Author's Notes: Happy national hangover recovery day, everyone! I'm pleased to say that we've reached the end of the story. (Well, this story, anyway.) I hope you all have enjoyed this ride as readers as much as I've had fun as a writer. It's always been my goal to entertain people, and while I know I'm certainly not the best writer out there, if I've made you laugh or smile at some point during this piece, I know I've done my job. Before you all ask, yes, there will be a sequel to this piece, but I just don't know when. I have a couple other things I want to write in this 'verse before I start tackling that one.

I also want to say thank you to all of you who have supported and cheered as I wrote. Your kind words have been encouragement as my family has dealt with a couple of significant crises over the past month or so. It's been really nice to see the comments and alerts in my inbox, especially when I needed a break from the insanity that has been my real life. As always, a comment, whether you loved it, were indifferent about it, or thought it was the worst piece of shit you've ever read, would be appreciated. Thanks so much, you guys! Enjoy it!

Disclaimer: I am poor, so therefore I don't own Star Trek or NCIS, or anything else cool you might see in this fic. I own only the plot and a few of the crazy OCs.


Chapter 9

Iowa City, Iowa

"I hate to say it, but I think we might be close to the end of Scotty's movie collection," Jim said, allowing his voice to fall just a couple of notches. With his back toward the room's three other occupants, Kirk dug and scrounged through the nearly empty bottom drawer of the mechanic's desk. He mumbled to himself as he tossed out the few remaining DVDs over his left shoulder, not bothering to watch as they skidded to a halt adjacent to the TV.

From underneath a hefty pile of blankets and pillows strewn over Scotty's Crown Vic bench-seat-turned-couch, a muffled, "Praise the Lord," leaked out. The stack of furnishings started moving slowly, almost as if it were a caterpillar trying to crawl uphill. The shimmying continued unabated for a few more seconds until a dark head of hair and two bloodshot green eyes poked out from under the blankets, near the armrest. McCoy fixed the back of Kirk's head with a contemptuous glare before he hissed, "Maybe now I can actually get some sleep!"

Oblivious to the optical lasers being leveled at the back of his head, Kirk held up one hand in the air and corrected his partner, "No, I said we were nearing the end, not that we actually found it. There's a big difference, Bones. It'd be a dark day when we exhausted all of Scotty's movies. I'm just saying I think we're reaching the end of the ones we can all agree on." Jim surfaced with two choices in his hand, hopping up off the floor and trotting back over toward the couch. He held up his finds while he asked the room, "How about Blade?"

"Blade!" DiNozzo replied enthusiastically, his eyes lighting up at the prospect of yet another movie. "You can't go wrong with Wesley Snipes, even if he's a half-breed vampire!"

McCoy groaned loudly and covered his face with his forearm. He rubbed at his eyes with the pads of his fingers before he lifted his head off the couch and searched for Ziva's eyes. "Ziva, remind me again when our partners de-aged themselves."

An inelegant snort escaped the NCIS agent's lips while she sat ramrod straight in one of the bucket chairs opposite the couch. McCoy's copy of Dead of Night: A Zombie Novel dangled loosely from her fingertips as she half-paid attention to the conversation swirling around her. Turning the page with positively zero fanfare, she scoffed, "That would imply they grew up in the first place."

"Good point," he replied, letting his head fall back onto the pile of blankets behind his neck. Turning toward his own partner, McCoy wiggled his arm loose so he could point one menacing finger at Kirk. "And you. There'd better not be a speck of glitter on those vampires, or so help me God..." he growled, allowing the threating sentence to trail off into nothing.

DiNozzo's hands stilled in his lap. Smirking appreciatively, he nudged Jim's forearm and said, "Wow, he knows what Twilight is. That's a start, at least. Our boss is a lot more clueless than that."

"Gibbs is not clueless, Tony. He just knows what is important and what is not," Ziva corrected.

"Actually, you'd be surprised how much this old guy knows about pop culture," Kirk said with a jerk of his thumb toward the lump of humanity hiding under the blankets. "I mean, I call him Bones because I caught him-" Jim started to say before a shiny, green and silver projectile tumbled end over end from the vicinity of the couch, striking the patrol cop squarely in the side of the head. A dull thud was audible throughout the room, and a little bit of residual liquid squirted out from the former can of Mountain Dew and landed in Kirk's eye. With a curse, he rubbed the sore spot on the side of his head, and exclaimed, "Ow! Man, what was that for?"

"Not another goddamn word, Jim, unless you feel like you're ready to find out what it's like to eat your meals through a straw for the next six weeks."

"Well, that's one way I guess he's not like Gibbs," Tony quipped as he watched the exchange.

"No, Gibbs would not have said anything. He would have simply shot you, Tony," Ziva, not bothering to look up from her book, reminded her partner.

"And that's exactly what I'm going to do to you two if someone doesn't shut off that goddamned noisemaker!" McCoy glanced down at his watch and then up again towards Jim. "It is 0800, and I am not at my house, I am not in my own warm and comfortable bed, and most importantly, I am not sleeping!"

Kirk rolled his eyes right before he waved his hand dismissively. "Bones, you slept through The Rock. The Rock! Sean Connery? Nicholas Cage? Ed Harris? Bad-ass mother fuckery? Big explosions? That's a crime right there."

"I'm with Kirk on this one, McCoy," Tony said. "What you did was almost sacrilegious, and I thought physically impossible to do with a Michael Bay film."

"Oh, forgive me," the sergeant drawled sarcastically. "I didn't think I needed to actually watch the movie with you two next to me, quoting the damned thing line by line."

"Bones, Bones, Bones," Jim scolded. "Even Ziva stayed awake for the entire show. You're losing your man points here."

Staring blearily at his partner, McCoy said, "Jim, I have been awake for more than twenty four hours, thanks to you and your new friends. I am tired of being yelled at, I'm exhausted, and I want sleep. So go. The hell. Away." To accentuate his point, the sergeant grabbed the end of the blankets, gave them a hard snap and allowed them to ruffle dramatically like a parachute falling to the ground. He pulled his head under the falling fabric and cocooned himself inside, effectively blocking out the rest of the conversation.

From the doorway, Pike's deep, rich voice cut into the conversation. "Oh, come on, McCoy. They're not that bad."

"Christ on a cracker, not you, too." Swearing loudly, McCoy threw back the covers and heaved himself upright. His shoulders slouched down and his spine curved gloriously while he rubbed at his tired face. Along with the hearty scowl and awful posture, the red rimmed, bloodshot, fatigued eyes only made the normally serious man even more cartoonish. The sergeant's hair was sticking up in staunch defiance in seventeen thousand different directions in the most prolific example of bedhead on record. McCoy growled at the snickers being shot in his general direction. At the same time, he tried in vain to smooth his porcupine-esque coif as he pointed emphatically at the two younger men sitting in his vicinity. To Pike, he questioned, "Can't you make them go away?"

"Nope, sorry." Pike asked cheekily while he sauntered into the room. He spun Scotty's rolling desk chair around backwards and dropped into it. Chris used his feet to propel the wheeled piece of furniture over toward the group while he leaned his forearms on the top of the backrest. "They're your assignment, so they're not going anywhere."

"Have I mentioned recently how much I hate you all?" the sergeant shot back before he pushed himself off the couch. Sticking his head under the emergency shower Pike insisted Scotty install in case of unexpected explosions, McCoy pulled the handle and allowed some of the water to drip over his head. He smoothed back his now soaked hair, cursing when some of the icy wetness ran down his neck and soaked the collar of his shirt. He trudged back over to the couch, sat down, crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his former partner. "You've made this a sport. You and Jim, tormenting me. It's some sort of sick, twisted game."

"Actually, I do it because I can. Perks of the bars," Pike replied, reaching out and snagging a handful of pretzels from the dish on the coffee table. He tossed them into his mouth and asked, "Did you children have a good night?"

"No," was McCoy's reply.

"Yes," Tony and Jim said at the same time.

Pike's head ping ponged back and forth between the two very opposite reactions given by the three men in front of him. Kirk and DiNozzo couldn't have looked more pleased with themselves while McCoy was busy being as annoyed as his counterparts were thrilled. Chris tucked in a laugh before he said, "Well, you're all still alive. That's all that matters at this point."

"Why are you looking at me, Lieu?" Kirk exclaimed, holding his hands out in front of his chest. "Glare at my partner and his new assassin BFF. Do you even want to know what they spent their night doing?"

"Probably not, but I'm sure you're going to tell me." Pike smirked and raised an eyebrow when his mind rewound and replayed Jim's previous sentence. "And was that intentionally dirty, Kirk, or just me?"

Jim's entire body, in motion through the conversation, suddenly stilled. "That wasn't what I meant, but we were wondering where they actually went when they claimed to have gone to dinner last night. I smelled bullshit," Kirk replied, motioning with one hand toward a smiling DiNozzo.

Chris' eyes flicked over just in time for him to catch the tail end of a nice, proper blush making its way across McCoy's face. He noted, with a small measure of relief, that DiNozzo was at least heeding the warning signs that was the icy stare Ziva was leveling at him. "Really, Kirk? And how is that?"

"Come on, Lieu. I might be young, but I'm not dense. Do you see how they're acting?" Kirk insisted, waving his arms at Bones and then towards Ziva. "My partner smiled at her. He smiled! I saw it. I didn't even think his face had those muscles, let alone the ability to use them!"

Ziva, still sedately reading her borrowed book, responded to Kirk's charges before McCoy could utter one obscenity. "I hardly think you lieutenant will blame me if I preferred to spend my night with someone who could actually hold an intelligent conversation."

"Touche, Agent David," Pike said with a low, appreciative whistle. He reached over and smacked Kirk on the arm. "She got you there. Can't argue with that logic."

"I do my best," Ziva replied with a small, dangerous smile.

Kirk, watching the exchange while his jaw dropped in half-inch increments, was incredulous. "This is not fair. You're all completely ignoring the issue here."

Pike stared at Jim as if he was inspecting a new recruit at first turn out. With his eyes boring holes into the younger man, he asked, "What did she do?"

"She gave him ninja skills!" Kirk nearly shrieked, pointing manically at Ziva.

"Ninja skills? What the hell kind of term is that, Kirk?"

"The one that involves my partner learning how to use a letter opener as a throwing knife," Kirk pouted back almost petulantly.

"I don't see how that's a bad thing to learn," Pike replied, mentally knuckle-bumping McCoy when a sly, proud expression broke out across the man's face. "You never know when you might need to use it."

"Yeah, but then they went hand-to-hand. Or, hand-to…whatever," Kirk stated, relishing the second embarrassed expression to pass across McCoy's face in as many minutes.

The sound of a rumbling diesel engine pulling up outside the door interrupted any reply from the assembled crowd in the room, and probably kept Kirk breathing for the time being. Pike watched the sergeant chew on the inside of his lip as he counted backwards from ten to keep from pummeling his loveable but irritating partner. Quickly filling the silence and thereby avoiding World War III, Pike pointed towards the outer door and said, "I think that's your car, Agents DiNozzo and David."

"How'd you get it out so fast?" DiNozzo questioned as he tore his attention away from the conversation to squint at the bright, white snow reflecting off the glass from the single window in Scotty's Lair of Doom. "It was pretty well buried."

"Yeah, well, here in the Midwest, we're used to it. We don't panic like you babies do in D.C. when a little bit of the white stuff shows up," Pike sniped back proudly.

"How many favors is this gonna cost us?" McCoy asked with an irritated grumble, wondering just what part of his soul Pike had to trade in order to get the NCIS car bumped to the front of the line after such a ferocious blizzard. "Hell of a lot of 'Get out a speeding ticket free,' days, and I'm not paying."

"Relax, Len. No one's paying anything. I told them I had a set of NCIS agents that had a material witness they needed to get back to D.C. on the double, so the driver popped the car to the top of the list." Chris reached into the pocket of the hoodie he borrowed from Kirk and pulled out a folded set of paperwork. Pushing the chair forward, he stood to his full height while he tossed the stack of red tape on the table toward Ziva. "That's your transfer paperwork for one Melvin Jenkins, releasing him from our custody and into yours. I've signed it, and as soon as you get him from the jail, you'll need to ink it, too. Now, get the hell out of my station, Agents DiNozzo and David, and I mean that in nicest of ways."

Ziva and Tony didn't need to be told twice. As soon as Pike was on his feet, both NCIS agents stood with him, shaking the man's hand. Ziva thanked him politely for his hospitality and for his officers, and Tony at least had the good grace to apologize for turning the man red. In a surprise move, Pike simply smiled, slapped DiNozzo on the back, and walked out the door.

A flurry of activity encompassed the next few minutes after Pike's departure. The pair ran around the Iowa City police station in search of any wayward belongings while the tow truck driver unloaded their car in the garage. Thanks to military precision, the process of actually cleaning up after themselves took much less time that should have been logically expected. Bags were packed, lists were checked, and everything was running right on schedule. The efficiency was a welcome surprise to McCoy, who walked back into Scotty's office to find Ziva picking up a few spare pieces of trash that fell on the floor during the night. He looked on the couch and saw each blanket he used neatly folded, the chairs pushed in and desk left in its normal state of entropy.

"If I didn't have the pictures to prove it, I might actually believe the last twelve hours of my life was just a dream," he said while he lurked silently in the doorway. "It looks like you guys were never here."

Ziva's hands paused for an eye blink before she resumed her task of checking under and on top of things for any possessions belonging to her or DiNozzo, or for any excess trash that was missed the first go around. "Tony always makes a mark wherever he goes. It is inevitable."

"So do you," McCoy replied frankly before he could truly stop and think about what he was saying. He mentally kicked himself for such open-ended ambiguity, running his hand through his freshly washed, still-wet-from-the-shower hair as a nervous distraction. He coughed into his hand before he added, "Just not in the way your partner does," with a hefty cringe.

"Hmm. I hope not! It is my intent to keep NCIS in good standing with the various law enforcement agencies around the country, not to alienate them."

Shrugging, McCoy shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark blue, surprisingly fashionable jeans. "Well, I'm pretty sure that I can speak for Lieu when I say that you're always welcome back here, Ziva. Just do us a favor and leave DiNozzo at home, will you?"

Ziva stopped her work and leaned up against the edge of Scotty's giant workbench. She picked away at some imaginary dirt under her fingernails and said, "And leave Tony unattended at our office? I think not. He requires…supervision, as you discovered."

"Isn't that what you have Gibbs for?" McCoy quipped cheekily.

"It is my intent to see that Tony has a babysitter, not someone who would outright murder him. As annoying as he can be, he is a very good investigator, and a very good agent, not that I would ever tell him that." She paused, looked down and added hesitantly, "And, he is a good friend. He has helped me on many occasions when I most needed it."

"If you ever repeat this, I will deny it to my dying breath, but you two make a good team. Gibbs was smart when he paired you up," McCoy admitted while he shifted nervously from foot to foot. "You guys need each other. You're effective. I can see that."

"There are days I wonder, but for the most part, you are correct. I would not ever admit that, though. Tony's head is big enough as it is!" Ziva exclaimed with a wave of her small hand.

Tilting his head to the side, McCoy smiled out of the corner of his mouth before he took a step closer towards the NCIS agent. "Aww, look at that. You do care about him."

"As you care about your partner," she replied without missing a beat. "I promise to keep your secret if you will keep mine."

McCoy cleared his throat uncomfortably and pondered her suggestion for a moment before he nodded and said, "Sounds like a fair deal. Where do I sign?"

"On my ass, Bones!" Kirk yelled, not at all concerned at what he'd interrupted. "You're already kissing Ziva's, so you might as well make it official! Well, official in the sense that you're going to tell us where you two were doing the squelchy when you were supposed to be at 'dinner'," Jim said, using quotation fingers while he brought up the pair's impromptu trek to Ribisi's the night previous.

The sergeant groaned loudly and pinched the bridge of his nose. He took a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly to a five count. McCoy muttered under his breath, "Lord above, give me the strength not to murder him with any of the skills I learned last night."

"Don't do that. It would not be wise, and I do not wish to be party to another murder in a police station." A mischievous smirk broke out across Ziva's face when she looked up and registered that her statement stunned the sergeant, slack-jawed and openly horrified, absolutely silent. Pulling the book she borrowed from McCoy's locker out of her pocket, she slapped it hard against his chest. "Thank you for that. It helped pass the time."

McCoy fumbled with the small paperback when it was unceremoniously shoved into his hands. He righted the title so it was face up, tucking the volume into the back pocket of his jeans for the time being. He leaned down and reached for the green straps of Ziva's sea bag and tucked it carefully into the trunk of their car. "All set."

"You know, when I tried to do that, she kicked me in the stomach," DiNozzo quipped as he walked fast by the pair, adding his own bag to the trunk. Tony slammed the lid shut and spun in a half circle, leaning up against the bumper of the car. "What's your trick, man?"

"Respect," McCoy grumbled back.

Kirk snorted. "Respect? Yeah, that would be a first."

McCoy whirled around on one heel and shoved an irritated finger in Jim's face. "Respect due a lady, Jackass. Though with the way you screamed over Lucy, maybe I should be treating you like one."

"Dude, would you stop bringing up that slithering, creepy, nasty pet of yours? What person in their right mind thinks that it's cool to keep a snake? People have dogs. Some people even have cats. A hamster could even, in extreme cases, be considered acceptable. But a snake? Hell, no!" Kirk ranted away. "There is something wrong in your head, man."

"There's something wrong with my head? Pot, meet the damned kettle," The sergeant snorted loudly. "You are playing with fire, Kid. I'll burn you, and you know it."

"Try it," Jim answered, puffing out his chest and stepping closer to his partner.

"How about we simply say we did and avoid the actual fisticuffs?" Ziva asked, placing one hand in between Kirk and McCoy before an all-out brawl could actually get going. She pointed towards the doorway as a distraction. "Our prisoner is here, and we would like to get going. Right, Tony?"

"Huh?" DiNozzo asked, responding only when his partner's hand made contact with his side. "Right, oh yeah. We should go."

In a prison-issued orange jumpsuit, Melvin Jenkins shuffled through Scotty's office with Marcy Jordan at his side. The gregarious CO kept a firm grip on the man even though he was handcuffed and shackled. She waved a friendly hello to McCoy and Kirk before introducing herself to the NCIS agents. "I think I have some riff-raff for you," she said jovially.

"Riff-raff about sums it up," Tony answered, scribbling his name on the transfer paperwork before he offered it to Jordan to do the same. With a cheesy smile, he waited patiently for the jailer to remove her cuffs and shackles before pulling his own from the pouch hidden at the back of his belt. Tony stepped around to Jenkins' side, and pulled the man's hands behind his back. The familiar motion of cuffing a suspect hitched midway, and Tony titled his head to the side as he regarded his newest catch. "If I cuff you in front, are you gonna play nice?"

Jenkins pursed his lips while his jaw clenched at Tony's apparent condescension, but he nodded once in the NCIS agent's direction to the affirmative. "Yeah," he said simply.

"Good!" DiNozzo exclaimed as he slapped the cold, hard metal on to the man's wrists. He cranked them down tightly and squeezed his charge's shoulders. "Ready to head back to D.C., Melvin? There's a very anxious U.S. Attorney who was heartbroken you stood her up on your last date."

Jenkins simply scowled while Tony pressed down on his head, encouraging the man to step into the car. He pulled his feet in wordlessly while DiNozzo slammed the door shut in his face. Shaking his head, the man sat in the back seat and seethed, watching the NCIS agents as they collected their coats.

"I think it goes without saying that if you are ever in Washington, you should, how do you say it? Look me up?" Ziva said to McCoy.

The sergeant laughed. "I'll do that, Ziva. Take care of yourself, you hear?"

"Likewise," she replied. The pair reached out and shook hands, and Ziva felt McCoy tense and then relax in the span of half of a second when she pulled him into a brief hug. Leaning on the open passenger door, she patted him gently on the cheek, relishing the shy smile the small gesture pulled from the stoic man. Ziva slid into passenger seat of the car and allowed McCoy to close her door for her as she pulled on her seatbelt.

On the other side of the car, Tony and Jim were exchanging something that resembled a handshake. To his new friend, Kirk said, "It's been real, man. Drive safe back to the airport."

"Oh, that won't be a problem," DiNozzo answered while he stuck one foot in the foot well of the car. "I'm driving."

Jim reached out and knuckle bumped DiNozzo. "I hear that. Peace out, and hit me up sometime. I'd love to hear how this all shakes down for you."

"You got it, Kirk. Don't get shot," Tony said, pulling on his aviator sunglasses as he started the engine. "Later, brother!" he called out the window.

McCoy chewed on the bottom of his lip while he watched the Crown Vic roll out of the garage and disappear into the harsh, barren white landscape of Iowa City. Turning to Jim, he crossed his arms over his chest and said, "You and I need to have a little talk about appropriateness."

Kirk rolled his eyes and slapped McCoy on the bicep. Deadpanned, Jim shook his head and asked his partner, "Bones, for a man who got laid last night, you are really cranky!"

The entire station heard McCoy's response, and quite possibly the genesis of Kirk's demise. "FOR CHRISSAKE, JIM, IT WAS ONLY DINNER!"


Outside Iowa City, Iowa

"Do you have any idea where we are, Tony?"

"We're in Iowa. That's where," DiNozzo replied, twisting his phone around to study the map application on his handheld device. He squinted at the screen while he struggled to figure out which direction was north. "We're, uh, here," he said lamely, pointing at the little blue dot slowly worming across his cell phone.

"You know, I've been here for a while, so I actually know this area pretty well," Jenkins piped up from the back seat in an attempt to be helpful.

Ziva rolled her eyes and snatched the phone from her partner's hands, completely ignoring their captive. "Tony, your orienteering skills are useless! There is really only one way back to Cedar Rapids, and this is via the road we are on. You don't even have to turn, so I fail to understand how this can be so complex."

Tony gripped the steering wheel tighter while he focused on the piles of white snow stacked on either side of the road. He shook his head and said, "It's not complex, it's just boring. There has to be shorter way!"

"Yeah, I know a few of those!" Jenkins reiterated from behind the invisible line dividing the naughty side of the car from the nice one.

Waving her hand in the air towards their charge, Ziva turned her head and smiled. "Be careful. You are coming dangerously close to whining."

"I'm not whining," DiNozzo began while he adjusted the seatbelt in his own version of a nervous tick. "DiNozzos don't whine. I was just stating a fact."

"You were whining," Ziva responded after a beat, laughing through her statement at her partner as she held up a finger in Tony's face. "Besides, it snowed nearly two feet in a day. We are lucky the roads were clear enough to allow us to leave."

"I was not whining," Tony practically pouted, ignoring the last part of his partner's observations.

"I hate to say it, Agent DiNozzo, but you were whining," Jenkins affirmed with a sly smirk that nearly matched Ziva's. He leaned forward from the bench seat and rested his elbows on the backrests of the front seats. Shaking his handcuffs, he shot a pointed look toward Tony. "A little help here?"

Tony peeked in the rear view mirror. "Oh, sorry. My bad." He shifted in his seat, lifting his butt a few inches up off the cloth upholstery. He snagged his keys with his fingertips and, with a smooth motion, tossed them into the back right next to their prisoner.

Jenkins let out an approving grunt and reached for the keys. He flipped through the ring to the tiny skeleton key and greedily jammed his find home into the hole carved into the cuffs locked around his wrists. The metal bands clicked and ratcheted, falling to the floor with a dull 'thud'. Melvin rubbed away the soreness at the base of his hands while he reached down and plucked DiNozzo's handcuffs from the floor where they fell. Twisting them expertly closed, he handed both the cuffs and the keys to Ziva. "Did you have to put those things on so tight? Jesus, I couldn't feel my hands!"

"Sorry, man," DiNozzo apologized. "It had to look authentic. People were watching."

"I know, but that doesn't mean it still didn't hurt!"

"You're a big boy. I know you'll get over it, Melvin." DiNozzo turned and met the man's dark eyes. "Or should I call you Agent Francis Saunders?"

In the back seat, the convict-turned-federal-agent shuddered dramatically. "If I never hear the name Melvin Jenkins again, I'll be happy. What idiot came up with that when they decided to throw me under cover?"

Tony smiled genuinely when he answered, "That one was Fornell's fault. Blame your boss."

"I would, if I thought he wouldn't kill me if I tried. Still though, at least I don't have your boss," Saunders supplied lightly while he shuddered involuntarily. "I think Gibbs can kill people with his gaze alone."

"It's his superpower. One day, we're going to figure out how he does it and then patent the technology. It would make us millions!" DiNozzo exclaimed.

"Which is exactly what you're going to need when Gibbs fires you for not getting your job done, Tony. And I, for one, do not wish to break in a new partner. You were hard enough," Ziva cut in impatiently. "We still have a job to do."

In the back, Saunders cracked his neck back and forth. "Yeah, we do. All right. Focus."

"Tell us what you have," DiNozzo started, switching from immature frat boy to seasoned, skilled investigator in about a half second flat.

"We were right. Iowa City is business central, and there's a lot more than we originally thought going on here," Saunders said gravely.

Tony and Ziva's mouths flattened out at almost the same time when the pair took into account the FBI agent's tone and trepidation. "In what way?" DiNozzo asked.

"Your sailors, the ones bringing the drugs in, are in bed with a handful of local cops."

"Melissa Schmidt?" Ziva queried.

"Yeah, how did you know?" Saunders asked, confused.

"Lucky guess," she replied while she exchanged a glance with Tony. Images of the twin expressions of unbridled fury on both Kirk and McCoy's faces splashed in front of her eyes while she waited for Saunders to continue.

"Basically, it's a two-pronged assault. The Navy brings the drugs in from foreign ports, and they get it to Iowa for distribution all over the upper Midwest. Their protection is Schmidt and three other cops. They're the muscle behind the operation," Saunders began, taking a deep breath when he started speaking. A certain tenseness buzzed through the interior of the car as he said, "They allow everything to move, and they're pretty good at weeding out the competition. And, it seems like most of the department knows she's dirty, because they won't touch her with a forty foot pole."

"It appears we have some work to do with this department," Ziva said, mouth set in a grim, straight line.

"What did you think of Kirk, McCoy and Pike?" Tony asked, hoping that Saunders' answer was one of positive nature.

"I didn't get any bad vibes off them if that's what you're asking, but you guys got to spend way more time with them than I did. From what I hear on the streets, though, those three are popular. Good cops – tough, but fair."

"Clean?"

"Yeah, clean. I've been here for a few months now, and I've found no indications to the contrary," Saunders confirmed.

Both Ziva and Tony let out the breaths they were unconsciously holding in. "That is good to hear. It would not have been my idea of fun to arrest any of those men, as I did not get the feeling that they were dirty, either."

"Rule Number Ten, Ziva," DiNozzo warned lowly. "You're getting awfully close to that line."

The former Mossad officer shook her head. "I know Rule Ten, and I was not getting that personally involved! I merely enjoyed Leonard's company, that is all," she insisted, not able to make eye contact with her partner.

Tony laughed. "Right, and that's why you're using his full first name when no one else does, and why you gave him your personal phone number on a business card inside that zombie book your borrowed from him," he said, noting with a small hint of pride the way her head snapped toward him, shock written all over her delicate features. "Did you really think I'd miss all of that?"

Ziva gaped like a fish for a second before she composed herself and said, "No, I did not think that you saw that.

Saunders' head shifted back and froth from Ziva to Tony. "Does someone want to tell me what's going on here?" he asked hesitantly.

"No!" the two NCIS agents yelled back in unison.

"Okay," he said. "Just asking. No need to bite my head off."

Ziva bristled, pulled at the hem of her jacket and stilled her hands in her lap. She turned to face Saunders and said, "I must apologize. It has been an incredibly long night, and I am a little…cranky."

"Apology accepted. After spending a couple of nights in the jail, believe me, I don't take offense," the FBI agent responded, reaching out to accept Ziva's outstretched hand. "I imagine that if we're going to be working together on this thing, there's going to be some disagreements. Might as well get it out of the way from the word go."

DiNozzo looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with Saunders. "You ready for this, rookie? Because it's about to get real."

"I'm in a little deep to back out now, DiNozzo."

Tony scoffed to the affirmative before he plucked his cell phone from the holster clipped to his belt. He balanced it on the steering wheel as he scrolled through his list of contacts. Finding the right one, he hit send and put the call on speaker. "Fornell, we've got your man. What do you want us to do with him?"

'Bring him home. We've got one hell of an op to plan.'

Tony looked over at Ziva and then into the rear view mirror at Saunders. He licked his lips in anticipation before he replied simply, "Roger that."

-FIN-