My apologies to anyone who's already read this. It's not showing up on the NCIS listing or the update pages so I've deleted it and started again. I did however print out ALL my reviews first./g/I am working on rewriting and editing,so, I won't be udpating as quickly this time ;-)
Kate sat at her desk, nervously drumming her pencil on the empty pad that sat there, her attention split between watching the minutes tick by on the clock and Tony's desk – Tony's empty desk. He was 25 minutes late and she'd covered for him once already with Gibbs. Fortunately Gibbs had headed straight for MTAC after he'd enquired about his tardy agent's whereabouts. She hoped he'd be there for awhile. She didn't think he was going to buy a second trip to the little boys room again this early in the morning.
Thoughtfully she chewed on a lip. It just wasn't like Tony to be this late. Alright, it might be like Tony to skate in a couple of minutes late, flashing that smile of his that he thought would keep him out of trouble, then he'd spin some preposterous tale that he would expect his coworkers to swallow. But it wasn't like him to be this late without letting someone know where he was.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the door to MTAC open. Her stomach twisted into a knot when she saw Gibbs pause to say something before stepping out and heading purposefully down the stairs. There was nothing she was going to be able to do this time. The shit was going to hit the fan as Tony would say.
As he came down the stairs he was frowning, never a good thing this early in the morning. She saw his eyes take in Tony's empty work station and the frown deepened.
Kate knew how bad it looked. Tony's desk was completely empty, the computer powered down, there was no evidence that he'd been there at all that morning. She put her pen down and twisted in her seat, pretending to read her email. She pretended she didn't know Gibbs was there, standing just behind her, but she could feel him.
"The head, Kate?" Gibbs queried in that deceptively quiet voice he used before he hit someone over the head. Usually it was Tony, this morning Kate was afraid it was going to be her. "Did he fall in?"
Kate couldn't believe she'd been caught in a lie. A lie she'd told to try and save Tony's sorry butt. If he came sauntering in now, he was in so much trouble. Of course she might have to kiss him first she'd be so relieved to see that he hadn't died in a fiery car crash or any of a hundred other scenarios she'd been imagining over the past 20 minutes. But then he was going to be in so much trouble.
Gibbs was still waiting impatiently for her answer. Turning in her chair, she shrugged trying for casual, knowing she had failed miserably, "I thought he was here, Gibbs..." she began, but he cut her off.
"Thought is not good enough, Agent Todd. Call him and tell him if he wants to have a job this afternoon, he'd better get his ass to work now."
She took a deep breath, "I've called his cell, Gibbs and his apartment. There's no answer."
There was a full beat as Gibbs digested the information. Kate waited breathlessly for the explosion she knew was coming. She was almost disappointed when it didn't happen because when it came later, it'd only be that much more intense.
"Find him, Kate," Gibbs instructed softly. "Take McGee, you do know where Agent McGee is, don't you, Agent Todd?"
Kate gulped and nodded. "He's downstairs... helping Abby." They were trying other avenues down there to look for Tony, but Gibbs didn't need to know that. His narrowed glare already promised retribution of the painful sort.
He continued, "Good. Take McGee and go to Tony's apartment. You haul him back here. If he's late because of some skirt, so help me..." his voice trailed off and he looked away. But not before Kate saw the fear in his eyes.
It was the fear that she felt, too. She could almost hear the questions he wasn't asking. What if Tony wasn't just late? What if there was some other reason that he wasn't at work?
Nodding tightly, pulled her weapon out of the drawer where it was kept. She checked it quickly before sliding it into its holster. Then she hurried away, hoping that she really would find Tony at home with his girl of the day.
Then she could shoot him herself and not feel bad about it.
The music in Abby's lab was loud and pounding, bouncing off the walls of the lab. Kate huffed out an aggrieved breath. She was never really a fan of Abby's brand of music and this morning she just wasn't in the mood. She made the detour to turn it off. The silence was almost more deafening than the music. It took her ears a moment to adjust from the pounding rhythms, then she heard the tapping in the other room.
She found Abby and McGee bent over the computer, so intent on whatever they were working on they didn't even notice the music had been turned off. She watched over their shoulder for a moment.
"You find anything?" she asked finally, hopeful.
Abby turned soulful eyes to her, "Nothing! He hasn't used his cell or home phone all weekend. We've been trying to break into his home computer, but we're not having any luck."
"Well, Gibbs is on to us. McGee and I are supposed to go to his place and see if he's there."
"I'm worried, Kate," Abby confessed quietly. She looked at Kate, searching for some reassurance that all was well.
Reassurance that Kate couldn't give her. Even if by some miracle they did find Tony at home alive and well, Gibbs was going to kill him. He was officially very late now and with no excuse it was going to be bad. But Kate didn't really believe he was late.
Tony was a lot of things that pissed her off, but a slacker wasn't one of them. If he was late, there was a reason. The fact that no one had heard from him meant that the reason probably wasn't a good one, it meant he was being prevented in some way.
"I know, Abby," Kate said, "we'll let you know what we find at Tony's place."
The drive to Tony's was the longest drive they'd ever made.Tim knew it wasn't the longest literal drive they'd ever made. He'd been in the car with Gibbs and Tony before for hours that seemed to stretch on to eternity with Tony in the front seat baiting and taunting him. He'd plotted his own revenge against the other agent many times.
But this... not knowing what they were going to find at Tony's place made the drive seem like it took longer than forever.
Normally Tim and Tony didn't see much of anything eye to eye. The other agent spent too much time browbeating and generally making life hell for the 'probie.' Tim knew that partly it was Tony's competitive nature that made him act that way; he had an unnatural need to be first in everything. In his more charitable moments it made Tim wonder sometimes what made Tony that way.
But Tim had also come to realize that it was Tony's way of letting Tim know that he cared about him. He began to see past the face that Tony wore to see the man underneath. The man who was afraid of loosing the people he cared about. He played the clown so people wouldn't know how much he really cared.
"I'm sure he's alright, this IS Tony we're talking about," Kate offered quietly as she negotiated the DC streets.
Tim didn't know which of them she was trying to convince.
"I'm sure you're right. You know Tony, he probably met some girl at a bar," he could play the game, too.
"With more 'assets' than brains," Kate picked up the tale without enthusiasm. Somehow it just wasn't any fun to harass Tony in-abstentia. Normally Kate was an excellent driver, but this morning she reminded him more of Gibbs as she cut off a driver going too slowly.
"They went back to his place," Tim said softly.
"One thing led to another..." Kate turned down the tree-shaded street that Tony lived on. Everything appeared to be quiet and peaceful. There was certainly no signs of foul play. Tim didn't know what he was expecting, a sign that said 'danger ahead.' When it came to DiNozzo anything was possible.
"I'll bet we find him up there with no idea of what day it is," Tim said, without much conviction.
He hoped it was true.
Kate slid into a parking place in front of Tony's building. He lived in an upscale building that was all brown stone and elegant architecture reminiscent of a more graceful time. There were shade trees lining the walk, the branches hiding the building from prying eyes. Kate and Tim shared a glance that spoke volumes about their worry.
Kate had pulled in right behind Tony's car. It looked like it hadn't moved all weekend. There was leaves on it that Tony would never have allowed to stay on his pride and joy if he'd seen them, and several birds had made 'deposits' of their own to mar the shiny surface of the car.
As she climbed out of their vehicle Kate felt her stomach churn a little more and she wished she'd skipped the Special K breakfast.
As they made their way up the walk towards the front door, Kate scanned the street looking for anything unusual or out of the ordinary, but try as she might, there was nothing. It was a bright, sunny morning. The air was a little cool, but the sun promised a warm afternoon. She could even hear birds singing in the trees. It seemed wrong somehow to have the birds singing when they didn't know where Tony was.
They stopped at the security door. Rather than break in, they rang Tony's number to try and gain entry, but it was no good. He still wasn't answering. Just as Kate was thinking they were going to have to resort to illegal means to get into the building, an older woman came trundling up the walk, a grocery bag in her arms. She wore a brightly printed dress and her white hair was fashionably swept up into curls and held with a sparkling comb.
Tim didn't even hesitate as he stepped forward.
"Can I help you with that, ma'am?"
Her weathered face creased into a smile, "That would be so lovely, young man. It's so seldom that I meet nice young men these days."
She punched in her security code to gain access to the building. Kate held the door open for her to enter.
The woman continued to talk as she entered followed by the two agents. "I mean really, young people can be so rude these days. The cashier at the grocery store has every possible piercing, I swear you could use her as a pin cushion. I know it's not my place to judge, my mother had a fit when I got my ears pierced without permission and I was considered wild in my day, but I just can't imagine having your tongue pierced. Still, if she weren't so rude to the customers, I wouldn't think a thing about it, but I swear when she got those piercings I think her brain must have dribbled out of them..."
The hall they walked down was all dark, polished wood and deep pile carpet. The walls themselves were covered in some sort of lineny paper, tasteful chairs were placed at strategic points with the occasional mirror or table to complete the décor. It was definitely an upscale place.
The woman continued her monologue, though neither agent said a word or asked a question. "But the two of you seem nice enough. Here's my apartment." Pausing outside a door, she pulled out her key. Before putting it in the lock, she turned the knob and the door swung open. "Oh, dear, I've forgotten to lock the door again."
She walked into the apartment, not even pausing to make sure there was no unwelcome strangers inside.
Kate was a little more cautious. She held up a hand to stop Tim and followed the woman inside. Reaching inside her jacket, she put a hand on her weapon just in case she needed it.
The apartment was quiet, she could hear the woman continuing to talk, obviously unaware that she was no longer being followed.
Kate surveyed the living room, the furniture had delicate wooden lines and expensive fabrics. Not wanting to be intrusive, but still feeling that sense of something wrong, Kate continued her search; there was no one in either bedroom or the bathroom. She nearly ran into Tim when he followed her without the grocery bag, his hand also resting on his gun. She shook her head quickly and he retrieved the bag of groceries from the hall.
"Well, well, there you are," the woman emerged from the kitchen. "I thought you'd left me and taken all my groceries." Her eyes twinkled when she spoke, she didn't really believe it.
"Ma'am," Tim said, "you don't leave your door open all the time do you? That could be very dangerous."
The woman patted him on his cheek, "Oh, don't call me 'ma'am.' My name is Doris or you can call me Gran, most of my neighbors do."
"Alright, Gran…" he said hesitantly. "You shouldn't leave your door open like that," he insisted earnestly.
She laughed again, taking the bag of groceries, "You sound just like young Tony. He's always scolding me, too. But what is the use of living in a secured building, I want to know, if I have to lock the door all the time?"
Their interest piqued, Kate and Tim followed Gran into the kitchen.
"You know Tony, ma'am… Gran?" Kate asked. "Tony DiNozzo?"
Gran nodded as she bustled about the kitchen putting things away. A cat jumped up on the counter and meowed for attention.
"Everyone here knows Tony, he's our guardian angel you know. He gives lessons in home safety and self defense." Gran patted the cat absently as it continued begging for a treat.
Kate and Tim exchanged a glance. Tim mouthed 'Tony?'
Kate hushed him as the woman continued, "He's always telling me, 'Gran, you can't leave your door unlocked. Someone's going to get in here and try and hurt you and then I'll have to shoot him, and I hate to do the paperwork when you shoot someone'."
She did a credible impression of Tony DiNozzo. Kate worked hard not to laugh. Tim couldn't help it and covered his laughter with a coughing fit.
"Oh, dear," Gran peered at him in concern, "let me fix you some tea." She reached into the cupboard and pulled down a tin, "This is Tony's favorite…"
"No, no, Gran, that's alright. We work with Tony and we were just here to… pick him up for work," Kate didn't want to alarm the old woman if there really was nothing wrong. "You haven't seen him this morning, have you?"
Gran paused a moment thoughtfully, "No, I haven't and that's odd, because he's usually up with the dawn and out running. He says that's the best time to run, because it's when all the pretty girls are out, too." She smiled fondly. "Now that I think about it, I haven't seen him all weekend, but that job keeps him awfully busy. They should give him a raise."
Tim's coughing fit returned.
"I'll be sure and tell his boss," Kate assured her as she and Tim began to edge to the door. At this rate, they weren't going to get back to the office until noon and then Gibbs would fire them all.
"When you see him, tell him to stop by later. My granddaughter is coming to visit for the week and I wanted to introduce them…"
That was just too much. Kate knew that Gran thought they were crazy but she and Tim made their escape before they could embarrass themselves by falling on the floor laughing. They stood in the hallway trying to collect themselves a moment.
"Oh my," Kate giggled as she leaned against the wall to catch her breath.
"I always imagined Tony living in a singles place filled with hot babes," Tim admitted.
"We don't know, Tim, the rest of the apartments could be filled with hot babes." They both bent in laughter again. Kate finally stood and took a deep breath. "Alright, I suppose we have to find Tony now and drag him back to work."
They had passed the stairs on the way to Grans place, Kate pushed off the walls and wiped the tears of amusement from her eyes as they walked back down the hall. Tim nodded his agreement, following a couple of paces behind her.
It was hard to remember what they had been so worried about. The place seemed so normal and their encounter with Gran was just too funny, Tony wouldn't be living it down anytime soon, that was for sure – home security and self defense classes.
Tim chuckled again as he climbed the stairs behind Kate.
They reached the third floor and paused a moment, just listening and observing. There was nothing, no sign of foul play, no reason to think that there was anything going on besides the obvious, Tony had overslept and now he was in big trouble. Except that was the thing that cried out the most that things were wrong – Tony didn't screw up like that.
Tim glanced down at his watch. Tony was now officially an hour and a half late. Ninety minutes where no one knew what had happened to him. Really it was the entire weekend, because no one had seen him or talked to him since Friday night. Forty-eight hours in which anything could have been done to him. They were NCIS agents, they'd seen the terrible things that people could do to each other.
Tim felt his jovial mood slipping away and the fear and uncertainty creeping back in. Any other time he might have tried to file away the feelings and the mood for later use when he was writing. But not this time, it was too personal. This was Tony they were talking about.
He gave up any pretense and pulled out his gun when they approached Tony's door. He noticed that Kate had pulled hers out, too, keeping it low and pointed to the floor, but still out and ready for whatever they found when they opened Tony's door.
Kate knocked and they waited, listening for some noise inside the apartment to indicate that there was someone inside. There was nothing. Kate knocked again harder.
"Tony? You better get your butt out of bed and answer this door, Gibbs is so pissed." She was trying for the usual acerbic tone she adopted with Tony, but to Tim it was forced, the strain showing in the worry in her eyes, the way she lifted her gun a little.
Tim counted down from ten in his head. Tony might be a slow starter in the morning, it might take him a minute to get from his bed to the door, all rumpled and hair sticking every which way. God, let him be there.
They stood, looking at one another as it became more and more obvious that no one was going to open the door. They were going to have to do the unthinkable and enter Tony's apartment. Tim pulled the key out. They all left their key with Gibbs. The job they did was dangerous and there was countless reasons why one of the team might need to get into someone's place, the current scenario was one they'd steadfastly refused to think about.
He was a little surprised at how steady his hand was when he slipped the key into the lock and twisted it.
It was the not knowing what they were going to find that was the worst.
He swung the door open and immediately realized he was wrong.
It wasn't the not knowing that was the worst. It was the knowing and the seeing...
He swung himself into Kate who was just going to walk in and see it without any warning. He shoved her hard.
"Tim, what in hell are you doing?" she blinked at him in surprise when she hit the door frame.
He took a deep breath trying to keep his breakfast in his stomach where it belonged.
"You don't want to see it, Kate, trust me," he looked into her eyes and tried to show her how terrible it was, but she wouldn't take his word for it. He knew she wouldn't. Kate always had to see it for herself. She was an agent, she could deal.
She shoved past him to stalk into the apartment. She only got two steps inside the apartment before she was turning back and exiting, her face white.
"Oh, God, Tim..."
"I know, Kate. I know." He held onto her as she cried, wishing he could cry, too. But one of them had to be strong.
One of them had to call Gibbs and tell him Tony was dead.
Gibbs prided himself on the fact that he'd never lost an agent. Sure, agents he knew had died, but no one on his team had ever died. Part of him was really pissed with DiNozzo that he'd been the one to break that perfect record. It wasn't something he could say anymore. Trust DiNozzo to screw it up.
If he had him there, he'd slap him in the back of the head and Tony would mutter repentantly "Sorry, boss."
It wasn't ever going to happen again.
Gibbs hit the steering wheel – once, twice, three times. It didn't help. Tony DiNozzo was still dead.
He sat in the car, staring at the building where Tony lived..., had lived. There were so many questions that they needed to find answers for – the how and why and the who. The who was very important, because Jethro intended to make sure that that person suffered. A lot.
DiNozzo was a damn fine agent and more importantly someone that Gibbs considered a friend. He didn't have enough of those that he could afford to lose the few he had. It hit him hard to think of NCIS without Tony, the wisecracking, smart-ass that he was.
Wearily he climbed out of his car and walked up the sidewalk to the building. He might have known DiNozzo would live in a place like this, a security building in an upscale neighborhood. Gibbs sharp eye noted the security cameras mounted in discreet corners covering the entrance and most of the grounds. They might just catch a break.
Kate met him at the door to let him in, her eyes red and swollen. He could see the despair in their depths, the utter and complete devastation that he felt but wouldn't allow to spill forth. He was glad she could cry, he never would.
They walked to the third floor in silence. He knew he should make her report, but he let it be for the moment, too soon they'd be unable to take time to grieve. This might be the only time she had until after the case was put to bed. They reached the door and she turned to him then.
"It's bad, Gibbs," she hesitated and he thought she was going to start crying again. But she held on, she took a deep breath and continued. "They shot him in the face, the bastards."
Gibbs sucked in a breath himself, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut. Shit. He ran a hand through his hair and nodded. Then he stepped past her into the apartment, steeling himself for whatever he would find.
Kate was right. It was bad.
Blood was splattered everywhere and the body on the couch, while recognizably DiNozzo from the clothes and the build, looked like something from a slasher movie. The level of anger that it took to shoot someone in the face was unimaginable, except that Gibbs was feeling it right then. If they'd had the perp right there, Gibbs honestly didn't know what he'd do.
Still dressed in the clothes that he'd left work in on Friday night, it was unimaginable that Tony had sat there all weekend, his body cooling and no one had known it. Gibbs felt he should have known somehow, should have felt it in his gut that one of his team was dead. But he hadn't felt anything until this morning when Tony was late to work, by then it was way too late to do anything for him.
Gibbs swept the room trying to remain clinical and detached. There was a stack of dvds on the table and a beer, long since gone flat, along with a bowl of pop corn. Popcorn kernels littered the expensive pile carpet that was now also stained red. It was obvious DiNozzo hadn't expected to die when he did.
Without warning, Gibbs turned and smashed a fist into the wall behind him. He barely felt it when he punched through the sheet rock completely leaving a hole in the tastefully painted panel.
It seemed to Kate that every person that could possibly find a reason was there, squeezed into Tony's apartment. Despite his juvenile manner and chauvinist ways, he was well liked by the people he worked with. Or maybe it was because of his juvenile manner and chauvinist ways. She could never tell. There were agents there she had never even met before.
In any case there was way too many people there and the crime scene was going to be contaminated beyond hope. Gibbs must have thought so, too, because he put his fingers in his mouth and gave an earsplitting whistle.
Any talk instantly ceased and everyone turned their attention to him.
"Now, people, I know we all want answers and we're going to get them. But for the moment the only people I want here are Ducky and Palmer, and Agents Todd and McGee. Got that?"
It sounded like one or two might protest, but when Gibbs turned his steely stare in the direction of the sputtering, it died out. People trailed out and before long it was only their team left. Kate thought it was fitting somehow. Tony was theirs, they needed to take care of him now. It was the last thing they'd ever be able to do for him.
Gibbs leaned back against the wall, the same one that he'd put his fist through earlier. It was blocked by his body, but she knew it was there. A gaping hole in the wall, it was strangely symbolic of the hole that now existed in their team.
Gibbs had circles under his eyes and he seemed to have aged over the last hour. It occurred to Kate that they rarely saw him at anything less than his best; he never leaned against anything, he never sat on the edge of a desk, he never slouched, he never showed a sign of weakness. Even when he was injured he 'soldiered' on, insisting he was fine. He'd finally found an enemy he couldn't defeat, death, and it had shaken him to his core.
"Ducky?" he asked, his voice gravelly.
Ducky hadn't moved from Tony's side since he arrived. He'd very carefully done what he needed to do and now he and Jimmy were preparing to move him back to the lab.
"I'm so sorry, Jethro, I don't even know what to say."
A small smile quirked the edge of Gibbs' mouth at that, "Speechless, Duck? DiNozzo would be proud."
"Yes, well…" Ducky paused to gather himself. "From liver temp and the onset of rigor mortis, I can tell you that death was in the last 36-48 hours."
Gibbs didn't interrupt, he just listened. Kate stood quietly by taking notes and Tim took photos, careful to get every detail. They didn't know what might help them later. She could tell he was also hanging on every word.
"Initial guess as to cause of death would be gunshot to the head, but I'll know more when I get him back to the lab."
"Do me a favor, Ducky..."
"Anything, Jethro," Ducky's hands were infinitely gentle as he worked with Tony's body, preparing him for his final trip to the morgue.
"Send his blood and DNA up to Abby right away when you get back."
That caught everyone by surprise, they all gaped at him.
"Jethro, what are you saying?"
"I don't know what I'm saying, Ducky," Gibbs pushed himself away from the wall, "DiNozzo's dead and nothing makes sense right now. But let's look at everything, make sure everything's taken care of properly. Let's not get sloppy just because it's one of our own."
"Of course, Jethro, although why you would think we'd get sloppy…"
"This is personal, Ducky. Someone walked in here and shot Tony in the face. Now it could be a freak thing, it could be an old case, it could be a thousand things…" he paused.
"But your gut says?" Ducky prompted.
"My gut says this is personal, that someone did this to get our attention. Well it worked, I'm paying attention and Tony paid the price."
"Just go, Ducky, do what you have to do. We'll stay here and work the scene, we're going to find the bastards that did this."
"Of course you are, I never doubt that for a second," Ducky assured him. He turned back to Tony's body, "Jimmy, let's take him home."
Gibbs didn't stay to see the body removed, he motioned for Kate and Tim to follow him out into the hallway.
Kate sucked in a breath. The air in the hallway was different, not as blood tainted as the air in the apartment, and yet the coppery tang clung to her nose and clothes. She was going to throw away the clothes she was wearing once she got home.
"Kate, I want you to interview the people in the other apartments, see if they saw anything. McGee, take photos and do sketches, I'll dust for prints."
"You're going to dust for prints, boss?" The question was out before McGee even thought about it. His eyes got big when he realized what he'd said.
"Yes, I'm going to dust for prints, we're a team member short, Special Agent McGee or hadn't you noticed?" Gibbs' voice was short and clipped with an edge of steel that could have cut McGee in half.
"I… uhm…" Tim floundered, having no idea what to do or say.
"Gibbs," Kate said quietly, "we're all dealing with this."
He rounded on Kate and for a second she thought he was going to yell at her, too. He opened his mouth and then shut it. "I know, Kate. I know."
It was all he said before he turned on his heel and went back into the apartment.
Kate gave Tim a hug before she headed for the first apartment. They'd never been a particularly huggy bunch, unless you called her elbow in DiNozzo's ribs touchy-feely, but she needed contact. She needed to know that the rest of her team was solid and alive.
He must have needed the same thing because he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back. Then they both went back to their jobs. Finding Tony's murderer.
To be continued...
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the first time around, you've helped to make this a better story!