Chapter 1: Familiar Faces

Ziva was giving him a deadly stare.

"What?", Tony asked, holding up his arms in ignorance, but he knew exactly what was going on.

She got up, went over to his desk and stood right next to him. He swallowed hard and looked up with his usual grin and innocent eyes. Her presence was unsettling, but not in a bad way.

She bent down, her face just inches from his and whispered "If you ever take anything out my purse again, you will wash up on shore without any teeth or fingerprints."

"So I can look, right?", he asked when she walked back to her desk and sat down. Another glare. Man, if these could kill…

"What did you do this time, DiNozzo?" Gibbs walked to his desk, not really interested in his agents newest antics.

"Em, I needed to cut something, boss, didn't think she would miss it… Right giving it back, on it, boss!", he added after yet another glare.

He rummaged though his drawers and found Ziva's pocket knife.

"Keep it, Tony, just don't cut yourself with it." Ziva sighted and smiled despite herself.

"Where the hell is McGee?"

"At Abby's, boss, she needed someone to do heavy lifting so I send down our valiant probie. As an Elf lord he already has the shining armor so…"

"DiNozzo!"

"Shutting up, boss!"

It took another thirty minutes before McGee got back and he looked ruefully at Tony.

McGee was about to say something he probably rehearsed during the move downstairs, but Gibbs' familiar "Gear up" interrupted his train of thoughts.

Tony looked at the crime scene. They were standing on a intersection in Alexandria. A large crowd already gathered just outside the taped area and he could see many curious faces starring down from the various apartments nearby. The body was lying under a large pine three.

Gibbs was talking to some LEO's probably debating their incompetence by the looks of it.

"McGee, bag and tag the evidence. Ziva, witness statements, DiNozzo…"

"Shoot and sketch, on it, boss.", he concluded and started taking pictures.

"What have we got, Ducky?", asked Gibbs.

"Nothing conclusive yet, Jethro, but I can tell you the lad put up a brave fight. There are numerous defensive wounds across the arms and hands. Mister Palmer, would you please be so kind in handing me the liver probe?"

"Just as I suspected", he continued after half a minute, "the poor lad has been dead for more than eight hours I am afraid."

"And that is bad, doctor Mallard?", Jimmy asked.

"Death is always a cause for grieving, mister Palmer, but in this particular case it means he didn't die here, what also explains the obvious lack of blood on site."

"DiNozzo, pictures!", Gibbs yelled, but Tony didn't react. He just stood there with his camera frozen in his hands, looking at the body as Ducky and Palmer were preparing to take it back to headquarters.

"Boss, why did they call us?", he asked after a few moments.

Gibbs held up a pair of dog tags as explanation.

"Boss, somebody must have lost their tags, because I know this man.", Tony continued, "and he is no marine, hell he never was in the army."

"Name says Petty Officer Noah Peruch."

"Peruch…" Tony repeated this name in a whisper and cursed.

Ziva and Tim realized something was bothering Tony. After his revelation that he knew the victim, they were kept out of the loop. He was staring at his screen and tapping his pen against his head. Gibbs was talking to the director about jurisdiction, probably, so he wasn't around to pressure Tony into giving more details. Neither Ziva nor McGee wanted to stir a sleeping dragon. He was most likely waiting for Gibbs to return…

Or not, Tony suddenly got up and went to the elevator, passing Gibbs without noticing him.

"Well, Anthony, normally it is Gibbs hurrying me along. What can I do for you, my boy?"

"The man from this morning…" Tony started, but was interrupted.

"Oh yes, the petty officer who is in fact not a petty officer, well it maybe a case of mistaken identity. This reminds me of the time I went to Bruges, a lovely town, and our guide was the spitting image of the current…"

"Ducky, I am most willing to listen to this story some other time, but I really need to know the cause of death."

"I am afraid it isn't that simple, dear boy, mister Palmer can you … yes thank you." Palmer gave him some x-rays.

"This poor fellow received multiple beatings, there was some extensive damage to the ribs and left scapula and this x-ray shows some severe head trauma. See these small fracture lines?"

Tony moved closer. "Would they have killed him?", he asked after a closer look.

"Not instantly, my best guess at the cause of death is hypovolemic shock caused by exhaustion and blood loss."

"Exhaustion?"

"I am afraid this poor man suffered several days, some of his wounds were already healing."

"Torture?"

"Most certainly and applied with the utmost scrutiny, causing maximum pain with a minimal of damage. It would have strained the heart severly."

"Pro's?"

"I believe so, but in the end these three linear stab wounds below the clavicle were fatal.", Ducky concluded, pointing at the deep cuts just below the collarbone.

"Thanks, Ducky", was all Tony said before he rushed out of Autopsy, almost bumping into Gibbs again.

"You know, Jethro, I believe you are rubbing off on that boy. He has gotten your whole monosyllable sentences down to perfection." Ducky said, before Gibbs could ask anything.

"That bad?"

Ducky nodded and Gibbs sighted.

He caught his Senior Agent entering the elevator and quickly slipped in as well.

"Wanna tell me what's bothering you?" Gibbs asked loudly, startling his agent in the process.

"Not really" was the answer he received seconds later.

"I only ask nice the first time."

"That was nice, dgeez, boss, you could have fouled me."

"So?" Gibbs flipped the emergency stop.

Tony sighted. "The man on Ducky's table is Frank Millers, an old school buddy of mine, sort of a wizzkid, computer freak like McGee. Don't tell him I called him a wizzkid, boss."

"Anyway", he continued after an infamous glare, "We go way back, but I lost contact after college. After an op I called in a few favors he owed me concerning a Nicolas Peruch."

"That's it?" Gibbs asked when DiNozzo didn't continue.

"Well, the rest was kinda illegal, boss, but if Ducky was right and Frank was tortured than that is bad, really bad news."