Word Count: 9071/37,000+
Warnings: It's slash, but you won't see that here
Disclaimer: They're not mine, pretty as I find them. Go to the producers if you want to talk money.
Summary: AU but following canon events: A series of thefts around Virginia and Maryland may prove to be something far more deadly and dangerous.
Arriving back at NCIS headquarters was a relief, even if it was just approaching dawn after a night with no sleep. The office meant no more squinting at smudgy black prints on a wide variety of surfaces, no more digging through someone's belongings looking for anything that was possibly missing, and a steady supply of coffee for an increasingly caffeine deprived Gibbs.
Usually Gibbs wasn't this bad at long, involved crime scenes, but the identities of the victims clearly had him on edge. This meant everyone around him was climbing the walls to escape him. The experience was exhausting. Tony hadn't seen his alpha look this obsessed since Ari, and the comparison did nothing to settle his nerves.
The large black coffee in Gibbs hand gave away his stop for coffee, possibly explaining why he arrived at the parking lot at the same time as Tony. That actually surprised the younger agent; he'd rather expected Gibbs to beat him back even with a coffee stop, but given the mellower expression on Gibbs’ face he'd probably stayed to drink the first cup in the store. And he'd clearly made an extra stop given the cup of CafPow in his other hand.
“Feeling better, boss?” Tony asked teasingly as they stepped into the elevator together.
“Is Richy going to be okay?” Gibbs snapped back. Apparently he wasn't as mellow as Tony thought.
“Hospital said Gregory Peck is still stable and doing well,” Tony said by way of apology. He had thought to call in and check on the way in.
“But not awake?”
“McGee left a card. They'll call as soon as he comes to,” Tony assured him.
“Tell me when they do,” Gibbs ordered. “I want to interview him.”
“You could go now,” Tony suggested. “Mrs. Peck might want to see you.” Since they were old friends the dynamic of visits would be a bit different, more like checking up on an injured teammate, Tony figured.
“Not until Greg's awake or I have something to tell her about her son,” Gibbs snapped, striding out of the elevator as the doors opened. “Preferably both.”
Tony followed fast on his heels into Abby's lab. He was determined to try and keep on Gibbs’ better side – he sure didn't have a good side today – as much as possible on this case. “How's it going, Abby?” Tony asked over the blaring music.
Gibbs just stalked over to the boom box before Abby could move and slapped off the noise. “Talk to me, Abs,” he ordered.
“Gibbs. Tony,” Abby cried happily. “Tim just went back upstairs to wait for you.”
“I'm down here now, so why don't you tell me what you found,” Gibbs snapped, slapping the CafPow into her hands.
Abby seemed happy to ignore his grumpy mood and took a big suck before speaking. “McGee and I checked the records of the police departments for the cities around Quantico. Dumfries has three similar cases, Triangle two, and Aquia and Garrisonville one each.”
Gibbs snarled. “How did no one notice that?” he demanded.
“All the victims had military connections, but they were former military, so there was no reason for them to call NCIS,” Abby explained apologetically.
“That's not what I asked. Are all the victims from marine families?”
“Umm ...” Abby scanned a list of files on her computer. “Four had Navy connections instead, though one of those had a Navy officer and a Marine officer who got married.”
“In this area, there has got to be something more to it than a military connection,” Tony interjected. He was also wondering why there hadn't been any kind of report about the similar cases. Usually NCIS was at least good at picking up on the reports the different police forces sent between themselves even when the forces weren't talking to NCIS directly.
“Get the files from Abby,” Gibbs ordered. “I want us to re-interview every single surviving family member or whatever relatives survive them. Find that connection.”
With that, he stalked out, just missing Ziva as she came in with a large box of evidence. Tony could never have gotten it all checked in that fast. He would have to find out Ziva's secret for dealing with the baggie bunnies. Or maybe the trick was not to call them baggie bunnies. Ziva had suggested they didn't like that back when Chip had framed him for murder. At this point it might just be safer to let someone else check in the evidence for the rest of his career.
“Is it just me, or is Gibbs grumpier than usual?” Abby asked, interrupting Tony's thoughts.
“That's one way to put it,” Tony said dryly.
“What is upsetting him so?” Ziva asked, dropping the evidence box onto Abby's table. “You told McGee something about the victims knowing Kelly?”
“Gregory Peck was the Sergeant who saved Gibbs' life in Kuwait,” Tony said. “He and his family knew Gibbs' first family apparently.”
“How did you find that out so fast?” Abby asked, giving him a suspicious look.
“I asked the first time he snarled at me,” Tony said pointedly, putting a hand on Abby's shoulder with his fingers digging lightly into her neck under her collar as he guided her to the table.
Abby's eyes lit up with comprehension even as Ziva gave Tony a funny look. “I do not understand. Gibbs is not forthcoming about his past.”
“Sometimes, if you get the timing just right ...” Tony trailed off and let Ziva draw her own conclusions. Tony was not going to explain why Gibbs was a bit more open with Tony than he used to be.
“How close were they?” Abby asked as she started pulling items from the box and signing for them.
“Very, I think,” Tony said flatly, tightening his grip for a moment before releasing the Goth.
“Ah,” Abby breathed. “Well, if this is like the other cases, then there won't be much in here that doesn't come from the homeowners, if anything. But I'll run everything just in case.”
“Please do,” Tony said. “And email me those case files, please. Ziva, we have interviews to schedule.”
“What case files?” Ziva asked.
“For the similar looking cases that we just found out about,” Tony replied.
“The local LEOs aren't going to hand over everything,” Abby warned him. “I've only got some general information I could get from their servers.”
“You want to tell Gibbs that right now?” Tony asked her, receiving a sharp shake of the head in reply. “Didn't think so. Send me what you've got. I'll see if the Director can sweet-talk them for the rest in the next few days. Oh, and look into whether the different cities have been talking to each other on this one.”
“On it, boss,” Abby said teasingly as Tony guided a bemused Ziva out the door.
“I still do not quite understand,” Ziva told him in the elevator.
“All you need to understand right now is the boss is taking this case very personally and if we don't find him a connection soon it's going to be our heads,” Tony replied sharply, a tone he didn't often use when he wasn't in charge.
“If you say so, Tony,” Ziva said, but it was clear from her expression and tone that she was not satisfied. “Does McGee understand?”
The elevator doors opened just then and Tony strode out into the bullpen. “I don't know, Ziva. Why don't you ask him? Probie! Do you understand what's upsetting Gibbs about this case?” He ignored the irritated look Gibbs shot him from behind his desk. He also ignored the odd look Tim shot him before answering.
“I think so, Tony,” Tim answered firmly. “However, I'm more interested in those cases Abby and I found.”
“Me too, McGee,” Tony replied, sitting down behind his desk. “Is Ducky's autopsy report up yet?”
“Just his initial notes, but I wrote up my interview from the hospital,” Tim said.
“You are both impossible,” Ziva snapped as she sat behind her own desk. “Fine, which reports should I start with?”
Abby was up to visit around lunch time. Fortunately, when he'd gone out to get burgers, Tim had also had the sense to get spares just in case of such visitors. So, when he found her settling on the edge of Tony's desk, he handed her a large burger and fries before passing the same to Tony and Ziva.
“I thought you were getting pizza,” Tony protested before shoving three fries in his mouth.
“Ducky's due up any minute with the autopsy report,” Tim countered, waving a leaf of lettuce from his burger at the senior agent.
“Burgers are almost as bad in his mind,” Gibbs cut in, snatching his share from the bag in Tim's hands. “He'd rather we eat those tofu wrap things Kate liked.”
Tim, Tony, and Gibbs all shuddered while Ziva looked on in confusion, but Abby protested. “Hey, those were good.”
“Whatever you say, Abby,” was Tony's disbelieving reply.
“While we're waiting for Ducky, what have you found?” Gibbs asked the team at large.
“They were all military and all lived near to Quantico,” Tim said, disgusted by the lack of results in his searches last night. “The only other correlation I've found is that retired Staff Sergeant James Bizarro and his wife, Eglantine, killed last May in Triangle, were the parents of Major Majory FitzWilliam, who was killed with her family ...”
Tim shrank back and trailed off at Gibbs fierce glare. “Last December. That was our case. How did we miss this?” he snarled.
“I ... I ... I'm looking through ... my old notes,” Tim stuttered, trying to remember where his backbone had gone. “I'll figure it out.” He didn't dare say he didn't have a clue how they had missed it and was about ready to hack the Triangle police servers to try and figure out why the Bizarro's death hadn't shown up in any of the records he checked.
It was a relief when Gibbs seemed to accept the promise and turned his glare on Tony.
“I'm setting up interviews with every remaining relative I can find,” Tony said confidently. “It would help to get those reports from the local LEOs to be sure we've got a full list on the families of the ex-military victims.”
Gibbs grunted and glanced up at the balcony above the bullpen before looking over at Ziva.
“I have found no correlation,” she said firmly. “I have set up several interviews, but I still think we are assuming too much when we insist these cases are all related.”
“Oh, but I found another bullet match,” Abby cut in, to Tim's relief, cutting that incipient argument off in its tracks. “The bullets the surgeon pulled from Gregory Peck match the ones Ducky pulled from Richard Peck, but also from a case in Triangle last May. James and Eglantine Bizarro were killed with the same gun used last night.”
“Any other matches in the cases we just found out about?” Gibbs asked, almost smiling for the first time that morning.
“Two of the cases in Dumfries, retired Commander Volkov and retired Commander Petrovich and their families were killed with the same gun in October and April of last year,” Abby replied. “Based on what I've found, the local LEOs decided it was some kind of Russian Mafia thing and didn't even connect it to the death of the Jamisons last month
“Idiots,” Tony grumbled. “They're decorated Navy veterans with no criminal records, all third and fourth generation American.”
“Definitely sloppy,” Abby agreed. “But there might be some evidence we're missing. Until we get the full reports and evidence from Dumfries ...” She trailed off. They all knew how limited they were at the moment.
Gibbs threw his half eaten lunch in the trash and grabbed a file from his desk before stomping towards the stairs. “Back in a minute, Ducky,” he called when he spotted Ducky coming out of the elevator.
“Finished the autopsy?” Tony asked when Ducky got to the team's space, offering the ME a fry.
“I finished hours ago. I've just been finishing the report,” Ducky replied, trading a stack of paper for the carton of fries in Tony's hand. “Where is Gibbs off to?”
“Probably to ask Director Shepard to get us custody of the similar cases we dug up last night,” Tony replied, scowling at the loss of his fries. However, he was quickly distracted by Ducky's report.
“There's nothing new in there,” Ducky said sadly. “Richard Peck was killed with two bullets to the heart. Our killer is an excellent marksman. This was exactly the same as the others. I wonder how Gregory Peck survived.”
“The doctor said something about ... situs inversus,” Tim dragged from memory banks that were foggy with the stress of the night countered by too little caffeine.
“Oh, what an interesting condition,” Ducky exclaimed. “I wonder if he has a partial or full case.”
“What is this inversus?” Ziva asked.
“It's a congenital condition where the internal organs are in their mirror positions,” Ducky explained. “The heart is on the right, as are the stomach and gall bladder. The liver is on the left. The right lung has two lobes, the left three. It's quite an interesting phenomenon. In this case, it would have saved Mr. Peck's life. The killer has been so precise in the placement of his bullets that it's possible they missed the heart and lungs entirely.”
“Punctured the left lung and clipped the pericardium,” Tim added. “According to his surgeon.”
“I believe I have heard of it,” Ziva admitted thoughtfully. “He was a very lucky man.”
“I should contact the doctor for the medical files. Further proof of our killer's accuracy with a gun,” Ducky commented.
“Dr. Horace at Potomac Hospital,” Tim offered. He couldn't help but note how Ducky had said killer and not thief. They had long been thinking of these as home invasion cases first and murders second. Maybe that was the wrong way around.
“Thank you, Timothy,” Ducky said. “I should go call him. If Gibbs has any questions I should be in autopsy the rest of the day.”
Gibbs didn't bother to wait for Cynthia to contact Jen or to be invited in. He just stalked through the anti-room and straight into the Director's office.
Jen kept her eyes on her folder but scowled. “Yes, Jethro?” she snapped.
“Our nine home invasion cases just became sixteen,” Gibbs answered gruffly.
“Where did these other cases come from?” Jen asked, finally turning her attention fully to her agent.
“Local LEOs never reported that they had cases with the same MO, all against former military families.” Gibbs couldn't hide the fury within him. Either someone had been hiding these cases or four different city police departments had seriously screwed up.
“You're sure these cases relate?” Jen asked.
“Well, getting the files would help clinch it, but everything we have indicates these killings are all by the same man or group of men.”
“You want the files?” Jen asked. “Have you asked for them?”
“Either someone is covering things up, or they're idiots.” Gibbs they could try and ignore, dumb as that would be. The Director of NCIS, however, would be very hard to ignore, or say no to. Gibbs wanted, no, needed those files, and ASAP.
Jen gave him a suspicious look, like she was trying to read him despite his impassive expression. “What's so important about this case?” she asked.
“Someone has killed over forty people in the last year no one connected the cases,” Gibbs snapped. He did not want Jen digging into this. Maybe contacting the police himself would have been a better idea.
“True,” Jen said, leaning back in her chair. “But that's not all. Why did it take us this long to make the connection?”
Gibbs shrugged. He saw it as a failing that they had not caught on to these other cases sooner.
“I want to know why no one made the connection,” Jen ordered.
“We're looking into it,” Gibbs assured her.
“I suppose you'd like me to ask the local forces when I call for the files,” Jen said with a roll of her eyes. Gibbs just smirked slightly. “Very well. I'll see what I can get out of them.”
The words 'thank you' caught in his throat, and Gibbs just nodded shortly and stalked back out. Jen would probably make him suffer for his shortness later, but right now he couldn't muster the strength to stuff down his anger long enough to sweet talk her. He shouldn't have to sweet talk the Director to get the support a team leader should have. It was days like this he really missed Tom Morrow.
There were two highlights to the afternoon. First, Jen came through and all four local police forces promised to have the case files and evidence shipped overnight to Anacostia. Tony was tempted to volunteer to go get them himself but resisted. He didn't want to leave the rest of the team with Gibbs and no buffer. In his current mood, Gibbs would tear them apart.
The second highlight Tony considered quite a miracle. Gibbs let everyone go home at four. Usually he'd be saying that they didn't deserve the break, but maybe the older agent was going soft.
That, or he was so sick of them screwing up he wanted them all out of his sight.
While Ziva and Tim scampered off as soon as Gibbs gave permission, Tony stuck around. He had a call to make at five; the baby sitter for the Duarte family had promised Mom would be home by then.
Gibbs gave him a look but didn't comment on his continued presence. Tony kept sifting through reports. He needed to keep looking busy to discourage Gibbs from ordering him home. Even after that call, Tony wasn't sure he'd leave. He didn't want to leave Gibbs here alone, not with this case weighing him down. He was watching carefully for signs of the level of obsession that had his alpha sleeping in the office for six months over Ari.
The call went well. Mrs. Duarte could spare him some time in two days, which Tony dutifully jotted down in his calendar. But it was the call Gibbs received while Tony was on the phone that really had the senior agent's attention.
They both hung up at the same time, and Tony didn't hide his interest at all. When Gibbs stood and began gathering his stuff, Tony did the same despite the glare that his alpha shot him.
“Hospital?” Tony asked hopefully as he followed fast on Gibbs' heels towards the elevator.
“Go home,” Gibbs ordered.
Tony fought with the urge to just knuckle under and obey. “You sure you don't want back up?” he asked subserviently, unable to resist tilting his head to the side so his neck was slightly exposed.
Letting out a great sigh of air, Gibbs finally looked at his second, not glared but actually looked. Tony thought Gibbs looked scared for a moment, probably the most honest expression the agent had seen on his alpha's face in almost twenty-four hours.
“Please let me help?” Tony requested, his tone light and playful. He let his eyes do the pleading. Gibbs needed backup on this, even if he didn't think so, and Tony wanted to be there to watch his alpha's six.
“Fine,” Gibbs grumped, striding out of the elevator and heading straight for his car. “If Mary feels up to it, take her to the house and find out what's missing.”
“Right, boss,” Tony replied glibly, quickly following Gibbs and sliding into the passenger seat as soon as his alpha unlocked the door. No way he was risking Gibbs leaving him behind because he wasn't fast enough. While it might seem like Gibbs was putting up with him just to get rid of him, Tony knew they did actually need that information.
And it was the only way Gibbs could concede he needed help and still keep his pride intact. Tony knew his alpha well enough to recognize that.
They could have picked a better time to drive to Potomac Hospital. The rush hour traffic did not put Gibbs in a good mood, or rather it eroded what little improvement in mood he'd had since learning that Gregory Peck was awake. Tony rather wished he'd suggested stopping for coffee. By the time they pulled into the parking lot, it felt a lot like being in a car with a primed bomb. Gibbs was quite ready to go off.
The tension continued to build as they went into the hospital. Even the nurses they asked for directions from seemed to treat the team leader warily. But as soon as Gibbs spotted an older woman as they stepped out of the elevator on the fourth floor, he seemed to deflate, his anger vanishing with his foul mood, and faster than Tony'd ever seen even a cup of coffee help.
“Mary,” Gibbs said in greeting, opening his arms to the woman who had headed straight for him as soon as she saw him.
“Jethro, it has been too long,” she replied, her hug so tight it almost lifted him off his feet despite the sharp height difference between them.
“Sorry about that,” Gibbs said, sounding positively sheepish to Tony's amazement. “Things have been a bit chaotic since the explosion.”
“I should imagine,” Mary agreed, stepping back and punching him playfully on the shoulder. “But not remembering the last fifteen years is no excuse for not talking to those that knew you before. I'll be expecting you for dinner as soon as Greg is out of the hospital.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Gibbs assured her. “How's he doing?”
“Tired and in pain,” Mary said wryly. “But awake and refusing pain meds because he insists he's already done enough sleeping.”
“Stubborn fool,” Gibb said fondly.
“Reminds me of another marine I know,” Mary countered. “Now, who's this young man?”
Gibbs clapped a hand on Tony's shoulder and pulled him forward from where he'd been hiding behind his alpha. He'd been staying back, out of the way of what seemed a rather private meeting. Being touched almost made him jump, and he couldn't stop the way his eyes widened in surprise for a moment before he plastered a bland, professional look back on his face. The amused look in Mary's eyes made it clear she'd seen right through him, though.
“Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, my senior field agent,” Gibbs said by way of introduction. “This is Mary Peck, wife of Gregory and mother of Richard.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am,” Tony said politely, offering a hand. “Though I'm sorry it had to be under such circumstances.”
“Very true,” Mary said sadly, shaking his hand with a firm grip. “You'll be wanting to talk to Greg as soon as possible, I assume.”
“I'm afraid so,” Gibbs said. “If you have some time, I'd also appreciate if you'd let Tony take you home and see if anything is missing. We didn't see anything obvious last night, and we need to put out a bulletin with the local pawn shops.”
“I don't see why not,” Mary agreed. “I promised Greg I'd get him something from the commissary, if I can sneak it past the nurses. Why don't you two start your interview and I'll be back in a few.” She shot Tony a look that had him feeling as though he were a microbe under the microscope. “I'm sure Greg will want a chance to meet your friend, Jethro.”
With that rather cryptic comment, she brushed past the NCIS agents and took the elevator down.
Gibbs just strode off down the hall to room 408 without a word, and Tony followed quickly on his heels.
“I'll wait here for Mrs. Peck to return,” Tony offered, pausing outside the door. Gibbs just shot him a look that said what he thought of that idea and strode through the open door. As ordered, Tony followed.
“Jethro? That you?” a weak voice called from the bed. Gregory Peck looked a mess, pale, wan, and covered in bandages, cables, and lines of various types. But, he was on a nasal canula instead of a ventilator, and his blue eyes were bright and focused despite his obvious weakness.
“Hey, Greg,” Gibbs said gently, walking over to Greg's left side. “I'm so sorry about Richard.”
A weak hand reached up and clasped Gibbs'. “Quit it with the sympathy, Gunny. I'll get plenty of that when I get home, and I know you get it. Tell me what I can do to help you catch that bastard.”
Gibbs pulled up a chair and sat down, never letting go of Greg's hand. His left hand reached up to rest on Greg's shoulder, his thumb curving along the edge of the bandage that grazed the injured man's neck. The touch seemed to make Greg melt slightly into his bed. “Tell us what happened,” Gibbs ordered lightly.
“Us?” Greg asked, stiffening and looking over to catch sight of Tony lurking by the door. “Who'd you bring?”
“Special Agent Tony DiNozzo,” Gibbs replied. “My second.”
Tony felt a slight flush of pleasure hearing that. It always amazed him, perhaps in part because he heard it so rarely. There weren't exactly a lot of people Gibbs could tell, after all. “It's a pleasure to meet you,” Tony said honestly, stepping up to stand behind Gibbs' right shoulder. He knew he owed this man for saving his alpha in Kuwait.
Greg grunted, glaring at Tony over Gibb's shoulder.
Gibbs muttered something under his breath that sounded derogatory about shifter pissing matches. “He's my best agent,” he said, glaring at Greg until the injured man dropped his eyes.
“Not your usual style, Gunny,” Greg finally said.
“He's the one who's going to watch my six when I take down the bastard that killed Richard,” Gibbs said, visibly tightening his grip on the other man's shoulder.
Greg let out a grunt that was more disbelief than pain, but turned his attention wholly back to Gibbs.
“What happened?” Gibbs asked again.
Greg took a deep breath before he answered. “I heard Richard's car pull up and was moving towards the door when I heard something in the kitchen. I just had time to turn around when I was face to face with him.”
Tony pulled out his PDA and started taking notes.
“Any description you can give us is vital,” Gibbs said, keeping his hands on Greg and trusting Tony to keep a record. “We think the same person may have committed over twenty murders over the last ten months, and you're the first survivor.”
Greg's expression, while he still looked exhausted, hardened, an angry marine coming to the fore. “You want a description, you got it. The bastard didn't even bother to wear a mask. He's six foot two or so, tan skin, probably white, brunet, couldn't quite catch his eye color at the distance. He's built, but not too bulky, moves like he's had training, and definitely knew how to handle that gun.”
“Do you think if we put you with a sketch artist you could work up a likeness?” Gibbs asked eagerly. Tony didn't blame him. This was incredible news.
Greg nodded slowly. “And when you bring him in, I'll be happy to ID him anytime, anywhere,” he said darkly. “Dead or alive.”
“What happened next?” Tony prompted.
Greg studied him for a moment before answering. “He had a gun in his hand, something with a silencer, and he shot me, twice,” Greg said with a wince of pain. “He must have had it out when he came in. Seemed to be expecting to use it. Said, ‘Take that, demon.’ Just snarled it at me.”
Tony tapped is stylus on his PDA thoughtfully. “Any idea what he meant?” he asked.
“Nope,” Greg said, dashing Tony's hopes. “Looked a might familiar, like I'd seen him somewhere before, but I couldn't tell you where.”
“Are you sure it was his face? Not his bearing?” Tony asked, trying to build up a mental image of the man.
“Not sure,” Greg admitted. “He moved like a fighter. It was over pretty fast.” He paused, sucking in a pained breath of air through his mouth.
“What happened next?” Gibbs prompted gently, squeezing Greg's hand.
“I was just sitting there, hurting, and I heard the door open,” Greg said, his sorrow breaking through the military facade that had kept him going this long. “Richard must have walked in ... I never saw him. Just two more shots and a thud as he hit the ground. Bastard just booked out of there after that. I heard the kitchen door slam behind him.”
Mary appeared in the doorway just then. Tony heard her, and turned slightly to catch her pale face taking in her husband's pain. “Brought you some chocolate,” she finally said, coming the rest of the way into the room and claiming the chair on Greg's right.
Greg's eyes lit up a bit, and he blinked away the building tears. “You're a life saver, love,” he assured her.
“Jethro asked me to check out the house,” Mary told him, pressing a bar of chocolate into his hand. “Need to see if he stole anything.”
“Don't think he had time,” Greg said. “Seemed like he was pretty much in and out.”
“Doesn't hurt to check. I'll be back soon. And I'm sure Agent DiNozzo will take good care of me.”
Greg shot Tony a look that made it quite clear his expectations with regards to his wife. Tony tilted his chin up and to the left, just slightly, but also glared back making it clear that while he was obeying, he was not in Greg's line of command.
“Take our car,” Gibbs ordered, never actually turning to look at Tony. “And once you've documented, let Mary pick up some things for the next few days. Don't know when we'll be able to release the crime scene.”
“Yes, boss,” Tony snapped off sharply before stepping around the bed and offering Mary his arm. “Ma'am?”
Mary smiled up at him as she stood and took his arm. “I'll dig out your spare chair, dear, so you'll be ready when those doctors let you up and around.”
Greg looked happily, lovingly at his wife, ignoring Tony. Gibbs just shot his second a look that screamed, “Behave!” Disinclined to argue, Tony just smiled at both of them and led Mary from the room.
“So how long have you known Jethro?” Mary asked once they were underway.
“It's been … um … a bit over six years now,” Tony replied, having to think about it a moment. It surprised him to realize just how long it had been. Stan Burley had only lasted five years with Gibbs, and Gibbs had been undercover with Jen in Paris part of that time.
“Before or after he divorced Stephanie?”
“And how did you two meet?”
Tony felt as though he were being quizzed by a girlfriend's mother. Oh, meeting Jeanne's mother. That was not something he was looking forward to. “He recruited me from the Baltimore PD.”
“You must be good then,” Mary said. “Jethro seems to have trouble keeping staff at NCIS. Not that he says as much to me.”
“He's doing better these days,” Tony said, fighting a laugh. “Our current team has been the same for about a year and a half, and no one has quit or requested a transfer in three and a half.”
“Then why hasn't the team been the same for three and a half years?”
Tony winced. He'd walked himself into that one. “We lost an agent to a terrorist sniper,” he said softly.
“I'm sorry,” Mary said sympathetically. “Jethro never mentioned it. He doesn't talk about his coworkers much, I'm afraid.”
Tony couldn't stand the silence for long, not with Kate on the top of his mind now. “How long have you known Gibbs?”
“Oh my … it's been twenty years at least now,” Mary replied thoughtfully. “Greg was assigned to Jethro's team a couple of times. Jethro hasn't been as good about staying in touch since Shannon died, especially the last year or two.”
“Well, now that I know, I'll let Ducky know and he can nag Gibbs into calling,” Tony offered.
“Ducky? I've heard that name before.”
“Our medical examiner,” Tony explained. “He's known Gibbs longer than anyone else at NCIS and is excellent at reminding us to do things we'd rather forget.”
“Been on the receiving end of that one?” Mary asked lightly.
Tony let out an aggrieved sigh. “More than once,” he admitted. “But he is usually right.”
“It's good to know there's someone watching after Jethro. He's too alone these days, no wife, no girlfriend.”
“He's not alone,” Tony assured her. “Our entire team is like a family.”
“Not quite the word I'd hoped for,” Mary muttered softly.
“You prefer pack?” Tony asked, hoping Mary was aware of her husband's abilities.
“So you are one of them,” Mary said, sounding more than a touch pleased. “Like Greg.”
Tony grinned toothily. “'Fraid so.”
“Good,” Mary surprised him by saying. “I think Jethro misses the pack structure, though he seems to be avoiding it since he lost Shannon. I never quite understood what he saw in those other women. A few of the men, but never the women.”
“I think part of his lack of pack was the need to find the right people,” Tony suggested. “Ducky and Abby, our forensic scientist, work for all the teams at Anacostia, but they've long had a tighter bond with Gibbs than any other team leader. Maybe it's just being formalized, but I think he's seen them as his pack for years.”
Mary smiled and patted his arm. “Good, good. I've been worried about him, especially since I heard about the explosion.”
“We were all worried after the explosion,” Tony admitted. “But he's doing better now, and we're watching.”
“Good,” Mary said. “Now if he would just settle down with someone nice.”
“I'd think after three ex-wives he's a bit wedding shy these days,” Tony said lightly, crushing down the slight twinge of his heart at the thought of Gibbs with someone else.
“He doesn't need a wife, he needs a mate,” Mary said firmly. “And gender is not a factor, never has been with Jethro. He just foolishly fixated on females with red hair because of Shannon.”
Tony paused a moment, a bit embarrassed to be digging into Gibbs' private life with what was basically a stranger, at least to him. But how else was he supposed to find out about the boss? It wasn't like his alpha was particularly open about such things. “He does have a bit of a thing for redheads,” he said lightly. “Don't know so much about the men.” Liar, he told himself, but tried to ignore it. He might dig for info, but that didn't mean he had to tell Mary about his own situation.
“Oh, Jethro has always been quite discreet,” Mary said, laughing lightly. “I think he had some bad experiences as a youth. But he had his share of lovers over the years. He and Shannon had some kind of arrangement for when they were apart. Sometimes when Shannon and I were very lonely and rather drunk, she would tell stories, both hers and his … and on a few occasions both together.”
“Oh,” Tony said, unable to conjure any other words. He'd never thought of his boss as anything other than obsessively faithful. “I didn't expect … he seemed to love Shannon so much.”
“Still does,” Mary said, smiling. “Those two were made for each other, though it took them a bit of time to come to terms.”
Tony winced at that choice of words. If Shannon was made for Gibbs, where did that leave him? It seemed like a good reason to focus on Jeanne and let Gibbs go back to his mourning.
“Jethro was the worst, to hear Shannon tell it, convinced she deserved better than a marine grunt. But she loved him and they finally gave into the inevitable. Didn't mean neither of them didn’t have eyes anymore, however.”
Tony smiled, intrigued to note she used the same turn of phrase Gibbs had in describing how he and Shannon got together, giving in to the inevitable. “I always figured Gibbs for the jealous type.”
“He is,” Mary agreed. “But they were apart a lot. Shannon said, she didn't want to go mad while he was gone, nor did she want him to go mad, and sometimes a little company helped. As long as they were honest about it, well, it seemed to work for them. Honesty was the key though. Now Diane, she cheated on him and lied about it. That was a whole 'nother matter.”
Tony filed that tidbit away for future contemplation as he pulled into the driveway.
The conversation died as Mary stepped out of the car and plastered a cheerful expression on her face. Neither of them could miss how the front stoop was still stained with her son's blood. “Let's get this over with,” she hissed between clenched teeth.
Gibbs heard the sound of the elevator doors closing behind Tony and Mary.
“Sharp kid,” Greg said.
“DiNozzo's not a kid,” Gibbs said dryly, leaning back and retrieving his hand from Greg's neck. The comfort was no longer necessary, and he didn't have to control the other man around Tony anymore. “He's the best investigator I've ever worked with.” It wasn't something he'd say if Tony were there, but it was true.
“Acts like a puppy trailing his master,” Greg said pointedly.
Gibbs glared at him with a raised eyebrow, not bothering to reply. He'd heard similar lines, to the first part at least, before, and for Tony's sake did not appreciate the comparison. Tony was no puppy, no matter how some people saw him.
Greg ignored the look, reclaiming his hand from Gibbs so he could open the wrapper on the chocolate bar Mary had brought. The movement caused him to wince.
“You need me to call a nurse?” Gibbs asked.
“Rather deal with the pain for a bit. Drugs'll just put me back to sleep,” Greg said gruffly, chewing on a square of chocolate. “So how long you been sleeping with him?”
Gibbs glared again. He did not appreciate the direction this conversation was going.
“He's just a bit too dedicated not to be your boy toy too,” Greg said teasingly. “Saw a few follow you around like that back in the Corps.”
“Wasn't sleeping with all of them,” Gibbs snapped. He and Shannon had had an agreement for when they were apart, but it still took someone special to make it worthwhile to actually take them to bed.
“Nah, just most of them.”
Gibbs glared sharply at Greg. “Only a few. Sleeping with one's subordinates often creates stresses in a mixed group.” It was a risk he'd taken when he first took Tony to bed, but it had turned out well so far. Though that was quite possibly because no one else knew.
“And now?” Greg asked, meeting Gibbs eyes steadily. “You can't cow me with that look anymore, Gunny.”
“We're not sleeping together,” Gibbs grunted. He was impressed. He had seen alpha potential in Greg when they were back in the corps, and he seemed to have gotten stronger and more confident since he was injured. “He has a girlfriend.” Oh, that hurt to say.
“Huh ... “Greg said, a thoughtful look on his face. “I haven't seen you that confident in anyone at your back since Shannon.”
Gibbs paled at the comparison. It was all too accurate for his comfort. Suddenly he was glad no one at NCIS knew how he'd been with Shannon so they couldn't make the same connection.
“Never seen you like that with another in the Corps, so there's got to be something special between you.”
“Some of that's just DiNozzo,” Gibbs admitted. “He's a beta by nature.”
“Some of it?” Greg continued to pry.
“It's complicated,” Gibbs admitted, finally looking away. “Part of it was that we ...” He trailed off, trying to figure out how to put it. “We were together for almost a year, but I screwed up. The explosion put me into a coma and when I came out of it I thought I'd just survived the one in Kuwait.” Greg winced. “I ran, vanished for four months. I forgot him, and even when things started coming back I didn't make the connection. You can probably tell my wives apart better than I can these days. A lot of it's still a jumble. I'm still sorting out memories of DiNozzo from a dozen other men ... and Shannon.” He winced as the let that last bit out past clenched teeth. Normally he wasn't inclined to talk so much, but he'd been hiding the situation for so long it was also a relief to share it with someone. Ducky would normally get it out of him at some point, but this time there was no reason to believe Ducky knew anything was going on. Hell, the ME had barely started talking to him again.
“You gotta let this stuff out more Gunny,” Greg said with a slight shake of his head, a shocked look in his eyes. “Bottling it all up is going to kill you one day.”
Gibbs let out a bark of laughter and rolled his eyes.
“I thought you were sleeping with him,” Greg said speculatively. “But you say he reminds you of Shannon. I assume none of your other wives were ...” He trailed off and Gibbs shook his head. “Should have realized years ago. How close were you to becoming mates before the explosion?”
Gibbs sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “Nine months,” he muttered.
Greg looked at him funny. “Nine months what? You had plans to ask him in nine months?”
Gibbs shook his head, embarrassed with himself. Talking about it with Tony was hard enough, but admitting his failing to Greg was almost impossible. “I found out he was ... we made it official that day. Nine months later, I forgot everything.”
This time it was Greg who ran his hand shakily over his face. “Oh, hell, Jethro,” he muttered, disbelief coloring his voice, but Gibbs wasn't sure what to make of it. “You are a damned fool, stubborn son of a bitch.”
“Second B for bastard,” Gibbs agreed dryly.
“He repudiate you?” Greg asked, sounding pained to even consider it.
“Not yet,” Gibbs admitted softly. “But while I was gone he hooked up with a girl ... he wants to see how it works out first ... and probably see if I'm worth trusting again.”
“Don't blame the boy at all,” Greg said strongly. “He deserves better.”
Gibbs sighed. “Don't I know it.”
“You want him back?” Greg asked.
“Yes,” Gibbs said forcefully, deeply disturbed to even question it. He wanted to wipe the look of disbelief off Greg's face. “I remarried three times, redheads every time, looking for a replacement for Shannon. It wasn't until Tony came along that I realized I don't want a wife, I want a mate. Except, damned fool that I am, I never said it. He didn't know ...”
“Yep, you're an idiot,” Greg agreed. “But you've still got a chance to convince him.”
Gibbs shook his head. “We're okay at work, but he hardly ever comes by the house anymore. Hard to convince him if I never see him off the clock.”
“You're a stubborn man, Gunny,” Greg said with a grin. “I bet you can convince him.”
“Should I?” Gibbs asked, unable to hide the pain in his heart. “He deserves better.”
Greg glared at him, as harshly as he could in his weakened state. “You deserve to be happy, Gunny. And that boy worships you. I could see that. Only reason to put up with the mood you must be in today. I'm surprised you brought anyone with you today.”
“He insisted,” Gibbs admitted sheepishly, knowing that only made Greg's point.
“If you want him, go after him,” Greg urged, probably completely aware that he was echoing the advice Gibbs gave him all those years ago when he'd been courting Mary.
Gibbs just sighed.
“You're one sorry SOB, Gunny. Here, I think you need this more than I do.” Greg snapped off a square of chocolate and popped it into his mouth before handing over the rest of the bar.
It took less than twenty minutes for Tony and Mary to sweep the house from top to bottom and collect a bag of clothes and toiletries for Mary and Greg to use during the next week or so.
“I guess Greg was right, he didn't have time to take anything,” Tony said, stepping into the kitchen one last time after putting the spare wheelchair in the car. “This is the first time he's been scared off.”
“Seems so,” Mary said, pausing before the refrigerator. “Maybe I should empty this out.”
“We'll send you the names of some good crime scene cleaners,” Tony told her. “They'll take care of that while they're cleaning up all the fingerprint dust.” He turned and gestured towards the front door, but Mary stayed looking at the door of the refrigerator.
“There's a picture missing,” she said, reaching out to touch the door. Tony took a quick step and stopped her before she made contact.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, there was one of Richard and I right here, with Greg in wolf form,” she said, pointing at an empty spot on the white enamel. “I … I'm almost sure it was there the other day. I didn't take it down.”
“I need to check for finger prints, though it's likely he wore gloves,” Tony said. “It will only take a few minutes. Would you like to wait in the car?”
“Yes … I think that would be good,” Mary conceded, seeming to collapse into herself a little. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” Tony said confidently as something tickled in the back of his mind. “Every bit helps.”
The drive back to the hospital was rife with emotional tension. After he finished printing the front of the refrigerator, Tony had grabbed a picture of the full Peck family. Mary had smiled when he handed it to her, but even without looking at her he could tell she was on the verge of tears.
Time for a distraction.
“Forgive me, but I'm curious,” Tony started hesitantly. “How does Mr. Peck deal with his paralysis while in wolf form?”
“Worried it's a possible future?” Mary asked dryly, finally lifting her eyes from the picture.
“Well, NCIS is a rather risky job,” Tony admitted.
“He doesn't,” Mary said. “I don't think he's shifted in five years.”
Tony gasped. “That's awful.”
“It took him long enough to adjust to the wheel chair. I think he's afraid to give up even that little bit of freedom of motion.”
“That's not good,” Tony said thoughtfully. “He needs to shift, preferably at least once or twice a week. It messes with the mind and emotions.”
“Really?” Mary asked, sounding rather surprised.
Tony hadn't expected her surprise, not for a woman who'd been married to a shifter for twenty years. “I didn't notice it so much until Gibbs explained it to me. Once I started shifting more often, I really noticed a difference.”
Mary stared out the windshield for a minute. Glancing over, Tony assured himself that she was thinking instead of crying. “How to convince him?” she muttered to herself.
Tony thought about it himself for a minute. “You two watch TV in the evenings?”
“Yes,” Mary replied, visibly puzzled.
“It's possible to watch TV as a wolf,” Tony explained. “Well, it's a bit more hear than watch, and black and white movies are nice because then the color shift doesn't matter. If he's on the couch, it doesn't matter if his back legs don't work. Sit with him, offer to scratch his ears. He might tend to fall asleep on you, but he'll probably be looking forward to it before long.”
Mary turned and smiled broadly at him. “That's a wonderful idea. Thank you so much.”
“You'll have to wait until the stitches are out to try it, but you can plant the idea while he's in recovery,” Tony said. “Might just be eager by the time he can shift.”
“You may be right. I've noticed some odd moods, but it's hard to tell what's due to the paralysis.”
“A lot changed in a short period of time,” Tony agreed.
The drive back to DC began as silent as the drive down, but Gibbs didn't want to leave it that way. With Greg's encouragements in the forefront of his mind he was determined to take the first steps.
“Report,” he prompted. It was a bit of a cop out, but he wasn't exactly a master at starting conversations.
“Only thing missing was a picture from the refrigerator,” Tony replied.
Glancing over, Gibbs noticed Tony's eyes were unfocused. His second was clearly thinking hard about something. “Not quite our thief's usual pattern.”
“No … but there's something …” Tony said, clearly thinking hard. “I'll get back to you tomorrow. I need to check some things back at the office.”
“You need to get some sleep,” Gibbs said, letting a bit of concern seep into his voice. “It's been over thirty-six hours.”
“You too, boss,” Tony countered, his eyes beginning to focus on the world again.
“And I intend to go to bed as soon as I get home,” Gibbs said.
Tony snickered, shooting Gibbs a smirk. Gibbs just rolled his eyes at his second's juvenile humor.
This wasn't going the way Gibbs wanted. Tony was supposed to start talking, draw out a conversation. Instead, Gibbs was doing most of the talking and the whole conversation was at a dead end. Now what?
“Mary told me you met Greg over twenty years ago,” Tony piped up a little later.
Gibbs let out a mental sigh of relief as Tony provided the solution he needed. “We were assigned to the same company in Panama. When we got back, we introduced our respective girlfriends to each other. Later, Mary and Richard would keep Shannon and Kelly company when we were both out of the country at the same time.”
“Military wives seem to bond like that a lot,” Tony said offhandedly, slouching into his seat.
“It's a survival trait,” Gibbs said. “Who else understands what you're going through than another wife? The military members have similar bonds.”
“Do you miss it?” Tony asked.
Gibbs needed a moment to switch directions. “Miss what?”
“Bonding with other military men?” Tony replied.
“Never stopped,” Gibbs said, shrugging. “Even if I didn't work at NCIS I'd still be in contact with any number of old comrades. As it is, I run into them in relation to cases all the time.”
“Huh, hadn't thought about it that way,” Tony said thoughtfully.
“It's like you staying in contact with your frat brothers and people from the other forces you worked on,” Gibbs explained.
Tony's eyes lit up as his mind made the connection. “Gotcha, boss.”
Gibbs grumbled mentally to himself as the conversation hit another dead end. No wonder his relationships always failed if he couldn't hold up a conversation for ten minutes that wasn't work related.
“So how come you never told me about them, about Greg?” Tony asked softly.
“I don't tell the world about the people in my life,” Gibbs said softly. He bit back the urge to add, 'unlike you.' “I've been keeping work and home separate for so long ... It's hard to change that.”
“But you're starting to try?” Tony asked, hoping, pleading.
“You're the first person I told about Shannon since she died,” Gibbs answered, hoping that was enough of an answer.
“Except you didn't tell me until circumstances forced you to,” Tony complained.
“I was thinking about it, even before the explosion,” Gibbs said, his forehead furrowing as he dug through the tangled mess of his memories. “I think ... I just hadn't gotten up the nerve yet. I should have told you before our first night together. Wasn't fair to you ...” He hoped Tony appreciated how hard it was to say these things.
Tony sighed and thumped his head back against his headrest. “No, it wasn't. But you're trying now. Just ... keep trying.”
Gibbs considered the matter in silence, slaloming between semis and minivans on the highway to DC. “It's time, especially if we're to be a pack as well as a team. I need to introduce my past to my present. How about a barbecue at my place this summer?”
Tony stared at him for over a minute, his jaw almost hitting the parking brake. Finally, Gibbs leaned over and tapped his second's chin up. “You mean that?” Tony whispered.
“You're going to have to help me set up, send out invitations ...” Gibbs warned, but he was secretly delighted by Tony's reaction.
“Abby'd be better help,” Tony suggested, his eyes alight with excitement.
“But you're my second.”
Grinning, Tony finally leaned back against the headrest, looking ahead. “Sounds like a good idea. I'm looking ...” He paused as a yawn tried to split his skull. “... forward to it.”
“Why don't I go straight to my place?” Gibbs said before he could think it through. “It's been a long day.” He couldn't miss the wince that crossed Tony's face, nor the uneasy set of his shoulders. “The guest room is made up,” he added.
“I'd like to,” Tony admitted softly. “But I need to go back to the office for a few. Something's bugging me and if I don't check it now I might lose the thread.”
Gibbs repressed a sigh and stayed stoic despite the way his heart sank. He wanted Tony to come home with him, but he couldn't deny that work came first for both of them. “Don't stay too long. You need some sleep tonight.”
“I'll get some sleep,” Tony promised.