12.

Tony had delayed leaving NCIS with his prisoner as long as he could, hoping to say goodbye to Gibbs first. But the older man had disappeared shortly after returning to the Navy Yard.

"DiNozzo, how much longer do we have to cool our heels here?"

With a sigh, Tony nodded. "Yeah, okay, Tompkins. Let's sign our boy out and get on the road."

The ride back to Baltimore was filled with threats from Lawrence Harrison as well as Tony working out how to continue the investigation into whom in the Baltimore Police Department was behind the cover-up. He considered doing it alone, but quickly realized that he needed access to information that would tip off the person involved. He didn't like it, but knew that Internal Affairs would need to be brought in on the conspiracy.

Tony's hand firmly gripped Harrison's bicep as he escorted the man into booking.

"DiNozzo, the Captain wants to see you," the desk sergeant said.

"As soon as I process him."

"Tidwell said now."

Tony's eyes narrowed at that. "I said as soon as I'm done here. My prisoner, my responsibility to get him through the system. If Tidwell has a problem with that, he can tell me. Later."

"Hey, I'm just the messenger." The sergeant held his hands up in surrender.

Tony kept his anger under tight leash as he moved Harrison through fingerprints, photos, and the intake information. He received two more messages about his presence being required in Captain Tidwell's office.

It was two hours later before he stalked up the stairs to enter the Captain's office, without waiting for his invitation.

"You wanted to see me?"

Tidwell appeared startled at the younger man's sudden appearance. "I asked to see you when you first came back. Mind explaining why I'm only now seeing you in my office?"

"I was busy. I'm certain you remember the case I was working, the one you seemed to be in a big hurry to close? We got the guy responsible. I was just making certain he made it to his holding cell without any unforeseen hiccups."

"What the hell does that mean?"

Unable to hold his tongue any longer, Tony erupted. "I mean someone in the BPD has been going out of their way to misdirect or stall the investigations into at least eight other attacks in the same area."

"What are you insinuating?"

"There's no insinuating here at all. I'm saying flat out that there's a crooked cop, someone in a position of power who can make evidence 'disappear', who can fiddle with the official reports to hide any possible suspects."

"I'd advise you to reconsider your wild accusations, Detective."

"And I'd advise you to tell whoever it is that he's going down. I will make it my life work to bring this bastard to justice."

"One more word out of you, DiNozzo, and you're on suspension."

"What word would you like to hear? Asshole."

"That's it! I want your badge and your weapon. Now!"

Tony slammed both on the desk before turning on his heel, leaving the office with a muttered curse. The other detectives in the bullpen were frozen in place, the argument having been loud enough for everyone to hear. With everyone's eyes on the irate man, no one saw Tidwell on his cell phone.

~NCIS~

Gibbs was surprised that DiNozzo had left during his time in Morrow's office. He hadn't realized just how long he had been going over the younger man's background with the Director. He decided to personally bring the evidence, files, and the autopsy report to Baltimore, along with a job offer. It was past due time for Gibbs to select a new team, he couldn't continue poaching temporary members.

Walking into the Baltimore police station in search of DiNozzo, Gibbs was surprised to see the man's desk being emptied out by a young woman, personal items being packed into a large cardboard box. "What's going on here? Isn't this DiNozzo's desk?"

She looked up at him through red-rimmed eyes. "It was. He's been suspended. Doubt if Tony'll be back anytime soon."

"Suspended?"

"Yeah, well, calling your boss an asshole tends to end up that way."

Eyebrows raised, Gibbs looked to Tidwell's office. The man was bent over his desk, seemingly engrossed in a telephone call. He walked into the office, closing the door behind, not even bothering with a perfunctory knock.

"I'll have to call you back," the Captain said as he hung up the phone. "Special Agent Gibbs? Is there some reason that you have walked into my office unannounced?"

"I'm looking for DiNozzo."

"Check the local strip clubs."

Gibbs didn't reply, just glared at the man.

"I have no earthly idea where he might be. As far as I'm concerned, it's past time for him to move on. Just like he has with the last two police departments." Tidwell turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. "If there's nothing else, Agent Gibbs, I have work to do."

Leaving the office, Gibbs considered where to go in search of the missing man. Out in the hallway, he considered what he would do in DiNozzo's place. A moment's consideration had him asking the way to Internal Affairs.

He was successful there. Tony was just coming out of the back IA interview room when Gibbs arrived. They fell into step together as they walked through the building to the visitors parking.

"Gibbs, didn't expect to see you again."

"Heard you popped off at your boss, got canned."

Tony shrugged. "He is an asshole. And more than likely knows something about the person behind the cover-up."

"What does Internal Affairs say?"

"They agree with me. I hate to give up, but the reality is that IA has the resources and the power to continue the hunt for whoever is behind all this. I've turned over everything we came up with. As much as I might wish otherwise, it's out of my hands now. Having IA involved means that the prosecuting attorney will be very careful regarding evidence and who gets access to it. Speaking of which…"

"I already turned over the material to the District Attorney assigned to this case."

"Larry tried to call his dad for help, by the way. Basically the Senator told him to man up and face the music. He's even unwilling to provide his son with a lawyer. That had to be hard."

"Gotta wonder if it isn't political."

"I'm sure that factors in, especially with a law and order politician. But I think the Senator really means it. He asked to speak to me, which Larry wasn't happy about."

"What did he want?"

"He wanted to know what he could do to help the victims. I told him it might be best to do it after the trial to avoid any complications. And to do it through an attorney so the women can decide if they want to hear from him or not."

"Sounds reasonable. Now that you've been kicked to the curb, what's your next move?" Gibbs asked.

Tony's wry smile told more than he probably intended. "I look for another job. There's no way I can come back here, especially after turning everything over to Internal Affairs. That won't go over well even if the reason for it is good."

"How about working with me?"

Tony stopped short. "Become a fed?"

"Got a problem with that?"

"I never… I don't know why, but I never considered applying to any federal agency." He looked at Gibbs, his emotions naked on his face. "Jeez, Gibbs. I only have a degree in Physical Education. I don't even have any military experience, other than a military boarding school. Why would NCIS want someone like me?"

That response told Gibbs more about DiNozzo than the younger man probably realized. "I'm probably only going to say this once, so listen up. You're one of the best cops I've ever worked with. You think outside the box, you're willing to do what is needed to get the job done, and you don't forget the victims. NCIS is a civilian agency, so your lack of military experience isn't a deal breaker. I've already talked to Morrow about it. Just know that once you say yes, your ass is mine."

The smile that bloomed on the younger man's face said it all.

Without another word, the men left the building together.

May 2011