Chapter 1

Tony focused hard on the cold case he was reviewing. They were between cases, and he needed something a little more absorbing than one of his stupid video games. Besides, Gibbs was at his desk, which made playing games a little more risky than if he was, say, up in MTAC.

"Tony, do you have the Hanson file?" McGee asked.

"Yeah, Probie," Tony said without looking. It was in his pile of cold cases.

"Can I have it, please?" Tony could almost hear the rolled eyes in McGee's tone.

Tony picked up the file and held it out, still gazing at the computer screen as he scrolled through the evidence photos of a murder they'd failed to solve a couple years back. There was something there that he was missing, and it was driving him nuts.

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs snapped, and Tony looked up, startled. Gibbs was glaring at him. "Conference room! Now!"

Tony jumped up, concealing a wince as a variety of aches and pains reminded him of their existence. He handed the file to McGee, giving the other agent a puzzled look. "What'd I do?" he mouthed at him. McGee shrugged, eyes wide. He turned to Ziva who shook her head as well.


"Coming, Boss!" DiNozzo called as he hurried across the squad room into the elevator. At this point, other teams were looking at them curiously. He pretended not to notice as the elevator doors shut. It had barely started moving when Gibbs slapped the switch that brought it to a halt. Tony had no idea what to expect when Gibbs turned towards him, anger snapping in his blue eyes.

"Roll up your sleeves," he ordered.

"What?" Tony said, staring at him. He couldn't know. How could he know?

Gibbs raised his eyebrows with more than a hint of annoyance. "Roll up your sleeves, DiNozzo!"

Tony crossed his arms and shook his head, trying not to reveal the tension that filled him at that request. "Come on, Boss, why would you want me to –"

"Damn it, DiNozzo, roll up your sleeves!"

Clenching his teeth, Tony reached down and unbuttoned the cuff of his right sleeve and pushed it up to reveal a series of black and red bruises, some of which had very recognizable shapes. "There, satisfied?" he asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

Gibbs didn't even seem to notice his tone. "The other arm?"

Tony scowled and didn't move. "It's the same, Boss."

"What happened, DiNozzo? And don't tell me you ran into a door. That won't cut it this time."

Tony grimaced and looked away. He hadn't expected there to be another incident, so he had passed off the shiner as humorously as he could. "It's personal, Boss," he said shortly, hoping that Gibbs would leave it.

"Personal, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, and then he waited in his patented interrogation style. Tony wondered if he dared reach across and flip the switch to make the elevator start up again. On the whole, he thought not, but when Gibbs started the elevator going himself, he heaved a sigh of relief. Mostly. A small, irrational part of him was disappointed that Gibbs wasn't pursuing it. Then he noticed which button Gibbs had pushed.

"Autopsy?" he ventured, hoping there was a work-related reason for the destination.

"You're going to let Ducky take a look at you," Gibbs said.

"No way, Boss. This is a personal matter, and I don't want to –"

The elevator doors opened and Gibbs turned to him. "Not asking, DiNozzo," he said mildly, and left the elevator.

As Gibbs passed through the sliding doors, Tony yelled, "This is none of your damned business!"

Director Shepard emerged suddenly from autopsy, eyes wide. "Agent DiNozzo?" she asked sharply.

Tony stared at her and knew he couldn't handle this. He practically jammed his finger pressing the button for the squad room. The elevator doors had been open long enough that they slid shut almost instantly. He tapped his foot as he hastily rebuttoned his cuff. As soon as the doors opened again, he hurried forward to grab his gear.

"Tony, where are you going?" Ziva asked.

"Lunch," he said over his shoulder as he headed back towards the elevator, hoping he could reach it before the doors closed again. Fat chance.

"It is only just ten a.m.," she protested.

"So I'm taking an early lunch," he replied with a shrug. As he reached the elevator and pressed the button, Gibbs came out of the stairwell at a trot.

"DiNozzo, what do you think you're doing?" he demanded in an undertone, and he grabbed Tony's upper arm, right on a set of bruises Tony hadn't shown him. Tony winced involuntarily, and Gibbs let go like he'd been stung. "DiNozzo, what –"

To make the day ever so much better, the director arrived on the scene just in time to witness both the grab and the wince. "Gibbs, DiNozzo, my office," she ordered.

Tony ground his teeth. He wanted to kill someone. Preferably Brody Harris, but at the moment he wasn't particular. "Director," Gibbs said, "let me handle –"

"My office, Agent Gibbs. Now," Jenny repeated, and when the doors opened, they all walked in. Tony wondered if they could make him any more conspicuous if they tried. He didn't need this right now. He needed to be left alone.

Gibbs was pissed. Not only was DiNozzo keeping secrets from him, but Jenny Shepard was pushing her nose in where it didn't belong. Again.

He strode into Jen's office and waited for her to shut the door. DiNozzo followed him in looking angry and mutinous, but Gibbs was damned if he was going to let this pass. DiNozzo had been jumpy as hell the last few weeks, ever since he'd come in with that shiner he'd passed off as an accident with a door. At the time Gibbs had assumed he'd had an encounter with an annoyed ex-boyfriend or a husband he'd been unaware of, but clearly there was more going on.

"Does someone want to explain that little scene?" Jen asked once she'd closed the door and walked over to stand facing both of them.

DiNozzo jumped in immediately with, "It's nothing, ma'am."

Jenny looked over at Gibbs, then turned back to Tony. "Tony, under these circumstances, I have to ask this. Has Agent Gibbs hurt you?"

Gibbs raised his eyes to the ceiling. She knew him better than that, but covering her political ass had become second nature to her lately. She supposedly knew Tony too, and he wondered why a woman who was so smart could sometimes be so blind. Not that he'd win any prizes for observation if this had been going on for a month or more.

"What?" Tony exclaimed sounding stunned. "Are you nuts?"

Gibbs snorted. "That's funny, director, I was about to ask you if you'd co-opted my agent for another undercover assignment."

Jen's eyes widened, and DiNozzo turned to him, clearly startled. "I would have told you, Boss."

"Good," Gibbs said. "Why won't you tell me this?" Tony froze, an expression of . . . shame? . . . crossing his face. He turned towards the windows and shut Gibbs out.

"What is 'this'?" Jenny asked.

Gibbs grimaced. He wasn't going to be able to keep her out of it, so he supposed he'd better tell her. "DiNozzo has been physically assaulted within the last twenty-four hours, and he won't talk about it." Tony continued to look towards the windows, his shoulders stiff with fury. "And it's not the first time," Gibbs added, and Tony turned with a surprised look.

"Is this true, Agent DiNozzo?" Jenny asked.

Tony's expression closed down again. "It's a personal matter," he said stiffly.

"Exactly what kind of injuries are we talking about here, Tony?" Jen asked.

"It's nothing, director," Tony repeated.

Gibbs rolled his eyes. "He has bruises on his wrists, and apparently on his right upper arm."

Jen gazed at Tony for a long moment, then shot a glance at Gibbs. She took a step closer to Tony. "If this is something consensual . . ." Gibbs hadn't seriously considered that, but the cues weren't right.

"No!" Tony replied instantly, looking almost offended. "No," he said again with less emphasis. "It's a personal matter that I'm dealing with myself."

Jen walked over to her desk, picked up her phone and said, "Cynthia, get me the DC police on the phone, I –"

At the word police, Tony took what looked like an involuntary step towards Jen. "No!" he exclaimed.

Jen paused. "Cynthia, hold off on that, please," she said, and she hung up the phone. She pursed her lips. "What's going on here, Tony?"

"I'm dealing with it," Tony said.

"Not well," Gibbs put in as gently as he could, and Tony flinched. "You've been jumpy for about three weeks now and –"

"I don't want to talk about it!" Tony said.

"Is it a matter for the police or for NCIS?" Jenny asked.

Gibbs scowled. "An NCIS agent was attacked, director. It's a matter for NCIS."

"It's personal," Tony said, beginning to sound desperate.

"Is it job-related?"

"No," Tony said, but he sounded like the word was being dragged out of him.

"So it's a matter for the police."

"No," Tony said.

"Why not?

Tony scowled. With palpable reluctance, he relented. "Because it's a cop," he said. "A DC cop."

"You're being harassed by DC Metro?" Gibbs asked. He exchanged a look with Jen. They'd certainly rubbed Metro the wrong way a time or two, but why would Tony be insisting so firmly that it was personal in that case?

"No!" Tony growled. He rubbed his forehead then stroked his hair back. "It's not like that. It's . . ." He shook his head and walked over to sit down in one of the chairs.

"It's . . . personal?" Jenny said in tones of realization, and Gibbs blinked.

Tony buried his face in his hands. "Fuck!" he said with heartfelt dismay.

Jenny glanced at Gibbs again and walked over to lean against her desk. "Tony, talk to me. What's going on?"

Tony stilled, and when he looked up his expression was sharp and cynical. "Like I'd talk to you about my love life," he said, his voice dripping with venom. "The last advice you gave me turned out so very well."

"That wasn't your love life, Tony," she said. "That was work."

Gibbs took a step forward, but before he could intervene, Tony spoke. "You're right," he said, his voice brittle with anger. "You make an excellent point, director."

"Aren't you late for a meeting, director?" Gibbs asked, his voice laced with irritation and warning. He wasn't letting her wrap DiNozzo up into any more knots over Jeanne Benoit. He remembered all too well how her attempt at a debriefing had derailed.

She looked at him and glanced at her watch. "Actually, I am. Please, use my office for as long as you need it." Gathering her things, she left. Gibbs hoped she gave Cynthia orders to give them some privacy. They did not need Jenny's secretary walking in right now.

He stood there, waiting. If he waited long enough, Tony would talk. And he did. He started off explaining which movie he felt like he was in. Gibbs had never seen it, so he didn't really pay attention. Tony talking about movies was like Ducky talking about the Sudan, it went in one ear and out the other. What Gibbs did pay attention to was the emotional subtext of Tony's blather. He was nervous, embarrassed and . . . and Gibbs still got an inexplicable impression of shame from him. After awhile, Tony couldn't help it, he got down to brass tacks. "I got into a relationship, Boss," he said finally. "It went sour. I'm handling it."

Gibbs grabbed Tony's hand and pushed up his sleeve to show the bruises. "This is not handling it, Tony." He shook his head. "You got feelings for this guy?"

"Who says it's a guy?" Tony protested.

Gibbs unbuttoned Tony's cuff and looked at the bruise, a little surprised that Tony was permitting the liberty. Then he put his hand gently around Tony's wrist to mimic the shape of the bruise, and Tony was out of his chair and five feet away before he could blink. Gibbs looked up at him worriedly. "How far did it go?" he asked. Tony just shook his head. Gibbs was getting damned frustrated with this. He took a step towards him. "How far did it go, DiNozzo?"

"Not that far," Tony said, flushing unhappily.

"How far?"

"Gibbs, it . . ." Tony closed his eyes. "It was in a pubic place, Boss. It didn't go far."

"How far would it have gone if it hadn't been in a public place?"

Tony flushed hotter. "I kneed him in the crotch. He let go and I got the hell out of there."

That didn't answer his question, but Gibbs decided to let it go for now. "What's his name?"

Tony's face went blank for a moment, then his eyes widened into his most innocently puzzled expression. "Who?" he asked.


"You know my name, Boss," Tony said with gentle reproof.

Gibbs barely kept his tone under control. "What is this guy's name?" he demanded.

Tony blinked at him, and his expression underwent another lightening change. Suddenly he was all business. "What do you think about looking into the McCormick case again, Boss? I've got this feeling that there's something in the evidence that I'm not –"

Gibbs gave up. DiNozzo had stubborn down to an art. "Okay, let's get you down to Ducky."

Tony grimaced. "Is there any way I can get out of this?"

Gibbs knew he had to get DiNozzo distracted or he'd try to get away without being examined again. He shrugged as he led the way out of the director's office. "You could die in the elevator on the way down," he said.

Tony's eyes widened and he looked sort of stuffed. "I'd really . . . rather not."

Gibbs made a pretense of considering the matter. "Of course, then you would still be examined by Ducky."

Tony's jaw dropped. "You've just taken the creepiness award away from Abby," he said when he'd recovered himself. "Just swept it right out from under her."

The elevator doors opened and Gibbs stepped in. "You going to tell her she's been dethroned, DiNozzo?" he asked, trying to maintain the semblance of banter DiNozzo was attempting to put up, but the effort was unavailing. DiNozzo was unusually silent on the way down, and he didn't object to going into autopsy this time. Palmer was working on some kind of inventory task by the sink and Ducky was at his desk. "Palmer, out," Gibbs ordered.

Ducky stood up, looking startled. "Jethro?" he asked, his irritation at having his authority bypassed obvious.

"Palmer, out," Gibbs repeated, telegraphing to Ducky that there was something big afoot. Ducky glanced at DiNozzo, who was studiously examining his shoes, and his eyebrows went up.

"But I'm working on –"

"Take an early lunch, Mr. Palmer," Ducky said. "And call before you come back."

"Yes, doctor," Palmer said, sounding mystified, and he left.

"Is something wrong, Jethro?"

"I need you to examine Tony and report back to me on his fitness for duty."

Tony's spine straightened and he glared at Gibbs. "I'm fine, Boss," he replied.

"Then this shouldn't be any problem for you." Gibbs smiled at DiNozzo's flabbergasted look.

"Is there some sort of subtext here that I'm unaware of?" Ducky asked.

"Oh, don't worry, you'll figure it out soon enough," DiNozzo muttered. He began taking off his tie, but then he glanced at the two sets of sliding glass doors. "Wait a minute. I don't want anyone to see me, Boss."

"It's never been a problem before, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.

Tony closed his eyes and pulled his tie off. Looking over Ducky's shoulder, he unbuttoned his dress shirt. The sleeveless undershirt he wore underneath didn't hide the massive bite on his neck, or the bruising along his collarbone. Gibbs felt a stirring of anger, not just at the man who had done this to Tony, but at Tony himself for not coming to him with it.

"Oh my," Ducky said, and Tony flushed again, looking away. "When did this happen, dear boy?" he asked, but before Tony could answer, he said, "Last night, I suppose. Take off your shirt, please."

Gibbs waited until it was clear that Tony would comply, then he said, "I'll be back for you, Tony. You stay here until I come back, you hear me?"

"Yeah, Boss," Tony muttered as he slipped the dress shirt off.

Gibbs got a clear look at the bruising all up and down Tony's arms before he headed out the door. When he reached the squad room, he could see that Ziva and McGee were huddled together over Ziva's desk, talking very quietly. "McGee!" he barked. McGee snapped to attention. "I want you to look up complaints of excessive force, harassment and . . . domestic abuse against members of DC Metro PD." McGee gaped at him. "Now, McGee!"

"Do you know how many returns that's going to give me?" McGee asked.

"Limit your search to active duty officers," Gibbs added. "Between the ages of thirty and forty-five."

"On it, Boss," McGee said, hurrying to his desk. Gibbs sat down and looked in the phone book under bars, making a list of the ones he knew were frequented by off duty cops.

"Gibbs?" Ziva asked hesitantly. He raised his eyes to where she was standing, close to the divider between their cubicles. "Where is Tony?" He sensed rather than saw McGee's head come up slightly, betraying his interest in the answer to that question.

"Autopsy," he said shortly, returning to his list.

"Why?" she asked.

"Don't you have some work to do?" Gibbs asked her without looking up.

"I do not," she replied, and this brought his head up. "You did not give me an assignment, and I do not believe any of my cold cases are as urgent as understanding what is going on with my partner. He must be injured, or he would not be alone with Ducky in autopsy."

Gibbs gazed at her for a long moment. "Good girl," he said with a grin. "Now get back to work."

"On what?" she asked.

He thought for a moment. "McGee, pass your information on to Ziva and let her work on it. I want you to pull up Tony's phone records." He could feel their eyes on him. "Cell phone and land line both."

"What am I looking for?" McGee asked.

"Obsession," Gibbs said flatly. There was silence in their work area, no key clicks, nothing more than breathing. Gibbs looked up. "McGee?" The younger man was staring at him like a deer in headlights, and Gibbs relented. "Look for a lot of calls to him from the same number over the last few weeks, calls he doesn't return."

"Yes Boss," McGee said.

Gibbs kept working on his list. McGee passed his task on to Ziva and got down to work on the phone records. Gibbs devoutly wished DiNozzo would just come clean and make all this unnecessary, but he knew how likely that was.

His phone rang. "Gibbs," he said, hoping it wasn't a case.

"Jethro, can I see you in my office?" Jenny said.

"Be right there." He rose and headed for the stairs. When Ziva got up and started towards his desk, he said, "Keep working, Officer David," without turning his head, and she hastily returned to her own desk.

Cynthia waved him straight into the director's office. "Close the door, Jethro," Jen said, and he did. She was seated behind her desk. He walked up to stand in front. "What did he say?" she asked.

"Not a whole hell of a lot," Gibbs replied. "Just that there was a relationship, and that it went sour."

"What kind of relationship?" she asked.

"I don't know, exactly, but he's scared."

"DiNozzo?" she said incredulously. "Scared?"

"Yeah, Jen. He's just as human as the rest of us."

"He told you that?"

"No, he showed me," Gibbs replied. "He hasn't told me squat. He won't even give me a name."

She shook her head. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"I left him with Ducky."

"When he's done and you've got Ducky's report, I want to see you both again."

"Sure." He raised his eyebrows to see if he was dismissed and she nodded. His phone was ringing as he reached his desk. He lifted the receiver. "Gibbs."

"Jethro, we're done down here. Young Anthony is getting dressed. Do you want to come down here to get my report or –"

"Be there in a second." He hung up without waiting for a response.

Tony stood leaning against one of the tables with his back to the door when Gibbs reached autopsy. Ducky was washing his hands. "Well?" Gibbs said.

"He's fit enough. None of the bruising is terribly deep except on his wrists, and that doesn't seem to be affecting his mobility significantly." Ducky glanced over at DiNozzo, then gave Gibbs a significant look and gestured towards Tony's face. Raising his eyebrows, Gibbs walked around and looked. The younger man shifted irritably, but he didn't turn away. Gibbs stared at the bruise on Tony's cheekbone and noted that his subordinate wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Make up?" he asked.

"Indeed," Ducky said. "Very clever work, too."

Tony took a deep breath. "Do you still need me?" he asked.

"For what, DiNozzo?" Gibbs replied.

Tony flinched, but he raised his chin. "Ducky's report," he said.

"No, I guess not." Gibbs peered at the bruise again. "You going to cover that back up?"

Shrugging, Tony said, "I brought the stuff with me in case I needed to touch it up." He gestured towards the pack he'd grabbed in his abortive attempt to escape the office.

"Did you do it yourself?" Tony nodded. "You going to fix it up in the bathroom?" Tony grimaced and didn't reply. "I think Abby has a mirror you can use," Gibbs suggested.

"Thanks Boss," Tony said, and he left the room quickly, the doors sliding shut behind him.

"You're being rather rough on him," Ducky observed in the neutral voice he reserved for when he wasn't sure he approved of Gibbs' tactics with his team.

Gibbs didn't respond directly. He already felt guilty for his harsh response to Tony's earlier plea for privacy, but he didn't want to discuss the matter. "How bad is it, Duck?" he asked.

"Bad enough," Ducky said, abandoning his disapproval for the moment. "You saw the bruising on his arms, but he has a number of bruises between his thighs that he tells me came from a knee being forced between his legs, and there is a nearly full handprint on his left buttock."

"What did he tell you happened?" Gibbs asked. Maybe Tony had felt more able to confide in Ducky.

"Not much, Jethro. I pushed him to explain the bruising between his legs by suggesting that it implied the need for a rape kit. He told me that he was fully clothed during the whole of the assault and that he hadn't had sex of any kind for several weeks."

"Have you got any guess as to the size of this guy?"

Ducky pursed his lips. "Bigger than Anthony, though not necessarily taller. His hands are very large."

"I picked up on that," Gibbs said.

"Mmmh," Ducky replied. "He seems very unsettled." Gibbs raised his eyebrows. "Of course he has reason, I do see that, but Anthony so rarely lets anything show."

"He didn't until I called him on the bruises I could see when he stretched out his arm," Gibbs said.

"So he didn't come to you with this," Ducky asked, his eyebrows going up.

"He did not." Gibbs took a breath and looked into Ducky's eyes. "Anything else I need to know?"

"If I were reconstructing the events those injuries demonstrate, I would say that he had been grabbed by the upper arms and slammed into a wall. He has bruises on his shoulders, his lower back, and a small bump on the back of his head. The attacker then shoved a knee between his legs, no doubt to immobilize him." Gibbs scowled and looked away, the images all too clear in his mind. "It is different when it's someone you know," the medical examiner observed unnecessarily.

"Go on, Ducky," Gibbs growled impatiently.

"Yes, of course. Well, he got his hands around Tony's wrists, and they struggled. I believe that is when the bruise on his face happened. He subdued Tony and held both his wrists in one hand while he groped."

"And then Tony kneed him in the groin."

"Gaining himself a bruise just above the knee."

"So we are looking at a very big guy."

"Tony is by no means a small man, but this fellow can clearly physically control him fairly effectively. And the handprint on his buttock covers a great deal of skin."

Gibbs nodded and started back towards the door. "Thanks Duck."

"Do we know who the perpetrator is?"

"We don't," Gibbs replied as he passed through the door. "Tony does." The doors shut behind him, leaving the medical examiner to make of that statement what he would. Scowling, Gibbs punched the elevator button. Sooner or later, Tony was going to talk.

Tony swung into Abby's lab, keeping the right side of his face towards the wall. She appeared to be hard at work on something, she certainly had the music up loud enough. "Abby?" he said. She didn't respond. He raised his voice. "Abby!" he called.

She jumped and turned, and a three story house of cards with gothic arches collapsed, sending cards across the table and onto the floor. "Tony! Don't do that!"

"Hard at work, I see," he said with a grin. Abby was clearly not aware that there was a secret, which made it easier to be normal at her.

"Get me some evidence to play with and I will work hard," she said defensively. "What can I do for you?"

"Do you have a mirror I could borrow?" he asked, and her eyes widened. She walked closer to him, and he sighed as she reached for his chin and turned his face so she could see the bruise on his cheekbone.

"What happened to you?"

Tony improvised hastily. "There was this girl, you see, and we were flirting. Then her best friend started hitting on me, and she went to smack her and missed."

Abby blinked at him. "Okay, don't tell me. I've got a mirror in here."

"I think I've just been insulted," Tony said. She set up a vanity mirror on her desk and he grinned. "Perfect. Thanks Abby." He dug into his pack and pulled out the make up

"No problem." Leaning over his shoulder, she watched him get to work covering the bruise, and he started to ask her if she didn't have something better to do. Then he remembered the flimsy structure that had just collapsed and decided not to. "Hey, that's the good stuff," she said.

"Yeah, stage make up." Tony gently rubbed it on, trying not to press too hard. "Told you I did drama in college."

"Right. Not bad. Not bad at all."

He met her eyes in the mirror and winked. "Glad to have my skills approved by a competent expert." She curtsied and giggled. "Now a bit of powder and I'm good to go."

"Amazing. If I didn't know it was there I wouldn't . . ." She trailed off and stood up straight, her fingers fiddling with the end of one of her braids. "How often do you do this, Tony?"

"I don't," Tony said, looking up at her in alarm. "I don't get enough bruises to need to."

"You didn't cover that shiner last month," she remarked thoughtfully.

Tony nodded, not mentioning that it would have taken a true expert to properly cover a shiner that big. "See, I just don't want a lot of questions," he said. "And now I've got to get back to work."

"Send me down some evidence!" she called as he left. "Any kind will do!"

Upstairs, he ignored the curious looks he got from other agents as he returned to their little bullpen. Gibbs wasn't there, but both Ziva and McGee were hard at work. As he passed McGee, he noticed the younger man looking up at him nervously. "What'cha working on, Probie?" he asked cheerily, and he leaned over the partition to see a list of phone numbers that looked startlingly familiar before it disappeared and was replaced by McGee's wallpaper. Tony's stomach flipped over, but he hid his alarm under a mask of irritation. He stood up straight, dug in his pocket and dropped his cell phone over McGee's desk. The other man caught it and stared at it for a moment. "It might be easier just to look at the history, Probie."

"Gibbs ordered it, Tony," McGee said.

"Oh, I know," Tony replied grimly.

"You're not being accused of anything, are you, Tony?" McGee asked.

Charming thought. He shook his head. "Aside from having devilish good looks, no, and that's common knowledge."

"Right," McGee said sourly, and Tony dropped his pack and sat down at his desk. He was all too aware of Ziva's eyes on him. Now that she knew there was something to spot, she was all the more likely to spot it, and he had to keep his right cheek towards her to work on his computer.

"So, Zee Vah!" Tony said, figuring that annoying her would distract her sufficiently to keep her mind off trying to find anomalies in his person. "What does Gibbs have you doing?"

"Working," Gibbs said, and Tony snapped around. Gibbs strode through their space swiftly. "DiNozzo, you're with me." Tony scrambled to his feet and followed. Gibbs wasn't grabbing gear, so he left his behind, wondering where they were going. When he figured it out, he clenched his teeth. What else did Jenny want?

Gibbs led the way into the director's office, and Tony presented himself properly before her desk, waiting for the axe to fall. "Agent DiNozzo," she said, "you have expressed a preference not to involve the police in this situation."

"Yes ma'am," he said when she paused.

"Can you give me one good reason why not?"

Tony had been trying to come up with something she and Gibbs might accept, and he cleared his throat. "Because it's my word against his, ma'am. I have no proof to offer that what passed between us wasn't consensual."

Jenny stared at him for a long moment, then said, "I see."

"It's a personal matter, and I'd prefer to keep it that way." He didn't dare look at Gibbs. He didn't want to see how he was reacting.

Jenny took a deep breath and appeared to be thinking very hard. "I can accept that argument," she said, and he didn't let his relief show, putting on the iron man face he'd learned from Gibbs. "Unless you've been determined to be unfit for duty . . ." She paused and raised an eyebrow at Gibbs. Tony still didn't turn, and his boss had remained behind him. "Very well, then, for the moment I will take no official notice of this." Tony couldn't keep his relief off his face now. "But there are conditions," she added.

"Conditions?" Tony repeated warily.

"If this man comes near you again, if he tries to contact you, you will tell Agent Gibbs and myself immediately."

"Director!" Tony protested.

"Otherwise I will direct Agent Gibbs to open a case immediately."

Tony scowled. Great, now he was getting pushed from both sides. "Fine," he grated.

"You are dismissed, Agent DiNozzo."

He turned and walked out without a glance at Gibbs, and he heard her hold his boss back. He went back down the stairs and jittered at his desk, wondering what she was talking to Gibbs about.

"Yes Jenny?" Gibbs said once DiNozzo had closed the door and gone.

"I said we won't take official notice. I want you to start an unofficial investigation. Find out who this guy is."

Gibbs shrugged. "Already underway, Jen."

Her self-deprecating smile acknowledged that she should have known the order was unnecessary. "How bad is it?"

Gibbs considered how best to answer the question without compromising DiNozzo's privacy any more than he had to. "He hasn't been raped," he said mildly.

"That isn't exactly reassuring."

"Is it supposed to be?" Gibbs asked. She really did have her head on backwards sometimes.

"What are we going to do to keep him safe in the meantime?"

"I don't know what you're going to do," Gibbs said. "I'm taking him home with me tonight."

Her eyebrows went up. "How long is that going to last?"

"Until I decide otherwise," he said.

"You always were high-handed, Jethro," she said with evident amusement.

Gibbs shrugged again. "When I have to be."

"Which is always?" Jenny asked.

His patience exhausted, Gibbs tilted his head. "You need anything else, Jenny?"

"No. That's all."

Gibbs left the office and went out on the mezzanine where he looked down on his team from above. McGee and Ziva were working hard while Tony sat at his desk getting absolutely nothing done. He made his way down the stairs, startled by the fact that DiNozzo was being quiet. Usually when he was nonproductive, he was blathering on about something. It only made Gibbs worry all the more. From the look Ziva shot him, he could tell that she had noticed, too.


"Yeah, Boss?" Tony said. He didn't get up. He barely even looked up.

"Didn't you say something about the McCormick case?"

DiNozzo's head came up. "What?" He blinked at Gibbs. "Yes."

"Then get to work."

DiNozzo stared at him for a moment, and Gibbs raised his eyebrows. Tony bent to his computer and started working.

Tony glanced at his computer's clock and contemplated the fact that it was quitting time. On the whole, none of them paid much attention to their posted hours because on the whole, they were busy on casework, and their posted hours made limited sense. Today, however, Tony was past ready to leave. He didn't have anything hot, and he was tired of the covert glances Ziva and McGee kept shooting him. He was annoyed by the thought that they were investigating him rather than a real case, and the tension he was feeling from Gibbs made him want to be as far away from the man as possible. Sooner or later the blow was going to fall, and he didn't particularly want it to be today. He'd had enough fun today.

Gibbs was down talking to Abby about something, and Tony suspected from the lack of communication he'd had from that quarter since his visit earlier that Gibbs had her working on some aspect of this case that they weren't taking 'official notice' of. He didn't know if the director had ordered Gibbs not to pursue it or what, but if she had, he was ignoring her.

When Ziva got up to use the head, Tony took advantage of McGee's legendary focus and, holding his backpack carefully in front of him where McGee wouldn't see it, he got up and headed for the elevator. The wait for the car to come and the door to open were the longest forty seconds he'd experienced all day. He stepped quickly in when the doors opened and cut left to stand against the wall where McGee would have more trouble noticing him if he happened to look up. When the doors closed, he just had to worry that either Ziva or Gibbs would somehow magically wind up outside this elevator when it opened again on his floor. That kind of thing happened often enough that he didn't relax till he was in his car and on the road.

Brody Harris had a lot to answer for, and today's tensions just topped the list. What had started as a much-needed descent into no-strings-attached carnality had taken a turn for the surreal when Brody had abruptly started checking up on Tony's whereabouts at random moments. Tony hadn't known what to make of it, but he started distancing himself when he realized that Brody was getting jealous. They weren't dating, they were screwing around, and Brody had no claim on him.

He took the turn into the parking garage attached to his apartment building and pulled into his spot. Home. He was looking forward to a pleasant evening spent watching movies and drinking beer. He got out of the car and shouldered his pack, heading for the elevator. A large figure emerged from between two cars ahead, but instead of moving towards the elevators, it came towards him. Tony recognized him instantly and felt a frisson of fear that he quickly suppressed. He came to a stop. "What are you doing here, Brody?"

"You ran away from me last night," Brody said, walking up so that he was just inside Tony's space bubble and stopping. "I want to figure this out, Tony."

"There's nothing to figure out," Tony said, keeping his tone as light as he could. He wanted to back up, but that would just give Brody what he wanted, and he'd keep pushing. He knew that from experience. "I told you, we're done."

"Why do you get to decide for both of us?" Brody asked, raising his eyebrows. "We need to talk about it. I don't want us to be done."

"Fine, Brody, then I'm done," Tony said. He took a step sideways and started towards the elevator.

Brody turned and paced him. "You're right, Tony, we really should have our conversation in your apartment."

Tony stopped again. "We're not having this conversation. Everything that needs to be said has been said. I'm not doing this anymore."

"I'm not leaving till we've talked it out, Tony," Brody said, crossing his arms. "So we might as well go inside and –"

"You're not welcome in my apartment," Tony said, glaring at his former friend. "I thought I'd made that pretty clear."

"Giving me a key and then telling me to stay out is kind of a mixed message, Tony," Brody said. "You haven't even asked for it back."

Tony scowled. "Fine, then give it back."

"Tony," Brody exclaimed in exasperation. "I don't believe you mean any of this." He put his hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed, trying to catch Tony's eye. Tony did take a step back then, to break the physical contact. "Let's go get dinner and you can explain it to me again. I'll listen."

One of Tony's neighbors passed by them and Tony bit his lip. This was an awfully public place to be having this conversation, but he wasn't letting Brody back into his apartment. "Fine, let's go down to the place on the corner."

They walked in silence, and Tony wished he could figure out how to just make Brody leave him alone. The man took stubborn to a whole new level. Tony took the stairs down, not really wanting to spend even a couple of minutes alone with Brody in an enclosed space. Five minutes in the alley last night had been more than enough.

The place on the corner wasn't so much a restaurant as a deli. Orders were taken at the counter and paid for, and when the food was ready, someone brought it to the table.

Tony went to the counter and ordered a sandwich that would take them maybe three minutes to put together in the back. Once his food came, he'd have an excuse to leave, and there would be no check to worry about.

"I'm buying," Brody said as Tony dug out his wallet.

"No, you're not," Tony said, pulling out some cash for his food. "That was one of the things we agreed on from the start. No 'date' trappings."

Brody held out a card to the cashier. "Maybe I want things to change a little," he said quietly in Tony's ear.

The cashier looked at them nervously. She took the cash Tony held out, glancing uneasily at Brody, who lowered his card when it became clear that no one was going to accept it. Tony took his change and his number and thanked her. Then he found an unoccupied table that was close to the exit and seated himself where Brody would have trouble blocking him in.

Brody took in the seating arrangements with a sneer and sat down across from Tony. "Why do –"

Tony leaned across and interrupted him in a low voice. "Brody, this is not a negotiation back into any kind of a relationship. This is me explaining to you why we don't have a relationship anymore." His phone rang, and he pulled it off his belt. Gibbs. He didn't really want to talk to his boss right now, but . . . any port in a storm. As he started to flip the phone open, Brody snatched it.

"Gibbs, huh?" Brody said, glancing at the LED. "He can wait."

Tony shook his head and held his hand out for the phone. "We're not twelve, and this isn't a game of keep away. This is my job. Give that back."

"We need to talk."

Short of wrestling it out of Brody's hand, which would draw unwanted attention, he wasn't getting it back at this moment. Tony huffed out a sigh of exasperation. "Fine, you asked me to explain it to you again. You got the wrong idea about our relationship, and when I tried to back off, you wouldn't let me."

"If I got the wrong idea, Tony, it's because you gave me the wrong idea."

Tony gulped. He really hoped that wasn't the case. "If so, I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to deal with your jealousy or your possessiveness." The phone stopped ringing, and Tony ground his teeth. Now Gibbs was going to lecture him about rule three. This was so not his night.

"I'm not any of those things," Brody said. "I just like to know where you are."

"And when I tell you and you don't like it, you get to punch me in the eye?" Tony asked in a brittle voice. Brody rolled his eyes. "And when I say I don't want to talk to you, you get to slam me against a wall?"

"Don't be such a girl, Tony," Brody said.

Tony snorted, shaking his head. "And now we know why I'm done." Meredith came out with his sandwich wrapped to go. He rose and thanked her, taking the bag. His phone began to ring again. He grabbed it before Brody could put it out of reach and answered it. "DiNozzo."

"Where the hell are you, DiNozzo?" Gibbs demanded.

"Getting dinner," he said, turning his back on Brody and walking out into the street. "Why?"

"Because I'm staring at your car wondering where the hell you are and why my key doesn't work in your apartment door anymore."

"Why are you – I'll be there in five minutes, Boss. I'm just down the block."

"Good." The phone went dead as Gibbs disconnected. Tony flipped the phone shut and put it back on his belt.

A hand on his shoulder made him turn. Brody stood there. Tony shrugged away. "You're not going to do this on a crowded street in broad daylight, are you?" he asked. Brody looked around, then went back into the deli, scowling, and Tony sighed with relief.

Returning to the garage, he found Gibbs leaning against his car. "Got your locks changed, huh?" his boss asked.

"Yeah," Tony said on a sigh. "I've got a new key for you. I've been meaning to give it to you, but –"

"But you weren't sure how to explain the change, were you?"

Tony shrugged and hit the elevator button. "What's up, Boss? Why're you here?"

"You're staying with me, DiNozzo. I didn't expect you to leave without checking in."

"With you, Boss?" Tony said. "But . . ." Gibbs raised his eyebrows, and Tony thought better of what he'd been about to say. "Okay. Thanks for the invitation."

The rest of the ride passed in silence, and Tony led the way to his apartment. Once they were inside, he went straight to his desk and pulled out Gibbs' copy of the key.

"When did you change the lock?" Gibbs asked.

"Three weeks ago," Tony said. "Let me pack some things. How long am I staying with you?"

"Till I say otherwise."

Tony stopped dead in the door to his bedroom and turned around. Brody's voice telling him not to be a girl rang in his ears. "I'm not hiding from him, Boss," he protested.

"No, you're not," Gibbs said. "You're staying with a coworker."

Tony shook his head. "It will look like I'm hiding."

Gibbs walked up to him, very close, but he did not break the space bubble. "I don't give a damn what it looks like, DiNozzo. Pack your things and let's go." Recognizing that Gibbs was not going to listen to reason, Tony nodded and went into his room. Gibbs headed out into the living room again, but as he went he added, "And it's not like we're going to the Antilles, DiNozzo. Pack light, we can come back if you need more later."

Tony dropped his sandwich on the bed, grabbed a couple pairs of jeans, some boxers, a few shirts that wouldn't hold wrinkles and stuffed them in his duffle. Opening his closet, he debated taking a suit, but an impatient noise from the living room made him close the door, grab the duffel and go. He headed towards the front door, but Gibbs pulled him up short. "You forgot your sandwich, DiNozzo."

Flushing, Tony went back and got it. "So, am I driving myself, or –"

"You're with me," Gibbs replied. "I'm parked on the street."

Tony hoped they wouldn't run smack into Brody on their way to Gibbs' truck. His luck, though it had been out all day, seemed to be in now because they didn't. The ride was quiet. Tony was aware of too many things he didn't want to say, and Gibbs was being himself. Once at Gibbs' place, Tony took his stuff up to the bedroom he always stayed in, then headed downstairs, the sandwich bag dangling from his hand. He put it on the coffee table and sat down on the sofa, covering his face with his hands. He didn't move until he heard glass settling on wood. Widening the gaps between his fingers, he peered at the coffee table in front of him. Gibbs had placed a beer within easy reach. It was so cold, it had beads of condensation running down its sides. Reaching out, Tony picked it up, took a deep swallow and sighed.

Gibbs sat down at the other end of the sofa with his own beer. "For someone who went to all the trouble of going out to buy a sandwich, you don't seem to be very interested in it."

Tony looked at the paper wrapped bundle in its clear plastic bag. The idea of eating it made him feel slightly nauseated. After a moment, he picked it up and threw it across the room where it thumped against the wall and fell to the floor. Fortunately, it didn't break open.

"That make you feel better, DiNozzo?"

Tony slumped back on the sofa. "Not really."

"You want to tell me –"

"Am I fired?" Tony asked abruptly, as anxious to get it out of the way now as he had been to avoid it earlier.

Gibbs was silent for a minute, or maybe two. The time stretched into hours. "Now, why would you be fired, DiNozzo?"

Tony stared at the neck of his beer for a moment, then glanced uneasily at Gibbs, who was just gazing at him with what looked like genuine puzzlement. He thumped his head back against the sofa and grimaced. "Okay, now I feel stupid."

"Is that why you didn't come to me?" Gibbs asked, and Tony shrugged, knowing his boss would read the gesture correctly. He read things in Tony's body language that Tony had managed to keep hidden from everyone else for years. "I'd give you a solid smack on the head, but Ducky tells me you've got a bit of a bump."

Tony closed his eyes and groaned. "So, do we go down and work on your boat, now?"

"You going to get drunk and break things?" Gibbs asked.

Startled by the question, Tony turned to him. He looked like he was in earnest. "I have no plans in that direction."

Gibbs snorted, but he didn't explain the bizarre question. "I take it you don't want the sandwich."


"Why not?"

Tony drained the beer and put the bottle down. "He was in the garage when I got home," he said.

Gibbs straightened up. "He do anything?"

"No. He just wanted to talk. I figured the deli on the corner was my best bet for shedding him without a fuss."

"He seem like he was giving up?"

Tony rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You got any more of these?" he asked, gesturing at the empty bottle.

"I thought you weren't getting drunk."

"On beer, Boss? It takes way more than two to get me any further than mellow."

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"Is it a condition of getting another beer?"

"Does it have to be, DiNozzo?"

Tony leaned forward and shrugged. "No, he didn't seem like he was giving up."

There was a knock on the door, and Tony looked up, mildly alarmed. Brody wouldn't have followed them, would he? Gibbs gave him a dubious look as he got up and went to answer the door. The voice he heard made Tony grin with relief. Abby would distract Gibbs completely from his attempt at interrogation. Gibbs followed her in, and Tony saw from the expression on his face that he had come to the same realization.

"Abby!" Tony said as if he hadn't seen her for a week. She shoved the bags she'd brought into Gibbs' arms and flew across to give him a huge bear hug. He returned the embrace, then drew back. He started to say something, but she gave him a punch in the ribs. "Ow!" he exclaimed, though it didn't really hurt. Somehow she'd missed all his bruises. "What was that for?" he asked, rubbing the spot.

"For lying to me. You knew Gibbs knew, so you should have known I would know before long, so you might as well have told me the truth, but now I know, and you know that I know, and –"

"Abby . . ." Gibbs said remonstratively.

"It's true," she protested, though Tony was pretty sure he wasn't objecting to the veracity of what she'd said. "Anyway, I brought a few things over because I remember what it was like when I came over here because I was being stalked."

"Abby, I'm not being stalked," Tony said.

"Is that so, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked in that deceptively mild tone he used when he was calling them on a fib. Tony looked away.

"Gibbs?" Abby exclaimed. "I thought you would have cured him of his denial by now."

"He's a tougher case than you, Abbs, and I got interrupted."

"By what?" she asked, clearly not sure.

Tony rolled his eyes at her and snorted, amused by her lack of clue. "What did you bring me?" he asked.

"Oh! Presents!" She hurried over to where Gibbs had put the bags down. "I picked up some rum because I know you prefer that to bourbon, and I got these." She turned around with a couple of packets.

Tony took one and looked at it. "Blow up fists?" he asked.

"Well, I thought they might be helpful, since when I was here, I broke Gibbs' boat. This will keep you from damaging anything."

Tony blinked at her. "You broke the boat?" She nodded. "And you're still alive?"

"He loves me," she replied, grinning up at Gibbs, who shook his head, a slight grin on his face. "Anyway, I just wanted to bring those over and check up on you because I haven't seen you since you lied to me."

"You're not going to let me forget that anytime soon, are you?"

"We'll see. You still haven't brought me any evidence." She turned to Gibbs. "So, I'll leave him to you, Bossman. See you tomorrow." She bustled out, like a black and red comet full of good cheer. Gibbs followed her and closed the door behind her.

Tony took the rum into the kitchen and put it on the counter. Then he grabbed a beer from the fridge.

"You're not having rum?"

"Without Coke?" Tony asked facetiously. "Not likely."

"DiNozzo –"

"I don't want to talk about it, Boss," Tony said. "I already feel stupid enough."

"I was going to suggest ordering a pizza," Gibbs said.

"Oh." Tony studied Gibbs' expression, but he couldn't tell if he'd changed tack abruptly or if he'd always been going to ask about pizza. "I can make the call."

"Go for it. You're paying."

Tony ordered the food, but then he was left alone with Gibbs again. Tony had never been very good at silence. Naturally, Gibbs knew that and was using it against him. Tony clamped his teeth together. He knew that if he got started talking about anything, it would eventually work its way around to what Gibbs wanted to know, so he was trying not to say anything at all. Except that made him nervous, and the only that made him stop being nervous was talking. Gibbs moved around the kitchen, pulling out paper plates and napkins, vastly amused by Tony's efforts and not bothering to hide it.

The pizza arrived and Tony went to get it so he could sign the credit card receipt. They took it down to the basement where they ate without speaking for awhile, Tony sitting on the floor and watching Gibbs work. When the question came, it was a bolt out of the blue and Tony was taken entirely by surprise. "Why'd you change the locks?" Gibbs asked.

"He had a key," Tony said without thinking, then he clamped his mouth shut again. Damn it! An hour of silence made him desperate to fill the room with something – anything – and Gibbs knew it.

"You gave him a key?" Gibbs asked.

Tony shrugged and gave up on this point. "I didn't want him waiting outside my apartment. It didn't seem like that big a deal at the time."

"Has he ever used it to get into your apartment when he shouldn't have?"

Tony leaned his head back against the wall, wincing slightly when the bump made contact. "I'm not sure," he admitted finally.

Gibbs didn't respond immediately, but there was a tense quality to the silence. "You're not sure?" he asked intently.

"No, I'm not," Tony snapped. "I'm not the neatest person on the planet, so if some things were moved, I might not be able to tell. He'd started following me by that point, so I figured it was best to get the lock changed. Safer."

"Well, we'll have to be at your place between three and five tomorrow," Gibbs said.

"Between three and five?" Tony repeated. "Why?"

"To let the locksmith I called in."

"Gibbs, I already changed the lock," Tony protested. "He doesn't have a key."

"Neither did I," Gibbs replied, and Tony shook his head, not sure what he meant. "I said my key didn't work, DiNozzo, not that I didn't get in."

Tony washed a suddenly dry bite of pizza down with swig of beer and stared at nothing. The thought of Brody getting in that way, picking the lock and just coming in when Tony was out and waiting to surprise him was startlingly freaky. He didn't think Brody could pick locks, but he'd been wrong before. He hadn't thought Brody would get all demanding lover on him, either.

"What soured it?" Gibbs asked several minutes later.

"I'm sorry?" Tony asked, not immediately making the connection.

"You said you had a relationship, and it soured. What soured it?"

Tony took a deep breath and sighed. "I think I said something earlier about not wanting to talk about it."

"And just what difference did you expect that to make to me, DiNozzo?"

"I would think that a friend would be a little more sensitive to –"

"A friend, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

"Well, I wouldn't be talking to my boss about it," Tony said, and Gibbs nodded slowly. "It's private and personal and utterly humiliating. Not the kind of thing you share with your boss if you can avoid it."

"What do you mean humiliating?" Gibbs asked.

"I'm a federal agent," Tony said. "I used to be a cop. I should be able to deal with this on my own. I shouldn't be –" Tony shook his head, breaking off.

"You shouldn't be what, Tony?" Gibbs asked. "You shouldn't be scared of him?"

Tony sat up straight. "I am not scared of him," he protested. "I just shouldn't need . . . help, I guess. I shouldn't need help to deal with this."

"Needing help from your friends is not a sign of weakness." Tony didn't respond. He didn't know what to say. "You didn't answer my question."

Tony stood up. "You done with the pizza?"


"I'm putting it in the fridge."

"Okay." Tony grabbed one of the mugs that sat on the workbench. "Where are you taking that?"

"Rum." Gibbs raised his eyebrows, and Tony shrugged. "I'm not nearly drunk enough."

"Are you bringing the rum down here?" Gibbs asked.


"Then why are you taking the cup upstairs?"

"I thought I'd wash it out before I used it."

Gibbs shrugged and Tony took that for permission. He went upstairs, washed out the mug, stuck the pizza in the fridge and grabbed the rum. He also contemplated going up to the spare room and hiding, but he thought Gibbs would probably come after him if he did that. That really would be embarrassing. So instead he took the cup and the rum down with him and poured himself a healthy mugful.

Gibbs waited until he'd drunk some, then he said, "Do you trust me, Tony?"

"Of course, Boss."

"What's this guy's name?"

Tony gaped for a split second, then he recovered. "What guy?" he asked, smiling sunnily up at Gibbs and pretending to be more drunk than he was.

"Tony," Gibbs growled warningly.

"Nope, Boss, that's still my name," Tony said, and Gibbs glared at him. Tony shrugged and took another swallow of rum.

Tony could be very slippery. It was one of the things that made him a good undercover agent. He had an answer for everything, quick, off the cuff, and sometimes even believable. He loved undercover work – or he always had – because he got to be someone else for awhile. Tony DiNardo had come a little too close to Tony DiNozzo, though. Gibbs shook his head. Jen should never have run him in that op. She didn't know him well enough to recognize when he was in too deep, and DiNozzo would never admit it when he was over his head.

And that was the problem here. It might not be an undercover assignment, but DiNozzo was almost treating it like one. He'd gone from one secret relationship into another, neither of them altogether healthy, and he still wouldn't admit that he was over his head.

Alcohol loosened his tongue. A drunk Tony was a voluble Tony, but Gibbs knew that once he'd started to get really drunk, there was less chance than ever of him slipping up and spilling something he didn't want known. Maybe it was a side effect of fraternity life, Gibbs didn't know, but once DiNozzo was drunk, he turned into an eel, slipping from topic to topic and never landing on anything serious.

He'd come close to talking tonight, and that's why he was so determinedly trying to get drunk. Gibbs glanced at the clock. It was past ten. "Go to bed, DiNozzo," he said wearily. "We've got work tomorrow."

As he'd known he would, Tony leapt on the opportunity to escape and went, but Gibbs was glad to see that he left the rum behind. Gibbs sighed as he bent over and screwed the lid on tightly. He wasn't sure how to break Tony's shell on this.

He picked up his cell phone and called McGee, who was still at the office. "See if you can get the security footage for floor three, section B of the parking garage of DiNozzo's building."

"Um . . . sure, Boss," McGee said.

Gibbs closed the phone and dropped it on the workbench. Somehow, he doubted Tony would open up even if they identified his tormentor. Gibbs wondered whether he was going to have to get the story from the bastard. He would if Tony wouldn't tell him.

The next morning, Gibbs was surprised not to have to call Tony. He was up and raring to go at five a.m. In Gibbs' experience, Tony was not an early riser, and though people change, Gibbs didn't think Tony had become a morning person. On the other hand, awakening from troubled dreams could make a man decide that going without sleep was better than spending another hour in hell.

They made a stop by the shop Tony called Gibbs' 'caffeine pusher,' and Gibbs shook his head over Tony's sugar and cream with a splash of coffee. Tony seemed not to be suffering the aftereffects of his indulgence the night before, but then he hadn't actually had that much. "Are you getting anywhere with the McCormick case?"

"I was thinking about asking Ziva to look at the pictures and see if anything jumps out at her, Boss," Tony said. "It's from before her time, so she'd be coming to it completely fresh."

"That's a good thought."

The kid was silent for a moment then, and Gibbs glanced over to see if he was wearing that smug grin he often got after even the slightest bit of praise. He wasn't. He looked pensive. "What are you going to do about your little unofficial investigation if we catch a case today?" he asked.

"You let me worry about that, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. "Keep working on the McCormick case as long as you think you've got something."

"Or until we catch a case."

Gibbs shrugged an acknowledgment of that. When they reached the office, they went to their own desks and DiNozzo started straight to work. They were a little early, but Ziva and McGee were at their desks. McGee was still wearing the clothes he'd had on yesterday, but Ziva had clearly freshened herself up a bit.

Before Gibbs had been at his desk five minutes, a little box appeared on his screen. It appeared to be from McGee, and it said, "Check your e-mail, Boss." When he looked up, McGee wasn't looking at him. Grimacing, Gibbs opened his e-mail and found the one from McGee. The most recent one from McGee, actually. He appeared to write a lot of e-mails. Pursing his lips, he scanned the message. When all the unnecessary jargon was dropped out, the gist of it was that Tony's cell phone records showed no signs of a stalker. All the calls to and from cops could be traced to cases, and no one had called more frequently than seemed normal. Same on his landline. Gibbs glanced up at DiNozzo, who was watching Ziva go over the photographs at his computer. Evidently, he'd taken the time to cover the bruise again today. Gibbs wondered if Ziva had noticed it yet.

Gibbs was contemplating how he was going to talk to McGee when the box flashed in the bar at the bottom of the screen. He clicked it and saw that McGee had sent him a new message. "Type in the empty box at the bottom," it said.

Sighing, Gibbs began to type. "Did you get the surveillance footage?"

"On its way. Any more instructions?"

"Can you break into his e-mail account?"



McGee didn't respond, and Gibbs looked up to see him blinking at the screen. He stood up and walked towards the elevator to autopsy and Abby's lab. After a moment, Gibbs followed him and they got into the elevator together. Gibbs hit the emergency stop. "Yes, McGee?"

"Boss, you probably shouldn't give illegal orders in IM. They can be captured and read later."

"I see," Gibbs said. Presumably, IM was what the little box was called. He returned to essentials. "Can you do it?"

"Sure, Boss," McGee said. Gibbs set the elevator moving again. "But why?" McGee asked, and Gibbs closed his eyes. He hit the emergency stop again. "I'm sorry, Boss, I'll do whatever you say, of course, but why are we investigating Tony? He says he's not accused of anything."

"He's not," Gibbs said. "And it's not really Tony we're investigating." Scowling, he contemplated the fact that McGee would be considerably more effective at his job if he knew what he was looking for. "It's someone stalking him."

"Tony's got a stalker?" McGee said. Gibbs nodded impatiently. "And he doesn't know who it is?"

"Oh, he knows," Gibbs said. He turned the emergency stop off again.

"Then what's her name? Why are we –"

The doors opened and Gibbs looked at McGee. "Tony won't tell us his name."

"His name?" McGee repeated. "His?"

Gibbs walked up and stood right in front of McGee. In a very quiet voice, he said, "Yes, his. You got a problem with that, McGee?"

"No Boss," McGee said quickly, looking alarmed.

"Then get back to work."

When they returned to their desks, Tony was on the phone, talking earnestly to someone, and Ziva was at her desk. Evidently she had seen something that got DiNozzo's synapses firing. McGee settled down and started working, and Gibbs closed the silly window he'd been talking to him in.

DiNozzo hung up the phone. Gibbs looked up as his senior agent grabbed his backpack and shouldered it. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"To question Midshipman McCormick."

"Midshipman McCormick?" McGee repeated in a puzzled voice. The case had concerned a Marine colonel, one David McCormick, who'd been found dead in his backyard. Suspicion had fallen on the wife, but without real evidence, the case had gone cold. There had been no midshipman involved.

"The daughter?" Gibbs asked.

"She's attending the Naval Academy, now," DiNozzo said with a nod. "I've made an appointment with her CO to talk to her."

Gibbs nodded slowly. "Ziva, go with him," he said, and she grabbed her own gear. The look DiNozzo threw him was schizophrenic. Gibbs never sent any of them out alone if he could help it, and Tony knew that. Nevertheless, Tony was wondering if Ziva was his minder. Truth be told, it was a little of both. He needed McGee here to do the computer searches, and he trusted Ziva's skills to keep Tony safe in the field.

"Actually, Ziva, give me a minute. I want to grab something." DiNozzo dropped his backpack and went to the rear elevator.

McGee leaned forward. "Ziva, what did you see?" he asked once the elevator had gone.

She shook her head. "Nothing. I was looking over his shoulder at the photographs when he suddenly said, 'That's it! Why did I not see it before?' and forgot all about me."

Gibbs grinned. Competition. That was really what made his team tick. Each one of them trying to get the best atta boy from the boss. DiNozzo had needed the extra edge of knowing that Ziva might find the answer first to sharpen his mind so he could see past his blinders. Whatever worked.

Tony came back with a bag from the evidence locker, tucked it into his pack and hurried straight for the elevator. Ziva had to run to catch up. Gibbs watched them go with an indulgent smile, then he started looking through the names, records and photographs of the men Ziva had turned up.

Damn the boy. Why couldn't he just tell him what he needed to know? Then he could put the fear of Gibbs into the bastard, and it would be over and done with.