A murder investigation leads to the discovery of a veterans benefits scam. The NCIS team could use a little leverage...

As always, all rights are given to the copyright owners of NCIS: Los Angeles and Leverage.

Evil Author Day disclaimer: Read at your own risk - especially since I have a contrary muse: the more other people want something written, the more said muse mule-sits (i.e., sits down like a mule that doesn't want to be led anywhere. Good luck getting it to move once it's made up its mind…). That said, I never say never, so any of these might be completed. I just don't know when/if.

Further to that, if anyone should be inspired to continue any of these, or write your own with a similar concept, or take any other inspiration from them, please do! Just drop a comment so I can go read it.

Sophie Devereaux took pride in her chameleon-like ability to blend in with any crowd, to become whatever, whoever, was needed to get the job done. She'd been everything from an English Duchess to a back-to-the-land farmer, and only sometimes wished there were awards for grifting. She'd be certain to win one of those, despite her admittedly horrible acting skills when performance was all that was required of her.

But parties like tonight's Veterans Benefit Ball, filled with men wearing either dress uniforms or tuxedos and women in silky dresses and glittering jewelry, were always her favorite. Whatever the job might require, she enjoyed the pageantry as a background to her work. Privately, she thought this kind of party was where she excelled.

Tonight's assignment was simple - ingratiate herself with Hugo Yanez, organizer of the event, and see what information she could glean from him regarding the charity he ostensibly ran.

Sophie scanned the crowd for her quarry, pausing when she saw him in conversation with another man. Something about Yanez's companion set her instincts on alert.

"Found him yet, Sophie?" Nate Ford's voice sounded through the earwig she wore.

"I see him," Sophie murmured in reply. "He's not alone."

"He's not married, and I didn't find any evidence of a girlfriend," Hardison said. "Boyfriend, either."

"Someone's with him." Sophie studied the brown-haired man chatting with Yanez more closely. "I think he's another grifter."

"Change of plans," Nate said. "Ignore Yanez for now, focus on the new guy. Let's find out what his game is."

"Of course," Sophie said, and drifted across the room, making sure to catch the brown-haired man's eye. She gave him a smile over the rim of her glass of champagne, a smile intended to charm and intrigue.

He gave her an even more brilliant smile in return, and inwardly, Sophie cheered. It's on.

Sophie had just set her empty glass on the tray of a passing server when the man approached with two glasses in his hands.

"Refill?" he asked with a wide grin and a sparkle in his green eyes.

"That's very kind," Sophie said, "but I never accept drinks from strangers."

"I'm Tony," the man - Tony - said, and Sophie had the oddest thought that it might be his real name. Whether it was or not, the miniature camera hidden in the pendant around her neck would capture his face and Hardison would find everything there was to know about him within a few hours.

"I'd shake hands," Tony was continuing, "but mine are kinda full."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Tony," Sophie said. "I'm Jenny."

"And now we're not strangers." Tony grinned and offered her the glass in his left hand. Sophie smiled back and took the glass from his right hand.

Something flickered in his eyes - a wary respect, perhaps. Sophie filed that away along with the thousand other minute things she'd noted about him before settling into her Jenny persona for what she hoped would be a pleasant, though subtle, interrogation.

#

Two hours later, Sophie stormed into the hotel suite Hardison had booked for this assignment. They didn't often leave Boston, but this case required them to be in or near Washington, DC, and a hotel made a good base of operations for a job they didn't expect to take more than a week.

"I cannot believe this," she declared to the rest of the crew. Nate had commandeered the seat by the window, while Hardison had his laptop set up on the table. Eliot and Parker sprawled on the couch.

"Not like you to come up empty," Nate observed.

"The man has walls." Sophie plunked herself down on the couch on Parker's far side and toed off her heels. "Buried beneath layers of charm and humor, but they're there."

Then she had to smile. "But at least it was pleasant."

"Sounded like," Nate said, and Sophie chose to ignore the tinge of bitterness, or perhaps jealousy, in his voice.

"Have you found him yet?" she asked Hardison.

"You got a good picture of him, but facial recognition searches take time," Hardison answered.

"Start with the Armed Forces databases." Eliot's quiet tone sounded more like an order than a suggestion. "Including the VA database."

"He wasn't in uniform," Sophie pointed out.

"Could be retired, discharged - or a civilian attached to one of the branches," Nate said over the sound of Hardison typing. "Good thought, Eliot."

Eliot barely grunted an acknowledgment before returning to whatever string game he'd been playing with Parker when Sophie walked in. Sophie considered getting a drink from the mini-bar, but she'd drunk enough at the gala that any more could take her off her game tomorrow.

"Damn." Hardison's voice cut into her thoughts.

"Find him?" Nate asked.

"Anthony DiNozzo," Hardison said as Nate stood to get a better look at the screen of his laptop. Curious, Sophie rose to join him.

The face on the screen was definitely Tony, but his formal expression was nothing like the expressive man she'd - yes - flirted with.

"Former Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Peoria PDs," Hardison said. "Currently with the Navy Criminal Investigation Service."

"It's the Naval Criminal Investigative Service," Eliot snapped. "Get it right, Hardison."

"So - he's a fed?" Nate asked.

"Looks like," Hardison confirmed.

"Wow, Sophie," Parker piped up. "You flirted with a real fed."

Sophie suppressed a shudder but allowed a sigh. It had been fun while it lasted, but now, "I feel the need for a shower."

"Call him tomorrow," Nate said. "We need to know what NCIS' involvement in this is."

"I got a contact at NCIS," Eliot said. "I'll get in touch."

"You trust him?" Nate asked.

Eliot grinned - the grin Sophie had not yet learned to interpret. "Dug a bullet out of 'im in Colombia."

"That doesn't answer the question," Sophie had to point out.

"It kind of does," Nate countered. "Get in touch tomorrow, Eliot, and find out what you can. Use Sophie if you need to, but the rest of us will stay out of sight. No sense tipping them off if they're not onto us already."

#

Tony DiNozzo hated typing up reports - not so much that he had to do it, but how he had to do it. He couldn't just say, "Questioned suspect scumbag, learned X, Y and Z." No, he had to give sufficient detail that the powers that be who reviewed said reports would understand how things had happened and that, therefore, the investigation was on solid legal ground. Or not, as the case might be.

The report on last night's investigation into Hugo Yanez was blander than any he'd had to write in a long time - not least because he couldn't include his banter with Jenny. It wasn't often that he found someone who enjoyed the game as much as he did, after all, and dancing with her both verbally and physically was the only thing that kept the night bearable.

Even if he hadn't gotten her phone number. Or, he added with private candor, maybe especially because he hadn't gotten her number. No sense ruining a pleasant memory and better fantasy with reality - especially since he couldn't rule out her involvement with Hugo Yanez.

With a silent sigh, Tony turned back to his report, only to look up when Gibbs' phone rang. Maybe there was a break in the case, or maybe a new case - either way, he'd get out of working on his report for a while.

"Gibbs," the man barked into the phone, and Tony watched his boss's expression for subtle changes that might give him a clue what was going on. He wasn't expecting to see surprise followed by resignation.

"Yeah, let him up." Gibbs ended the call, and Tony was on his feet almost as fast as Gibbs was. Across from him, Caitlin Todd waited for a signal from Gibbs.

Gibbs only glared at Tony, and he resumed his seat, watching as Gibbs crossed the bullpen to the elevator. Tony frowned when he realized that, for once, Gibbs wasn't carrying his coffee with him.

The door opened just as Gibbs arrived, and Tony caught a glimpse of its lone occupant, a long-haired man close to his own age and a couple of inches shorter than Gibbs, before Gibbs snapped, "My office."

The man smirked. "I was gonna suggest mine."

"Mine first." Gibbs all but snarled before pushing past the newcomer and into the elevator.

The doors slid shut and some instinct made Tony glance at his watch.

"What's that about?" Cait asked.

"No idea," Tony said. "Honest," he added to her disbelieving stare.

He glanced at his watch again.

"What?" Cait snapped. "You think they're having a quickie?"

"Damn quick if so," Tony muttered. "But no, I figure he's either gonna kill the guy, or we have a case. Sixty seconds is plenty of time for Gibbs to kill anyone, so I'm betting it's a case."

Cait was still pondering Tony's logic when the elevator door slid open, and Gibbs bellowed, "Cait! DiNozzo!"

Tony flicked a grin at Cait before grabbing his bag and heading for the elevator. He slid inside and found the newcomer lounging in the corner behind Gibbs.

"Tony DiNozzo." He offered a hand.

It was taken in a firm grip. "Eliot Spencer."

"Special Agent Caitlin Todd," Gibbs added as Cait joined them.

"Ma'am," the newcomer - Spencer - nodded an acknowledgment and the door slid shut once again.

"What's going on, Boss?" Tony ventured.

Gibbs stabbed the button for the ground floor. "We're going to his office."

#

Spencer's "office" turned out to be a diner twenty minutes from the Navy Yard. Tony glanced at Gibbs, but his boss was intent on following Spencer inside.

Spencer selected a table where a pot of coffee already waited and went around to the far side to pull out a chair - for Cait, if his "Ma'am" was anything to go by.

Cait bristled, and Tony waited for her too-fierce declaration that she could damned well pull out her own chair, thank you, but Gibbs' raised hand cut her off almost before she'd drawn breath to speak.

"Oklahoma boys hold chairs for ladies," Gibbs said, pouring coffee from the carafe into the waiting cup, and Tony saw Cait's tight-lipped smile at Spencer as she sat.

Gibbs moved for the seat beside her, but Spencer claimed it. "I got your back, Gunny. And there's something behind me you need to see."

Tony sat beside Gibbs, angling his body so that his back wasn't completely to the door - despite the half-windowed wall that offered a full view of the street, it was a habit he had yet to break, except when Gibbs sat across from him to watch the door - and wasn't certain whether to be relieved or anxious that Gibbs mirrored his movement.

"Gunny," Cait repeated. "Are you a Marine, too?"

Spencer glared at her. "Army. Or I was."

"What are you now?" Cait asked.

"Independent," Spencer replied, which wasn't really an answer - or at least not one that Tony was comfortable with.

"All right, Spencer - we're here," Gibbs said. "What's going on?"

"Is NCIS investigating Hugo Yanez?"

Tony felt Cait's startled look, even as he and Gibbs kept their expressions neutral.

Spencer grinned. "Rephrase the question. Why is NCIS investigating Hugo Yanez?"

"Why do you want to know?" Gibbs countered.

"I'll answer yours if you answer mine."

Tony watched Gibbs stare at the other man for long silent minutes. Spencer didn't back down or look away, and finally Tony decided to break their standoff.

"His assistant, retired CPO Tanya Slattery, was found murdered in her home four days ago," he said. Cait glared at him, but Gibbs didn't object, so Tony continued. "CPO Slattery lived alone, and seemed to be devoted to her work with the Benefit Corps. We're checking all angles."

"You think Yanez killed her?" Spencer asked.

"It's one possibility," Tony allowed. "As I said, we're investigating."

Spencer's lips quirked in what might have been a smile. "Yeah, Gibbs doesn't allow assumptions."

It was a casual, offhand comment, but Tony read layers of understanding beneath it. Whoever this Eliot Spencer was, he'd earned Gibbs' trust, at least provisionally.

"Why'd you want to know?" Gibbs asked.

"My five o'clock," Spencer said. "The woman in the pink sweater."

Tony followed Gibbs' gaze, saw Cait shifting in her chair to look over her shoulder. Two tables away, he spotted the woman Spencer described - only she wasn't so much a woman as a girl. If she were twenty-one, Tony would be surprised. She had attractive features, but a haunted expression Tony had seen too often before. Young as she was, she'd known loss.

And she wasn't alone. Another woman sat across the table from her - all Tony could see was glossy black hair and a stylishly casual black-and-gray printed dress. Even from this distance, something about her seemed familiar, and Tony had to force his attention back to what Spencer was saying.

"Her name's Ashley Foster. Her husband, Private First Class David Foster, was killed in Iraq last year, leaving her six months pregnant and alone."

"Family?" Gibbs asked.

"None that would help her," Spencer replied. "Her side or his."

"That's terrible," Cait said.

"Gets worse," Spencer said. "Because her husband was killed in the line of duty, she's entitled to some benefits."

Gibbs nodded. "Survivor benefits."

"Only she never finished high school," Spencer said. "Not saying she's dumb, far from it, but she's got no sense about how the world works. So she asked the Benefit Corps to help her navigate the forms."

"Which is where Yanez comes into it," Tony said.

"Yep," Spencer drawled. "Helped her with the forms, all right, and took a healthy percentage off the top for his assistance."

"What's the problem?" Cait asked. "It's not illegal to charge for assistance like that."

Spencer looked at Gibbs. "You want to tell her, Gunny?"

Tony glanced away from his study of Ashley Foster's companion to judge Gibbs' expression. His mouth was set in that expressionless line that meant Gibbs was well and truly pissed. "There are a dozen agencies that offer the same assistance for free."

"It's a shame that she was duped," Cait began, but broke off when Spencer gave her a glare that rivaled any of Gibbs' own.

"It's not just her," Spencer said. "Two hundred forty-seven others just this year. And when I said a healthy percentage, Agent Todd, I meant fifty percent."

Gibbs echoed Tony's curse, and even Cait looked shocked.

Then Tony's attention was caught by movement behind Spencer. Ashley Foster and her companion were getting to their feet. They embraced briefly, and then Tony's breath caught as they turned to the door.

No wonder Ashley's companion seemed familiar - she was Jenny.

And Jenny was escorting a suddenly nervous Ashley past their table, glaring at them in passing even as she murmured something reassuring to the younger woman.

"Still doesn't answer why you're interested," Gibbs said after a moment, and Tony yanked his focus back to Eliot Spencer, who answered a little too casually.

"People like Yanez - they have all the money, all the power, and they use it to make people like Ashley Foster go away."

Cait laughed. "So - what? You're Robin Hood?"

"We provide leverage." Spencer shrugged the answer off, and another response came from behind Tony, in a voice he'd learned well last night.

"Sometimes," Jenny said, "bad guys make the best good guys."

"You're saying you're bad guys." Cait turned a disbelieving gaze on Gibbs. "Gibbs?"

Tony studied Gibbs, who was in turn studying Spencer - who, improbably, rose and pulled a chair from an adjoining table and held it for Jenny, who sat at the end of the table between Tony and Cait.

"Hello, Tony," she said.

"Jenny." He tried to keep his tone cool, but wasn't certain he succeeded.

Spencer sat back down and quirked one eyebrow at Gibbs. "Y'owe me for Colombia."

"What are you asking for?" Gibbs asked, and Tony could admit he was impressed Spencer didn't flinch from that gaze.

"Let us do what we do," Spencer said, "and we let you do what you do."

"Mutual noninterference." Tony considered that for a moment. "It could work."

"Cait, talk to Mrs. Foster," Gibbs said. "Get her story. I want probable cause to monitor Yanez twenty-four seven."

"On it." Cait rose and headed for the door, but Tony caught the irritated frown she directed at Gibbs. Thankfully, Gibbs didn't - or didn't react. Tony was never sure with Gibbs.

Either way, he watched Spencer's reaction, expecting some sign of irritation. He was the one irritated when Spencer only grinned.

"Rule number three," he said.

"Don't believe what you're told," Tony murmured automatically. Gibbs' rules had been drilled into him for the last two years and change. "Double check."

Spencer's gaze flicked to him, then back to Gibbs. "Your second?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said, but his expression was still thoughtful. Tony could only wait to see what he'd decide.

"We only need a few days." Jenny leaned forward to catch Gibbs' gaze. "Just enough time to find out how much Yanez stole, where he stashed it, and return it to the people who should've gotten it in the first place."

"And," Spencer added, "we'll let you know if we come across anything about his assistant."

Gibbs smiled - more a lightening of his expression than an actual smile. "How was Croatia?"

"Cold, wet, and target-rich," Spencer said with a matching expression. "How was Kuwait?"

"Hot, dry, and target-rich." Gibbs shared a grin with Spencer, then sat forward. "Okay. Concurrent operations, open communications. Two hundred forty-seven, you said?"

"That we know of." Spencer allowed for a margin of error, but Tony thought he sounded certain of the number.

"I'll want those names."

"Not all of 'em are Navy or Marines."

"Some of them are, and that gives us jurisdiction," Gibbs said.

"You'll get an email," Spencer said.

Gibbs' gaze flicked to Jenny and back to Spencer. "Just the two of you?"

"For now," Spencer said, and pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "You can reach me at this number."

"Burner phone," Gibbs said, and it wasn't a question.

Spencer only grinned and held Jenny's chair as she rose. Then they were gone, and Tony could only wait for Gibbs to speak. This … interview, for lack of a better word, ranked as one of the strangest things he'd seen since he joined NCIS.

When Gibbs spoke, it was to ask, "How do you know Jenny?"

The emphasis he gave the name suggested he didn't think it was real. Tony privately agreed, but knew enough to simply answer the question asked.

"She was at the gala last night," Tony said. "We flirted, pumped each other for information, got exactly nowhere."

"You get her number?"

"Wasn't the point."

"What was the point?"

Tony grinned at the challenge in Gibbs' question. "To make a dull evening a little more interesting."

Gibbs leveled a look at him, questioning, and Tony groped for words.

"It's - comfortable," he said finally. "The flirting. But a lot of people read more into it than it is. Most women do. Jenny didn't. She got it - flirted, danced, made me feel good to be me. But I never thought she wanted me to go home with her. It could be what it was - fun."

Gibbs held his gaze a long moment. Then, "Cait's having a problem with this."

"Working with admitted criminals? She would."

"You don't."

Tony blew out a breath. "We've both seen enough to know the system isn't perfect. It can't be, and maybe it shouldn't be. But if there's a way to help those the system hurts, I can't object."

"Good."

Tony's eyebrows flew up. "Good?"

"C'mon, DiNozzo. You know me better than that."

Tony made a show of considering that. "Yeah. Guess I do."

Gibbs didn't grin, exactly, but Tony sensed his approval. Then he signaled their server. "Check, please?"

"No check," she replied. "Your friends paid in advance."

Gibbs chuckled softly as he pulled a bill from his pocket and dropped it on the table.

The ease of long habit had Tony falling in a step behind Gibbs as they headed for the door. A question occurred to him.

"Hey, Boss? Why do you owe Spencer for Colombia?"

Gibbs didn't even look at him when he said, "He saved my life."

Tony faltered a step, but recovered quickly. In the two years he'd worked for Gibbs, he hadn't heard more than a breath or two about Gibbs' prior work, mostly the occasional reference to having spent time "in country" somewhere - which meant Gibbs had been there and that was all he was going to say about it. That made Gibbs' quiet statement seem more impactful than it might otherwise have been.

Of course, the thought that Gibbs - Gibbs - needed saving by someone else was enough to throw him off, regardless.

#

The next morning, Gibbs strode into the bullpen, coffee in hand, feeling surprisingly optimistic about the case against Hugo Yanez.

The team hadn't yet found enough evidence to prove Yanez murdered CPO Slattery, but thanks to the unexpected visit from Eliot Spencer, they might have a solid fraud case against him. The punishment wouldn't be nearly as severe as the one for murder, and Gibbs regretted that, but at least the man wouldn't get away with stealing from veterans and their families any longer.

Tony's expression of mild surprise told him he was smiling, however slightly, at that thought.

Gibbs schooled his expression to neutrality and met Tony's gaze. "Anything come in overnight?"

"Ducky finished the autopsy report - it's in your inbox. Your email inbox," Tony corrected himself. "And Abby matched the rifling on the bullet to a Glock 26 - not exactly useful since so many LEOs carry that model."

"Not until we get one to compare it to," Gibbs agreed. "Check the registration database, see if Yanez has a 26."

"Started the search when I got in this morning," Tony replied, and Gibbs had to suppress another smile. Two years as his senior field agent - as his partner, if he were being honest - and Tony was anticipating what Gibbs would want. He would, Gibbs thought, make an excellent team lead someday.

"We're not seriously working with criminals, are we?"

Cait's question - demand - startled Gibbs from his musings, and he could only raise an eyebrow at her, only a little surprised when Tony spoke from his desk across the aisle.

"Nobody said anything about criminal activity."

"Bad guys make the best good guys," Cait shot back, her gaze never leaving Gibbs. "That's what she said - and it's an admission if I've ever heard one. After I got done talking to Mrs. Foster, I looked up Eliot Spencer."

"What did you find?" Tony asked, sounding interested. Gibbs flicked a glance at him, but Tony didn't seem tense.

"He was Army, like he said, then two private military companies, supporting operations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. After that, it gets ugly."

"How ugly?" Gibbs asked, deliberately keeping his tone mild. Better to let her get it all off her chest before he spoke.

"He was high up in Damien Moreau's organization," Cait said.

"Moreau - the arms financier?" Tony sounded surprised.

"Exactly," Cait said. "That apparently ended a few years ago - I couldn't find a precise date - and then he dropped off the grid."

Gibbs absorbed everything she'd said. Some of it he knew, thanks to those days in Colombia and the intermittent contact he and Spencer had over the years. Some of it he'd deduced - he was a damned good investigator, after all. The rest he could have found out if he'd chosen to. Instead, he'd honored Spencer's secrets, just as Spencer honored his.

But Cait turned a dark glare on Gibbs. "You can't seriously mean to work with him."

Gibbs took a sip of his coffee and, despite the surge of anger at his orders being questioned, met her gaze calmly. "Why not?"

"He was an assassin," Cait said. "There's a price on his head in three countries - including half a million dollars in Myanmar."

"It's Myanmar," Gibbs said dryly. "Can't hold that against him."

Neither could he hold Tony's bitten-off laugh against him, Gibbs decided. Still, he glared at his second for effect, only to be met with a wide grin.

"Gibbs -" Cait began.

He cut her off. "How would you suggest Mrs. Foster get her money?"

Cait blinked, momentarily nonplussed, but to her credit she rallied quickly. "There must be an appeals process, some oversight board that she can appeal to."

"Probably," Gibbs agreed. "And how long will that process take?"

Gibbs knew the answer to that - months, if not years - and judging by her expression, Cait knew it too.

"And if Yanez is implicated in CPO Slattery's murder," Gibbs continued, "you can add another six to twelve months to your answer. Is it fair to make Mrs. Foster - and two hundred more people, assuming Spencer's right about that - wait that long for benefits they should've had already?"

"I don't know if it's fair," Cait said. "I do know that it's legal."

Gibbs studied Cait, noting the hint of triumph in her eyes.

Unbidden, rule 16 flashed through his mind. If someone thinks they have the upper hand, break it. The difference was, he didn't want to break Cait - he wouldn't have recruited her if he had - just to temper her, forge her into the agent he knew she could become.

Part of being a good agent was challenging a superior, but Cait hadn't yet earned the right. Gibbs knew she was just observing and following DiNozzo's lead, and he admired her self-taught gumption. But even DiNozzo, already a seasoned investigator when Gibbs recruited him, had held off directly challenging until he got his feet under him at NCIS, learned how they did things.

Gibbs rarely admitted it aloud, but he relished it when DiNozzo challenged him. Like a whetstone to a knife, DiNozzo's challenges kept Gibbs' own edge sharp. In time, he'd welcome Cait's challenges, too - when she'd proven herself.

This case might be a valuable lesson for her.

"What did Mrs. Foster say?"

Cait blinked, clearly caught off-guard by the shift in topic, and Gibbs looked away to take another swallow of coffee.

"She confirmed everything Spencer said, only fleshed out with more details. But -"

"When Spencer gets us the list, pull out the Marine and Navy personnel, and get on the phone. See what you can find out about Yanez from them."

"Assuming he sends the list," Cait said. "Assuming it even exists."

"Rule three." Tony's voice cut across the bullpen, and Gibbs looked up to see that he'd swung his monitor around.

Even from this distance, Gibbs recognized the image on the screen as a service record. He raised one eyebrow at DiNozzo, encouraging a report.

"PFC Foster," the other man said. "Everything Mrs. Foster told us about his service and death is true. I checked it last night."

As if to punctuate that report, all three of their computers pinged with an incoming email. Gibbs clicked his open, saw that it came from an anonymous email account with a subject that read simply, "List."

The text of the email was equally terse: Sorted by branch, then amount. A spreadsheet was attached.

Gibbs looked up at his fellow agents and saw from their expressions that they'd received the same email.

"Looks like you've got calls to make, Cait. Tony, we're going to pull all of CPO Slattery's finances, see if she might've been Yanez's conspirator. Denied benefits are a motive for murder, too."

#

Some hours later, Gibbs sat back in his chair, stretching spinal muscles that had been in one position too long.

Cait's conversations with the first few people on Spencer's list provided probable cause to monitor Yanez's communications; Judge Anderson, a former Navy woman herself, had signed the warrant in record time; and Gibbs had sent Tony to plant the device after Yanez closed up shop for the day.

He'd also gotten the okay from Army CID and Air Force OSI to contact Yanez's victims from those branches and consolidate the investigation.

All in all, Gibbs decided, it had been a good day. Now, while they waited for Tony to return, he called the first victim on the Army list.

Lieutenant Joanna King's story followed the same pattern as the others Cait had called - meritorious service, injured in the line of duty, returned home to face a maze of forms and procedures that Yanez had "helped" with, only to find that her promised benefits shrank by nearly half.

With a promise to do all he could to get her the benefits she was owed, Gibbs ended the call just as the elevator doors slid open and a scowling Tony DiNozzo rounded Cait's cubicle.

"Problem?" Gibbs asked.

"Yeah." DiNozzo dropped his backpack on his desk. "Two armed guards."

"Building security?" Cait asked.

"Not unless building security carries Glock 19s."

"Did you get it placed?" Gibbs asked.

"Sorry, Boss."

"Dammit, DiNozz0 - we need that monitor." Gibbs knew his tone was harsher than it needed to be, given the regret in Tony's expression, and he fought for control. This case must be affecting him more than he'd thought.

Before he could continue, his cell phone rang. He answered it automatically. "Yeah, Gibbs."

"Sounds like you're havin' a Colombia kind of day." Eliot Spencer sounded wryly amused.

"I haven't been shot yet," Gibbs countered, then some impulse made him add, "It was good until a couple of armed rent-a-cops prevented us from bugging Yanez's office."

"Bugging? Not planting a listening device?" Spencer chuckled. Then, "Hang on."

"Spencer -" but all Gibbs heard was muffled voices.

Fifteen seconds later, Spencer was back on the line. "Parker's bored and will plant it for you. Your place, nineteen hundred. I'll cook."

"Who's Parker?" Gibbs asked, but silence told him Spencer had ended the call. He couldn't help a smirk as he put his phone away. It was good to know that was just as annoying as he wanted it to be when he did it.

"What did Spencer say, boss?" Tony asked.

"Someone he knows offered to plant the device."

"Parker?" There was an odd, almost anticipatory, light in his second's eyes, and Gibbs pounced on it.

"You know him?"

"If it's the same Parker, and only by reputation," Tony answered, and Gibbs nodded for him to continue. "When I was with Philly PD, a Goya was stolen from the Museum of Art. The detectives and the insurance investigator assigned worked twenty-four hours straight, three days, trying to find it."

"That's a lot of effort for a painting," Cait said.

"A six-million-dollar painting," Tony clarified. "Then word on the street got out that Parker had taken it, and they gave up."

Gibbs couldn't have heard that correctly. "Gave up? When they knew who the thief was?"

"When I asked, all they said was that if Parker had taken it, it was already in the hands of the buyer, and Parker was in the wind."

"Great," Cait said. "Now we're working with thieves, too."

"I'll work with whoever it takes to get the job done," Gibbs shot back, but his attention was still focused on Tony. "Sounds like you respect this Parker."

"The skill, sure," Tony said easily. "Doesn't mean I wouldn't take him in if I had evidence."

Gibbs regarded him steadily. "Spencer will take it amiss if you arrest his colleague."

"I'm not with Philly PD anymore. Even if I were, I don't have evidence."

Gibbs glanced at Cait. Where Tony understood that some things mattered more than the rules, Cait displayed only disapproval. Gibbs reminded himself that she might yet mature into a capable agent before turning back to Tony.

"If you want to meet him, Spencer said my place, nineteen hundred."

Tony's eyes widened briefly, and he glanced away before meeting Gibbs' gaze again. "It's 1810 now. If traffic's good, we'll be there right on time. If it's not good, the way you drive we'll still be there on time."

"Smartass." Gibbs shut down his computer and rose. Tony was already heading toward the elevator.

Cait started to rise, also, but Gibbs pinned her with a glare. "You still have calls to make."

#

Tony wasn't usually quiet. The chatter he'd perfected over the years had become an effective shield, guarding and protecting him from everything the world had to throw at him.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs was one of the few people who saw behind the shield - and, Tony admitted ruefully, Gibbs hadn't been allowed behind it so much as he'd drilled through it like one of the boards he used to build his boat.

Gibbs was also the only person who'd never used what he found behind the shield against Tony, and that had become the foundation of the trust that had grown between them.

It was that trust that let him observe, "Cait's not happy that you left her behind."

"Is happiness a job requirement?" Gibbs asked mildly.

"Course not. Just she may be a pain to work with for a while."

"Like you're not? Like I'm not?"

Tony chuckled. "Fair point. Why didn't you want her along tonight?"

"You heard how she talked about Spencer. She'd put that before the case."

Tony considered that. "She does lead with her emotions more than either of us do. I thought it was just a female thing."

"Sexist assumption?" Gibbs asked.

"Based in experience," Tony replied. "Vivian, now Cait. Both letting their emotions cloud their judgment."

"Cait's got potential," Gibbs said, and Tony was surprised that he'd admit that aloud. "She needs tempering. I'm counting on you to help with that."

"Do my best, boss."

"You always do."

Tony sat back in his seat, smiling to himself. Praise from Jethro Gibbs was rare, and for once he chose to savor it rather than making a sarcastic comment to brush it off.

#

Unusually, the rest of the trip passed in silence - but Gibbs had noticed that when it was just him and Tony, Tony had less need to chatter on about movies, girls, sports, or whatever took his fancy at the time. It almost made Gibbs wish he hadn't brought Cait onto the team. Then he reminded himself that all her potential would be wasted if he hadn't - and that it was amusing to pit her and Tony against each other now and again.

The unfamiliar sedan already parked outside brought his mind back to the present, and Gibbs was pleased to see Tony looking to the license plate even as he did. Then they were out of the car and crossing to the front door.

Gibbs opened the door and stopped halfway inside, feeling Tony lurch to a stop behind him.

"The hell, boss-?"

But Gibbs could only stare at the lithe blonde woman perched somewhat precariously on the back of Gibbs' sofa, her arms crossed over her chest. She would have been beautiful if not for the scowl on her face.

"Excuse me," Gibbs said. "What are you doing in my house?"

"I thought you're a federal agent." She glared at him. "It was supposed to be a challenge."

What was supposed to be a challenge? Before Gibbs could frame the question verbally, another voice cut through the room.

"Don't take it out on him, Parker."

Gibbs shot a glare toward Eliot Spencer, who'd appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. "What shouldn't she take out on me?"

Spencer's expression was almost embarrassed. "I forgot to tell her your door's unlocked."

"I'm a thief," Parker said. "Where's the fun in a door that's not locked?"

Gibbs sensed Tony struggling to contain his laughter, and chose not to pursue the topic, especially when there was a more immediate concern. "Is dinner burning?"

Spencer swore under his breath and darted back to the kitchen. Gibbs felt his lips twitching as he removed his jacket and secured his weapon. Behind him, he heard Tony introducing himself, his tone flirtatious.

Gibbs left him to it, though the woman appeared not to be interested, and followed Spencer's path into the kitchen, inhaling the aroma of … marinara sauce, he thought. "Not burned?"

"Nope," Spencer answered without looking up from his position at the stove. "You sure we're running separate ops here?"

"Yeah. Why?" Gibbs brushed past him to the fridge and withdrew a beer.

"You used intel we gave you to get the warrant to bug Yanez's office."

Gibbs paused with the bottle partway to his mouth. "How do you know that?"

"We're good at what we do."

"Which is what, exactly?"

Spencer gave a half-shrug. "Help the people that the system can't or won't help. Punish those the law can't or won't."

"Does that include murder?" Gibbs kept his tone one of mild curiosity.

"No." Spencer's answer came quickly. "I don't do that anymore."

Gibbs studied the man for a moment, then took a swallow of his beer, satisfied that Spencer was telling the truth. "Stealing's okay, though."

"And busting a few heads now and again," Spencer agreed, turning off the fire under what Gibbs assumed was a pot of pasta. "Helluva lot better than what I was doing."

"Damien Moreau's hit man."

Spencer glanced at him, wary, but Gibbs only took another swallow of beer. After a moment, Spencer grinned. "Shoulda known you'd check up on me."

"Agent Todd wasn't happy with what she found."

"That why she's not here tonight?" Spencer grabbed the pot and drained it into the colander in the sink. Gibbs could only raise an eyebrow - he'd forgotten he owned a colander.

"Only reason DiNozzo's here is he's a fan of your girl in there."

"Not my girl." Spencer tossed the pasta into the sauce before doling it out into four portions. "Todd going to cause any problems?"

Gibbs heard the for you Spencer didn't say aloud and shook his head. "May have to explain it to her again, but my gut says she won't rock the boat."

"Y'mean the one in your basement? Take these to the table, willya?" Spencer offered him two of the plates. Gibbs set his bottle aside and took them, letting Spencer precede him to the table with the other two.

"Any boat," Gibbs clarified.

"How're you gonna get her out of there when she's done?"

Gibbs let one corner of his mouth turn up. Spencer studied him for a moment, then shook his head. "Shoulda known." Then he raised his voice a notch. "Parker."

A moment later, Parker bounced into the dining room, Tony following behind her, his expression caught somewhere between amazement and disbelief. "The Lion of Gilgamesh?" he said.

"Uh-huh," Parker replied. "And the Hope Diamond, but I was bored and put it back."

"Shouldn't be confessing to the cops, Parker," Spencer said.

"He's not a cop, he's Navy," Parker said.

"That's not the way it works," Spencer began, then shook his head. "Whatever. Just don't let him get your fingerprints."

"Like I'd leave fingerprints at a crime scene," Parker shot back.

"Hypothetical crime scene," Tony put in, and if Gibbs hadn't been focused on Spencer, he would've missed the other man's grin.

"Guarantee you this dinner isn't hypothetical," Spencer said and Gibbs found himself wondering how to describe Parker's grin as he joined the others at his own table.

Finally, he settled on maniacal, and wondered why that term didn't bother him as much as he thought it should. Could Spencer's recommendation count for so much, after so many years? They'd been thrown together by circumstance in Colombia, and while Spencer had saved his life, they hadn't become fast friends. Still, Spencer seemed relaxed, and Gibbs took that as a good sign, given what he knew Spencer was capable of.

"Without meaning to be rude," Tony's voice brought Gibbs back to the present. "I hear you used to work for Damien Moreau."

"I did." Spencer's reply was even.

"I didn't think anyone got away from him alive."

Spencer grinned, an expression that would've been equally at home on a rattlesnake, Gibbs thought. Or a shark. "I'm the only one. And that was his mistake, because we're the ones who put him away."

"We?" Tony prompted.

"All of us. Eliot and me and -" Parker began, but Spencer cut her off.

"Our team," he said sharply. "That's all they need to know, Parker."

Parker frowned at him. Spencer raised an eyebrow, and she returned to her pasta. Gibbs noted the interaction and asked the obvious question.

"Your team?"

"Our team," Spencer repeated. "That's all you're getting."

Gibbs concealed a chuckle behind a bite of his pasta, then felt his eyes widening. "It's good."

"You should try his black noodles," Parker said.

"Black noodles? Who the hell makes black noodles?" Gibbs demanded.

Two voices answered him - Tony and Spencer. "Tagliotini nero."

"- con gamberi," Spencer finished when Tony just quirked an eyebrow at him.

"Sounds fantastic," Tony said.

"They were," Parker said, then turned to Spencer. "You need to make them again."

"Someday, Parker," Spencer said. "But not tonight. Tonight, you've got to go plant a bug for the nice feds."

"Nice?" Tony repeated, and only grinned when Gibbs glared at him. "Don't worry, boss, I won't say anything. Besides, I doubt Cait will think you being called nice by the bad guys counts for much."

"Agent Todd going to be a problem?" Spencer asked.

"No," Gibbs said. Tony quirked a dubious eyebrow at him, and Gibbs corrected himself. "Not likely. I've got her on desk duty, phoning people on that list you gave us. If we need her in the field, I'll bring her in then."

"What," Spencer said, a grin ghosting across his features, "you think I can't handle myself in the field?"

"I think," Gibbs shot back, "you don't have the authority to arrest someone. And we are arresting him."

"If we can find enough evidence," Tony muttered.

"That's what the listening device is for," Gibbs reminded him.

"Parker?" Spencer said.

"Ready," she said. "Where is it?"

Tony sat back and pulled the device from his pocket. Spencer grabbed it before Parker could, earning him a frown which he ignored, and examined it before looking at Gibbs.

"The intel you get - does it have to come from this device?"

Gibbs frowned. "I don't understand."

But Tony apparently did, because he shook his head. "The warrant allows us to listen in. No restrictions on type."

"Quantity?" Spencer asked.

"No," Tony replied.

I've had the ending scene in mind since the beginning:

Tony, Gibbs, et al. are in the bullpen when Tony's computer dings.

Gibbs looks up: "Got something?"

Tony: "Not on the Straithman case, but something you might want to see anyway."

Gibbs gets up, and crosses to Tony's desk. On his monitor is an employment record for FBI Special Agent Hagen, with Parker's photo.

Gibbs: "You going to tell Fornell?"

Tony: "Hell, no. Nice to have an ace up our sleeve for once."