I honestly think episode 9x15 is one of the stupidest - maybe the stupidest, tie with 10x10 - episodes of NCIS ever. But among the stupidity, they introduced Wendy… who isn't Tony's high school music teacher anymore, but a journalist. Oh, joy, we love continuity, uh? -.- Well, I love continuity and I love Tony, so I decided to straighten things up and maybe find a reason why Gibbs chose DiNozzo to work with the journalist. Oh, and I don't care she said it's been nine years and a half, because math says it's been almost eleven years (ten years and a half, if I'm right) since Tony started working for Gibbs, and from what I understood the almost-wedding was right before Tony's time at NCIS.

Good, now that everything is clear, I hope you enjoy the story :) To make sure I was following canon even when I couldn't remember the episodes, I used .com (that's why my Tony was born in 1972, no matter how much older they made him in recent seasons). Second NCIS story, first case-fic. Hell, who'd have thought writing a case would be so hard? XD

My biggestest thank you goes to my wonderful beta, FrancyChan. She's a Saint, guys, believe me: not only she was patient enough to proof-read this fanfiction in Italian, she also corrected its English version, and she was… professional, that's it. Thank you, Francy, you are the best! :D

Any remaining mistakes are mine, do not hesitate to point them out to can find this story in Italian here: www . efpfanfic . net (slash) viewstory . php ?sid=2156775&i=1 (Remove spaces and use replace "(slash)" with "/")

Disclaimer: sadly, I do not own NCIS. If I did, I wouldn't be here writing fanfictions, you would actually watch my ideas on screen. And Tony would be married to a 23-yr-old Italian girl named Arianna. And McGee would still have a normal family (at least one member on the team!). And Senior would have never appeared on the show u_u But NCIS is not mine…


Chapter 1

The reports completed, Gibbs' team left their bullpen on the third floor of the Naval Base in Washington DC. Not all its members went home, though.

Special Agent Anthony 'Tony' DiNozzo said good-bye to his team mates, got into his car and left the parking lot, wondering what to do next. He didn't want to go home to find himself alone and thinking about the day, remembering a dead and buried past, reliving a pain never truly left beyond.

A part of him wanted to go where he always went when he didn't want to stay alone with his thoughts; but somehow the idea of drinking bourbon with his boss among dust didn't sound right to him - probably because Gibbs was partially to blame for how he felt in that moment: what the hell had he been thinking when he'd chosen him as a liaison agent with the press, with Wendy?

This just left him with one choice: go back to the office. Taking care of his backlog paperwork, get a head start on his monthly reports… at least he would keep himself busy, and not thinking.

He got back to the Naval Base and parked his car into his lot, snorting to himself while looking for a change of clothes in his backpack - he had no intention of keeping the same clothes two days in a row, and besides the others would've noticed he'd spent the night in the office; he totally didn't want them to know.

He locked his car and turned toward the elevator, but he noticed Ziva's Mini Cooper still in her parking lot. Frowning, he put his backpack back in his car and got close… warily, because with Ziva you could never be too sure of anything.

When he was close enough, he noted the woman behind the wheel staring with an unreadable expression at something she had in her hands.

"Ziva?" he hesitantly called, and - for the first time since she knew her - he saw her start while trying to hide whatever she had in her hands - was it Ray's ring box?

"Tony!" she said lowering the window, and her voice had an uncharacteristic high note. "I thought you had left; what are you doing still here?"

"I could ask you the same" he replied with a smirk.

"Uh… I… had forgotten something" Ziva awkwardly answered, and the excuse sounded lame to her own ears; she hastily added "What about you?"

Tony shrugged, but he didn't answer.

"Why are you here in the garage?" he asked.

Something must've clicked in Ziva's head at that, because she suddenly blinked as trying to rouse herself and got self-defensive.

"What I do or do not do his none of your business" she snapped, and Tony saw in her eyes the uneasiness at being caught vulnerable, with her Mossad-assassin mask missing. And he knew enough about masks to not take offence for her harsh tone; he knew enough about the need to hide behind a mask and keep others at arm's length in order to protect oneself to not insist. He raised his hands as in surrender.

"Pardon" he said with a half smile. "Lock your doors, though: you can never know what people wander around here at night, and I wouldn't want to find their bodies in the morning. You are scary enough when nobody's accusing you of murder."

Ziva snorted, but she was actually grateful for not insisting and for the message hidden in the joke: 'be careful'. She remembered Detective Nick Burris' words (1) about the importance of friendship; she smiled.

"Good night, Tony."

She watched him walk away e disappear behind one of the garage pillar, wondering what he was really doing still at the base. She hoped he just stopped to collect something… or maybe someone. Maybe the blonde that worked in the evidence archive; Ziva had often found him flirting with her. Somehow, she really hoped that was the reason, that he wasn't gonna spend the night alone, in the office. That he'd found something - or someone - to… distract himself: she'd seen him in the last few days, when Ms Miller had been there, and she really hoped that seeing her again after so many years hadn't hurt him too bad.

She started her car, glancing for the last time at the little box Ray had given her, and she left the garage.

A little while later, when she was out of sight, Tony collected his backpack from his car and hurried toward the elevator, the smile he'd plastered on his face while he was talking with Ziva was now gone. Seeing the little squared box in her hands had reminded him of the very memories he was back to the Base to forget. He understood just too well how Ziva had to have felt when her love story with Ray was over. Behind the cold former Mossad officer façade, they all knew there was a more vulnerable and sensible woman than she wanted others to believe, and since Tony himself had been close to getting married, he knew what his coworker had to have felt…

He got out of the elevator on the third floor, resolutely shoving those thoughts in the back of his mind, determined to focus on work. He turned his computer and lamp on, put his backpack on the floor and his badge and gun in the drawer. He pulled his monthly reports and the other paperwork piled up because there was never enough time and, sighing, he began to work.

It was almost three in the morning when he finally fell asleep on the report he was writing - something about team Gibbs' last firing range mandatory exam.

He awoke four hours later, less rested than he would've liked, but with enough time left to get showered in the gym, change and pretend he was just arrived from his home like every morning.

"Good morning, Boss!" he greeted more cheerful than he needed reentering the bullpen.

The former Marine was already on the phone, and he just acknowledged him with a nod without redirecting his attention from the call; Tony knew though that nothing escaped his boss' notice, and knew better than to think he looked as rested as he was pretending.

"Alright" the older man said to the person in the receiver, and DiNozzo was already clipping his badge to his belt.

"Shall I call McGee and Ziva?" he asked leaning down to take his backpack.

Gibbs tossed him the keys of the truck.

"Gas the truck, I'll call the others."

"Got it, Boss."

The crime scene was the living room of a cottage in a residential district.

The victim, Petty Officer Mary Elizabeth Adler, was on the floor between the couch and the shattered remains of a glass-topped coffee table. From her body's position, the broken table, the overturned lamps and the decorative objects scattered on the floor, it was clear there'd been a struggle.

Tony bagged and tagged the blood-stained glass shards while Ducky and Palmer were examining the victim. McGee was taking photos of the room, while Gibbs and Ziva were outside to interview the neighbors.

"What can you tell me, Duck?" Gibbs asked walking in. Ziva wasn't with him, so she was probably still talking with the neighbors - and she definetely didn't like it; she hated collecting witnesses' statements.

"She died last night, between nine and ten; most certainly, the cause of death was this head wound, provoked by her fall on the table" the elderly coroner replied showing him the deep cut produced by a large piece of glass under the victim's bloody hair.

"So the table is the culprit" Palmer chuckled, earning a glare from Gibbs and a reproaching snort from Ducky. "I'm sorry" he muttered opening the black body bag.

Rolling his eyes at his assistant, Ducky resumed his examination.

"She struggled for long before succumbing to her assailant."

Gibbs nodded and the coroners closed the body into the black bag while his agents finished taking photos, sketching and bagging the evidence. The former Marine watched his senior agent work quietly, trying to gauge what was on his mind. As soon as he'd arrived to the office, he'd noticed the neat pile of DiNozzo's completed reports, and he'd realized that - in order to do that - his agent had to have spent the night at the office; his suspicions were confirmed by the dark shadows under his second in command's eyes. He said nothing - but he was sure Tony was aware of his stare - and along with his two younger agents he patiently waited for an annoyed Ziva to return. Back to the Yard, the three younger agents got to work.

After having brought the evidence to Abby and briefly informed Vance, Gibbs entered his team's bullpen and his agents shot up from their chairs and took place around him in front of the plasma.

"Petty Officer Mary Elizabeth Adler" McGee started pushing a button on the remote to summon the woman's file on the monitor. "Twenty-nine, born in Seattle; her parents and fifteen-year-old brother still live there. She joined the Navy as soon as she finished school, used to send her monthly paycheck to her parents until she got married two years ago, cut all the ties with her family and erased them as her next of kin. She got home nine days ago after being deployed for three months."

Tony took the remote and went on.

"Her CO speaks highly of her; no reprimands, she follows orders, no whining. On the private side, it seems she changed a lot since her wedding: more reserved, introvert. Her best friend, Petty Officer Carol Raven, says she spotted her while covering some bruises with make-up, but she brushed it off with a stupid excuse."

"Domestic abuse" Gibbs gathered.

"So it looks. According to Ms Raven, the husband's a scoudrel and the reason for her rift with her parents. It was Ms Raven who found Petty Officer Adler this morning, she was supposed to pick her up to hang out and found her on the living room floor. Her husband wasn't there."

Ziva was next.

"Henry Adler, thirty-two, the victim's husband" she said summoning a photo of the Adlers at their wedding. Henry Adler was like a blond gorilla next to his petite wife. "He works for a phone company. Their neighbors and Ms Raven say he is introvert, very jealous and possessive towards his wife. They used to fight very often, almost every evening she was home; he used to yell, insult her and the day after it was like nothing happened, they were good at feigning in public."

When the briefing was over, Gibbs ordered McGee and Tony to go and pick the man at work while he went to Abby, leaving Ziva to ask Ducky if when the autopsy was over he could add any detail to the preliminary examination he did on scene.

"I can't understand why she stayed with him: he was a beast!" McGee considered getting in the car and buckling the seatbelt while Tony started the car.

The senior agent shrugged.

"It isn't our first domestic abuse case, and won't be the last" he just replied.

"Yeah, and I still can't understand why someone chooses to stay with a monster like that. She couldn't really think he loved her" McGee retorted.

"Love works in mysterious ways."

"A wrong ways, you mean."

Tony bitterly smirked.

"Yeah. Wrong."

They rode in silence for a while. McGee watched the agent next to him trying to gauge what he was thinking. It was never easy with DiNozzo, since his brain seemed to be in somwhere far apart from what his body was actually doing. After working side by side for eight years - plus some sporadic case while he was still in Norfolk - McGee couldn't say yet that he really knew his team mate; but in that moment, with his mouth closed and his eyes on the road, Tony didn't look so hard to read, for once.

"Speaking of love" he started slowly. "You and Wendy Miller. How come you never mentioned her?" he asked ready to seize the rare moment when the other agent had his guard lowered.

DiNozzo started almost imperceptibly at her ex-fiancée's name, cursing himself for being caught by surprise.

"Not important" he shrugged.

Been there, done that. Crash-burn. NTSB is still looking for bodies. Why did he talk?

"Uh-uh… And how come Gibbs knows her?"

Tony didn't answer right away. Damn Adler for working so far from the Navy Yard: he'd given anything for a shorter trip.

Feeling the younger man's gaze on himself and understanding that his coworker and friend wouldn't give up without ad answer of sort, Tony sighed.

"We were a couple when I started working for NCIS. We… were supposed to get married" he said softly.

"What?!" McGee exclaimed, his eyed wide. Tony DiNozzo… was about to get married? (2) He recovered from the shock as quickly as he could, knowing it wasn't the right approach if he really wanted to know what happened and why Tony had been so weird during the whole case he worked side by side with his ex - he was sure enough that the senior agent didn't want to let it slip, and was probably already berating himself. "Uh… So… Uh… How did you meet?" he then asked.

Tony grinned, amused. He knew that wasn't the question the younger man really wanted to ask.

"We met at school."

McGee's eye, if possible, got even wider. Tony'd never struck him as the type to get married with his high school love. But then again, he'd never struck him as the type to get married…

"You were in the same class?" he asked, suddenly feeling like a gossipy thirteen-year-old.

Tony chuckled.

"I went to a military academy, Probie, a male academy" he answered, and when he noticed the confusion on his friend's face he explained: "She was my music teacher" and enjoyed his shocked look.

"You're making it all up" McGee finally said.

DiNozzo quietly chuckled and shook his head.

"No, Tim. I'm making nothing up."

He was eighteen the first time he saw her. The elderly music teacher had retired, and his class was temporarily without a teacher. Tony and his classmates were wondering who'd be appointed to hold the chair, when Wendy Miller walked into the classroom, smiling, young and beautiful.

Someone whistled, earning a punishment from Commander Campbell, who entered after Miss Miller without anyone noticing him. After introducing their new teacher, the commander left and the young woman did her first lesson in a male academy full of hormonal teenagers.

Nobody paid much attention to the lesson, but Music soon became everybody's favorite subject.

Then again, Miss Miller was aware of the effect she was having on the students and, even if she always tried to keep them from escalating and give her trouble, she was actually flattered by that attention.

But it was on a Saturday night that her students' - or rather, one of the students', one she'd noticed at school because he was one of the few who could really play the piano well - attentions really struck her.

The academy students were allowed to leave their campus on the week-ends, if they wanted, to go to their families; and the senior ones who chose to stay at school were allowed to spend their Saturday nights wherever they wanted on the condition that they got back to their dormitory before the curfew.

Tony and a little group of friends were returning to the campus after having fun, when he noticed a familiar figure staring sadly at her car's engine on the other side of the street.

"Miss Miller, do you need help?" the young DiNozzo asked getting closer, while his schoolmates watched laughing and jostling each other playfully.

"I don't know, I have no idea what the problem is" the woman replied rising her eyes onto him.

"If you want, there's a phone inside that bar: I could call a tow truck and then give you a ride home."

Ignoring his schoolmates' whistles and provocative chants, Tony smiled to his teacher, enjoying her affirmative answer. He went to the bar with her, waving his friends triumphantly, and stayed with her until the tow truck came.

Outside the school, Wendy Miller was very different. If she sometimes joked with her students and flirted with them to stitch them up for a surprise test - and joining the class in their laughter - outside she was a twenty-five-year-old woman, too much of a dreamer for her own good and nothing like the femme fatal she looked.

They talked for a long time, while waiting for the tow truck and while they were in Tony's car to her place. In less than half an hour they'd gone from 'Miss Miller' to 'Wendy' and Tony'd gone from looking forward to bragging about this with his friends to wishing to see Wendy again, date her for real.

When he stopped his car at her place, with a real smile that hid no by-ends, she smiled back and kissed him on his cheek.

"You are a good boy, Tony" she said and left his car.

"Here we are" the Senior Field Agent said with forced cheerfulness turning the engine off.

McGee nodded absentmindedly, turning his friend's words in his mind. He was curious to know how the story went on - God, he did look like a gossipy thirteen-year-old! - but he didn't want to pressure him too much: although his constant grandstand, Tony was actually a reserved person. And he didn't like talking about anything really important about himself. That was the reason why after so many years McGee knew very little about his family. And Wendy.

They left their car and walked into the tall glass building that housed the phone company Adler worked for. As far as he could remember, McGee was pretty sure they'd never had any easier case: after killing his wife, Henry Adler had spent the night drinking - if his smell was anything to go by - and the next morning he'd gone to work like any other day; when they walked to him showing their badges he'd looked surprised, but he hadn't tried to run away - for which the younger man was grateful: he really hated when suspects tried to run.

"Mr Adler, we need you to follow us" Tony said.

"Why? What happened?"

He hadn't run away but he was pretending not to know anything. Well, you need to make do with what you have, McGee thought.

The man was surprisingly upset when Tony told him about his wife's murder, so much so that he didn't even try to resist the agents and just followed theme like he was in a trance. He stayed silent during the trip to the Navy Yard, and didn't complain when they left him in Interrogation #1 and went to inform Gibbs.

"Well, that was weird" Tony commented closing the door behind them.

"He's pretending" the other agent shrugged.

"Well, if that's the case, DiCaprio is gonna have to say ciao ciao to the next Oscar as well, because I've never seen anyone that good at pretending."

McGee was about to retort that he knew someone who was scaring good at pretending, and he worked side by side with him every day, but fortunately he stopped himself in time: Tony wouldn't appreciate his remark.

The two agents found Ziva in the office; she pointed the stairs leading to the Director's office.

"Find anything?" Tony asked stopping at his desk and leaning against it with his arms folded, trying to ignore his coworker's not-so-subtle inquisitive stares. He didn't think he was so easy to read, but it seemed his usual masks weren't working properly.

"Ducky confirms she died falling on the glass table" Ziva answered with fake casualness. She knew Tony had understood something was wrong with her the night before - and what was he doing at NCIS that late, anyway? - but he'd acted for her as if nothing had happened, and she wanted to return the favor. "There was no sexual assault, and before dying she struggled for long, as it appears from her bruises. The blood on the glass shards is Ms Adler's, the fingerprints in the living room belong to her, her husband and her friend, the one who called us this morning."

"Now we just need Gibbs to make him confess and we can proceed to arrest Adler" McGee said.

As if on cue, the former Marine appeared on the mezzanine above the squadroom and took the stairs.

"Adler is in #1, Boss" Tony informed him, and Gibbs waved for him to follow while the younger agents - since there was nothing else to do - went to Observation Room #1 to enjoy the show.

Henry Adler still had his stare lost in the space before him. He sat motionless in the same position as when DiNozzo and McGee had left him, and he didn't look aware of his surroundings.

"Shock?" Ziva speculated.

McGee didn't answer right away. He just couldn't understand how that monster could be upset for his wife's death, but Tony was right, he was too good at pretending.

The two senior agents walked inside the room on the other side of the glass and took their places opposite to Adler. The man didn't look like he noticed.

"What did Vance want from Gibbs? He couldn't be already demanding a report on this case, could he?" McGee asked.

Ziva snorted.

"I do not believe so. I think it was about yesterday's case… and NCIS' collaboration with the press" she grimaced.

The other agent watched her curiously for a moment, but he didn't say anything, turning back towards the starting interrogation.

Tony was standing, leaning against the wall behind Adler with his arms folded. Gibbs was showing him the photos of Petty Officer's body to an even more upset Adler.

"Would you believe Wendy Mille is actually older than Tony?" McGee suddenly asked.

Ziva half-snorted half-chuckled.

"She sure does not look younger, with those evident hawk's-feet" she answered without looking away from the scene beyond the glass.

"Crow's-feet, not hawk's. And Wendy has no crow's feet: you two look the same age!" the other agent replied.

"Are you saying I look older than Tony, McGee?" Ziva softly asked turning menacingly towards him.

"Hmm… No, no, of course not. I'm just saying that Wendy doesn't look…" the young man stuttered, but his coworker made a few other dangerous steps closer, making him change his mind. "She does, of course she does. She looks much older than you. Very much."

Ziva nodded, satisfied, and returned to the interrogation.

Gibbs was telling Adler their reconstruction of what happened, while Tony was walking around the room making sarcastic jokes. The man, initially confused and grieved, became more and more distressed as it dawned on him that the two agents thought him responsible of his wife's death.

"No!" he yelled when the former Marine told him about how Mary Beth had been pushed on the coffee table by her husband. "That's not how it went! We had an argument, that's true, but then I left, and she was still alive!"

Gibbs and Tony exchanged a look.

"So someone would've entered your house after you left and killed her?" the younger agent asked.

"Yes… I don't know…"

"It's a little hard to believe, Henry. A man who can beat his wife up like that can surely kill her" the agent replied.

"I swear, I didn't kill her! We argued, I didn't beat her up, it was… an argument. She…"

"'She' what?" Gibbs pressed, his voice cold.

"She… She cheated on me" the man answered, defeated. "The cheated on me with… someone."

Tony raised an eyebrow.

"'Someone'?" he repeated, skeptical.

Adler looked uncomfortable.

"And since you thought she cheated on you with 'someone', you decided it was right to beat her up. Why not kill her as well?" the other agent insisted, disgust leaking from every word.

"I didn't kill her" was all the man said, and with that he seemed to shut himself away.

On the other side of the glass, McGee and Ziva watched Gibbs and Tony open the door of the room without uttering another word, and joined them in the corridor.

"Ziva, talk again with Petty Officer's friend and whomever knew her enough among her comrades. See if you can find anything on this supposed cheating" Gibbs ordered.

"You think it could be relevant?"

"Adler won't talk any further" the former Marine answered. The woman nodded and left the three agents to go and talk to Carol Raven. "McGee, take a look at her phone and financial records, see if anything suggests an affair."

"Even if Ms Adler cheated on her husband, it doesn't mean he didn't kill her. It could be our motive" the younger man considered.

"If Adler doesn't talk, circumstantial evidence and rumors aren't gonna be enough" Tony pointed out, and McGee nodded and started to leave.

"I'm gonna call her family: even though she cut all the ties with her parents, she still called her brother sometimes. He could know something" Tony said and was about to follow McGee, but Gibbs stopped him.

"You ok?" he asked.

Tony didn't answer straight away. He was actually surprised by the direct question, but he covered his reaction behind his usual carefree grin.

"All is fine, Boss" he casually replied walking away.

He wasn't sure Gibbs believed him; he was actually pretty sure he didn't, but Tony had no intention to talk with him. Not about Wendy. Not until he'd understand why the former Marine had named him liaison with the press - with his ex-fiancée - albeit he knew how their story ended. The more he thought about it, the less he could understand it.

Gibbs remained outside Interrogation #1 for a few seconds more, staring at the corner DiNozzo'd turned. It didn't often happen that his agent didn't answer a direct question, that he lied to him. He sighed, thinking about his decision to make him work with Ms Miller. He'd really thought it was the best decision. He wasn't so sure anymore.

Mary Beth's phone records didn't show any suspicious calls: a few calls were towards his brother and the majority was towards her best friend. Her financial didn't show anything either. Since Adler seemed determined not to give them a name, they just had to hope Ziva could gather it from the people close to the victim. DiNozzo was on the phone with the parents to tell them about what had happened and to talk with the victim's younger brother, but he didn't find anything about the mysterious lover.

Tony offered to go and buy lunch for everyone - while they were waiting for Ziva to return with the info they needed - to stop feeling his coworker's stares on himself. He went to the Chinese restaurant close to the Base and ordered for himself and the other three agents, trying not to let his mind wander too much in the meantime. Until then, he'd managed to avoid being alone with Gibbs long enough to be asked questions, and McGee managed to ask him very little - he smiled remembering the younger man's embarrassment while trying to start the dialogue - but he knew Ziva wouldn't hold her curiosity for long. And then there was Abby, and Tony knew he couldn't escape from her. He hoped he could avoid her a little more, but he knew he couldn't do it forever.

Above all, he didn't want to.

He cared about Abby like a little sister, and he would never give up on her friendship, but the forensic specialist sometimes could be… smothering. She just couldn't fathom secrets among friends, while he just couldn't open up for real. He just couldn't. But after eleven years, the young scientist had figured that, just like Gibbs, Tony couldn't deny her anything, and that she just had to insist a little more to obtain the answers she wanted. And insisting was never a problem for Abby Sciuto.

He went back to the office with a bag of the restaurant and gave the cartons to his team mates.

"Next interview is up to Tony and McGee!" were the words that Ziva used to herald her return. Gibbs raised an eyebrow and watched her, impassible. The young agent blushed and went on to inform her collegues about what she'd found. "Petty Officer Adler spent her free time at home or with her best friend. No affair, according to her CO and the few friends she had in the Navy" the said sitting behind her desk and starting to eat the Chinese carton Tony had bought.

"So Adler made everything up" McGee interrupted, but the woman stopped him raising her chopsticks.

"I said according to her CO and the few friends she had in the Navy. Her best friend, Petty Officer Raven, did not look at all surprised when I asked her about the victim's lover" she said enjoying her coworker's interested expressions.

"And?" Tony pressed.

"And… she does not know anything. Or, she said she does not know anything, but I am sure she was lying."

The four agents shared a look above their take-outs, while their minds tried to draw the most logic conclusion.

"Why lie?" McGee said voicing the thought of everyone. "It's a motive for Adler, and according to her first testimony, Ms Raven is one of those who believe him to be e awful husband for our Petty Officer…."

"Unless she is trying to protect this lover" Ziva went on.

"So it must be someone she cares about" the informatics specialist speculated, "or maybe one of their superiors, who intimated her to stay quiet."

Gibbs smiled to himself watching the two younger agents reflect. It looked a lot like those - how did DiNozzo call them? - campfires his second had introduced during the months when he was team leader.

"Or maybe it's her."

All three the other agents turned towards Tony, their faces different degrees on confusion, skepticism and annoyance.

"Her? She would be the lover?" Ziva repeated.

The Senior Field Agent shrugged.

"It makes as much sense as the other theories, but it would explain why Adler doesn't wanna give us a name."

The others reflected about DiNozzo's hypothesis, and then Gibbs nodded.

"Go with Ziva and pick her" he said.

"You think she's hiding something else" the agent said fetching his badge and gun and nodding to an annoyed Ziva to follow him.

The boss didn't answer. "McGee" he said. "Check Ms Adler's phone records, see if she called her friend yesterday evening before dying."

Tony and Ziva heard an affirmative answer before the elevator door closed on the squadroom.

For some reason, Tony knew their trip to pick Ms Raven wouldn't be quiet. It's not that he couldn't understand them: if he were them, he would be consumed by the curiosity to know every detail of the longest relationship of their womanizer team mate. But he wasn't them, he was himself, and he didn't wanna talk about Wendy.

For some reason, he knew he'd have to. Again.

"How could you find her attractive? She is older than you. And you usually date women so young they are barely of age" was his coworker's terribly abrupt question - oh, Ziva, if you wanna know a friend's secrets you can't use the same strategy you use with a suspect.

"Just so you know, I've never dated a woman younger than twenty-five and, well, I don't know about Israel, but legal age here is eighteen. Twenty-one if you wanna drink alcohol, but that's a horse of a different color" Tony said with a wide grin.

Ziva frowned to the unfamiliar American idiom, but didn't let it distract her.

"So, if she was twenty-five, were you the one underage?" she asked with feigned nonchalance.

The senior agent snorted a laugh: it was odd the way the former Mossad assassin was perfectly capable to act her part in a believable way when undercover, how she could make even the most restive suspects confess with her aimed questions and glares, but was so at a loss when it came to interpersonal relationships. They were more similar than either of them cared to admit. And that's why he didn't take offence for her brusque questions, and decided to answer without trying to deflect.

"I had just turned eighteen" he said. He took a breath before going on. "It was my senior year of high school - of boarding school."

After that first night, although they kept their relationship as natural as possible at school, Tony and Wendy started dating.

After getting rid of his friends, curious to know how his night with the hot teacher went, with a shrug and a noncommittal "She's a teacher and I'm a student, how you think it went? She thanked me and told me helping her wouldn't save me from the next test", Tony went to pick her up two weeks later. He'd told his friends he had a date with the redhead he'd met at a bar a few weeks earlier, and he'd taken Wendy to a restaurant at the other side of the city. It wasn't a fancy place because, no matter how much she tried to insist, he'd never let his date pay the bill - no matter how old his date was or what job he had - and he couldn't afford anything more expensive: his father had just agreed to pay his school bills because he was legally compelled to - and he'd threatened Tony to hang him out to dry now that he'd turned eighteen - but he had no intention to reverse his decision of six years before to disinherit him; that left Tony with little money.

But Wendy didn't care. She liked Tony, he was a good boy, a lot less childish and nicer than he let on at school, and she actually liked a little old-school romanticism.

The kid, on the other hand, was dazzled by her. She was beautiful, funny, and smart. And she was mature. She hadn't stopped at his façade, she hadn't approached him for his father's name, hadn't left when he told her he didn't get along with his family and was disinherited at the age of twelve. She'd seen the real Tony, and she'd liked him.

After the first time, they dated again, and again, and again. After two months, Wendy had invited him in her apartment, and it was the most beautiful night he'd spent with a girl. Tony DiNozzo was no rookie under the covers, but it was the first time he was with an older - and more expert - girl than him. It was great.

He'd spent his week-end with her, and on Monday he'd told his friends he'd been in Maryland with some cousins.

They stayed together for six months. But at the end of February, while Tony was accompanying her back home, they were spotted by some students.

In a week, Wendy was intimated to leave, or else, and Tony was summoned in the headmaster's office to hear his punishment and the loathed "thank you father's name if we're not throwing you outta here."

Wendy left that same day, leaving Tony an apology letter and a promise she'd never forget him.

Petty Officer Raven looked more scared than confused when the agents asked her to follow them at NCIS. She paled, and stuttered she didn't understand why, she'd told everything she knew. Then she'd recovered her cold head and tried to run away, only to find that a former assassin and a former jock were not easy to leave behind.

Two hours later she was sitting in Interrogation #2, in front on Special Agents Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Ziva David - and Ms David looked pretty pissed for being deceived not just once, but both times they'd talked.

"Petty Officer Raven, did you have an affair with Petty Officer Adler?" Gibbs asked staring her straight in her eyes. Ziva was rocking her chair on its back legs, playing with her knife.

Raven jumped, but she didn't answer.

On the other side of the glass, DiNozzo and McGee were enjoying the show.

"Nobody knew it, you were good to cover it" the former Marine went on. Ziva kept staring at her with cold eyes, fiddling with her knife.

"If Vance saw her with that knife, we'd all be in trouble" McGee emphasized.

Tony chuckled.

"You try to tell her that when she has that look." McGee was horrified by that thought. "Never piss Ziva off: poor Carol is learning that at her own expense."

And sure enough, a little while later, the former Mossad officer decided she'd waited too long for the Petty Officer to answer and suddenly shot up from her chair. She didn't say anything, just started to pace shooting glares to the woman in front of Gibbs, moving her knife from one hand to the other and tightening her grip on the handle.

Carol Raven paled even further, and opened her mouth as if to talk. No sound emitted, and she closed it again before breathing deep and trying again.

"We've been friends for years. But then, when she met Adler and they got married… He was a beast. He beat her up every time she was home, but she was in love and didn't wanna leave him. She even covered for him, when anyone asked about her bruises. I was the only one she told the truth, when she came to me crying."

Ziva had stopped behind Gibbs, the knife still in her hands, her gaze still on the woman.

"A year ago… She came to me, covered in bruised. You could barely see her skin among all that blue and black. I was fetching some ice for her when… it happened. I don't know how, but…." She stopped. Took a breath. Continued. "It went on for almost a year, and nobody suspected anything."

"But then her husband found out" Gibbs said and the woman nodded.

"He was furious. Threatened to make it public, and… though the DADT is no more, Mary Beth knew things would end badly for us. We broke up."

There were a few minutes of quiet. Ms Raven was over with her story. She thought.

The former Marine took a paper from the manila folder on the table and showed it to the Petty Officer.

"These are Mary Beth's phone records" he just said, but it was enough to make her wince. "Before dying, Petty Officer Adler made a phone call. To you. According to our ME she died less than half an hour later after that phone call."

The woman squirmed on her chair, trying to avoid the agents' gazes.

"Ten bucks Gibbs makes her cry" McGee betted.

"Twenty that Ziva makes her" Tony raised with a smirk.

The younger agent laughed.

On the other side of the glass, the woman resumed her pacing, throwing her knife in the air and catching it again. Petty Officer Raven closed her eyes but didn't answer immediately. The agents patiently waited.

"I went to her place" the woman said softly. "She'd had an argument with Henry because he believed we were still dating." She paused and opened her eyes again. Tears fell on her cheeks.

"Damn, she cried by herself" Tony whined.

"What happened when you saw her?" Gibbs pressed.

"We… argued. I told her to leave Henry, to come back with me: I was ready to face whatever consequences there'd be with her, I didn't wanna see her like that anymore…." She paused again, and in the blink of an eye she changed. "But she didn't want to leave him. She loved him. She'd never told me 'I love you', while Henry, who beat her up…." There were no more tears in her eyes. "We fought. I didn't wanna… kill her. But if she loved Henry that much even though he beat her up… I wanted some of that love as well. I didn't wanna kill her. She fell on the coffee table and didn't move."

McGee was stunned.

"It looked a case so linear…" he commented.

"Never let appearances fool you" Tony answered, and the other man thought there was no truth more suitable to his friend than that.

Petty Officer Raven was now confessing she'd realized what she'd done and got scared. She'd waited for morning to come, to pretend she'd found the body, knowing Henry usually spent the nights after his arguments with his wife in a bar getting drunk.

It was with great pleasure that Ziva cuffed her and read her her rights, while Gibbs put the phone records back in the folder.

Two hours later, the reports were done and Gibbs sent the three younger agents.

Tony said good-bye to his coworkers and took his car to go home, but about halfway he pulled over, hesitant. The idea to go home and be alone in his apartment was somehow scaring him.

He closed his eyes, his hands tightened around the wheel, breathing deeply. He didn't want to go home. He didn't want to think about her. He wanted to go back to three days before, when she was locked in his past and he could pretend he'd moved on, he'd really grown. But Gibbs' silent stares and McGee and Ziva's questions were making it impossible to withdraw into his cocoon and ignore Wendy's return - and her words.

'I left because I wasn't ready to meet the one, okay? And you were the one'

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

Determined not to go home, and even more not to stay in his car and think, Tony re-started the car and drove downtown. He parked his car in the garage of a bar and entered ready to spend the night in a bed that wasn't his.

Author's notes.

I didn't mean to write such a long story, but after twenty pages I thought it was better to cut it in chapters, and my one-shot became a 'two-shot' XD

I hope you stay with me for next chapter - which is gonna be a little longer than this one (that's really odd for me, I never write such long chapters!) and is gonna be online in a week or so.

I'm looking forward to reading what you think :)

Little explanations:

(1) Episode 9x13 'A Desperate Man'.

(2) I can't fathom how, if Tony never told anyone about Wendy, everyone seems to know about her being his ex-fiancée. So I decided they don't. Easy, isn't it? A good trick to fix plot-holes (and thing I can't remember) u_u