. And I know better, remember? I'm trying to pin down your thesis, but I can't find it."

"There's only two copies and I have one of them," Blair admitted.

"I need it. I have to run it by our lab tech to see if what we think is happening is possible."

"You're still a cop?" Blair said slowly.

"Went federal. NCIS, not FBI." Tony felt Gibbs' eyes on him, but didn't look up. He turned more in his chair, indicating that the call was semi-private.

"What's going on? And don't bullshit me, Tony. You're upset. I can tell."

"One kid dead. One missing." Tony glanced at his boss. The man raised his brows.

Tony shrugged. He made the sign for "cop" and Gibbs nodded, relaxing.

"Crap. I can fax it to you and some unpublished research."

"That's great." Tony reeled off the number. "So how's life as a Cascade cop?"

"How did you find out about that?"

"I know all and see all remember?"

"You're nosy."

"Must be the cat in me. So tell me who changed your mind? I remember the jack-booted thug speech when I told you I was going into law enforcement."

"Why do you think it's someone?"

"Because I know you, Blair. So Ellison, right? Only reason I can see you lying is to protect someone. And since you obviously live together as well as work together. . ."

"Tony," Blair's voice was a warning. "What was it about the crime scene that has you calling me?"

"No trace evidence. Not even microscopic in the wounds."

"Can you get me there on your dime?"

Tony paused. "I don't know." He looked at Gibbs, wincing at the cold blue gaze. "If it were my call, I'd say yes. I've got to get it passed by my boss though. Send me the info. If it's enough to convince him, probably."

"Should I clean off my desk?"

"As much as you can."

"I'll see you soon."

"Yeah. Thanks, Blair."

"Prego," Blair said, a smile in his voice. "I know it's a bad reason, but it's good to talk to you."

Tony hung up. He closed his eyes.

"Want to tell me what that was about?" Gibbs' voice was deceptively mild. Tony continued to stare at the wall.

"A weird theory that his research can back me up on. I need to run it by Abby to see if it's possible."


"I think he can see the trace evidence and that's why it's not there. I think he can see it without a magnifying glass and picks it up and washes it away."

"That's not possible."

"And no one can see micro-engraving either," Tony said calmly. He met Gibbs' eyes for a long moment. "Blair's an expert, boss. The only one in the country who's really researched it deeply. And now he's a cop. He wants to help. He's sending me a copy of his thesis and some of his research notes."

They looked at each other for a long time. "Clearance issues?"

"For him, yes. His partner, I doubt it."

Tony tried to stay still as Gibbs studied him. "Do it."

"On it, boss." Tony hit redial. "Blair? I've got authorization. You need me to call your captain?"

"No, we've already talked to him. He's a father."

"Good enough. I'll call with the flight details."

"DiNozzo? Ellison here, the arrangements have already been made. You can reimburse us."

"Okay. When do you get in?"

"We'll get a car."

"You know where the Navy Yard is?"

"Yes. We'll see you sometime tomorrow."

"My extension is 5534. You can also ask for Special Agent McGee."

"Got it." Ellison hung up. Tony shook his head. "Oh, this is going to be fun," he muttered. "Ellison went to the same charm school you did, boss. Don't shoot him, okay?"

Gibbs snorted. "Get to work."


"You trust DiNozzo with everything?" Jim Ellison asked his partner.

"We shared some secrets and he helped me with my masters. Three heightened senses. Hearing, smell and sight. I had suspicions about touch, but it didn't test high." Blair threw more papers into his backpack. "He went into law enforcement because of what happened to a couple of his frat's little sisters. He wanted to be able to protect them."


"And beaten. One of them ended up in a coma." Blair shook his head. "He'd dated one of them a few times. He was a suspect for about five minutes. There's no way that Tony would rape someone. Not when he could have anyone on campus he wanted. Wonder if he's settled down any?"

"Probably. Since he's military now."

"Could still be a civilian."

"It's possible."

"You don't have to come with me," Blair said after a moment.

Ellison looked at his partner, best friend, and Guide. "I'm going to let you go across the country to work with a military organization without me?"

"Is this the over-protective partner or the over-protective Sentinel talking right now?"

"A little bit of both. Think about it. If this is a sentinel case, then I need to be there. If it's just the military, I need to be there. And there is no way I am ever letting you go across the country without me without an armed guard."

"Just because I might possibly have gotten into trouble once or twice. . ." Blair wheedled.


"Yeah, Jim?"

"I'm not letting you go alone. Especially not to deal with a child murder case."

"I hear that." They shared a smile. "Thanks."


"Hi, Blair," Tony said without looking up. "When are you going to stop wearing sandlewood?"

"Never." Blair grinned a "told you so" at his partner. Jim gave him a half-smile in response. "Did you get my papers?"

"They're down with Abby right now," Tony replied. He looked up. Jim studied the younger man. The green eyes met his easily. Tony offered a hand. "You must be Ellison. I'm Tony. That's Tim McGee. And that's Ziva David. Gibbs should be back soon. He's talking to the Director." Jim took his hand, cataloging his scent and heartbeat. "There's a cube at the end for your stuff. We'll pull some extra chairs in and I'll fill you in on what we don't have."

"I want to see the crime scenes," Jim told him.

Tony cocked his head to the side. "I'll take you if the boss gives me a thumbs up. Go ahead and put your stuff down. I'll take Blair down to meet with Abs in case she has any questions." Ellison frowned. DiNozzo looked at him for a long moment. "We're all cleared. There's bullet-proof glass on the lab windows and doors. There's security cameras everywhere."

"Geeze, I thought Jim was paranoid," Blair said, trying to break the tension.

"DiNozzo, I need the Breitling file." Tony turned to the filing cabinet. He had the file out by the time the older man swept by to take it. "Take your boy down to Abby and fill them in."

"On it, boss. I'm going to take them over to the scenes."

Gibbs grunted. He tossed the keys over without looking. "McGee, report."

Ellison glanced at his partner. Blair shook his head. "Come on, guys." Tony led them out of the bullpen to the elevator. He stopped it in mid-motion. "This is the only place in the building that doesn't have a camera. If you need someplace where there's no ears on the walls, this is it." He started it up. "And if you tell Gibbs I tipped you off, I won't buy dinner." He gestured the men out of the elevator. Jim stopped, wincing.

"Oh, forgot to warn you. Abby's music can make your ears bleed."

"Just turn it down," Blair murmured.

Tony glanced at him in amusement. "Only Gibbs gets away with that unless it's an emergency."

"You heard that?" Jim demanded.

"Yeah?" Tony frowned. "Oh, yeah, I was one of his guinea pigs." He shrugged. His face transformed into a bright grin as they approached. Jim did his best not to stare at the Goth who was sipping soda and reading, with her Doc Martins up on the desk. Her dark hair was up in pony-tails and her nails neatly painted black. She was bopping along with the music. Tony tickled her throat with one ponytail. She leaned back further in her chair to look up at him. "Kill the music, Abs. I've got a special treat."

"Gibbs let you off for dinner?"

"Yeah, right, I've only been here going on forty-eight hours. I won't get tipped a nod for at least another day. I might be able to convince him to let McGee spend his lunch break down here if you play nice with Blair."

She looked at him for a moment. "Don't let him wear you down, honey. He hasn't been like this for months."

"Yeah, well, a lot can happen in a couple of months."

Their eyes met for a long moment. "You can turn if off."

"Thanks." Jim took the opportunity to look around the lab. He stared at the artwork while Blair was introduced to Abby. "Blair Sandburg, Abby Scuito. She doesn't like strings. McGee's her on and off. If you're really nice she'll show you her tats and let you question her on the socio-political climate of body modification."

"That's like such a cool topic. So, this stuff came from you, right? I have questions. Sit. You, take the military boy and get out of here. I'll translate for you later."

DiNozzo laughed at that. "Come on, Jim, let's get some caffiene for Abs and your partner. You want to see the crime scenes together?" Ellison was about to answer when he realized that DiNozzo was looking at Blair. Blair looked at Jim. Jim nodded.

"We do," Jim said firmly. "Coffee in the meantime sounds good."

"Tony, he needs organic. Don't let him drink crap."

DiNozzo rolled his eyes. "Come on, there's a good dealer down the road." He paused. "Abs, I think it might be mineral spirits, but not the real stuff, the environmentally sound stuff. The stuff Gibbs refuses to use."

Abby snorted. "Just because you haven't worked on him harder."

"I like living thanks. Let's go, Jim."

"What's mineral spirits?" Jim asked as they moved into the hall.

"There was a smell at the crime scene that I recognized, but couldn't identify. It's faded." Tony frowned. "I couldn't get the sniffer to record it or anything. I think I was the only one who noticed it, but it might explain why there's so little evidence."

"I think we need to go to the newest scene now. Blair can fill Abby in later."

"Let me give her caffiene before I tell her that, okay? Bribery is important when it comes to keeping her happy."

"She doesn't collect at the scenes?"

"Huh? No way. Abs stays here. She went undercover for us once, but never again." Tony led Jim out of the building and across the street. He bought coffee for the team and a soda for Abby next door. "Here, hold these for a second. So, how'd you meet Blair? And how did you change his mind?"

"I needed some help and he was the person who gave it to me," Jim said calmly.

"Change his mind about what?"

"Being a cop? I tried to convince him he'd like it, but I got lectured on jack-boots." Tony rolled his eyes. "I wasn't sure he'd even talk to me as a Fed. And I'm not sure why he offered to come out." He took half of the coffee back.

"Constant exposure. He rode with me. Now he's my partner." Ellison shrugged.

"I'm hearing, get him drunk on your own time, DiNozzo."

Jim was startled by the imitation, but refused to show it. The green eyes that met his were twinkling. Ellison shook his head. He liked the man. "So how did you meet Blair?"

"Well, I took this anthropogy class. I met a girl who knew Blair was doing his research. Appearantly because I can name any perfume on the market she gave him my name."

"Why am I not surprised there was a girl involved?"

"Hey, you don't even know me that well." Tony glared at him. "Oh, you mean Blair. Well, he has that whole cute, sensitive thing going on. I had the handsome rich frat-boy thing going on." Tony shrugged. "You probably do the white-knight protector bit and get the ladies swooning at your feet. Anyway, after she hooked us up, he figured out I had more than just smell going on and don't ask me how many damned hearing tests the little bastard put me through." They were in the elevator soon after.

"And I know he didn't lie about his thesis, Ellison. He wouldn't do that. So you better take good care of him."

The doors opened before Jim could respond. Tony parcelled out coffee to Ziva, McGee and Gibbs. Gibbs gulped down a few swallows. "Heading out?"

"Yes, boss," Tony said, clipping on his gun. "We'll hit the snatch first."

"Check in with Balboa while your there and see if they've got anything they's forgotten to share."

"Right." Tony nodded acceptance as he picked up his backpack and gathered up the coffee and soda from Jim. "Down we go."

Once the doors shut. "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you."

"I'm not an idiot, Ellison, no matter what people think." Tony sauntered into the lab.

"I come with caffiene. And I need to steal Blair for a little while."

"No! I want to keep him." Abby said, wrapping her arms around Blair's neck.

"You already have your own geek. I need this one. I'll give him back later."

"How long?"

"As long as I need." She pouted at him, but Tony didn't seem to be moved. "And you know pouting only works on Gibbs."

"And McGee," she added, perking up. "You get him down here for lunch." She wagged her finger at the dark-haired man. "And don't let Gibbs keep you up past your bedtime."

"I know you have a futon. And if McGee comes down here, he'll want to use it. Come on, Blair, let's go. We can hit both the sites before dark, if we hurry."


Tony let Jim and Blair search the site without interference. He laid down on the hood of the car, the heat of it soaking into his body while the pollen rubbed off onto his windbreaker. He closed his eyes for just a moment. The vision of Peter's doll-like body made him open his eyes. He didn't want to see that again. He sat up, surveying the scene without moving. Jim and Blair were talking quietly to one another. Good, he needed someone else's perspective on this case. He was getting emotional. He studied the cops. Blair had calmed down since college. Sandburg had been his first pet genius. He'd teased the younger man, but he'd protected him from the guys in his frat. He'd even let them think that Tony was doing the testing just to pay Blair back for doing a paper or two for him. He'd never cheated like that. He liked Blair. He was good to talk to and they argued over everything from pizza toppings to women's hairstyles. He sort of missed that.

"You still with us?" Blair asked, amused.

"What?" Tony asked, blinking. "You were doing fine. Find anything?"

"We'll talk in the car," Blair answered.

"Sure. We'll head to the other site." Tony paused. "Damn. Hold on. I've got to check in." He jogged to the door and knocked lightly.

"Hey, DiNozzo."

"Balboa. Anything I can pass on to the boss?"

"No." There was regret in the word. "Sorry, man."

"Well, hopefully I'll find something." Tony gave him a weak grin. "See you for hoops sometime?"

The other agent nodded. "Find this bastard and make him pay, DiNozzo."

"Plan on it." Tony jogged back to the car. He started it. "All buckled up?" he asked Blair.

Blair rolled his eyes. He heard Jim snort in the back seat. "Do you have to go nearly eighty?"

"What's the point of being a federal agent if I can't drive fast?" Tony asked pulling out onto the street. He waved to the gaurds as they left base. "Peter was found in Locust Shade Park. It'll close at dusk. That means we've got about three hours. It's too close to base to be a coinicidence."

"You sure you're okay to be driving, Tony?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"You've been awake more than twenty-four hours?"

"So?" Tony raised his brows. "I've gone most of a week before on cat-naps. I'll be fine." He turned into the park and found a slot near where their crime scene had been. He led them towards the scene. It was just off of the trails in the woods. He paused, eyes narrowing. He gestured for them to stop. Jim's hand trailed towards his gun.

"Shit," Jim breathed.


"Would some like to translate for the person who can't see?" Blair asked from behind them.

"Sorry, forgot how short you are," Tony replied. He pulled an evidence bag and gloves out of his pocket. He moved slowly through the clearing to the note and picture on the ground.

"Careful," Ellison snapped. "There's something under it."

Tony froze. "Can you tell what it is?" El

lison moved closer. "A toy, I think." He cocked his head to the side as he studied the scene. His nose twitched. "You're right about the smell."

"You two have been comparing sensory notes without me?" Blair said, breaking the tension. Tony grinned at him.

"Can't let you have all the fun." Tony fished the camera out of his backpack and took a picture before he bagged the evidence. "Is there anything I've missed?" Ellison looked at him with narrowed eyes. "You read Blair's dissertation?"

"I know what he thought a Sentinel could do. And I know he didn't lie. So, tell me if there's anything else."

"We need to talk."

"My place when Gibbs lets me go home."

Tony watched Blair rest his hand in the small of Ellison's back. He tried to stay still and not be a distraction.

"Pull it back, Jim."

Ellison shook his head. "Nothing."

"Boss, I've got a note, picture and toy. He's decided to play with us."

"I'm sending McGee with the truck. One hundred yards."

"On it, boss." There was a dead air a moment later. Tony hung up. "I'm securing a 100 yard perimeter. I need you back at the car."

"You won't find anything."

"I know. Gibbs knows. But we do this by the book. I'm not letting this son of a bitch go because we did something stupid. You can start the search grid. Glove up. Blair, there's an extra cap in the trunk."


"To keep your hair tamed down." Tony blinked at them. "Don't tell me you guys have someone to collect the evidence for you?"

"We do," Ellison told him.


"Report," Gibbs snapped as they arrived back at the bullpen.

"There was a picture of Michael with a white tee-shirt on. It's not his. His mother said he was wearing a striped shirt when he disappeared. The note said 'Beginning.' There was a toy car underneath. A Ferrari in bright red with the symbol on it. A 1975 model two-door."


The younger man abandoned the stats of the car. "We did a search and found nothing else. This is really starting to get on my nerves. Abs is going to test the car for solvents and dips because the smell was there. They were deliberately placed. I've got the pics here."

"Jethro, who are these two?" Director Sheppard said looking over Sandburg and Ellison from her position near Gibbs' desk.

"Consultants," Gibbs replied. He took the picture from DiNozzo.

"Why wasn't I informed?"

"They're here as a favor."

The director frowned. Gibbs wasn't interested. "Letter was handwritten?"

"No it's a computer font that looks like handwriting. There's no security on the gates, so we don't have license numbers from the park."

"No cameras?"

"Cost saving initiative. They kept the cameras for show."

"Damn it."

"Agent Gibbs," the director said firmly, "why were consulants brought in on this case without informing me?"

"Because I thought it would be better to solve the case and find a missing little boy than tie things up with red-tape getting a request passed through you." Her mouth tightened. "I expect a written apology on my desk tomorrow, Agent Gibbs."

"Of course, Director. DiNozzo, I need you to interview the gate gaurds again. Anything they can remember. Take Ziva."

"Right, boss."

"Sandburg, you head back to Abby. Ellison, I want your report on the crime scene. You can use the visitor system. McGee, set him up under DiNozzo's login."

"Um, I don't have his password."

Gibbs raised a brow.

"On it, boss."

Ellison evaluated Gibbs for a long moment. "I'm not one of your men."

Their eyes met for a long moment. Gibbs didn't get up. "You are today."

Ellison nodded. He gave Gibbs a half-smile. "I wouldn't let you get away with that in Cascade."

Gibbs smirked. "Well, unless you've got a Navy base up there I don't know about, we won't have to worry about it."

The younger man snorted. He turned to McGee who was frowning at the screen. The light of inspiration struck and McGee typed something in. He snorted out a quickly smothered laugh. "Okay, Mr. Ellison. You can type up your report here. Um, I wouldn't suggest touching the favorites menu." McGee gave him a tight smile. Ellison chuckled and nodded.


"Okay, so give me some good news, Abs?"

"The solvent is mineral spirits. I'm tracking down the brand from its composition. There's no prints on anything so I'm tracing the paper. Maybe we can find out where it was developed. The note is on Staples brand paper. It was an inkjet printer. Probably an Epson. And I want to keep Blair. Will you pout at Gibbs for me?" Abby said in a rush. Tony looked down his nose at her.

"Replacing McGee already? You've got enough boy-toys. Email him. He's got to go back to Cascade. You know, get paid for his work and that sort of thing."

"Hey, Gibbs poached you for me."

"I told Kate I got the job by smiling. She didn't believe me. Give me something or the Director's going to be down on Gibbs which is not good for my continued health."

"Geeze, you need to lighten up again, Tony."

Tony gave her a soft smile. Her eyes narrowed.

"And don't try charming me," she wagged her finger at him. "Well, Blair's research is fascinating. I so need to take you perfume shopping, but that's besides the point. It's possible, very possible that this guy is seeing our trace evidence. We'll have to get Blair here to do the testimony, but it's definitely possible."

"That's something then. I won't have to pay for their tickets and stuff out of pocket." He winked at her, but the gesture felt off, wrong somehow.

"You. Me. Closet," Abby said imperiously, pointing towards the janitor's closet.


"Don't play dumb with me, Tony. There's something wrong and you need to talk. And who are you going to talk to? McGee? Ziva? Gibbs?"

"Ducky," Tony replied snidely.

"That's a wonderful idea! He's been upset because he's got kid-bits in his morgue." The Italian blanched. Abby glanced at Blair who was so studiously examining and piece of upside-down paper that Abby knew he'd be no help. "And so we come to the problem."

"I see him when I close my eyes."

"Oh, honey." She stood up to give him a hug. They stood that way for a long moment. She could feel the tension in his body. "You'll find him. Have faith," she whispered. His arms tightened. Then, he stepped back.

"Better not let McGee find me hugging you."

She rolled her eyes. McGee would deal with it.

"Is it safe to look up?" Blair asked mildly.

"Probably. Let's go upstairs so you can explain it to Gibbs." Tony pointed at Abby.

"You be good."

"If not, I'll be better. Off with you." They left her alone in the lab. Abby shook her head. Men were so clueless.


"I need more, DiNozzo," Gibbs stated. "Find me the evidence."

Tony nodded, eyes fastened to his screen. "On it, boss." He yawned. He pawed through his desk for a Snickers bar. He opened it an ate it without looking away from the screen. Blair watched him with a frown.

"You need real food, man."

"I'm fine. You and Jim can take off and hit the hotel."

"You need to sleep," Blair countered.

"No I don't. I've only been up. . . How long have I been up, boss?"

"Three days."

"I've only been up three days. Don't worry about it. I'll catch a nap."

"Hallucinations start after three days, Tony. It's dangerous. You need to sleep. You aren't anywhere near as alert as you need to be."

"Night, Gibbs, DiNozzo!" one of the agents called as he passed.

"Night, Calton. You meeting that pretty thing you've been seeing?"


"Kiss her once for me."

Laughter trailed down the hallway. Ziva looked across the way. "You have met his wife?"

"I dated his wife." Tony smirked at her.

"Focus, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped.

The younger agent looked immediately to his screen. He frowned. "That car was new. It didn't belong to one of the boys. They weren't collectors. They used their toys. The paint on that thing was pristine." His eyes grew distant. Blair watched with concern. He'd never seen Tony still like this. "McGee, can you check on something?"


"The car that Abs is testing right now is a Matchbox. Do they have different codes for different models of cars? Or are they just random? If they do have those codes, can we track down who sold a Ferrari in the past few days?"

"On it."

Gibbs turned, but Blair saw his half-smile. Ziva frowned. "Would there be a record of such things?"

"If they're tracking for re-supplying the store there would," Tony said without looking up. The young woman accepted the answer and turned to her own system.

"Perhaps we asked the wrong questions. He could have brought the boy with him."

"A kid would have left evidence of some sort," Blair pointed out. "He wouldn't dare take him onto the scene if he's that worried about trace evidence."

"He could keep him in the car."


"On it, boss." Tony was up and moving. "Well, Sweet Cheeks?"

Ziva glared at him. "I am going to feed you to a bear."

They left the office still bickering. Blair looked at Gibbs. He looked to his partner who was working on the computer in the spare cube. Jim jerked his head in a "come over here" gesture. Blair settled on the other chair. He looked at the screen. Jim doing paperwork? The world was going to come to an end. "What's up?"

"Gibbs wanted a report."

"And you type with two fingers."

"Yup." Ellison smiled. He moved over so Blair could get to the keyboard.

"I want your reports separately, Ellison." Gibbs stated. "Open up Ziva's system for Sandburg." Blair's hands paused over the keyboard.


Gibbs looked at the young man. Blair fought the urge to back away from the glare. "Do it, Sandburg. Then, I'll send you to the hotel."

"We don't have one set up."

"We do." Blair blinked. "DiNozzo made arrangements." Gibbs held up a paper. "Now, get me those reports."


Ziva watched as Tony dragged himself to his chair. He didn't look well. She ignored the fact that Sandburg was at her desk. "DiNozzo, Ziva, catch a nap. Ellison, Sandburg, you can head to your hotel when I get your report. McGee, wake up."

McGee sat up quickly. He rubbed his eyes, looking like a little kid. Tony leaned back in his chair and put his windbreaker over himself. He was asleep in a moment. Ziva felt her spine stiffen. Gibbs was watching her. "There's a blanket in the bottom filing drawer."

"I'm fine."

Gibbs glanced at Tony. "He covered for you two yesterday when you took over the breakroom."

Ziva tried not to show her startlement. Tony had covered for them while they napped, but they hadn't been able to do the same for him. Gibbs kept Tony on too short of a leash during intense cases.

"Sleep, Officer David. We'll keep watch."

"You can have your desk back," Sandburg said, smiling gently. "I'm printing up my report now."

She nodded once. She settled down on the floor behind the desk. The click of McGee's keyboard and Tony's rhythmic breathing took her into a wary sleep. She roused slightly when Sandburg and Ellison left the bullpen, but never really awoke.


"So what do you think, Big Guy?" Blair asked as they lay, exhausted, but not sleepy, across their respective beds.

"I think DiNozzo was right to call you."


"And we're going to catch this bastard. You knew DiNozzo in college?"

"Yeah, he like talking to me because he didn't have to act like the bimbo he usually does. I hated it when he did that."

"Pretended he was an idiot? Not everyone can be like you, chief. Some people can't stand being on the outside."

Blair was quiet for a moment. "He denied who he is, Jim. How can he live like that?"

"Why don't you ask him? Now, get some sleep, Chief. It's going to be a long week."


Gibbs watched Tony sleeping. He should have sent them all home for a night, but he couldn't bring himself to do that. Tony had taken care of the younger agents, putting them down for a nap and covering for them. If he sent Tony home, the young man would only stay up all night torturing himself because he couldn't save a child. Or, he'd sneak back in to work on the case unless given explicit orders not to. No, here Tony would sleep because told him to and he trusted Gibbs enough to follow any order he gave. Gibbs shook his head and leaned back. "McGee, sleep," he ordered before closing his eyes. He could hear the soft sound of his team sleeping around him. He'd give them all a few days of rest when they nailed this killer.


Blair looked watched Tony sleeping at his desk. It didn't look comfortable. Gibbs was asleep at his desk as well. Jim smirked at his partner. He cleared his throat. "Visitors, Boss," Tony said without opening his eyes.

Gibbs sat up. "I'll get the coffee."

"Probie, your turn to get breakfast. Remember no bacon for Ziva or Blair."

"I know," McGee said rubbing at his eyes. He yawned. He gathered suggestions from Jim and Blair on breakfast and left. Ziva ran a hand through her hair. She looked awake, if not cheerful.

She threw a wadded piece of paper at Tony that smacked him in the head. "If you are still sleeping when Gibbs returns, I will not have your six."

Tony pouted at her. He swung his legs down and stretched. He pulled a toothbrush and a small glass of water out of his desk drawer.

"I have to say, man, I find the implications of that toothbrush scary," Blair stated.

"This isn't bad. It's only been three days. Spent a week here when I first started."

"A week?" Jim asked. He raised his brows.

"Yeah, Gibbs and I were after a killer and it stayed hot for a week. I have never been so glad to see my sheets."

Ziva snorted inelegantly. "And you went home after a week here? Not a bar?"

"You're confusing me with another DiNozzo. Got to work on keeping that straight." He cracked his back. "Ah, that's better. I'll be back in ten."

Blair looked around the now abandoned office space. "Well, that was amusing. Do you think that it was something we said?"

Jim chuckled. "Let's just settle in and see if there's maybe some information we haven't looked at yet."


"Boss, we've got the matches on the cars. I'm stealing McGee to go scope the toy stores," Tony stated.

"How many are there?"


"Take Balboa or Ermentraut."

"Right." Tony paused. "Or, I could just take Ellison or Sandburg."

Jim's head rose. He was starting to get twitchy looking at the records he'd looked at three times. Gibbs turned to look at him. He frowned. He nodded. Tony gestured to Jim to come along. "Thanks for the save," Jim offered.

Xover Library