Word Count: 4965/37,000+
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.
Tony drove back to NCIS headquarters with a frown on his lips. The interview with Virgina FitzWilliam had been a waste of time. She had no idea what photos had been taken, and barely knew any had been taken. It was one of her brother's neighbors who'd noted that one was missing from the mantle.
“Probie, set up an interview with that neighbor,” Tony ordered. Maybe that interview would be useful. Though they already knew which photo was missing thanks to Lucinda Montgomery.
“I'll get the name from the old case notes,” Tim promised, making a note in his PDA.
Tony dodged a few more trucks and pulled into the Anacostia Naval base. “You can type your notes in the morning,” he suggested.
“I'll do it tonight,” Tim said, following Tony towards the elevator. “Maybe in going over it again an idea will pop up.
Tony chuckled dryly. “I thought that last night.”
“Worked from the look of the report I found in my email this morning,” Tim said lightly.
“For all the good it did us today.”
Tim looked edgy and then leaned forward to hit the emergency stop. “About that … umm ...”
“Spit it out, McProbie,” Tony snapped tiredly.
“Ziva was more than a little confused this morning. Well, so was I, but … well, Ziva has been asking a lot of questions, about the Peck's, about Gibbs, and about you. She thinks we're hiding something from her.”
“She'd be right,” Tony said dryly, leaning back against the elevator wall.
“Well, that's true,” Tim admitted.
“I don't know what you expect me to do about it.” Tony wasn't going to admit it right now, but he wasn't interested in dealing with a prying Ziva right now. He had more than enough to worry about without adding troubles from within the team.
“I don't know,” Tim said with a shrug. “I just thought you should know, before she does something to blindside you.”
“Ah, you mean she investigates like she drives.”
Tim chuckled. “Too true.” He leaned over and hit the emergency stop. “I don't think she knows about shifters.”
“Yet,” Tony said, thumping his head against the wall. This case just keeps getting more and more complicated. “Thanks for the warning, Tim,” he added, clapping his hand on the younger man's shoulder as he stepped off elevator, pressing his fingers into Tim's neck for just a moment.
Tony was going to type his notes fast and head over to Jeanne's. He needed a break from this case, to clear his mind. Even his dreams today had been full of this case. Maybe with Jeanne he could forget, just for a bit.
“Are you all right?” You seem tense?”
At the sound of Jeanne's voice, Tony didn't quite resist the urge to flinch, something she couldn't help but notice, curled up as they were on the couch. “I'm sorry,” he said playfully, though it was forced. “I'm not being a very good pillow tonight.”
Jeanne leaned forward and grabbed the remote, pausing the movie. “That's not it at all,” she insisted as she turned to look at him. “You just seem worried about something.”
Looking into her concerned eyes, Tony once again cursed Jennifer Shepard and the desperation in himself that drove him to accept this op. He didn't, and never would, curse Jeanne. She was an unwitting pawn in this mess. If only they had met outside of work. He really was falling for her. But how could their relationship work when it was built on lies?
“Thinks are just a bit tense at work,” he prevaricated. “Collegiate politics can be brutal. I never meant to bring it home with me.”
He winced inside at that choice of words, even as she positively glowed.
“Well, I guess I'll just have to help you unwind,” she said coquettishly, leaning forward to kiss him, first lightly, then harder and harder until he couldn't help but moan in response.
If he ever missed the prickle of stubble surrounding those lips, well then that was his secret, his MOAS.
Or was his MOAS this op, the fact that he hadn't fully explained to Gibbs just what was up with his girlfriend?
Tony didn't want to think about that, think about Gibbs, think about the case they couldn't solve and the forty plus people who had died because he couldn't stop their killer. He decided to try to hide from himself by burying himself in Jeanne and led her quickly to the bedroom. He just hoped it worked, or he was never going to tire himself enough to sleep tonight.
Gibbs had been in his basement too long tonight. He'd had too much bourbon, too, but he wasn't about to admit that either. He needed to sleep, but his brain was spinning too fast to let him. Sometimes the boat helped with that, sometimes the bourbon, but tonight both just made him morose and lonely.
He'd been playing Kelly's last tape earlier. He missed her, missed Shannon. The memories of his wives since then were still a jumbled mess in many ways, but he'd never mistaken Shannon for any of them.
No, he'd just mistaken her for Tony, the man he'd driven off with his own stupidity.
To get away from that thought pattern, Gibbs had been thinking about their current case. It had worked previously, but since Greg and Richard became part of the case nothing helped. His anger and frustration at their lack of progress hit an all-time high. He'd get stuck thinking about Richard laying in the hall, two bullets in his chest, or Greg in that hospital bed, so pale, so ill.
Thinking about Richard just got him angrier because why the hell couldn't they find this guy? Thinking about Greg reminded him about their last conversation, and Shannon, and Tony, and now he was right back where he started. He was right back at the one place he couldn't go.
So he had more bourbon, tried not to maim his boat, and continued to fail to sleep.
It was three in the morning, at least, when creaks in the floorboards over his head told Gibbs he had company. He leaned one hip against the tool bench, next to where he kept his basement backup, and sipped from his mug with his eyes on the stairs.
Knowing someone was coming did not mean he was ready for Tony to be the one to step through the basement door. However, rather than admit to his surprise, Gibbs just held up the bourbon bottle in invitation.
Tony shook his head and stumbled down the stairs until he collapsed on a step part way down. Even halfway across the room, Gibbs could smell the mixture of sex and flowers that told him what, or rather who, Tony had been up to earlier in the night. But sex usually didn't make the younger man morose, so why the lost and confused look on his face? And why was Tony here on Gibbs' steps instead of back in bed with his girl?
“She get another emergency call?” Gibbs asked dryly, not quite able to control his voice on this matter.
Tony shook his head, his eyes fixed on the frame of the Kelly's cabin, or perhaps right through it.
“I snuck out.”
The words were so quiet that Gibbs almost missed them. “Wanna talk about why?” Gibbs asked, knocking back the dregs of his glass.”
Tony just shook his head again, his eyes haunted.
“She know what you are?”
Tony jerked harder than Gibbs expected, his eyes snapping to focus on his alpha as he shook his head again.
There was something in those green eyes, but Gibbs couldn't place it, and it wasn't his place to be fixing Tony right now. Except … “When did you last shift?” He spoke in a soft and easy tone, moving slowly towards the edgy shifter.
Tony's brow furrowed as he thought, but no answer was forthcoming.
“Come on, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said once he was close enough to touch. He tucked a hand under the younger man's shoulder and gently guided Tony up. “Time to get some sleep.”
Tony made a noise of protest, but followed Gibbs' guidance without a struggle. He moved with the grace of a sleepwalker as Gibbs guided him out of the basement and upstairs to the master bedroom. A twinge of guilt reminded him that he really should put Tony in the guest room, but he ignored it. His protective instincts were going into overdrive, just like they had this morning when he found Tony had worked all night, and there was no way he'd even be able to relax if they were in separate rooms. The shifter had always had a knack for getting under Gibbs' skin, one way or another.
Another noise of protest came when he started unbuttoning Tony's shirt.
“You need to shift, Tony,” he coaxed. “Relax, I'll watch your six.”
For a moment, Tony's eyes fully focused on Gibbs, and his hand came up to cup the older man's cheek. He had a look in his eyes that Gibbs hadn't seen since the explosion, a look of love that often preceded a kiss. Tony's lips pursed, like he was about to kiss Gibbs, or perhaps say something, but instead he took a half step back, shrugged off his shirt, and shifted. His pants fell to the floor during the transition and Tony easily slipped out of both them and his shoes as he jumped onto Gibbs' bed.
Gibbs toed off his shoes, but left the rest of his clothes on. That way he would have a reminder to behave if he woke up with an armful of naked Tony.
Tony shook himself sharply as Gibbs lay down, then sprawled across the bed with his head on Gibbs' chest. Gibbs brought an arm up and rested it across Tony's back, his fingers digging into the plush, brown fur.
“Sleep,” he ordered softly, and green eyes obediently shut. He listened carefully, however, for the soft lupine exhalations to settle into a sleep pattern. It took several minutes, but it did happen. Only then did Gibbs let his own eyes shut.
He thought there was no way he'd sleep, and he didn't really want to. He wanted to lay here and savor, to file away this memory of being with Tony and know that this memory was of Tony, no doubts, no questions.
Sleep snuck up on him, however, and dragged him away into dreamless rest.
Tony awoke more relaxed than he'd been in far too long. He knew he'd had mornings like this one, but the memories felt like they belonged to someone else. Part of him wanted to just lay there and enjoy the sensation. There were warm arms and soft breathing and the scent of …
Coffee and sawdust?
As that realization hit, his eyes snapped open and he saw that those warm arms belonged to Gibbs and his nose was pressed against the older man's throat. It took a lot of self-control not to lick a line up that unmarked neck, but he resisted, pulling back.
Turning his head, he got a whiff of sex, and Jeanne's flowery perfume, and wondered just how Gibbs could stand to be so close to him right now. But Tony couldn't deny that Gibbs looked just as at peace as the shifter had felt a moment ago, and from the bags under the older man's eyes, he needed the sleep.
Tony considered his options for a moment, and admitted that going back to sleep was one. The question was, could he face himself afterward, so to speak, and could he control himself. To that the answer was a double no. Coming to Gibbs' house had been a mistake. He wasn't quite sure what had driven him to do it, maybe the sensation of his MOAS gnawing at his insides, but he could and would clean up his own mistake.
It took a moment, but he was able to slip out from under Gibbs' arms and climb off the bed. Shifting and then dressing would have been easier, but he carried each item of clothing into the hall in his teeth, then shifted and changed out of sight.
A shower would have been nice, some coffee or food, but he didn't dare linger. He had a change of clothes in the car and it wouldn't be the first time he'd used the showers at the gym at work. Yes, that was a good course of action. It was still early, maybe he could get some work done before the others got in.
But once he was standing in the doorway, guilt over leaving without saying something hit. Gibbs had helped him despite his incoherent state last night, and slipping away without a word seemed poor recompense. But what to say, what to do?
In the end, he left a note, leaning against the coffee maker where Gibbs was sure to see it when he got up. It was simple and bland, but heartfelt.
When Gibbs arrived at work that morning, there were two odd elements. First, he was the last to arrive. It was a rare occurrence, but not unknown, so Tim didn't think too much about it. Especially since Gibbs looked like he might have gotten a decent night's sleep for the first time in days, if not weeks. The bags under his eyes had even faded a bit, so Tim just assumed he had slept in and left it at that.
The second strangeness was a fact Tim couldn't make sense of, that Gibbs had two cups of coffee when he got off the elevator. Well, that wasn't so odd. Sometimes, when he was really desperate, he might bring in two, finishing one soon after arriving and starting immediately on the second. The thing was, he usually did that after a bad night's sleep. He also didn't keep the second cup this morning, dropping it off on Tony's desk before sitting down at his own. Tim definitely didn't know what to make of that. Gibbs never bought the team coffee, except on very rare occasions when he wanted something. But Gibbs didn't seem to want anything from Tony, didn't even say a word. And Tony, he didn't even look up, just grabbed the cup and took a sip while continuing to work on whatever he was working on.
That lack of a sour expression after that sip probably meant the coffee was doctored to something other than Gibbs non-exacting standards, which was unheard of.
Looking over at Ziva, Tim caught her looking just as confused. He'd seen that expression on her face a lot lately, but it was usually in relation to the case and the fact that everyone was hiding a few facts about the Pecks. This was something else entirely. Probably. With this strangeness following the events of yesterday, maybe Tim had missed something. If he didn't know better, if Gibbs were a shifter, he'd almost wonder if Gibbs were courting Tony. That couldn't be it, but something was going on.
“Update,” Gibbs ordered.
Tim pushed his curiosity aside. The case was more important right now, especially with Gibbs glaring at him.
“The sketch artist came back from Potomac Hospital,” Tim said, putting a scan of the drawing up on the plasma screen. The face was long with fairly generic features. Nothing stood out in the nose shape or jawline. Looking at it, Tim felt he'd seen the face before, but it could have been anywhere. “I've faxed copies to all the out-of-town family members. No one recognizes him. Unfortunately, it's a pretty generic sketch.
“Detective Coltrain is still holding onto his notes. I've been contacting those we already interviewed about where they have their photos developed. No overlap so far. We're also checking where the photos were taken. Again, no consistent overlap.”
“Anything interesting in the interview last night?” Gibbs asked, turning to Tony.
Tony shook his head, his eyes still on his computer screen, and his face a mask of frustration.
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs snapped.
This time Tony looked up. “Sorry, boss.” His mouth seemed to form the words reflexively even as he winced at his choice of words. “Nothing that leads to new thoughts. I emailed my interview notes to you …”
His voice trailed off and his brow furrowed as he turned back to his computer. Tim wondered what he was thinking so hard about, but Gibbs didn't seem to care, turning to Ziva.
“You have anything useful?” Gibbs asked dryly, clearly convinced the answer would be no.
Ziva didn't disappoint, unfortunately. “I have found no connection save the families all had at least one member who was military or former military and many of the photos stolen included the family pet.”
Gibbs' brow furrowed for a moment before he turned to Tim. “Check the database for killers with a thing for animals or MOs that include animals some way,” he ordered.
“On it, boss,” Tim said, happy to have something possibly productive to do. It was new anyway.
But he still wanted to know what was up with Tony and Gibbs this morning.
Tim had been trying to reach Staff Sergent Atkin's sister for days, and finally succeeded that morning. But the only time she was willing to give him was over lunch. Fortunately, she worked nearby and was willing to swing into Anacostia to meet him rather than the other way around.
When security called to let him know she'd arrived, he let Gibbs know.
“Ziva, I want you to join him,” Gibbs ordered before reserving them a conference room.
Ziva ran a pointed look between Gibbs and Tony, but both of them ignored her, and Tim just shrugged. He wanted to know what was up, but he didn't need to know, so he wasn't going to ask.
Linda Atkins was in her mid-twenties, but looked at least ten years older. Her eyes were red and heavily shadowed, and exhaustion hung upon her like a cloak. Tim welcomed her and hustled her to a chair as fast as he could.
“Thank you for taking some time from you busy schedule to speak to us,” he said as Ziva procured some coffee for the exhausted woman.
“If I want any hope of you finding my brother's killer, I had better, hadn't I,” Linda muttered, her eyes fixed on the mug before her.
“I know it has been a long wait, but we've uncovered some new connections that are shedding a whole new light on your family's case.”
Linda actually expended the energy to raise her head and look at Tim, rolling her eyes. “Forgive me, Agent McGee, but it's been four months of nothing. I'll believe you can solve this case when I see it.”
“Miss Atkins,” Ziva said, “the man who killed your brother and sister-in-law is very clever. It has taken some time, unfortunately, but we have identified his pattern now.”
“How do you know it is a man?” Linda asked. “How do you know it isn't two men? Or a dozen?”
Ziva smiled at Linda, that little smile that often meant she was about to pull her gun. “Because this time he has made a mistake. We have a living witness. When we find him, our witness will identify him and your brother will be avenged.”
Tim jumped in and put the sketch on the table before Linda. “Do you recognize this man?”
Linda glanced at the sketch and shook her head. Then she turned back to Ziva. “And how many more will die before then,” Linda snapped. “You say you've only finally realized the pattern, that he's been killing for some time. Great. How many lives has he shattered? I'm stuck raising my brother's two kids. Two kids! At my age? They're scared. They want their parents. I was waiting until the school year was over to decide, but if Bobby doesn't stop getting into fights he's going to be expelled. I might as well pack them up now and move back in with Mom and Dad. At least back on the farm in Idaho they won't have to … I'll have some help.”
Tim wanted to ponder that stutter, but there wasn't time if he was going to salvage this conversation. “Miss Atkins, if there is anything NCIS or the Corps can do, please let us know. There are support systems available to aid you.”
“Do you know how hard I worked to get away from that farm, Agent McGee?”
Tim couldn't help it, he laughed. “My father sounds just the same when he talks about getting away from his family farm. He joined the Navy to pull it off. I'm sure now that you've done it once you'll succeed again.”
Linda snorted her disbelief, but looked a little more relaxed.
“Miss Atkins, right now we mostly have a few questions about the photo that you said was missing from your brother's house.” Tim glanced at the clock. She had made it clear she had a limited time to meet with him and he didn't want to get her back to work late if he could help it.
“What about it?” she asked.
“What was it of?” Ziva asked.
Linda frowned for a moment. “Bobby and … a dog.”
Tim filed that pause away. “Do you know when it was taken? Where?”
This time Linda just shook her head. “Bobby was about four, but I don't remember where they were that year. The marines always had George moving around.”
“But it was definitely not recent?” Ziva prompted. She was frowning too, and Tim couldn't blame her. Why those photos?
“No, not at all,” Linda insisted. “Is there anything else you need? I have to get back to work soon.”
Tony getting up wasn't anything new. He'd gotten up to go to the bathroom several times, and to get lunch for everyone after the Atkins interview. This time, however, Tony was swinging his backpack over his shoulder as he stood.
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs snapped.
“Interview with Gunny Sergeant Duarte's widow.” Tony didn't stop moving towards the elevator even as he answered.
“I want something when we get back,” Gibbs said, shooting a glare at Tim and Ziva before following Tony.
Ziva shot Tim a puzzled look, but Tim ignored it for the moment. Something had just clicked. Instead, he ran across the bull pen and caught Tony's shoulder before the senior agent stepped into the elevator.
“Something's bugging me about the Atkins interview,” he said.
“Can it wait, Probie?” Tony asked. “I'm running late.”
“Maybe … just, she reminded me of my father, talking about wanting to get away from home, from the family farm,” Tim said, letting Tony go. Tony followed Gibbs into the elevator. Just before the doors shut, Tim shoved his arm between them and they bounced back open. “She also reminded me of you.” He said his piece and this time the door closed in front of the puzzled expressions on Tony's and Gibbs' faces. Well, at least he wasn't the only one trying to make sense of it now.
Ziva grabbed his arm as he passed her desk. “What was that?” she demanded.
“A thought,” Tim said, shrugging her hand off.
“And you could not let me hear?”
It was hard, but this time Tim stared her right in the eyes and lied. Somewhat. “I'm sorry. I didn't think every team needed to hear about my incoherent hunch. Next time I'll just yell, shall I?”
When he sat down, she was still glaring. Tim felt an iceberg building in his stomach. She was going to get him, somehow, soon. But he hadn't caved. Yet.
Jayline Duarte was a marine's wife. She'd lost her husband the month before, in that very house, but the house was tidy, the kids out playing, and she was meticulously put together. The only sign of distress was a hint of red around her eyes.
She even made a marine cup of coffee, which Gibbs was ready to accept by the time they made it all the way down to Triangle. Tony, on the other hand, had almost immediately asked to use the bathroom. Gibbs might have been worried, but the shifter wasn't looking green so it couldn't have been his driving.
“When you itemized what was missing, you included a photograph in the list,” Gibbs said as Jayline poured a mug of coffee that smelled just black enough. “Could you tell me what it was a photo of?”
Jayline got a pinched look around her lips for a moment, then it vanished. “It was a photo of the kids and an old family pet.”
“Do you have a copy of it that we could look at?” Gibbs smiled at her as he took a sip from the mug she slid across the kitchen island to him.
“I'm afraid not.” Her eyes shown with a hint of moisture, but there was no other sign of her emotional distress. “We lost the negatives from that trip in a move a few years back. We only had the one copy.”
“When was it taken, and where?”
“George was stationed in Germany at the time.” This time the memory made her smile. “Little Julie was just an infant, laying in his paws.”
Gibbs frowned at her phrasing. “Who's paws?” he asked gently.
Jayline regained her focus quickly and hid her panic well, but Gibbs was a trained interrogator. “We had a dog in Germany, gentle creature. But you know how hard it is to hold onto pets in the military.”
Gibbs had to nod at that. “You caught me,” he said, aiming for a light tone. “Though I can't say it's any easier keeping a pet with my hours now than it was when I was in the marines.”
“Ah, but is the coffee any better?” Jayline said, laughing a little and finally doctoring her own mug with enough sugar and milk to make DiNozzo happy.
“Depends on your definition of better,” Gibbs said. “I find most civilian options rather bland.”
Jayline laughed again, but this time her eyes were damp. “George always said the same thing.”
“We're going to find the man that killed your husband,” Gibbs promised.
Jayline opened her mouth to reply, but instead just turned away, her eyes blinking rapidly to shove back the moisture gathering. “How can I help?” she finally asked.
Gibbs pulled out the copy of the sketch that Tim had given him that morning. “Do you recognize this man?”
Looking at the sketch carefully, Jaline frowned. “I'm not sure … Maybe, but I don't know why or where.”
Gibbs was formulating his next question when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned his head and spotted Tony finally coming back, but not alone. There was a dog snuggled under his arm. No, a puppy. One with huge paws he had yet to grow into and blue eyes that were half lidded in bliss as Tony scratched his oversized ears.
Raising an eyebrow, Gibbs said, “I hope you're not planning to bring that one home too.”
There was a twinkle in his eyes as Tony shook his head. “I wouldn't do that to you again, boss. No, I just thought you should see William. Mrs. Duarte is doing a beautiful job with him and his siblings.”
Just then, Jayline let out a pained gasp and Gibbs turned back to her. He caught only a glimpse of a look of distress before she managed to school her expression. At the same moment, William whined.
“You shouldn't have ...” Jayline began.
Tony stopped her with a charming smile. “It's quite alright, Mrs. Duarte.” He set William down, and the puppy quickly scampered from the room. “Please don't be angry with William. You're doing a wonderful job supporting your children. I don't think I shifted for over a year after my mother died.”
Silence filled the room as everyone processed that comment. Gibbs remembered those blue eyes, so like Kelly's once upon a time.
“I'm not sure I understand, Special Agent DiNozzo,” Jayline said darkly.
“Yes you do, ma'am,” Tony replied. “Gibbs and I are well aware of what you, your husband, and children are capable of. And just how much you have lost.”
Jayline turned to Gibbs with a hesitant look. He smiled at her reassuringly. “My first wife was like you, as is DiNozzo. And that picture had your husband holding your youngest daughter.”
“Yes,” Jayline said softly. “It was one of my favorites ...”
“How many of those other photos included large dogs?” Gibbs asked once they were back on the road to Washington.
“Most if not all,” Tony replied. “We haven't confirmed them all and I need to double check the ones we have, but when I saw those blue eyes looking up at me from the back yard it all clicked.”
“We can confirm Peck, Duarte …”
“Atkins if Probie's hunch is right.”
“Bizzaro and FitzWilliam, if I read Bizzaro's sister right.”
“Wilkins' picture had a dog in it, if I remember the interview notes.”
“Sure hints at what our killer is looking for,” Gibbs said thoughtfully, dodging a semi and speeding up.
“Except, how is he picking them out?” Tony said. His tone was calm, but Gibbs could see the younger man's knuckles turning white where he was gripping the handle above the door. “We've got people from four towns, and on base. They don't attend the same church, use the same bank, have any similar affiliations ...”
Gibbs flipped open his phone and nudged the speedometer up another five miles an hour as he dialed.