Note: I just feel the need to point out that this story deals with some controversial topics, and I want to make it quite clear that I do not have the same views as Genesis. Anyone who knows me knows that this is the case. Also, while I wrote about an extreme anti-gay religious group, I have no problems with religion or religious people myself, so please don't think that this is an anti-religion story. It's just an anti-hate story.
While Mondays were often Tony's least favorite day of the week, he couldn't help but enjoy the early morning banter with his coworkers as they prepared to investigate a double homicide.
"Listen, Probie," Tony said pragmatically as he slung his backpack over his shoulder and grabbed a case of crime scene supplies, hair ruffling in the light spring breeze. "You just need to understand that real women don't want-"
"You need to understand when to shut up, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled, barely pausing as he smacked the back of Tony's head on the short walk to their crime scene, an average-looking apartment building in Georgetown with two dead marines inside. It loomed ahead of them, an old brick building that looked completely innocent and pleasant, save for the bright yellow police tape surrounding it and the handful of uniformed officers standing guard to keep the bystanders at bay.
Ignoring the smirks and laughter from McGee and Ziva as they saw him get yet another headslap, Tony hefted the case out of the van and scurried after Gibbs; he'd harass McGee later, and in the meantime, try to get back on Gibbs' good side (or at least his marginally-better-than-terrible side).
"Hey, Boss, get up on the wrong side of the boat this morning?" Tony asked as soon as he got within hearing range. When Gibbs turned to look at him in annoyance, Tony winced; obviously his plan was not going well. In fact, when Gibbs ducked under the crime scene tape and let go of it to flash his badge at the LEOs so quickly that Tony had to scramble to catch it before following behind, it was just further evidence that his plan was the worst plan in the history of plans.
Since he was pretty sure Gibbs didn't want him too close, Tony paused to hold the tape for Ziva and McGee, and since Gibbs was a fair distance away already, he decided to have a go at McGee again.
"Anyway, McVirgin, next time you-"
"DiNozzo," Gibbs said sharply, turning and looking at him with pure exasperation.
Tony grimaced. "Won't happen again, Boss," he said sheepishly, knowing that when Gibbs gave him that look, it was definitely time to stop.
Ziva chuckled beside him, and Tony didn't bother looking at her or McGee because he didn't want to see the satisfaction on their faces. He picked up his pace and fell into step beside Gibbs.
"Apartment 1C," Gibbs said as he stepped into the building. Tony followed behind with a nod, noticing that it was a pretty nice place; it was clean, at least, with freshly painted dark walls and a mostly-shiny hardwood floor, scuffed up in a few places but well kept overall.
They passed two burgundy doors before they got to 1C and Tony took a deep breath as he followed Gibbs inside; after all, while seeing horrifically bloody scenes did get a bit predictable after a while, it didn't change the fact that each time, there were humans inside, normal people just living their lives like everyone else until things turned upside-down, and sometimes Tony liked to take a second to steel himself.
When Gibbs opened the door, they were in the living room of a small apartment, and it looked mostly undisturbed. The owners kept it clean, and the hardwood floor gleamed in the mid-morning sunlight coming in the window. The only sign of a problem was the overturned coffee table and the three books strewn across the floor with twisted spines and pages askew, broken glass near the couch, and the trail of blood that died away halfway between the open bedroom door and the entrance to the apartment.
Gibbs glanced at Ziva, then pointed towards the upside-down table and blood splatter. She nodded and hurried over with her camera as Tony and McGee followed Gibbs into the bedroom, careful to avoid stepping on any areas where there might be evidence.
As soon as he crossed the threshold of the bedroom and caught sight of the scene, Tony couldn't help but grimace. One lieutenant, a male with chiseled features and fair skin, was lying across the bed, eyes staring into the distance. His body was covered in a blood-soaked sheet, one arm sticking out where it hung over the side of the bed, fingertips grazing the floor. Another lieutenant, an olive-skinned, dark-featured man, was lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood, head twisted to the side.
"Lots of blood," Tony said with a sigh. "Guess we should get going on this one, huh Boss?"
"No, just go ahead and stare for a while, DiNozzo," Gibbs said sarcastically, already pulling on a pair of gloves.
Tony was saved the need to formulate a response when he heard Ducky and Palmer enter and greet Ziva in the living room, so instead, he grabbed a pair of gloves for himself, smiling at Ducky and Palmer as they walked into the bedroom.
"Oh dear," Ducky said. "A bit of a gruesome sight, isn't it?" He glanced between the two bodies as Gibbs snapped a few photos and Tony began to sketch.
"Petty Officer Stephen Harding, 21-year-old from Fairfax," McGee said as he crouched next to the olive-skinned man and scanned his fingertip.
"This guy?" Gibbs asked, gesturing towards the man spread out on the bed.
McGee crossed the small bedroom in a couple steps, quickly taking the other man's fingerprints. "Petty Officer James Warren, 20-year-old, also from Fairfax."
"I would estimate that our Petty Officer Harding died approximately six hours ago," Ducky said, glancing up at Gibbs as he spoke. "My first guess is that he died from blood loss, but of course, I can't confirm this until we get him back to autopsy," he added, gesturing towards the many stab wounds and gashes that lined the man's stomach, visible only after Ducky had turned him over to examine him more thoroughly.
"Ya think?" Gibbs said, eyes taking in the many wounds.
"A lot of blood," Ziva murmured, stepping through the threshold into the bedroom.
"Are you through with photographs?" Ducky asked as he stepped towards the man on the bed, Petty Officer Warren. "May I remove this sheet?"
"Go ahead, Duck," Gibbs said, watching closely as Ducky pulled the sheet back. "Christ," Gibbs said, and Ducky frowned.
"Oh dear," Ducky said. "This certainly adds another dimension to this case, doesn't it? It really is a shame that something like this would happen in this day and age. Why, I remember when I was completing my undergraduate studies-"
"Duck," Gibbs interrupted, "time of death?"
Ducky sighed and got to work, cutting his story short. Tony stepped closer and peered around Ducky's body, and his eyes widened and he frowned when he saw Petty Officer Warren's chest. The word "faggot" was carved into his flesh, along with many other seemingly random slices. He stared for a moment, frown deepening, and looked back and forth between the two lieutenants before shaking his head and refocusing. He had work to do.
"Oh…oh my," Ducky said. "He appears to be missing something vital." Tony glanced over at the dead body and felt a cold horror prickle over his skin. Petty Officer Warren's penis had been cut off, and it wasn't anywhere near him on the bed. Tony couldn't help but look down as if to check his own was still there, and he wasn't surprised to see Gibbs and McGee do the same.
He had a feeling this was going to be a hell of a case.
"Tell me you have something," Gibbs barked, walking into the bullpen with a very large coffee in his hand and looking expectantly at his team. Tony straightened immediately and stood, moving to stand in front of the plasma where McGee had displayed driver's license ID photos of the two petty officers.
"The apartment was in Warren's name, Boss," Tony said, gesturing to the picture of the fair-skinned man. "Pretty nice apartment for a 20-year-old. This is his third month on the lease. Spoke to his parents; they're on vacation in Europe and they haven't talked to him in a couple years. They kicked him out when he turned eighteen. He'd been staying with Harding's family –"
"And Harding's parents believe that perhaps Harding had been helping Warren with the rent, as they had been staying in the apartment together," Ziva interrupted. She stepped forward and squeezed between Tony and Gibbs, her long ponytail swinging behind her as she walked. "They were living together as lovers," she clarified.
"Where'd Harding get the money?" Gibbs asked, eyes on Harding's photo, taking in his dark features.
"His parents gave him an allowance," McGee said, looking up from his computer at the plasma as he brought up a spreadsheet. "They said he was really good at managing his money – he's been saving all of his Christmas and birthday money since he was five. He had a part-time job throughout high school at a pizza restaurant in Fairfax, and worked there when he had time off from the Corps the past couple of years. He had pretty decent savings."
"I'll say," Gibbs said, glancing over the documents. "Why'd Warren get kicked out of his house?"
"His parents do not approve of homosexuality. If they hadn't been in Europe, they would be at the top of our list," Ziva said. Her tone was hard to read, but she had a tight frown on her face. "It is unbelievable to me that people are still persecuted after the many-"
"You talk to their CO?" Gibbs interrupted, his face not showing any indication that Ziva's words had an effect on him.
"He's out of town," Tony said, watching Gibbs carefully. "He'll be back at Quantico in three hours."
Gibbs glanced at his watch then rolled his shoulders impatiently and glared at the team. "Tell me you have something else," he threatened.
Tony, Ziva, and McGee looked at each other uncomfortably, and Gibbs sighed and threw his coffee cup in the trash.
"Find something before I get back," he called, purposeful strides carrying him quickly towards the elevator.
"Where are you going, Boss?" Tony called.
"To see Abby," Gibbs said, "Maybe she's actually getting somewhere," he added, and Tony winced, because a comment like that from Gibbs was pointed, not speculative.
"This case is disgusting," Ziva said, going back to her desk. She sat heavily in her chair and gestured towards the plasma, where the petty officers' pictures were displayed once again. "I mean, these boys were young, and they were doing their best to-"
"We should be doing our best to find a suspect," Tony interrupted, "because Gibbs is gonna turn us into sawdust if we don't."
"Turn us into sawdust?" McGee asked, looking at Tony askance.
Tony grinned. "It's kind of like Cinderella, Probie. If the clock strikes twelve and we don't have a suspect, we turn into sawdust."
"That is nothing at all like Cinderella," Ziva said archly. "Clearly, you have not learned your pixie tales."
"Fairy tales," Tony said absently, peering at the phone records on his computer screen with a furrowed brow. He was looking for a pattern, but didn't see one just yet. "And clearly, we're missing something."
"Warren's parents could not think of anyone else who had a problem with their son's sexuality, and no one we have spoken to from their unit had any idea that they might have been gay. Their fellow Marines only had good things to say about them and were suitably upset at their deaths," Ziva pointed out. "No one appeared to be lying."
Tony frowned. "These two call their CO a lot," he said. "As in, one to two times a day each, usually for at least ten minutes, since they've been on leave. That's a lot." He paused, staring at his screen for a moment as he thought. "McGee, bring up the CO again," he said.
McGee nodded and punched a few keys before bringing the CO's ID up on the plasma. Tony swiveled in his chair and looked at the photo speculatively.
"What do we know?" he asked.
"Sergeant Robert Ludlow," Ziva said. "Thirty four years old, originally from Baltimore. Everyone we spoke to holds him in very high regard."
Tony sighed, staring at Ludlow's face. He was pale with a long, thin nose, but like all Marines, he was fit and had a terrible haircut. Nothing stood out about him in particular, but something in Tony's gut told him to watch out for this guy; the phone calls just didn't make sense.
He turned back to the phone records and scanned them, knowing he couldn't do any more about Ludlow for the time being. He frowned and looked up records for a different phone number that either Harding or Warren called every Sunday without fail.
"Oh," Tony said, bemused, as he stared at his computer screen.
"Oh what?" Ziva asked, already out of her desk chair and partway to Tony's desk. McGee stood as well and leaned over Tony's shoulder, and they both frowned when they saw Tony's computer screen.
"What is this?" McGee asked.
"I have heard of this," Ziva said, pointing her finger at the screen. She straightened and stepped back, one hand on her hip. "This Genesis program," she said, "It is devised by churches to cure homosexuality. Gay men and women attend and they try to – what do they say -"
"'Pray the gay away?'" McGee said incredulously, reading the phrase from Tony's computer screen, where the group's website was displayed.
"Yes," Ziva said, "I saw a documentary about this. The whole program is despicable."
Tony spared her a glance and then turned back to the website. He scrolled through until he found the program's director, John Tyson, who also happened to be the owner of the telephone number from the phone records he'd been perusing.
"Look at this guy," Tony said, gesturing towards the screen and then resting his chin on his hand. He shifted a bit as McGee and Ziva crowded in over his shoulder to see, and scanned over Tyson's biography.
"'An ex-gay Minister hoping to improve the lives of homosexuals everywhere and eradicate sin from their worlds, ensuring their safe passage to heaven,'" McGee read.
Tyson's photo was displayed alongside his biography, and Tony couldn't help but notice that he was a handsome man. He had sparkling blue eyes and classic features; a strong jaw, a shapely nose, and high cheekbones. Tony frowned at his image. "You'd think he'd have a better haircut," he pointed out. "I mean, that just accentuates his male pattern baldness."
Ziva gave him an odd look. "Of all the horrendous things on this website, you point out his haircut?"
"Well, look at it," Tony said, shrugging and gesturing towards his computer screen.
She looked at him in annoyance and stepped away, eyeing him thoughtfully for a moment. "You have not once commented on the nature of this case," she said.
"What is there to say?" Tony asked, leaning back as McGee took control of his computer for a moment to look around the website.
"Perhaps that it is a terrible hate crime?" she suggested, arching one brow as she watched him.
"Of course it's terrible," Tony agreed. "But do you want to sit around and complain about how terrible it is or do you want to solve the case?"
"Hmm," Ziva said archly, looking at him suspiciously before going back to her desk.
"What do you mean, hmm?" Tony asked, irritated.
"I mean nothing," Ziva said. "I am merely-"
"Maybe we should contact Tyson," McGee interrupted, clearly eager to end the impending argument.
"Good call, Probie," Tony said. "We'll–"
"Who the hell is Tyson?"
Tony looked up and wasn't surprised to see Gibbs standing in front of him. McGee immediately put the Genesis website up on the plasma, and Tony swiveled to look at the screen.
"John Tyson," McGee said. "Leader of Genesis, a non-denominational Christian group that claims to cure homosexuality."
Gibbs looked at McGee with an expression of annoyance on his face. "What?"
"Um," McGee stuttered. "Tyson is the leader of-"
"I heard you, McGee," Gibbs growled. "Sounds like a whack job. What's the connection to the case?"
"Harding and Warren called him every Sunday afternoon," Tony said.
"We got an address?" Gibbs asked.
"There's no address for Genesis," McGee said. "The only contact listed is Tyson's phone number." He typed for a moment, and then pulled up Tyson's driver's license. "Here's his home address – he lives in Arlington."
"Come on, DiNozzo," Gibbs said. "With me. We're checking out John Tyson."
"Think this guy'll be like a cult leader, Boss? All creepy and serial killer-like?" Tony grinned as he holstered his gun and slung his backpack over his shoulder, bouncing behind Gibbs.
"If you don't shut up, I'll be 'all serial killer-like,' DiNozzo," Gibbs said shortly, turning to glare at Tony before stepping into the elevator. Tony winced and followed behind, hoping Gibbs' mood would improve. He'd thought he'd hated this case before, but it was only getting worse.
"Maybe Genesis is kind of like Children of the Corn," Tony said, "only without killing all the adults and the creepy small town thing. Actually, I guess that means it's not really like Children of the Corn at all, right? But the whole thing sounds like a cult. Don't drink the Kool-Aid, Boss, you know what will happen then! Do you think-"
Tony flinched when Gibbs reached over and smacked the back of his head, and he settled down into his seat sullenly. "Maybe you should keep two hands on the wheel, Boss," he muttered as Gibbs swerved back into his lane.
"You wanna drive, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said threateningly.
"No," Tony said, turning and staring out the window. He was trying his best to remain in good spirits, but this case was setting him on edge. He frowned and watched the buildings whizz by, much faster than they should've since Gibbs was driving at breakneck speed, and sighed. He glanced at Gibbs out of the corner of his eye, taking in his stiff shoulders and the hard set of his eyes. They were dead giveaways that Gibbs didn't like this case, either, and he turned to look out the window again.
"Something on your mind, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked suddenly. He sounded marginally less threatening than he did a moment earlier, which made one side of Tony's mouth turn up in what was almost a smile.
"No," Tony said lightly, "just wondering if today will be the day that you actually run out of luck and we wind up upside down in the other lane."
Gibbs snorted and took a sharp left hand turn, leaving Tony grasping the door handle and holding his breath for a moment as a truck slammed on its brakes and honked at them.
"We're here," Gibbs said cheerily as pulled up next to a large gray raised ranch with beautiful flower gardens adorning the front yard.
Tony paused for a moment, catching his breath, before scrambling out of the car behind Gibbs. "I think I have whiplash," he complained, rubbing his neck. "You're paying for my medical bills."
Gibbs rolled his eyes as they walked up the cobblestone pathway leading to Tyson's front door, adorned with tiger lilies, daffodils, and pachysandra. There were two stone cherubs on either side of the entryway, both holding a hummingbird feeder. Gibbs rang the bell and Tony marveled at the fat statues for a moment until a curious-looking blonde woman opened the door.
"Can I help you?" she asked cautiously, holding the door only partway open.
"Special Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo, NCIS," Gibbs said, holding up his badge as Tony did the same. "We need to speak with John Tyson."
"Oh – of course!" the woman said. She looked startled to see federal agents on her front porch, but she stepped aside and allowed them entry nonetheless. "My name is Sheryl - I'm John's wife. Please come in and have a seat; he's just upstairs in the study." She paused for a moment, wringing her hands and biting her lip. "I hope everything's all right," she finally said.
Tony gave her a tight smile and looked around the house, not surprised to find that it was decorated in just as much detail as the gardens. He couldn't quite put his finger on the aesthetic; it was mostly French country mixed with a few strangely Baroque inspired details.
"Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Tea?" Sheryl asked as she led them into the living room. Tony sat beside Gibbs on the plush beige colored couch and shook his head at the same time that Gibbs requested a coffee.
"Of course," Sheryl said, "I'll be right back."
"Boss," Tony hissed as soon as she left the room, "what did I tell you about the Kool-Aid?"
Gibbs gave Tony a look, and Tony grinned. He glanced around the room, taking in the ornate painting of a rooster above the fireplace and the intricately carved details along the edges and the legs of the professionally distressed coffee table. It was a strange combination.
He looked up as Sheryl returned, blonde curls glimmering, carrying a silver tray with a porcelain cup of coffee on top, perched atop a saucer adorned with hand-painted roses. Tony couldn't help but smirk when Gibbs inclined his head in thanks and took hold of the dainty cup and saucer; it was a strange juxtaposition of delicate and gruff.
"No cream and sugar?" she asked, gesturing towards the sugar bowl and tiny pitcher of cream atop the tray as she set it down on the coffee table.
"No, thank you," Gibbs said. "Is your husband home?"
"He should be down in a moment," she said, seating herself on the small couch opposite Tony and Gibbs. "I can't help but wonder why you would need to talk to him…?"
"We got a couple dead Marines," Gibbs said, "and they spoke with him every Sunday."
"Oh dear," Sheryl said, closing her eyes for a moment and crossing herself. Tony and Gibbs exchanged amused glances. "They must be lost boys of our flock," she said.
"Your flock?" Tony asked, seeing Gibbs take a sip of coffee out of the corner of his eye. He really hoped it wasn't like the Kool-Aid. There were footsteps approaching the living room, and a tall, handsome man entered that Tony and Gibbs recognized easily as John Tyson.
"Our flock," John repeated with a warm smile at Sheryl. "The young men and women who come to us in need of spiritual guidance." He paused for a moment, extending a hand towards Tony and Gibbs. "John Tyson," he introduced.
Gibbs glanced at the offered hand in disdain for a moment, then shook it. "Special Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo, NCIS," he said, gesturing towards Tony. Tony didn't bother extending a hand.
"NCIS…Naval Criminal Investigative Service, am I right?" John asked as he took a seat next to his wife, one arm around her shoulders. She smiled at him and rested a hand on his knee.
"That's right," Gibbs said. "Do you know Petty Officers Stephen Harding and James Warren?"
"Of course," John said with a frown. "Did something happen to them?"
"They're dead," Tony said abruptly.
John blinked and sat up straighter for a moment, staring at Tony in disbelief as Sheryl gasped and covered her mouth with her hand, staring at Tony in surprise. When Tony merely held John's gaze, John slumped and ran a hand through his hair, obviously taken aback by the news.
"Dead?" John asked blankly. "How can they – I just talked to them on Sunday, that was two days ago…"
"What did you speak about?" Tony asked, eyeing him carefully.
John frowned. "I really shouldn't say," he said. "They spoke to me in implied confidentiality."
"They're dead, Tyson. Murdered. Confidentiality doesn't matter," Gibbs said harshly.
John looked at him, obviously shocked at Gibbs' tone. "Well, I'm not sure where to start-"
"From the beginning," Tony said. "How do you know them?"
John looked between Tony and Gibbs for a moment, and Tony saw Sheryl squeeze John's knee in support. He was a bit creeped out by them, but he listened attentively nonetheless.
"As I'm sure you have discovered, I run an organization called Genesis," John said. "Our mission is to help young homosexuals see the light and correct their sexual orientation so that they can be accepted and loved by God, our Father, and follow the path of righteousness. It is our firm belief-"
"We know what Genesis is," Gibbs interrupted. "Were Harding and Warren involved?"
John nodded. "They came to us at a very low point in their lives. They were sinning, and the other sinners in their lives made them believe it was okay – but we helped them see that their behavior was leading them on a path to Lucifer."
"What were they doing wrong?" Tony asked, noticing the way Sheryl watched her husband speak with a doting smile.
"They were engaged in a homosexual relationship," John said. "It could have been worse – at least they were monogamous. But homosexuals are unable to maintain just one sexual partner; it was only a matter of time before they gave in to their urges and spread their disease through the community."
"Disease?" Gibbs asked.
"Homosexuality," John said patiently.
Tony blinked and felt his head spinning. Gibbs was right; this guy was a complete whack job.
"How did they find Genesis?" Gibbs asked. He sounded moderately patient, but Tony could hear an undercurrent of disgust and tension in his voice that did not bode well.
"Genesis works on referrals," John explained. "I'm not sure if you saw our website, but the only contact listed is my phone number. That's because new members need to speak to me first to be approved for membership. Our meetings are held in undisclosed locations because, as I'm sure you can imagine, we can't risk attendance by people who don't support our mission. James and Stephen were recommended to the group by a close, trusted friend. He's sent many stray lambs our way, and we've helped them become successful heterosexual members of our flock."
"Who?" Gibbs growled.
"Who?" Tyson repeated, as if he wasn't sure what Gibbs meant.
"Who recommended them to Genesis?" Tony asked, cutting in before Gibbs stood up and throttled Tyson.
"I really can't-"
"You will tell us who recommended them to Genesis, or we'll bring you in for obstruction of a federal investigation," Gibbs said.
"John," Sheryl said patiently, squeezing his knee. They exchanged a glance, and then she turned towards Gibbs and Tony. "Robert Ludlow recommended them to our group. He's a close, personal friend of ours."
Tony and Gibbs looked at each other. "Marine Sergeant Robert Ludlow? Their CO?" Tony confirmed.
"Yes," John said. His voice was tight, and he sounded as if he didn't want to speak about this.
"How does he know Genesis?" Tony asked.
"He was one of our first successful lambs," Sheryl said with a smile. "He really is a true success story. He almost got kicked out of the Marines a long time ago, but John found him and recognized the struggle and conflict that Robert had inside of him. John explained to him about Genesis – it was just starting then, so it was more one-on-one therapy instead of group meetings, but it had worked for John and I, so we knew it could work for Robert. We took him in and met with him almost every day in the beginning until he could control his urges, and then we moved to once a week."
She spoke with a warm smile, and her face was framed with shiny blonde curls, but Tony found himself inexplicably repulsed by her.
"How long ago was this?" Gibbs asked.
"Oh, ten years?" She glanced at John for confirmation, who gave a nod and a half shrug.
"What do you mean, Genesis worked for you two?" Tony asked, glancing between them speculatively.
John Tyson gave a half-smile. "We used to be ensnared by homosexuality," he said ruefully. "But we found our way out through the guidance of God and our own strong willpower, given to us by the Lord for this sole purpose. We even have a child; she's in fifth grade, at school right now."
"You – you just stopped being gay? Both of you?" Tony asked incredulously, eyes flickering between them.
"The media makes it seem like homosexuality is something that can't be helped," Sheryl said patiently. "They use it as a political tool to engender support for liberal candidates. But we know the truth, because we have lived the truth. God did not create homosexuals. The media created homosexuals. Once you realize this, it's much easier to step back onto the path of good."
"Did you adopt your daughter?" Tony asked suspiciously, earning himself a reproachful glare from Gibbs.
To his surprise, John chuckled. "Many people ask us this, Agent Gibbs, you don't need to be upset with him. It's a natural question to ask. We didn't adopt. We conceived her the old-fashioned way. She's our living proof that homosexuality can be beaten."
Tony blinked and was glad he'd said no to a beverage because he wasn't sure the delicate porcelain cup would be in one piece anymore.
"Why did Sergeant Ludlow put Harding and Warren in contact with you?" Gibbs asked suddenly, bringing the conversation back on track as he put his own cup, now empty, down on the coffee table.
"About a year ago, he caught them – together while his unit was in training at Quantico. He-"
"Together?" Gibbs interrupted.
"They were committing sodomy," John said frankly. Sheryl squeezed his knee, and Tony felt his brain spin in circles. This was bizarre. "Robert caught them, and he knew that he had to help them. This was before the barbaric repulsion of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and so he had a decision to make. They were good Marines, Agent Gibbs, and Robert didn't want to lose them, so he told them that if they could make a commitment to Genesis, he would keep them in his unit and no one would find out."
"So they contacted you?" Tony asked.
"Yes," John said. "They were difficult to convince at first, but they gradually began to turn around. Then…" John trailed off, and glanced down at his lap for a moment, and exchanged a nervous look with Sheryl.
"Then what?" Gibbs asked.
"Well, we began to question their sincerity," John explained. "It seemed as if Genesis was working for them, but then a couple months ago, Robert found out they had gotten an apartment together. We'd hoped that young James could have a successful transition in the group, repair his relationship with his parents, and move back in with them, but that hadn't been working. We understood that staying with Stephen's family made sense, but we knew it would create temptation. We suggested that he get his own apartment, but we never thought Stephen would move in as well. We were very concerned when we found out they'd been staying together so often at James' apartment."
"How'd you know they both lived there?" Tony asked.
"Robert saw them enter and leave together. You have to understand, Agent DiNozzo, that he's seen so many young Marines go through our program and he's even gone through it himself, so he feels responsible for their success. That means he makes it his job to watch them and make sure they're on the right track," John said.
"Is that so," Gibbs said conversationally, but Tony shivered at the dangerous undertone he could feel in Gibbs' words.
"It is," John said. "You will find that Robert is a truly dedicated Marine, in every sense of the word. He goes out of his way to ensure that his men are on the right track, for both their country and their God."
"He sounds like a noble man," Gibbs said sarcastically.
"He is, Agent Gibbs," Sheryl said emphatically. "He truly wants his men to find salvation, and he'll do all he can to see that they do."
"Mr. Tyson," Gibbs said, "where were you last night?"
John blinked and looked at Agent Gibbs in shock. "You think that I -"
"It's a question we need to ask," Gibbs said.
John swallowed and glanced at Sheryl. "We held a meeting last night," he said. "It was at the First Congregational Church here in Fairfax, in their fellowship hall. It lasted quite long, from eight in the evening until eleven. Afterwards, we stayed and cleaned up and talked with a few new members, and we got home around quarter of one."
"Your meetings are late," Gibbs remarked.
"Yes, they are," John said. "Many of our members have jobs that require them to stay late; this time is the best for everyone."
"Are your meetings always at that church?" Tony asked.
"No," Sheryl said, "We rotate a few venues for safety."
"And you were both there last night?" Gibbs confirmed.
"Yes," Sheryl said, "we work together."
"We'll verify your alibi," Gibbs warned as he stood. Tony quickly followed suit, and they followed Sheryl, who led them to the door, as John sat on the couch and ran a nervous hand through his hair.
"I really hope you find whoever did this," Sheryl said as she opened the door for them. "It's a terrible loss."
"Yes," Gibbs said, pinning her with a glare. "It is."
They left without another word, and Tony walked quickly to keep up with Gibbs' fast strides. Tony got one last look at the house as Gibbs pulled away from the curb with a screech and he shuddered.
"Definitely pretty creepy," he surmised.
"Ya think, DiNozzo?" Gibbs said.
"I don't think it was them, though," Tony said thoughtfully. "I mean, don't get me wrong, Boss, they're psychos. But I don't think they did it."
"Don't think so, either," Gibbs said. "But we gotta find the CO. Call McGee, have him and Ziva go pick up Ludlow, bring him in for questioning. Then call the church to verify the alibi."
"On it, Boss," Tony said, pulling his phone out. "What are we gonna do?" he asked, glancing at Gibbs.
"Get lunch and talk to Ducky," Gibbs said shortly, and Tony grinned as he called McGee. That was a task he could handle.
"You're in luck, Jethro," Ducky said as Gibbs strode into autopsy and Tony scurried behind, wiping sandwich crumbs off his tie. "I've just gotten some blood test results back from Abby."
"I'll get to that," Ducky said, looking at Gibbs in annoyance as Tony and Palmer exchanged an amused smile.
"Take your time, Duck," Gibbs said sarcastically. "Not like we have two murders to solve or anything."
"Honestly, Jethro," Ducky reprimanded, screwing the lid onto a specimen jar and handing it to Palmer. "I will start from the beginning. The cause of death for both of our Marines is blood loss. Both suffered obvious physical blows by what appears to be a closed fist, but their many lacerations and stab wounds are what led to their death. Luckily, the unfortunate body part removal that our Petty Officer Warren suffered was post-mortem; the killer has most likely kept it as a trophy. This reminds me of a news story I heard of not too long ago; a woman had been jilted-"
"We all know about Lorena Bobbitt," Gibbs interrupted.
"Ah, of course, but I was going to mention someone else-"
"Duck," Gibbs said meaningfully, and Tony was disappointed because while stories about missing penises were morbidly fascinating, he knew they had to focus on the case and this was a story he'd have to miss.
"Anyway," Ducky said, looking at Gibbs in irritation, "you'll notice that our Petty Officers are lacking in defensive wounds. This is quite unusual for a couple of young, healthy Marines-"
"Which is why we sent blood work to Abby with a rush on it," Palmer interrupted, seeing Gibbs' eyes begin to narrow in frustration.
"Mr. Palmer," Ducky said, clearly irritated. "Didn't your mother ever teach you not to interrupt?"
"It looked like Agent Gibbs was going to kill you, Doctor," Palmer said reasonably. "Anyway, they were drugged with Rohypnol – roofies – so they couldn't-"
"Yes," Ducky said, glaring at Palmer. "I can take it from here, Mr. Palmer, thank you. They were given Rohypnol with their dinner, most likely in their red wine, which accompanied a meal of steak, potatoes, and salad, between eight and nine in the evening, only a few hours before their deaths just around midnight, at which time they were rendered rather unable to fight back."
Gibbs swiveled on his foot to leave Autopsy, and Tony opened his mouth to speak – he really wanted to know about that news story – but Gibbs was waiting at the door and giving Tony another impatient glare, so he closed his mouth and waved at Ducky before following Gibbs out.
"Weren't you just a little curious about Ducky's story, Boss?" Tony asked as they stepped into the elevator.
"Not relevant, DiNozzo," Gibbs said.
Tony grinned. "You are curious," he said. "I mean, you don't go searching for a missing penis every day," he added.
Gibbs rolled his eyes and exited the elevator when it dinged, gesturing to Tony to follow as they headed into Abby's lab.
"Gibbs! Tony!" Abby said, looking at them with an excited smile that quickly turned to a pout. "Where's my Caf-Pow?"
"Where's my killer?" Gibbs countered.
"Touché, Gibbs!" Abby said with an approving smile.
"You get anything off the empty wine bottle in their kitchen?" Gibbs asked.
Abby shook her head. "All the prints on it belonged to the dead petty officers," she said. "There were no other prints and no label, which means someone must have cleaned any prints off the bottle and then filled it with wine and roofies themselves, unless the petty officers were drugging themselves on purpose, but that doesn't seem very likely. No popular wine companies use this particular bottle shape, either; people who make wine themselves usually buy it. They should really just reuse their old wine bottles, I mean, it's such a waste, isn't it?" When Gibbs glared at her, she continued. "Unfortunately, it's really popular and nearly impossible to trace." She turned towards Gibbs and bit her lip. "Gibbs, I don't like this case," she said, eyes wide. Her fingers, capped with shiny black nail polish, tapped frenetically on her counter as she spoke. "I mean, this whole Genesis thing is super freaky. It's like brainwashing!"
"I know, Abs," Gibbs said. "What else do you have?"
"I went through all the traffic cam footage outside Warren's apartment in Georgetown," she said, heading to her computer and clicking a few times as she brought up some grainy video footage. "I was gonna try and ID everyone who entered the building, but then I thought that was a little excessive, or at least it would take a long time, so I watched the footage on fast forward from six to midnight to look for anyone suspicious before I went through and ID'd everyone and let me tell you, a lot of people go in that building-"
"Abs," Gibbs said impatiently as Tony picked up a little skeleton figurine from her desk and shook it, watching its bones rattle.
"Okay, Bossman, I'll get to the point. Someone suspicious got dropped off in a cab at 11:39. He knows where the traffic cams are and he keeps his face hidden, see?" She pressed play and Tony looked up from the figurine to watch as a man in all black wearing a baseball cap and a backpack got out of a cab, keeping his head low and looking around carefully before pulling out a key and entering the building.
"That's our guy," Gibbs said. "You got any shots of his face?"
"No," Abby said, clearly frustrated, "I've been trying really hard, even trying to get a reflection of his face somewhere, but he keeps his hat so low and hides his face so often that I don't think I'm gonna get one."
"Keep trying," Gibbs growled, as Tony dropped the little skeleton back on the desk.
"You get a license plate for the cab?" Tony asked.
"Who do you think I am, Tony? Of course I did! By the way, be careful with Boris; sometimes his right leg comes off," she said, picking up the skeleton – Boris – and carefully propping him back up where she'd originally placed him.
"Is Boris okay?" Gibbs asked sarcastically, "Or do you need to spend some time with him before you give us the plate number?"
"Oh, don't worry, Gibbs, he's just fine! His leg just gets a little loose sometimes, and Tony wasn't exactly treating him delicately. It's so nice of you to ask." She gave him a sweet smile even though he was glaring at her before reading off the license plate number.
"That's good work, Abs," Gibbs said, then glanced over at the doorway when Ziva and McGee entered the lab. "You get Ludlow?" he asked.
"We did," Ziva said. "He is upstairs waiting for questioning."
"Abby, play that footage again," Gibbs said. "Ziva, McGee, this look like Ludlow to you?"
Tony picked up Boris again and wiggled his skull around a bit, hoping they'd wrap this case soon. Abby grabbed the skeleton out of his hands and smacked his forearm, and he rubbed the spot and gave her a wounded expression while Ziva and McGee watched the footage.
"They look around the same height and build," McGee said, "but beyond that, it's hard to say."
"Ludlow says he was in Baltimore the night of the murder," Ziva said. "He gave us the name of his hotel, and we have confirmed that he checked in at six PM and checked out the next day at two."
"Why was he in Baltimore?" Tony asked.
Ziva rolled her eyes. "He said there is a bar there that he likes to visit, but that he paid in cash and it was very crowded and no one would remember him. A very flimsy reason to go to Baltimore and get a hotel room, and no one to prove he was in the bar," she said.
"Maybe he's having an illicit gay affair," Tony suggested with a shrug, picking up Boris again and twitching him so that his legs kicked around. "He wouldn't want to tell you that since he's a 'reformed homosexual' thanks to Genesis."
"He is?" McGee asked, surprised.
Tony nodded. "The Tysons brainwashed him with their bullshit a few years back. He refers people to Genesis a lot now, and he's the one who referred Harding and Warren. He's basically been stalking them; it's how he found out they have an apartment together." He gave Boris a rather violent twitch, and his bones rattled in response.
"Something seems fishy about him," Ziva remarked, tapping her index finger against her chin in thought.
"Ya think?" Gibbs asked with a snort. He shook his head, then gestured for Tony to follow him. "DiNozzo, with me. Ziva, McGee- "
"Look up the cab's license plate, find out who was in it, and get security footage from Ludlow's hotel. On it, Boss," McGee said.
Tony almost walked away, but Abby tapped his shoulder none-too-gently and so he turned around and sheepishly dropped Boris into her palm. She beamed at him and he gave her a little wave as he hurried after Gibbs.
Tony followed behind Gibbs as they walked to the conference room and almost collided right into his back when Gibbs stopped abruptly.
"Little warning next time, Boss?" Tony complained, pausing to get his bearings.
Gibbs turned around, folder tucked under his arm, and Tony's curiosity was piqued by the serious look on Gibbs' face.
"Tony, you got something on your mind?" Gibbs asked, brows narrowed in concern as his eyes flicked over Tony's face in a quick assessment.
Tony frowned, watching Gibbs look at him in a rare display of concern. "No," he said, shaking his head. "Why?"
Gibbs didn't say anything for a moment, just regarded him silently. Tony did his best to suppress the strange shiver that trailed down his spine, and he wondered if this was what criminals felt like when Gibbs stared at them in interrogation. He wasn't going to budge, though. He was an interrogator himself; he knew the tricks. And yet, he found himself beginning to feel inexplicably nervous as Gibbs stared at him. Resolutely, he stared back.
He'd expected Gibbs to raise an eyebrow and challenge him, or glare at him, but instead, Gibbs merely turned and tugged open the door of the conference room, gesturing to Tony with a raised brow to enter before him.
Tony did, sparing an uneasy glance at Gibbs before refocusing his attention on the case; he'd worry about Gibbs' strange behavior later.
Ludlow looked troubled; his hands, fingers laced together, rested on the table in front of him, and his shoulders were sloping downwards. As Tony and Gibbs entered the conference room, he looked at them with too-wide eyes.
"Ludlow," Gibbs greeted gruffly, sitting in the chair opposite Ludlow. Tony sat at the end of the table, between Gibbs and Ludlow, taking in the way Ludlow swallowed convulsively and his eyes twitched between Gibbs and Tony. Something was hinky here, that was for sure.
"Special Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo," Gibbs said, gesturing towards himself and Tony in turn. "Where were you last night?"
Ludlow blinked at Gibbs' sudden questioning, and Tony smiled at him, mustering up as much charm as he could. "You'll have to excuse Agent Gibbs," he said. "He just likes to jump right in. You'd do best to answer him, though. He gets a little testy if you don't."
Gibbs glared at Tony, but Tony merely grinned, glancing back at Ludlow with an expectant smile.
"Am I being interrogated right now?" He sounded a bit outraged.
"Should you be?" Gibbs asked, arching a brow.
"No!" Ludlow said, unlacing his fingers to run an agitated hand through his hair. "I already told your other agents that I was at a hotel in Baltimore. They checked it out and confirmed that I was there."
"Then you have nothing to worry about," Tony said. He paused, regarding Ludlow for a moment. "Well, if I were you, I'd be worrying about my skin. It's starting to get pretty warm out again – you carry sunscreen on you? You probably burn after, what, five minutes? Are you Irish?"
Ludlow stared at him in confusion, mouth slightly open, and Tony grinned.
"Ah, a little slow, I see. Maybe Welsh, then," he said with a mock grimace. "I've got some Welsh blood, too. Don't like to admit it, but it's true. Hey, do you-"
"When was the last time you spoke to Hardy and Warren?" Gibbs interrupted. Tony made sure to look affronted, even though he'd known Gibbs was going to do that as soon as he started talking.
"I talked to them yesterday morning," Ludlow said after a pause, glancing suspiciously at Tony before turning back to Gibbs. "They called me around 0900 hours."
"You guys talk on the phone a lot," Tony said. "Regular Chatty Cathys. What do you talk about?"
Ludlow looked at Tony in disbelief, just as Tony expected him to. Tony liked that when Ludlow looked at Gibbs as if to confirm Tony's question, Gibbs merely arched a brow.
Ludlow sighed and glanced at the tabletop for a moment, watching his finger move up and down. "We talked about Genesis, mostly," he said, sparing a glance at Gibbs.
"What about it?" Gibbs asked.
"They were supposed to check in with me each day and let me know how things were going for them," he said. "Whether they were tempted, how they dealt with it, things like that."
"Like you were their AA sponsor," Tony said helpfully.
Ludlow spared him a glance, then turned back to Gibbs. "When we talked yesterday, nothing seemed out of the ordinary."
"You knew they were living together?" Gibbs confirmed.
Ludlow sighed, looking away for a moment as he seemed to gather his thoughts. "Yeah, I knew they were living together," he said, voice carrying on edge of anger. "They lived together for a while before we caught on."
"We?" Gibbs interrupted.
"John and Sheryl Tyson and me," he said. "We realized it when they came to a Genesis meeting in one car. We knew Warren had gotten his own apartment, so it wouldn't make sense for them to come together. We started checking them out, and realized what was going on."
"Checking them out?" Tony asked. "Do you mean, like, checking them out, stalking them? Or checking them out, seeing if they're dating material? Or- "
"I would never check them out in that way," Ludlow said, his jaw clenched and his eyes narrowed at Tony.
"Oh," Tony said innocently, unperturbed. "My mistake. So you checked them out, stalked them, then?" He cheered internally at how that one played out, and watched as Ludlow looked at him in frustration.
"It wasn't stalking," he said. "I parked outside their building sometimes to see what was going on, but it was just to find out whether or not they were lying to us."
"But you were parked outside their building to see when they came and went and who they were with and what they did?" Tony asked. He paused for a moment, tapping his chin with his index finger. "I don't know," he said thoughtfully, putting on his favorite confused countenance. "Sounds kind of like stalking."
"My alibi checks out," Ludlow said. "If you're planning on interrogating me, shouldn't I be in an interrogation room?"
"This isn't an interrogation," Gibbs said.
Ludlow looked between Gibbs and Tony. "Are you sure about that?" he asked.
"If your alibi checks out, then we can't charge you," Gibbs said. "How did you get involved in Genesis?"
Ludlow frowned. "I don't really see how that's relevant," he said.
"Okay," Gibbs said, and Tony frowned; was he really letting that go? "How long have you known John Tyson?" Gibbs continued.
Ludlow sighed, but appeared to be more willing to answer this question than the last. "About ten years," he said. "I met him through Genesis."
There was a knock on the conference room door, and McGee poked his head in, looking at Ludlow, then Tony and Gibbs. Gibbs abruptly stood up, gesturing at Tony to follow him, and they stepped into the hallway with McGee.
"Boss," McGee said hesitantly, "we just talked to the cab company. The cab that went to Warren's apartment came from downtown DC, not Baltimore. The person's face was hidden the whole time, and the cab driver didn't see him once. It was dark, and he was wearing a hat."
"The cabbie picked him up even though he was that sketchy?" Tony asked.
"He said a fare's a fare," McGee said with a shrug. Tony frowned, glancing at the closed conference room door.
"Dammit," Gibbs said. "We're missing something."
"Ludlow's involved somehow," Tony said. "Are we sure about his alibi?"
"McGee," Gibbs said by way of response, "Get all the security footage you can from that hotel – lobby, elevators, Ludlow's floor, exits – we gotta get this guy."
"On it," McGee said with a nod, turning and heading back to the bullpen.
"What are we gonna do about Ludlow, Boss?" Tony asked, hoping the frustration Gibbs was showing in the hard set of his shoulders and pronounced lines in his forehead would ease soon, preferably without extra headslaps in the meantime.
"We let him go for now," Gibbs said. "Let him think he's off the hook, and we find what we need to nail him."
Tony nodded, feeling a renewed sense of purpose. He followed Gibbs into the conference room and smiled at Ludlow.
"We're all done with you," Tony said. "You can go home. We'll get someone to escort you out."
"I can go?" Ludlow asked hopefully, looking at Gibbs for confirmation. At Gibbs' nod, Ludlow stood, walking towards the door.
"Hey," Tony said, "just one thing."
Ludlow stopped at looked at Tony warily, and Tony smiled brightly.
"Have you tried self-tanning body lotion? Might be a good idea. I think I see my reflection in your skin," he said.
Ludlow looked at him in disgust, and Gibbs kept his expression bland as he held the door for Ludlow and ushered him out. Tony grinned when Gibbs shot him a small smile. Someone who didn't know Gibbs might have mistaken it for a grimace, but Tony knew better; that was definitely a smile, and he felt his own grow in response.
"We really have to talk to them again, Boss?" Tony asked, shifting in his seat and watching the scenery pass by as Gibbs drove.
Predictably, Gibbs didn't dignify that with a response, so Tony sighed and drummed his fingers on the armrest of his car door. They were on their way to the Tysons' home again to try and get more information about Genesis out of them, and to see if they knew of anyone else who might have had a problem with the two petty officers, and Tony felt very unsettled about their visit. The Tysons made him extremely uncomfortable; he didn't think he'd seen a creepier couple since Benjamin Barker and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and he wasn't looking forward to speaking with them again.
"Cut it out," Gibbs said, and Tony realized that his fingers were moving too fast and too loud, creating a relentless cascade of tapping noises, so he settled his hands in his lap, unaware that as soon as he did, his leg started moving up and down.
"DiNozzo," Gibbs finally said. The exasperation in his voice made Tony's head swivel to stare at him, and he was surprised at the hint of fondness he could see in Gibbs' expression. "Stop fidgeting," Gibbs continued. "You're like a two-year-old. You sure there's nothing going on with you?"
Tony turned and looked out the window as Gibbs drove, eyes focused more on the shadowy outlines of his own reflection than the passing scenery. He stopped jiggling his knee and turned to look back at Gibbs, schooling his features. "Nothing going on, Boss," he said firmly.
Gibbs didn't say anything for a moment, and Tony could feel the tension in the air. He did his best to ignore it.
"Tony," Gibbs finally said, his voice a bit less harsh, "you sure about that?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Tony said, feeling some of the tension in his shoulders dissipate. "It's nothing."
"Doesn't seem like nothing," Gibbs commented, "but you'll tell me if it turns into something."
It was a demand, not a question or even a statement, and Tony recognized it for what it was. The problem was, there was something, even if it was just a small problem. Luckily, though, Tony was a damn good federal agent, so he'd make sure it stayed nothing.
He liked knowing that Gibbs was worried about him, though, and that Gibbs could pick up on the small shifts in his personality that indicated he had something on his mind, especially when he knew that he did a very good job of hiding it. He didn't think he'd ever known anyone who could do that before, and while it was slightly terrifying, it was also comforting, which was part of Gibbs' strange appeal.
Tony frowned, distracted from his thoughts as they approached the Tysons' home and he saw movement in the front yard. As they got closer, he realized it was Sheryl, working in the garden. He shuddered when he thought about the fact that both she and her husband claimed that they used to be gay but were now straight, and he couldn't help but wonder how they lived with themselves.
"Here we go again," he said as Gibbs screeched to a stop.
Gibbs snorted as he turned the car off, but as soon as the key was out of the ignition, he paused for a moment, countenance turning serious, and he reached over and grabbed Tony's arm. Tony froze, Gibbs' hand warm through his sleeve, and slowly turned to look at Gibbs, who was studying his face intently. Tony felt completely exposed and vulnerable being pinned down by both Gibbs' concentrated gaze and the hand on his arm. He looked back at Gibbs, hoping he wasn't too wide-eyed.
It seemed as if Gibbs was going to say something, but instead, he merely searched Tony's expression for a moment, and then squeezed his arm and let go, like that strange, surreal moment never happened. Tony allowed himself a moment of stunned stillness as Gibbs got out of the car. Although Gibbs' hand was no longer on his arm, Tony could still feel it there and he blinked for a moment, something in his heart clenching because Gibbs' hand was warm, and Gibbs, and everything Tony wanted – and then he remembered the case, and where they were, and who they were about to talk to, and he sighed. He wondered why Gibbs seemed so worried about him, and why he'd stared at him like that, but he pushed those thoughts away so that he could focus on the case as he stepped out of the car.
Sheryl Tyson was approaching them with a curious expression on her face, wiping her dirt-covered hands on the long apron that covered her front.
"Agent Gibbs, Agent DiNozzo," she greeted, blue eyes wide as they flickered back and forth between Gibbs and Tony. "Is something wrong? Can I help you with something?"
"We wanted to ask you a few more questions about Genesis," Gibbs said, "and to see if you could think of anyone in the group, or anyone Harding or Warren might have mentioned, who might have something to do with their murders."
"Oh," she said, frowning. "Of course. I hate to think about it, let alone talk about it, but I'll do all I can to help bring justice to those poor boys."
Tony glanced at Gibbs, but Gibbs didn't look back; he kept his eyes trained on Sheryl, so Tony turned and looked around her garden. It really was pristine, and for some reason, it just made her seem even creepier.
"Is your husband at home?" Tony asked. There weren't any cars in the driveway, but then, there weren't any last time, either. It was a three-car garage, anyway, and so Tony could assume that the cars were inside.
"He is," Sheryl said. "He's inside working on his sermon for next week's meeting. He always toils and labors over exactly what to say, and this week is hard, what with Stephen and James…" She trailed off and wrung her hands together, eyes trained on a patch of tulips in her yard.
"Mind if I go talk to him?" Gibbs asked. Tony was surprised he was being so polite with Sheryl, but Gibbs did tend to be a bit nicer to women than men a lot of the time, even if they were crazy brainwashers.
"If you'd like," she said, "Our front door is open." She gestured towards the house with a warm, if slightly tremulous, smile, and Gibbs gave Tony a significant look before heading into the house. Tony did his best not to look away, but it was hard after what happened in the car. Gibbs' look was all business, though; Gibbs wanted him to charm Sheryl.
Tony turned to her with a smile, setting about his task. "Your gardens are really amazing," he said. "You must spend a lot of time on them."
Sheryl smiled. It didn't seem tremulous anymore; it was warm and inviting again. "Thank you," she said. "I do. It's rewarding work. It takes time and patience and dedication, but most importantly, it takes hope." She paused for a moment. "Would you like to sit on the bench with me, Agent DiNozzo?" she asked, gesturing towards a bench in her garden surrounded by azalea bushes.
"Sure," he said. He walked with her along the perfectly groomed footpath towards the bench, sitting down once they got there and taking a moment to breathe in the calm spring air.
"You know," Sheryl said, "planting a garden is a lot like living life."
Tony turned to look at her, well aware that wariness easily showed through his features.
"When you plant a seed, you see nothing for weeks, and yet you toil over it, watering it, weeding it, being sure it's in proper sunlight…and you are doing all of this based on faith. It's faith that keeps you going, faith that your hard work and love will turn into something beautiful; you pour your heart and soul into your work, and you're blessed with something bounteous in return. Do you understand?"
Sheryl was watching him intensely, eyes narrowed and intent, and he began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
"I'm not sure you're just talking about gardens right now," Tony said.
Sheryl looked pleased. "I should have known you'd draw conclusions quickly; you're an investigator. Although, I suppose the seed analogy is pretty well known!"
"Inch by inch, row by row," Tony murmured with an uncomfortable smile.
"One of my favorite children's songs!" Sheryl said, clapping her hands in delight. "Agent DiNozzo, is God a part of your life right now?"
"I'm sorry," Tony said, ignoring the tingle in his spine that speaking to this woman created, "but I'd like to stick to questions relevant to the case."
"I understand," Sheryl said with a smile that Tony thought held way too much sympathy.
"Were there any members of Genesis that seemed to show a particular interest in Harding and Warren?" Tony asked, watching her carefully.
The sunlight illuminated Sheryl's curls as she gazed thoughtfully at an azalea bush. "Not that I can think of," she finally said, turning towards Tony. "Most everyone at Genesis is supportive of one another. Everyone there is in the same frame of mind; they want to control their immoral urges and give themselves over to God. Maybe you can relate to that?"
Tony's eyebrows shot to his hairline. "I'm not exactly saving myself for Jesus," he said.
"It's normal to be skeptical at first," she explained patiently. "But I recognize you."
"You recognize me?" Tony asked, wishing Gibbs hadn't left him alone with this nut job. "From where? I've never met you in my life. I'd remember it, trust me."
"No, no," she said with a laugh, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "I'm sorry; I was unclear. I recognize you because I recognize the struggle you're facing."
"Struggle…? If you're talking about the extra spicy burrito I had last night, that is-"
"You don't need to pretend you don't know what I'm talking about," Sheryl interrupted. Her voice was softer now, understanding, and Tony leaned away from her until he was as close to the edge of the bench as he could get as she continued speaking. "You've been fighting your urges for a long time, haven't you? I see the way you look at him. I know he's tempting you. But you can't resist it on your own, Agent DiNozzo. You need our help."
Tony's throat felt dry and his hands were beginning to feel clammy and he wanted to get the fuck out of there, but something was telling him to stay; to see what she had to say.
"The only one who can help you now is God," she continued, a look of patient understanding on her face. "It's been a difficult journey for you so far, and it will continue to be one. But you can do it; I know you can. I did it, and so did John, and so did so many others. You've been fighting alone for too long, Agent DiNozzo. We can help you see the light. We'll support you every step of the way, and we'll be discreet. No one has to know."
Tony stared at her in disbelief. The only reason he hadn't interrupted her was that he was shocked, completely and utterly shocked that she would actually say such a thing to him; she didn't even know him, and he was at her home in a professional capacity. It was ludicrous to think that she would attempt to bring him into Genesis when he was there to investigate a crime, and he hadn't given her any reason to think he would be susceptible to her ideas. The worst part, though, was that he knew that if he weren't the strong and confident person he was, those words might have had an impact on him. He could understand why a young kid with no one to turn to would turn to Genesis, and it sickened him.
"I think you've misunderstood a few things," he finally said, proud of the calm he managed to keep in his voice.
"I don't think I have," she said confidently, sitting up straighter. "I can recognize a kindred spirit when I see one."
"Kindred spirit?" Tony repeated incredulously. "You think we're kindred spirits? That is the biggest-"
Tony stopped speaking when he heard the front door open, and the relief that flooded him when he saw Gibbs walk out the door was palpable. He felt his hands unclench a little bit and even though his heart was pounding with adrenaline and outrage at the vile women sitting beside him, he forced himself to remain as calm as possible and stood, walking towards Gibbs.
I see the way you look at him, she had said, and her words rang over and over again in his mind. He kept his face as professional and distant as he could so as not to give away his unease. "Hey Boss," he said, meeting Gibbs out of Sheryl's earshot. "Get anything?"
Gibbs regarded him critically and frowned. "No," he said, "you?"
Tony shook his head. "No," he said.
"Let's go," Gibbs said, but to Tony's dismay, Gibbs strode in the direction of Sheryl. "Nice azaleas," Gibbs remarked once he was close enough to the bench that she could hear him. "Deer keep eating mine."
"Oh really?" Sheryl asked. "We don't have much of a deer problem here, but then, we do have a lot of marigolds."
"They really keep 'em away?" Gibbs asked, and Tony wondered what the hell Gibbs was trying to do here; he was quite sure that Gibbs didn't actually want gardening advice.
"They do," Sheryl confirmed. "We rarely have a problem."
"Hmm," Gibbs said. "You must keep really busy with the gardens."
"I do," Sheryl said. "It's a full-time job keeping this house looking good."
"You cook and clean, too?"
Sheryl beamed. "Yes," she said, "I feel that it's my duty as a wife to provide a bountiful home for my husband. And, of course, I love to cook!"
"Oh really?" Gibbs asked. Tony didn't contribute; he didn't trust himself to speak to Sheryl without turning into Bad Cop, and he didn't think Gibbs was playing Good Cop Bad Cop, so he kept to himself and stayed slightly behind Gibbs, arms crossed over his chest, trying to put Sheryl's earlier words out of his mind and focus on the case. That was hard, though, considering how mixed together her words and the case were.
"Yes, I love cooking," Sheryl was saying. "I make everything from scratch."
"Impressive," Gibbs said, "Even bake your own bread?"
"Of course!" she replied, the look on her face suggesting that any other answer would have been absurd. "Bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior! I wouldn't trust them to come from anyone else but the loving hands of one of His humble servants like myself!"
Tony kept his features neutral, but he felt his stomach flip-flop in excitement. She made wine? That was too big to be a coincidence; they were getting somewhere. The familiar thrill of a case finally coming together began to pool in his gut, fueled on by the fact that the woman he wanted to throttle was beginning to implicate herself.
"You make your own wine? Love to see your supplies," Gibbs said. "Been thinking of starting; got a friend out in California who lives on a vineyard. Says he can get me a good deal on grapes."
Tony boggled internally at Gibbs' techniques; this wasn't Gibbs' usual style - but then, the Tysons weren't exactly their usual persons of interest.
"I just finished a batch recently, and I'm afraid I haven't started the next one yet, so there won't be too much to see," Sheryl said regretfully.
"Still like to see your equipment," Gibbs said. If circumstances were different, Tony might've followed that up with an inappropriate remark, but he kept quiet and stayed behind Gibbs, eyeing Sheryl suspiciously.
"Of course," she said with a smile, standing up and heading toward the garage. "It's really just empty fermenting jugs and bottled wine right now," she added with a shrug. "I hope John was helpful when you spoke to him?"
"Yeah, he was," Gibbs replied, and Tony couldn't read much into that. Sheryl led the way and Gibbs turned to glance at Tony for a moment, a questioning look in his eyes, but Tony just shook his head and gestured forward, and they continued to follow behind Sheryl. Tony knew that Gibbs was wondering what his problem was; he had to get over Sheryl's words and act normally.
Sheryl pulled a key ring out of her pocket and opened one of the three doors on the three-car garage, flipping on a light switch and revealing an immaculately clean third bay full of winemaking supplies. Tony itched to go through the numerous drawers and cabinets, but he knew he couldn't, not without a warrant.
"Lots of wine," Tony remarked, ignoring the strange feeling Sheryl gave him and refocusing on the case as his eyes took in the many wine racks lining the walls.
"I do a large batch for the spring," she said with a smile. "I have a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Chianti this year," she added, gesturing to four separate wine racks, each full of wine.
From what Tony could see of the bottles that stuck out of the racks adorning the wall, they appeared to be similar to the one found at the crime scene, but he couldn't be sure.
"Do you label your bottles?" he asked. "How do you know which one is which?"
Sheryl smiled at him, and it had sympathetic undertones that caused his shoulders to tighten and his jaw to clench. Tony hoped that Gibbs didn't notice, but he was sure he did; he was Gibbs, after all.
"I don't like to label my wine," Sheryl said, "It seems like a waste of paper. I know which rack is which by the sign on top of the rack. If they get mixed up afterward, I can tell the difference by smell; each wine is quite unique."
Tony stood next to the rack with a "Pinot Noir" sign on top and casually plucked a bottle out of the rack, showing it to Gibbs and exchanging a significant glance. The bottle was exactly the same as the one from the crime scene. "Do you buy these bottles, or do you reuse them?" he asked.
"I started making wine about ten years ago, and I only did a small batch. I bought the bottles for that batch, and kept buying more as the years went on. We reuse the bottles we don't give away."
"Give a lot away?" Gibbs asked.
"We give a lot to churches that support Genesis to use with communion," she said. "We also give them to close friends."
"Ever give any to Harding or Warren?" Gibbs asked.
Sheryl frowned, and Tony could tell that she was genuinely thinking about her response. Something was hinky; if she'd given them the drugged bottle of wine directly, she wouldn't have let them into her garage in the first place, and would have tensed at the first mention of wine from Gibbs' mouth. Something wasn't adding up.
"I never gave any to them, no," she said. "We weren't that close to them, though. Don't get me wrong; they were important members of our flock, and they regularly came to meetings, but we knew them in a more professional sense. They only came to dinner once, and that was when we first met them. We have all of our new members over when they first join Genesis so that we can get to know each other and answer any questions they might have." She paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. "Why do you ask?"
"Just trying to gauge how close you were to them," Gibbs said with a shrug.
"Well, I only got around to bottling the wine last week," Sheryl said, "So I haven't really given any away yet-just a bottle of each to Robert, but certainly not to those two. Robert came over and helped with the bottling, so it was only fair that he get some!"
"Robert Ludlow?" Tony clarified.
"Yes," Sheryl said with a smile. "He's a close friend. He truly understands the journey that John and I have gone through, and he understands our struggles because he's been there, too, and all three of us came out on top." She gave Tony a rather pointed look, and Tony did his best to remain professional and not scowl at her.
"Thanks for your help," Gibbs said to Sheryl abruptly, to which Tony was immensely grateful since it saved him a response. He had a feeling Gibbs could tell that he was about three seconds away from wringing her neck. "We'll be in touch if we have any more questions."
Sheryl seemed surprised that they were leaving so soon, and she frowned for a moment, but quickly recovered. "Of course," she said. "Please don't hesitate to call if you have any questions or concerns about anything."
Tony turned abruptly as soon as she finished speaking and headed out to the car, walking fast and hoping he could forget about the tightly reined anger boiling just under his skin. Now that they could leave, his mind just wanted to switch back to where it had been before Gibbs joined him and Sheryl. Sheryl's words were still humming in his mind – I see the way you look at him – and so was the intensity of Gibbs' hand on his arm just before they got out of the car, and he was beginning to feel emotionally charged and frustrated and tired and he just wanted to go home. He pulled open the passenger door of the sedan and climbed in, pulling it shut with too much force and wincing at the loud noise it made.
"You tryin' to dent the car?" Gibbs muttered as he climbed in his side. "Gonna knock the frame out of shape slamming the door shut like that."
"Accident, Boss," Tony said, shoulders tense.
Gibbs didn't reply, merely sped away from the Tysons' home as Tony's mind replayed Gibbs' hand on his arm, replayed the way Gibbs stared at him before they got out of the car, replayed Sheryl's words – I see the way you look at him – replayed the whole crazy conversation with her, and then cycled through it all again.
"Whaddya think?" Gibbs asked a moment later.
Tony frowned, glancing at Gibbs. He was pretty sure Gibbs didn't want to know the answer to that question if it meant explaining exactly what was going through his mind. "About what?" he asked.
"The Tysons," Gibbs said. He sounded slightly exasperated, and Tony knew he had to be more attentive to the case and forget about all the extraneous information.
"Not a coincidence she uses the same bottle we found at the scene. If their alibis weren't airtight, I'd think they did it," he said.
"Solid alibi doesn't mean they're not involved," Gibbs pointed out.
"Yeah," Tony said, "but I bet Ludlow has something to do with this. I mean, we know he had access to a bottle that looks exactly like the one we found. We gotta look into his hotel…McGee should have security footage for us when we get back."
"What'd she say to you?" Gibbs suddenly asked, turning to look at Tony as he stopped at a red light.
"Not too much," Tony said with a shrug, watching the cars cross in front of theirs at the intersection rather than look at Gibbs. "Said there weren't any members of Genesis who had a problem with Harding and Warren."
"That all she said to you?" Gibbs asked, turning back to the road as the light turned green and he sped ahead.
"Pretty much," Tony said.
"You're lying," Gibbs pointed out, and Tony's shoulders sagged. He looked out the window, unsure of what to say. He didn't like lying to Gibbs, but he also didn't want to get into a big discussion when they had a case to solve, so he resolved to put it behind him until the case was closed.
"I'm not lying," Tony said. "That's all she said to me. The rest was garbage."
"Must've been some intense garbage," Gibbs remarked. "You're still pissed about it."
Tony shook his head. "It's nothing," he said. "That woman's full of shit."
"So's her husband," Gibbs said.
"It's hard to believe people like that actually exist," Tony said with a shudder. "Makes me remember going to church when I was a kid; all the chanting always made me feel like I was in a cult and I hated sitting still for so long."
Gibbs grinned. "Hard to imagine that," he said.
Tony rolled his eyes but couldn't keep a little smile from forming on his face. "Hey, think we can stop for a snack or something? I'm hungry," he said, forcing his usual behavior to come to the forefront to dislodge the funk he could feel trying to creep into his mind.
"Navy Yard's got a vending machine," Gibbs said, barreling through a light that was just about to switch to red.
Yup, Tony thought, back to normal.
Their section of the bullpen was empty when Gibbs and Tony arrived back at the Navy Yard, so Gibbs herded Tony into the elevator and they headed straight down to Abby's lab.
"They better have something," Gibbs said, "If they're just chatting down there, my boot's gonna be so far up their asses it'll come out their goddamn noses."
Tony made a face of sympathy for his teammates and didn't say anything, glad he was on Gibbs' moderately good side for the time being. He didn't want that attitude directed at him any more than it already was. He was relieved when they entered Abby's lab and she immediately went over to them, grabbing both of their arms and tugging them over to where Ziva and McGee were standing near her computer.
"Gibbs! Tony! We got lots of dings while you were gone! You're never gonna believe it-this is a twist! This is juicy! In fact-"
"Abbs," Gibbs interrupted. "Get on with it."
"We got footage from Ludlow's hotel," McGee interrupted. Tony thought that was wise; Abby would go off on too many tangents for Gibbs to handle. "We watched security footage from the lobby, elevator, and seventh floor hallway – that's Ludlow's floor. We found one man, Brent O'Hare, who entered the hotel one hour after Ludlow, went to the seventh floor, and- "
"And went into Ludlow's room and didn't leave until the next morning!" Abby said in an excited rush, hands clasped in front of her in glee. "And Gibbs, he's a hustler! He's in the system because he's done jail time for prostitution and drugs."
Tony couldn't help the laugh that escaped him, especially when he saw Gibbs' eyebrows raise up to his hairline in surprise, and he covered his face with his hand for a moment, doing his best to keep the helpless laughter from taking over. It was too much; Sheryl trying to brainwash him into joining Genesis and then this - her star pupil hiring a male hustler?
"There's more!" Abby said, tugging on Tony's arm. He wiped at his eyes for a moment and turned back to the group, hoping to appear serious – but he could feel the corners of his mouth twitching.
"We have Brent upstairs in interrogation," Ziva said. "Also in interrogation, in a separate room, is Ludlow. The hotel footage shows him leaving at ten PM in all black, carrying a backpack. He took a Baltimore taxi to downtown DC, and then presumably transferred to a DC cab. He arrived back at the hotel just before two in the morning."
Last vestiges of laughter out of his system, Tony felt his eyebrows rise. "Score one for Probie and Probette," he said lightly in approval.
"Did you get any information from the Tysons?" Ziva asked, glancing first at Gibbs, then Tony.
"Sheryl Tyson makes homemade wine and uses the same type of bottle we found at the crime scene. She gave some to Ludlow; he helps her bottle it. Also, marigolds help keep deer out of your garden," Tony said, ducking away from Gibbs' hand when it came up to swat the back of his head.
McGee and Ziva gave Tony predictably confused looks at the last part of his statement, and he found himself laughing again as they followed Gibbs into the elevator. Things were looking up; maybe this case from hell would end soon. He could only hope.
Brent O'Hare was a tall, waifish man, sitting in the interrogation room with one leg crossed over the other as he examined his nails, a look of boredom on his face. Tony and Gibbs watched through the glass as McGee and Ziva entered the interrogation room.
"Let's hope the probies do okay on their own," Tony said to Gibbs, arms crossed over his chest.
Gibbs snorted. "They'll be fine," he said, and Tony turned his attention back to the interrogation room as Brent began to talk.
"Is this gonna take long?" he asked. "I have places to be."
"Places to be?" Ziva asked.
"Is that so hard to believe?" Brent sounded offended, and McGee sat in his chair and leaned forward; Tony knew he was going to play good cop.
"Listen, Brent, we're just trying to solve some nasty murders, and any information you can give us will be helpful, okay? We'll have you in and out as soon as we can," he said, keeping his voice soothing.
Brent rested his chin on his hand and smiled at McGee, wiggling his eyebrows. "Oh, I bet you'll have me in and out," he said, "but let's go slow. No rush for you, handsome."
"We need to ask you about Robert Ludlow," Ziva interrupted, and Tony wished he could see the look on McGee's face; he was sure it had to be priceless.
Brent rolled his eyes. "Honey, ask away. What a creep."
"How long have you been….seeing him?" Ziva asked.
Brent smiled at her. "Girl, you don't need to act like it's more than it is. He pays me. I'm not seeing him. This is only the fourth time I've gotten a call from him, and let me tell you something, that man is built. Do you know how a Marine is built? Rock solid. I was kind of scared the first time." He paused, and glanced at McGee with a raised eyebrow. "I was afraid he would break me in half." His eyes went up and down McGee's body, and Tony was ready to kill for a video feed of McGee's face. "I'd let you do it for free, honey," Brent whispered, winking.
"That's…that's really, um, nice," McGee stammered, and Tony didn't bother hiding his laugh; even Gibbs snorted beside him, and he saw Ziva look sideways at McGee with a smirk.
"Did Ludlow act strange the last time you met with him in Baltimore?" Ziva asked after a moment, turning back to the task at hand.
"He always acts strange," Brent said, a look of annoyance on his face. "That man hates himself more than anyone I've ever met. It's so creepy. He always talks about how he's not gay, but he just wants to fuck a man once in a while. Um, honey, newflash, you're gay! And don't even get me started on his religious shit!"
"Does he talk about religion a lot?" McGee asked. Tony was proud of him for sounding so self-assured.
"He says he can bring me to this group called Genesis, but that shit sounds crazy," Brent said. "I told him I'd much rather suck all the cock I want and go to hell than hate myself and everyone else and still go to hell for being a lying asshole."
To Tony's surprise, McGee laughed. "Bet he didn't like to hear that," McGee said.
Brent looked at him in approval and smiled. "Not really. But he was really creepy, you know?"
"Creepy how?" McGee asked, using his sympathetic voice again, and Tony couldn't help but think that McGee's interrogation skills had come a long way.
"Well, you know, he just really hated himself. Sometimes he just-you know, he'd get a little rough because he just hated being gay. He was really fooling himself if he thought he was straight," Brent said, looking suddenly serious.
"And when you were with him in Baltimore, did he stay the entire night in the hotel room you shared?" Ziva asked.
Brent shook his head. "No. He told me to stay there, and he left. It was kind of weird because he wore all black; he looked like some kind of depressing, badly-dressed bank robber or something. I was kind of worried he was some kind of criminal, but he paid me extra to stay and wait for him and he told me I could order whatever I wanted from room service, so I just stayed and ordered the most expensive things on the menu," he said with a shrug. "He left around ten, and he got back around 1:45. He wouldn't say where he went, but he was kind of weird before he left; you know, all nervous and stuff."
"And how was he when he returned?" Ziva asked.
"I was a little tipsy," Brent admitted. "I ordered expensive wine while he was gone. But he was really weird; he was acting really energetic and happy and, I don't know, like manic, you know? Like, Whitney Houston on crack manic."
"Did he say anything about what he did when he was gone?" McGee asked.
"Nothing," Brent said.
"Did you see the contents of his backpack?" Ziva continued, leaning forward.
"No," Brent said regretfully. "Just his black clothes. He pulled them out to change before he left, but I didn't see anything else inside."
"Thank you for being so cooperative," Ziva said with a smile.
"Of course!" Brent said. He turned to McGee with a seductive smile. "Anything for you," he added.
"I'll remember that," McGee said, and Tony grinned. Go Probie!
"Of course you will, honey," Brent said. "He didn't do anything too terrible, did he?" he added, looking worried. "I mean, I always knew he was creepy, but…"
"He is a person of interest in a double homicide. It was a hate crime," Ziva said.
Brent covered his mouth with a shaking hand and his eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "Murders?" he asked, voice a bit higher than it had been a moment ago. "Oh my God, he's a murderer?"
"We do not know for sure," Ziva said.
"Maybe you should take some self defense classes," McGee suggested gently. "It's probably worthwhile in your line of work." Tony was surprised at how non-judgmental McGee sounded, and he watched contemplatively.
"I bet you could teach me," Brent said, and he sounded more serious than flirtatious.
"I could," McGee agreed, "but you'd be better off going to a class." Tony saw the disappointment on Brent's face and again, he wished he could see McGee's, but he only saw the back of McGee's head.
As McGee and Ziva wrapped up the interrogation, Tony turned to Gibbs. "We gonna go see what Ludlow has to say now?" he asked. "Tell him we know all about his hustler?"
"No, DiNozzo, we're gonna stand here and talk about it," Gibbs said, already halfway out the door.
Tony grinned and headed out of the viewing room behind Gibbs. "Nice job, Probies," he said as McGee and Ziva left the interrogation room and came upon them in the hallway.
"Brent's description of Ludlow's behavior upon his return to the hotel matches that of someone who has just gotten away with murder," Ziva commented.
"Hasn't gotten away with anything yet," Gibbs growled. "DiNozzo, with me."
Tony grinned at Ziva and McGee and wiggled his fingers at them in a little wave, stopping abruptly when Gibbs suddenly turned around and put a hand on his shoulder to keep him in place. Gibbs gestured Ziva and McGee into the viewing room, and they shot Tony a curious glance. Tony just shrugged in response, Gibbs' hand heavy on his shifting shoulder.
"Ready?" Gibbs asked.
Tony looked at Gibbs in confusion; this was certainly not normal pre-interrogation behavior. "Yeah, Boss," he said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Gibbs didn't respond, just kept watching Tony, and Tony found himself compelled to keep speaking.
"I don't know what you think is going on, but I'm a damn good interrogator, and nothing interferes with that," Tony said, stepping back a bit and dislodging Gibbs' hand.
Gibbs let his hand fall to his side and he quirked a grin at Tony. "Okay," he said, and then turned and headed into the interrogation room.
Tony allowed himself a moment of complete shock and confusion before schooling his features and following Gibbs, pushing the strange behavior to the back of his mind yet again and going straight to interrogation mode.
Ludlow looked pissed off, if the red flush high on his pale cheeks and the stony stare he pinned on Gibbs and Tony were anything to go by, and Tony shot him a cheerful grin as he sauntered across the room, grabbing an extra chair from the corner as Gibbs sat across from Ludlow, glaring at him as he threw a folder onto the table.
Tony dropped the chair beside Ludlow, smiling at him and wiggling his eyebrows as he sat.
"Good to see you, Robbie," he said, resting his elbow on the table and turning to the side to look at him, resting his chin on his hand. When Ludlow shifted his chair away and scowled, Tony widened his smile.
"You lied to us," Gibbs said, voice low.
"About what?" Ludlow asked.
Gibbs didn't reply, just stared an unyielding stare, and Tony chuckled from beside Ludlow. "He's impossible when he gets like this," Tony said in a stage whisper, his eyes never straying from Ludlow's face. "You should just tell the truth now and get it over with."
"Brent O'Hare," Gibbs said, voice low and deadly. Ludlow's eyes widened and he leaned back in shock, head swiveling towards Tony then back to Gibbs, then away from both of them.
Gibbs suddenly stood up and slammed his hands on the table, causing Ludlow to jump in surprise and stare at him, eyes wide with shock and guilt and fear.
"Brent O'Hare," Gibbs repeated again, leaning forward until his face was inches from Ludlow's. Ludlow leaned away nervously, but Tony leaned in closer.
"Might wanna start talking now," Tony advised with an easy smile, still resting his chin on the palm of his hand. "You'd hate to see him when he's grumpy."
Ludlow gave Tony a familiar incredulous look, only this time, it was tinged with fear. He turned back to Gibbs.
"Brent O'Hare?" he asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
Gibbs sat down again, leaning forward towards Ludlow. "Your call boy," he said. He sounded impatient and dangerous.
"We already talked to him," Tony said. "Heard your built rock solid," he added, letting his eyes go up and down Ludlow's form before wiggling his eyebrows with a grin.
Ludlow shot up straight in his chair, back suddenly ramrod straight. "How dare you–"
"You left the hotel at 2000 hours and get back at 0145. Where were you?" Gibbs asked.
When Ludlow didn't reply immediately, Gibbs slammed his hands on the table. "Where were you, Ludlow?"
"We have it on video," Tony said, still casually watching Ludlow from too far inside of his personal space. "Saw you leaving, dressed all in black with a backpack. You got in a cab that went to downtown DC. The cab that went to the crime scene came from downtown DC, and guess what? The person who got out is your height and build, wearing exactly the same boring black outfit you wore when you left the hotel." He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice held much more edge and he leaned in close, suddenly threatening. "That's not a coincidence," he said, mouth right next to Ludlow's ear. He held the position for a moment, enjoying the way Ludlow squirmed, before leaning back and resuming his casual posture. "Doesn't exactly look good for you," he added with a shrug, voice light again, posture and mannerisms at complete odds with how intense he'd been the moment before.
Ludlow didn't say anything, just blinked rapidly, eyes trained on a spot on the two-way mirror just beyond Gibbs' left shoulder.
"Trying to think up a lie?" Tony asked casually. "We know about the wine you got from the Tysons. I don't think it was a coincidence that it was in the same bottle as the one at the crime scene, do you, Boss?" Tony glanced at Gibbs, head still resting on his chin, before flicking his eyes back to Ludlow, who was watching him with trepidation.
"Hell no," Gibbs said. "Start talking, Marine."
Ludlow's eyes suddenly snapped up to Gibbs', wide and round. "It wasn't my idea!" he said, words coming fast and frenzied. "It wasn't…it was Sheryl – she thought they were tempting John–"
"Sheryl Tyson?" Gibbs confirmed.
Ludlow nodded, swallowing nervously and twisting the hem of his shirt with the fingers of his right hand, eyes averted. "She thought John had a thing for James Warren. She wanted – she wanted them dead," Ludlow said. His eyes suddenly flicked up to Gibbs'. "She said they were tempting me, too, but they weren't, I swear they weren't. But she wouldn't believe me – she said the only reason I wouldn't kill them was because – because I wanted them, but I didn't, you have to believe me-"
"You cut off his dick?" Gibbs asked abruptly.
Ludlow blinked, surprised, eyes shiny. "She wanted it," he said in a hoarse voice. He suddenly seemed desperate. "She wanted a souvenir…she gave me the knife, and she has…she has his – his –"
"Penis? Dick? Cock? Manmeat? One-eyed–"
"Stop!" Ludlow suddenly said, turning to Tony with his eyes blazing. He was sitting tall and glaring. His eyes were wild. "She has it, okay? It's in a bottle of Chianti! She's crazy! It was her knife, too, and you can find it in her garage. She paid me to do it; I still have the cash she gave me to kill them."
"Doesn't seem very Christian of you to kill your fellow men," Tony murmured, eyes trained on Ludlow
"You don't understand!" Ludlow said. "You don't know what it's like to be tempted all the time! I've been trying so hard, and it's not…it's not–"
Tony sat up straight, turning towards Ludlow. "You think I don't–"
"I'm trying to do what God wants," Ludlow said. He sounded oddly broken. "I've been trying for so long. I'm not a faggot. Faggots are sinners. But I–"
"You think killers aren't?" Tony asked incredulously, sitting up straight.
"I did what God wanted me to do!" Ludlow said passionately. "He doesn't want sinners like James and Stephen to live! They're too weak; they can't–"
"Too weak?" Tony asked. "How dare you say that? They put up with your Genesis bullshit so they could stay in the Corps, and you know why? Because unlike you, they were damn good Marines, Ludlow."
"But they were weak," Ludlow said again. "They couldn't fight it–"
"They were strong," Tony said, standing up and shoving his lightweight aluminum chair out of the way. It clattered to the floor, but he ignored it. "They were strong," he repeated. "Strong enough to know that they were doing absolutely nothing wrong, and strong enough to listen to your brainwashing and not let it effect them. You are–"
"What," Ludlow interrupted, "Are you a faggot, too, or something?"
Tony froze, momentarily stunned, and he stared at Ludlow. After a moment of suspended disbelief in which he knew nothing but the rushing of blood in his veins and the too-fast beating of his heart and the sweat building on the palms of his hands, a sense of calm enveloped him, and he stood up tall, shoulders broad and strong. "You're damn right I am," he said. "You think I don't know it's hard? You think I don't know what it's like? I do, Ludlow. Only difference is, I'm not a pussy."
His heart was beating so hard he thought it was going to come out his throat, and he felt oddly shaky and sweaty, but the case was catching up to him all at once, and he ignored the anxiety creeping up on him, ignored thoughts of Gibbs and Ziva and McGee and whoever the fuck else was watching this interrogation, and focused on Ludlow. He leaned forward from the side of the table, slamming his hands down and getting into Ludlow's space, ignoring the shock on his face.
"You are a disgrace," Tony hissed. "A disgrace to the Marines, to this country, to the entire fucking human race. You are disgusting. You are going to hell, and it has nothing to do with sucking cock. It has everything to do with being a pretentious, self-righteous, hateful, bigoted piece of shit."
He stood up again, ignoring the streaks of sweat his palms left on the table and the shakiness he felt all over his body. He didn't dare look at Gibbs; instead, he kicked his overturned chair out of the way and headed for the door, relishing the cool metal of the handle on his overheated skin. He paused and turned back for a moment, heart still pounding in his chest but knowing he had to say more.
"I almost feel bad for you," Tony said, ignoring the shock on Ludlow's face. "You think they weren't strong enough, but you weren't strong enough. You ever stop to think, Ludlow? If you're trying this hard to stop liking dick and you can't, you ever think maybe it's something you can't change?"
"God wouldn't make–"
Tony shook his head. "Shut the fuck up," he said. "Go to hell."
He opened the door and walked as fast as he could to the stairwell, taking pleasure in the sound of the door slamming shut behind him, and then he walked as fast as he could down the stairs, hands shaking and palms sweating and brain spinning so fast he couldn't keep up with it. His breath was coming fast, so fast he felt like he couldn't catch it, and suddenly he stopped in the empty stairwell, clutching the railing and breathing and trying to figure out exactly what just happened.
He hadn't dared to look at Gibbs, and he still didn't know what was on the other man's face, and Ziva and McGee had surely been watching, and maybe even Abby or Ducky or the director, and suddenly his breath was coming in fast pants and he squeezed his eyes closed, balling his hands into fists and pressing them against his eyes. Everything felt like it was tunneling in on him and he still couldn't breathe –
And then there were hands on his wrists, tugging them away from his eyes, and he tried to breathe but all that was happening were jagged wheezes and then the hands were on his neck, calloused fingers pressing into his skin, and a voice was murmuring and he opened his eyes and there was Gibbs in front of him, thumbs moving back and forth back and forth on his neck, eyes calm and understanding and focused, and suddenly the jagged wheezing turned into some kind of sob or cough or something he couldn't quite place and then Gibbs pressed his hands onto Tony's shoulders and before Tony knew what was happening, he was sitting on the stairs, and Gibbs was sitting next to him, hands on his back, easing him forward until his head was between his knees.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, Gibbs' hands anchoring him, breath gradually slowing until he was breathing normally, heartbeat slowing to something close to natural. He still felt shaky and sweaty, and he was suddenly acutely aware of everything that happened, and he tensed, sitting up abruptly and dislodging Gibbs' hands.
"Don't have to say anything, Tony," Gibbs said. He sounded surprisingly understanding. "It's okay."
"I'm not gay," Tony blurted, heart speeding up again. When Gibbs raised an unamused brow in response, he continued. "I mean, I'm not straight," he said. "I just-I like both. I just never – I don't hate myself, Boss, not like Ludlow, but it was always really rough when people found out and I got sent to boarding school or fired or–"
"It's okay, Tony," Gibbs said. "It really is."
"I wasn't trying to hide it," Tony rambled. "I just didn't bring it up. It's not like I lied when I talked about women, Boss, just left out the men. I wasn't gonna–"
Tony stopped abruptly and winced when Gibbs suddenly whacked the back of his head.
"Um, shutting up, Boss," he said, looking anywhere but Gibbs. He resisted the urge to give in to nervous temptation and run a hand through his hair or straighten his tie or pick at his pant leg, and he jumped about a mile when Gibbs' hand settled on the nape of his neck, drifting down after the slap.
"Tony," he said, "you can relax. It's fine."
"You're not-you're not gonna–"
"Hell, DiNozzo, I said it's fine. Not gonna fire you," Gibbs said with a roll of his eyes, and he sounded so exasperated that Tony couldn't help but grin despite the shaky adrenaline rush he could still feel leaving his body. "Would be pretty hypocritical if I did."
Tony's head swiveled fast in Gibbs' direction. "You–"
Gibbs shrugged. "I've been with men before," he said. "Only a couple."
Tony blinked for a moment, mind still reeling, not quite able to fully grasp that just yet - especially when Gibbs said it so flippantly. "I didn't freak out because I was ashamed," Tony said, suddenly needing Gibbs to understand. When Gibbs predictably didn't respond, he continued. "It's just…I'm not ashamed, Boss, but I have to be smart about things, and this whole case has been so fucked up the entire time - it was just a lot all at once. You know what I mean?"
Gibbs just nodded, and Tony rambled on. "I wasn't planning on saying all that in there," he said. "It just happened. Guess I hit a boiling point or something." Tony glanced hesitantly at Gibbs, and when Gibbs merely watched him in approval, he sat up a little straighter and grinned, feeling a bit of his equilibrium return.
"So, Boss, didn't know you were a rainbow warrior," Tony said, glancing at Gibbs with a wide grin, wondering exactly what type of man Gibbs had been with, and how many, and what they did – and then it suddenly occurred to him that Gibbs – Gibbs! – liked men. When Tony was honest with himself, he knew that he'd been attracted to Gibbs from the very first moment he'd met him – but he'd known all along that Gibbs was straight, and so it was a fruitless attraction. He'd forced himself to not think of Gibbs in that way, and it mostly worked. Of course he'd get distracted by Gibbs' body, or the way he held the first sip of a cup of coffee on his tongue pensively for a moment, or the way he looked up over the rim of his glasses, or the way he'd glare, or the feel of his hand against the back of his head – and, okay, maybe denying the attraction hadn't worked as well as he'd thought.
Suddenly Gibbs smacked the back of Tony's head hard, and Tony laughed. He'd known it was coming, and he'd expected it, and for some reason, it felt invigorating to know that Gibbs would still smack him and treat him exactly the same.
And despite Rule 12, Tony found himself hoping that someday soon maybe Gibbs would treat him a little differently. He found himself thinking about all of the strange moments he'd had with Gibbs during the case; the hand on his arm, the hand on his shoulder. Gibbs was a man of few words, and Tony had learned to read between the lines over the years.
"Hey Boss," Tony said pensively, mind shutting the case out for a moment and going over only his interaction with Gibbs over the last few days. "You already knew, didn't you." He glanced at Gibbs with a furrowed brow, and wasn't surprised to see Gibbs nod.
Rather than asking him how he knew or why he never said anything, Tony just quirked a grin. "Figures," he said.
To his surprise, Gibbs let out a snort of laughter and then turned to Tony with a crooked smile, and Tony was unprepared for the sudden dryness in his throat and the quickening of his heartbeat when Gibbs looked at him. It was like every feeling he'd ever had for Gibbs had decided to make itself known at that moment, and he forced a cheery grin onto his face when he realized he must have been staring like an idiot and was eternally grateful when the door to the stairwell flung open and a vaguely Abby shaped blur flew up the stairs in his direction and squeezed him into a tight hug.
"Tony! Oh my God, Tony! I had no idea! Why didn't you say anything? This case must have been so hard for you!"
Her words were muffled into his neck, and he held onto her awkwardly, their bodies not quite lined up properly due to the stairs. He turned his head and shared an amused glance with Gibbs (well, Gibbs wasn't scowling so Tony took that as amusement), but refocused on Abby when she pulled out of the hug and stared at him, looking surprisingly serious.
"I love you, Tony," she said. Before he could reply, Abby turned to Gibbs. "Can I have Tony for a little while?" she asked. "I'll bring him back in one piece, I promise."
"Hey!" Tony said. "Don't I get a say in this?" he asked.
"No," Abby said, poking him in the chest.
"Go ahead, Abbs," Gibbs said, pushing himself up off the stairs and dusting off his pants. When Tony looked at him with a vaguely pleading expression, Gibbs just gestured towards Abby, and so Tony didn't resist when she laced her fingers with his. But that was okay – spending one-on-one time with Abby was fine by him.
Tony stood up quickly when Abby tugged on his hands; she was stronger than she looked. With a quick half-smile at Gibbs, Tony followed Abby back down the stairs and into her lab, frowning a bit when she didn't talk at all or turn around to look at him.
Her lab was quiet when they arrived, and he tugged at her hand to try and get her to turn around and look at him, but she kept walking.
"Hey, Abbs, what's up?" Tony asked, but she pulled him into her office, closed the door, and grabbed him in a tight hug, squeezing him so hard he could barely breathe.
He felt annoyed at first; suffocation tended to engender such responses in him. But after a moment of her unrelenting hug, her arms tight around his waist and her face pressed into his neck, he felt himself relax into her arms and as soon as he did he could breathe easier. He let his arms slide around her and he held on tight, trying to ignore the sudden clenched feeling in his heart. With the adrenaline of the interrogation room gone, he felt drained and tired and he realized how much of himself he'd exposed to his team in such a short time, and he was suddenly so grateful for the warmth of Abby pressed against him.
"Ow!" he said a moment later when Abby suddenly pulled away from him and punched him hard in the arm, looking at her in annoyance and rubbing his arm. "What the fuck?"
"You've been lying to me all this time!" she said, hands on her hips. "All these stories –"
"I haven't been lying," Tony said defensively. "Just leaving out half the truth."
"Oh…oh!" she said thoughtfully with a grin of realization. "You play for both teams?"
Tony nodded, about to explain, when she suddenly punched his arm again.
"Why didn't you tell me that sooner?" she demanded. "That's important, and I've known you for a long time! And…and I'm me, Tony! Obviously, I'm not gonna care if you fuck men – in fact, I think it's hot, and I mean, being bi is no big deal at all, Tony, I have friends who fuck-"
"Abbs," Tony interrupted before she could finish that statement. "I've always known you would be okay with it," he said gently. "But it's been a problem on the job before and I didn't want to risk that again." He could've made a joke and brushed it off, but he needed her to understand, and it must've worked because her eyes suddenly looked suspiciously bright and she reached out and pulled him into a hug again.
"Abbs," he said when she still hadn't let go and at least thirty seconds had gone by.
"You can let go now," he said, tugging on the back of her shirt.
"But Tony hugs are the best kind," she said, words muffled, and he grinned, squeezing her a bit before letting go and forcing himself out of her arms.
"This case must've been hard for you," Abby said for the second time, tugging his arms and pushing him down into her desk chair. He sat and spun a bit, knocking his knee against her leg when she perched on the edge of the desk.
He shrugged. "I guess," he said. "Lots of cases are hard."
"Yeah, but this Genesis thing is freaky," Abby said with a shudder. "Don't you think? It's disgusting. I'm not surprised at all that Ludlow said Sheryl's involved. Ziva and Timmy are getting the warrant ready right now for you guys to go and search their property."
"We're actually getting a warrant?" Tony asked in mock surprise. "Huh."
"Tony! Stop changing the subject!"
Tony spun quickly when it seemed like she was about to hit him, and scowled at her. "I have tender skin," he said. "I bruise easily."
Abby rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you do. But really, Tony, isn't Genesis scary?"
Tony sighed, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the desk, propping his head on his hands and gazing sideways at Abby, suddenly tired. "Of course it is," he said. "Sheryl's a lunatic."
"A homophobic murderer lunatic," Abby elaborated.
Tony's head snapped up when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and he saw Ziva, McGee, and Gibbs enter Abby's lab, heading for her office. Tony felt a moment of panic at the thought of seeing McGee and Ziva for the first time after he'd accidentally outed himself in interrogation, but he pushed it down and sat up straight, grinning at them when they followed behind Gibbs into Abby's little office.
"Probies," he greeted, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"Got a warrant," Gibbs said.
"Oh, really?" Tony replied. "That was quick. We're not just gonna barge in?"
"Tony," Ziva interrupted. "I cannot believe you have kept such an important secret from us for so long."
"What secret?" Tony asked with a grin. "You mean the one –"
"That you're gay!" McGee said. "Or…or, not straight or something," he added, looking a bit confused.
Tony bit back a laugh. "Oh, that," he said. "I didn't exactly keep it a secret," he added. "You never actually asked and I never actually lied."
"Don't ask, don't tell?" Abby said, looking at him with narrowed eyes.
"Don't look at me like that!" he said, rubbing his sore arm. "I'm afraid you'll punch me again."
"I will," Abby promised.
"You were not lying about all of the women, correct?" Ziva asked. "I am quite sure at least half were false, but I know a few of them must have actually existed, no?"
Tony balked. "I didn't lie about any of them!" he insisted. "I just left out the men, and some of their names may have been changed," he added.
Gibbs snorted. "Come on," he said. "We're going to the Tysons' now."
Tony was out of his chair before Gibbs even finished his sentence, and he tweaked Abby's pigtail on his way out, giving her a little wave as he left the lab.
"I guess I understand why you call me gay all the time now," McGee said thoughtfully as they stepped into the elevator.
"Why's that?" Tony asked, glancing at Gibbs for a moment. He was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the conversation.
"So nobody thought you were," McGee said with a shrug.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Or, because you like women's lotion and read women's magazines. I mean, Timmy, even I'm not that gay."
"No," Ziva said. "You merely wear only the latest releases from top designers and spend more time on your hair in the morning than I do and love the Golden Girls and Rogers and Hammerstein."
Tony frowned for a moment, looking at Ziva thoughtfully. "I thought you guys were investigators," he said. "Shouldn't you have figured me out by now?"
To his surprise, Gibbs snorted in laughter, and when the elevators dinged onto the bullpen's floor, he went to his desk with a spring in his step, feeling much better than he did at the beginning of the case even though they still had a ways to go. They'd get there.
Tony felt different than he had earlier in the day as they pulled up to the Tysons' home for the third time. He was in the car with Gibbs again, but Ziva and McGee were following behind, and most importantly, they were armed with a warrant.
However, Tony felt like he was armed with something else, too, something indefinable and intangible that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Ever since he'd exploded at Ludlow in interrogation, he'd felt a strange tightness in his chest. At first he'd thought maybe he was still nervous about his revelations that yes, he too was a faggot, and that he was still trying to figure out exactly what had happened and still trying to gauge the reactions and repercussions that would surely come of it.
But it wasn't quite that. He knew how things spread around the office, and he was sure that in a day or two, everyone at NCIS would know everything there was to know, and he was prepared to handle teasing or banter. He was old enough not to take it personally anymore, and he was almost waiting for it because he had a few pretty good zingers prepared for the usual jibes.
No, it wasn't nerves that caused the sudden vice-like grip on his heart every time he thought about the earlier interrogation. It wasn't nerves, or anxiety, or anything like that. He realized that it was a strange sense of pride he hadn't felt in a long time. It wasn't pride that he'd solved a case, or pride that he'd made the right choice for once in his life; it was pride that in the one job that really mattered to him, with coworkers that easily pushed their way into his life and become family that he would give his life for, he could finally give them back what they'd been giving him: honesty. He knew they kept things from each other here and there, but never secrets of such a fundamental nature, save Gibbs losing his family, and that was something entirely different.
So when Gibbs turned the key in the ignition of the sedan, Tony turned to him and this time, there was no jiggling of his knee or tapping of his fingers or distracting thoughts; Tony merely smiled at him, a brilliant, heartfelt smile, and Gibbs gave him a rare, unguarded smile in return, and Tony felt that vice-like feeling in his heart clench even more. This time, though, it was that same clench that happened when Gibbs' fingers landed on the nape of his neck in the stairwell, and that had happened countless times before with Gibbs, and he ducked his head to hide his smile as he turned away from Gibbs and headed out of the car.
Sheryl wasn't outside this time, as it was beginning to get dark, so Tony and Gibbs headed towards the door, Ziva and McGee hurrying behind them.
"These are immaculate gardens," Ziva commented. Tony glanced at her, and in the dim light of dusk, couldn't tell if the look on her face was bewilderment or appreciation.
Gibbs knocked on the door sharply, staring at the dark wood with impatience. Ziva was looking at the stone cherubs on either side of the door with that same look she'd worn a moment earlier, and under the porch lights, Tony could tell it was definitely disgust, and he grinned.
"This reminds me of my grandma's house," McGee said, and he sounded a bit troubled by that.
"I hope your Grandma's not like these two," Tony said.
"Definitely not," McGee said with a shudder.
Tony grinned again, but the grin faded immediately as soon as the door opened.
"Agent Gibbs," Sheryl said with a small, tight smile. She turned to Tony and stared at him for a moment. "Agent DiNozzo," she said, and her smile was more pleasant this time. "It's good to see you again. As I told you, you're always welcome in my home."
Tony felt his shoulders tighten, but before he could say anything, Gibbs cut in.
"Your husband home?"
Sheryl glanced at Gibbs, startled at his suddenly brisk tone.
"John? Yes, of course, he's just upstairs in the study-"
"Get him," Gibbs said. "Bring him down."
Sheryl frowned in confusion. "Is there something wrong, Agent Gibbs?"
"Get your husband," Gibbs repeated.
Sheryl's brow furrowed and Tony knew she had to be getting nervous by now, but before she could do anything, John came down the stairs, looking honestly bewildered.
"Is there something wrong here, Agent Gibbs?" he asked. He stood beside Sheryl, but she stepped away nervously, and the confusion on his face deepened. Tony almost felt bad for him – almost – because he was pretty sure that John Tyson didn't know just how crazy his wife was. But then, John Tyson wasn't exactly sane himself. Still, though, as far as Tony knew, John had never ordered someone's dick cut off.
"We have a warrant to search your home," Ziva said, holding up the paper for the Tysons to see. Sheryl brought a hand to her mouth to cover the gasp that emerged and John looked from her to the warrant in confusion.
"What's going on here?" John's voice was shaky, and he looked genuinely shocked, both by his wife's reaction and the presence of the warrant in the first place.
"We'd like to search your wine cellar," McGee said.
"What? Why?" John asked. He looked between the agents, and then at Sheryl, who would not meet his gaze. Her hand was shaking where it covered her mouth, and Tony knew that she understood her game was over.
"I'm a bit of a sommelier, and I hear you have a great bottle of Chianti in your cellar," Tony said. "One with a dick in it."
Sheryl gasped again, and John's jaw dropped. He looked between Sheryl and the agents.
"What – what? That's -"
"Let's go," Gibbs said. He grabbed John by the arm and Tony let Ziva pull Sheryl along; he didn't want to touch her. They headed towards the garage, and when they entered, Tony went straight to the wine rack while Ziva kept a strong hold on Sheryl.
"I'm so glad you thought to organize these wines so well," Tony said, gesturing towards the Chianti sign. "Makes our lives much easier. Now which bottle will it be?"
McGee joined him and they pulled out a few bottles, shaking them around and holding them up to the light to see if there were any kinds of foreign objects inside.
Tony glanced over and saw that Ziva kept a strong hold on Sheryl, and Gibbs was standing threateningly beside John, who didn't look like he was about to cause any trouble – he appeared to be completely stunned.
"Ludlow was really helpful," Tony said conversationally, glancing at Sheryl. "Well, I should say that his rent boy was really helpful," he added. "Looks like Genesis didn't work out too well for him – who would've thought?"
"He didn't have a rent boy," Sheryl said in disgust, voice tremulous.
"Of course he did," Tony said. "We had a nice chat with him. Genesis didn't seem to work too well for you, either, though. I mean, you're hiding a dick in a bottle of Chianti."
"How dare you-" Sheryl began to speak, but cut herself off abruptly, and then Tony glanced at her and saw her force a smile back on her face. "Genesis worked wonders for me and I will not let you provoke me into acting with the rage of Lucifer. I act only with the grace of God."
"That so?" Tony asked. He and McGee were at least a quarter of the way through the Chianti stock, and still there were no signs of a dick. Tony hoped they'd find it soon.
"Of course it is," Sheryl said. "And like I told you before, the grace of God is telling me that you need my help." She sounded manic now, her voice coming fast. "You need me to help you out of your dark life, Agent DiNozzo. You need to see-"
"He doesn't need a damn thing from you," Gibbs interrupted, voice harsh and cutting. Sheryl looked at him with wide eyes, and then froze when she saw McGee pull out a certain bottle of Chianti.
Tony felt nausea rise in his stomach when he glanced at the contents of the bottle. Inside, amongst the dark red liquid, were cut up pieces of human flesh that he could only assume were the unfortunate remains of James Warren's dick.
John was staring in shock. "Sheryl," he said, voice low and disbelieving. "What on earth-"
"He was tempting you!" Sheryl said, trying to free herself of Ziva's hold without success. "I saw you looking at him! I saw it! We had to get rid of him to save you!"
"We?" John asked, staring at her in disgust.
"Robert and I," Sheryl said. "He helped me. He saw it, too. He knew what was going on just as much as I did."
Tony went to the cabinets and began to rifle through them, searching for the knife Ludlow said would be there.
"I can't believe this," John said. "You-you murdered two people because you thought I'd be tempted by them?"
"It's what God would want!" Sheryl said passionately. "They were sinning and I know they were tempting you to sin, too! It's not right, John!"
John blinked and stared at her, and Tony looked up from the cabinets and got the distinct impression that John suddenly understood exactly what kind of a life he'd been leading for the past few years. He looked disgusted and horrified, and Tony turned back to the cabinets, opening drawers until finally he found a long, serrated knife that matched the description he'd gotten from Abby and Ducky based on Warren's wounds. It had a bit of blood near the handle, and he was relieved to see it. McGee handed him a bag, and he bagged it and turned to Sheryl.
"We got our evidence," he said. "You're under arrest."
"You can't do this," Sheryl said.
"We can and we will," Tony said. "But hey, lots of women to choose from in prison," he added with a grin.
"Women?" Sheryl said. "That's-"
Ziva snapped cuffs on Sheryl's hands and leaned in close to her ear. "Exactly what you want?" she said breathily, and when Sheryl froze, Tony laughed and grinned at Ziva, who winked at him.
Ziva began to lead Sheryl away, and in desperation, Sheryl turned back to John. "John, please, do something," she pled, but John wasn't saying anything, merely staring in shock, and as they pulled Sheryl out of the house, evidence in hand, John stood and watched, completely still, eyes wide.
And as he left the Tysons' home for the third and final time that day, Tony felt inexplicably relieved that this case was just about closed. The day, as long as it was, felt like years.
And when he got into the car with Gibbs and Gibbs looked at him with another one of those genuine, crooked smiles where the corners of his eyes crinkled and his face looked open and relaxed, Tony felt his heart clench yet again, and the smile on his own face grew.
Though it had started out as the case from hell, it had somehow ended up being cathartic for him, and he knew that Gibbs understood. He watched the Tysons' home disappear from view, and couldn't wait to finish up his work and go home.
The steering wheel felt cool under Tony's clammy hands, and he was surprisingly nervous as he drove to Gibbs' house. Gibbs had insisted he come over with a grunt and a jerk of his head in the bullpen on his way out. As Senior Field Agent, Tony knew better than to disobey, and so he'd quickly finished up his reports and headed out soon after Gibbs. As someone who recently found out that Gibbs had sex with men sometimes, though, Tony was floored and it was all he could do to not jump out of his chair and drag Gibbs into the elevator right then and there.
He was used to clamping down his feelings for Gibbs, so much so that he could almost pretend that they didn't exist. But after the Genesis case, and the way Gibbs had been acting with him ever since it began, his feelings were quickly rising to the surface and he hoped he could keep them at bay.
As he pulled into Gibbs' driveway and shut off his car, he ran a tired hand over his face, steeling himself with a deep breath before getting out of the car. As he headed up Gibbs' walkway in the patchy light of the lamps alongside the path, his nerves surprised him; he felt jumpy and anxious and the thought of being alone with Gibbs after everything that had happened was vaguely terrifying. Nonetheless, he let himself in as usual, surprised to hear sounds coming from the kitchen - he'd expected Gibbs to be in the basement.
"Hey Boss," Tony called as he entered Gibbs' home, taking in the familiar, homey living room with relief; something about it made him feel a bit more relaxed. Gibbs' house always felt so warm and inviting to him, and when he saw Gibbs pulling two beers out of the fridge in the kitchen, he felt an overwhelming wave of yearning, yearning that he'd come home to this warm cozy place every day, and his things would be in the fridge beside Gibbs', and his shoes would have a special spot beside Gibbs' next to the front door, and there'd be a special spot for his coat on the coat rack, too – but he was getting ahead of himself, he knew, and he pushed those thoughts away and focused on the present, heading over to Gibbs and taking the beer with a nod of thanks, hoping it would calm his nerves.
"Long day," Gibbs said, gesturing for Tony to follow him back into the living room.
"Yeah," Tony said, "You can say that again," he added, thinking that 'long day' was about the understatement of the century.
Gibbs sat on the couch and Tony sat beside him, watching as Gibbs stared at his beer for a moment. Tony had an urge to fill the silence with chatter, but Gibbs looked like he was about to speak, so Tony sipped his beer and waited it out until finally, Gibbs turned and looked at him.
The look on his face was open and raw and understanding, and Tony was taken aback. "You did a damn good job today," Gibbs said, voice rough. "I'm proud of you, Tony."
Tony blinked, completely overwhelmed by the rare praise from Gibbs. And not just one praise, but two. He wasn't surprised to feel the clench in his chest once more, this time accompanied by a fluttering, twisting sensation in his gut. "Thanks, Boss," Tony said, voice much gruffer than he'd intended. He hoped to whatever god was listening that the burning feeling that was suddenly overwhelming his sinuses was not what he thought it was.
"I mean it," Gibbs continued. He paused for a moment, staring at the label on his beer for a moment. "Know it was hard for you today."
Tony took a long pull of his beer and then turned away for a moment, scrubbing a hand over his face. He didn't know what it was, but something about being there, in Gibbs' home, with a beer and a Gibbs who was so incredibly understanding, was making it extremely hard to act like he wasn't completely overwhelmed by the events of the day.
"You regret it?" Gibbs asked, and Tony turned back, startled by the question, knowing his eyes were a bit brighter and hoping Gibbs wouldn't notice.
"What you said in interrogation," Gibbs said.
"No," Tony said vehemently, surprised by how quickly the answer came to him. "Of course not."
"Then why didn't you say it sooner?"
Gibbs' tone of voice was light and the question sounded so simple when it came from Gibbs' mouth that Tony felt his lip tighten for a moment, and he took a deep breath when he felt that burning in his sinuses again, trying to get himself under control.
He wasn't sure what to say, wasn't sure how to address the question, not when he was so exhausted, emotionally and physically. "I don't - " He paused and swallowed, hoping when he spoke again his voice would be steadier. He wasn't sure where this rush of emotion was coming from, but the adrenaline of the case was wearing off, and he felt wrung out. "It's hard, you know?"
"Yeah," Gibbs said, and Tony could tell from his tone of voice that Gibbs did know. "You have a hard time growing up? With your sexuality?"
Tony was surprised to hear this question coming from Gibbs; normally, Gibbs had a way of grunting and staring that got the answers he wanted, and Tony felt strangely flattered that Gibbs would actually want to know this enough to ask him about it, despite the fact that he absolutely did not want to talk about it. "Yeah," Tony said after a moment. He took a deep breath, ignoring how shaky it sounded, and stared at a particularly fascinating section on the label of his beer as he spoke. "It was – my mom, you know, she used to dress me up in sailor suits and I used to help her get ready for parties and watch her do her make up and help her pick out dresses, and my dad hated it. Used to call me pansy and faggot all the time. Then when she – she died, it was - "
Tony paused, taking a gulp of his beer. He couldn't remember ever discussing this. Ever. It was a double taboo for him – sexuality and his mother, and he knew that Gibbs understood that, and when Gibbs didn't say anything, merely drank his own beer and watched Tony patiently, Tony continued, despite the fact that his voice was a lot less steady and a lot more gruff and that damned burning in his sinuses wouldn't go away and he didn't dare look in Gibbs' direction because he wasn't sure he could handle it.
"She died and I just wanted it to be like it was before because she – I mean, she was drunk all the time and she was an alcoholic and I know that, Gibbs, but she understood me, you know?" He chanced a look at Gibbs, and found him watching patiently, so he turned away and took another fortifying deep breath, wiping at his eyes and continuing. "So I'd go in her room and I'd put on her sweaters and wear the stupid sailor suits and smell her perfume and put on her records and when my dad found me, he'd give me the belt and tell me never to do it again. He started sending me to a shrink after that."
Tony took another long gulp of his beer, half of him wanting to push the memories away like usual and the other half wanting to take the rare opportunity to remember that time of his life and cherish it. He was surprised to see that his hand was shaking slightly, so he put the beer on the table and kept talking, eager to be through with the story. "I still kept going through mom's stuff even though Dad sent me to the shrink," he admitted. "He was pissed - got rid of all her stuff and started sending me to a new shrink and taking me to church more often. He used to send me to this stupid fucking program at the church for troubled youth…it was a handful of gay kids whose parents hated them. The priest used to pray for our recovery every week; it was bullshit. I stopped going after a while and Dad found out, and when he went to find me during the meeting I skipped, he found me making out with another boy from the group."
Gibbs snorted. "Bet he liked that," he said.
Tony grinned despite the anxiety he felt, something about the normalcy of Gibbs' response bolstering him a bit. "Yeah," he said. "Liked it enough to send me to boarding school."
"Must've been tough for you," Gibbs said.
"Yeah," Tony said with a shrug. "But it was okay. Then I went to college, dated some girls, played football, and left Dad behind."
"Leave your sexuality behind, too?" Gibbs asked.
Something about that question set Tony on edge, and he felt the anxiety in his stomach twist into defiance, and he turned to Gibbs angrily. "It wasn't like that," he said. "I wasn't hiding -"
"Hey," Gibbs interrupted. "Never said you were."
Tony looked at Gibbs, really looked at him and he saw patience and understanding, and he felt the anger leave him just as quickly as it had come and he sighed, shoulders drooping. "I – this is -"
Tony was alarmed to hear that his words were cut off by what was coming dangerously close to a sob, and he took a desperate sip (gulp) of his beer, blinking rapidly and trying to keep it all from coming to the surface.
"It's okay, Tony," Gibbs said. "Don't have to hide this from me. Don't have to hide yourself from me. Or from you."
Tony felt his lip twist against his will and he set his beer down, covering his face with his hands and trying desperately to get himself under control. It had been building up all day long, and really, if he was honest with himself, it had been building up for years and he'd chosen to ignore it, and Gibbs' words, so earnest and to the point, cut him to the core, because as usual, he knew Gibbs was right – he had been hiding. He had been taking the easy way out, and he was sick of it.
He took a few more deep breaths, finding that it took every bit of strength he had not to outright sob in some strange combination of relief and stress and exhaustion. He knew he had to get himself under control, and so he thought of what it felt like to finally speak his mind in interrogation, and the way Gibbs told Sheryl Tyson that Tony didn't need a damn thing from her, and the way Gibbs' hand felt on his neck in the stairwell after he'd panicked, and he squeezed his eyes shut in determination and then sat up a little straighter, picked up his beer again, and wiped his eyes, going back to his story, finding the courage to keep talking. "I know what it sounds like," he admitted. "I mean, I did suddenly get a lot more masculine, and maybe part of that was a reaction to my sexuality being rejected, I don't know. But I really was attracted to women when I dated them, and I liked playing sports and I was good at them," he paused, fiddling with the label on his beer bottle. "Then, when I became a cop, I made the mistake of letting my partner find out I was dating a guy, and that was the end of Peoria," he added. "Same thing happened in Philly and then I learned again that I should act on my attraction to women, not men."
"That's not right," Gibbs said.
"No," Tony agreed, and he was surprised that the coil of anxiety that had been sitting in the pit of his stomach all day long was loosening, and pushing through his story and hearing Gibbs' simple response – that's not right – had somehow managed to ease his burden. "But it's done," Tony added, and he couldn't help but think that maybe his hiding was done, too, and he allowed a sliver of hope to grab hold of him because talking to Gibbs about it, and hearing how understanding he was, was forcing him to realize exactly what he'd been missing out on all those years that he denied himself. He felt lighter suddenly, his body humming with the positivity that could only come with a realization like the one he'd just had.
"Wasn't like that for me," Gibbs said suddenly, bringing Tony out of his thoughts.
"No?" Tony asked, turning to look at Gibbs. He was dying to find out more, but it was so rare for Gibbs to volunteer information about himself that he didn't want to rush it and spoil the moment; he'd let Gibbs go at his own pace.
Gibbs shrugged. "Slept with a few men here and there," he said. "Dated one for a while. Didn't work out."
"You don't really have a good track record," Tony pointed out, and was relieved when Gibbs laughed rather than take offense. He felt as if a bit of normalcy was beginning to return to them, despite the strangeness of their topic of conversation, and he allowed himself to settle into Gibbs' couch a bit more.
"Guess I don't," Gibbs said.
"Did you ever – you know, come out or anything?"
Gibbs shook his head. "No," he said, "nobody's business who I sleep with unless I decide to make it theirs."
Tony grinned; he hadn't expected anything else from Gibbs, really.
"Ziva and McGee say anything to you?" Gibbs asked a moment later.
Tony shook his head. "No, not really. They want to know more, though," he said. "Ziva said she was 'intrigued.'"
Gibbs snorted. "I'll bet she is," he said.
Tony grinned and played with the label on his beer bottle again. He always relished times like this, when it was just him and Gibbs, like it was back before even Kate had joined the team. They'd been through so much together, and he found it hard to believe that it was only now that they'd discuss this, and having such a personal conversation with Gibbs, a conversation he'd rarely had with anyone, made him feel particularly close to him.
"You seeing someone now?" Gibbs asked suddenly.
Tony felt his heart lodge somewhere in his throat and he forced himself to not read too much into that, though the humming excitement that was already building inside of him was beginning to go into overdrive. "No," he said. "Normal people don't like dating someone who works eighty hours a week."
Gibbs snorted. "Tell me about it," he said. "Got three divorces to prove it."
Tony took a long swig of his beer and set the now-empty bottle down on the coffee table. "Guess it's about finding someone with the same work habits as you," Tony said, adrenaline pumping with the knowledge that he was brushing too close to what he really wanted to say, that he was fishing for Gibbs to say something that would make Tony believe that Gibbs' behavior all day and their conversation just now were all signs.
"Guess so," Gibbs agreed. Tony looked up and found that Gibbs was staring at him intently, and Tony stared back, wide eyed. The atmosphere in the room was changing, and it felt charged with tension and unspoken words and Tony's heart was beating fast because he was either about to get ten years of pent-up desire fulfilled or he was about to file for unemployment because he was so close to what he wanted that he couldn't let it go.
It was part of what made him a good agent, but also a big part of what always got him into trouble; sometimes, he couldn't help but act on impulse. This was one of those times, and before he could think to stop himself, he was leaning forward, closing the small distance between Gibbs and himself, his eyes flickering between Gibbs' lips and Gibbs' eyes, and Gibbs was leaning forward, too. And then their lips met and it was short, a chaste brush of dry lips, and Tony pulled away a bit, looking at Gibbs from a closer distance than he ever had before.
He wasn't sure what he was looking for when he looked at Gibbs; confirmation, perhaps, that what he'd just done was welcome, or that he could maybe do it again, but whatever it was, he found it, and then Tony was leaning forward and kissing Gibbs once more, this time letting his lips slide apart as one of Gibbs' hands found the back of his head to pull him closer.
His stomach was fluttering again, and his heart was beating fast and light, and the feeling of Gibbs' lips against his was indescribable, and no matter how many times he'd imagined it, his imagination never quite brought justice to the taste of Gibbs, to the feeling of Gibbs' tongue, warm and velvety, sliding against his own. And when he pulled away a moment later and Gibbs pressed a kiss against the corner of his mouth, Tony sighed, his fingers weaving into the short threads of Gibbs' hair. He looked at Gibbs through hazy, half-lidded eyes and then let his forehead droop against Gibbs'.
He felt more content than he remembered feeling in a long time, and he let his eyes drift closed. Gibbs pulled him close and ran a hand up and down his back, and Tony was embarrassed at how warm it made him feel, at how perfect it made him feel, and how protected and even cherished it made him feel.
"Think you can put up with all the hours I work?" Gibbs asked.
Tony laughed, and felt a shiver run up his spine at the way Gibbs' breath slid across his skin when he spoke. "I think I can handle it," Tony said. "If you can handle my hours. My boss never gives me a break."
"That so?" Gibbs asked, and Tony grinned, pulling away so he could look Gibbs properly in the face when he spoke.
Gibbs looked relaxed, more relaxed than Tony could remember seeing him. "So this…this is okay?" Tony asked, fully prepared to hear Gibbs say no despite the hand that was still drifting over his lower back.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "What do you think?"
Tension that Tony hadn't realized was there suddenly uncoiled in his shoulders. "You never know," he said lightly.
"It's more than okay," Gibbs said firmly. "And this is serious for me."
"Me too," Tony said. "I've wanted this for a really long time, Boss."
"Jethro," Gibbs corrected. "Jethro at home."
Tony grinned. "Jethro," he said. "I don't want to see anyone else if I'm with you."
"Better not," Gibbs warned, and Tony grinned because, well, that was exactly the response he'd expected from Gibbs, and then all at once the day's events caught up with him, and he stifled a jaw-popping yawn.
"Long day," Gibbs said, his fingers smoothing up and down Tony's spine.
"Mm," Tony agreed. "Bad case. I mean, we see a lot of bad cases, you know? But this one just seemed so pointless."
"It was," Gibbs said. "And it was pretty close-to-home, too."
"Yeah," Tony said. "But I guess it had a good outcome for us, anyway, right?"
"Damn right," Gibbs said, and despite all of the horrific things he'd seen and heard during the case, Tony found himself smiling and drawing on the positives – he'd stood up for himself and for what he believed in, he'd come out to his entire team, and most importantly, at the end of the day, he'd even gotten his man.
With a tired grin, he leaned in and kissed Gibbs, and thought that maybe if the Tysons were right and he was going to hell, it wouldn't be so bad – because he'd be going with Gibbs.
But he knew, deep down, that being with Gibbs, as new and fresh as it was, was the most right thing he'd ever done, and he felt at ease and content and he was sure that if he ended up in hell, it wouldn't be for that.
"All in a day's work, huh Jethro?" Tony murmured when he pulled out of the kiss.
Gibbs snorted. "Something like that," he said, but the smile on his face was fond and warm.
Tony grinned brightly, and as he watched Gibbs' smile grow, he couldn't help but think he'd just seen the light, Genesis be damned.
"Hey," Gibbs said suddenly, a thoughtful look on his face. "What the hell were you gonna tell McGee about what women want this morning?"
Tony laughed, harder than he remembered laughing in a long time. "Uh, doesn't really seem relevant now," he said.
"Better not be," Gibbs said.
A thought occurred to Tony suddenly, though, and he grinned. "Maybe I should be giving him advice on what men want," he said. "Seems like he might swing our way."
When the expected headslap came, the last vestiges of Tony's anxiety left him, and he pressed a laughing kiss against Gibbs' lips, happiness flooding him. When he pulled away, eyes shining with affection, Gibbs smiled at him, a smile filled with pride and care and joy, and he spoke, three words that made Tony's state of elation transcend into something he couldn't have imagined if he tried.
"Welcome home, Tony."
And with a smile, Tony realized that after the events of the day, that's exactly where he'd gone – home, home to his truth and his heart and his past and his future, and when he pulled Gibbs in for a hug and pressed his face into Gibbs' neck, closing his eyes and inhaling his scent and needing Gibbs to understand exactly what this meant to him, he knew that Gibbs got it, because Gibbs repeated his words again, voice soft and warm against Tony's ear, hands pulling Tony closer.