AUTHOR'S NOTE: This monstrous chapter has been in the works for awhile. I am enjoying writing about Tony in a job that he actually can function in and grow into. I am also enjoying all the positive reviews that I have been receiving. Please know that while real life does not allow me to respond to everyone (English teachers=a lot of grading!), I appreciate every single one of you. Thanks again, and I hope you enjoy. I kept this in the Past Due story because, for Tony, most of what happens in this chapter fit in with the title.
If you haven't read "Fixation", you may not understand Tony's familiarity with ketamine, or his experience with Jeffrey White in the first season episode "Chained" as I wrote it. You may want to check them out, although I am certain you can figure it out from what I don't say.
OK, I am nervous. It was hard to write this chapter!
Tony glanced up at Garcia, smiling at her warmly. "Where are we off to today, fair lady?"
For a moment, she forgot to be mad at him, and grinned back flirtatiously. "Not far. This one won't even warrant a flight. It's right here in DC." Then she scowled. "Don't you try to sweet talk me, mister. You are in big trouble."
He gasped and feigned shock. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Movie classic, he says. One of the best movies of the 1930s, he says. Film noire, nothing compared to horror or suspense movies from today, he says. I didn't sleep a wink last night, and I blame you!"
Reid caught up with them as they jogged up the stairs. "Garcia, you told Tony that you wanted him to show you the best movies of every decade. You can't watch movies from the 1930s and not watch M. It's widely considered in the top ten of movies in the entire 20th century."
Penelope shuddered. "It was creepy. And the whole thing was in German!"
"Hey!" Tony was scowling now. "I translated every single line for you."
That brought a smile to her face. There was nothing wrong with spending an evening with a devilishly handsome G man, especially when that G man brought dinner, great conversation, and wine with him. Since their little movie-watching club had begun, they'd watched Blood on the Land and had moussaka and saganaki, viewed La Règle du jeu while eating French cheeses and baguettes and drinking Krug champagne, and heartily enjoyed Snow White while savoring apple pie and a delightful cocktail called a Green-Eyed Tiger. Last night's refreshments had been beyond compare: brats, kraut, noodles, and dark beer, with apple strudel and vanilla sauce for dessert. The company had been adorable—Tony had worn dark jeans, a green Henley that matched his eyes, and camo brogues that she recognized as TOMs shoes. She wasn't sure what to call what they were doing—he was certainly out of her league, so she hesitated to call it anything other than hanging out. But the hug he had given her last night had been decidedly…close. She had fallen asleep giddy from the smell of his cologne (She'd bet her new paisley purse it was Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme), and had awoken refreshed despite the rather carnal dreams that might have had a lesser woman blushing. Tony Dinozzo was a special guy, and that was obvious from his attention to detail with the movies, to his desire to help her see the genius in each film, to his ability to mix $500 jeans with shoes created for charity, to his intense focus on her whenever he was in her company. Maybe he wasn't for her, but she could certainly help him to find a woman, and that was a role she was comfortable with. The friend zone. For one blissful minute, she pictured a future for her with Tony. For him, she could totally settle down—would be happy to, in fact. They had chemistry and she was pretty certain she would not get bored or claustrophobic in his company. The problem, of course, was that she was too much woman for him. Guys like him didn't go for women like her. They never had and they never would.
Hotch cleared his throat and Garcia realized that she'd been daydreaming instead of providing information about the case. "Uh, sorry, my illustrious compadres. This case is in our own backyard, and it involves a little cooperation with another government agency who has called us in for help." As usual, she turned away from the graphic images. "Over the past six weeks, three men have gone missing from the Foundry Lofts, which are located—"
She expected Reid to fill her in on the details, but surprisingly, Tony beat him to it. "They're right by the Navy Yards. Used to be the Naval Gun Factory, in fact. They're pretty diverse, as I recall. The penthouses are high-end, but there are some really affordable one-bedroom units, and I'm sure it's family friendly in certain parts as well."
Garcia nodded, impressed, as always, by intelligence in a really attractive package. "So these men were all relatively young—from mid-thirties to early forties—and in good shape. They were all taken, in fact, from the Anacostia River jogging trail."
"There are some wooded areas on that trail." Morgan nodded. "It's usually pretty crowded with military and civilian personnel alike, so it's pretty gutsy to pull men—athletic men in the prime of their lives who could very well be armed—off a path that's full of other men and women in the same physical condition. This guy has a lot to prove."
"That is definitely true. All three of the men were found alive two weeks after being taken. They had been tortured—various broken bones, fingernails gone, signs of electroshock treatment, the whole bag of horrors. NCIS attempted to interview, but the men provided no useful information. They had been blindfolded, gagged, and deprived of most of their senses for the entire time that they were held captive. They were traumatized extensively—the first man, Gordan Walker—attempted suicide as soon as he was released from the hospital. He has been admitted into a psychiatric facility." Garcia frowned. Attempted suicide was pretty damned depressing. But so was this entire case.
"NCIS?" Tony was pale. Penelope couldn't believe she had forgotten where Tony came from. "Why are they involved? Are the men military?"
"No. But they are all married to military women who are currently deployed in the Middle East." She looked at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Tony. I should have told you right away. "
"It's fine, Pen." He smiled at her, but it was a mere shadow of his megawatt smile. "DC isn't that big of a town, after all."
"Were the men sexually assaulted?" Reid asked.
"Yes. In just about every way possible." Garcia shuddered.
"Clearly, we have someone with a lot of rage looking to emasculate these men. Maybe it's someone with something to say about women in the military? Maybe he thinks that they are already emasculated because the women are taking on the traditional male role in the marriage?" JJ suggested.
"It's a start. We need to get a look at evidence and try to interview the men. Including Gordon Walker, if we can." Hotch stood up. "Let's head over to NCIS. Director Vance is expecting us. Agent Dinozzo, we will be working with your old team. I trust that will not be a problem for you, but I can take you out of the field for this case if you wish."
"Absolutely not." Tony's eyes sparked and he shook his head defiantly. "I won't have any problems working with the team. It will be fine."
Garcia privately wondered who he was trying to convince—them or himself. But she smiled at him as he left and sent up a little prayer for his safety. She had a bad feeling about this case…a very bad feeling.
"You wanted to see me?"
Director Leroy Vance took a deep breath and turned around. This was not a conversation he really wanted to have with Gibbs, but it was necessary, because the MCRT was floundering with this case. They needed help, plain and simple, but it was the nature of the help that Vance was most worried about.
"FBI is coming in on your current case." He surveyed Gibbs' face closely, surprised at the lack of anger at his words. Agent Gibbs had undergone several changes over the past six months, some profound, others less important. One significant alteration was that he was more willing to take on help from outside sources. He and Vance had negotiated after Dinozzo quit, and had reached a compromise. Team Gibbs would not have to hire a replacement for Tony. They would, however, accept assistance from other NCIS teams and utilize TADs as needed. Vance knew that Gibbs was not thrilled with the agreement, but at his age, training a new probie was not something he was interested in. Agents David and McGee were sharing Senior Field Agent responsibilities, and were holding their own. The bull pen was quiet—quieter than Vance had ever heard it. He would be the first person to say that he did not love Agent Dinozzo. That the man was missed, though, was painfully obvious.
"That doesn't bother you?" He was a bit disconcerted by Gibbs easy acceptance of the FBI's help.
"We can't get anywhere with this case, Leon. We have no suspects, no evidence…we got nothing." Gibbs shrugged in frustration. "This guy is destroying the lives of innocent men and we're damned useless."
"Well, Fornell is sending the BAU in. You know what that means."
Gibbs smiled. "Tony."
"How's your team gonna handle this development? Can they work with Dinozzo again?" Vance knew that the team had struggled with respect and authority while Dinozzo was there, and though he had originally blamed the problem on the SFA himself, he soon came to the conclusion that the issue was Gibbs' reluctance to address any of the real concerns that existed.
"They'll work with him. Or they'll be looking for a job somewhere else." Gibbs smiled again, but it wasn't a nice expression. It reminded Vance of the shark from Finding Nemo right after he caught the scent of blood. Not for the first time, he was grateful that he didn't have to report to the older man. He'd never admit it, but Gibbs was scary.
"Anthony, my boy. How are you?"
Tony smiled at Ducky, accepting the handshake and pulling the older man into a hug. "Ducky. Good to see you. I know you called…I wanted to talk to you, but—"
"You think I do not comprehend a clean break?" Ducky laughed a little. "I understand your reasoning all too well. I did miss you, of course. But I hope that now, perhaps, you would be amenable to occasional contact with some of your friends here at NCIS?"
Tony nodded. He'd been so busy over the past few months; he had forgotten, or allowed himself to forget, the people at his old job who had been supportive of him. Ducky was a great man and practically a member of his family. Closer than family, actually, considering Tony's arctic relationship with his dad. "Here's my new cell number." He gave Ducky one of his cards, and then hesitated. "I don't mind if you give the information to Jimmy, but no one else, all right?"
"Of course, lad. Mum's the word." He considered Tony for a moment. "You look splendid. Finally taking care of yourself?"
Tony laughed. "Funny story. I actually work more hours now than I did with NCIS, but for some reason, I can find time to work out almost every day."
"That's because we figured out that Tony plus no physical activity equals manic Tony." Rossi held his hand out. "Dr. Mallard. It is a pleasure to meet you. Your articles on psychological analyses of the dead prior to autopsy have been fascinating reading."
"Why thank you, Agent Rossi. I must confess to being a rather avid fan of your book on hostage negotiation. Very engaging to read." Ducky shook Rossi's hand. "Welcome to NCIS. You have been here before, of course, and you successfully lured away one of our brightest agents."
There was no animosity in Ducky's tone, and Tony was relieved to see Rossi smile. "Well, you can't waste good."
"That's my line."
Tony turned around, his heart pounding. He peered tentatively at Gibbs, wondering why he continued to allow this man's opinion to be so important to him. But it was Gibbs, after all. While he waited for judgment from the impassive blue eyes in front of him, he cut himself a break. He had worked so hard for so long for Gibbs' approval that it was instinctive. He wanted Gibbs to understand why he left…wanted it to be all right with Gibbs. Wanted to be part of Gibbs' life, but not as his lackey or punching bag. But would Gibbs allow that?
"Hey Tony." Gibbs looked tired. Stressed. Older. But not angry. "Good to see you."
"Hey Bo—Gibbs." Tony winced a little at the slip. "Nice to see you too."
"Agent Gibbs." Hotch took over, obviously wanting to smooth over any rough patches. He'd become oddly protective of Tony, and Tony wasn't sure why, although he appreciated it. "Director Vance called us in and we've looked at the case, but we could really use your team's input on what you've learned so far."
Gibbs nodded. "We don't have much," he admitted, and Tony stared at him for a moment. It was rare for his former boss to volunteer weaknesses, at least in Tony's experience. To show his hand this easily? It was clear that Gibbs wanted help. Needed it, even. "We'll use one of the conference rooms upstairs. Ducky, you wanna join us? Tell Abby and Palmer to come up as well—conference room B. They should bring their files on the case. They've both been helping, and the profilers might have questions that they can answer."
"Of course, Jethro. I will gather them and meet you in 10 minutes." Ducky smiled again at Tony, and then walked back to Autopsy.
"Tony. My office?" It was weird to hear those words as a request instead of an order. Dinozzo was slow to respond, and Morgan looked at him questioningly. He knew that if he said the word, Morgan would get him out of there and away from Gibbs in a quick yet nonaggressive manner. He wouldn't even question Tony's reasons-he trusted him that much. And that, Tony thought, was exactly what had been missing from the NCIS job. Trust. Faith. Respect. He smiled.
"Sure, Gibbs." Glancing at Morgan and the others, he said, "You guys mind taking the stairs?"
"No problem," JJ nodded. "See you up there."
The rest of the team left, heading upstairs to the conference room off the bull pen. Tony watched them, and then turned to Gibbs. "Shall we?"
In the elevator, Gibbs hit the emergency stop, and Dinozzo laughed a little. "You know, every time I get on an elevator, I gotta stop myself from thinking I'm in trouble."
Gibbs grinned. "Nice to know I left a lasting impression."
"No fear of being forgotten," Tony agreed. There was a silence, during which he wondered what Gibbs had to tell him.
"Tony." He looked at his former boss, eyebrows raised in question. "I'm sorry."
"What?" He shook his head, genuinely shocked. "Really, Gibbs? How many rules are you planning on breaking today?"
"For you?" Gibbs snorted. "Hell, I should have broken them years ago."
"I-You—I don't understand." Tony tilted his head to the side, reminding himself of both a puppy and Reid.
"I screwed up. Me. I messed up. I have to own that, and part of that is me apologizing."
Tony didn't speak. He couldn't speak.
"I—I don't know how it all got away from me. The team—I don't know when I lost track. When they stopped seeing your strengths. Kate—"
"Kate was the worst profiler I've ever met in my entire life. God rest her soul." Despite that rather scathing condemnation, Tony was hit with a momentary nostalgia. "I miss her."
"I do too."
"You went bat shit crazy after that, Boss." He smiled at the memory. "Obsessed with getting Ari at any cost. You were running yourself into the ground. Running McGee and I into it too. We were ok with it at the time because neither one of us could take her death lying down. I was more than ok with it because the more time I spent alone, the more I had to deal with my mortality. Having the plague, well, it can really cause a guy to think about death. Then Ziva showed up and, because you lost the most important females in your life and had recently lost a female agent who you felt responsible for, you were an easy mark." He could see Gibbs start to protest and held up his hand. "Water under the bridge, Gibbs, but you know damned well that Ziva had an agenda when she arrived. McGee buddied up with Ziva because even though McGee was bullied in high school, all he ever wanted was to fit in, and she represented the cool kid, the jock, and the bad girl all at once. When they started teaming up, it got ugly, but it got ugly slow, so we didn't notice. Then, Rivken, amnesia, Jenny, Jeanne. I was excluded from team dinners and get togethers, lied about and to, and ignored on ops."
"What the hell are you talking about? What op?" Gibbs looked like he wanted to knock some heads together.
"You remember that domestic terror case? I had to go door to door and try to get info from the residents in the neighborhood?" Gibbs nodded. "They turned off the feed. They weren't listening for about two hours. For two hours, I was without backup."
"Why didn't you tell me? You needed to trust me." Gibbs' eyes were blue steel. "I would have taken care of them."
"Because I couldn't guarantee you would take it any more seriously than they did. I'd become such a joke to them that they decided it was ok not to have my six, and based on your attitude after Mexico and the La Grenouille case—where I was following orders, by the way—I determined that you felt the same way they did." It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't nice, but Tony was finally getting to say things that he hadn't before, and it was cathartic.
"You stayed for years after that. Why?" Gibbs looked old and sad.
"There was still a part of me that wanted your approval. Hell, I still want it, even though I left you." Tony laughed and shook his head. "I know that will never happen, but I hope you can at least work with me on this case."
"I can do that." Gibbs stepped closer and grabbed Tony's chin, forcing him to make eye contact. "And Tony? I have never been as proud of you as I am right now."
Swallowing the monster lump in his throat, all he could do was nod and push out, "Thanks, Gibbs."
Tim entered the conference room after several calming breaths. He and Ziva had been sitting in the bull pen, searching for leads on their case to no avail, when the BAU had strode in. They were pretty intimidating, even though Tim had done his research and knew the team members by name and rank. To him, the scariest member of the group was Dr. Spencer Reid, boy genius who made Tim look like a high school dropout. Dr. Reid was a reminder of one of Admiral McGee's favorite sayings: there was always someone smarter or faster or stronger. Tim considered the way the group walked for a moment—Reid was talking fast, gesticulating wildly, and the large athletic man was nodding and smiling. Not condescendingly or even mockingly. He seemed to value what the younger genius was saying. How did Reid, with his lanky body, absentminded professor clothes, and tragic hair, earn the respect of this elite crew? What did he have that Tim didn't? Because Tony had always been a bit sarcastic with him, and he thought that it was the worst work experience ever. But then Tony left, and Ziva started in on him. Even other agents made fun of him occasionally. He'd assumed it was because most agents had alpha personalities, but seeing Reid like this made him second guess his belief.
"Agent McGee?" Agent Hotchner was frowning at him in a way that suggested he'd called his name more than once, and also that his staring at Spencer Reid had gotten a bit creepy. Great. Way to make a good first impression, dumbass, he thought to himself—and tried not to notice that his inner monologue had been sounding more and more like Dinozzo lately.
"Sorry, Agent Hotchner. I was considering possible leads on the case." Wise idea. Lying to a profiler, his Tony voice mocked. Hotchner clearly knew he was lying, but didn't call him on it.
"We're assembling in conference room B." McGee nodded and rose to his feet, glancing at Ziva, who looked back impassively. He grabbed his tablet and headed to the room, meeting up with Ducky, Palmer, and Abby as they opened the door.
"Ah Timothy. Jethro has asked us to meet with the BAU to discuss the case." Ducky stepped aside to allow Tim to enter the room first. "I do hope that we can manage to catch this criminal before he strikes again."
"I hope so too, Ducky." Tim sighed. "Hey, where's Gibbs?"
"In his office with Tony. I think they had some things to say to each other." Ducky raised an eyebrow.
Tim stayed silent, sliding into a seat next to Abby, who smiled at him tentatively. Before he could reply, everyone else entered the room and sat down. The last two to walk in were Gibbs and Tony. Both were smiling and exchanging small talk as they folded into chairs, but fell silent when Agent Hotchner cleared his throat. "Thank you all for meeting with us. We hope that together, we can clear the case and catch the person responsible for the crimes. Before we get started, I want to take a moment to introduce my team. I'm SSA Aaron Hotchner. This is SSA David Rossi, SSA Derek Morgan, Agent Jennifer Jareau, Agent Dr. Spencer Reid, and of course you know Agent Tony Dinozzo."
"Nice to meet you all." Tim stared at Gibbs. When did he become so polite? "Agents Ziva David and Tim McGee right there. Then there's Abby Sciuto, our forensic genius, and the medical examiners: intern Jimmy Palmer, and Dr. Mallard."
"Pleasure to meet you. Will you bring us up to speed on what you've learned so far?" Agent Rossi asked.
Ziva stood and walked to the front of the room, picking up the remote as she went. "Our first victim was Gordon Walker. Walker is married to Army Corporal Lacey Walker." Tim remembered the interview they had attempted to conduct with the disheveled, emotional wreck of a man. Walker had been a shell when they met with him; what he had managed to say was barely coherent and he'd been medicated to the point of almost zombie-like status. "They have no children, and Walker works in construction. They have a one-bedroom place at the Foundry, and while Lacey was deployed in Afghanistan, Gordon worked almost nonstop in order to save money for a trip to Paris five years ago. They had a happy marriage, no loud arguments, no disputes via text messages or email. Following a second deployment to Iraq, Lacey took a leave of absence because the military psychiatrist would not clear her for a return to duty, citing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She later passed the psych eval and returned to the Middle East two months ago. Gordon was taken off the Anacostia River Trail at approximately 5:00AM—the abduction site is a wooded area, but relatively flat, with a parking lot nearby. He says he remembers being tackled from behind, and then a needle in his neck, and then nothing. He woke up in a van as the kidnapper was transporting him."
"The second vic was Jackson Baker." Tim pulled his picture up to the big screen. "Baker is married to Miranda Baker, a Marine Corps captain. They have been married thirteen years—they met at a bar when she was on leave and he was a college kid majoring in Secondary Education. They were married two years after meeting. She moved up quickly and was short listed for a promotion to major when she got pregnant. She kept her rank, had the baby, and then Jackson stopped teaching and stayed home with the baby, Jonathan, while she was sent to Sierra Leone. Thirteen months later, Miranda returned home. She requested a leave of absence—reason for it was emergency leave based on serious illness or injury of a family member, but we could not get Miranda or Jackson to tell us what that leave was for. They also live in the Foundry, in a two bedroom condo. Unlike Walker, Baker was taken from the path at nineteen hundred hours. There were people around. Baker was able to tell us that he had stopped because he heard a child crying. He went to investigate, and then was tackled, injected with something, and also woke up in the van."
"Last victim is Simon Schmidt. Simon is married to Staff Sergeant Molly Schmidt. The Schmidts have been married for twenty years. Molly has done four active duty tours. They have two children: Steven and Elijah. Following her maternity leave, Molly returned to active duty. Simon is an accountant that works out of his home, so he was in charge of everyday family routine. The Schmidts live in one of the penthouses at the Foundry Lofts. We interviewed both of the children—all of them seemed well-adjusted and none gave any indication of something going on in the home beyond the usual military family issues." At JJ's questioning look, Ziva explained. "Children miss the parent who is gone all the time and frequently develop anger toward the person at home with them. This usually manifests as rebellious actions or animosity towards one or both parents. Steven actually called the police about his dad—said he went jogging after his son's varsity lacrosse game. Said he'd be back in an hour. Two hours later, the boys went out to look for him. They didn't find him, but they did find his iPod on the ground. They called the police and the police investigated. By the time we were notified, Schmidt had been returned."
"All the men were returned to the lobby of the Foundry Lofts. They'd all been tortured, raped, and deprived of their senses for most of their captivity. They'd also been heavily drugged with ketamine, so their memories of captivity are…tenuous at best."
Tim found it curious that Tony flinched at the name of the drug, and even more curious that Agents Rossi and Reid both looked sympathetically at him as he did so, but dismissed it.
"Obviously, the unsub doesn't have a particular racial or age preference." Agent Hotchner gestured to the three pictures up on the screen: Gordon Walker was African American, while Jackson Baker had blonde hair and blue eyes, and Simon Schmidt, while Caucasian like Baker, was easily two decades older than the other two men.
"Preferential location of the running trail and the physicality of the men is obviously a similarity, as is having spouses in the military and in war-torn areas. Could be a political agenda." Tony had recovered from whatever had startled him, but he didn't sound much like Tony. "Or emasculating the men who let their wives take on the so-called 'masculine' roles in the relationship. He relies on drugs to subdue but tackles the men first. Makes me think that he has some strength, but not enough to overcome them physically. He still gets a rush out of the attack, though. All three men woke up in the van while being transported?" He looked at Gibbs for a response, and the older man nodded. "Three men waking up in a van before they get to where they're being held? That's obviously not a coincidence. This guy knows how ketamine works and knows how much to give to have them waking up at the same time."
"But if the men woke up before they arrived at the criminal's location of choice, wouldn't they be able to physically overcome him? They were stronger than him, like you said, which was why he used drugs in the first place. Why would he want them waking up before he had them tied up where he tortured them? Your theory doesn't make sense." Ziva scoffed, but clearly had not figured out that this was a different Tony Dinozzo than she had worked with. Or, Tim reasoned, it was the same Tony Dinozzo, but they hadn't truly known him at all.
Either way, when he responded, his tone was professional and polite, but distant. "Agent David, if you knew anything about ketamine, you would know that under the influence of this drug, victims are often awake and aware, but unable to move or have control over their body."
Ziva snorted. "Sounds pretty convenient to me. Maybe these men started out as willing participants, and then as things got out of hand, they came up with the abduction story. They live in the same complex—they probably know each other."
"There is no indication at all, according to our technical analyst, that the men were interested in homosexual encounters. No male pornography sites on their computers, no history of male visitors to their apartments, no illegal solicitation charges. Nothing like that on their records." Agent Rossi's voice was cold and a bit angry, or so it sounded to Tim. "And really, we should be past the point where we are blaming victims for their rapes or saying that they asked for it. Perhaps your attitude with the victims had something to do with why they didn't give you much information. With your permission, Agent Gibbs, I'd like Agents Dinozzo and Reid to interview the men again. See if we can't get a little more out of them."
Gibbs nodded, looking at Ziva with disgust. "Whatever you need."
"Meanwhile, Agent Morgan will get caught up with Dr. Mallard and Miss Sciuto's examination of the evidence and thoughts with regard to the profile. Agent Jareau will meet with Agents McGee and David to discuss their input. Agent Rossi will discuss the cases with the local police departments that did the initial investigation. I will be talking with Gibbs about the case. We'll meet back here in three hours to discuss what we've learned." Agent Hotchner's dismissal was professional but final.
Everyone stood up and gathered their materials. Tim watched as Abby, looking hesitant, walked over to Tony. It was weird, her tentativeness, and completely out of character for her. Tim hated that Tony was the reason for her pain. It made him mad at the other man all over again. "Tony?" she asked softly. "Can I talk to you?"
"Can't right now, Abs. Gotta run." Tony stopped when he saw her face fall a little. "Hey. Look, when this is over, we will talk, ok? Here." He handed her a business card, "this is my new number and contact information. Just for you, you hear?" He paused, looking awkward himself. "I just—I can't give it to everyone here, Abs. I just can't."
Tim bristled. He had thought that he and Tony were friends. Why, then, didn't he get the new phone number? He rolled his eyes. Always a popularity contest with Dinozzo.
"Mr. Walker? My name is Tony Dinozzo. I work with the FBI. Can I talk to you for a moment?"
Gordon Walker was a tall man, and he had the look of someone who had lost a lot of weight recently. He sat in a chair by the window in his room at Johns Hopkins Hospital, dressed in comfortable pants, a white t-shirt with a stain on the front, and a robe. His hands were in his lap, but they were twisted together in a violent mockery of prayer. He was trying to be calm, but it was obviously really difficult for him. In the car on the way to Baltimore, Tony had announced that he wanted to run lead on at least one of the interviews. The fact that he was familiar with the effects of ketamine and had some understanding of what the men were going through had gone unspoken, but was clearly conveyed through what Tony didn't say.
"Already had to talk to that woman from NCIS." Walker's voice was quiet and tentative, and he glanced at his wife for a moment. Lacey Walker was an attractive woman, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and the concern she felt for her husband was completely genuine, Tony was sure. "I don't know what else I can tell the FBI that I can't tell them."
"Sometimes a different perspective can help trigger memories." Reid pointed out quietly.
"You think I want to remember any of this?" The other man gave a broken laugh that sounded more like a sob.
"No." Tony's voice was soft but definitive. "You want to forget, and no one can blame you for that. The last thing we want to do is bring you more pain, but we need to stop this guy, and we think you may know something—nothing you are trying to keep from us intentionally, but little clues that might help us to determine a location or more information about your captor."
Walker stared at Tony for a moment. Tony looked calmly back, trying to convey his empathy for the man through his eyes alone. Finally, he nodded. "All right. What do you need me to do?"
"I know it hurts, but can you think back to when you woke up in the van?" Walker winced, and his eyes filled with tears, but he took a deep breath and nodded. "How long were you awake before you arrived at your destination?"
"A while. Maybe a half hour?"
"Did the drive feel smooth to you, or was it rough?" It seemed like a trivial question, but the things Reid could do with a geographical profile with the smallest bit of information convinced Tony that no question was too small.
"Smooth, then rough. We stopped a couple of times and I know we went over two sets of railroad tracks." Walker, focused on the task, sounded less broken.
"OK that's really good. Thank you. Now I want you to think about your location when the van stopped. You told NCIS that you were blindfolded, so you didn't see anything. Did you hear anything? Were you close enough to the tracks you crossed to hear a train? Was there traffic?" He focused on keeping his voice calm and steady and was rewarded.
"Nothing. There was no traffic at all. The only thing I heard…"Walker's brow furrowed. "I swear, it was like sheep or goats or something."
Tony knew Reid was dying for a map because his fingers were twitching. "That's great Mr. Walker. Anything else you remember in terms of location?"
"Not really. I'm sorry." Walker looked distraught again, as though he wanted to do more.
"You have nothing to apologize for. You've just given us really important information. This could really help us because it gives us a starting point." Tony smiled and stood, holding out his card. "Please, I know that sometimes things continue to come back to you after ketamine. If you remember anything else—anything at all—please let me know. "
Gordon Walker exchanged glances with his wife and then took a deep breath. "Agent Dinozzo, there is one more thing. He knew—"
"I-when I was younger…there was a summer camp for inner city kids. Some kind of charity thing." Walker's hands shook as he took Tony's card. "A counselor there—he…"
He trailed off, and Lacey Walker spoke for the first time. "The counselor raped my husband when he was ten. Somehow, the guy that took him knew what had happened and talked about it multiple times during his captivity."
Tony blinked. This was new. "Did you tell anyone about this when it happened, Mr. Walker? Your parents, the police, a teacher or friend maybe?"
Walker shook his head. "No one. Just my wife, and I trust her with my life."
How did the unsub find out about this? Somehow, Tony knew that the profile that they were tentatively forming was wrong. They were missing something.
Gibbs glanced up as Hotchner's phone rang. Ziva and McGee had been talking with Agent Jareau, but their conversation halted as the lead agent glanced at caller ID and then hit a button. "Tony, you're on speaker. Did you get any information from Mr. Walker?"
"We did, actually. He remembered some information that should help Reid with the geographic profile. Which is great, but it was what he said at the end of the interview that got me thinking. The unsub knew that Mr. Walker was molested by a camp counselor when he was a child. He said the only person he told was his wife."
"Lacey Walker is not a suspect, though. She wasn't even in the country when his abduction happened. So what does that tell us?" McGee asked.
"Maybe we should have Garcia look into the camp. Could be that could be the camp counselor coming back to continue his work. Or maybe he knew what was happening at the camp. Either way, we should look into it." Reid suggested. "It's highly unlikely that the camp counselor only raped Gordon Walker. Pedophiles usually can't stop after one assault."
"Hold on a second, guys. I went back in to ask Mrs. Walker one more question, and I think we need to check with Garcia about the other two women. Lacey Walker told one other person about what had happened to her husband. A psychologist. When she came back from active duty, she didn't pass her psych eval. She mentioned that in order to get her emotions under control, she went to a private counselor who isn't a part of the military, but often helps—I don't know how she said it, really, but to me it sounded like this guy grooms his clients to be prepared to answer questions properly to get clearance. She told him about her husband during her session because she witnessed a sexual assault in Iraq and had been having nightmares about it. So I got to thinking…what if the counselor is a link? Did all three women see him? We need to figure out how the unsub is picking his victims and if this Dr. Todd Evans is a common bond, we need to look at his client list if we can." Tony clearly had hit on something. Gibbs could recognize it in his voice and it reminded him of all the other times Tony had solved cases from this sort of moment.
"Do you have a location for Dr. Evans?" Hotch asked.
"We do. I got the address from Mrs. Walker. His office is less than five minutes from the Foundry Lofts. Either way, we should check this guy out."
"Agreed. In the meantime, I will contact Garcia and have her determine whether the other women sought counseling with Dr. Evans. Contact me when you are done with his interview."
Gibbs' brow furrowed as his gut gave an unsettled lurch. Before he could say anything, however, the other agents began returning from their various assignments, and he realized they were coming for the three-hour debriefing that Hotch had called for. In three hours, the BAU had managed to divide and conquer, and now had another angle and possible lead. He was proud as hell of Dinozzo, but something was wrong.
"Tony? Tony! I need you to wake up now."
Tony groaned, trying to follow the order (and that was Reid's panicky voice, for sure), but he was finding it difficult. He was lying in the dark on a floor that was moving, which didn't make sense. Why would he be lying down? Wasn't he supposed to be doing something? He attempted sitting up, but was not successful, and tipped over again. Reid gave an indignant squawk, and Tony realized he'd fallen on top of the other agent. Why was it so dark?
"What's going on?" His voice sounded slow and bleary, and he frowned, trying again. "What's going on, Reid?"
"What do you remember?" Reid sounded cautious, and Tony frowned, attempting to think of—anything. But his mind was blank. He struggled a little, but his feet and hands were bound.
"Nothing. Why can't I remember?"
"We spoke with Dr. Evans. I'm not sure what you thought about him, but I immediately noticed that he exhibited some problematic behavior. His fascination with Gordon Walker's experiences as a child, along with the information he willingly gave us about the abuse Jackson Baker suffered at the hands of his mother and Simon Schmidt's childhood abduction and rape, suggested the voyeuristic qualities common to psychopathic killers. There were personal photos in his office, but none that suggested healthy adult relationships. Instead, all of them were pictures of Evans with what appeared to be his mother. As you continued to question him, I wandered around the room. I found a collection of children's toys—it reminded me of Dr. Arthur Malcolm, a psychiatrist that had raped multiple children under the name of 'therapy', including his own daughter. I heard a noise and turned around to see Dr. Evans lower you to the couch. He had clearly administered some kind of drug—the needle was still in his hand. Before I could do anything, he tazed me."
"What? Tazed you? Are you ok?" Coherence was returning, and Tony realized that they were in a van. The unsub's van. And the unsub was Todd Evans. Which meant that the drug running through his veins right now was most likely ketamine.
It wasn't until he felt Reid's hand on his back that he realized he'd vomited. His mind had frozen—all he could think of was Jeffrey White. He'd been chained to White while undercover as an escaped felon, and the man had drugged him with ketamine before…
More bile erupted from his throat, and he threw up until only spittle came out. Struggling to catch his breath and trying to force himself to calm down, he gasped, "Sorry. I'm sorry."
"Tony, I was with Rossi when we questioned you about the Jeffrey White case. I know what you went through. You have every reason to be upset, and I am not upset that you vomited. But we have about 15 minutes until we arrive at the location, based on my tentative geographical profile. We need to come up with a plan because if we go into the location where Evans is torturing his victims, we may not have a chance to collaborate. We need multiple plans and we need to face facts. What he is doing to these men is hardly a secret."
Tony glanced at Reid and knew that despite his calm words, he was really scared. His face was pale, and his eyes were terrified. Tony remembered what Reid had said to him the first time they had met. "I know what you went through." Reid had been through hell too, although his hell was named Tobias Hankel. And that was enough for Tony to stop thinking about his own issues and shift into agent mode. Because he would be damned if Reid had to go through anything if he could prevent it. "All right." Closing his eyes tightly for a moment to clear them, he opened them again and looked at his colleague. "Let's make some plans."
"How long ago did you talk to them? Over two hours, right?" Morgan was pacing in the conference room, but even though he was the only one demonstrating such visual anxiety, everyone was worried. It had been too long, and they all knew it. Dammit, why was it always Reid?
"Well over two hours," Hotch replied shortly. All team members from both NCIS MCRT and the BAU were there. "Too long."
"Abby's on her way up, Boss." Agent McGee closed his phone with a grimace. "I couldn't keep her away."
"Garcia should be here in a few moments as well. I figured we needed her here on site to help us track Dinozzo and Reid. All she can tell us so far is that their phones are off." JJ nodded, the worry obvious in her eyes. She and Reid had a special friendship that had formed over the years and which had only cemented through Reid being a great godfather to Henry and Emily's death. Everyone looked after Reid—or tried to, even though the kid was a grown man, and Morgan was honest enough to admit that he did it too. It was easy to forget that under the big brown eyes and skinny frame was a backbone of pure steel.
"Gibbs!" Morgan heard the heavy boots and smoky voice and knew immediately that Abby Sciuto had arrived. "What's wrong? Where's Tony? Did the other FBI guy get taken too? The tall one—super smart and adorable?"
Morgan noticed that Abby's assessment of Reid did not make McGee happy. The scowl suggested that the agent definitely had feelings for her, although Morgan was pretty sure it was not mutual. He wondered how it impacted the work environment at NCIS, and then shrugged. Not his problem. "Both agents are currently unreachable."
"Why is it always Tony? I hoped when he went to the FBI, he wouldn't be the trouble magnet that he was here." She hugged Gibbs, who hugged her back. He seemed far less grumpy with her than he was with everyone else who worked with him.
"Reid is the same way. But people underestimate him. He's actually one of the strongest people I've ever met." Rossi's voice was firm. "The good news is that if they are together, they can put their heads together and come up with something."
"The bad news is that they can be used as leverage against each other." Morgan was astonished to hear himself say the words. He usually didn't operate on the pessimistic side of life. But the truth was that this guy who had them was a maniac and the things he did to his victims impacted their entire lives. They needed to find Reid and Tony. Now.
"I'm here, my doves. Let me set up my babies and we can get to work finding Tony and Spencer." Garcia appeared in the doorway, a security guard behind her, arms laden with boxes. "I did discover that eight weeks ago, Kyle Evans, brother of our possible unsub, killed his mother, Barbara. His defense attorney says that he discovered her molesting his child, who is nine, and according to Kyle, he has video evidence of the molestation. I spoke to his attorney and he confirmed that while the evidence would be the primary defense, they would also be revealing that Kyle's child was not the first that Barbara had inappropriate relations with. One of their expert witnesses is a psychiatrist who specializes in the long term effects of sexual abuse of mothers on male children, so I would bet that Barbara was up to no good with both Kyle and his brother."
"That's the stresser, then." Morgan nodded. "Evans finds out his mother is dead and that his brother plans on spilling some secrets, and he goes right over the edge. He can't hide his deviance anymore, so he chooses men who have been through the same treatment, maybe because he figures they can take it."
Garcia nodded, looking sympathetic for a moment, and then got businesslike in a hurry. "Well, that's sad, but since he's currently holding two of my favorite people hostage, he needs to be stopped."
"This is Penelope Garcia, our technical analyst. I would like her to work with Miss Sciuto and Agent McGee. Maybe we can get some information from security cameras, or maybe Dr. Evans has a property where he could be keeping the victims. Either way, we need to work fast. We all know what this man does to his captives, and none of us wants to see it happen to anyone else. The rest of us will go out in the field. We will be checking Dr. Evan's office as well as his residence, in order to look for clues. Is that acceptable, Agent Gibbs?" Hotch looked courteously at the other lead agent, but Morgan knew that he really wasn't being given a choice.
"I am happy to follow your lead here, Agent Hotchner." Gibbs looked tired. "Tony was one of ours—he was better than we deserve. We'll do whatever it takes to help you find him."
Based on the shock on McGee and David's faces, he was sharing more than he ever had with them. Morgan was glad to see it, but they needed to be focused on the task, which was saving their agents.
Todd Evans could hardly believe his luck. He knew for a while now that he was going to die soon, but he needed it to be on his terms. Ever since Kyle had—murdered their Mom…why had he done that? Ever since then, Todd hadn't been able to sleep. He'd been experimenting with some people—grownups who had been trained the way he and Kyle had been trained. They were productive members of society. They had good lives and good marriages, probably because they knew how to treat their wives. Mom had been so good to them. She'd taught them so much. He'd been carrying on her lessons and helping other children to recognize all parts of their sexuality. He was doing good work! And then Kyle had do go and do that. Why? Was there really something wrong with what Mom did? The psychologists all said yes, but Todd had been working hard to disprove those close-minded fools. The kids he had helped were doing well now. They weren't damaged or broken. They were healthy and happy individuals.
Once he had started with the grownups, he knew that his time was limited. Geniuses often died before it was their time to do so, because society didn't understand them. He had accepted his shortened timeline, and as a result, he'd been rewarded today with his last men. Two FBI agents. For once, he didn't care about their pasts or their experiences. No, these men? They were his prizes. He wanted them for personal reasons, not professional ones. One reminded him so much of Kyle—tall and athletic, with impeccable taste in clothing, a wide smile, and green eyes. The other was a study in contrasts: tall and skinny but clearly physically strong considering the way he'd tried to fight the side effects of the taser. Intelligent (dangerously so. Probably the most intelligent person Todd had ever talked to), but social as well based upon the easy relationship he had with the other man. The things he was going to do to them and the things he was going to make them do to each other—well, it was nearly enough to make Todd pull over and fulfill certain needs sooner than anticipated. But he was holding on. He really wanted to get them to his house. He was certain he was being sloppy and sure he was going to get killed because of it, but he didn't care anymore. It was worth it.
Finally, finally, they arrived. He quickly jumped out of the van and hurried to get the barn door open. This property had been a godsend, really. He'd gotten it off Craigslist and had used an assumed name, simply because he wanted his experiments to last as long as they could. His notes were all assembled and he'd even started a paper for submission to a scholarly journal, so someone could continue his work after he was gone. He even had a couple of candidates to do so. His legacy would survive, and he would spend his last hours on earth enjoying himself. He opened the back doors to the van, not bothering to hide his face or take any real measures to avoid being seen. These two men would not survive past their confinement, so it didn't matter if they saw him.
He wrinkled his nose at the smell. "Who threw up?"
The Kyle look-alike—Dinozzo was his name, Todd thought—moved a little. "It was me. Ketamine and being tied up in the back end of a van will make a guy sick."
"Now you need to have a shower before we can begin." Todd was annoyed.
"Well I don't think I can stand up, so you will have to help me." The man did sound unwell. Todd wondered if he was allergic to the drug—none of the other men reacted this way. But the thought of helping him take a shower was alluring, so he nodded.
"I'll help you." He smiled, knowing it was more a leer than anything else. The grin remained, even as he took the other agent inside and prepared him for his first session. Seeing tears in the big brown eyes as he stripped him and tied him to the wall was almost enough to distract Todd from the cleanup he had facing him in the bathroom, but in the end, he persevered.
Dinozzo was waiting for him where he'd left him, arms tied to the shower head, and Todd was grateful that he'd installed the bathroom before bringing his acquisitions here. It had been an excellent choice. "Where's Dr. Reid?" the agent demanded, green eyes panicking.
"Don't worry. You will be seeing him soon enough." He began to remove Dinozzo's clothes, noting the vastly different physical attributes of the two agents. Where Dr. Reid had been slender but tall, Agent Dinozzo was built more sturdily. No one would mistake Agent Dinozzo for a college kid, that was for sure. They were both incredibly attractive, and Todd couldn't wait to compare their reactions to the various parts of his little game. It was such a distracting thought that he found himself spending more time touching Dinozzo than anticipated before helping him to shower. No tears in this agent's eyes, though. Instead, Dinozzo's jaw clenched so tightly that Todd worried he would break it. Finally, the shower was done. Todd pulled the agent's arms from the shower head and, keeping them tied together, helped him out of the tub.
"No need to put your clothes back on. You won't be needing them." Using his finger, Todd traced a droplet of water from Dinnozo's shoulder down to his thigh, and the other man flinched.
"Can I at least have a towel?" The question was plaintive, but the tone was full of repressed rage. Todd nodded and turned to get one from the linen closet. When he turned back, though, the agent was standing by his discarded clothes, wearing an expression of bitter triumph. Todd's stomach gave a funny lurch and he tried to scratch it, only to encounter something he wasn't expecting. Glancing down, he saw a knife, hilt deep in his abdomen.
Blinking fuzzily, he looked up at the agent. "Where did you get that?"
Dinozzo smiled triumphantly. "Rule 9. Never go anywhere without a knife."
Before Todd could ask any more questions, his world darkened, and he knew he was dying. That meant no time with these lovely men. No time for any more experiments, and no time to enjoy his last hours. It wasn't fair. Then his vision darkened and the world fell away.
Garcia slumped next to Abby, wondering if they would find her two friends in time. They were together in Abby's lab, having looked and searched and decoded everything in Todd Evans' life. The two teams were on their way to check out a barn in the geographic profile that Evans may have bought off of Craigslist. What was happening to Tony and Reid right now? Were they being tortured the way the rest of the men had been tortured? She hated this part of her job. Watching her friends go out and put themselves in danger every day was horrible, but somehow, because it was Tony, it was worse. "I hate waiting."
"Waiting is the worst. Waiting for Tony to contact us while he was undercover with Jeffrey White was terrible, especially after we found out White was a serial killer. Waiting to see if he would survive the plague was horrible too. He's been involved in so many dangerous operations—like when his car got blown up and we all thought he was dead." Abby was animated as she spoke, throwing her arms around. "He's just always in the middle of danger."
"I keep wondering when the luck that he and Reid both have of surviving these awful things is going to run out."
"I hear you. Tony has a habit of getting into trouble, but he and Cute Nerdy Doctor Man are going to be fine. We just have to keep telling ourselves that and it will be true. The power of positive thinking." Abby nodded her jet black head once in determination. As she did, Garcia's phone rang. Glancing at caller id, she gulped.
"Tony?" she was afraid to hope.
"Yeah, it's me." Tony's voice was quiet and—off somehow. "Can you let the others know that Todd Evans was the unsub?"
"Was? Are you ok, Tony? Is Reid OK?" Abby was bouncing happily from hearing her side of the conversation, but Garcia needed to make sure that he was all right.
"I'm fine. It got a little hairy, but I killed him. So let the others know. We are in some sort of barn—"
"We know. We just figured it out and they are on route. I will let them know that the situation is under control. Do you need an ambulance?" She tried to keep her tone business like, but it was difficult.
"No, I think we're ok." Again, something was off, but she was willing to let it go, considering he was talking. Because he was alive. And not injured. "Movie night tonight, Pen? Please? We can watch anything you want."
She laughed through her tears. "You're on."
It had been a long and dreadful day. Finally, Tony was done. Done with debriefing, done with reports, done with an examination from Ducky ("for old times' sake"), done with everyone's questions about his wellbeing and Reid's wellbeing ("Yeah, the kid's quieter than usual, but he's going to be ok"). Just done. He was worried about Reid, a little, but Morgan was going to look after him tonight, and Tony was glad because all he wanted to do was watch a movie with Penelope. And when did that happen? Suddenly, his idea of perfection was hanging out with Garcia.
He knocked on the door, grinning at Penelope and hugging her back as hard as she hugged him. "I'm so glad you're all right." Her voice was muffled in his shirt, and he smiled, holding her tight and breathing in the sweet and spicy scent that she always wore. She was in her comfy pajama pants and a t-shirt, and fresh-faced from a shower, and she had never been more beautiful to him. He was grateful he had worn comfortable pants and a hooded sweatshirt, although that had mostly been because he needed to be as covered as possible—he would never admit it, but Todd Evans had taken him to a dark place in a few brief moments. Tony layered when he was on the defensive, and he needed those layers to make him feel safe. But now, all he needed to feel safe was to be here in her arms. When had he fallen in love with her? Who knew? But he had, and he had to tell her now. Because who knew what would happen tomorrow or next week or next year?
"Hey. I need to talk to you." He stepped inside her door, shutting it behind him, and then took her chin in his hands. "I don't want to drive you away or make you run, but I have to tell you right now."
"What?" she asked, her gorgeous, warm brown eyes widening.
"I love you." Because he couldn't wait another minute, he kissed her gently but thoroughly. "I love you. I am in love with you. I want to be in a relationship with you."
Her eyes filled with tears. "You do?"
"I do. And even if you don't want a relationship with me, I had to tell you and I had to kiss you once before you showed me the door." Letting go of her, he stepped back and raised his eyebrows. "So are you going to show me the door?"
"Never. Unless you want me to show you my bedroom door." She muffled his surprised laugh with her mouth, and he determined that watching a movie was probably not on the agenda for the night.
But, for the first time ever, he knew that his life was way better than a movie could ever be. And as someone who once worked for Gibbs, he knew one of the most important rules: You don't waste good. And this? Was better than good. It was the best.